Lent is Coming Fast

Here are some great thoughts by Beth Stedman on Lent

Ash Wednesday is in a week (February 6th) and will mark the beginning of Lent, so I thought I would share with you all some thoughts I’ve had about Lent, some research and things I’ve learned about it and some ideas of ways to engage in Lent this year that I am contemplating putting into practice. Read more

What Shape Freedom?

It is a snowy morning in Seattle and even though I don’t need to travel to get to my desk I thought that I would at least relax and enjoy our winter wonderland for a few minutes.  Why does it take something like a snowy day to make me feel I can relax?  It obviously shows that my priorities are a little skewed.  Which brings me to talking about something else that will probably make you feel that my perspectives are a little skewed – my understanding of freedom.  Why is this revolving in my mind?

First because Saturday was Australia Day – once a time to celebrate the arrival of the First Fleet and the establishment of Australia as a nation.  Today there is an attempt to place some emphasis on the need for reconciliation between white and aboriginal Australians but the celebrations are still very much focused on white Australia.

Second I am in the middle of becoming an American citizen.  As a consequence I have paid more attention to the political process that is going on around me than ever before and at the same time find myself struggling once again with the Amercian concept of freedom.  Recently I realized that my basic problem is that when I use the word freedom I have a totally different understanding than the average Amercian

To Americans the concept of freedom focuses on the freedom of individual choice, which can be as trivial as the right to choose whether I want my eggs sunny side up or over easy, or as serious as the right to bear arms.  What I struggle with is that there seems to be little recognition of the often dire consequences our individual choices can have for the society or for the world in which we live.

To Australians freedom revolves around the freedom of society and the recognition that our decisions all have consequences not just for us as individuals but for all of our society and our world.  Consequently most Australians are willing to give up the right to bear arms for the good of a safe society in which we don’t have to worry about drive by shootings.  In the Australian political system voting is compulsory because of the belief that with the freedom of citizenship comes the responsibility of participation in the process that provides our freedom.

All of this leads me to my most important question about freedom “What does freedom look like in the kingdom of God?”  Obviously there is a element of individual freedom – all of us need to take on the individual responsibility to kneel at the foot of the Cross, repent and reach out for the salvation of Christ.  However our entry into the family of God faces us with serious consequences for how we act in society.  Our freedom as Christians means that we no longer focus on our own needs but rather “consider the needs of others as more important than our own” (Philippians 2)  It means that we live by the law of love – what James calls “the royal law” (James 2:8).  Paul sums this up very well “Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbour as yourself.”

What do you think?

The New Conspirators Live

Good news.You can use your OpenID to join the live discussion at The New Conspirators before, during, or after the event.

The chat room works as a live chat and/or a message board. So even if no one is currently in the thread you’re interested in, leave a note anyway. When people join, they will see it!

Women of Purpose

On Saturday I had the opportunity to attend the World Concern Women of Purpose tea.  I was challenged deeply by the stories I heard of the plight of women in many parts of the world.  Women make up the largest group of oppressed people in the world, with laws and customs putting them at a distinct disadvantage. From the villages of Kenya to the slums of Bangladesh, desperately poor women and girls are vulnerable to starvation and illness, loan sharks and traffickers. Seeking to feed their families, they can be conned into promises of quick loans and well-paid factory or domestic work. Sometimes they even send their young girls off with strangers so they can benefit from these “opportunities” for a better life. But this is often a lie, and women and girls can be caught in a nightmare of exorbitant debt, blackmail, prostitution, and even slavery. Even when women and girls escape this fate, oppression and extreme poverty can crush their spirit and potential. When food, medicine and education are scarce, women and girls are the first to go without. Not surprisingly, females have the highest mortality and illiteracy rates in the world.

This has always been an issue that I am passionate about but hearing these stories rekindled my desire to be more deeply involved in reaching out.  Women of Purpose links Christian women in America with groups of women in Kenya, Bangladesh, Haiti and Bolivia, providing them with microloans and business training through World Concern. Women in sister groups benefit from your prayers and financial support – and the support of one another – as they learn how to run businesses based on the values of honesty, honor and integrity. Women of Purpose also provide scholarships for girls, in communities where only the boys are seen as worthy of the privilege.  Check it out

You might also like to check out the Viva Network and the Asha Awareness video on child trafficking that was shown at the tea,  It is one of the most compelling videos on this issue that I have seen

Course Credit for New Conspirators

We are really gaining momentum as we move towards our MSA conference The New Conspirators.  We are particularly encouraged by the fact that several local universities and seminaries are giving course credits to their students.  Though we are hoping for a broad scope of ages, denominations and backgrounds we believe that young people are the main ones who will lead the new conspirator parade into the future.  Check it out

What the World Eats

Some of you may remember that last year for Lent we encouraged people to commit to The Mutunga $2 challenge for a week as a reminder of the fact that half the world’s population lives on less than $2 per person per day. Here is the first in a great series of images from the book Hungry Planet that very graphically bring home this incredible disparity between the haves and the have nots in different parts of the world. Unfortunately because of the pressures of our upcoming conference The New Conspirators, I doubt that we will have time to commit to the Mutunga Challenge this year during Lent but these photos were a reminder to me of my need to not lose sight in the midst of our important activities of the challenges faced by our poorer neighbours.

The Ukita family of Kodaira City

Japan: The Ukita family of Kodaira City

Food expenditure for one week: 37,699 Yen or $317.25
Favorite foods: sashimi, fruit, cake, potato chips

View the rest of the images

Slow Down and Breathe

This morning I was wondering how on earth I could juggle the busy elements of my life – conference preparation, garden planning, preparation for February speaking my current writing project and preparation for the MSA Board, with a balanced spiritual life, time for hospitality, community, friends and most importantly my husband. Doing the balancing act is never easy and the busier we are the more difficult it becomes. But I think I am learning that when I am too busy the solution is not to ratchet up my speed but actually to slow down – preferably with a cup of tea, take a deep breathe and prioritize my tasks, then and probably most important I need to commit everything into God’s hands. Sometimes i scares me to see how quickly everything seems to get done when I do this. Life is so busy that we cannot live it without God.

It seemed a very appropriate time to think about this because this is Adbusters slow down week

Make Lent Matter

Last year I got so frustrated with my friends and acquaintances who told me that they were giving up chocolate for Lent that I decided to produce the attached lenten guide.  I had hoped to expand it this year but unfortunately the pressures of the conference have made that impossible.   However I heard this week that Bethany Presbyterian Church is using it with their small groups this year and thought that some of you would like to use it as is for Lent this year.  During Lent I will post some excerpts from the guide as well as some of the new material I have developed since.

Please let me know how you use it.  As I update this for next year I would like to incorporate some of the responses from people that use it.  Last year’s responses are posted on the Mustard Seed Journey blog.

This guide has now been updated for 2009.  It can be downloaded here

You are also invited to take part in our Lenten synchroblog for 2009

A Resurrection Created Life

Sunday is a day of rest for me – not in the usual way that we in Western society imagine rest – I don’t sleep in or sit around twiddling my thumbs all day because I don’t want to work – I don’t think that is what God’s rest is all about. God’s rest on the seventh day was a rest of satisfaction, when he looked around at all that had been accomplished in the previous six days and said “It is good.” That is the kind of Sabbath rest that we are meant to live into. What I try to do on Sundays (and some Sundays are more successful than others) is relax and rest in the presence of God and God’s shalom world.

I was really inspired some years ago by the Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel who said that the Jews regarded Sabbath as a glimpse into the eternal world. I realized that my Sunday practices looked nothing like what I hope God’s eternal world will look like. So I started to try and realign my Sunday activities to reflect more of what my vision of God’s future eternal,a shalom world will look like.

Yesterday was one of my more successful attempts to do that. I started with some reflection on my image of God’s eternal world – a world where there will be no more crying or oppression or pain, a place where justice will come for the poor and the sick will be healed, a place where God’s creation is restored and there is abundance and prosperity for all. Then I thought about where I have caught glimpses of God’s shalom world in this past week. I got quite excited as I thought about the people I have connected to this week and some of the friendships I am developing. I was encouraged as I thought about my friends in Word Made Flesh, Mission Moving Mountains and World Concern and the wonderful work they do in reaching out to the poor and I experienced a deep sense of satisfaction as I thought about the day we spent in the garden on Saturday getting ready for planting the spring garden.

I went to church very much aware of God’s presence with me which of course made it much easier to enter into a sense of God’s presence in the liturgy and particularly in communion. In the afternoon I spent time in our prayer room reading Eugene Peterson’s book Resurrection Life. It seemed to speak right into my little attempts to live into God’s shalom world which he calls a resurrection created life. I love that phrase. Because of Christ’s resurrection we can live in a way that is very different from the culture around us. But in order to do that we need to remember that at the centre of this life and of Christ’s shalom kingdom is a cross and not a throne.

In a couple of weeks we will start the season of the church calendar known as Lent – a season when we are meant to reflect on and repent of all those things that keep us from a whole hearted commitment to God and God’s ways. But we only celebrate Lent 6 days of the week. Sunday we get a day off from our introspection and self examination because Sunday was always regarded as a day to celebrate God’s eternal world. Not a bad idea – it helps us to keep focused on why we are doing the self examination in the first place.

Sunday is always a day to realign our lives and all our activities not just to the celebration of God’s shalom future but to how God can use our lives to bring glimpses of that future into our world. It is a day for celebrating our restored relationship to God, our reconciliation to our neighbours, our renewed responsibility to steward God’s creation. So why not get a jump start on Lent this year by spending some time reflecting on God’s eternal shalom world, this resurrection created life that God expects us to live into? Get a vision for how your life and your activities could make a difference in the lives of others and in God’s world. We cannot bring God’s eternal world into being by our own efforts but we are meant to live as citizens of that new world and live with the values and customs of that new world at the centre of our lives.

Christmas, Advent & Epiphany – a time to celebrate

Now that Christmas is truly over, the Christmas tree is down and the lights have extinguished I have finally found time to sort my Advent and Christmas photos.  There was lots of time for hospitality and celebration

The Mustard Seed House Community

Check out the rest of the celebrations on the Mustard Seed House blog