Let Us Do What Is Right – A Reflection On Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

This morning two images have merged in my mind. This Martin Luther King quote from the Idealist  and another quote from Randy Woodley’s book Shalom and the Community of Creation

When we cease to trust the Creator for our daily provision, evil takes over and oppression occurs. Shalom, with its embedded concern for the poor, the marginalized, the animals, the birds and the earth, is the divinely preferred way for humans to live. Justice and righteousness are weapons to be employed in order to combat evil, once the systems begin to become corrupted. Truth, which I define here as following the natural paths of God’s intentions, is also one of the main weapons that humans have been given in order to fight the temptation towards self-reliance (80)

When we don’t do what is right and trust our God for provision but rely instead on the values of greed, exploitation and oppression, evil does indeed take over. We have seen it in the enslavement and genocide of peoples. We have seen it in the confiscation of native lands. And we have seen it in the destruction of the earth’s animals and habitats. My home country Australia is suffering from record breaking temperatures that have soared to over 50C or 122F. sparking hundreds of bushfires.  The government’s climate commission admits that climate change had contributed to making the extreme heat conditions and bushfires even worse.

Surely there has never been a better time to refuse to look the other way. All of us need to do what is right for those who are still oppressed and marginalized in our world. We need to do what is right to reduce emissions and reduce our consumption to contribute our small bit to the fight against climate change.

As Martin Luther King suggests, our souls suffer along with our bodies and our world when we do not do what is right. I pray that today all of us will catch a fresh glimpse of God’s incredible shalom kingdom in which all humanity is set free, creation is restored and we all live together in peace, harmony and mutual concern.

What do you think?

Shalom and the Community of Creation – Randy Woodley

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Over the last few weeks I have been enjoying reading Randy Woodley’s wonderful book Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision. As many of you know, the study of shalom has woven through my life in the last thirty years. Working in the refugee camps on the Thai Cambodian border in the mid 80s’ transformed my life and started me on a quest for a deeper understanding of God’s worldview. Shalom is the best word that describes this for me. I put some of my own thoughts together in the booklet Shalom and the Wholeness of Godand you would think that after 30 years there could be nothing new for me to learn. Randy’s book teaches me that this is not so and will probably never be true.

Understanding the shalom of God and the desire of God to see all things restored and made whole again should, I think, be a never ending journey for all of us. Ancient Semitic constructs of biblical shalom have parallel constructs among other indigenous peoples, sometimes referred to as the Harmony Way. Jesus, Randy explains is the shalom restorer of justice and dignity. So often he came to those who had dignity, no rights in society. Like the shepherds whose testimony was unacceptable in a court of law.

Randy is a Keetoowah Cherokee  and brings the richness of his First Nations’ perspective to the discussion. I learned so much from his invitation to view scripture, humanity and all creation through the indigenous lens. One comment that particularly challenged me is:

As people of faith, we should view every drop of oil, every diamond, every lump of coal and every source of water with a theological eye. We should try to see our world through the eyes of the One who created it. All the earth is sacred. It seems quite foolish that only after we have gone too far will we realize that no amount of capital gains, no particular economic system, no modern convenience will be worth the price that we will be forced to pay. Attributed as a Cree Indian proverb, around Indian country they say “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.” I sometimes wonder if modern humanity will drive itself to extinction over greed. (52)

Randy beautifully weaves the story of indigenous peoples in North America and their understanding of the Harmony Way into his narrative. God is not just revealed in the Hebrew scriptures. God’s ways are powerfully portrayed in the beliefs and stories of all cultural groups. Often their traditional beliefs are closer to the ways of God than the capitalistic, creation destroying ways of Western cultures. The atrocities done to natives peoples in many lands has broken God’s shalom not just destroying them and their cultures, but the very land that was taken from them.

God speaks through all cultures and if we only listen to the theologians from our own culture, our understanding of God will be stifled. This is a compelling and challenging book that expresses a different cultural worldview. I highly recommend it to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the truths of God’s shalom world.

You may also like to check out this article I wrote some years ago on theological diversity in a globalized world 

A Year Of Prayer – Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Kimberlee Conway Ireton has already accepted the Return to Our Senses challenge – not just of Lent but for the entire  year. She will be posting regularly on this blog over this period.

Kimberlee comments: As you’ll read below, 2013 is my (second) Year of Prayer. To help hold me accountable to this commitment to live more prayerfully, I promised myself (and my blog readers) that I’d write about (some of) my prayer experiences. Since Christine’s book on prayer, Return to Our Senses, will be a large part of my Year of Prayer, she’s kindly letting me crosspost my prayer reflections here on Godspace.

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Last January, I declared 2012 my year of prayer. And I made some strides toward being more prayerful last year: I began praying the Psalms each day (I’ve prayed through the whole Psalter twice in the past six months); I continued to update and pray over the names on my prayer window; I kept up a steady stream of gratitude prayers, writing many of them down (I’ve listed over 3,000 gifts in the three years since I undertook this discipline); and I experimented with praying Scripture and other blessings over my children at times beyond bedtime, like before they leave for a class or a playdate.

But despite continuing to practice my accustomed prayer disciplines and adding a few more to the mix, I know I have a long way to go—to grow—in learning to pray, in living a life of prayer.

Then, too, some time around August, I got distracted from my year of prayer and stopped growing, just sort of coasted on autopilot for a few months. Oh, I still prayed in the ways that had come to be habits, but I wasn’t stretching myself. Sometimes we need to rest on the rails of habit; that’s why we create habits in the first place: so they can sustain us when life starts to pull in too many different directions. But I’ve had a nice long rest, and now I’m ready to start stretching again.

SeaAndSky

Which is why I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be my second year of prayer. Who knows? This may become an annual thing.

For now, it means a commitment to:

  1. read four books on prayer this year,
  2. blog once a month about something in those books that has me thinking and/or praying in new ways,
  3. choose one new-to-me prayer practice to embrace each month, and
  4. blog the end of each month about that practice and my experience of it.

SkyAfterRain
My first book on prayer will be Eugene Peterson’s Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. I will be drawing the monthly prayer practices from Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray, a new book by Christine Sine. This month’s prayer practice will be blessing the water, mostly because I am heartily sick of rain, and I want to practice giving thanks for this precious resource that is in abundant supply in my life.

My hope (and prayer) this year is that as I grow a little (or maybe a lot?) deeper into prayer, I will also grow closer to Christ. After all, that’s the whole point of prayer, isn’t it?, to become ever more deeply rooted and grounded in God. And that’s what I want, to send down deep roots so that I can lead a life fully pleasing to the Lord, bearing fruit worthy of the Gospel.

Kimberlee Conway Ireton is a mother of four and the author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.

A Hidden Wholeness – A Great Read by Parker Palmer

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer

A couple of days ago I mentioned how a story in Parker Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness changed my perspective of the seasons. This book has been very helpful in other ways too.

As many of you know, here at Mustard Seed Associates we have adapted the Quaker discernment process as the way to run our meetings. Palmer’s book is the most helpful I have read in recent years in relation to this. It is a book written for schools and businesses on the creation of circles of trust. It brings together many of Palmer’s popular themes which I will summarize here is some simple quotes.

  • the shape of an integrated life: Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life
  • the meaning of community: Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather it means never losing the awareness that we are connect to each other….we need solitude and community simultaneously; what we learn in one mode can check and balance what we learn in the other. 
  • teaching an learning for transformation: When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved; you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honoured. 
  • not violent social change: imagine the heart broken open into new capacity…into greater capacity to hold more of my own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope…. broken open to a largeness that holds the possibility of a better future for us all.

I think this is a must read book for any follower of Christ seeking to develop healthy community minded ways of interacting with their colleagues, friends and even families (which I think should be all of us). A Hidden Wholeness  is I think my best read of 2012.

Reading and Listening Through Advent – What Others Suggest.

Advent candles

There are an incredible number of Advent books out there each year, so I thought that I would get a sense of what some of my friends are listening to so a couple of days ago I asked my Facebook friends what they recommend reading or listening to during Advent. Here are some suggestions that you might like to check out. Some of these are totally new to me and will make great resources for my own Christmas reading and listening. Enjoy!

Several people suggested the gospel stories particularly the book of Luke. I agree I try to read through these each Advent season. It beautifully anchors me in the biblical story.

Leonard Sweet and Don Pape like  Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas – John Blase

Cindy Fortune Spenser recommends The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder

Sonja Naylor Andrews suggests “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” by Dr. Suess

Joy Larsen likes Lion and the Lamb by Brennan Manning.

Kevin Palau suggest Martin Luther’s Christmas Book compiled by Roland Bainton

Kurt Neilson suggests Bernard of Clairvaux’s homilies on the Song of Songs. – they can be downloaded from this site or purchased from Amazon.

Tamara West recommends Gertrud Mueller Nelson, in both To Dance With God ( family and parish observance of the church year) and Here All Dwell Free ( a Jungian-feminist analysis of classic fairy tales). You can also see a great recording with Gertrud on YouTube

My friend Paul Samuels has written a delightful children’s book Where is Christmas?

Jill Aylard Young is enjoying “Simply Wait, Cultivating Stillness in the Season of Advent” by Pamela Hawkins.

Chris Terry Nelson suggests Insurrection by Peter Rollins

Catherine Windsor recommends The Mitten by Jan Brett

David Bayne suggests  “Monastery Journey to Christmas” by D’Avila-Latourrette and “Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent” by Enuma Okoro

Jane Bishop Halteman likes anything by Jan Richardson (Night Visions) or Ann Weems (Journey to Bethlehem) This last link is to a pdf download.

Last but not least don’t forget to check out the MSA Advent resources Waiting for the Light and Return to Our Senses currently available as a preAdvent special.

For music most people suggested popular carols like O Come O Come Emmanuel and Silent Night but here are a couple you may not have come across.

Downe In Yon Forrest a collection of Christmas Carols from the Middle Ages recommended by Carolyn Frye

Ancient Path Christmas is one I was given last year and really enjoyed.

Kitt M KaagapayMo wrote this original filipino rendition  that is worth listening to.

 

 

Pre-Advent Specials

‘Tis the Season for special buys – or so goes the marketing madness of our day. MSA books and resources directly help support staff and the development of more resources. We don’t make a big deal about marketing because we want to maintain a bit of a counter-cultural environment. From time to time, however, we do want to make available special deals you will enjoy, like these resources for the Advent season.

Pre-Advent Special

    • Special #1
      Get Christine’s newest book, Return to our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray, along with favorites, Waiting For the Light: An Advent Devotional and Light For the Journey: Morning and Evening Prayers for Living Into God’s World, all for only $30!

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    • Special #2
      Advent reflection video DVD set (2007-2001)plus 2012 – “Alleluia, the Christ Child Comes” only $40!

download advent series

  • Special #3
    Download version of the Advent DVD set, including 2012 – “Alleluia, the Christ Child Comes” only $35!

Return to Our Senses Now Available on Kindle

Return to Our Senses - cover

Return to Our Senses

I am delighted to announce that my new book Return to Our Senses is now available in both paperback and kindle versions.

Check out the paperback version here. There is still time to preorder the book at a discount price of $15 including U.S. shipping. -All proceeds for sales go to support the work of Mustard Seed Associates.

The kindle version is only available through Amazon. You can check out the kindle version here.

Living Into The New World of God

Return to Our Senses - cover

Return to Our Senses

This post is the last in the series of excerpts from my upcoming book  Return to Our Senses, which will be available in mid November. It is already available through Mustard Seed Associates at a pre-publication discounted price of $15. I appreciate those of you who have interacted with the material and look forward to further discussions when the book itself is published.

On October 10, 2010, Tom and I joined an estimated 1 billion viewers around the globe watch the joyous rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped for months below the earth’s surface. We watched with bated breath as that first miner gingerly stepped into the capsule that would take him through a tunnel in the rock to safety.

Their literal rebirth out of the darkness of the tomb into a new world filled all of us with hope and excitement. We watched as they embraced their families, reaffirmed their marriage vows and spoke of new possibilities for the future. Life in that moment was a fresh, new creation not just for them but for us as well.

For these miners to be rescued, they needed to believe that a new world was not only possible but desirable. They needed to believe that the new world they envisioned was more worthwhile than the one they currently were experiencing. Imagine what could have happened if that first miner had been unwilling to step into the capsule that would transport him through the “birth” canal to reach the outside world. After all 69 days in their tomb must have made these men feel fairly secure, in spite of the severe limitations of the life it offered. In some ways it would have been easier to mourn for life as it had been than to step out into a risky journey to the surface.

Do we mourn the past or midwife the future? 

We too can mourn the past or acts as midwives to the new future God is giving birth to. Our world too is in a time of transition, change and turbulence that beckons us with new, exciting but scary possibilities. Like the Chilean miners, we too need to believe that a new world is not only possible but desirable. We must see that at the center of that new world is the God who is love, the kingdom that is an expression of that love and prayer which is the outpouring of that love.

Times of transition are opportunities for us to re-examine and recreate the way we express our faith and practice our prayer life. They are opportunities to give birth to new communities that draw us closer to God and to God’s kingdom ways. They are opportunities to draw closer to the loving heart of God and re-imagine all we are and all we do with God’s loving presence at the center.

For that to happen we need to be willing to let go of the past, learning to be grateful for the foundations it has provided, but recognizing it as the stepping stones out of which something new emerges. We can either weep about what was and is no longer or we can anticipate and bring the new future into being. Concerns about climate change, political and economic upheaval, changing church and faith all make many of us feel we have just jumped out of a plane without a parachute. Yet in the midst of these changes we have an incredible opportunity to give birth to God’s new kingdom.

Rebirth and recreation, that is the main message of Return to Our Senses. The book began by redefining prayer as an exercise in love. I started with the awe inspiring imagery of God’s breath filling and enlivening us. I challenged all of us to examine our assumptions about prayer and reinvent our lives centered on the love of God and the kingdom of love which God is giving birth to. As I said in the introduction, our prayers and the practices that shape our lives become the habits that continually point towards God’s future and our longing for a coming kingdom in which justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

In our acts of prayer, worship and other spiritual practices we come to renew our covenant of love with God and with our fellow worshipers, not just with those present with us, but with the entire family of God around the world, so that we can be renewed, restored and empowered to live into God’s hope for the future. I hope that the techniques and habits I discussed in this book have hooked your imagination with God’s vision for the future, and given birth to something new in your prayer life.  I hope it has started to retrain your heart, your mind and your spirit to desire, and to more determinedly practice, what God loves. Perhaps it has inspired you to look and listen more intentionally for the signs of God’s new world that are emerging – new communities of mutual care, new expressions of faith, new churches, and new awareness of the interrelatedness of all God’s creation and our need to be better stewards of it. I believe that this is the only approach to prayer that will sustain and strengthen us into the future.

If prayer is indeed an exercise in love, then it should connect all the experiences of our everyday lives to the life that God intends for us, not life as it was or even as it is now but life in all the fullness that our loving God has planned for us. During a season of change and turmoil like this we carry the responsibility to do all that is possible to ensure that the new that emerges is healthy, more humane, more compassionate and more loving towards neighbors near and far.

Living Into the banquet Feast of God

Jesus washing Peter's feet

Jesus washing Peter’s feet

The following post is the tenth that I have done which are excerpts from my new book my upcoming book Return to Our Senses, which will be available in mid November. It is already available through Mustard Seed Associates at a pre-publication discounted price of $15. 

When MSA Board chair Penny Carothers was in Calcutta she befriended Asa and Jebodah, teenage sisters whose mother provides for them by selling herself at the temple of Kali, goddess of destruction. One day Penny and a friend went to distribute toys and clothing to some of the street kids. The kids came slowly at first delight on their faces, she remembers. “But the moment lasted only moments. Before we knew it desperate hands had wrested our gifts from us and in the violence of the moment we fell back into the gutter.”

What happened next profoundly impacted me when Penny related her story. “In my disillusionment I saw them,” Penny said. “Asa and Jebodah entered the filth to take our hands. They pulled us away and took us, dazed, to the water pump. And then they bent down and began to wash the grime off our feet. Beside me, my friend repeated over and over, “They are washing our feet.””

As I listened to Penny and read her story I thought – this is Jesus. These children are the ones who stooped to wash the disciples feet wearing nothing more than a lowly servant would. In them, dirty, homeless, covered in soot is the one who comes to us in the midst of our pain and the misery of our world to offer us comfort and love. Like them he comes as the lowliest and most despised of all servants – the one who washes feet.

Many of these children, as Penny noted are the children of prostitutes. They are despised within their own society as well as in ours. As I thought about this I realized how easily I could dismiss them. But the poor are with us always and everywhere. Here in the U.S. the nation’s poverty rate rose to 15.1% in 2010, 46.2 million people. This is its highest level since 1993. The poverty rate for children under age 18 is even higher. It increased to 22% in 2010, meaning more than 1 in 5 children in America are living in poverty. For African Americans it is 27.4% and for families headed by single mothers it is 31.6%, the highest rate of all.

Whose Feet Would you Wash?

Jesus washed feet as a prelude to the last meal he shared with his disciples. I think that in part Jesus washing of feet was a prayer for the disciples to notice those lowly unnoticed slaves who washed their feet. It was a reminder that everyone no matter how insignificant in the hierarchy of the day, has a place at God’s banquet table. The poor and the marginalized wear the face of Jesus.

The poor wash our feet in so many ways yet we rarely look them in the face. They make it possible for the rest of us to live lives of comfort and ease.It is the poor who pick our fruit and make our clothes. They provide us with furniture and with cheap building materials. They wash our dishes when we eat out and clean our hotel rooms when we go to Disney world. They mine our diamonds and the tantalum for our mobile phones.

What would happen I wonder if we entered into the story of these children as we do into the gospel story? What if we saw in their faces the face of Jesus stooping down to wash our feet as a preparation for the great banquet feast of God? What would happen if every time we bought our food at the supermarket we thought about those who produce what we eat and consider the conditions under which they live and bring up their children? What would happen if every meal we ate became a prayer of anticipation for the great banquet feast of God?

Twitter, Facebook, and On the Go Prayers – A Wonderful Tool or Terrible Distractio

On the go prayers

On the go prayers

The following post is the eighth in a series that is excerpted from my upcoming book Return to Our Senses, which will be available in mid November. It is already available through Mustard Seed Associates at a pre-publication discounted price of $15.

Twitter, blogging, Facebook and other social media have all become popular tools for prayer and the formation of spiritual community in the last few years. Virtual churches abound and a growing number of people are turning to the internet as their primary spiritual community.

Neal Lock, one of the organizers of First Presbyterian Church of Second Life believes that technology is a part of God’s creation and a gift that we can use for good, twist to evil or ignore. He explains: Gutenberg’s printing press changed the world, paving the way for the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. Because it made possible the Reformation, it also brought drastic changes to the church, changing almost every visible aspect of Christian worship and theology in just a few generations. In our generation, the internet and digital communication have already brought about drastic changes, and will continue to transform the church in sweeping and dramatic ways in a short span of time.

He goes on to remind us that, church participation in the past few decades has been in steep decline. Yet, as millions of people leave behind their communities of faith, millions more are finding community online, in places that a few years ago wouldn’t have even qualified as places. Worshiping communities of Christians are also beginning to appear online, especially taking root in 3-dimensional synthetic interfaces known as Virtual Realities, or Virtual Worlds.

As I think about this and try to get my head around the possibility of attending a virtual church, I am reminded of what Erik Qualman author of best selling Socialnomics says. He challenges us to consider that we don’t have a choice as to whether we do social media or not. The question, he believes, is how well we do it.

Its true. The internet is here to stay and in the last few years it has become more portable, social, fast paced, and ever present. If Facebook were a country it would be the third largest in the world. Snail mail and long distance phone calling have given way to texting, Skype and online chats. Tablets and smart phones keep us connected 24/7.

Even our everyday spirituality is effected by social media. We post our prayer requests, events, photos and our spiritual struggles on Facebook and other social media sites. We can “like” Mother Theresa, Wendell Berry, St Francis of Assisi and many others for daily prayers and inspiration. We can listen to daily prayers like http://prayasyougo.org and download them onto our phones or tablets. We can follow those who post prayers or Bible verses on Twitter. Or we can read reflections from bloggers like ChristianDroid who seeks to combine Christianity and technology to enhance our lives. We can even use social media feeds to keep us in touch with breaking news, our favorite missions and the needs of our world. The options seem to be limitless and sometimes overwhelming. How we interact with social media and incorporate it into our faith is an important question for all of us to grapple with as we seek to shape our prayer life.

There is no denying that many of us benefit daily from these technologies but there are definite downsides too. They speed life up so that we often don’t have sufficient time to think about and act on what is really important for our ongoing salvation and walk with God. Our minds become cluttered with too much information that further fragments our sense of reality. We can become like robots moving through a web of activities deprived of time for what is essential to nourish our soul and to cultivate our spiritual growth. In this mad rush we forget that our aim above all else in this life, is to seek union with our loving God.

According to Tony Dokoupil, a senior writer at Newsweek and The Daily Beast, the current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways. One recent research project suggest that social media may be more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol. When 200 University of Maryland students agreed to go without social media for 24 hours–no cell phones or computers–their reaction was akin to drug withdrawal.

The most concerning drawback to internet community is this ability to distract us from work, family and face to face interactions sometimes to an addictive extent. Avoiding people we don’t want to talk to is much easier when we can “talk” to friends around the world without even needed to getting out of our chairs. The temptation to check, what our friends and acquaintances are doing, how many likes and visits our blog posts get, or even just to pass on prayers and breaking news we enjoy can at the least soak up our time and energy. At the worst we become obsessed with the kudus, criticisms and hopes that our posts will go viral.

Maintaining the disciplines that balance time spent on line with other aspects of life is not always easy. Some of us blurt out all our thoughts and intimate struggles to strangers with few if any inhibitions. How often do you take your struggles and concerns to Jesus before sharing them on Facebook or Twitter?