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Posts Tagged ‘Reflections’

It is hard to not be effected by what has been happening in Japan over these last several days. Coupled with other recent events such as the cyclone and subsequent flooding in Queensland, Australia, and the ongoing political tension in Libya and the Middle East, it brings me down to earth about the hard reality of this world. In particular it makes me wonder about the future, the Kingdom of God, and what God has planned for the earth.

Searching for ideas about what to make of all this, I stumbled across a blog post by Daniel James Levy on the American Evangelical Environmental Network website.

Growing up he had a “view of the world which in turn will one day end in some kind of cataclysmic explosion, which of course included some kind of nuclear missiles, huge machine guns, and the death of trillions of people and animals. After this, God will one day blow up the entire cosmos, just as He spoke it into existence.”

Yet as a youth Levy explains that struggled to reconcile this picture of the future with the call for Christians to spread the Good News and make the world a better place.

Levy writes,

“I remember vividly leaving my youth group one Wednesday night when I was 15 years old, the youth pastor talked about trying to lead people to Christ, to make the world a better place, and so on, but it never made sense in my head. “Why if this world is getting dramatically worst day by day (as his theology taught) would I labor to bring a difference here and now, if it will ultimately do nothing”, I said to myself. So when Jesus said He feeds the birds of the air, I could never make sense to why He does. The only reason it could be, was of course, for me.”

Levy explains the journey he has been on to reconcile this tension.

Drawing on what Stassen and Gunshee in Kingdom Ethics call a covenantal perspective – where covenants such as God’s covenant with creation after the Flood, and the laws of the Israelites which included duties involving non-human creation – Levy explains that we are invited to participate with God in the care of creation.

He writes, we “…are supposed to be a reflection of His nature in the world, which includes His care for the creation.”

While I was hoping that Levy would fill out more what this means and involves (I suppose we have to read Kingdom Ethics for more) he finishes with a beautiful illustration from New Testament scholar N.T. Wright.

Wright describes that for a person moving into a foreign land it is best that they know the language of the locals before they arrive, rather than learning when they get there. That way, when they arrive, they feel at home and a sense of place. He then compares this to us in the here and now and the future Kingdom of God in its fullness.

I don’t know exactly what this means for Queensland and Japan, but it does give me a sense of purpose, something to set my mind to, in an orientation of hope and expectation. In the face of floods and cyclones, I can still all be learning a language of love.

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Have you ever sung to a seal?

My first experience of seal-singing was on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, on the north-east coast of England.

After having been recommended the practice by a friend who lived on the island, I embraced the idea with only some trepidation. I’m not a good singer. I was feeling for the seals.

First we had to find some seals.

After making our way over to the north side of the island, and picking our way along the shore, we were delighted to come across several seals who were lounging-around on the rocks.

This was the first time we’d seen seals since our arrival in the UK. And it was pretty exciting. The only thing was that they were quite a distance away.

In addition, they were very content in staying put. They were sun baking – and sun doesn’t appear much in the north of England (so says an Aussie). If I were a seal, I would have been making the most of any opportunity as well. As we waited around to see if they’d had their fill of sunshine, we became slowly entranced by their lying around. They just lay there. Flapped a flipper around here and there. The odd seal-grunt of satisfaction. It was all simply indulgent. So simple. It sank into me – and infused throughout me – they were thoroughly enjoying just being. Questions rang in the back of my mind: when did I last do that? And, why don’t I do it more often?

Still, I had an objective. A task was before me. After having made this great discovery, I was a little disappointed that they were a bit too far away for singing. And, while there were no other people around, an untrained, warbally, loud singing voice would be the very thing to make concerned holiday-makers come running in case I was raising an alarm. So we took photos and enjoyed the spectacle, without the additional human company.

Choosing to meander further along the shore, it wasn’t too much later that we found another, smaller group of seals, who were also making the most of the sun. Except this time, they were closer in.

…Here goes. My music-aficionado partner shook his head in disbelief.

The thing is, they noticed. One, younger, more inquisitive seal was so impressed that he slid of the rock for a closer look at this singing being.

From then on we were dancing in a relationship of curiosity. Me, fascinated by the effect of my voice on the seals, and the seals, especially the young one, entranced by my voice.

I have no idea why some seals are drawn to humans singing. But they are. And from then on, whenever we toured the coasts of Scotland, my eyes were peeled for more opportunities.

There was one other time when we had a singing-seal encounter.

It was on the south-east coast of Harris, part of the distant island of Scotland which is known as the Outer Hebrides.

We were driving the coast road and my eyes scanned the countless grey rocks (of which every second looked like a grey seal), that spanned the coves. There! That’s not a rock. That there is a seal! We jumped out of the warm car and quickly rugged up in several extra layers, and then made our way to the embankment that overlooked the little beach.

This time a little group were lying around on a bed of seaweed. And this time, when I plucked up the early notes, two smaller seals slid into the water to come a little nearer.

As I searched my mind for songs or snippets of songs that I knew the words to, I was again struck by the beauty of the interaction.

Here I was, offering something to a seal (poor as the tune might be). And it was fascinated by me.

It somehow brought me onto a different level.  The worries – about where we would stay that night, what we would eat for lunch, and whether we’d get to see the highlights of the island in our short visit – all vanished and it was just us and the seals, enjoying a moment. Being together. Us, them, the ocean and the sky.

Whenever I reflect on my seal-singing experiences I am filled with wonder and gratitude. And thankfulness to the woman who shared her own joy of it. Now that we’re back in Australia, I wonder whether our southern-hemisphere seals like human tunes as well. And I wonder whether I’ll ever again share such a special moment with these friendly ocean creatures.

Having said all that, I hope that this story has also conveyed the humour and joy of the Creator. Who thinks of such lovely, life-giving details as curious and time-indulgent seals.

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Check out this poem:

 

God Works in Cycles and Seasons:

“…He guides the days and the seasons;
He guides the birds through the air.
God works his gracious redemption”
We are but dimly aware.

God has his own eco-logic;
God has his own Kingdom plan.
God works in Trinity wisdom;
God holds the world in his hand.

Cycles of cloud and of water,
Cycles of wind and of rain,
Deep-moving flows of the ocean,
Circling, returning again”

Cycles of love and of spirit,
Cycles of seasons of grace,
Times of refreshing revival,
Gaining fresh light from his face.

God is the world’s great Composer,
Dramatist, Architect, King”
Rhythms of art; sounds melodic”
God gives us music to sing.

God simplifies deepest mysteries;
God complicates best-laid plans.
We walk in wonder before him,
Trusting our ways in his hands.

God in our own lives recycles”
Physically, through blood and cell;
Spiritually, through prayerful rhythms;
Stewardly, as we serve well.

We are a part of the story;
We have our key roles to play”
If we but follow the Master”
Spirit led, day after day.

We are God’s keepers of nature;
We are his stewards of grace.
We live the Spirit’s commission,
Stewarding both time and space.

God makes us all his recyclers”
This is no secular whim.
This is no plot of the devil”
God makes us stewards for him.

God is the Lord who recycles,
Bringing forth things old and new.
God even makes evil to serve him,
Turning the false to the true.

God is the perfect Recycler”
No wastage; nothing is lost”
Whether in storm, wind, or fire,
God wins the world through the cross.

“Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise him for his mighty deeds!
Praise him with loud clanging cymbals!
Praise him, all that lives and breathes!”

 

This poem is based on Psalm 150 and other Scriptures.  By H0ward A. Snyder, Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale University College and Seminary. See here for the full poem.

What do you think…? Do you agree that God works in Cycles and Seasons?

Poem posted on the Evangelical Environmental Network website.

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There is a lot to celebrate at Christmas.

The Incarnation signals a renewed relationship between God and humankind, between heaven and earth, and between the peoples of the earth.”

So says Simon Holt in an Evangelical Alliance article, “Christmas Feast.”

Drawing on his own Christmas culinary cravings, and the work of L. Shannon Jung (Food for Life), Holt challenges us to reposition our understanding of Christmas roasts and all the trimmings into a Christ-centered perspective.

Holt writes:

The real joy of Christmas is found in connection, connection to God and each other.”

Food is a gift. From God. Making it sacred. (So says me reading Holt who read Jung). The problem is that we’ve become distanced from the gift-Giver, and we’ve become disconnected from other people and the earth – with whom, I’d argue, we can share this gift, and better appreciate it.

What am I going to do this Christmas to reconnect food and faith? Do you agree with Holt’s article…if so – how are you going to respond?

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What does a green bag, a wheelie bin and mound of compost have to do with God?

What does my care of water have to do with my faith?

According to Margaret Feinberg and Wendell Berry (see here), quite a lot.

In More Than a Trend: Why Creation Care is Good for the Christian Soul Feinberg reflects on how caring for creation requires a change of heart in how we see ourselves and the surrounding world (and, I’d add, better understanding God’s love for all of creation).

Feinberg celebrates the learning we’ve all been doing about caring for the world, and for the changes that we’re making in our daily lives.

Yet she probes deeper into what drives our care (or lack of care).

She draws on Berry to highlight the way that we’ve put ourselves first, and that creation has suffered for it. This isn’t to say that we have to worship trees. Rather, Berry – and Feinberg – argue that caring for ourselves and the world can and should go hand in hand. They should compliment each other.

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What drives our environmentally friendliness?

Why do we care?

Why act?

Check out this mini-film, based on the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14.

Director Emily Manthei is a young Christian artist based in California. She’s passionate about

creating words, images, music and films to challenge and inspire the audience.”

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I’ve been in a state of shock for the past few weeks. A state of disbelief.

When the water bill arrived, I had to look at the figures at least twice. Then, still doubtful, I walked out to the front yard to check the water meter.

The water company had got the reading correct. How could this be?

I’ve been having five-litre bucket-baths since July 14. Our water usage should have plummeted. And it hasn’t. So, since the bill arrived, I have been trying to figure out how our household’s water-use has changed, and why it hasn’t dropped despite my committment to using less water for personal hygiene. This is what I’ve come up with:

Less water:

Showers:

I’ve replaced my long showers with five-litre bucket-baths. In addition, my partner’s work moved to a new building with better facilities, and, because he rides to work, he is able to have a shower when he arrives at the office in the morning, instead of when he gets home at the end of the day.

Garden:

As it’s been a wet winter, we’ve not had to water our vegetable garden very often.

More water:

Bath:

Our little girl outgrew the baby bath and she has been washing in a few inches of water in our big bath two or three times a week.

Laundry:

Our child has also been responsible for a big increase in our washing.  She has been churning through cloth nappies, bibs, face washers and other clothes, the outcome of her eating “solid” food and turning into a pint-sized explorer.

Cleaning:

Now that baby is entering the toddler phase, our house needs cleaning far more than it used to (sigh). That means mopping the tiled areas, cleaning the bathroom and wiping down surfaces in the kitchen (and everywhere else in the house that little fingers can reach).

So despite my committment to having bucket-baths, I haven’t managed to reduce our water consumption. But does this mean I have failed?

I’d answer: no. I’ve learnt several valuable things from this challenge.

First, I’m taking it as a great demonstration of how quickly water usage can change, as well as an opportunity to better appreciate these changes. If I hadn’t undertaken this experiment, I wouldn’t have seen the impact of our extra water use (mostly caused by our baby). I hope that in the future I’ll be more aware of how our behaviour can have a big impact on our overall water use.

At the same time, I’ve become more conscious of a continually running tap, wherever it might be (kitchen, bathroom sink, etc).

Second, my perspective on showers has changed – I appreciate them far more than I used to. While I’ve gone back to having normal showers, I reckon that they’re shorter than what they had been. A few minutes under the flowing spout seems luxurious after bathing in a meagre five litres of water.

I used to tell myself that I needed to have a long shower for a variety of reasons, including:

… to wake up in the morning.”

“… to get clean.” (How clean do I really need to be? And am I going to be drastically cleaner after a 12-minute compared to a two-minute shower?)

… to soothe my soul after a long or hard day.”

And beyond these reasons, I’ve been good at telling myself that I deserve a long shower. It’s my little treat. Sure, water is precious, but this is just a little reward for “this” or for “that”. Never mind that what I “deserve” has steadily grown over the years, and never mind that I’m also good at giving myself other little rewards during the day (another cup of coffee, a second helping of cake…). This exercise has shown me how easily I can fool myself into indulging in luxuries, in putting myself on a pedestal, of setting up a little kingdom for myself within my home. It’s all too easy to make myself Queen “for a day”, which quickly becomes every day.

As a Christian who believes that every bit of of life belongs to God, and that I can worship God in every part of my life and living, there is another dimension to this issue of my water use.

I’ve realised that my primary relationship with water isn’t about me as a consumer. Matthew Farrelly in “A Covenant with the Earth” explains that God wants my place and role on earth to be characterised by humble service, which is described in a similar way to a priest’s service in the temple.

He explains: “We have been placed within creation to mediate God’s presence, embody God’s posture, and enact God’s purposes on the earth.” Said differently: I’m not supposed to possess water and value it for how I can use it; I’m called to offer it back to the Creator in worship. In his great book, “For the Beauty of the Earth” Steven Bouma-Prediger in explains that a big part of my worship is about me being thankful to God for creation, including water.

So, what could this worship and service response mean for me? From washing and cleaning, to work and play, all of these form part of my worship of God. Said differently, I can serve God in the humble example of Jesus in everything I do.

Farrelly writes:

…we ought not to regard any of our earthly labors as profane or secular, but as sacred service to God on behalf of the world.”

God cares about how I live in the world. From how I scrub our floors, to how I write this article.

As if Farrelly knows of my once private weakness, he goes on to ask a question that cuts to the core of my thoughts and behaviour about water, and succeeds in making me squirm:

What we do with creation [i.e. water] matters to God. Do we seek to work and shape it faithfully and beautifully in relationship with God and his purposes for the world, or, perversely, to satisfy our selfish desires?”

Do I shower for my own enjoyment, for my own selfish ends? Is it all about me? Or in humility and gratitude, can I be thankful for the clean, sparkling liquid that comes out of my tap, praise God for the opportunity to have a wash, and be more careful with it in response?

And in Australia, when I remember the scarcity of fresh water, (with the ABS reporting that “most of Australia is classified as semi-arid or arid”) I am even more thankful and humbled at this gift from God.

This is important, because God isn’t saving us out of the world. I hold onto the ancient words of the Prophets and the hope of Jesus who began the work of bringing in God’s Kingdom. In this I can believe with Farrelly that my care for water, as with everything else, can take place:

…at the foot of the Cross, where we grasp that the old is passing away, and that all things—people, creatures, and the land—are becoming new.”

This isn’t an easy or clear-cut story. Tomorrow morning when I go to have a wash, I’ll again face the choice between my own greed and selfishness, or taking another Way. While the immediate enjoyment of a self-indulgent shower could entice me to luxuriate, it’s my hope that in this and other ways I’ll choose to learn of the joy and peace that comes with worshipping God through my actions of savouring and saving these drops.

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