Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes

Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

I am currently reading Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians by Kenneth E. Bailey.  Bailey is an author and lecturer in Middle Eastern New Testament studies and spent forty years living and teaching in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus.

As yet I have not read beyond the introduction, primarily because I am finding his book to be a goldmine of information that has already illuminated my understanding of the Bible. Bailey’s knowledge of the Arabic translation of the Bible is unequalled and this coupled with his understanding of ancient middle eastern culture sheds fresh light on our understanding of not just 1 Corinthians but of the entire Bible.

His explanation of how Biblical texts are constructed is fascinating and I find that I need lots of time to process what I am reading.He explains that the structure is more like music than linear sentences we understand today. He uses words like inverted parallelism and step parallelism to help us undertand the complex way the texts are put together and goes on to explain how much we miss of the message because we have no comprehension of these tools which were so easily understood by the Jewish scholars, including Paul, of the day.

Two quotes from the introduction have particularly challenged me:

Middle Easterners create meaning  through the use of simile, metaphor, parable and dramatic action. They do not simply illustrate concepts. Jesus used metaphor, parables and dramatic actions in this way. Paul’s parables and metaphors can also be seen as primary theological statements. (p30)

and:

The New Testament can be likened to a vast ocean. There are two well-known ways to sail upon it. One is to set the sails to the prevailing winds and currents and to use great caution in any deviation from them. The other is to move through uncharted waters, explore neglected islands and inlets and then return and attempt a faithful report on the journey. I have chosen the second. (p31)

It is hard to believe that there are still uncharted waters for us to explore in the Bible but so it is. No matter how much we think we understand, there is still always something fresh and new. I am really looking forward to moving forward into this book. As you know I do not do many book reviews on my blog but this is one book I wanted to make sure that you are well aware of. I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is looking for the challenge of new Biblical understanding that both enriches and challenges their faith.

For example

Prayers for the Journey – A Weekly Summary

Prayers to light the way

Prayers for the journey - Daily thoughts to light the way

Once more we are at the end of the week and here are the prayers that I have posted on facebook. I have also included the beautiful Celtic prayer The Rising which I think is a great prayer for All Saints Day and I know that some of you may have missed it when I posted it earlier in the week.

God may I honour you with gratitude, and give thanks in all things

May joy bubble up and overflow through good times and in bad

May I keep to your path in abundance and in scarcity

And rejoice always in the wonder of your salvation

___________________________________________________________

Lord jesus Christ you are the refuge of my soul,

Father God you are the strength of my heart,

Holy Spirit advocate and guide you are the shelter of my life

God who comes the three in one and one in three

How amazing to know nothing can separate me from your love

____________________________________________________________

Let us entrust our lives to God and live with Christ at the centre

Turning from our self centred ways to give ourselves in love for neighbour

Let us go forth to follow the clouds of witnesses that have gone before

Men and women from every tribe and nation, every time and age.

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God create in our hearts images of love
Plant them, grow them, bring them to harvest
May they bear fruit
In acts of mercy, deeds of justice, ways of compassion

_____________________________________________________________

God creatie in our hearts images of love
Plant them, grow them, bring them to harvest
May they bear fruit
In acts of mercy, deeds of justice, ways of compassion

_______________________________________________________________

May we live always in response to God’s love

May we choose life, act faithfully, follow trustingly

May we love God, obey Christ, hold fast to the Spirit

______________________________________________________________

THE RISING – Celtic Prayer

Let us go forth

In the goodness of our merciful father

In the gentleness of our brother Jesus,

In the radiance of his Holy Spirit

In the faith of the apostles,

In the joy praise of the angels,

In the holiness of the saints,

In the courage of the martyrs.

Let us go forth

In the wisdom of our all-seeing Father

In the patience of our all-loving brother,

In the truth of the all-knowing Spirit,

In the learning of the apostles,

In the gracious guidance of the angels,

In the patience of the saints,

In the self control of the martyrs,

Such is the path for all servants of Christ,

The path from death to eternal life.

Advent Is Coming – A New Resource Available

Waiting for the light

Waiting for the light - a new Advent devotional and resource

Over the last few weeks the MSA team has been busy working to put together a new Advent resource – Waiting for the Light. I hope that you will consider joining us in using this throughout the Christmas and Advent seasons. It is more than a devotional, it is a complete guide to the Advent and Christmas season,  providing liturgies, weekly activities and daily reflections to equip and nourish us all through the season.

Christians of all traditions are discovering the value of taking time in the days that lead up to Christmas to break away from the consumer frenzy of our culture and prepare their hearts and minds for the coming of Christ. This resource responds to this desire.

Over the last few years we have hosted a blog series on Godspace during the Advent and Christmas season. Each year a rich feast of reflections are contributed by bloggers across the globe who love God and love to share their faith with others.  The reflections in Waiting for the Light are drawn from these diverse and inspiring blog posts. They are designed to be used throughout Advent and Christmas as both a preparation for and a celebration of the birth of Christ. Each week of Advent focuses on a different theme:

  • week 1: preparing
  • week 2: seeking or expecting
  • week 3: waiting
  • week 4: becoming
  • The theme for the twelve days of Christmas is incarnation.

Each week begins with a prayer or liturgy that incorporates the week’s theme. in other activities that may help you and your family focus more meaningfully on the these seasons of the liturgical year.

Pre-order your copy today for only $13 including shipping and handling.

After November 15 the price will be $18 including S&H.

It will also be available as an e-book.

A Tribute to Those Who Have Gone Before

Palm Sunday icon

The saints are coming - clouds of witnesses that have gone before

Halloween is coming and in the glare of its monster shrouded festivities it is easy to forget that the real purpose of the season, from a Christian perspective is to celebrate the lives of the saints who have gone before us. All Saints’s day is a wonderful time to spend time reflecting on the clouds of witnesses who have gone before so seemed like an appropriate time to post my favourite prayer and you tube video.

The prayer I originally came across in a little book entitled Celtic Fire, a delightful collection of stories and prayers that I would heartily recommend to you. I often use it at the end of a seminar as a going forth prayer, though it was originally written as a morning prayer.

Let us go forth

In the goodness of our merciful father

In the gentleness of our brother Jesus,

In the radiance of his Holy Spirit

In the faith of the apostles,

In the joy praise of the angels,

In the holiness of the saints,

In the courage of the martyrs.

Let us go forth

In the wisdom of our all-seeing Father

In the patience of our all-loving brother,

In the truth of the all-knowing Spirit,

In the learning of the apostles,

In the gracious guidance of the angels,

In the patience of the saints,

In the self control of the martyrs,

Such is the path for all servants of Christ,

The path from death to eternal life.

And here are a couple of videos that I thought were very moving.. The First by U2 after Katrina is very moving and powerful – it is a little dated now but the reminder that the saints of God are all the ordinary people who respond to the needs of the world is very powerful.

I also came across this beautiful rendition of the litany of the saints that I thought was worth sharing

Sometimes I want to Call God Mother – What We Call God Matters

Christ as King

Christ - king or friend & companion?

Sometimes I want to call God Mother, Father, friend, companion, lover of my soul. At other times I want to call God creator, saviour, Lord of the Universe, bringer of justice, rescuer of the poor. I thought about this a lot this morning after receiving a message from a friend who reads my facebook prayers.

I’ve really enjoyed your prayers, Christine. However in recent months I’m noticing more and more that Jesus isn’t mentioned by name…. Somehow God and Christ, accurate names, aren’t as intimate and personal too me as the name “Jesus”… Am I just a hopeless Evangelical?

Her words were very perceptive but caught me off guard inviting me to think about what I call God and why. Have I drifted away from a sense of personal intimacy with God or is there more to this change?

What we call God matters. All the names I listed above are legitimate and important names for God, but they produce very different images in our minds. The first list all bring a sense of intimacy with them. They draw us into a close and personal relationship to God. They invite us to call God Abba, the Christ Jesus and the Spirit Comforter. The encourage us to grow the love of God deep within our hearts.

However, these names can also have negative connotations. For some calling God father creates images of hierarchical and patriarchal structures in which men rule over women and the elite rule over the poor and the marginalized.  And the use of mother for some, creates images of amazonian feminists who are trying to destroy the family and our faith in God.

The second list at least for me are those that inspire me to action. They encourage me to embrace God’s ways of justice and mercy and encourage me to place God’s dream of a world made new at the centre of all I am and do.  However  they often create more distant images in our minds, images of a lordly figure who sits on a throne far above our world distributing justice sometimes with an arbitrary and vengeful hand.

My prayers in the last few months have tended to reflect this more activist view of God. The economic volatility of our world and the growing numbers of people I know who are sinking into poverty, the crashing waves of natural disasters that are rending the lives of so many I care about, and the ongoing challenges of poverty, oppression and disease tear at my heart and I want to respond and encourage others to respond.

At the same time I want to grow in intimacy with God. Perhaps like my friend who commented this morning I am at heart a hopeless evangelical. I think that our personal relationship with God is crucially important. Without the knowledge that God resides in the very personal and individual place of my heart it would be impossible for me to respond to the needs I see around me. I realize too that my language needs to reflect that.

Part of what my friend’s comment this morning made me realize is that I need to broaden the range of names I use for God. Yes I need to regularly use names that draw me into intimacy, that is essential for me to grow into the love of God.  But these need to be balanced with names that inspire me to respond and to act as God’s representative to our desperately needy world.

So my question for you this morning is: What do you most frequently call God and how does that reflect your view of God?

Are We Getting Enough Sleep?

Let us rest and sleep

Sleep an essential rhythm of life for all of us

Tom and I just returned from a trip to the east Coast. Unrepairable planes made what should have been a pleasant 10 hour trip into a 17 hour epic bringing us home around 2am Seattle time or 5 am East Coast time. As you can imagine, yesterday my head felt as though it was stuffed with cotton wool. Everything I did took twice the time I intended and I felt as though my brain had ceased functioning.

Sleep is one of the essential rhythms of life. Many of us resent the 8 hours we need to spend in bed each day but without adequate sleep we soon cease to function properly, without any sleep, a condition that is fortunately fairly rare,  we will soon die. There is even evidence that taking a siesta in the afternoon boosts our memory and cognitive functioning.  There are many causes for sleeplessness from anxiety and depression to serious physical illness. Helpguide.org has some great suggestions for those who struggle regularly with insomnia, including some simple ways to diagnose what may be the underlying cause of the problem.

However, the reason I am writing this article today is because for many of us sleeplessness is more a function of our lifestyle than anything else. Lack of time outside in the sunlight, lack of time in the dark at night, lack of exercise, stress and the inability to relax our minds before we go to bed can all contribute. I am concerned too that many of reach for over the counter or prescription medicines before we even consider how the practices of our faith can help alleviate our symptoms.

So here are some thoughts on how faith practices can help us relax and enter into that sleep which is indeed a gift from God.

So when you’re struggling in the night, remember David’s words, and let God’s peaceful gift of meditation fill your soul with comfort, and your body with rest. read more

There are other Christian practices that can help too.

  • The prayer of examen  which helps us to review the day in the presence of God, encouraging us to leave the cares and worries we have encountered in God’s hands, is a wonderful way to end our waking hours.
  • Breathing prayers which encourage us to breathe deeply and regularly can also be of great value. Evidently many of us spend most of our lives breathing too shallowly and deprive our lungs and other organs of the oxygen we need to remain healthy. And moe than that it can relieve anxiety, stimulate our immune system and even alleviate the symptoms of trauma. Read more
  • Centering prayers  provide a way for all of us to sit in the contentment of the moment, shutting out the noise in order to focus completely on God. This is not a practice that comes easily or naturally to most of us which is probably an indication of the stress that we live under. If you don’t know much about this form of prayer I would heartily recommend Basil Pennington’s classic Centering Prayer to you.
  • Prayer beads are for many a great stress reliever and can be a wonderful way to prepare yourself for sleep. You might like to design your own prayer to say with your beads before you go to retire for the night.

Top Ten Mediation Tips from Micha Jazz At Peaceworks.

group hug

Making peace with Micha Jazz and other members of the MSA international circle

Tom and I have just returned from a 5 day whirlwind trip to the East Coast working with Mennonites at Laurelville Mennonite Center, Renewal and Creation Care Study Program. I am still a little jetlagged as we arrived home at 1 am so I was delighted to discover a link to this great article on mediation written by our good friend Micha Jazz (aka Mike Morris) at Peaceworks. Conflict between people is a huge challenge for most Christian organizations contributed to by the continual stress that we work under. Also probably because we have just been working with people from a peace church perspective, I thought that this would make a great post for this morning. It was originally posted as Ten Top Mediation Tips on Peaceworks blog.

Micha has been be a part of the international circle of MSA for more years than we care to mention. He is also one of the founders together with Chris Seaton, of Peaceworks. Micha is an experienced CEDR accredited mediator (Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution), an accredited workplace mediator, and a Recognised Member of the College of Mediators.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Peaceworks’ Ten Top Mediation Tips 

1.      Always plan to have difficult conversations. Mediation provides a safe, confidential environment with adequate refreshments, to help everyone achieve their best.

2.      Take time ahead of the mediation to find the words to describe what you feel, why you feel the way you do and what you would like as an outcome. Your feelings and preferences are important and everyone wants to listen and discover what they are. You might feel upset, angry, disappointed, confused – mediation offers you the chance to say that, and to state what you want.

3.      Picture your future. How you would like things to be in 6 months time. This helps to see that there is a future beyond the mediation. The pain does not need to last forever. What will the next six months be like if there is no change? This mediation is important!

4.      As you consider what you want and what the future might look like, remember to be realistic. Mediations work best when everyone agrees a realistic, achievable and measurable agreement. Things will certainly feel and look a lot different if a clear agreement is achieved. So take time to build that agreement in the mediation. Do not rush.

5.      As far as you can, be very specific about issues and deal with each of them in turn. Once issues are clearly identified, there is a means for effectively and creatively dealing with the conflict.

6.      Work with the mediator to create a climate in which matters can be agreed and deals can be done; this may involve ‘turning the other cheek’ and ‘biting your lip’. Later, you will be glad you did.

7.      If there are difficulties be honest about them. There is ample opportunity to have a private meeting with the mediator and talk through your anxieties freely and confidentially. The mediator is there to support you throughout do your best.

8.      If you need to resolve financial issues, be sure you have details of the numbers involved and any paperwork that support your verbal claims. Confusion over data will always produce confusion within the process. If numbers intimidate you, request some help ahead of the mediation.

9.      Do not rely on ‘bar room’ advice as to what you ‘should’ walk away with! However well meant, it is likely to be unhelpful, and does not enjoy the benefit of the other party’s feelings and requests. What they say may have a positive impact on you. Remember, this is your dispute and you have the power to resolve it.

10.   Respect and be kind to yourself throughout. This is a mature and creative way to deal with conflict, and one that is increasingly promoted by the legal profession, HR departments, commercial companies etc. worldwide. You are at the cutting edge of the new way to deal with conflict effectively. How smart is that?

Prayers for the Journey

Prayers to light the way

Prayers for the journey - Daily thoughts to light the way

Here is my weekly roundup of prayers from facebook

You are the God who gives me lives

You are the Christ who shows me love

You are the Spirit who fills me with peace

May I remember and give thanks

________________________________________

Sit in the quietness of the moment

Look back with gratitude

Look forward with hope

Give thanks in all circumstances

_________________________________________

Breathe in life, God created Christ redeemed Spirit filled

Breathe in love, compassion minded, justice focused, mercy drenched

Breathe in hope, heart centred, prayer inspired, faith proclaiming

____________________________________________

God in whom all mercy dwells

Christ through whom all love is given

Spirit without whom no life exists

Sustain and keep us in your care forever

______________________________________________

God our Father

help us to walk in your paths of truth for that is our desire,

Christ our saviour

teach us to live by your law of love for that is our longing

Spirit our equipper

empower us to perform your good deeds for this is the ache in our hearts

________________________________________________

May kindness and generosity come into our lives

May we in serving others find ourselves in Christ

And live to the glory of God

_________________________________________________

God you alone offer life in its fullness

Your ways are written into the fabric of our being

Your purposes hidden in the longings of our hearts

May we seek you and align our desires with yours

_________________________________________________

God of unending love

In the midst of storms shelter us

In the turmoil of life guide us

In the oppression of fear grant us peace

_____________________________________________

Practicing the Way of Jesus – by Mark Scandrette #3

This is the third and final post in a series from an interview with Mark Scandrette on his book Practicing the Way of Jesus.  Mark is the founding director of ReIMAGINE, a collective that invites people into integrative spiritual experiments and practices, (with an emphasis on creativity, community building and social action). Each year he hosts a series of projects, retreats and workshops that explore and inhabit various core themes in the way of Jesus. He lives with his wife and three high school aged children in an old Victorian in San Francisco’s Mission District.

A new way is possible

A new way is possible

In the second part of your book you talk about specific areas of experimenting – identity, purpose, security, community and freedom and peace.  This is pretty radical experimentation.  Can you share a few stories of how people have lived out experiments in these areas.

 

Asking the what if questions

Asking the what if questions

This book is full of stories and examples of what groups of people have actually done to take steps to practice the Way of Jesus. Our original group started out by imaginatively asking “what if questions.” What if instead of just talking about prayer we actually prayed?” This led to our first group silent prayer retreat. “What if instead of just learning about God’s heart for justice we take tangible steps to help affected people?” This led to intentional friendships with homeless friends, a neighborhood safety campaign and initiatives to address local human trafficking.

Or, “What if instead of just confessing our areas of brokenness we took steps to support each other in making positive changes?” This question led us to a shared practice called “Experiments in truth” in which we each commit to a radical life change over 40 days. Through this many of us discovered the power of taking vows and applying disciplines of abstinence and engagement to our persistent issues.  We discovered that in the solidarity of a group we could make life changes that we hadn’t been able to on our own.

Our neighbourhood matters - lets keep it clean

Our neighbourhood matters - lets keep it clean

In the opening chapter of the book I describe one of the most memorable experiments we’ve done. In response to Jesus instruction, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” a group of us decided to sell or give away half of our possessions and donate the proceeds to global poverty relief. That provocative step opened up deeper questions of heart motivation, spending patterns and the accumulation of debt. As a result we saw people in our group pay down their debts, learn to practice contentment and gratitude, live more simply and sustainably and experience great freedom and simplicity in their lives.

 

Our neighbourhood - what we do matters

Our neighbourhood - what we do matters

My challenge to readers is to think about a change you want to make in response to the vision of life Jesus offers and then ban together with others to take a practical step. Although some of the stories I share in the book might seem radical, the deeper point I’m trying to make is that we can each take a next step, even if its a baby step,  to practice the way of Jesus.

Say no to violence

Say no to violence

Practicing the Way of Jesus – An Interview with Mark Scandrette #2

This is the second post in a series from an interview with Mark Scandrette on his book Practicing the Way of Jesus.  Mark is the founding director of ReIMAGINE, a collective that invites people into integrative spiritual experiments and practices, (with an emphasis on creativity, community building and social action). Each year he hosts a series of projects, retreats and workshops that explore and inhabit various core themes in the way of Jesus. He lives with his wife and three high school aged children in an old Victorian in San Francisco’s Mission District.

The be at Peace Project Portland

The be at Peace Project Portland

You talk a lot about experimenting with embodied faith.  What do you mean by that and why is it important?

Taking steps to experiment with how to embody our faith is important for several reasons. One, is that we have been invited into a transformed life– by the example, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus– into a new way to be human that is characterized by love. Second, transformation happens through taking risks of new action to cooperate with God’s grace. The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works in you…” (Philippians 2:12-13)  I like to describe this process as an experiment because we are testing out what new actions and habits make us most available to the work of the spirit. A crisis I see in the church today is the wide gap between what we say we believe and how most of us actually live. We seem to have an insatiable quest for knowledge and understanding. We’ve operated for a long time under the misguided notion that right thinking by itself will lead to right and good living. But the reality of the kingdom of love, described by Jesus, has to be experienced to be understood– by taking practical steps of obedience and then reflecting on those outcomes.

 

Group practicing contemplative Prayer

Group practicing contemplative Prayer

It is clear, from the sermon on the Mount, that Jesus intended for us to put his teachings into practice (Matthew 7:24). To do this we can ask ourselves a few helpful questions:  “What is Jesus inviting us into?” “How do his instructions connect with the details of our lives and the situation and struggles of our society?” And, “what steps can we take to practically respond to his vision and instructions?” For most of us, it is easier to make a change or take a step of risk if we are able to do so in solidarity with at least one other person. Jesus sent his disciples out to experiment in groups of two and the radical love of the beloved community we read about in the book of Acts was a phenomenon of collective action. Historically, when people have wanted to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, they band together in groups of common action and practice to resist the dominant culture.

I think this book is tapping into a widely felt hunger for a way of life shaped by Jesus.   After two months, the book went into its second printing and has been translated into several other languages.  Almost every week I get an message from someone saying that they are organizing a group in their church or neighborhood to be a community of practice. A group in Portland decided to ban together to practice how to “Be at Peace” and as a result, one member of the group reconciled with his deeply wounded ex wife.” A group in Salt Lake city took steps over the summer to simplify their lives by working to give away half of their material possessions. A group in Oslo, Norway will be meeting for the first time this week to commit to a shared daily practice of stillness prayer for the next 30 days.