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The Borders of Heartland – a new creation prayer

March 21, 2017

O God

you have given us large hearts for loving

in the likeness of your own

seeming strong hearts, patient, forbearing hearts

that can endure much,

forgive much, grace much.

Hearts that can speak and sigh

Hearts that can heave and howl

Hearts that may grieve and grow

Hearts that sink and soar

Hearts that long and yearn

Hearts that leap and learn

Hearts that race and rest

Hearts that beat and burst

Hearts that can open and overflow

Your heart-gifts to us are many.

*

But in your wisdom

you have not given us

invincible hearts

infinite hearts

immortal hearts

insurable hearts.

Our hearts, mercifully

hurt and ache

fail and break

our hearts know limits and borders

hearts hear pretense

hearts sense awry

hearts smell a rat

hearts cry mercy

hearts call time

hearts feel the cold.

shiver the chill

reach to close the door.

*

O God,

Our hearts are but human

and though divine love be boundless

our hearts hit the wall

our hearts stumble and fall

Though Your love pours out freely

from everlasting to everlasting

Our hearts run dry

and as from dust we came,

so our hearts return to dust.

*

And yet, yet, still, again…

You gently blow upon this crumbled crusted earth pile

and the merest moisture in your divine loving exhalation

falls in gentlest droplet

the finest mist settles upon us

and soaks in

and tiny fragments hold together

glued by the globules of God

and life again in grace is stirred

and in a love not our own;

love and life returns

rising a muddy mess

but a beating animated heart

buds again in new creation,

barely recognisable – no matter

barely alive – no matter

wholly loved

and – miracle –

loving another time.

Amen.

human_body_dust_1

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It’s Complicated…

March 15, 2017

[This reflection on a story of Jesus talking with a woman by a well in Samaria originally published as a parent conversation starter page for use in Scripture Union Victoria community events.        Beth Barnett, Rewind: John’s Gospel, 2012.]

Was there ever a time when life was simple?
When relationships and families were straightforward?
I don’t think so.
There is a lot of misty eyed sentimentality about the traditional family, but I think that is the extent of it. The ‘traditional’ family is a myth. Or perhaps better to say the ‘traditional’ family is the family with extra hangers on, multiple partners, re-arrangements, relationship bust-ups, people who won’t talk to each other, favourites, scandals, griefs and silent sufferers.

I’m not saying this is the healthy family, or the ideal family. But reading the history books, including the Bible, we get the sense that families have never been quiet, orderly, and predictable. We need to keep our eyes open to the wider world to recognise that what is portrayed as ‘normal’ in our suburban images is really far from normal around the world. Widows and orphans abound, families separated by tragedy and turmoil, multiple partners, extended families, child-headed households, are all part of the ‘normal’ of family life for millions of people around the world.

Skilling up for being family doesn’t mean trying to get everything ordered and straight. Rather it means looking for the ways in which we can find life, real life, in the midst of chaos, change, challenge, heartache and surprises.

*

What’s Your Story?
• Do you think you have a ‘normal’ family?
• Are there times when you disagree with others about whether your family is ‘normal’ or 
not?
• How do your kids react to the complicated parts of life?
• Have there been unforseen challenges or surprises that have ‘messed up’ your family, but 
perhaps in a good way?

*
What’s God’s Story?

Jesus and a woman are standing by a well, in the heat of the day.

On every level this meeting is extraordinary. In fact, more than that – it’s inappropriate, unlikely, compromising and dodgy.

A man talking to a woman. A Jew talking to a Samaritan. This is not the time to be out in the midday sun. They are clearly both social misfits. The man is unmarried, very strange for that culture.

And all around the town people know that the woman has had a string of husbands. We don’t know why. In her culture there were laws to protect widows that obligated the husband’s next of kin to marry his widow. This could account for her track record. Or perhaps she was divorced; was unfaithfulness in the mix?

Whatever the reason, we know that any of those scenarios mean a life of grief, disruption and things not being ‘normal’.

Jesus chats away though, as if they do this every day, as if everything is normal. For Jesus, with the eyes and the heart of God in human skin, he sees pain and tragedy, things going pear shaped, heartache, settling for second best as completely normal. Jesus has heaps of time for the person who is thirsty for life to get better, and for something other than the rat race of “you’re not good enough” and of “you don’t conform to our idea of normal”. And for everyone who is that kind of thirsty (and who isn’t) Jesus says, “Get to know God – that’ll blow your idea of ‘normal’ right out of the water, and it’ll keep you coming back for more.”

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Twists and Turns -Creation Stories

March 8, 2017

The Bible has stories,
Some big some small,
Stories tangled together
With a thread through them all

They don’t all explain things
In quite the same way
So there’s room for some ques􏰉tions
And there’s room for some play

They’re good to hear twice On the very same day
And then come back for more A􏰊fter going away.

I’d tell you one now
But that will not do
If I tell you one story
I will have to tell two

Because right at the start as the Bible gets going
We straight away see that it’s strange way of knowing

Declares God too great to be simply defined
In one quick sketch leaving ques􏰉tions behind
But in more than two stories, each with details specific
Told in songs, tales and poems – the Bible’s prolific

You can’t just take one bit and think you know all
The whole truth about God is a mighty big call

The First Story begins with some calendar days
And God’s Voice speaks and makes things in wonderful ways

First the light, then the waters and seasons and land
Plants and animals sprout and then woman with man
So everything happens at the sound of God’s speech
And it happens in order, with a neat place for each

But look, turn the page to see Story Two
And spot all the differences – there’s quite a few

God’s sleeves are rolled up and he’s playing with mud
God makes first a garden and a man – flesh and blood
God makes animal friends for the man to name
But none of the animals are just quite the same

So God, with his own hands, s􏰉till messy and muddy
Makes a woman, a sister, a life-long best buddy

What wonderful stories when taken in tandem
Show a God who can speak and whose ways are not random

And that God is with us in muck and in mess
And his purpose for us is to love, work and bless

God’s world works together in ways we can trust
But he asks us to help and take care of the dust
And the water and air and animals and plants
And God’s working with us, so it’s not left􏰊 to chance.

Two stories together twis􏰉ting round one another
Show us more about God and more of each other
Watch the twists of these stories as you follow along
And see this is God’s world, and it’s where we belong

(All- Age Story from Beth Barnett, Twists and Turns, SU Vic, 2012)

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On any given day…

January 25, 2017

mccrae-water

On any given day

you just don’t know

which demons from history’s distant land

will walk in through the door

and say “I’ve come to shake your hand”

 

On any given day

you just don’t know

what strange log will fall

right in your way

diverting your steps a little

on that given day

and bending around

so as not to have faltered

you well may be saved

but your path ever altered

 

On any given day

you just don’t know

what new story you will hear

and so make lies of a truth

you had once held dear

or what your eyes

will yet perceive

making true what you dared not

before believe.

 

On any given day

you just don’t know

with what labour

the hour shall be tasked

that  yesterday you could not

have imagined being asked

On any given day.

 

Any given day is but

a gift  unknown unseen

any given day

these fraught and fragile futures

that have – as yet – never been

which on any given day

can unwrapped and opened be

for those who any given day would dare

and are given gifted free.

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Prayers to a Living God

December 16, 2016

neighbour-fireDear God,

help us to stop thinking about you

and start thinking like you.

Please give us the mind of Christ.

Dear God,

help us to stop trying to learn about you

and to start loving you.

Please give us a heart after your own.

Let us not reduce you to

words and thoughts,

ideas and notions,

concepts and abstractions only.

Dear God,

please help us to use

every sense and skill,

fire-2intuition and instinct,

every art and articulation,

reason and reflex

in discovery of you.

Lead us in the humility

and forgive us in the inadequacy

of them all.

Dear God,

help us not to pile up

our individual religious knowledge

into our heads,

but to build up

each other

into the body of Christ.

Let us Hold fast to you,

and yet so give ourselves away to others.

Let our faith-giving be so generous,fire-3

and our faith-sharing so fearless.

Spirit of the Living God,

help us to remember that you are more alive than we are.

Beside you we are but dead ones walking,

decaying flesh, and fragmenting souls.

You, defeater of death,

are infinitely more alive than we.

Let us respond to you as one so alive.

Let us never speak of you as if you were

static or stuck,

limp or lifeless,

inert or inanimate.

Let us speak only of you truly:fire-sunset

with the passion of a lover,

or the sheer enthusiasm of a child

and let us live only with you

in the intimate immanence of both.

Amen.

*Images: McCrae. Neighbour contemplating the burning debris from his day’s work renovating; Foreshore sunset

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Story that won’t stand still and the open hand.

December 9, 2016

Once upon a time, there was a very little girl who lived in a tiny little house on the corner of two streets in the country, Clark street and Otway street. And she lived there with her mother and her father and her brother, but not her sister, because she hadn’t been born yet.

But this little girl it seemed had been born with a few things wrong. Some things wrong with her eyes and her ears.

When this little girl used her eyes to see the world, all of the things and shapes and colours and movements formed themselves into stories.

Stories, as you know, never stand still. Stories are always moving. Clever people sometimes talk of ‘advancing the plot’ of a story, or ‘driving the narrative’.

This little girl’s dad was a mechanic, a fixer of cars, and she had seen him strip a gearbox, replace headgaskets and safely push a cracked windscreen out using the gentle pressure of his feet, all well before she went to school. She knew intuitively that moving and driving were not simple and surface affairs – but that there was a great deal of intricate systemic reaction and interaction that went on. Somehow, she also knew this of stories and plots.

As her eyes beheld the world-as-story it became for her a way of things reacting and interacting (under the bonnet, as it were) as well as going forward and having purpose and direction.

As she grew older she realized this was the thing that was wrong with her eyes. That some other people didn’t see everything in stories, moving and turning constantly. She heard people speak of seeing and understanding things called ‘propositions’ and she came to recognize that they were talking about ideas that stood still.

How did they do that? What magic did they have that they could make an idea stand still? How did they bolt it down?

But what was wrong with the little girl’s ears? Her ears were filled with music –all of the time. Every sound was a song or a symphony or a shanty. Every sound: the hum of the heater, the ping of spoon on the cup, the fizz of the tap, the pulse of engines on the road, the rumble of the chair across the floor, the punctuations of a door that closes, and of course, the everyday operatic ensembles of birds. There was always the company and conversation and colour and content of sound. Every act of speech she encountered entered this symphonic world like a soloist over the tutti. Like the entrance of a new character in the second act of the opera. Like the fruiterer who calls out above the competing buskers and business of crowds in the teeming marketplace.

As she grew older she realized that this was the thing that was wrong with her ears. That some other people had quietness in their ears. That a sentence spoken could be like a herald in an empty street. She heard people speaking as if they were starting a speech alone on a stage. She heard people speaking as if there were no other voices.

How did they do that? What magic did they have that they could make everyone and everything else silent, an audience? As if the lights were dimmed over everyone else, conforming them into a faceless characterless crowd sitting passively in seats.

Sometimes the little girl would find herself in such a crowd, being spoken to as if she were not alive, and even worse, as if all the songs and stories and characters of colour in her head were white, or grey, or silent or dead.

There was always a little oddness in this. Sometimes this even happened in church, which was especially odd.

But just speaking to the world as if it is all white and grey and silent and dead does not make it so.

The stories and songs, the colours and shapes and sounds remained very much alive. They made her wriggle, they made her write, they made her draw. But they did not stop or sleep or fade or forsake her.

And it made the little girl look around and wonder – at all the other people. She knew that not everyone had a company of troubadours in their heads, but she wondered if some others did. Or maybe they had an office of journalists and editors, clacking away on keyboards, or maybe they had a team of chefs, with abundant pantries combining ingredients, mixing stirring, testing, baking, waiting, or a company of dancers always moving, stretching, balancing, leaping, spinning.

She wondered.

Meanwhile in her own ballads, terror and sadness came often.

When she heard about the ideas that stood still she was dismayed. Ideas that would sit down and stay. That would not budge. That reached out their frozen, rasped concrete hands of mischief and gripped without letting go.

Nevertheless these ideas stood in the midst of the whirling stories and shifting shapes. Like a child watching the skipping rope loop over and over and over, waiting for the space to run in and jump.

The stories went on. Some of them terrible. Some of them wonderful.

With her eyes and ears that were somehow wrong, she found that the ideas that stood still were not as strong as the stories and songs, which were always being refueled. Each morning new sounds, new colours and shapes appeared.

When she tried to remember the ideas that stood still, she found them hard. She found them hard to remember, she found them not so much hard to believe, as hard to know. Hard to make friends with. Hard to make useful.

No doubt it could possibly be done. She read stories of people who did. And she knew that the church thought it could be done too.

Churches did seem to have successfully hammered in some large, now immovable, concrete post ideas. Cold and hard and grey and lifeless and obstructive. Meanwhile, large basketfulls of stories piled up like laundry in every corner, begging to be rifled through, tipped out, tried on or at least pegged up to flap a spirited dance in the breeze.

Week after week, the little girl sat in church and wondered how much attention anyone else was paying to the big concrete post ideas. She looked around and tried to sense who, like her, might be hankering for some storying. Perhaps the lady with enormous feather hat; the man with gold chains and hairy chest; the lady with orange lipstick and the colourful kaftan; the man in the grey suit and glasses on his nose and a wicked twinkle in his eye.

Little girls are brave at wondering and imagining, but fearful of talking to grownups. So, week after week, she sat with her songs and stories in her mind and stared into the huge bright colourful window of shapes and symbols and stories.

window

A man kneeling in water among reeds and fish, other standing by, one holding keys, while a boat and a lamb and a star drifted in the sky above. She knew all these stories and the others that strung between them like netting. She felt the cold water and the gritty sand under the knees of the man. She felt his dimpled damp fingertips and palms pressing together in a prayer – and the anticipation and hope and holiness of that moment made her tremble. For long, long, long minutes she would stare into that face. That calm, knowing, open face that seemed to hold no unkindness or wickedness or exasperation or scowling or pity or mocking that she knew in other faces.

This was a face that met her gaze. He never flinched. He was made of glass, for sure. But she felt that from the stories told of this man, had the light melted the glass and the image miraculously animated, he still would not have flinched.

His stories were, it seemed like hers.

Moving, wheeling around, taking the corners a bit fast, hard to keep up with.

But in time she learned how to use her ears, like her dad did – to listen in and recognize the sounds of the different moving parts. Her dad could hear a worn bearing deep in the belly of a car and tell you exactly where it was. He knew the pitch of every whir and how long it would be before that part needed replacing. Listening – listening close – listening and imagining – listening and questioning – listening and testing – listening and investigating – listening and adjusting: these were the skills that made her dad a good mechanic; and so she learned too, were the same skills directed towards the stories of the faith that made him a good exegete, a gifted story teller, a great meaning maker, and a go-the-distance disciple.

So she took her wrong ears. And her wrong eyes and she too, looking at the colours and shapes and listening to the stories, learned:

She learned listening – listening close to the text– listening and imagining the text – listening and questioning the text – listening and testing the text – listening and investigating the text – listening and adjusting life and faith to the text.

And she learned to see. To look close and stand back from the text – to see and imagine the shapes and colours of the text – to look and test our visions, her visions of the text – to see and test the outlines and forms and tones of the text – to look deeper, into the cracks and interrogate and investigate the text – and seeing all this, to adjust – to adjust faith and life to the text, to the mobile, moving, many parts of the stories that carry our faith.

In these ways she found the stories of faith no easier to believe. (After all faith is not to be the click of the fingers, or the flick of a switch, or the tick of a box).

Stories were still no easier to believe, but with this listening and looking, they were easier to know, to make useful, to make friends with.

These stories with their warm hands outstretched to her, waving hello, comforting her shoulder, holding her shaking hand in times of fear, pointing out wonders to see, wiping her tears, made friends with her own stories. These stories and her stories found common ground, same-same snaps, and deep resonances. And where her ears heard the clanging of dissonance, the rumble of a rough ride, the crunch and grind of misalignment, she knew the arts of imagining, questioning, testing, investigating and adjusting to the stories of faith. Listening and looking afresh would see her running smoothly and set her again towards the go-the-distance life she longed for.

*

30 years later I sat again staring at this window, as I peered around the remnants of some of those concrete posts, still standing, but with more of the clothes tipped out of the baskets as stories animated the gath
ering.

I looked again at the hand of John the Baptists open palmed before Jesus. All my years as a child I had seen in the design of the art glass the image of a church in the palm of John’s hand. I had thought in that moment of baptism that John was prophetically showing Jesus the future of the church – clearly I could see the sloped roofline of the church rising to a steeple and several arched windows.I identified myself in that image too – that John the Baptist was showing Jesus the ministry of the church that was being launched in the ministry of Jesus, that included litwindow-jtb-handtle me.

As an adult, looking again at the art, I realised that the dark stain on John’s hand was simply to indicate his palm creases and fingers. No church. No Beth.

It was a moment in which my songs fell silent. And then they stirred again. And the Stories were moving and flexing and turning and beckoning, and I was looking again, listening closer, looking and imagining, listening and questioning, looking and testing, listening and investigating, looking and adjusting.

Of course John is showing Jesus the future church – it is not the architecture of walls and roofline and steeple and windows – this is not the future nor the past nor the present form of continuity of the  ministry of Jesus launched in water and spirit.

No. What better symbol of the ministry and mission of the church of Jesus, baptised Jesus, Spirit-filled  Jesus, than a simple open human hand.

Let it be so.

 

 

 

 

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The Silence of God

December 2, 2016

No word…

No word…

No word comes

The blank

The silence

Beat like drums

Walls of

Patience

Wearing thin

Rubble roof

Of Hope

Falls in

Room collapses

Into space

Yet in debris and dust

Lies Grace

The silent earthquake

Tremors cease

And leave us

To rebuild in peace