Go In Peace to Love and Serve the Lord

Peace rose

Peace rose

As many of you know at this season I tend to become an obsessive gardener and because I am currently teach a course on spirituality and gardening for a local church this has become even more of a passion for me. So I thought this week I would share some of my favourite garden stories and reflections.

The Peace rose is one of my all time favourite flowers, and even more so because of the history that goes with it. I frist read about this rose in the book For Love of A Rose,  and immediately fell in love with it.

It was developed by French horticulturist Frances Meilland in the years 1935 to 1939. When Meilland foresaw the German invasion of France he sent cuttings to friends in Italy, Turkey, Germany, and the United States to protect the new rose. It is said, by some that it was sent to the US on the last plane available before the German invasion. Others think that it was smuggled out by the French resistance. In the U.S. it was safely propagated by the Conrad Pyle Company during the war. In early 1945 Meilland wrote to Field Marshal Alan Brooke, principal author of the master strategy that won World War II, to thank him for his key part in the liberation of France and to ask if Brooke would give his name to the rose. Brooke declined saying that his name would soon be forgotten and a much better and more enduring name would be “Peace”.

His words were prophetic. The naming of the rose as ‘PEACE’ was publicly announced in America by Robert Pyle on April 29, 1945 , the day Berlin fell, officially considered the end of World WarII in Europe. The next showing of the Peace rose came on V-E Day, May 8, 1945. At the very first United Nations Conference in San Francisco, a Peace rose with the message: “We hope the ‘Peace’ rose will influence men’s thoughts for everlasting world peace”, was presented to all 49 U.N. delegates.

August of 1945 came the announcement that the Peace rose was the winner of the All-American Rose Selections Award of Honor. Simultaneously, the war ended in Japan.

Another memorable occasion came in 1951 when the American Rose Society made the Peace rose the first rose to receive its Gold Medal Award. This award corresponded with the signing of the treaty of peace with Japan.

Peter Beales, English rose grower and expert, said in his book Roses: “‘Peace’, without doubt, is the finest Hybrid Tea ever raised and it will remain a standard variety forever”. It is still the most popular rose in the world.

So go and plant a Peace rose, or better still plant some peace in God’s garden. God desires peace in our world and I think that the history of this rose shows that. I always have a peace rose in my garden. its fragrance reminds me constantly of God’s dream of peace and the efforts God makes to ensure it continues to thrive.

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When the Farmer Scatters Seed… build up the soil

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed.” So begins one of my favourite parables, a parable that many of us are very familiar with. Some of the seed falls on the path, some on rocky ground, some among thorns and some in good soil. The seed is the word of God. That which falls on the path represents those for whom God’s word never takes root, the seed in rocky soil those with shallow roots who turn away when problems overwhelm, that scattered amongst thorns are those who allow the worries of life and the lure of wealth to distract, and of course the seed that falls on good soil stands for those who produce a rich harvest. (Mark 4:3-20)

It is so easy for me to interpret this parable from an urban dweller’s perspective, to look down on those who don’t receive the word of God or who turn away because it has not grown deep roots, or been choked out by the cares of the world. It is only recently that I realized a farmer would interpret this completely differently. The central principle of organic gardening is – Build up the soil!

Any ground can be made more fertile and become productive. Stony ground can be moved as all of us who have travelled to Ireland know.

stone-walls-ireland

And brambles can be cleared as any gardener here in the Pacific NW is well aware of.

Sampling the blackberries

It is the farmer who works to convert poor soil into good, just as it is those of us who spread the word of God who are responsible to build up the soil in which we plant it. Too often we place the responsibility on those who hear to respond appropriately when we do little to prepare and nurture the work God is doing in their lives. Our spreading of the seed (evangelism and proclamation) is not done to put another “soul saved for heaven” notch on our belts, it is to introduce them to the renewed community of God’s shalom world. Having introduced them we are responsible to grow them into shalom representatives, teaching them to be plants that produce a harvest of plenty.

Build up the soil, it is as important for followers of Christ as it is for the farmer. And what do we build up the soil with? The best organic fertilizer of all is compost – garbage transformed to gold. My colleague Andy Wade has just written a couple of great posts on this on the MSA blog.

So what is the garbage in your life that God has transformed into gold? How could you use that to nurture, grow and help sustain others so that they too can become healthy and productive plants in God’s fertile garden?

 

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

cover-shalom-and-the-comm5

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 

Remembering 9/11 – May it Call Us to Peace and Not to War

It is now 11 years since the terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York and this has become an important day of remembering and prayer for many of us. The images of the plane flying into the towers is indelibly seared on our minds. The heroism of firefighters and police lives forever with us and so it should. It is important to remember these events and establish memorials that draw us back.

This morning however, as I thought about this I could not help but think of the many who have lost their lives as a result of terrorist attacks around the world since that time. Many others have had to flee the civil conflict that the aftermath this attack created in their countries. And still others flee violence and unrest created by other conflicts.

Data for Terrorist Attacks,

Data for Terrorist Attacks,

This link has a powerful interactive map that shows the changing face of terrorism since 1970.

In the midst I find my heart longing for peace. War has been the halmark of the first decade of the 21st century and it doesn’t look as though this second decade will be any different. Most of us have trouble even imagining a world without war and I sometimes wonder if we even pray for that possibility.

So this morning as we remember the attacks 11 years ago, may we pray for peace and the in breaking of God’s kingdom into the many conflicted and troubled places of our world. The following prayer is adapted from one I wrote last year for 9/11.

May we remember with love and compassion this day.
May we grieve with those who still mourn,
And share memories with those who cannot forget.
May we draw strength from those who bravely responded,
And gave their lives to save others.
May we stand with strangers who became neighbours,
And give thanks for their generosity and hospitality.
May we remember all who have lost loved ones to terrorism and violence,
And be filled not with a call to war but with a longing for peace.
May we seek for understanding and reconciling,
And not turn from your kingdom ways.
Above all God may we remember your faithfulness,
And learn to trust in your unfailing love.
Amen

Ten Truths I Believe About God

Jesus enters Jerusalem

Jesus enters Jerusalem

Over the last few weeks I have spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of God I believe in. This is a practice that I like to do regularly, affirming my faith and my trust in God in the process. Here is a beginning place in my ponderings.

  1. YAHWEH is a God of love and goodness – this is the foundation of my faith. I don’t always understand what God is doing but I am more than ever convinced that, as Paul says, nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:31-39)
  2. In Jesus Christ God took on flesh and dwelt amongst us. He is not the only revelation of God in this world but he is the fullest revelation of God that we have and through him we can come to understand God more fully (John 14:6)
  3. God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, an advocate who will never leave us but will lead us into the truths of God (John 14:15-21)
  4. God’s desire is the restoration and renewal of all things and this will be accomplished through the redeeming work of Christ our Saviour. (John 3:15-17)
  5. God is merciful and forgiving, desiring that all people will repent of the sins that distract and separate them from his presence and longing to draw all of us into a loving and intimate relationship with himself.  God, the good shepherd lovingly pursues and “sheep” that strays and does everything possible to restore each of us to a loving relationship with himself.
  6. God is just and righteous and and is working to establish an eternal world of peace and wholeness in which justice and righteous reign forever.
  7. God is faithful and true and will always fulfill what he has promised, though sometimes the fulfillment of these promises may look very different from what we expect.
  8. God is a God of abundance wh wants to and is able to provide lavishly and generously for all our daily needs.
  9. God is compassionate and caring, with a heart that aches for every suffering person in our world.
  10. God is a creator and not a destroyer, bringing into being all that is good and true and just.

What are the truths that hold you strong in your faith?

The Call To True Freedom

Grievance wall at Wild Goose Festival

Grievance wall at Wild Goose Festival

This morning I posted this prayer on facebook

God you have called us into freedom,
May we use it to follow you with our whole hearts,
May we use it to serve one another in love,
May we use it to grow your kingdom of peace and wholeness.

It came out of my struggle with the whole concept of Independence Day and our assumption that because we live in America that we are free. To be honest I struggle with the very word Independence because God calls us to interdependence and not independence. Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t see anything wrong in a nation celebrating its independence. It is when Christians celebrate with the same fervour as though independence is a part of our faith that I struggle.

I also struggle with what we mean by freedom. Even in America there are many who have very little freedom.

Yesterday I signed up for International Justice Mission’s Recipe for Change  initiative which highlights the plight of tomato pickers in Florida. I talked about this last year in a post The Price of Tomatoes – Keeping Slavery Alive in Florida.  Then I read this article by Greg Valerio who together with his wife Ruth is a great advocate for fair trade – especially jewelry. Purity of Fair Trade Gold at Risk

Then I read Chris Smith’s article Let’s Celebrate Interdependence Day

And I rounded it up with watching this video by Micha Bournes – When America Dies

watch?v=3ctXPDwLlwk&feature=player_embedded

These issues make me very aware of the fact that our freedoms are so often dependent on the enslavement or exploitation of others. It made me more than ever aware of the fact that none of us are truly free until all God’s children are free and also that the only true freedom is what we find in our relationship to God. What do you think?