Moderator’s column: Emotionally healthy spirituality

Some years ago, I went to a Peter Scazzero seminar. He said something that has stayed with me: “You can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.

“Spiritual maturity is holistic; it involves the mind, heart, will, spirit and body.”

Much of my early training in ministry emphasised an intellectual maturity, growing in thinking and understanding; read lots of books, write smart essays and you will slowly get there. I soon discovered the poverty  of this narrow-minded focus.

I began to realise that John Calvin was right when he wrote, “Our wisdom consists of almost entirely two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

In other words, we need to know ourselves that we may know God. Augustine prayed, “Grant Lord that I may know myself that I may know thee.”In the early days of my faith development I was taught that feelings  are unreliable and not to be trusted. They go up and down like a yoyo and therefore they are the last thing we should be attending to.

Daniel Golemen, author of Emotional Intelligence, defines emotions as, “Referring to a feeling and its distinctive thoughts, psychological and biological states, and range of propensities to act.” Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: Do we pass the welcome test?

A friend of mine spent a few years away from church. She was burnt out. Eventually she decided it was time to return to a worshipping congregation, but wondered which one. She decided to go visiting congregations on a Sunday morning in the hope she might be welcomed beyond a handshake at the door and a copy of the news-sheet.

She worked out a ‘cup of tea’ test. The plan was to hold her cup of tea after the service, very slowly sip it, and smile at everyone who walked past, hoping that someone might be interested enough to pause and talk with her.

Sadly, several churches failed the cup of tea test. Thankfully, at least one church passed the test when someone noticed her, engaged her in conversation and seemed genuinely interested in her wellbeing.

Too easily we conclude we are a friendly congregation, when it may be the case that we do not notice or go out of our way to look after the newcomer or the stranger. We may have created a place of welcome for the regulars, but not so much for the hesitant visitor.

In congregational ministry I regularly encouraged our leaders to follow the ‘two-minute’ rule. I would suggest that straight after the benediction every leader resist the temptation to gravitate towards their friends. Rather, in those two minutes they should cast a careful eye around the congregation for the visitor or stranger and go straight to them with welcoming words and see where it might lead.Continue Reading

Wobbly Christianity

Sometimes we stand and we know what we stand for. Sometimes we fall and we are tripped over by our lack of attention and focus.

Sometimes we just wobble.

We wobble when we celebrate God’s awesome creation and then add to the pollution of God’s world. We wobble when we claim to follow a Jesus who was poor while we chase a dream of luxury  and affluence. We wobble when we speak about being inclusive while we ignore people who are different to us. We wobble when we talk of justice for others while we can so easily become   self-absorbed and self-interested. We wobble when we preach the timeless gospel and do it in outdated and irrelevant ways.

Maybe this side of the full kingdom of God, we will struggle to run the race of faith and walk the way of Jesus without some wobbles.

This edition of Revive reminds us that Jesus did not wobble when it came to loving, serving, advocating and acting for others. Scot McKnight reminds us that Jesus as a Galilean prophet had a job  description a bit like this. Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: unashamed to stand up for Jesus

I recently watched the film ‘Suffragettes’, the early twentieth century story of the struggle of women to win the right to vote in the UK. It powerfully reminded me of the cost, courage and persistence that is needed to make a stand for something you believe in.

History is full of examples of people who stand up and speak out for what they believe to be true. Often it is in the name of justice, truth and God. They may be whistleblowers at the workplace, activists in a street protest, artists who defy totalitarian regimes, or just people of compassion and conviction that are not afraid to voice their beliefs in a hostile environment.

I was very privileged recently to visit Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town where Nelson Mandela and other prisoners were brutally held for their stand against the evils of apartheid. Solitary confinement, hard labour, daily humiliation, cramp and the loneliness of separation from family and friends was part of the heavy price Mandela and his followers paid for their defiance. For more on my trip to South Africa, where I attended the International Fresh Expressions Conference, click here. Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: Seeking to live in harmony

How easy are you to live with? How often do you disagree with someone? Have you ever felt frustrated that some people’s views, opinions, lifestyles or values are very different to your own?

German philosopher, Schopenhauer, once said that human beings are like porcupines on a winter’s night. They draw close together only to find that in the process of unity they end up moving apart and hurting or needling each other.

Living together harmoniously is one of life’s great challenges. Ask a parent of a teenager or a teenager with a parent. Ask a mother with a two-year-old or the chairperson of a church council.

We humans are a complex and paradoxical bunch. We are made in the image of God, how glorious is that, and yet we are fragile and broken beings, with a tendency towards self-interest, the enemy of harmony. We may hold strong convictions about what is right and wrong; yet in doing so we can see our own view of the world with 20/20 vision while suffering from blind spots when trying to see another’s viewpoint.Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: First the call, then where?

Walker Percy once wrote, “you can get all straight A’s and still flunk life.”

Somehow we fail at life if we are unable to discover its, and our own, meaning. Deep in our hearts most of us want to find and fulfil a purpose bigger than ourselves. Kierkegaard, a Christian philosopher, put it this way: “the thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wants me to do.”

We live in a time when we have too much to live with and too little to live for. Having lots of possessions and people in our lives still leaves a gap; a longing for something more, a sense of purpose and a sense of call. Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: Hope for the future through Jesus

There are plenty of people who are willing to write off the Christian church, believing that we have no future; that we are without hope. In a recent   article, one journalist argued that with the worldwide spread of education, technology and science, the need for religion would evaporate. Our world would become at last religion-less, a bit like John Lennon’s song, Imagine – the dream of a world free of religion.

Rather than ask, ‘has the church a future?’ I first want to ask, ‘has the human race a future?’

Ideas of the future exercise a great hold over us. Indeed, we need some idea of the future if we are to achieve anything in the present. The trainee soldier, athlete, politician and student are often motivated by a sense of what may lie ahead. In our diverse society, different hopes about the future are emerging.

The humanist looks for a society where human reason and mutual consideration will flourish. The environmentalist hopes for a sustainable world  where pollution is minimised and the earth flourishes again. Many dream of higher standards of living, full employment, a fairer distribution of wealth, an end to poverty, injustice, violence and greater prosperity. Christians, while sharing these hopes, have a distinctive contribution to make   when thinking about the future.Continue Reading

Alive @ Assembly

With a touch of jet lag, great hopes and a few anxieties I checked in on Sunday lunchtime at Trinity Residential College for the beginning of the Uniting Church’s 14th Triennial Assembly. This  Assembly was on our home turf; Trinity, the Assembly accommodation, is a Uniting Church WA college, and just across the road from the beautiful Winthrop Hall where we had our daytime  sessions.

Our collective task was the same as whenever people of the Uniting Church meet in church councils, presbyteries and synods; we gather in the presence of God to discern the will of God. For the  next six days that was our core purpose. The smoking ceremony right at the beginning reminded us of the welcome of Nyungar people and our covenant with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander  Christian Congress (UAICC).

The evening installation of our new president, Stuart McMillan, was a powerful and creative celebration of the rich diversity of God’s people in the movement we call Uniting Church. Sadly,  sometimes worship is bland, but the worship experience was rich and varied and honoured the one who brings sparkle and new life to us. Rev Cathie Lambert, worship coordinator for the week,  and her team did an amazing job. Each morning we began with worship that was simple, reflective and celebratory; this set the tone for the rest of the day. I also believe that the faithful band of  prayer warriors who prayed and fasted for 40 days and gathered each morning to pray on a 24-hour basis during Assembly, significantly contributed to the texture and spirituality of our  gatherings. Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: beyond the circle to neighbour and stranger

Bono is the lead singer of U2, one of the biggest rock and roll bands in the world. In an interview he describes how he and his wife visited an orphanage in Ethiopia. For a month he and his wife  Ali held babies, helped nurse them back to health, and then donated money to equip the orphanage.

When he returned to Ireland he noticed that the tone of his prayers began to change. They  became more defiant and he found himself accusing God of not caring about the children in Africa. Slowly his accusations began to fade as he sensed God speaking back to him a rebuke, “Bono I  do care… get moving, you do something.”

A little like Moses who protested when God called him, Bono called back to God “I am a rock star, not a social worker!” Eventually, Bono came to see that, rock star or not, God was calling him  to do something about poverty and injustice. This began a remarkable journey that led him to universities, parliaments, Presidential interviews and on a massive campaign to elevate the plight  of the poor. Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: We are who we eat with

Someone once said, ‘we are what we eat.’

I am not so sure. Maybe we are who we eat with.

I have shared two meals recently that made me think more deeply about the faith we are called to practice every day. One meal was a breakfast. There were over 100 homeless people present; it  was a fried breakfast, the best kind. It was at Tranby Day Centre, a service provided by UnitingCare West on Aberdeen Street, Perth, just around the corner from the Uniting Church Centre.

It was a Friday summer morning and most of those enjoying the bacon and egg had spent the night out in the park, on a bench or in a shelter if they were lucky. I witnessed an outstanding  ministry that demonstrates in practical ways the care of God and the compassion of Christ. Everyday, God calls us to care about others, especially those who are so easily forgotten or  neglected. One of the traps of living in an affluent and materialistic society is that we can so easily overlook people on the fringes and only eat with people who are like us. Jesus demonstrated a  radical hospitality, dining with all kinds of people. Continue Reading