Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Teşekkürler (Tea Sugar A Dream)

I will apologise to my new Turkish friends if I have misrepresented the spelling or pronunciation of the Turkish word for thank you. As we toured Ankara yesterday we were taught to pronounce this word (teşekkürler) as “tea sugar a dream.” As I reflect this morning having just spent an hour watching the sun rise over Ankara, the English words of this Turkish word for 'thank you' seem to be carrying some extra meaning. But before I explain, it seems appropriate that when we tank the Turkish people, we are saying to those who know English around us that they should sugar (sweeten) their dreams. No, I am not talking of eating Turkish Delight although that can be a dream for some. I am talking of sweetening the dreams that we have for our lives.

It is in this sense of sweetening the dream of a new economic order built of the principles of shalom (peace, fullness, wholeness) that has filled my thinking this morning. As I sat and watched the beauty of sun rise over this Islamic nation, I was reminded of God's promise and of the principles of shalom. When we say shalom, we are not simply wishing you peace for now, we are wishing you an active peace that will bring fullness or wholeness not just to you but to all of the cosmos. It is in this sense of active peace or wholeness that I dream of a new economic order. Not an economic order built on competition and a wealth – poverty divide but that seeks to bring an equality to all creatures. I am calling this new economic order 'shalom economics.'

I will post a longer post on the subject soon but for now sweeten the dream with a simple teşekkürler to those around you. Sugar your dreams.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Pilgrimage reflection

This entry is stimulated by the Peacechurch's intention to do a pilgrimage walk through the centre of Birmingham. The idea was developed from a comment that I made at a table talk as we looked at things the group might do. I won't be joining them on the walk because I will be going to worship at a citadel of speed, the MotoGP meeting at Silverstone. To some extent, this shows how much I am also entwined in the system that this entry reflects upon.

A pilgrimage through the city streets isn't really a new experience for me but it is one that I would like to have done with Peacechurch and its Anabaptist spirituality. When I passed through London on my way back from Canterbury, Kent, I walked from St Pancras station to Euston station. It is a short walk and gave time to reflect on the journey and my reading of Brian McLaren's (2007) book. As I looked at the construction signs for new apartments above and around St Pancras, I was drawn to think about what is happening in our society and the focus of our worship. The reflection here continues some of those thoughts.

City Pilgrimage

As I walk between the buildings, I am asking "what do these represent?" I have to say that I am not without bias. Are these the centre of the modern world, the rhythm of of life, and / or the centre of modern worship?

What are the consequences of what happens here? If it stops or slows down, what impact does it have? If it speeds up, what are the consequences? Does what happens in this financial core really carry any weight for how I live and interact on a day-to-day basis? How much of what happens here should impact people's daily lives?

If Jesus walked these streets, what would he have to say about this environment? Does the action of the cleansing of the temple apply? How about the year of jubilee? Would he cry out for workers saying the harvest is ready? How would he apply making peace with your accusers? How would he seek to claim back these people and the institutions that they have created or would he see it as a lost cause? Possibly more importantly what is Jesus saying to me about my involvement and possibly acceptance of these institutions and systems?

If I don't see them as what God desires then what are the alternatives to what I see? Should we be looking toward community centred activity and / or transition towns? Is a return to subsistence living what God desires? Should we simply discard the technological gains and return to living off the land? Is there a middle ground that would uphold God's principles and desires?

Yes, I have a lot of questions as I walk amongst these city buildings and the institutions that they represent. It isn't easy to live as God's servant amongst the human institutions and systems that surround us.

The citadel of speed

But it isn't a pilgrimage walk through the city that I will be doing this weekend. Instead of worshipping at or among the citadels of finance and business, I will be worshipping at the citadel of speed, the roaring engine, and the cheering crowd.

What do I see? A celebration of man's engineering and creativity; the worship of a rising speed king in the presence of a falling star; or a celebration of speed? Possibly all of these things.

How does Jesus react? Does he desert me and leave me to enjoy the day or does he walk with me seeking me to reflect? Would Jesus call for an end to 'progress'? What would Jesus' heart cry to these people be or is he totally irrelevant in this context?

Yes, I will worship at the citadel of speed but my worship isn't simply a praise of man's achievements. My heart will cry for God to bring meaning to our human emphasis on progress at all costs.

A reflection

Man so loved his riches and his wealth that
he cut down and polluted all of God's creation
he enslaved his fellow man within his wealth creation and management systems
so that he destroyed their ability to enjoy all that God had created.

When man saw the damage that he had done
he argued over how to restore the balance
he gave priority to maintaining the wealth creation system and balancing the accounts.

When he saw the poverty of his fellow man
he argued that balancing the wealth creation system took priority
he contended that to restrict growth of wealth for the rich would cripple the system, and stop the rich creating opportunities for the poor
he said the poor enslaved themselves because they didn't take the opportunities given.

Those who rejected the wealth creation system
cultivated the land to maintain its productivity
learnt its rhythms and its cycle of production
shared with their neighbours from what the land produced
drank deep of the nectar of friendship and never accounted for the exchange of goods
relinquished financial wealth for the deep riches of community and the beauty of what God had created
enjoyed the fruits of their labours and found health and vitality in the fellowship of others.

Need technological advancement halt? If it enhances the well-being of all things on this planet then why should it be halted? It is the direction of travel that is important.

References

McLaren, B. D. (2007). Everything must change: when the world's biggest problems and Jesus' good news collide. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Christianity and Being Christian

Occasionally some interesting statements appear on Facebook. This one was originally identified as liked by one of my friends: “Going to church doesn't make you a christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car” but I really wonder whether they understand what being Christian really means.

There was a series on the BBC before Christmas called “A History of Christianity.” The presenter acknowledged in the final episode that he was a friend (sympathetic) to Christianity but not a Christian. In the series, the presenter focussed on the church (the institution) and its various incarnations and rituals. What I felt he really missed is that the Christian faith isn't about the institution called the church. It is about about a personal relationship with a living God. This is reflected in the Old Testament in Numbers 11:10-15.

In that Numbers passage, Moses complains about the burden of leadership but at no point does he doubt that God called him into the leadership. The commentator, Riggans (1983) discusses how other prophets and leaders in the Old Testament had shown the same understanding. They saw themselves as failures but they didn't see that they could resign from the relationship with God. God was who had called them and given them their commission. Death seemed like the only way to end the commission and for another to take over. The relationship with God couldn't be ended by a decision to opt out.

The thing is that all of the servants of God failed to see was that God had expected their commission to go as it had. He was already working on the next step. So often, we like Hoses and these other servants of God forget that it is God's plan that is being worked out and not our own. He has the next steps already prepared in his plan. We simply lack the knowledge of where God's plan leads.

Another friend had put a link in Facebook to a short video on validation. It told the story of a car park attendant who made everybody smile. He meet a women photographer who wouldn't smile no matter how hard he tried. He thought he was a failure so he stopped trying to make people smile. Then he was challenged again to make people smile through photography and helped the women's mother to smile. This made the women smile so that she like him began to make people smile.

I see in his story that of a person having been given a commission. He lost sight of it when one person didn't seem to respond. It was only when his commission was restored and he had forgotten about the failure that he discovered that he hadn't failed at all. He simply needed to look at the solution from a different perspective.

Thinking of the “A History of Christianity” series, the presenter talks of the church reinventing itself. I see it more as rediscovering it commission. The church as a body of believers may go through times when the organisation needs to be challenged but God is really working with individuals. The individuals haven't lost their faith or call to purpose. They are simply seeing that God's commission has different ways of being worked out and accepting the decisions that God is making.

God's working with individuals is also reflected in alternative ways of being church (Murray and Wilkinson-Hayes, 2000). If church becomes were people meet with God then does it have to happen in traditional church buildings. Many of the newer forms of church are less focussed on the weekly worship and more focussed on being the church in a local community. Murray and Wilkinson-Hayes describe a diagram by Robert Warren. They say that “the essential nature of church” requires “three elements, of worship, community and mission and only when these three are equally present and fully informing each other does Christian spirituality find true expression” (p 17). They contend that the three elements, worship, community, and mission are the “ways into being church” (p 17).

What the stories in this book reflect is that being the church or an authentic Christian group only really happens when the church moves outside of its buildings and identifies with the community in which it is based. This is without losing sight of the importance of placing God at the centre. The churches mission and its place in the community are equally as important as the strength of its worship.

Reference:

Riggans, W. (1983). Numbers. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Murray, S., & Wilkinson-Hayes, A. (2000). Hope from the margins: New ways of being church (Vol. Ev 49). Cambridge: Grove Books Limited.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Resurfacing old thoughts

When I taught at Carrington Polytechnic / Unitec, I used to talk to the students in the induction / orientation programme about our expectations with respect to caring for the computer laboratories. However, I tried to phrase it in terms of them taking responsibility. I used a four quadrant diagram.

privilegesresponsibilities
actionsconsequences

The principle was that we are given privileges such as access to education (not a right to education). These privileges come with associated responsibilities. A right tends to be something we demand or can demand. The thing is when that happens, we tend to take less responsibility for ensuring others have access to that right. A right is a selfish understanding about access to things. The concept of a privilege is that it is offered to us but we through our actions can take up that privilege. However, a privilege comes with responsibilities. We can't just take the privilege for our exclusive use.. If we ignore the responsibilities of the privilege through our actions then we will experience consequences which is the loss of the privilege.

Moving from the context of education to the wider context of living, we have been given the privilege of life and the access to resources to live and learn. We can abuse that privilege through our actions and destroy the resources and life itself. Or we can accept the responsibilities that come with those privileges and take care of the resources so they continue to be available for others. We can accept our responsibility to be a caring part of the community seeking to build bridges and develop harmony. For me, as a Christian, God has given me the privilege of life and the privilege of walking in relationship with him. That carries with it a responsibility to bring God's peace (shalom) to all, not through conquest but through love and caring. We reach out to others in honesty, integrity, and truth. There may be conflict (not military but in terms of ideology and in speaking the truth) but always the goal is to bring others closer to Christ.

In the end, we can't opt out of our responsibilities nor can we force delivery of rights. We can only act in accordance with the responsibilities or suffer the consequences (i.e. the lose of the privileges). Our actions aren't based on our privileges, they are based on our responsibilities. The consequences have a direct impact on our privileges and not on our responsibilities. This gives a more cyclic picture.

Since drafting this blog, someone suggested that we can talk about the rights of others in the sense that all should have a right to education. This isn't seeking to gain for oneself but rather recognising someone else's need in a way that says they should have that need satisfied. I totally agree with this perspective. We should be arguing that all have a right to a place to live, to food, and to being able to live a meaningful life. It is clear that our economic system is not designed to ensure that this happens. Therefore, I argue that it needs to be changed to place the needs (rights) of people ahead of accounting strategies.