The language of a common meal

My friend Sylwia and I do not have a shared spoken language.  She has two languages, I have one… and between us we have three.  Not exactly a straightforward start to a friendship.  But here’s the thing…  we have shared food together.  There is something special about eating food with others.    We met  Sylwia for the first time across a table from each other and a couple of hours later Sylwia was entertaining Andrew and I in her home in Dresden, Germany, with more food!  We would never have met if it hadn’t been for a particular set of circumstances in our own century and because of the connection between the stories of other people in a different century and of a different culture to each of our own.   A complex recipe of religion, culture, academic study and being in the right place at the right time.

Sylwia is a very special person to us. Who could have guessed on the day in which we met, that less than 24 hours later I would be in hospital fighting for my life?  On that first day and in the days and weeks that followed, while we were still in Germany, Sylwia took us both into her heart and Andrew into her home and her family.  With our large and loving extended family hundreds of miles away, we were alone.  Sylwia was my mother, my sister and my friend.  A bond has been formed that is beyond words, so the fact we don’t have shared words to use probably doesn’t matter much!

Caroline and SylwiaIn person our communication has been conducted in gestures, smiles, laughs and the odd experimental word in one of our own languages.  Via the Internet we continue to communicate regularly in a way that is a constant wonder to me.  We actually manage to keep up to date with the news by the means of all kinds of things (in written form with the help of electronic apps and translators, and in spoken form with the help of Claudia who translates between English and German and Polish for us, and in visual form –  because a photo tells a thousand words!)

So where words fail we do have that first language that we did share… the food of an ordinary lunch across a table.  I’ve always been keen on the idea of sharing food as part of our gathered together worshipping community.  At our Avenues Church we always have food as part of our gathering.  As a child I grew up in a family with a round dining table, and an approach to dining that meant there was always room for one more person.  Around our family dinner table we caught up on the things that were happening in each other’s lives.  We debated, we encouraged, we argued, we shared, we ate, we challenged each other, we welcomed others and we grew.

The opportunity of sharing food together, as a part of our Christian journey is not new.  Jesus’ ministry begins at a feast.  He turns water into wine at a wedding feast.  The gospels record numerous other meals including the feeding of enormous crowds with a boy’s humble lunch, and smaller events like Jesus catching up with his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus.   Then there is that significant last meal shared with his closest friends and followers, his disciples.  Who would have guessed after the last supper that the pattern of this meal would be repeated across centuries, across countries, across cultures?

annabelenglishannabelpolish.jpgWhile I was in hospital in Germany I was trying to think of a way that we could thank Sylwia and her family.  What is the perfect gift that money does not buy?   I wanted to find a gift that said ‘New Zealand’ and ‘grateful thanks’.  I remembered that Annabel Langbein, Kiwi successful cook, cookbook writer and businesswoman had been to the Frankfurt Book Fair, the year New Zealand was guest country, and I was pretty sure her book, “The Free-Range Cook” (which I owned in English) had been translated into German.  It was a start – a way to signal to Sylwia in a language that she spoke, the ‘language of cooking food’, to tell her that we were grateful and thankful to God that she had been there, at that time, in our lives.  With the help of my tablet, I found that not only had Annabel Langbein’s  book been translated into German, it was also available in Polish.  Polish is Sylwia’s mother-tongue!  From what I already knew of Sylwia, I knew she’d love the ‘grow your own’, ‘feed everyone’, ‘simple food’, feel to Annabel’s approach.

It took some weeks longer before I actually managed to navigate my way through the possibilities of ordering a book in the polish language and getting it to Sylwia, but finally it arrived to its destination.

So now we speak a new shared communication language.  The language of ‘Annabel Langbein’ or maybe it is the ‘language of a common meal’ – across countries and time.  Our regular skype conversations are conducted with our recipe books at hand, and page numbers to explain and show what we made last.   It’s kind of like hospitality or the sharing of a common meal in the virtual world!

Chilli Jam.jpg

Last week at my work we had an international week.  I was on bringing food on the ‘German’ day.  a nod to my Polish-German friends that God had sent my way?   Thanks to google translator I was able to ask for and receive a recipe for ‘the best apple pie in the world’ – ‘Szarlotka’. It is such a great feeling to send a ‘help’ message across to the other side of the world and get a message straight back with recipe as well as further instructions on the tricks to make it even better!

Szarlotka

Simple entertaining as a daily part of life has been given a back seat in our culture today.  While the café and restaurant culture has grown in NZ, and the age of the dinner party or the more relaxed, but still elaborate barbeque are typical hospitality events, the regular and simple act of dropping in to a friend for a cuppa, a biscuit and a chat is less frequent.   Of necessity, our busy lives move even catching up for a coffee and a chat to the side-lines of daily life.  They become scheduled activities, events in their own right, booked into our jam-packed calendars between other busy activities.  They have to be arranged, rather than just happen.  We still drink our coffee, we just do it on our own, sandwiching it between our own busy activities.  We stand in queues, buy it in paper cups, drink it in our cars, on our own, in the traffic, listening to the radio, on the way to work.  Even ordinary daily family dinners are disrupted and staggered events, with nights where there is sports practice for one person, a meeting or other evening activity for someone else, another person being home late from work while someone else is watching the news on tv for homework. Our time is sliced, diced and cut up into tiny portions, and having the space in our programme to leisurely share food together is treated as a luxury.

Sylwias pg 67What would happen if we could find a way to strip all the frills and fancies of entertaining back, to just be ourselves, to keep things simple and uncluttered, casual and relaxed, to make the focus of the shared meal about ‘breaking bread together’, about the act of eating and drinking and talking together and about creating a common experience?   If we recognised the language of the common meal to be about something else happening as well as food, to see it has a God-given opportunity to make connection, meeting each other’s needs, sharing each other’s burdens and joys?   I think this might be an important part of living out our Christian life and faith.   And I think that it can be the start of some amazing opportunities to share God’s love with others.  It might be a way of listening to the voice of God, of receiving and giving, of bonding with each other and with Jesus Christ… something like communion.

(Photo credits: my Szarlotka, Sylwia & I, Annabel Langbein’s books in Polish & English, ‘my page 128’ and Sylwia’s page 67)

Wrapped in Bubble Wrap

We all experience times in our lives when we have to deal with tough stuff.  Things go wrong.  Things we didn’t expect to happen to us, do happen and we are hurt, sad and grief stricken.  The truth is that bad things do happen to good people.  Having a Christian faith doesn’t protect us from sour experiences.  But, hopefully our faith when we’re going through tough times helps us cope.

After my dramatic health situation while on holiday in Germany, last year, I’m continuing to experience ongoing health problems.  But despite the fact that it’s now been five months, and I’m still not well, I’m still feeling somewhat cocooned and protected.  I said to Andrew the other day that it feels like I’m wrapped in bubble wrap.  The impact of all the ongoing health problems is cushioned.  It’s still happening, but I’m not bruising as easily as I could be.   I don’t think I’m in any denial about what is going on with my body, the daily grind is impossible to ignore.  So why do I feel so cushioned and safe?  I can only conclude that my faith has carried me through.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this really, given it’s what I believe for myself and for others I guide on their spiritual journey, but it’s nice when it really matters, to know that faith really does help!  And it’s extremely comforting to me, to know that my faith does provide me comfort.

But I know people who are going through difficult times and don’t find the same comfort in their faith.  It’s made me think a bit about this of late and reflect on why my faith has helped me so much as well as hoping that in the future I’ll continue to get the same comfort from my faith.  I’ve been wondering if for me, my current bubble-wrap comfort is rooted in my view of God.  Maybe our view of God, affects what we think God can be and do in our lives.  Two people experiencing the same thing, both cope differently and have a different view of God’s involvement in their lives.

I’ve heard all kinds of things said by people that show how they view God.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Santa Claus’, handing out special treats to good boys and girls, we assume that our ‘goodness’ as noticed by God is rewarded by treats from God. Our interaction with God is reduced to something like us making lists of things we want to receive once a year, while trying to avoid getting on a naughty list meaning we’d end up with no treats.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Fairy Godmother’, waving a wand and fixing things that are not quite right, magically turning our pumpkins into carriages and our rags into beautiful gowns, we assume that God moves in and out of our lives, transforming some of our ordinary into extraordinary and making us feel special.  Our interaction with God is reduced to a cry for help for what we want from God, a cry to change our circumstances and bring us riches and magical moments.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Police Officer’, enforcing rules, keeping the law, looking after public health and safety, we see God as official law enforcers, uniformed and tough, sometimes on our side, sometimes on the side of the other person.  Our interaction with God is reduced to a valiant attempt to keep the laws and be a good citizen, staying out of God’s way, and only involving God’s help personally with our emergency phone call when something is going wrong.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Judge’,  determining whether by our behaviour we’re guilty or not-guilty and dishing out punishment accordingly, we see God as remote from us, sitting behind a high bench, protected by the legal traditions and processes.  Our interaction with God only happens at times of judgement, maybe when we think we’ve done something wrong or if someone else we know has wronged us, and in our eyes deserves punishment.

There are plenty of other views of God out there, and feel free to post a comment with your ideas. I think the closest I can come to describing my view of God, is something like God as Journey Guide.  You’ll know if you’ve ever been on a tourist tour and had a great local guide, how it helps to really see what is going on in the places you’re travelling through, to get an appreciation of the people that live in that place, their history and customs, to figure out currencies and sort out simple things that become so important on tour, such as great places to eat!  There is also the adventure guide, such as the Sherpas that guide hiking groups up the Nepalese mountains.  I imagine that these guides know the way, know the conditions, know what to do when things get rough, know the unpredictability and uncertainties of the climb.  These guides have experience of such journeys, yet at the same time, each journey is unique and new.  No two climbs are the same, and each brings their own challenges, joys, dangers and achievements.  And of course a journey guide can only lead if people are willing to follow. And as a follower, you can’t opt in and out of parts of the climb, picking out the parts you want, choosing only to walk on the flat bits and somehow jump over the steep climbs and avoid them. You have to follow from the bottom to the top all the way if you’re going to be sure of where you’re going.

To me this metaphor comes closest to my faith understanding of Jesus as journey guide.  One of my favourite things about Christmas is the celebration of Emmanuel.  In the birth of Jesus, the world received Emmanuel or ‘God is with us’.  As Jesus lived amongst people, we have the eyewitness records of what kind of person this ‘God with us’ was, what he did, what he said and what he felt. ‘God with us’ or Jesus Christ as ‘journey guide’ is to me extremely comforting.  Jesus who understands pain and suffering. Jesus who speaks words of peace and love, forgiveness and hope.  Jesus who gives priority to the poor, the needy and the sick.  Jesus who tells us to follow him.  Jesus who shows us the way, the truth and the life. Jesus who faced despair, loneliness, sorrow and grief.  There is such comfort in knowing that God with us, in the person of Jesus is alongside me. And right now he’s got me bubble wrapped because he knows that’s what I need.

I’ve been thinking all of this over in my head in the last few weeks, and had actually started writing the blog a few days ago up to this point…

This weekend I’ve been quietly sitting with my laptop and formatting our next book, ‘Solving the God Problem’.  It’s written by Brian K. Smith, and is actually a revised version of a manuscript he wrote many years ago, called ‘The Xerox Equation’.    As my eyes flicked over the words, it struck me that this manuscript has been hugely influential in my thinking and concept of my view of God.  In fact it actually surprised me how many of the thoughts and ideas in Brian’s book, are integrally part of my faith, fully permeated through my thinking and have been now for many years.   “Jesus is the Son of God. See him, and you’ve seen the God that nobody has ever seen.” (Brian K. Smith from the ‘Solving the God Problem – John for Today” Due for publication in next few weeks from Kereru Publishing.)

I first encountered Brian’s Xerox Equation when I was running a children’s holiday programme based on the seven signs from John’s gospel about 25 years ago.  Andrew had a photocopy of the manuscript from his time at theological college when Brian was the Principal, and I used it as my base document to build up our holiday programme content.  Over the years I’ve dipped into it many times.  We were very excited when Brian agreed to give it a brush up for today’s world and publish it with Kereru.   And many of Brian’s old students have already expressed enthusiasm to get a copy once we’ve published, so it’s not just us who’ve been influenced and impressed by his thinking. Brian’s commentary on John We see God through the person of Jesus.  Reading the book of John from the bible alongside Brian’s John commentary shows that through understanding Jesus, we get a view of God.

Well this blog did not start out as a plug for our new book, but it is intriguing that the blog post flitting through my head of late and half written until today, should connect so well with my weekend’s work, so I really can’t help giving this a push!  Brian’s book is written for those with little or no biblical background, so fits in well with my ‘all ages and all stages’ thinking and is really a book for anyone. Brian uses contemporary language and metaphors to unpack the gospel of John and things that you read in the bible and wonder what they mean, are explained engagingly and creatively.  In its earlier format it was probably one of the first bible commentaries I had ever read, and reflecting on it now, I see how significant this has been to the foundation of my adult faith, my view of God and my life journey through the good times and the tough times. My bubble wrapping shouldn’t surprise me after all!

(Photo credit: my dress as seen through the bubble wrap)

My Lent Bucket List

I’ve been thinking about death a bit recently.  It’s not a morbid preoccupation, or a sudden interest in ‘dark things’ but more of a close realisation of the natural process that affects us all from birth through to death.  Death feels nearer than it did before.  I guess it’s a pretty normal reaction for someone who’s just had a near death experience. (see my previous blog entry and there’s more in this one too.)   Also this week has been one of those weeks where I’ve had news of a baby cousin born in Argentina and a very close and dear friend of my parents dying, a work colleague’s brother dying, as well as the daughter of a friend of ours who we’ve known since she was a baby, getting engaged to be married… and it’s all a reminder of the circle of life to which we all, everyone one of us are on, whether for a short or long time.

“From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round”
- The Circle of Life - Music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice

A couple of years back I went to a seminar for women in business and one of the activities we did was to create a list of 50 goals or things we wanted to achieve in the short, medium and long term.  I like lists.  I’m one of those ridiculous people who makes a list so I can get the satisfaction of crossing things off… and yes even more ridiculous that if I want to be able to cross a lot of things off, I’ll even put on some things I’ve just done so I get that satisfaction!!!  Anyway, this 50 goals list was my first attempt at something like a ‘Bucket List’ and was actually a bit of fun, particularly being able to cross off some of the things on the list in the last couple of years, from starting Kereru Publishing to buying a pair of turquoise shoes!  It is quite the trendy thing these days to refer to a ‘bucket list,’ and particularly in the age of social media, we are able to show off our experiences to our friends around the globe as we seek new and exciting adventures.  The concept of a bucket list has been linked to death because these bucket lists include “X number of things I want to do before I die.”

Last year when Andrew and I were on a tour of Schwenkfeld things in Germany, and I was not feeling so great, I went to the local hospital in Pirna, near Dresden, to see a doctor, it being the only place to find a Doctor on a Sunday morning!   I arrived thinking that I had some kind of tummy bug or something equally minor.  Three hours later, it was a shock to be told they were keeping me in their hospital as I had to have emergency bowel surgery.   When I asked if I could go home to New Zealand, the doctor just looked at me, and said very quietly, “How long is the plane flight back to NZ?”

“About 24 hours flying time,” I replied.

“You don’t actually have that long,” he answered, “We’re going to delay the surgery until first thing tomorrow morning as the chief surgeon wants to do it herself.  It’s a case of getting the right person and the right time. But you need the surgery immediately.”

Then he proceeded to tell me the significant risks of the surgery with the best English he could use.

It was pretty good English.  It was good enough for me to know that things were not going so well for me.  I hadn’t planned to die any time soon.  It wasn’t on my radar.  But for the remaining hours of that day Andrew and I sat together and I thought about my life to date and I thought about the possibility of death.   The very hardest thing of all was being away from my people.  I missed terribly my loved ones at home, and although we spoke on the phone to my parents and kids, a phone call seemed so remote, and I didn’t get to speak to all my people, having, neither the time or the energy.  Through the night I was in such pain, which maybe helped me, in that the thought of death didn’t frighten me.  If it was my time, I was ready.  I was at peace.  God felt very near to me.

After a teary goodbye to Andrew, and a promise from him that he’d be there when I woke up, they wheeled me to theatre and somewhere on the way I went to sleep…  and while it felt like second, over 24 hours later woke to the sound of voices in a foreign language, calling my name.  It felt like they were pulling me towards them. I didn’t recognise any of the voices.

“Where’s Andrew?”  I asked, foggy headed.

“He’s not here.”

So I knew in that moment, that I had died.  I’d gone to the wrong place, I wasn’t alive, because Andrew wasn’t there waiting for me.

This created a further flurry of voices, and then a whole string of sentences in an accented English voice,  “It is Tuesday morning.  We made him go home.  He is with your friends in Dresden.  He will be here soon.”

I wasn’t in the wrong place.  I wasn’t dead.  I was alive.  And yet I could not believe it. The thrill of knowing I was alive was dizzyingly wonderful.

I don’t remember a lot of the details of those first few days in Intensive Care.  I just remember being so glad to be alive, and see Andrew again, and to know that I would be able to go home and see my family.   And all I wanted to do, was to ‘be’.   I wanted to be a better person, a kinder, gentler, wiser one, less thoughtless with my words, more generous with my actions, I wanted to show the world that love exists and so does hope and peace and grace.   With no words to help me, and a body that had completely let me down, rendering me totally at the mercy of the hospital staff, the only thing I could think to do was to smile.  And so I smiled.  As much as I could.  It wasn’t hard.  I was very happy.  But apparently it was unusual!  I was alive and it was like I had been handed a fresh start.

It’s funny, because these thoughts consumed me initially, and it wasn’t until I was out of Intensive Care that I started to think about the things that I’d left unfinished that I’d now get a chance to finish.  A ‘review of my bucket list’.  And sure there were plenty of things that I wanted to do again, projects I wanted to finish, places I wanted to visit, things I wanted to learn, but in those heady days of being alive again, all those things didn’t matter so much.  I always have several creative projects on the go at any one time.  A half-finished painting, an incomplete manuscript (or several), a quilt (or two), sewing projects, (aplenty) excel spreadsheet documents and so on.  One day, I’m really going to die.  And I know that I’m going to more than likely leave behind a list of things that I didn’t get to finish, didn’t get to do, didn’t get to try, didn’t get to accomplish.  It is, I realise, a reality of life.

Even now, almost five months later, with my health getting gradually better, I still feel that the things that are on those lists don’t matter so much to me as just ‘being’.  I still want to do them but I don’t need to do them.  And this is where I think my faith and belief in a life after death helps.   Because I don’t think this life is the end.  Things I don’t get to finish in this life, maybe I’ll do in the next life.   I love the images and ideas C.S.Lewis plays with in many of his books, the idea that this life is a shadow of the life yet to come.   In his Narnia books, partly allegorical with the Christian story, with Aslan the Lion being a Christ figure, my favourite character is the little mouse, Reepicheep.  In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep who is a brave, adventurous mouse, when faced with the prospect of going on a journey from which he knows he will never return, is eager and willing.  At the edge of the world, where the water is sweet and filling,  and there is more light than has ever been seen before, is the bright land called Aslan’s Country.  “Whatever it is, won’t it be worth anything just to have looked for one moment beyond the edge of the world?”  Reepicheep – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The season of Lent is a time when Christians throughout history, focus on being more like Christ.  In some traditions the practice of going without something for the 40 days leading to the events of the Easter weekend, becomes a daily physical reminder of this discipline to pray, to think about Christ, to be like Christ.  The ’40 days’ of Lent has been picked up by many Christian people in promoting 40 days of disciplines not related to the Easter story and not necessarily practised through Lent, but practised to be better people and more like Christ.  (40 Days of Purpose, 40 Days of Prayer, The Love Dare, 40 Days in the Word… and so on.)    Andrew and I for several years wrote material for the New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society.  The appeal was called, ‘Self Denial’ and picked up the idea of denying yourself something and using the resource (time, energy, money, goods etc) to give to those less fortunate in our world and those working to make a difference in the different countries where NZBMS worked.  The NZ Baptist churches could use the material at any timeframe that they liked, according to their own church year plans.  Some churches liked to link the annual Self Denial appeal to Lent, where it fitted neatly with the idea of denying yourself something throughout Lent.

I was thinking about those Self Denial appeals the other day.  Our younger children experienced these appeals through most of their early childhood and primary school years. They laugh about it now, but they used to look forward to Self Denial every year almost as much as they looked forward to Christmas.  And they love Christmas!  Because we’d written the Self Denial material, we packed our church services with plenty of creative things that made it all challenging and inspiring as well as fun.  We liked to hold our Self Denial season away from Easter, as we liked the chance to make the most of both.  I still am constantly intrigued about the joy our kids found in focussing on the needs of others through these times.  In fact, when I think of the people I know who are truly happy, they are people who give generously to others.  Giving makes them happy and fulfilled.

It is why the ’50 Things to Do Before I Die – Bucket List’ doesn’t quite cut it for me as a ‘before I die’ list.  I’m quite happy to have a list of goals and ideas and dreams to keep me moving through this life. I like to be active and creative and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.  And I like to make plans.  And I need to do some of these things to relax.  But these are not the imperative goals that I know are necessary to be more like Christ.   They’re more just ‘nice things to do’.  Frank Sinatra’s, “I Did It My Way,” has an emotive, beautiful and powerful tune… but the lyrics are the exact opposite of how I want to end my life or how I want to be remembered.

 “And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.
I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
….
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way!”
- Music "Comme d'habitude" Claude François & Jacques Revaux, Lyrics Paul Anka”'

A few years ago we went to a children’s performance show where the storyline revolved around a girl who had just found out she was dying and wanted to do all kinds of things before she died.  It was a little jarring in parts, because it didn’t take into account, if she was dying there would be medical issues, and pain, and grief.  But it did bring up a topic that is a hot topic for most people, the things that I want to ‘do’ before I die.   The movie, “The Bucket List” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicolson is based on the same concept.  It had some thought provoking moments, but overall the same problem… does it really matter if we get to do all these things for ourselves before we die?

What if we lived our lives so that others’ lives were touched and improved? What if the legacy we leave helps other people in their lives? What if we don’t get to do all the things we’ve dreamed and planned for ourselves, but what we did do, was stop a child from starving, was provide hope to someone who was hopeless, loved someone who was unlovable.  These things would be worth doing before we died.

So all of this is heading towards my thinking about my problem with a Bucket List as being a complete list of I want to achieve before I die.  Unless I write my list in such a way that it’s not all about my wants and desires, a bucket list is essentially selfish. So I thought what better time this Lent season than to keep a Lenten Bucket List.  I’m going to focus on giving and being a better person, I want to focus on being more like Jesus Christ and be more like he wants me to be.   But instead of making a list to tick off, I’m going to put a bucket next to my bed and every day I’m going to put a note into my bucket.  At least one thing every day that I’ve done to be more like Jesus, one thing that I’ve given away or one thing I’ve been.  I guess I could make a list of some ideas of things I could do, but I thought this Lent I would let God guide me towards the needs of people around me.

Of course, I could do this all the time, not just for Lent, and I don’t really need to put things into a bucket to make them actually happen, but the physical act of writing something down and putting it in my bucket and the opportunity to practise a discipline through the Lenten season, seems a good way to follow Christ this year.  Because this year, more than any year I can remmeber, I am feeling very glad to be alive and I’m feeling like I’ve got a second chance at making my life make a difference.

Light in the Darkness

Our family is using the 25 Stockings book each night at the dinner table.  As well as three versions of homemade ’25 Stockings’ hanging across the room, our 19 year old daughter bought an Advent candle this year. It’s one of those candles with incremental marks down it from 1 – 25.  So each night when we are all together we light the candle as we eat our dinner.  This requires very careful watching because although the candle starts off burning slowly, all of a sudden the wax drips down the side and the mark is reached for the day and it’s time to blow out the candle.

Once we’ve finished eating we read the bible passage. Because our children have always had this experience (I started writing the book when I was 19!) they love the three questions so we have to include that, and then we usually read the reflection and the prayer.

A couple of nights ago we also did the Discussion Time talking about darkness and times when we’ve been in the dark and turned on a light and how this makes a difference and of course how this relates to the metaphor of God’s love.  We had a satisfying conversation about light and darkness and times we’ve each felt God’s presence.   It was nice sitting there in front of a candle and talking about the impact of light that a single candle creates in a darkened room.

Last night I wasn’t feeling so good and although I went to bed early, I was up and down all night.  At first the rest of the family were still all up so while my room was in darkness, the rest of the house was a blaze of light.  By about midnight, 17’s door was shut and I figured he had turned in for the night. But sometime after 1, when I was up again and the rest of the house was this time in darkness too, I reasonably thought everyone else had now gone to bed.  But… around 17’s closed door was a silhouette of light.  (Not that, there was anything wrong with him still being up – he is on holiday)

I was pondering the idea that I had only seen the light around his door because the rest of the house was in darkness.  It was kind of the opposite thinking of our earlier discussion talking about darkness and the difference that happens when a candle is lit.  (Okay, I know it sounds like the same thing but bear with me.)  The light had been on all the time, but I only saw that it was on when the rest of the house changed from light to dark.

So maybe sometimes the metaphor is that we can be like a light in the darkness for others just like a candle lighting up the darkness.  And maybe other times we are part of a larger group of lights, indistinguishable as individuals until we are separated and stand as a solitary light in darkness.

I’ve really liked the metaphor as a follower of Jesus, of being a light in the darkness, or being salt adding flavour to the world.  But I also think there is a balance and when we are being ‘light’ we carry on being true to our call to follow Jesus and be light to the world, by both gathering with a larger group of other ‘lights’ and also living, working and spending time on our own with others who are not followers of Jesus, and therefore hopefully bringing light to their darkness.

It’s a balance that is a struggle and maybe always changing.  There is something wonderful and refreshing for followers to spend large amounts of time with other followers of Jesus.  And maybe at different times in our lives we need this fellowship more than other times.   But if we spend all of our time with our friends from our church groups, then how much is our light shining noticeably to others?  And if we spend too much time with others who are not followers of Jesus, are we in danger of our light ‘battery’ running out or our candle burning until the flame is extinguished.

Anyway, that was my middle of the night musing… instead of sleeping!  Just thought I’d share it.

Taking a Detour

I always love a road journey and a road journey metaphor is even better.  This weekend Andrew and I and our 16 year old son, headed to Northland. Andrew was preaching at the Bay of Islands Co-operating Parish on Sunday and being the last weekend of the school holidays we thought we’d make it a weekend adventure.  We had planned on leaving after I finished work on Friday, but with the recent flooding up north, State Highway 1 was closed just south of Kawakawa due to part of the main highway being washed away in the floods.

The radio was recommending taking extra time and using detour roads.  There were several options we could choose.  We could go the really long way through Dargaville and add an extra couple of hours to the usual trip length, try our luck with State Highway 1 and hope we might get through or find our own way through the myriad of back roads going North.   The long way didn’t appeal, so we thought we’d try State Highway 1, and trust the road ..  which was fine all the way until we were on the outskirts of Whangarei and reached a sign that told us to turn around and go back to SH14.

The suggestion did not appeal… because we didn’t want to backtrack so far…  so we stopped and bought some Kumara from a roadside stall and asked for the local knowledge.  The vegetable seller was helpful and recommended that we go back to the first set of lights and make a right turn there and follow the detour signs.

SH1FloodDamage

We must have missed something in the translation, because we got back to the traffic lights and made a right turn, but we couldn’t see any detour signs.  Nothing daunted we stopped, rearranged and Mr 16 went in the front seat with his smartphone, we looked at the map, turned on the GPS navigation and set off on our own.

All went well initially, and we progressed for close to an hour without incident.  And then…  then we lost the navigation signal.  However, we could still see the map, so with Mr 16 directing we picked our route and happily drove on.   The tarseal roads changed to dirt roads, and they started to get rather windy, but with our navigator on the job, it looked like we were only about 10 mins from Kaikohe, the town where we were navigating to… when we passed a car that looked as if it had been washed down the road… and then… a road sign and barricade stopped us…  because the road.. was WASHED away!

Okay… perhaps the long way was looking like it might have been a better choice – or certainly a faster choice!  But like intrepid explorers we picked up our smiles, turned the car around, went back about three quarters of an hour to where the road last forked and changed direction.  Dirt road changed to tarseal and wonder upon wonders, we saw traffic!  Could it be possible that we were on the right detour road at last?

With growing confidence we felt that this new road was taking us to the place we wanted to go…  we were heading north, which was a great sign, and every so often coming towards us were a few cars and trucks, giving us comfort that this road was not going to end up washed away. However, after a while we noticed that there was a pattern to the cars coming towards us.  There’d be a dozen cars or trucks in a row, and then nothing for a while, and then another row of a dozen cars and trucks.   Pretty sure now that we would be stopped somewhere ahead and be reduced to one lane.

Sure enough we came upon a queue of cars that were not moving.  We stopped.  We turned off the engine.  We waited.  We waited. We waited. A truck full of yellow clay drove past us.  Another truck of yellow clay drove past.  Hmmm…  were they transporting clay, shifting the slips from the road?

Finally it was our turn to move and single file our queue of cars moved slowly around the bend.  We saw the devastation, the road that had slipped away on the right hand side and on the left the yellow clay dirt that had fallen down from the hillside and was blocking the road.  We saw the machinery, the men, the signs, the activity and action to get this back road detour route operating and allowing people to move north.

After that it was fairly straight forward.  We reached the town of Kaikohe and drove without any further  trouble to Paihia… our journey had taken twice as long as usual but we were there.

We talked as we drove, laughing at our adventure, but also wondering what would have happened if we’d made a different choice about the route of our journey. If we’d taken the long route – would we in fact have got there faster?  If we’d stopped to find the real detour, rather than allowing ourselves to take what we viewed as an easy choice and follow our own path would we have found the right way faster?  Or what if, when we saw the sign telling us to turn around, what if we’d ignored it and carried on down SH1?  What would have happened?

That’s the thing about choices, once they’re made you can’t undo them, you can only try to make the best of them and try to stay on the right path.  And is there only one right way? Is there only one route for each of us to follow, do we have to find the right path that God intends us to take and only follow that path, or is keeping our eye on the destination the more important goal?

Over the weekend we met several people who all had stories of their journey north or the journey of someone they knew, different routes were described and discussed, and it was clear that there were many ways to reach the north.  And it was also clear that time delay was standard no matter what route taken.

But we still didn’t know whether we’d made the right or wrong decisions in regards to our journey.  All we know is that we made our best choices based on the information we had, we made the most of our journey… and we got to our destination.

And life and faith is a bit like that.  We make some right calls and some wrong calls, but we’re never off God’s map.  And sometimes when we least expect it, a detour occurs, but even then, we press on to our destination and we find fulfillment in both the journey and the destination.

(An interesting postscript to this story is that Mr 16 had taken homework with him for his English research assignment.  He’s chosen the topic of Free Will vs Determinism and is using mainly movies as his sources.  So that night we watched ‘The Adjustment Bureau’.  The movie introduces the idea of theological determinism, and seemed an apt end to our day of trying to find our own path. Well worth watching and discussing)   

(Photo credit: Google maps & NZ Herald)

Golden days of Autumn

It’s officially autumn in New Zealand and this year it is unseasonably cold!  Well that seems to be the way of the world these days – unpredictability of weather!  But this blog entry isn’t about climate change or weather patterns.   I was just thinking the other day that I find myself looking forward to Autumn (a little bit).  Now that might not seem strange, but it doesn’t seem that many years ago when I didn’t like autumn.  It signaled the start of the cold part of the year, a time of short days when the waking day begins in the darkness and night closes in during the early evening, a time of extra layers of clothes, wet socks from walking in the rain, runny noses and condensation on the windows.

I think I’ve always been a summer person.  I love the beach, the warmth and the light.  I love juicy stone fruit and long lazy days.  I love walking barefoot, the smell of citronella and sunblock and wearing sunhats.  I love gardens full of colour and the sound of cicadas and insects.  I love lying under a leafy tree and reading a good book…. yes Summer is my season!  And because spring precedes summer and proclaims it’s arrival, I love spring too.  Spring with its new life and its promises of good things to come, with the brilliant green of new leaves, and the buds of pink blossoms, the days beginning to stretch and the shedding of winter blankets.    And coming into third place, I kind of like winter too, the chance to hibernate and curl up in front of a warm fire, with a good movie and a glass of mulled wine,  I always feel like knitting in winter, a hobby that keeps me connected to the rich heritage of times passed as I practice the hobby of my grandmothers and my mother in law.  And I love puddle walks and rain dances, especially with a child or two in tow, going out in the rain with an umbrella and gumboots and a willngness to get well and truly wet.  And winter seems so much closer to Spring with its new lambs and daffodils and wearing pink.

It’s just autumn that’s always been my least favourite season.  So I’m kind of wondering why I suddenly find myself looking forward to autumn.  Is it because I live under a magnificent, old and large oak tree (which for personal reasons is very dear to me – watch this blog for more oak tree stories), which showers our roof with a barrage of acorns in firecracker sounds that are somehow soothing?  Is it because I now have a garden that has berries which fruit in autumn and there’s something special about eating things you’ve grown yourself?  Is it because we had a road trip holiday five years ago (okay if you’ve read my earlier blogs you’ll know I like road trips and metaphors and when they connect together you might see a general theme emerging here 🙂 ) through the eastern side of Canada and the USA and drove miles and miles never getting sick of the brilliantly coloured trees? (Our native trees are evergreen so we don’t get the same multicoloured autumns in NZ)

I’m not sure when or why I decided that I was looking forward to autumn, and this is clearly more of a ramble than an orderly and coherent entry. This isn’t the first year I’ve felt this way but it still strikes me as contrary to my younger self experience.  So, I was wondering if it is because I’ve reached a stage of life and faith where I know that there is good in every part of the journey from beginning to end, that there are good things to be found along the path as we walk and that some of the best experiences happen in the hard and difficult times? That for every new idea (Spring) there is a seasoned voice of experience (Autumn) pointing an opportunity, full of fruit, mature and complex in flavour and ripe for picking.  There is something about listening to the voices of people who have already travelled the faith journey, who have had their times of hardship, of desperately holding on to faith to see them through, who can talk of the cycle of days and years when God seems close and all is rosy and wonderful and other times when the darkness settles early and it’s hard to find the light.  When autumn heralds a bleak winter ahead, it is hard to feel happy and optimistic.  Yet, it is in the hardest and most difficult times of our lives that we turn to God.

And maybe that is why I’ve come to like Autumn.  Because as a metaphor it was and is, easy for me to be happy in Spring and Summer when all is so fresh, hopeful and wonderful, but when I reflect on the days of autumn and winter – these have been the times when God has been close.  Times when I’ve needed to know that I’m not walking alone. That in the darkness and bleakness there is a closeness that is comforting and rallying.  And somehow it seems right that we need all four of the seasons to appreciate the fullness and complexity of our living and walking faith journey.  If every day was spring, how would we ever experience and find the fruit of autumn?

(Photo credit:  the colours of ‘fall’  driving in Quebec Province, Canada 2009)

Discovery journey around South Island

If I had to name one metaphor that I keep returning to, time and again it would be ‘Bend in the Road’.    I love roads and journeys and metaphors…   and I have many, many stories that fit within the particular metaphor of Bend in the Road. I guess some of them will appear in this blog over time.

So, to start with just one story…  We had a family road trip a few years back around the South Island of New Zealand.   It happened at a time in our ministry lives when Andrew and I had reached a ‘Bend’.  The thing with bends in the road is that you don’t always know about them in advance, you are not prepared for them and all of a sudden you have to navigate, with no idea of what is around the corner.

On this particular ‘Bend’, together, we rather suddenly decided to change direction and it coincided with our two youngest being on school holiday.  So, just before we moved Church, house, school and community, off we went on our adventure around the South Island.  Initially there was great resistance to the idea of a road trip.  The kids did not think being in the car for a couple of weeks sounded like a great holiday at all.

But we packed up the car.  It was precision packing, everything had its place and for two weeks it would be our home base, the four of us, the car, a road to follow and an adventure ahead.  And off we went.  With only a night or two at each stop, staying in cabins in holiday parks, with only a vague idea of our ‘nightly pit stops’ we travelled our way around the Island for a couple of weeks.   There were holiday rules that we made up as we went along…  Such as the competition that we had to swim in every lake we came to…  and even in summer the mountain lakes were icy cold!  There was the condition that if one of us wanted to stop, we’d all stop… and so from stop to stop we travelled.

There were a few things we discovered as we journeyed.  For one thing, we all agreed that we loved the journey.  We also found that we quite liked following the road, not quite sure what we’d find next, having a rough idea, but being surprised and delighted by the detail of what we encountered. Far from boredom, the kids became eager for each new day’s discoveries.  And by the time our road trip was over, we were all agreed that road trips were a great way to holiday, that as a start to our new yet to be discovered next stage of our family journey, this was an eye opening way to begin.  We agreed that the South Island of New Zealand is amazing!  And we discovered as a family, that we liked discovering together.

All of which is a metaphor for the idea of discovery worship.  The concept that in our worship together we journey in discovering more about our faith and relationship with, Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit… and how this journey impacts our daily living. We can’t see around the bend in the road, but we journey together on a path of Christian faith.  We roughly know where we’re headed, we have a map of sorts, determination and enthusiasm, but the details are yet to be revealed.

Discovery worship is empowering.  It give participants the opportunity to take steps on the faith journey at  their own pace, chart their course alongside others on the journey, have a rough idea of the destination of their journey, but the details worked out within the framework of Christian faith.  The journey of discovery is for everyone, young or old, rich or poor, male or female, educated or uneducated.

And resources for the journey of discovery are what we are aiming to provide with Kereru Publishing.

(Photo credit:  From our family snaps of our adventure – swimming in every lake 2008)