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general

resentment & sin

I love my catch ups with my Alcoholic friend. I continue to learn more about Twelve step spirituality and admire it more deeply.

A recent gem that’s been sticking with me is the relationship between resentment and sin. In 12-step fellowships it may not be ‘sin’ that they call it, but I am appropriating it for reflection in an explicitly Christian framework.

The very structure of the steps suggests that behind the addiction which we must surrender (steps 1-3), is a whole life’s worth of behavioural, emotional and personal baggage which we must face and work through. So there is a connection between our baggage and our problematic behaviour (addiction/’sin’).

The A.A. ‘big book’ suggests that at the root of all of our personal and spiritual issues is resentment. “Resentment is the number one offender… From it stem all forms of spiritual disease.” (p. 64) For the alcoholic, an all too common experience is a) feeling angry about a person, principle or institution, and b) escaping by picking up a drink. You don’t have to be a recovery alcoholic to name this as obsession leading to compulsion.

The thing about resentment is that it is not only characterised by outward focused anger, but also by inward focused pity. “That person always snubs me.” is accompanied by “I’m not worth noticing.” “They don’t pay me enough.” is followed by “I’m such a loser.” Et cetera. The addictive/problematic behaviour provides a welcome distraction from this angry self-pity.

My friend had a brilliant – and colourful – summary for these two phases: “poor me” leads to “f**k it”. I’m definitely a fan of brevity and simplicity.

Is there a better summary of angry self pity than “poor me”?
Is there a better summary of an addictive escape than “f**k it”?

(pause and reflect if you need to)

My theory is that the twelve steps and the principles of recovery are useful as life tools, regardless of whether you have identified a particular form of addiction. We all enjoy a bit of anger at ‘that’, ‘they’ or ‘them’. We all enjoy the self-justifying comfort of feeling sorry for ourselves. We all have various ways of changing the emotional channel we are currently feeling stuck on…

Twelve step spirituality is not just about stopping ‘drinking’, but also about our character defects being removed. Or in Christian language, our salvation and discipleship are deeper than our behavour.

The way to address my tendency to give in and hit the ‘f**k it’ button is to face the ‘poor me’ underneath it.

Alcoholics in recovery have found two key tools to use.

  1. They take a spot check inventory. They run a quick step 4, which involves going past the resentment-at-the-other, and seeks to responsibility-I-can-take. Clarity and sanity also come from sharing my feelings with another who shares the same spiritual principles, who can help me to inventory both where I am resentful and where I need to take responsibility.
  2. They do gratitude lists. Gratitude is the ultimate counter to resentment. I cannot be grateful and resentful at the same time. Resentment focuses on what I do not have. Gratitude has eyes to see what I already have.

These are tools we can all use. Thank God.

Categories
bible culture ethics science

truth, grace and covid-19

Covid-19 royally sucks, but it can teach us many things if we have ears to hear.

We have been reminded of the benefits of slowing down, cooking food at home and going for walks. We’ve realised that good hygiene is good not only for slowing the spread of Covid-19, but also many other things we don’t want to spread.

A more recent lesson I’ve noticed has to do with how we speak to one another.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, where I live, we’ve negotiated a lockdown after some guidelines were not adhered to. Naturally, there has been disappointment and people (including the Prime Minister) have encouraged everyone to “call out” those who are breaking rules. Her words were:

I’m asking everyone now more than ever to continue to back and support one another, and if that means calling a family member or colleague out for not following the rules then we should do that. Do it with kindness, but do it.

Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern

This advice is not only wise, appropriately-framed and practical, but also reminds me of another leader communicating similar advice to a group of people. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the value of “speaking the truth in love”.

Both advice-givers are concerned with health. Just as Jacinda is empowering people to keep one another accountable for the good of the community, even when it means saying something less than welcome, so too Paul is signifying the value of loving truth-speaking for the maturity and discipleship of the Church. We can argue if we want about the science (Covid) or the ethics (Christian maturity); but both communicators are talking about the kind of balanced communication needed to encourage what they both understand to be good for health and growth.

In both cases, there is a goal (or to use Jacinda’s term, there are “the rules”) and there are those who fall short of the goal (or breaking the rules). The goals of health and maturity require that we do two things.

We have to maintain the goal… and not shame those who fall short of it. We have to stick to the rules… and be kind to rule-breakers.

It has to be OK to admit you’ve done something not OK.

Consequences will always be necessary. Breaking different kinds of rules will incur different kinds of consequences. Losing a job, a role, a position, freedom to go out in public, etc.

Consequences for rule-breaking will be necessary, but we must be kind. Paul says elsewhere “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore them in a spirit of gentleness.” If we let shame, disgust and rejection to be the only things that characterise our response to rule-breakers, then we will only encourage people to hide their rule breaking. They’ll be even slower to admit it. And in the context of a disease that you could be passing on before you even know you have it, we need people to admit their mistakes as soon as possible.

Be kind, and call one another out.

Categories
christianity ethics

12 spiritual steps – structural overview

Years ago, I was introduced to the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous by a good friend and sober Alcoholic. Having my interest piqued during our frequent conversations, I’ve continued to interact with them, and have become convinced of their value and wisdom for human flourishing in general and Christian discipleship in particular.

In this post, I want to restrain myself from rambling into detail, and focus my reflections on the wisdom of how the steps are structured. The overarching structure for the steps divides into three sections, with the middle section containing three pairings.

Steps 1-3

  • 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Recovery is hard work and results don’t always come immediately, which is why a long term approach is needed. Instead of diving straight into the hard work of a difficult exploration of your life, identifying character traits that need changing and working to repair the damage in various relationships, steps 1-3 are steps of surrender and preparation.

Steps 4-9

The middle six steps are divided into three pairs. Each pair consists of first taking stock, and secondly taking appropriate action.

  • 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

With steps 4 & 5, one first takes stock of their entire lives in a very thorough and humble way, and then takes action by taking the findings to a trusted person, as well as processing them with one’s self and God.

  • 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Steps 6 & 7 are another two-stage process, first a stage of awareness of the character problems revealed in the previous steps and readiness to have them removed, and then a stage which begins the life-long journey of partnering (avoiding overly active or overly passive extremes!) with God to become a gradually more healthy person.

  • 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

The final pairing takes the restoration project outward into past and present relationships. Step 8 is a preparation step, working on awareness of harm done and the proper motivation to make amends to those we have harmed; then in step 9 the process begins of discerning (with a wise experienced guide or sponsor) if, how and when to reach out to those people and make amends.

Steps 10-12

  • 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  • 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  • 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The last three steps turn the recovery process into a recovery lifestyle. They are often called ‘maintenance steps’. The lifestyle of recovery involves learning (step 10) to look quickly for your own mistakes and fess up just as quickly, (step 11) to simplify and focus your spiritual life through prayer and meditation that seeks ‘only’ to know God’s will for us and power do do that, and (step 12) to share our recovery with others who need it.

I recently discerned some echoes in the last three steps of the first three steps. Steps 1 and 10 both use the word ‘admitted’, and involve a kind of surrender – not trying to be right, not trying to cling to power. Steps 2 and 11 both have to do with a Higher Power, particularly relating to that Power, not only through basic trust but developing the relationship through prayer and meditation. Finally, steps 3 and 12 both have to do with our wider lives, which are not only placed in God’s hands, but actively infused with and awakened by the practical principles of the steps as a whole.

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general

final revelation

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

2 Peter 3:8-15a – NRSV

This is not a passage that is designed to describe in scientific detail the way in which the present heavens and present earth will be transformed into “new heavens and a new earth” – the ‘how’. Nor is it designed to suggest the timing of this transformation – the ‘when’. The focus is on ethics. How are we to live. Namely, “holiness, and godliness”, “righteousness”, “at peace, without spot or blemish”.

It seems that how-questions and when-questions always have a capacity to distract us.

It seems that some were imagining a slow, gradual coming of the Lord’s Day, and expecting it to be very soon. This is a framework that is somewhat disempowering for the development of our ethical lives. Instead, one focuses on world events, ‘wars and rumors of wars’, natural disasters, disease, political unrest, etc.. Instead of working for the advancement of the kingdom in their own lives and in the world, they worry and wonder about God’s timing. The advice given seems to suggest that we should interpret each day as a gift of time, to continue, advance and develop our ethical living.

The other imagination that some may have had was that the coming of the Lord would mean the going of creation. If we imagine the earth as we would kindling or newspaper, then yes the fire would burn ‘away’ the earth. But the passage instead suggests that the purpose of the fire is not to do ‘away’ with the earth, but to burn away the evil that corrupts the present creation. Indeed after the fire, the melting, the burning, and the dissolving, “the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed (found, discovered).” Instead of newspaper that is burned with nothing left to show, it is more like a refining of something more solid and of much more lasting value.

Again, both descriptions of the new, purified creation mix in the ethical language. It is not only the “earth” that is disclosed, but also “everything that is done on it”. LIkewise, the new heavens and new earth are “where righteousness is at home”.

God is not out to destroy us. God wants to purify us. That is a much more empowering framework for working on my ethical life.

Categories
bible christianity ethics theology

God in spite of Sin

“Your sins have separated you from your God, and they have hidden his face from you so that he will not listen to you.”

Isaiah 59:2

There are at least two ways to view this verse.

  1. One would be to view God as too pure to be around anyone or anything that is sinful, so when we sin God reacts to the presence of sin by distancing himself and plugging his ears. It almost seems like God would be or could be somehow damaged or corrupted by sin if God doesn’t keep a safe distance from it.
  2. The other is that when we sin, the barrier or separation is caused not by an automatic Divine defense mechanism, but by us, in which we understand God as always facing us, always wanting to listen to and engage in relationship with us, but us choosing to distance ourselves.

I think the latter best expresses the truth of the God who we see fully revealed in Jesus. And here are a few lines of thought as to why.

In the earliest depictions of sin in the Bible, it is not God that hides from Adam and Eve, but the other way around. Instead of hiding from the sinful humans, God goes looking for them and calling to them. This is a theme that is quickly repeated with Cain (see Genesis 4:8-16) and sets the tone for the rest of Scripture.

God is like a doctor, and it would be a pretty poor doctor who hid from the sight of blood. God is like a light, and it is the very nature of light to illumine and overcome darkness. John’s gospel says that light (see John’s intro for who the Light is!), rather than cowering away from the world, “has come into the world”. Humans, John continues, “loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” It seems that if ever there is a problem in the communication with or distance from God, it’s not God that built the wall – it’s humans.

There is a verse in Habakkuk which says “your eyes are too pure to look upon evil”. This is a complaint from Habakkuk. He’s protesting God’s apparent patience with evil people. In the very next line he questions why God continues to “look on those who deal treacherously”. Why does God do what Habakkuk thinks he shouldn’t do? Because God is not only more holy than we can imagine but more loving than we can believe.

So it really is important and life changing that God’s basic and consistent orientation towards his children is that of loving desire for relationship. God is not vulnerable to being corrupted or thrown off balance by sin. His nature is to encounter it, to forgive it, to bear it, to heal it and to enact a victory over it.

I think there is more to be said about this however…

God’s faithful determined presence with us in spite of sin does not mean God’s indifferent posture or benign acquiescence to the tragedy of sin. That’s not the case in Genesis, John, Isaiah, Habakkuk or anywhere. God stays for a reason. God pursues us for a purpose. To transform us.

When we sin, it doesn’t send God running for safety but it does something. It doesn’t change God, but it does affect us.

So having established that God is not the kind of God who hides from sin, we can ask, how does God relate to sin? How does God seek us out to deal with our sin?

Starting with the Garden and going forward, the God who is present with us in spite of our sin, still warns us, often through other people or other means, of the ways in which sin will harm and beat us up if we don’t take it seriously. Warning someone doesn’t mean shaming them or blaming them. It can indeed mean loving them. If you do that, it will hurt! Keep away from that! Those are words of love.

A second way that the ‘God who is present in spite of our sin’ responds to our sin is to discipline us. If words of loving warning don’t work, then loving discipline may. I think often times this discipline comes in the form of allowing us to encounter sin’s consequences. Whether it be the Babylonians, losing a job, a friend or your freedom, painful consequences can drive us to the point of being willing to do what I need to do to change.

Another passage in Romans 1 reveals that God at times will eventually “give us over” to our sin if we persist in it. This too, doesn’t suggest for a moment that God’s basic nature and inclination towards relationship and love has changed one bit. It’s not that God hides from us when we persist with sin to the point where it is engrained in our lives. No. The point here is not that God ‘gives us over’ to sin in order to keep a safe distance from us, but rather that God ‘gives us over’ to it because that may be the only way we will come to our senses. There is a distinction here between God ‘leaving us’ and God ‘leaving us to it’. If we consistently fail to listen to God’s warnings, we may need to be left to our own devices to encounter the consequences of our sin. I think of the Prodigal Son story here. The Father’s love for both his sons is consistent. He waits for the younger brother to return, and he goes out and pleads with the older brother to join in the welcome home party. But he does not follow the younger son. Instead he seems to ‘give him over’ to his plans, all the while looking, watching and waiting patiently for him to come to his senses and come back. This is not a picture of a God who is indifferent or angry, turning away in disgust. This is a vision of a Father who consistently longs for reconciliation. This may be a helpful way to understand the words from Isaiah 59:2 about God not listening to us. It’s not that God doesn’t desire to listen. It’s just that the distance created by us means that God can’t listen.

So hopefully this reflection is helpful, not only to have a bedrock conviction about the steadfast love of God who seeks out and saves sinners, but also to take sin seriously enough to avoid it and run away from it, into the arms of the Father who is present and waiting for you in spite of it.

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bible christianity culture ethics politics

political participation

In the first century, around the time of Jesus and the early Christian moment, there were at least ‘parties’ representing four types of Jewish response to the occupying presence and rule of the Roman empire. Zealots, Essenes, Sadducees and Pharisees.

Zealots and Violent Resistance

The Zealots were an expression of angry resistance to Roman rule. They were the guys with the daggers. This kind of posture gave rise to revolts like the Maccabean revolt and that of Simeon bar Kochba.

Essenes and Pure Isolation

The Essene solution was to distance and isolate. Remain pure and Messiah would come. The community of the Dead Sea Scrolls may well have been Essene.

Sadducees and Compromised Collusion

Sadducees were focused on Temple worship and were involved with political affairs, collecting taxes and seen to be compromised.

Pharisees and Strict Religiosity

Pharisees saw Law observance as everything, so they made sure they didn’t miss a single thing to do with kosher, sabbath or purity. Messiah will come

The Alternative Path of Jesus

The way and teaching of Jesus seems to avoid these violent, isolated, compromised or religious ways. Like the Pharisees, Essenes and Zealots the way of Jesus is opposed to the Roman way of life at many points. But unlike them it does not find the answer in religiosity, separation or violence. Like the Sadducees, Jesus seems to approve of participation in world affairs, but unlike them this is to be done in the context of faithfulness to God’s kingdom.

The Relevance for Contemporary Politics

As Christians who live and vote in countries where Christian influence is not as strong as we would like, and not as accepted as it has been. Elections seem to be a time where this is felt acutely in the Christian community. I reckon there are some interesting parallels with the first century situation.

Our anger may not get as violent as the Zealots, but it’s really evident in the way we attack politicians in media and social media.

Our isolation may not be as physical as the Essenes, but we often disengage – often choosing not to vote or critiquing from a distance.

Our compromise may be different from the Sadducees, but some are far too comfortable supporting certain parties and candidates.

Our religiosity may not be as exacting as the Pharisees, but we do not hesitate to point out how immoral and sinful the culture is.

What would the way of Jesus look like?

Jesus knew it was going to be difficult. So difficult he prayed for us to know his life and sustenance as we strive to be in the world, not out of it, and not of it. Isolation may be the answer in a crisis but not the default posture of the Church. He also gave some really relevant teachings. He said we’d be like sheep among wolves, and told us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. He also knew that if we ‘give’ or ‘cast’ our holy pearls to pigs and dogs, they will not treat us or our pearls with respect. Perhaps we should be cautious in trying to get the nations laws to reflect our values.

We get some glimpses of this balance in Acts and the Epistles. Paul’s posture and language at Athens and before Felix, Festus and Agrippa is markedly different from what he includes in his letters to fellow believers who share his values. We are told to fear God and honour the Emperor. Nowhere do we see the Church clamouring to change Roman law. Rather, in season and out of season, with great political influence or with little or none, the way of Christ seems to be more about word and action than position or status. The Early Church was profoundly affecting society with its care of orphans and widows long before Emperor Constantine converted (and later Christianized the Empire). In fact, you can argue that Constantine’s gift of power actually weakened the Church’s witness. Love and Political power are a tough mix.

So Christians should vote, should discuss issues and should seek to influence the world. But we have to be so careful about political power plays. It is so easy to do more harm than good.

Categories
general

towards better help

In this world, Jesus said, you will have trouble.

2020 has seen its’ fair share of it.

Jesus assures us that we can take heart in his act of overcoming the world, but his followers are still enlisted as kingdom-bringers, as much of heaven on earth as possible.

Trouble and problems.

We humans get stuck in the middle of them. And we take on three familiar personas at various times.

Victim.

All of us, in various ways, have been hurt by someone other than ourselves, and it wasn’t our fault at all. We’re all victims.

To complicate our situation, we can easily fall into a “poor me” victim mindset, which hinders us in all kinds of ways, one of which is that we fail to take responsibility for the things we can change.

Victimiser.

All of us, in other ways, have hurt others, and we shouldn’t have, and we must take responsibility for it, sooner or later. We’re all Victimisers.

To complicate our situation, we can easily fall into a “bad me” kind of guilt and shame, which paralyzes us in all kinds of ways, one of which is that we fail to change the things about ourselves, because we believe that part of us (or us as a whole) to be ‘bad’.

Rescuer.

All of us, at various times, have had opportunity or have tried to help when we see someone who has been hurt. We’re all rescuers.

To complicate things, we can easily fall into a “great me” mindset of heroic helpfulness, which can distort and warp the ways in which we try to help, two of which are a) to help in ‘token’ ways that don’t really help, or b) to help in ways that make those we are trying to help dependent on our help.


I’ve been thinking about this ordinary human triangle in relation to the horrible trouble that is dominating our news feeds at present with regard to race, violence, privilege, guilt, power, empathy and change.

The real, painful and horrifically persistent victimhood of African Americans by racism is justifiably and understandably our global focus right now, even if others continue to be victims of other things. It would be easy for the victim mentality to paralyze many African Americans. I admire the strength and resilience of those within African American communities who call one another to draw together their strength and be agents of change – both in relation to their own community and the external threat of racism. Simply inspiring.

Racism is a real, subtle, and powerful form of victimisation. Many people have taken the honest course of admitting their unconscious, subconscious or other layers of racism. Others point to the reality of such things as “white guilt”, as we feel various levels of responsibility for both the existence and persistence of racism. I admire the prophetic and creative ways that we are trying our best to help one another face the racism that we all are likely to have at some level. Difficult. Painstaking. Absolutely essential.

One of the ways we who feel guilt over our participation in racism can respond is by trying to help. We act as rescuers. We want to be seen as those who are on the “right side” of the issue. With the issue flaring up on social media, we share articles, change our profile pictures and express solidarity with the victims of racism. I am inspired and challenged by wise voices that challenge us to take our help far beyond the bandwagon of sudden compassion. Our ethic for protecting human dignity must be consistent and comprehensive.


When I am a victim, Lord protect me from the victim mentality that would hinder me from doing what I can to change my situation.

When I am a victimiser, Lord strengthen my repentance and guard me from the forms of shame that trap me from the transformation I need.

When I try to help, Lord, deepen and sharpen my compassion to go beyond gesture, and lead me to walk alongside people to participate together in change.


Make me strong, humble and helpful.

Categories
bible christianity theology

through locked doors

One of the most emotionally difficult parts of the life of faith is when those you love don’t seem to have faith.

For some, it could be a suspicion that the faith they claim to have isn’t authentic (Can someone who does ‘x’ really be a believer?). For others, it could be a lack of certain specifics about God that we fear may not cut the mustard (Is a vague openness to “something greater” enough?). For still others, it could be based on a clear position they have openly taken.

I don’t believe it is ever possible to know with God-like knowledge what was going on in someone’s heart of hearts.

That language of God-like knowledge was deliberate. Some things God only knows. In Roman Catholic Mass, during the Intercessions, one form of the Eucharistic liturgy includes a plea for God to “Remember also those who have died in the peace of your Christ and all the dead, whose faith you alone have known.”

There’s no convenient proof text in the Bible for this inclusive view, but there’s something very biblical about it. It recognises the need for faith – an essential ingredient in any real and effective relationship. That’s biblical. It also, however, doesn’t try to take the place of God and insist who is in and who is out. It hopes and trusts that only God sees into the hearts of all people. That’s biblical.

I became good friends with an inspiring musician who is known and loved by many. He was humorously open about their atheism, yet they loved to sing old gospel folk songs. We shared a room on a tour, and one night as we drifted off to sleep he asked a question about God… My answer was either very boring or very comforting (possibly both!) because his reply was the deep breathing of a now-sleeping roommate. Days after our trip he tragically and unexpectedly took his life. Processing the grief via Facebook messenger, a mutual friend described him as “a believer who couldn’t believe”. I don’t know if there was faith in there or not. But if there was, God knows.

Faith, and the fruits of it, are often visible. But God sees what we cannot. God is always ahead of our efforts. Creating before we get creative. Forming our tongues before we speak. Working where we cannot see. Going where we cannot go.

Toward the end of John’s gospel, there’s a scene with the disciples of Jesus. Their hearts had been broken and confused by the loss of their leader. Their bruised hope had been tormented by a report from a woman that he was alive. They were “together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders”. In the following chapter John will portray Jesus at a breakfast Eucharist of sorts – both visible and touchable; but here he shows us that Jesus is not limited by visible and touchable barriers like those locked doors. He “came and stood among them” giving them Peace.

Just as Jesus can pass through those locked doors and speak peace to the fearful hearts and fragile faith of those early believers, Jesus can see into a heart with doors as locked as those doors and see a faith as fragile as theirs.

Categories
bible christianity culture ethics theology

holistic christianity

From my understanding of Scripture, I can discern at least the following seven levels of Christian life. They signal – and invite us into – a rich, holistic way of life. A way of life that seems to apply at all times and in all places. After seven short statements sketching these seven levels, I offer some brief reflections on why an appreciation of this holistic mix is crucial as we negotiate our current covid-19 crisis.


Private Devotion. Individual. The focus is on the relationship between me as an individual and God. Simultaneously, I practice relating to myself and to God. The more healthy, honest and helpful this relationship is, the more I am prepared to relate to others. Jesus’ prayerful relationship with his Father is a model.

Vulnerable Companionship. Two or Three Persons. This level is about journeying with those you are closest to and vulnerable with in a special way. It is incredibly difficult. It is less threatening to function as an isolated individual, or to operate in large groups while keeping everyone at arms length. Our discipleship and growth happens at this level like no other, provided we are willing to open ourselves to being the process of being sharpened by others “as iron sharpens iron”. One core practice here is the terrifying and transforming discipline of Confession.

Collaborative Community. Households, Gatherings or Entire Cities. This widens the focus to others not like us. Here we can practice the excruciatingly challenging task of loving, welcoming, sharing and serving with people who are not in our close group of favourites. We learn to partner with others: giving and receiving, influencing and being influenced by one another. This is dangerous and risk of pain, church splits (Paul and Barnabas style) and more along the way, but there is no other path forward. This is the level where the practice of Communion (or the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist) gathers up as much local diversity as possible into one local Body.

Global Movement. All Believers Everywhere. This extends our horizon past those we have met to include other believers who we are separated from either by distance or time. The differences in culture and expression of faith get more interesting and more challenging. the same opportunities to grow in partnership extend here as well. Again this is dangerous business – and far less challenging to stick to your house, your church, your neighbourhood. But God wants us to link up. Think of the way Paul advocated for churches to support, encourage, greet and pray for one another.

Human Solidarity. Every Human Life. This is a consistent trajectory in Scripture, where God’s people are called, as much as we are able, and in whatever ways that will be helpful, to channel God’s transforming love to the nations, the poor, the stranger, the orphan and the widow, the elderly, the unborn, the eunuch, the queer, the heretic, the unbeliever, the terrorist, and the enemy. Think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus not only makes a Samaritan the hero instead of a Jew, but also does not name the ethnic or religious identity of the victim. He was simply a human worthy of urgent and thorough care.

Global Stewardship. Our Environment. The care and concern doesn’t stop at humans. We tend and keep the garden of the Earth. We look after the “rocks and trees and skies and seas” of our Father’s World, as the grand hymn reminds us. We study and serve clouds and climates, tides and tectonics, flora and fauna, birds and beasts, sky and soil, oil and organisms, migration and minerals.

Cosmic Wonder. All Creation. Through the surface scratching, curious and scientific exploration of this mysterious universe, we function as God intended. With the author of Genesis (and the best of the skepticism of atheists), we dethrone the sun, moon and stars from the idol thrones. With King David (and contra those same atheists), we declare them as “the work of Your hands”. Here the line between science and worship blurs.


Brief Reflection on our Current Covid-19 Situation

We are in a season of change, no doubt. When change comes, there can be a tendency to do a few things, such as a) turn inward to the things you can control, b) turn to the past and resist change, or c) turn to the new new and innovative assuming them to be improvements.

The holistic framework of living outlined above helps us to navigate various aspects of our way forward. Any one (or more) of the levels can be easily forgotten at any time, but certainly amidst change like that we are navigating at present. For example, we can be so excited about online creativity, intimate bubble fellowship, or connecting in new ways globally that we forget the simple and historic value of gathering as local communities for hugs, handshakes, confession, teaching, blending our voices, taking communion, confessing the faith and being sent.

Whatever creative and innovative places God may well be taking us forward into, they need to involve structures and relationships that see individuals relating to God, confessing their sins to one another, sharing the Bread and the Cup in body gatherings that are as diverse as possible, reaching out to and uniting sacrificially across denominational and geographical lines, serving all kinds of human needs and injustices in Jesus’ name regardless of demographic difference, caring for and preserving creation, and daring to explore the heavens with reverent curiosity.

May God give us creativity, wisdom and patience to grow into the diverse kind of life invites us into.

Categories
christianity culture ethics philosophy theology

varieties of slavery

It is known that slavery has taken various forms at different times and places in human history. Some person-to-person relationships bearing the name ‘slavery’ is more akin to employment, whilst other forms of relating (not always called ‘slavery’) are more comparable with torture.

Given the limited helpfulness of using a single word to gather up so many kinds of behaviour, what might be a more helpful approach? Perhaps we could speak of a variety of ways in which humans come to be in a state where they are not free. We might list a multitude of forces that restrict and restrain the human body, mind, spirit and life.

I suggest the two largest categories for these forces might be:

  • forces outside the self (e.g. dictators, traffickers, poverty, etc.)
  • forces inside the self (e.g. anger, pride, lust, etc.).

A couple of observations may be interesting.

  1. Victim-hood v. Responsibility. We can be accustomed to pointing the finger of blame at forces outside ourselves that we accuse of enslaving us, which is far more dignified than taking responsibility for the character defects we have helped create within ourselves which we admit continue to enslave us. If a person, community or culture grows psychologically or collectively unable to identify their own participation in their un-freedom, and instead is obsessively bent on constant criticism of the enslaving ‘others out there’, are they truly free? Have they not become enslaved to their pursuit of their concept of freedom? Their maintenance of their safe victim-hood?
  2. One v. Many. We western culture conceives of freedom in highly individualistic terms. Our preoccupation with our own freedom forgets the impact of my actions upon others. We can become so focused protecting our freedom to do as we wish, that we unwittingly participate in activities others find enslaving, and can become enslaved to a narrow focus on our own lives.