Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Less-than-simple answers

Orchestral manoeuvres ... Tim Minchin meets the Sydney Symphony.

I went out last night with my mum. She had bought tickets to see Tim Minchin, and invited me to come, too.

I've been fascinated by his performances for a while. He is incredibly gifted musically and has clever, satirical, self-concious lyrics. And last night was a great show. I wanted to dance and sing and laugh and clap all at once. And then the next song would be so profound and funny at the same time that the audience was silenced. We didn't know whether to clap or gasp in awe.

He is an avowed empiricist who mocks organised religion and new age spiritualism. And he is able to delight in ordinary human relationships, in a quirky and poignant way.

In the middle of the show, he sang a song about sitting on the fence and ambivalence. I searched on You Tube but wasn't able to find it. But I'm still thinking about it.

It is so easy to seek simple answers to the things that puzzle us or frustrate us in the world. If something is 'wrong' then I can denounce it or ignore it or laugh at it. It is a way to distance myself from the confusing things I see.

It is harder to accept that some questions do not have clear and simple answers. And Minchin seems convinced that Christians love simple, black and white answers. That we are unsophisticated in our thinking and that we delight in an "us and them" mentality about the world.

He told the story of a woman who was healed of a sight problem after her church praying for her. But then used the story to question the idea of God granting miracles to middle-class women in Australia while people in third-world countries die of starvation or suffer devastating oppression.

And I do not think there is an easy answer to this question. I do not know why some people are healed and some people never have a chance. Why I have so much, while some people have so little. Maybe the only meaningful answer is to acknowledge the paradox. To see the ugly unfairness of it and realise that only God can redress this gross injustice. To see the responsibility in my richness.

My richness is obscene, beside real poverty, and meaningless, beside true wealth. Wealth of spirit and truth, I mean. And this can leave me paralysed.

Somehow I need to hold these two extremes together and be motivated to give out of my riches - in a purposeful and practical way. To let it go rather than cling to it.

And miracles have a similar paradox - they can bring new life or extend a life. They can completely transform possiblity. But on the other hand, they happen in bodies and communities that are headed for death. They cannot halt the inevitable. The biggest miracle actually reaches fulfillment in death - resurrection. After years of avoiding death, perhaps praying for a dispensation to put it off, or miraculously escaping it, we must enter into it, to get the ultimate miracle.

When Jesus was alive, not everyone was healed. And I think he wanted us to realise that those healings were exciting, but peripheral. A by-product. They all pointed to the real miracle - the accessible to everybody miracle.

That we can know him ... be loved by him ... live with him. Now and Forever.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I like...

I like a life that is not too flashy, but where there is space to sit and read and enjoy the breeze on the back of my neck.
I like to laugh and sometimes to get to the laughter that can't be stopped. It leaves me weak and clean.
I like to hear the stories of life. How you got to be you. What made you, what taught you, what comforted you and angered you.
I like soft skin against my cheek.
I like the everyday things that happen.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Allowing Possibility

"But in God's kingdom we operate by grace, which is an inverted logic that is both rational and paradoxical." Dan Allender, Leading With A Limp (p.92)

Leaders like to have the answer. I like to have a plan that I know how to follow.

But sometimes things get complicated. Sometimes we don't know what to do. Those are the times it's easy to stick to what we do know. And become rigid. Because ambiguity is scary. An unknown future is scary.

I love to stick to the rules the most, when my children are asking for me to do something differently. When they want something new to happen. But I can't just keep saying, "No you can't walk home from school by yourselves." One day I will need to say "Yes." To surrender my need to control (in one little area).

The situations can be more complex - Whether to make a person stay in hospital because they are at risk of deliberately hurting themselves? The answer can be simple. Make everyone stay, then they will all be safe and we will rest easy that the job is done. But each situation is different; each person is unique; each risk is subtly shaped. Creatively finding solutions means sometimes diverting from the rule. It means listening much harder to the problem to make a better informed decision. It means surrendering some control, giving some choice to the vulnerable one. And it opens the possibility of being wrong. But that ambiguity also allows the possibility of hope.

"A leader blesses complexity because she knows it will humble the team, expose their idols of control, and invite them both to listen with greater depth and to open their hearts to the inverted, odd, paradoxical ways of God." Leading With A Limp (p.93)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rain and Prayer

We went camping and I wondered about prayer.

Raindrops fell as we unhooked the trailer, unfolded the tent and unrolled the sleeping bags. Puddles rose and we huddled under umbrellas. My ears were stuffed full of the drum of rain on the tarpaulin roof. And we slept.

The children rode their bikes and played races and went on fish hunts. They walked through wet bush, fell in the mud, and laughed. All the clothes got wet and though they hung in the air all day, they stayed wet. Some of the tents leaked. Some of the umbrellas broke. And we got wet.

Did I pray for the rain to stop?

Regardless of whether I did or not, the rain cleared and we sat outside in the late afternoon. We talked together and laughed. The children kept playing and we marvelled at a tiny patch of blue sky. We hoped into it.

It disappeared with the light and we couldn't see the closest moon in twenty years. That was my biggest disappointment. We soothed the children to sleep in scattered tents, then gathered round a fold-out table. Rain pelted over our heads and we sat cosy. Enjoyed a game and some chocolate, then wandered off to bed.

I want to call the rain that night, a deluge. Perhaps it qualified, but who could really know. Canvas filled up with water and overflowed and I stood pyjama-soaked to pull it down. Silent dark tents silhouetted. Rain gusting and sheeting. It was so absurd that I did not wish the moment gone.

I wondered about prayer because I couldn't bring myself to pray the rain away. It felt like a convenience prayer. A prayer to "give me a carpark now, Lord".

Was there reason behind that rain? Did it rescue someone or cleanse something or bring life that was needed? Had someone else prayed fervently for it to fall? Or was it the result of recent cloud and pressure movements in the sky? Did I need that rain, although I never would have asked for it? Will it make me more of what I'm meant to be? If I let it?

So many of my prayers could be "Please don't let it rain, Lord." But what will I miss if those prayers are answered?

I smiled as I read today. He has a sense of humour.
Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.
Joel 2:23.
Both the rainbow and the rain point to his faithfulness.

And I know that other prayers are desperate, that we need answers and solutions because we are not enough and cannot survive. We need his rescue, but do we need it from all the circumstances of life? The rain reminds me he is faithful. And I know that sometimes I am praying for convenience, not rescue.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

News from Japan

Bulletins throughout the day. My mouth is open as I watch the film of water washing a landscape away.

Cameras, a microphone in hand, he asks the questions to a woman lost and bereft. She's living in her car - a shiny red one, small Japanese made. She's living in a car because her home was dashed and murky water crashed. Her neighbours buried under rubble.

She's perplexed and uncertain. Shocked that she's here and breathing. Longing for the normality of casual hellos at the letterbox. Scooping rice into a bowl in the kitchen. Watching TV sprawled on the sofa after work. None of these can happen - she has no bowls, no kitchen, no TV, no sofa. Just an all-leather interior and a clutched handbag.

Was she good TV because she coud speak English? The street behind her is deserted, but the microphone is big and blue, catching her words. Utterly shaken and overwhelmed. But somehow saying that she will go on. What else can she do?

I watch pictures of destruction. Talk of nuclear reactors leaking contamination. And I am overwhelmed. Simply overwhelmed. People tweet #prayforjapan and I do, but will it help?

And I know that it will.
May the bereft people of Japan find refuge.

God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains.
Psalm 46:1-3 (The Message)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Leadership and Pride

I'm reading Leading With A Limp by Dan Allender. I really like his approach. This is not a book review but I'm thinking about some interesting things as a result of the book.

I am reminded of the times when I have felt overwhelmed in a position of leadership. It usually happens when I am too busy. When the scope for action before me is so wide that I feel confused where to start, or what to choose to do. I think about people who have had ideas for action but I have tried to hinder them, rather than enable them. Not because I want to stop them, rather it's because their action makes me feel inadequate, that I'm not leading properly.

In that situation, my ego has become more important to me than the task we are trying to get done. It is hard to surrender myself and my pride when people are watching what I am doing. But leadership benefits from being humble enough to see beyond my own needs. I learn this lesson again and again when I realise that I am listening to my need to be in control or my need to be right. At that point I have to sacrifice those needs because they distract me.

When my needs consume me I am not available to the group. If a crisis hits I am too busy protecting my ego to listen to revolutionary solutions. But if I am not clinging to being right, then I can accept change or loss and not see it as an attack on myself.

I am struck by the fragility in all of us. Sometimes strong, powerful  leaders are actually protecting broken spirits, the best way they know how. Sometimes we are ruthlessly unforgiving of our leaders. Perhaps we would be more gracious if they could be more vulnerable about their human-ness.

Perhaps true strength is expressed in transparent honesty and rejection of the need to be in control.

"A broken leader is a sweet paradox of confidence and openness. If those I lead have already found out the worst there is to know about me - that I am a sinner - then the log in my eye is continually being removed in the midst of every crisis. The result is better vision and greater wisdom due to the freedom I feel to both live and die." Dan Allender, Leading With a Limp, p75.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Words to share

"We believe that we are all saved the same way,
by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts 15:11

My angst (humour me)

There is a gap between thinking something silently and making it verbal. Sometimes it surprises me that people who know me are not aware of what I have been ruminating about. My unuttered intentions and deep concerns should somehow be obvious to those around me.

I realise that a lot of my living goes on inside my head.

This does not make it less real.

For me, saying it out loud is actually a commitment. The existence of a plan or idea outside my head makes me fearful of failing in the endeavour. Best not to commit until I'm entirely sure. But when can I be entirely sure?

Writing these words feels like squeezing the last scraps of toothpaste out of the tube.

I am afraid that I am blogging, but don't really have anything to say. I am afraid that I am leading, but I'm not really sure where I'm going. I am afraid that I'm listening, but I've forgotten to take my fingers out of my ears. I am afraid that I'm loving but I've completely misunderstood how to do it. I am afraid that I'm living but all that I do will disappear in a puff of smoke. Insubstantial.

I am afraid that if I speak my deepest desires or my deep-core dreams, you will laugh. Or worse still, you won't notice.

So I deny this self obsession and I laugh to myself about white people problems. I'm caught in the paradox of desperately wanting to be understood but knowing my insignificance. I am deeply loved and I am ordinary. We struggle to believe that both can be true.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Trying to answer and delusions of grandeur

I wrote about floods in southern Queensland, no idea that it would just be one among many shattered places. Tonight I read of earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan, Christchurch is still shocked, last month far north Queensland was blown away by a cyclone. Bushfires, crops destroyed, homes flattened or burnt.

Cancer smothers people, marriages disintegrate, addictions rob friends of their dignity.

I notice two responses.

Some know a God who accompanies them in these desperate times. He comforts, strengthens and consoles. His presence salves wounds.

Some question the presence, the wisdom and the interest of a creator. 'How can there be a loving God if this cruelness is possible?' This shattering of life is proof of a dearth of purpose. Or we have been carelessly dropped into a grim, sarcastic, vengeful universe.

How can the God-followers, the comforted ones, reach into this deep, yawning-gulf question? These two persectives live such a long way apart. Are we even speaking the same dialect? Sometimes I wonder.

I know my words are paltry and half-hearted. Poorly thought out, surprised by the questions. Much of the contents of my heart and my mind never gets formed into syllables. Because I stumble and mumble to get it out. I need to think more about the questions we get asked. How can God transform this world-lostness, by his presence?

I would love to be like Peter. Impetuously outspoken. Faithfully fervent.
To those wondering how we can find comfort in God, I would answer. Boldly.

"Where else have I to go? His words are those of eternal life. Where else can I find the comfort, the challenge, the merciful forgiveness? Where else can I find freedom from this earth's tyranny and ruthless destruction? This world, these people, brings wounds, God alone is the salve."

And yet would they listen? I confess I long to do the spirit's work and touch ears to really hear. Shake someone so that they no longer ignore what is before them. Why can't I choose and they respond?

It takes faith to leave it to God, because my pride pictures me doing such a fine job of discerning and enabling. How deluded I am. I mess up simple answers to honest questions. Imagine the mess I would make of divine tasks.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The sac around the policy gland

John Clarke and Brian Dawe tonight. He's right, the inflammation of the pericompromise is everywhere.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


He roughly says get lost (or some such thing). I stand in the hallway, hesitant. I want to catch him back, soothe and listen. He stalks away.

Another sees my discomfort. She's watched me all day, asked again and again for leave to go. Then she asks if I'm OK. Embarrassed at her insight, I'm awkward. But I'm alright.

Later, I make a joke. Keeping score of foul-spoken rejections. I'm today's winner.

Rationally, I know his mind is too disordered to behave differently. He cannot trust me because he cannot trust his own senses and intuitions. He hates this confinement - the locked doors and illness labels that imprison him. I'm just getting caught up in the edge of that resentment.

He's here because his perceptions are so faulty that he pushed his mother in frustration. And his father holds it against him. His mother brings a tape measure to wind around his waist, so she can bring him new clothes that fit. She will come tomorrow and clipper cut his hair for him. This is mother's love - a woman ungrudgingly, almost cheerfully, will gently shave her tall, irritable, pacing, forty-something son. And she will speak to him with fondness, with grace. In the middle of a psych ward.

I think about mothers' love.
A woman grieving for her son - he has blindly, clumsily destroyed his marriage, his joy. She tries to hold him together.
Another woman agonised in prayer, and wish, and hope watching her daughter cradle a newborn through difficult cardiac surgery. Waiting.
And a woman who would do anything, give anything, drive anywhere to help her sons learn. Anything to help them be happy.
A woman whose desire to love burns a hole in her chest because no baby is born despite her prayers.

Whatever made me think that love is pure?
And I check, it's not pure, it's patient and persevering. Love buries us deep in ugly pain. Love is the reason we survive the pain.

linking with imperfect prose