“I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field”
Coldplay - “Viva La Vida”
“Walk while you have the light so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in darkness, you do not know where you are going.”
Luke 12: 35
“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
Hebrews 12: 1
“He has made my paths crooked.”
Lamentations 3: 9
“The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”
Isaiah 65: 17
“Seize the day”
Join me while I walk away and bury my head in the sand.
Isaiah chapter 65 tells us: “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”
This is a metaphor for Easter and for our earthquake recovery. I think it's also a metaphor for my journey.
Some months back I had a conversation with my doctor about cholesterol medication and being only 40, I figured I was too young to go on medication for the rest of my life.
The next day while travelling to work I came up with a crazy idea - A series of walks of at least 10km (two hours) each in different locations during Lent and Easter.
But, why only do something for yourself, when you can help others in the process.
So during Lent I have walked, sometimes with others, sometimes alone (though never completely alone) in solidarity with the Philippines in Rangiora, Timaru, Kaiapoi, Kaikoura and Hanmer Springs. Two weeks ago I led a walk in Oamaru with up to 80 people in solidarity with Tonga and today I walk in solidarity with Haiti in east Christchurch.
Lamentations chapter 3 speaks of : “It has made my paths crooked”, and you don't get much more crooked than when you follow a river, as in the Avon River.
When I began writing this reflection it was Maundy Thursday (though I have changed it a lot since then) and many ministers would have been participating in footwashing. As American Christian writer Brian McLaren says, in his book “We Make the Road by Walking”, Jesus set the example of “the greatest among you shall become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant”.
In this tradition of footwashing (whether it actually happened or not doesn't matter), Jesus leads by example in humble service and not domination: “Serve one another as I have served you” and “love one another as I have loved you”.
As McLaren adds, this was liberation “from playing the shame games of rivalry, pecking order, domination and competition to reach the top of the pyramid of pride”.
The following day, in the Easter tradition, Jesus was executed by the domination systems of his day, the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman leaders, as he had dared to challenge them.
What are the domination systems of today and how can we rise against them? Jesus gave an example of selflessly challenging a domination system. Yes, it cost him his life - but the fact we are still talking about him today tells me that ultimately he won.
As Hebrews chapter 12 tells us: “Let us run with perseverance the path that is set before us”.
After the challenges of Good Friday, we are called to make changes in our lives and rise up for a new beginning.
Today may mark the end of my journey through Lent, but really I have only just begun. There are plenty more journeys, stories to share and reasons to rise up.
As McLaren says, Easter Sunday is about an uprising - of love, not hate; of hope, nor weapons: “This is what it means to be alive, truly alive. This is what it means to be enroute, walking the road to a new and better day.”
As Nelson Mandela once said: “It always seems impossible, until it is done.”
“Burying my head in the sand”
However, 2000 years on domination systems remain in place - even in the churches, which face questions and create rules (or have unwritten processes) around what sort of people “are fit” to be ordained as priests or ministers.
Should only men be priests, or are women equally worthy? Should priests be celibate or can they be married? Are people in same-sex relationships suitable for ministry? What about people who are in de facto relationships, rather than legally married?
Answering these questions can come down to which passages of scripture one favours over other passages and whether scripture is seen as more important to modern social values. New Zealand's Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of gender, race, sexual orientation, relationship status or even religion.
The Human Rights Act does permit religious institutions to claim an exemption on the grounds of religion, but this also begs the question - just because the law allows for an exemption on the grounds of religion, does it mean churches should claim an exemption? After all, if you are claiming an exemption to, for example, exclude women - is that not discriminating against women?
If you exclude people because of their sexual orientation or relationship status, is that not equally discrimination?
Just because you can find a passage of scripture to support your case (I can find passages to contradict your position), or it is what the church “has always done” (again I can find evidence to contradict that) does that mean we should continue excluding people?
Luke warns us in chapter 12 to: “Walk while you have the light so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in darkness, you do not know where you are going.”
In other words, Luke is warning us to make sure we have as much information as possible before making a decision. Shine a light on the issue and examine it fully. “If you walk in darkness” or choose to ignore other information you cannot make a fully informed decision.
In 2014 the Methodist Church of New Zealand's faith and order committee produced a paper in advance of the church's regional Synod meetings in August 2014, to consider the question of relationship status of candidates for ordained ministry. It made the statement, among other things, that prospective candidates for ordained ministry should consider what it means to live within the church's discipline.
I have pondered this question over the last 18 months, after all I am in a heterosexual de facto relationship (a relationship status restriction only applies to those heterosexual relationships in the Methodist Church of New Zealand - no restriction currently applies to those in same-sex relationships).
About six months ago the answer, of what it means to live within the church's discipline, came to me in an email from a third party. It turns out the Presidential team and/or Council of Conference sought the opinion of a well-respected member of the church on this matter.
The opinion refers to the preamble to the church's Lawbook section on the Disciplinary Procedures:
“Within its life, the Methodist Church of New Zealand (“the Church”) has a responsibility to exercise discipline. It also recognises that there needs to be adequate processes and procedures for the receipt and dealing with complaints in accordance with the principles of natural justice. The following sets out those processes and procedures (“the Complaints Procedure”).”
There are half a dozen references to “natural justice” in the church's disciplinary procedures - and none on relationship status.
In other words, “living within the church's discipline” means living with natural justice and it means treating people fairly. It does not mean imposing artificial barriers on people.
On top of that Methodist Conference has twice advised the church to honour the spirit and intent of the Human Rights Act and to not claim any exceptions on the grounds of religion, to which it is otherwise entitled to.
Therefore it is not only prospective candidates for ordained ministry who need to consider what it means to live within the church's discipline, but also the Faith and Order Committee and those making the decisions about who is suitable to be a candidate. Unless of course, they expect prospective candidates to live within their own image.
So, please join me while I walk away and bury my head in the sand. “Walk away” is a metaphor for my initiative Walk for Others (see facebook.com/walkforothers) and “sand” is a metaphor for Creation - all of life.
“Four seasons in one day
Lying in the depths of your imagination
Worlds above and worlds below
The sun shines on the black clouds hanging over the domain
Even when you're feeling warm
The temperature could drop away
Like four seasons in one day”
Crowded House - “Four Seasons in One Day”
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? It will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
Isaiah 43: 18-19
“Not that I have already obtained this or have I already reached the goal, but I press on to make it on my own.”
Philippians 3: 12
In times of change and uncertainty, we need to have faith. I believe that faith is believing that there is something more or beyond me
Faith is having trust in my ability, through God, to make a difference, being faithful to God and having a vision to see what is and what can be.
Viktor Frankl was a Jewish academic who survived the holocaust during World War 2. He once wrote: “I can see beyond the misery of the situation to the potential for discovering a meaning behind it, and thus to turn an apparently meaningless suffering into a genuine human achievement.”
Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai has said: “Traditions are not sent from heaven, they are not sent from God. It is we who make cultures and we have the right to change it and we should change it.”
In other words, traditions are not God given. They may be inspired by a belief in God, but they are not God given. They are created by humans and they are ours to change. We can change them and we should change them, just as we need to change and evolve ourselves and our communities.
In his book “The John Wesley Code”, Jim Stuart writes: “Wesley learned over and over again that letting go of the old allows the new to take its place. Isn't that what the Christian faith is all about, new life and resurrection?”
Jim Stuart wrote “The John Wesley Code” before the Canterbury earthquakes, and he may well have written the following quote before the quakes as well: “There is a unique opportunity for creating new forms of ministry, if the church can recapture its apostolic priorities and not accommodate itself to maintenance and survival.”
In preparing a future strategy in post-quake Christchurch, the Central South Island Synod debated the questions of whether mission is looking after our own is the priority - vision or preservation.
Following the earthquakes, it is clear to many of us that business as usual no longer works. New visions are being developed and need to be resourced.
Against those visions is a sense wanting to continue with what we know, of restoring what we had - or at least what we perceive we have lost.
As Garrett Hardin wrote: “The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness, it resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things.”
As individuals, churches and community groups seek to recover from the quakes, there is a mentality of “business as usual”, or “the remorseless working of things”, which seem to drive bureaucracy and corporations, which seem incapable of understanding that business as usual no longer works, and churches are not immune.
That is the environment we find ourselves in as churches in east Christchurch, coping with greater demands on our services with less buildings, fewer resources and less people to act as stewards of those resources.
Statistics are part of this “remorseless working of things” and can get in the way of making a difference in people's lives. Some churches perceive that congregations with less than 40 people regularly attending worship are not viable and should be closed, with their resources reallocated - and generally to larger congregations in more affluent suburbs. Such views are not helpful and disregard questions of about the quality of mission.
Another statistic which is unhelpful is the notion of “statistical full employment” - the belief that a 2.5% unemployment rate is essentially full employment. (North Canterbury, for example, is perceived to have full employment, statistically at least). This is based on a notion that 2.5% of the population is unemployable.
Besides the offensiveness of unduly writing off those 2.5%, who are still human beings, God's people and have a right to be respected for who they are, do these figures take into account people who are registered as unemployed, those for example who have a partner working, have recently left school or tertiary study, or who are students filling in time while actively seeking full employment.
These figures also do not take wages into consideration. What is the point of speaking of full employment when so many people are earning around $15.25 (minimum wage) to $17-something an hour, when the living wage is $19.80 an hour? When the median household in Canterbury is around $75,000 a year and house prices hover around $450,000 – a ration of 6:1, when the United Nations affordability index is 3:1? After all, half the households earn less than the median income - and many considerably less.
In an environment where climate change is starting to visibly change our lives, of rising poverty and where global trade agreements (for examply, TPPA) and government policy (for example, Environment Canterbury) threaten to erode our democracy, we are limited in what we can achieve as small congregations.
If we consider New Brighton Union, St George's / Iona Presbyterian, Linwood Avenue Union, Port Hills Uniting and Wainoni Methodist, individually they do make a difference in their communities. But imagine the difference they could make if they combined resources.
To paraphrase Jim Stuart's quote I used earlier, a unique opportunity presents itself. Mark Gibson recently took over as minister at Wainoni Methodist, adding to his role at New Brighton Union. I understand Neil Keesing at Port Hills Union is retiring, so what better opportunity to rationalise resources, three ministers to serve five congregations and sharing the skills they have for the benefit of all the congregations.
It would take rethink of what ministry is provided for each congregation, but potentially each would then spend a little less on ministry. They would then have the choice of either using the money they save on their own project, or pool the resources together to do something bigger.
There is also the opportunity to combine parish councils, property, finance and even worship committees.
To assist the redistribution of ministry available on Sundays, the Canterbury Lay Preachers Association lists 24 accredited lay preachers and 4 lay preachers in training (of course, I prefer not to use the term lay preacher – I just speak when I've got something to say, and reflect when I've got something to reflect on. Preaching and sermons are for other people – each to their own). Of those, five are in the east Christchurch congregations, but I am also aware there are several who preach in those congregations who are not listed.
Should the five congregations combine resources, the possibilities are endless for a project in the east to make a real difference. Perhaps a community house, like the Catholic Worker house, with a community cafe. It could resource and advocate for housing and poverty issues and for ecological issues and the “Green Church” initiative (developed by New Brighton Union's environment group on behalf of Methodist Conference), and even provide training and be a place of retreat.
The possibilities are endless. We just need to break ourselves free from “the remorseless working of things”, business as usual, the way things have always been done, break away from statistics.
We need to let go of the old, for God is calling us “to do a new thing”. We need to see beyond ourselves to what is possible. As we close in on Easter, we need to breath new life and resurrection into east Christchurch.
To paraphrase Isaiah: “Do not remember the remorseless working of things, or consider the things we did before the quakes. I have a new dream for the east, now it springs forth along the rivers, do you not perceive it? It will make a way in the brokenness along the Avon River in the red zone.”
As in the verse from Philippians, we have not yet obtained this new dream for the east, we have not yet reached the goal, but we must press on to make anew our lives as people in the east.
“On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound”
America - “A Horse With No Name”
“Teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth.”
Psalm 25: 4-5
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.”
Romans 12: 2
“To walk in all its ways, to love it, to serve God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Deuteronomy 10: 12
“On the First Part of the Journey”
Three months ago I had a crazy idea. After discussing cholesterol medication with my doctor, the next day, while driving to walk, I decided I would set myself a challenge – and Walk for Others was born.
Now the time has arrived, my launch in New Brighton on Sunday, February 7, and then my first walk in Rangiora on Wednesday, February 10 – Ash Wednesday. Bring it on!
I have been asked to reflect on what it means to be on a pilgrimage, which is kinda difficult when I am not convinced that I am even on a pilgrimage. I'm not really into labels – I am just doing it.
One Christian writer is Arthur Paul Boers, a Mennonite pastor and seminary professor in Indiana, United States. He writes about his journey along the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St James) in his book The Way is Made by Walking. (The Mennonites are a Christian denomination which originated in the Friesland province in what is today The Netherlands).
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage trail beginning in southern France and then weaving it's way through northern Spain and dates back to the Middle Ages. The apostle James' relics are supposedly house in the cathedral in Santiago (St James).
Boers writes: “Pilgrimage unites belief with actions, thinking with doing and requires that the body and its actions express the desires and beliefs of the soul. Pilgrimage is about integration, body and soul, feet and faith.” Or “soul” and “sole”.
Walking, he says, has a way of slowing our sensory perceptions, “in our high speed way of life ('driven' is how we usually describe it) we miss many things”.
Driving exposes us to faster speeds and greater stimulation, meaning the brain must work harder as we focus on safety and take in all we see - “it pressures us with a rush of sensory perceptions”.
In today's world with our so-called labour saving devices, we actually seem to have less time. And we are often guilty of not pausing and taking breaks – I certainly confess to this one.
In this environment, Boers says, driving is deemed “normal and respectable”, but “hoofing it, is not”. It is less trouble to drive, even though walking is healthier for us and better for the environment, and driving is wasteful.
“People think nothing of driving an hour or two a day to go to work, but walking 30 minutes, let alone one or two hours is often seen as unusual, even though it's healthier - physically, emotionally, spiritually and environmentally.”
Walking is an act of dissent – just like John Key's “rent-a-crowd” of 32,000 people in Auckland last week.
Rebecca Solnitt, in her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, says walking and thinking are generally thought of as “doing nothing in a production oriented culture” and “doing nothing is hard to do”.
I guess “going to the gym” is not considered doing nothing, because you tend to drive there in the car and pay someone for the pleasure of getting exercise - capitalism in action. But it excludes those who lack the transport to get there or cannot afford to participate. So in a sense walking is something of an equaliser - it generally costs nothing and most of us can participate.
Walking also allows us “to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy”, Solnitt adds. “It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.” And walking is movement, as opposed to being immobilised in a seat.
“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind and walking travels both terrains.”
Solnitt goes further, describing pilgrimage as a mode of walking in search of something tangible, including “ones own transformation”.
Pilgrims often try to make it hard for themselves – in the Middle Ages people would often walk barefoot, with stones in their shoes, while fasting or wearing special penitential clothing. Even today Irish pilgrims in Croagh Patrick climb a stony mountain barefoot on the last Sunday in July, while other pilgrims finish the journey on their knees.
While a pilgrimage is a spiritual journey, it tends to be “pursued in the most material terms”, for example traveling to where Buddha was born, to where Jesus died, or to where there are holy relics or where holy water flows, Solnitt says.
“When pilgrims begin to walk several things begin to happen to their sensory perceptions of the world which continue over the course of the journey: they tend to have a changing sense of time, a heightening of the senses and a new awareness of their bodies and of the landscape.”
Solnitt says that over the last century the meaning of pilgrimage has changed. In the past a pilgrimage tended to be a search for divine intervention or for healing. While in some ways they still are about healing, there are now a wide variety of secular and non-traditional notions of pilgrimage which extend into the political and economic spheres.
For example, today you have fundraising walks, walks to raise awareness of issues, or walks to demand political change, like those demanding climate action or opposing the TPPA – meaning the audience is not longer God or the gods, but society itself.