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Posts Tagged ‘story’

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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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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What can a puppet teach us? What story can a puppet tell that leaves us inspired? You’ve got an opportunity to find out…

The Man Who Planted Trees is coming to Australia:

Melbourne Arts Centre: 20th and 21st November.

Sydney Opera House: 23rd November to 5th December.

The Man Who Planted Trees is a performance of beauty, telling a story of a humble old shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, who, accompanied by his dog, wants to bring trees back to the desolate valley which is his home.

The Puppet State Theater Company brings this classic French story by Jean Giono to life.

The Man Who Planted Trees is a story of hope and inspiration…  Of how normal and rather plain people can do extra ordinary things in normal and rather plain ways. It is simply beautiful and something that greenFish personally recommends.

The story is played out using a delightful combination of puppets and actors. The Puppet State Theater Company has a great knack of keeping both children and adults captivated.

The Man Who Planted Trees is a favorite at the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival.

“An unforgettable story that shows us the difference one man (and his dog!) can make to the world.”

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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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What is sin? Is it doing something naughty? Or, is it greater than that – is it anything that separates us from God?

If sin is an act of hurt, an attitude of selfishness, or a community of thoughtlessness, then sin is great indeed.

If that then, is the enormity of sin, how much greater must be the grace of God, to cover it all…

And all the wickedness in the world that man might work or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal in the sea”

– William Langland

Kim Cornford, in a recent talk, considers the nature of sin, the amazing grace of God, the gift of salvation, and what we can do in response to God. It is a thought-provoking story about her own journey in understanding climate change, as well as an insightful discussion on these Christian themes.

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A message by Kim Cornford at Footscray Church of Christ, August 2010


Ephesians 2:1-10

This passage is yet another one of those brilliant passages of Paul’s which expresses beautifully, almost poetically, and grippingly the power of the God we follow:

…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…

…God raises us up with Christ… that he might show the incomparable riches of his grace…… it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…

We’re going to think about salvation: being made alive in Christ, being released from our transgressions and being freed from our sins.

For many of us who have been following the Christian faith or attending church for a while, these words can sound tired to us.  They sound old.  We can think,

“Salvation, yeah, yeah, been there, done that, let’s move on shall we?”

“Jesus died for my sins, yeah, yeah, now I’m saved, I’m going to heaven. Yep, got that.”

These ‘church’ words – that some of us have heard over and over since we were children, teenagers, or young adults – get a bit tired, or we get a bit desensitized to them.

Maybe that’s how you’re feeling at the moment, or maybe you’ve been feeling like that for a while.  I want to especially invite you today to enter into this passage.  The truth of our salvation in Christ needs to be as real to us today, as it was the first time we felt God’s hand upon us.  If this is not how we are knowing and experiencing God, then we need to come back to Him and be made alive again.

Read for yourself Ephesians 2: 1-10.

We’re going to take a look at sin, God’s gift of grace, and our response to that gift – good works.

Sin

What is sin?  What are the first things that come to mind?  What things are you thinking about right now?  Are you thinking about yourself?  Are you thinking about others?

Sin is often a bigger concept than what we allow ourselves to understand.  I want to suggest that sin is anything that separates us from God. That’s pretty broad isn’t it?

To illustrate sin, imagine that sin is like taking a step away from God, or turning around to face away from God.

Faith is a journey, an interactive relationship with movement. Perhaps I’ve sinned, or know I’m living in a way that I’m distanced from God (standing away from God), but I’m facing God and I’m moving in His direction. Or perhaps I’m very close to God, and I just need to turn around and face God. Or, perhaps I’m facing God, but moving away.

Not long ago, I was talking with a friend, and she said to me, the church doesn’t talk about sin in a very helpful way.  When I asked her what she meant, she said:we often understand sin as acts of naughtiness or acts of hurt. How many of us, in a time of confession, start trying to rack our brains at all the naughty or mean things we’ve done in the past week?  And we get through that list, say sorry, and receive God’s forgiveness.  Actually, if we all did go through a process of confessing our sins on a regular basis, like this, we would probably be all the better for it.  But this conversation with my friend, took us to another place.  Are our acts of naughtiness and hurt where our sins finish?

Sin is not simple.  It is not black and white.

For example, let’s consider our acts of hurt.  If I confess my act of using angry words but still have an attitude of anger, am I freed from my sin?  If I confess my lustful thoughts but still have an attitude of sexual desire, am I freed from my sin?  If I confess self-indulgence in material objects, but maintain a budget and an income which can support it, am I freed from my sin?

Sin involves acts of hurt, but it also involves the bigger questions of our attitude.  Sin isn’t so straightforward is it?  No surprise that this is what Jesus talks about a lot.  He asks us where our heart is.  Do not murder says the Law, and Jesus says, if you have anger towards your brother, you will be subject to judgment. Don’t do your acts of righteousness before others to be seen by them, instead, Jesus says: your giving should be done before God. The law says do not commit adultery, but Jesus says looking at another lustfully commits adultery in their heart.

Let’s expand on the idea of attitude and sin. One of the striking things of our faith (and indeed, the book of Ephesians focuses on this directly) is its communal nature. Community and attitude have an important role to play, not only in how we live Godly lives, but how we understand sin.  Let’s consider the idea of communal sin.  I’m meaning here: the attitude of the people around us as a whole.  Ask yourself, what is the attitude of the people around me to faithful relationships?  What is the attitude of people around me to poverty and marginalized people?  What is the attitude of people around me to caring for creation?  The way we live is so intricately bound into the people we hang out with, sometimes, we don’t even know our attitude to things is sinful.

Well! This Christianity thing asks a lot of us, doesn’t it?!

I’ll give you an example of ignorance of my own.  I come from a pretty well off middle class family.  My school and university peers own their homes, work in professional vocations, and enjoy very comfortable lifestyles.  In some contrast, my husband and I rent a small home around the corner from our church, we work part-time, grow some veggies, mostly stay at home, and enjoy life with our kids.  My attitude to life is very different from the people I knew as a young adult, but I am surrounded by others who have a similar attitude and therefore seek similar hopes in life and in God together.  A while back at bible study one night I remember the group leader make a joke about our hotchpotch lounge room furniture and living simply.  I did laugh, but truth be known, I did feel a tinge of embarrassment.  A few days later we had a visit from some new friends, a Burmese refugee family recently arrived in Footscray.  When they came into our house, their eyes opened in amazement.  It was like they had entered a palace.  And with no social etiquette whatsoever, they walked through every room in our house, ogling everything and saying things like, “whoa, so many rooms” and “this is such a beautiful home” and “thank you for having us in your home.”  This was very confronting.  I felt more than embarrassed.  For some reason, I somehow felt sinful.

This same family showed me more of my sin and the sin of our society in the coming months after this.  I have strong feelings and opinions on the issue of global warming.  This wasn’t always the case.

In a period of revelation about climate change a couple of years ago, it was these same friends who helped frame my understanding of how we are impacting our earth.  They were one step in a series of events which God set before me.  (I had been learning about what the world might look like as the temperature rises globally, and how our lifestyle releases gases into the atmosphere which are causing it to heat up, and is changing the weather patterns here in Australia, and around the world.)  One afternoon my girls and I went around to visit Sung (in their tiny one bedroom flat) and with her stilted English Sung asked me to watch a DVD from Burma…  Can people remember Cyclone Nargis in 2008?  It was a massive, devastating cyclone affecting millions of people.  The DVD was a Burmese Christian music video raising awareness and funds for people affected by Cyclone Nargis in Burma.  The images on the DVD were graphic and distressing.  It was very confronting.  It was very confronting for me because pieces started connecting for me, like puzzle pieces falling into place… my comfortable lifestyle, my emissions, changing weather patterns, floods and cyclones, people dying, children crying.  I was looking straight at it.  And sitting on the floor with me were Sung’s 3 yr old daughter who sat with her hands over her eyes, and my daughter, who asked me “Mummy, why are those people floating in the water?”

And the words of the church’s Eucharist liturgy are running through my head,

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.

Sin separates us from God, and sin separates our world from God.  It is our individual acts of hurt, it is our attitude to life, it is our communal attitude.

And we, as followers of Christ, need to be asking ourselves, where we are.  Where am I heading?  What is moving me away from God, what is moving me towards God?

And what, in the midst of all this, does God offer us?

While we were still dead, while we are engulfed by a world of sin – God offers life.

Grace

Why do we need to understand the depth of our sin? Because only then can we understand God’s amazing grace and the power of salvation.

When we begin to get a glimpse of the enormity of this salvation, we see God.  And it should cause us to fall on our knees with thanksgiving.

…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…

God raises us up with Christ… that he might show the incomparable riches of his grace…

…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…

And, we are inspired to respond to God with acts of love.  Love for God, and for all that he offers us in this life.  A life of good works, for which he has a plan.

Good works

A life of good works.  And this is an important idea to capture.  Our works are a response to the gift of grace from God.

Sometimes we hear preached a dissonance between faith and works.  It’s like a clanging disconnection.  It is the idea that salvation, or freedom in Christ (as Paul also calls it), comes either by faith OR works.

For example, for some reason, people have read the letter of James and interpreted it as a salvation of works.

It is the idea that we have to do good things to earn our way to heaven.  Some examples might be: “if I put in some hours at the local homeless shelter at Christmas,” “if I attend enough working bees at church” or, “if I cook enough meals for others”…

Who’s ever felt like this?  Are we responding in joy to God’s gift of grace?

The flip side of the faith OR works, is equally unhelpful.  It’s the idea that I’ve been saved by grace, and now I’ve got my ticket to heaven!  You beauty!  Thank you God, now let’s get on with my life.  Gee, other people should get onto this God thing, what a relief, I’ve got everything sorted now.  I don’t have to do anything.  Do you know the attitude I’m trying to convey?

But let’s hear what James actually says:

James 2:14-16: What good is it brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

In James 2:26: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

It is clearly NOT a case of faith or works, they are inextricably linked.

If we are able to truly glimpse the grace and freedom which God offers to us, our good works are an inevitable response.

If we understand salvation as grace only, we will miss the point of living out our life for God.

If we understand salvation as works only, we will miss the point of God’s amazing love for us.

In conclusion, let’s ask again:  Where are you with God?  Which way are you facing?  Which way are you moving?  Who are the people of God surrounding you?

Is the truth of your salvation in Christ as real today, as it was the first time you felt God’s hand you?  Do you need to come back to Him and be made alive again?

Finish with a prayer using the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:17-21.

Amen.

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Enamel basinI’ve been talking for a while about having bucket baths instead of showers to save water. In part, my logic says that if I’ve gone to the other side of the world to study environmental ethics (Edinburgh, Scotland), I should be living out my values. Yet, anyone who knows me well would know that of all the choices our household has made this is by far the most self-sacrificial.

I find nothing more enjoyable than taking a long, hot, soothing shower. It is a little bit of luxury that I deserve, I tell myself. It is something that I’ve been saying for the last 20 years.

Yet, as I read the Water, water article in The Age newspaper, I am challenged again to curb my self-indulgent water habit. Gallagher writes that despite a good dose of rain in the last month (it was the wettest June since 2001), we can’t take a collective sigh of relief. She points to experts who reckon it will “take more than a decade of good rainfall to fill the state’s catchments.” And, while Melbourne Water’s John Woodland comforts us by pointing out that they are huge dams to fill, Gallagher notes that storage levels are also affected by logging and levels of moisture in the soil in the catchment areas. Simon Birrell, from the Melbourne Water Catchment Network explains that logging not only reduces the levels of water flowing into dams but also increases bushfire risks.

It all seems all so overwhelming. It pours in June and yet it isn’t good enough. We have big dams, but we’ve created a rod for our own backs by allowing logging in these important areas. What can I do in response? Should I embark on another challenge to curb my water use?

My first response is no. If I opt for a bucket bath I fail at the first hurdle because I simply don’t have the infrastructure. You see, I have a good enamel bowl, but no enamel jug. And it has to be a matching set before I can begin this venture.

On the other hand, this isn’t just about the level of our dams (sitting at 33.7% currently). It’s about what I am saying I think is important through my actions. Even if our dams were 80% full, I don’t really need to have that five – or twelve – minute shower.

We can look at this bucket bath issue from another point of view. And this is where it moves from a commitment to an interesting challenge. We use 138 litres of water a person a day in our household (see target155). That is 413 litres a day shared between three people. (Some may say I’m cheating by counting our 8 month old daughter in that calculation. But I reckon that with all the extra cleaning, cooking, loads of nappies and other wash, as well as a bath once or twice a week, she is definitely contributing to our water use.) The challenge becomes seeing just how much damage my showers are doing to our water use compared with my new bucket baths.

The challenge: I’m going to use a basin and a little bowl (pictured), until I can locate a white-with-blue-edging enamel jug. The basin holds 5 litres of water. That is the limit for my bucket baths. Five litres. Five.  When our next water bill comes in, we can do a comparison. That’s assuming I can stick to my resolve and opt for a scant wash instead of a luxurious hot downpour.

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