Question Seventeen

This scary and beautiful cosmos was designed with you in mind: your dreams and your pride, your creativity and your immaturity.  Has the tunnel vision of your self-interest made you deaf to the voice of this honest and helpful stranger simply because you have already defined goodness on the grounds of your fast-fooded, health-cared, Coca Cola-ed, Christian-Santa Claus-ed culture with it’s two inquisitional questions: ‘Does it hurt? & ‘Is it unfair?’ Anything that answers ‘Yes,’ is automatically dismissed.*

 

* from the list of questions included in my blog Is Your World View Punching Above Its Weight?’

Hi Jack

'And Judas went outside, flung down the pieces of silver
 And hanged himself' *
Hi Jack!
Saved my day, kept it indoors
Canned my sunshine in cold storage, now I’m cool.
But what’s this crack in the glass?
Music slipped through, I know it was you, now I'm hungry!
Tamed my ocean, stuck it in a cage
Took my thunderbolts from the storm, now I’m safe.
But what’s this crack in the glass?
Music slipped through, I know it was you, now I’m hungry!
Tethered my imagination, fed it pellets
Poured my dreams into a drum, now I’m dank.
But what’s this crack in the glass?
Music slipped through, I know it was you, now I’m hungry!
Made my self, found it people
Froze my friends into a mirror, now I’m them.
Sold my soul, bagged my silver,
Wiped the rainbow from the temple, now I'm right.
But what’s this crack in the glass?
Music slipped through, I know it was you
I want your clarinet, orchestrated joy
And I’ll blow up the plane unless I can have it
Hi Jack!
What's this crack in the glass?
What's this crack in the glass?
What's this crack in the glass?
* Matthew 27:5

Strength For Action

 

 

This year I’m encouraging our teams to allow God to make it a journey of ambitious prayers and a faith that expects the Living Grace to miraculously touch others through our words, actions and lifestyles. The thought is partly inspired by a remark of CH Dodd’s in his commentary on Romans1: my latest breakfast reading book.

 

He explains that the etymological meaning of the word ‘Shaddai’ (an ancient divine name of unknown origin) is ‘he who suffices’, which is helpful, given that the more common rendering ‘almighty’ has become set in the concrete of cliché. He also points out that there is a deep and powerful generative moment in faith that is ‘the negation of all activity, a moment of passivity2 out of which strength for action comes, because in it God acts.’ We western, activistic people of faith have frequently been guilty of killing or even skipping that ‘moment of passivity out of which strength for action comes’ and hence not allowing God to act at all. Instead of opening a door, our so-called faith closes the door on God’s power and gives ‘faith’ a bad name—but what is worse is that the lying illusion of faith remains unchallenged, like an imposter prime minister ruling a nation.

 

We are all implicated in this charge of reverting to what could be called the ‘hollow faith’ of a man in a hurry who blusters about ‘simplicity’ and has no time for learning and reading. But reading is where you get to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ and to mine their treasures. One such treasure-book is a collection of letters called ‘Yours Jack’ by CS Lewis. In there he repeatedly tells his friends to be sure not to leave their main prayers until just before they go to bed at night. I read this a number of years ago at a time when I was battling with extreme busyness and praying mostly just before I collapsed into bed at night—but God wouldn’t let up on me about it and eventually I made a commitment to take ten-minute prayer-walks at certain times during the day. What I discovered was that this passive/contemplative aspect of my prayers became much richer, enabling more strength for action and nerve to wait and allow God to act.

 

One definition of faith says, ‘Faith in Jesus Christ is not an understanding of the world but an event that has happened, is happening and will happen.’* Another says that it is ‘belief + trust + action’. Looking back on my faith journey (and it will probably happen again in the future too) you would think that sometimes my definition of faith was simply ‘belief + action’, which is not much different to a secular vision of religion where God is at best a noble lie maintained by ‘Cultural Christians’ whose faith is a mild version of the ‘belief + action’ type. So much for all that stuff about the ‘event’ of a surrendered soul unleashing God’s power to change a heart and a neighbourhood.

 

If we aren’t careful we ourselves can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a ‘belief + action’ producing Christian who’s a sorry imitation of the real thing and impotent in the face of evil simply because we have not allowed that creative passivity, out of which strength for action comes: the trust element of faith. Instead (for example) we are paralysed by the sheer emotional busy-ness of a soul that’s stuck in front of a computer screen on a lounge chair and literally has no time or space for this kind of thing in their frantic soul. We could call it ‘franticide’: dying slowly of emotional busyness.

 

Such a way of life prompted Nicolai Berdyaev to say, ‘There’s something morally obnoxious about modern activistic theories that deny contemplation and recognise nothing but struggle. For them not a single moment has value in itself except as a means for what follows.’ Is that moment of passivity, where you could be inviting God to act, being stolen from you by nothing more than worry-wart prayers about your budget? Planning how to win the next level of the game? Or maybe just the screen itself—sitting there in front of you, a symbol of your impotence, a mocking accusation that your faith is so devoid of strength for action that you can’t even get up for a ten minute prayer-walk down the road because ‘all that stuff about trust complicates things too much’? Belief + action is so much easier.

 

1Dodd CH. p.15 Romans 1:16,17 Hodder & Stoughton 1947

 

2ORIGIN late Middle English (in sense 2 of the adjective, also in the sense ‘(exposed to) suffering, acted on by an external agency’): from Latin passivus, from pass- ‘suffered,’ from the verb pati .

 

*Can’t remember the source

 

God, Sex, and Differentiation

 

I remember sitting in a university lecture room listening to a pathology lecturer talking about differentiation and explaining that all blood cells begin life as a basic unit that might end up anywhere. It could become an ordinary old white cell, an erythrocyte, a platelet or any of at least another four options. But it would take time and would be influenced by dozens of things outside of itself: anaemia, infection and even the memories of the body. For the body has ‘storytellers’ in it that keep the memories alive and enable the ‘team’ to work together but at the same time to be individuals.

A few weeks ago I came across the concept of differentiation being used in a book called Passionate Marriage. In there the author says, ‘The polishing process in marriage is what I referred to earlier as differentiation. In a nutshell differentiation is the process by which we become more uniquely ourselves by maintaining ourselves in relationship with those we love. It’s the process of grinding off our rough edges through the the normal abrasions of long term intimate relationships. Differentiation is the key to not holding grudges and recovering quickly from arguments, to tolerating intense intimacy and maintaining your priorities in the midst of daily life. It lets you expand your sexual relationship and rekindle desire and passion in marriages that have grown cold. It is the pathway to the hottest and most loving sex you’ll ever have with your spouse. Differentiation brings tenderness, generosity, and compassion—all traits of good marriages.1

Differentiation involves balancing two life forces: the drive for individuality and the drive for togetherness. Individuality propels us to follow our own directives, to be on our own, to create a unique identity. Togetherness pushes us to follow the directives of others, to be part of the group. When these two life forces for individuality and togetherness are expressed in balanced, healthy ways, the result is a meaningful relationship that does not deteriorate into emotional fusion. Giving up your individuality to be together is as defeating in the long run as giving up your relationship to maintain your individuality. Either way you end up being less of a person with less of a relationship.

In this chapter I’ll discuss several ways differentiation dramatically affects relationships. Here’s the first and most important one: differentiation is your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally or physically close to others—especially as they become increasingly important to you. Differentiation permits you to maintain your own course when lovers, friends and family pressure you to agree and conform. Well-differentiated people can agree without feeling like they’re losing themselves and can disagree without feeling alienated and embittered. They can stay connected with people who disagree with them and still know who they are. They don’t have to leave the situation to hold onto their sense of self.’

Talking of a thing called ’emotional fusion’ he uses the example of a pair of figure skaters acting in perfect harmony and the way this will arouse a crowd to rapturous applause, but he points out that this is a dangerous illusion for married couples and will undermine integrity and head them down the road of dishonest crowd-pleasing performance. He goes on to say ‘… fusion fantasies are the source of much—if not most—marital discord. The illusion that in a good marriage partners are like tightly choreographed figure skaters is impossible to live. … There’s room for only one opinion, one position. Differentiation is the ability to stay in connection without being consumed by the other person.

Our urge for togetherness and our capacity to care always drive us to seek connection, but true interdependence requires emotionally distinct people. Fusion is an invisible but tenacious emotional connection. Notice that the opposite of differentiation is a neither connection nor lack of connection—it’s a different kind of connection. You can see this if you don’t confuse differentiation with individuality, autonomy or independence. Many people make the mistake of thinking of differentiation as the opposite of emotional relationship … think of differentiation as a higher order process that involves balancing both connection and autonomy.2

Whilst reflecting on all this I was thinking about how it relates to our relationship with God, and in another book—which I was reading simultaneously ’cause I normally have about three books I’m reading at any given time—an Old Testament scholar was saying, ‘The world proposed in these psalms is covenantally shaped. That is, there’s a sovereign ruler who is bound to Israel in a mutual loyalty, and that sovereign ruler cannot be ignored. Yahweh, the God of covenant-making and Israel together are moral agents in the historical process. They must come to terms with each other. How they interact with each other matters decisively for Israel’s public life and destiny. The two parties have enormous freedom and flexibility in relation to each other, but neither party is nor ever can be free of the other. Each party is shaped by and destined for the other. History in Israel is the ongoing narrative account of that inescapable and definitional interaction.3

With all this two-sided covenant-shaping of each other going on in the Old Testament, it’s no surprise that one of the New Testament authors writes the following words, ‘In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.’ In other words, here again we have God being affected by his relationship with us: Jesus needing to be perfected via some kind of differentiation process. As the creed says, ‘He remained what he was, he became what he was not.’3 If it’s good enough for our maker surely it has to be good enough for us.

And when you think about it, a covenant-shaped life—no we’re not talking here of that favourite of preachers, that parody-covenant of all one-way barking authority—is a relief. Instead of having to live all at sea in a world with no horizon and no compass, we can live in a world where there is such a thing as right and wrong, confession and forgiveness: honest—let’s look each other in the eye and say it—closure. And not just the ‘let’s move on’ closure—which is really just another way of saying, ‘let’s pretend’—this is the grown-up and differentiated-self kind of closure: ‘balanced and healthy … a meaningful relationship that does not deteriorate into emotional fusion.’ For it’s now public knowledge that we came out of the heart of God and we live in a world where not only us but God, must behave with grace and mercy.

From the very moment that Jesus began to teach and to say things like, ‘Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy; love your neighbour as you love yourself; love your enemies,’ a great shock-wave started to ripple through the world of severe religious teachers and capricious tyrants who’s gods were nothing more than the useful weapon of preachers, witch-doctors and dictators. Talk about an undifferentiated relationship! And their tactic was simple: ‘Whatever you do, be sure to remember the Mushroom Principle: ‘Keep them in the dark and feed them on bullshit!’

That instruction of Jesus to ‘love yourself, your neighbour and your enemies’ may well have been his way of telling us to get ourselves differentiated. We see this illustrated in a beautiful way in the story of the wedding at Cana where he makes it clear that he does not need to do what his mother says and might not, but then does what she wants anyway by turning water into wine—not that she had any idea what he was going to do to fix the problem.

With Jesus, the covers were so ripped back on religion and life and everyone now knew they were equal before God, they could argue with God (in fact God happily expected that) and they could have their own personal audience with God, whether they were criminals, children, slaves or women. The Mushroom Principle had been fully exposed and that little corner of the world was now launched on a long voyage of grace, which soon led to astonishing times of open-hearted community life but also unbelievable persecution and the brutal deaths of (probably) all of Jesus’ closest followers. The ripple is still going and still healing, freeing and pulling things beautifully apart. As St. Columba said, ‘Love knows nothing of order’.

Another author—this time in a side comment by a character in a novel—sums it up this way, ‘Laws that are common to us all, dead and living, which … allow us to live and laugh and be ashamed, to be content to be helped … Not to give up your ‘parcel’ is to as much be a rebel as to not carry another’s.’4

1Schnarch D. Passionate Marriage p.51 Owl Books 1998

2Schnarch D. Passionate Marriage p.56 Owl Bookd 1998

3Brueggemann W. Abiding Astonishment p.22 Westminster/John Knox 1991

3Hebrews 5: 7 – 10 RSV

4Willians C. Descent Into Hell

The Swallow And The Barn Cat

 

A few weeks ago I started reading Son of Hamas, the autobiographical story of a young Arab man in Palestine. He relates a beautiful experience of growing up with a family that loved him deeply in a home where happiness radiated from the dinner table and laughter filled the marketplaces. But just because a family is happy it does not mean that their worldview is without serious flaws. In fact the very existence of a wonderful home and family is a strong reason for its members to examine their beliefs carefully under a spotlight, for it’s the ideas in our heads, not the passions in our hearts that will will make us or break us. And who would want to risk allowing a really dumb idea to wreck their world just for the sake of not offending their parents? Sooner or later even the healthiest and happiest person will find themselves being sifted, tempted and then—if they have not thoroughly tested their beliefs for flaws and have not prepared themselves for this ‘evil day’—they will be corrupted and conquered by nothing less than what Jesus described as the Father of Lies. It’s why Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’

One of those poorly examined things in Mosab’s life was the question of what he was supposed to do about his enemies. According to some of the teachers at the mosque, he should hate and kill them, which was ironic given that his father (the leader of Hamas) seemed to show kindness towards them, even when they persecuted him. Mosab’s father also heard what was being said at the mosque and tried to tell his son to stay away from these teachers.

Being a father myself—as I read the story—I empathised with his dad’s obviously conflicted conscience and his attempts to both respect ‘the code’ and to keep Mosab away from the ‘men of blood’ and the mounting tensions between Muslims and Jews on the West Bank. The problem of course was that his father was one of the founding leaders of Hamas and although he himself disliked violence and was not a violent man, he did associate with violent men and felt compelled by his holy book to hold Jihad in the highest honour.

As Mosab talked about the approach of his year twelve exams I couldn’t help thinking about the fact that I had a son of my own who’s final exams were approaching and I wondered whether I might not have ‘sacred cows’ in my own worldview that could also poison my son at this crucial launching-stage of his life.

As it turned out in the book, the pleadings and prayers of Mosab’s mum and dad were unable to stop him from being drawn into what at first seemed like entertainment as he joined his mates in the reckless baiting of Jewish settlers—who were all well armed and had no qualms about spraying automatic weapons in reply to his stone-throwing. Unfortunately Mosab had the Koran on his side and would not be told by his parents. But even so it was awful to read of the broken-hearted pleadings, prayers and tears of his mum and dad as they begged him to give it up and get back to his studies.

He never made it to the examination room. Instead, he found himself being examined and tortured in an Israeli prison by captors who were convinced that the son of a Hamas leader must know some serious facts. But they were deluded and he had nothing to tell them. After long periods of torture and imprisonment, they then offered him a ‘why not work for us’ deal.

Mosab agreed, imagining that he would be able to play double agent and use this as a way of killing Israelis. But what surprised him was that the first thing they told him to do was to make a healthy life for himself: get a University degree, don’t commit adultery and live a stable and responsible life because the best spies are faithful, reliable, hard-working members of their community. As for his question about what to do about his enemies, the more he worked with the Israelis and the more he saw what his own people were doing to each other, the more he wondered who his real enemies were.

He was about to get an answer to both questions when he read that Jesus taught us to love our enemies. He says that Jesus’ teaching on love exploded his worldview and he realised that our only real enemies are things like greed, pride, arrogance and hate. Having gotten this far he ran into something that, for a long time, he simply could not accept: the idea that Jesus is God.

Later in the book, in order to show what happens when moderate Muslims are seduced by Jihad, Mosab uses the metaphor of a barn cat stalking a swallow. The swallow never takes its eyes off it as it paces back and forth, getting closer with each turn. The problem for the bird is that it has no appreciation of depth and doesn’t realise that the cat is getting closer until suddenly there’s a rush of claws, feathers and blood and it’s all over. He points out that Islam is a ladder, with Jihad—the thing everyone tries to forget about—at the top. From there the story follows a predictable script: an Islamic family minding its own business building a home and a family, caring for their neighbourhood and attending the mosque—while out there in the neighbourhood something is shadowing them. Then one day there’s a sudden rush of preaching, anger and blood and they’re snared in the claws of a thing they never wanted to be a part of.

But before we get too indignant about this, we need to have a good look at our own efforts at processing what some are calling the ‘crisis of meaning’ in the west. One writer says, ‘In our modern experience, but probably also in every affluent culture, it is believed that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness … ‘1 And so we feel we have to somehow get as much of this as we can so we are able to write our own script for life and thereby ‘tame the terror and eliminate the darkness’ because we are now in control.

It’s as if this voice says to us, ‘Never mind all that blood and fire stuff out there, just keep your head down, get a nice job, some friends, some pretty gadgets, an immaculate unit and create your own perfect world. If enough of you do this, all that other crap will get out-voted and cease to exist. So just mind our own business and stick to the part where all the fun, freedom and power are.’ The problem with this approach is that it is naïve and speaks to us as if we are totally independent entities living in a vacuum, like an ostrich with its head in the sand—like Mosab’s family and like the Israeli families living on the hill up the road from them. The only difference for us is that we don’t have a text called The Koran and a sacred cow called Jihad but we do have a text called ‘My Opinion’ and a sacred cow called ‘My Life.’

When My Opinion is my authority I become a kind of Western Fundamentalist who launches a My Life attack on the world and suddenly all the possibilities of the universe are shrunk to the size of my own personal imagination. But anyone who knows anything about learning knows that it happens best in the context of robust, and open community. Yes there are self-protective parodies of ‘community’ e.g.: early in Australia’s European history, bible colleges were invited to be part of the learning community of our universities but they chose instead to create their own little enclaves thereby undermining the possibility of an honest, well rounded and well informed education for our church leaders.

The implication in all the rants launched by these My Life attacks—that are authorised by the infallible My Opinion textbeing that we can actually invent reality so that it fits around the shape of our delusions. And we can. But reality has the nasty habit of damaging our invented reality frauds. As Mosab discovered and as a famous slogan has it, ‘We can’t make you do anything but we sure can make you wish you had.’*

How wonderful then, that life is a kind of exciting and dangerous quest or voyage of discovery. A feast of learning. A place where we don’t argue for a win but for truth. And it’s all out there in the world of wonder and discovery! Not in here, in the posturing prison of your own dream house. For too long we proud human beings have forced imagination and reason to stand apart like sulking lovers. But they need each other and today reality is calling your imagination to follow her longings over the precipice of her fears into the dangerous world of critical thought, reason, commitment and submission to fact.

So take the plunge. Humbly give yourself to learning in open and honest community interaction—especially with those who disagree with you. Here you discover reality and after a while you will realise you are slowly becoming a part of it yourself. Then those who find you will follow you and be glad. For the only doorway to freedom is truth and if that means asking the question of the right of some precious Jihad Law, My Life or My Opinion text to be sanctioned in your sacred text, then so what? Life’s too short and that bloody barn cat is getting closer.

From a reading of the many books in the Old and New Testaments it would appear that God hopes for the same. As a case in point we have this in the book of Amos, ‘I hate your religious festivals… stop your noisy songs… instead let justice flow like a stream.’2

 

1 Brueggemann W. Spirituality of the Psalms p.29 Augsburg Fortress 2002

2. Amos

* Band of Brothers (US Army proverb)

One Sweet Moment

 

That Creek That Day

 

I remember once as a little boy watching my dad walking towards the back gate of our yard. He had been gone all day—as he often had been for months—bull-dozing mulga scrub to feed sheep that had been living on the brink of starvation in a relentless drought. He walked with the easy rhythm of an athlete’s body and one that’s well toned by hard work, but there was also something rigid about him—probably to do with the set of his jaw, which somehow makes me even now feel a mysterious sadness.

I didn’t even think about the aroma, but as I remember, I quietly enjoyed this unique vintage, which floated with him when he had been out there like that in the blistering heat all day long: first there was a heavy assault of diesel, then a kind of dry, dusty-ness along with a faint fragrance of sawdust (from the trees that had to be chain-sawed) and all of this in the medium of ordinary old human sweat—but it was sweat that was light-on because most of it had been evaporated and sweetened by honest lashings of machinery oil, blue sky and powdery red before it could go anywhere.

So there I was watching this mysterious creature called ‘daddy’ walking towards our big old homestead, every bit of him covered in red dust: his hat, his week-long growth, his clothes and his boots—everything except his eyes and his lips. Lips that were compressed into a thin pink line, tensioned by the invisible muscles of his soul as it carried all the stuff I didn’t have to worry about, but was more or less aware of: the sheep and the drought, the bank loans, his own secret memories, and of course the girl who had become his wife and my mother.

And here he was on his way from the sheep and the drought to the loans and his wife. Then, as if taken by surprise, he noticed me looking at him and we smiled at each other, really smiled, and then he kept walking towards the back door of the house. Inside, the girl who had become his wife—and was becoming a candle that still burns in my soul today—was in a wheelchair.

According to the teachings of the New Testament, suffering and death is on the one hand a scandalous affront that we are to work side-by-side with God in fighting and doing all we can to overcome, but on the other hand it points out that there comes a time where we are to accept it as a kind of paradoxical synchronicity of the will of evil and the will of God—heading in opposite directions but happening to meet at one particular point. There’s nothing pleasant about this place and fortunately for us there were no well-meaning people of faith trying to oil it with platitudes. Instead we simply watched and listened and tried to do our part helping to feed her and helping dad with the housework—often a bit of a joke and a mess, but we had a go anyway.

The fight had been taken to doctors and to God and to whatever else we thought we could hope in and now we had come to that awful synchronicity where (as I discovered much later) we are told that, in some impossible to understand way, God—who is by the way, even the God of the deep darkness and chaos—was coming close to us and living with us via the mostly-trusting and mostly-patient personhood of this usually gracious and suffering girl my father had married. I’m glad that no one told us that at the time, but after she was gone, I knew it was true and it made so much sense of the things mum used to say to us.

And there was no accident about the ‘sayings’: she would start to breathe harder, then you could see her mouth working and you knew she was trying to tell you something important. So you would watch and wait. On one of these occasions dad was out somewhere and three of us boys were about to go out in the hot sun and chip burrs for the day. Just before we left we knew mum had something to say, so we gathered in front of her in the dining room with our water bottles and hats and—from her wheelchair—she gave us her carefully worded speech: ‘Jesus said … where two or three of you … are gathered in my name… he is there with you.’ It was powerful and beautiful.

But the problem is that no one should ever have to go through anything like this. It is an offence. It’s a Rainbow boxed up inside a Nightmare where the Nightmare stands over you and says, ‘Listen to me little boy. I win. I always win.’ And it does—for a time, which as far you’re concerned, is forever.

But what do you do when one day you look around and have to admit that it seems the Rainbow is now winning? Do you tell your story? Maybe not. Or if you do, you tell it carefully, because without even intending to, you can be implying that you’re now one of the enlightened ones or that you are one of God’s favourites—thereby leaving a lot of people feeling hurt and ignored.  

Whichever way we approach this, we can’t deny that there are countless souls who acquire an unmistakeable authority because of the fact that they were not healed and who also talk of quiet and deep God-encounters mediated via pain. And yes there are and will continue to be banal things said about this experience by both the sufferers and by those close to them: the internet is full of over-the-top, gushing faith statements spoken or written by those dealing with pain and by their carers and admirers. Much of it feeling like what could be described as ‘unctuous’*.

It may have helped if my dad had been able to at least have conversations with us about this, but then we live in a ‘verbalisation/confession/my life about me’ drunk society, so perhaps he did us all a great favour by simply keeping his mouth shut, doing what he could, and letting us feel, watch and be in the proximity of ordinary old goodness. If he had gone to some School of Preaching and tried it on us, it would very likely have descended into religious clap-trap and ruined everything. Either way, I can’t forget that sweet moment with a patient and faithful dad: a working-hard, caring-for-mum, loving-us-and-making-us-work-damn-hard dad.

The whole experience reminds me of something Gunter Bornkamm had to say, ‘This encounter compels everyone to step out of his customary background. This bringing to light of men as they really are takes place in all stories about Jesus .. . Any attempt to raise Jesus’ Messiahship into a system of dogma is doomed to failure … there’s an indissoluble connection between that failure and Jesus’ message about the reality of the Kingdom. This alone lends to Jesus’ history and person the character of unmediated presence, gives the force of an actual event to his preaching and makes his words and deeds so compelling. To make the reality of God present: this is the essential mystery of Jesus. This making-present signifies the end of the world in which it takes place.’1

Perhaps it’s okay to be in that silent gap between doomed dogma and Jesus’ message.

 

* excessively or ingratiatingly flattering; oily … having a greasy or soapy feel.

1. (Gunter Bornkamm pp.61,61 Jesus of Nazareth)

 

 

JJJ Visit

This week we had a journalist from JJJ (Tom Tilley) visit our community in order to do a story* on Cornerstone in preparation for a larger spotlight on the Dubbo region leading up to the One Night Stand concert that will be held in Dubbo on 13thApril. He explained that his approach is to line up all the rumours first, then confirm or eliminate them one at a time and then do whatever comes after that: the rumours around Dubbo of a cult ‘out there’ were impossible to miss. He also added that of course there would need to be a ‘take’, which would make it true to the spirit of the Hack show itself where the story will be presented. This second aspect is the bit that will probably make many of us uncomfortable as we feel ourselves ‘on show’ and hear various sound-bites that might be entertaining for the listeners but hard for us.

Having said that, Tom came across to us as a man who was respectful and genuine. During one of our many conversations I said that Australians simply won’t take any organisation seriously unless it’s OK with being laughed at. He agreed and added that the rule is the same for individuals in the workplace. So there we were, preparing ourselves to get laughed at and/or maybe also taken a little seriously at some point.

During our preparatory talks he was surprised to hear that we believe God lives and works in everyone, including others without faith—who work in the realm of human services for example, and love and serve the world. He was also curious about the fact that we are not a church, we are a mission order in the tradition of the monastic sodalities described by Ralph Winter. Along with these questions was one about whether or not we engage in polyamory, which surprised me and which I answered in the negative.

He also had dinner with our family, attended community worship (unfortunately all of our six musicians were at work and unavailable), and interviewed some of the children of our staff members. He was particularly wanting to know whether our children felt free to choose against what we believe, which is a fair question. He even asked me at one point whether or not I had ever emotionally blackmailed any of our children: another good question. I told him I didn’t think that I had but that parents inevitably have blind-spots and he would need to ask our kids that one. I explained to him that all of our children-who-have-left-home have gone on to live in Cornerstone communities and complete various levels of the training. We also talked a bit about the challenges this presented to our children and our family—but what I may have forgotten to mention to him is that each of our children continues to express gratitude for their time in Cornerstone.

At the back of all this I was aware that we needed to resist the temptation to try to impress our visitor from JJJ because this was not about us looking good but rather about us looking as we truly are: a community attempting to faithfully, transparently and creatively love God and our neighbour, despite our weaknesses. So, on that basis it was of course healthy for us to be held accountable, to have the reality and integrity of our faith questioned and to have our frailties and pride exposed.

If that is all that happens, and we come away from this feeling a bit weaker and smaller, then we have nothing to complain about. The awkward bit is if/when a powerful voice might, out of a desire to just make a bit of entertainment for its audience, unwittingly (or even sometimes intentionally) mislead them about Jesus of Nazareth.

   * The story will be presented on JJJ’s Hackshow in the week preceding Saturday 13th April.