Treasures

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Suppose a family decides to move to Another Land. They give away or sell many of their belongings and pack their two leather suitcases. In Old Country the family store five large boxes filled with things of little value other than sentiment.  They withdraw all their money from the bank. They fly off to their new adventure. They find a new house and begin their new life in Another Land.  

A little time later they return to Old Country to celebrate the wedding of their eldest child. They are welcomed back by family and friends. They go to sort out their boxes of special things and find, that where there were 5 boxes, instead there are 50 boxes.  They ask the Caretaker,  ‘We left only 5 boxes here in this place and now there are 50.  What has happened and what lies in all these boxes?’ The old man removes a white cloth covering the huge mountain of boxes revealing that each one is stamped with a different word. ‘Friends. Seeds. Trauma. Gifts. Family. Sand. Pain. Laughter. Grief. Worry. Words. The woman still doesn’t understand what this means.  The old man takes her hand and looks into her eyes with such love. He says 'This is called The Well-come Home.  This is your box of time. This is the record of things eternal. These are the things you carry and the things you dropped.  This is both the school of your youth and the temple of your old age. These boxes hold the battle scars and your medals where you won first place. They smell of the ancient and of the future. ‘The boxes that you left on these shores have multiplied. I packed the pages you left behind.  They speak of redemption and eternity. Friendships are a huge and valuable investment.  I found some of those forgotten behind the door.’ says the old man.  

The joy of these treasures was unexpected and very deep. His words induced a long audible sigh. Once the stale air had fully exited my lungs I breathed in a batch of new and energetic oxygen.  I was a little freer.   A little more free.   

“You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.  You hem me in, behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 0 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well”.
— Psalm 139, 7 - 12 


Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks was a rather remarkable series of the 90s. Remember there was no Netflix, so a whole lot of people were watching episode by episode of this trippy and complex crime series. You really had to lean in; to listen hard to follow the plot and absorb the off-beat dialogue. The main character, FBI special agent Dale Cooper, often thinks in the abstract. He is reminiscent of a sophisticated Colombo for those of you who remember that bumbling detective of the Seventies.

Dale Cooper looks at a crime scene with a quality that thinks simultaneously in the past, present and future. Like God, Cooper comes up with strange conclusions. He asks unusual questions.

God knows me and takes me off balance.

I suppose when we say ‘yes’ to God (see how I continue to use that language - the language of evangelism) or, put another way, when we open our mind, heart and soul to explore a relationship with God, we permit the God police to enter into our scene. My life is a perpetual crime scene. You may as well cover me in the yellow and black police tape — with 911 on speed dial. The God detective comes and surveys the scene. He takes notes. ‘Oops, she did it again’.

I wait. Head bowed in shame. My Dale-Cooper-of-a-God sees my past,my present and my future. He lifts my head and looks me deep in the eyes and kisses the top of my crown and commands me to go and sin no more.

This scene is on repeat.

Remember ‘go and sin no more’ are the words Jesus uses to send the adulterous woman back into her community in the 8th Chapter of John. I find it amusing that he would says this with a straight face. Perhaps it is said with the same conviction of a mother saying to her quarelling children ‘ Now go away and play nicely together’. She knows there will be another scrap between them, another time she needs to enter and mediate.

Despite all my angst and uncertainty, it is this sense of God’s forgiveness and kindness that keep me rooted in this life battle. Allowing me to keep my head above water in real barbarian struggles; to keep on believing in God and heaven and all that.

Dale Cooper in one of the episodes takes the Sheriff to breakfast in a diner. I like to think these words are how God would counsel me when I am all knotted up and anxious about life:

Dale Cooper:

Harry, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it, don't wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair or two cups of good hot black coffee. Like this.

Sheriff Truman:

A present? Like Christmas?

Dale Cooper:

[Taking a sip] Ah, man that hits the spot. Nothing like a great cup of black coffee.

No doubt we have a complex relationship with God. He sees all. He deserves our best. He is both our judge and our defender. Allow him control of the mess and take up his offer of a place of rest amidst the battle.

The Pavement is Dreaming of Grass

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Go to the place where your imagination lives.

The child spot.

The dreamer place.

Experiences of life can stifle and numb this part of ourselves.  As Westerners we live in a culture increasingly interested in what is ‘right’.  What is just?  What is the tribal definition of justice?

In an increasingly fearful community, we endlessly analyse events and behaviours and place them up against the mirror of judgement in order to maintain a grip on order.

We have lost our glasses through which we see glory, and, then become free to imagine what a life without eyes of judgement looks like.

I am working on retrieving some of my lost functionality – my lost imagination.

“The soil under the grass is dreaming of a young forest, and under the pavement the soil is dreaming of grass.”

— Wendell Berry, Given

To dream of pure friendships,  of mountain walks, of witnessing miracles, of beauty, of sleep…..

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Sabbath

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I remember a time many years ago when my children were ready to start their ‘careers’ as footballers. They wanted to play soccer. In our city at that time, the regular games were played on a Sunday. Our church day. We didn’t think of it as being a clash with any rules of the Sabbath but, rather, as an inconvenience. The logistics of combining a two-hour church service in the morning, soccer games, and the evening service would be a problem. We have four sons, (and a daughter who, thankfully, didn’t want to join the girls soccer team) so it was an important problem to solve. As so often happens someone more passionate and more determined to solve the dilemma founded a Christian soccer league which played games on Saturday. The four boys played in this league for many years to come.

Recently I have been reading a book entitled ‘ Sabbath as Resistance’ by the eminent writer and theologian Walter Brueggemann. He suggests the fourth commandment on following the sabbath is the most difficult and most urgent of the commandments in our society, because it summons us to a purpose that goes against the most elemental mores of our commmodity-propelled society. A society that peddles control, entertainment, and ‘do-what-you-want-when-you-want’ to the max. Rest.

I am now asking myself, how well am I offering the gift of Sabbath to others? How does Soulkitchen include a stretch towards sabbath - a big deep breath away from these compulsions in our society? Sabbath is not simply about my ‘pause’ but, as with all our actions and positions, it should offers space for others in my practice. It can create a time for imagining our lives away from the roar of commerce and social anxiety. It offers a seat for those who are heavy and weary to join me in rest.

There is perhaps no better time than this to take time out and prepare a place for your neighbours to rest.

Maybe Sabbath becomes your Gift Card of choice. An invitation of rest and safety for others. A time where you and others acknowledge the gift of life and breath.

Brueggemann completes his short book on Sabbath with these words:

Sabbath is a ‘no’ to the worship of commodity; it is a ‘no’ to the pursuit of commodity. But it is more than a ‘no’. Sabbath is a regular, disciplined, visible, concrete yes to the neighbourly reality of the community beloved by God. We used to sing the hymn ‘Take Time to be Holy, but perhaps we should be singing. ‘Take time to be Human’.


— Sabbath as Resistance (2014)Walter Brueggemann


Sabbath is taking time. Time to be holy. Time to be human.

Encourage

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Amidst the programs, the food service, the Christmas planning, the housing symposiums, the migrant education, the job training, grant applications – one thing remains urgent – encourage one another!

At the heart of personality is the need to feel a sense of being lovable without having to qualify for that acceptance.

— Escape from Loneliness by Paul Tournier


A little bit goes a long way. Because of the prevailing winds of self-doubt – or even self-hatred, we must take the lead on this. We can move to a culture of encouragement as a balance for the fashion of rating our work only through the eyes of success and deliverables.  Let’s find ourselves intentionally raising the hopes of the vulnerable through words of encouragement.

The Life Saving Club

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This week I was reminded of a modern-day parable re-told by many. Here is my rendition…..

On a beautiful piece of coastline, where the waves are dangerous and drownings frequently occur, there was a once a cute little life-saving station. No more than a hut on stilts. A local man donated a boat that could be used to go out into the surf and assist those in need. A few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea.

Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station. Many of those who had been rescued told their story and, so, the rescue work became famous. Many wanted to support the work. New boats were bought, and crews were trained. The little life-saving station grew.

Some of the new members of the life-saving station felt that such good work deserved a better building and higher quality equipment. After all, didn’t those who were being rescued need a comfortable place to recover?

So, after the new building was erected, they replaced the hammocks with IKEA furniture and made a pleasant lounge area with a first-class coffee machine.

Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they re-decorated it beautifully and added a wrap-around ocean-view patio and a state of the art sound system. The daughter of the Club President suggested the potential for Friday night live music and dance. She was the first one to be married on the patio at sunset. The view was divine. Many followed using their increasingly expensive membership fees to host school graduations, weddings, 21st birthday bashes and any event you could imagine.

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Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so the Board of Directors decided to pay the lifeboat crews to do the work. The interview process was fierce as many wanted the jobs. To have the life-saving club on your resume was gold!

In addition to devising smart fundraising programs, many members volunteered as accountants, event coordinators, marketers and such. The Club was a hive of activity and became the sweetheart of the local city council. A beacon of the community. It quickly matched the influence and budget of the local Rotary and Lions Club combined!

About this time a large fishing trawler caught fire about 400 metres off the coast. The newly hired rescue team, enthused about using their new equipment, went out into the sea. They returned with about a dozen cold, wet, and half-drowned people.

Most of the rescued were Indonesian, and it was difficult to communicate with them. The fire had left them with a strong smoky smell and blackened with ash. The life-savers didn’t quite know where to place them. The beautiful new carpets inside the Club house would be ruined, and the bathrooms did not have showering facilities. It was near dark and freezing outside, so the beach showers were the only option. They asked the rescued folk to kindly shower before entering the building. By 9pm the group were huddled in blankets around a pot of good soup.

‘Well done to my team who went above and beyond to keep our community safe’ was the quote from the Club President. The story made it into the headlines for of all the major evening news broadcasts.

However, as they say, there was trouble in paradise.

At the next Club board meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's life-saving activities or at least curtail them. A consensus was reached. The Club would not go out past the end of the roped off section of the beach to help. Any incident further than the end of the jetty would be handled by the local Coast Guard. This action would safeguard the normal life pattern of the club and protect the members. The Club would donate 10% of their annual budget to the National Coast Guard service.

Many left to start their own clubs. They wanted to return to the real mission of saving lives.

If you visit this part of the coast today, you will find many ‘well equipped’ clubs along the shore. Any surfing or boating accidents occurring outside the breaks are passed onto the Coast Guard. People continue to drown. Club membership continues to grow

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Window

The window that looks into ourselves. The looking glass. The mirror. Whatever it is. Mine needs some Windex treatment. A light spray and a soft cloth.

Not a clean offered by man.  I am too savvy and suspicious for that. The spray of faint praise and flattery - any value in that was ruined long ago.

We need desperately to know from God that He loves us. He sees. He cleans us up.

Young people - hell all of us - are asking for validation from the world about us - asking repeatedly for value from others, when it is our father, THE Father, who has jumped over everything and demonstrated that he is our biggest fan. How do we believe this?  How!

Today I find it easier to believe. I choose to see myself like this - 

Me - Artist not worker

Me - Lover not servant

Me - Creator not engineer 

Easier on my heart and easier to believe He could love that. 

 

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Let’s Do This!

Sometimes we need a word of encouragement to move on and keep following our calling. We have been encouraged here in Malaysia to keep our engines on! To continue in the ways we know are good. Encouraged to see interactions with people as a chance to imitate Christ by showing compassion and love in unexpected ways.   

So let’s do this! 

 ‘And let us not grow weary of doing good’ Galatians 6

 

Spare me the details


Do I need to know all the details?  Do I need to know all the variances?  The consequences. The possible outcomes.

Jesus seems to be saying to us to trust in Him and seek wisdom and understanding.

As I heard this week at a wonderful conference on the Fathers Heart….

‘Knowledge is linked to the mind. Wisdom is linked to the heart.
Knowledge doesn’t change who I am.  Understanding does.
— James Jordan - FathersHeart Ministries


We live in a world demanding answers for unfathomable situations. This is the culture we try to help and love.  We are so wrapped up in our search for the perfect answer.  The fine line. The distinctions between good and evil.

Instead, I suggest a path towards understanding.  To set aside our Pharisaic nature and breathe a little deeper into our heart.  Ask God to give us eyes to see a little better. And a new hearing to hear a little better.

That they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts. And turn and be healed
— Isaiah 6,10

THE JESUS HALO - HE PROVIDES THE BELLS AND WHISTLES

Howard Schultz is like a mega-church pastor.  He has many followers worldwide. He has formulated a strong brand identity.  He has his message. He did take the ‘high road’ when it came to the Philadelphia incident this year. He made a point to train his staff rather than make excuses for bad racist behaviour. Good Marketing.  Psychology at work in the marketplace. He  talks about creating a ‘brand halo’.  Like Hillsong Church used their great worship department to build a huge brand halo and then added preaching and mission and education. So, too, Schultz wants to change up the Starbucks branding by adding  a few classy roasteries to take the basic Starbucks messaging to a whole new level. 

Schultz had a dream.  He had a couple of dreams!  His goal, before retiring as CEO, was to develop an arm of the Starbucks group that could be classed as a luxury – high end – the First Class seats in the coffee business. 

So,like Apostle Paul – he wanted to become ‘ a Jew to the Jews to win some’ (1 Cor 9:20), but in his case, it was to grow the business to serve the perfect Italian espresso to the Italians…. He wanted to meet the best, head-on, and to prove that he could have a spot at the table considered to be the birthplace of the coffee aristocracy. Yes, so that he might make more money and notoriety. Nothing wrong with that in the world of business. In business (and who knows maybe in White House politics) he has maintained a good record over all these years. 

How beautiful is this first Starbucks recently opened in Milano? The perfect place to enjoy a cuppa joe.

 

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We have a brand halo, and his name is Jesus. He gives us notoriety, and with Him, we can go into territories where others might fear rejection or death. He needs no marketing or promotion. He is the full package. He has his own Agent. We sit around boardroom tables politely negotiating new strategies, renovations of old skins, conferences and smart multi-pronged approaches. Good marketing? Good stewardship?

He says - just Follow Me. I’ll provide the bells and whistles


The halo effect is a term for a consumer’s favoritism toward a line of products due to positive experiences with other products by this maker. The halo effect is correlated to brand strength and brand loyalty and contributes to brand equity.

Dawn

Reading Joan Chittister’s ‘Between the Dark and the Daylight’ and I offer a thought for today..... 

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That is the cry of our barbarian hearts. I smile as Joan offers her recipe for rest.

"It’s time to sleep in like you did in the good old days. Have a late breakfast. Read the newspapers all day long. Call some friends in for a game of pinochle. As Ashleigh Brilliant says, “Sometimes the most urgent and vital thing you can possibly do is take a complete rest.”
As the proverb teaches, “A good rest is half the work.” At least, that is, if you really want to be productive."

Ahh..... gotta get me some pinochle?

Meditation on Eating

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A chapter titled ' Where We Go Wrong (and Right) in Eating' in Brett McCracken's book , Gray Matters, takes the challenge of analysing our relationship with food in light of life as a follower of Jesus. A thoughtful piece.  I am taking a big chunk of the chapter as an offering to you. Read it and Eat.

Eat for connection instead of using food to ameliorate our stress or emotional turmoil. Food as escapism is not limited to the realm of gorging on Twinkies and potato chips after a bad breakup. It can be a bad habit of foodies as well. Sometimes our obsession with eating gourmet or “artisan” food can be equally consuming and self-focused. The gourmands who get weak in the knees over the Valdeón cheese samples at Whole Foods and can’t go a day without some sort of Marcona almond acai granola bar are equally at risk of relying on food for narcissistic boosts of self-esteem or comfort. The temptation to turn to food for comfort is widespread and—to an extent—understandable, but is it the best way? Perhaps we should instead think of food as a way to—paradoxically, perhaps—get outside of ourselves. Eating food should bring together rather than isolate human beings. Instead of eating food as a way to detach from the world, perhaps we might try eating as a way to reconnect. It’s actually a pretty natural fit. “Food connects,” writes Tim Chester. It connects us with family. It turns strangers into friends. And it connects us with people around the world. Consider what you had for breakfast this morning. Tea. Coffee. Sugar. Cereal. Grapefruit. Much of it was produced in another state or country. Food enables us to be blessed by people around the world and to bless them in return. As a habit that every human has in common, eating brings us together. And as something that involves ingredients from all corners of the globe—sometimes all at once—food connects us with one another. It reminds us that we are part of a global ecology; that what we are eating originated somewhere, for granted have origins in specific cultures and geographical locations. It’s like a World Civilizations class every time we eat. In his book Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, Duke Divinity School professor Norman Wirzba suggests that in a trinitarian theology, “all reality is communion” and that even eating should be conceived of in relational terms of membership, belonging, responsibility, and gratitude. Eating “joins people together, to other creatures and the world, and to God through forms of ‘natural communion’ too complex to fathom,” writes Wirzba. “It establishes a membership that confirms all creatures as profoundly in need of each other and upon God to provide life’s nutrition and vitality.” Far from a solitary and self-indulgent activity, the universality of food should remind us of our interconnectedness every time we eat. Tom Beaudoin in Consuming Faith writes “The body is not a closed system but an open one, utterly reliant on the world.”
Indeed, the greatest of all meals for Christians—the Eucharist—rebuffs the isolationist mode of consumption. It’s a sacred means of connection and solidarity. In it we identify with the suffering of Christ. We connect with our Saviour and his body: our fellow believers throughout the ages. And it’s thoroughly countercultural. It may seem odd to think about eating in terms of connection, solidarity, humility, and suffering rather than as a matter of satiating our primal needs and emotional urges. But in the meal Christ gave us, the Eucharist, the former is exactly what eating is. It’s about getting outside of ourselves and reflecting on the bigger picture.
— https://www.amazon.com/Gray-Matters-Brett-McCracken/dp/0801014743

At our kitchen work we attempt to bring the pieces together and to create a place where food becomes an integral part of community - one to another - something that joins us together.

Rest

I found a personal 'chapel' this week ... new Parq hotel   

I found a personal 'chapel' this week ... new Parq hotel

 

We have been trained since infancy to strive. To strive for effectiveness and productivity.

 Look he walked at 10 months

Look she won her race at the school sports carnival

Look she learned how to ride a bike

Look they bought their first house

 Achieving or output maximizing is the goal. 'Make this life count' is the narrative. Of course, this dialogue infiltrates into our faith culture.

Look my prayer got answered

 Look I got baptised

 Look I am ordained

 Look Look look at what I achieved!

We are living in this output-based life while we neglect the deep satisfaction of input.  The quiet sense of glory when no one is watching. The beauty found in creating an attitude of goodness inwards. Beautiful because it brings us forward to feel a real sense of being loved by God and of loving ourselves. This sense of peace is quickly ripped away when we take this and trade it off for ‘output‘points. Like a generous credit card reward system, we strive to build up points.  Occasionally making choices in order to get the extra points. Travelling on a flight or buying stuff that you didn’t really want just in order to get the 2500 points for future pleasure.  We become stockbrokers and our time of input a commodity to be traded for a quick future gain instead of valuable for now.

Our psyche is flooded with well-meaning people giving us messaging equating to  ‘Your Output is determined by your Input.’ And so we strive even in our quiet time. Investing in rest?  The prayer time or meditation or the good eating or the exercise is not felt as a value in itself but is purely part of the striving to get results.  Subtle pressure to make ALL things count.

Consider. Let it go. Eat well to eat well.  Pray to Be. Quiet yourself just in order to enjoy the silence.

Look in order to see

 Listen in order to hear

 Walk in order to move 

Rest is not an investment for future gain at its core. It is rest because we are designed by God to need it.

Find the true rest.