Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Doodling Life

I remember one particularly thought-provoking reflective prayer time at bible college. We were asked to draw a squiggle on a piece of paper representing our life. We were to use the line to express the high points and the low points, then talk with a friend about the line and what the peaks/troughs represented. It was very helpful. We could see at a glance the places where we had most needed God or had felt most blessed. As helpful as this was, I began thinking today how restrictive lines are. We have our liberal/fundamentalist spectrum on a line; we all have to somehow fall somewhere in the spectrum. We have our "progress towards sanctification line", which becomes difficult to express when we mess things up. We have our "progression of history" timeline, which must be linear or we're all Buddhist. So naturally we try to express our Christian life in linear terms. We read the 23rd Psalm and think of the Valley of Shadow of Death as a trough on a line. We read about pilgrimage (Ps 84:5-7) and the linear thought makes sense. But what if we read these verses and as well as the road we also saw the landscape. There is so much that goes on round about us that affect our vision of the road. It stops the road from being linear. There are so many dead end valleys we walk through, there are roads that criss- cross ours and though we believe we've followed the road we realise that something ahead of us looks awfully like the road we just travelled down, there are times when the landscape is urban, surrounded by people we don't know, focussed on a task we're uncertain of the value of, ... the valley of the shadow of death takes on new meaning then. There are times we are not just on a peak but we feel we are soaring above the landscape, grasped by the complexity of it yet also aware of the ease with which we are bypassing that complexity ... and there are the quiet waters ... interestingly probably also a valley experience. As we consider the landscapes of life, we see a lot more than "need of God" and "blessing of God", peaks and troughs. Rather we see etchings, carved routes, landslides and erosion, we see much of what God has done to surround our lives with people, circumstances, landmarks and himself, sometimes to support or protect us as we make our messy choices and follow a messy route, and at other times to form us or guide us towards him, and towards his Kingdom consummation. So not only does the landscape change, but we change, we are formed and moulded with the landscape. Of coure I am limited by human imagination so all I've done is taken the linear metaphor and replaced it with a 3D metaphor. Just a thought though.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sin and Love Again

So, I need to go back to this topic. The week after my earlier post I heard two people talk about their journey to faith and how it was God confronting them with their sin that drew them to him. One of these actually made the same comparison as I did, although in a much more positive way ... she noted that our pastor had once told her that people seem to come to God in one of two ways ... being confronted with their sin, or being confronted with God's love ... she came the former way. And yes both these people do tend to go down the line of identifying specific actions as sin and look for ways to confront society with the horror of their sins. And now I 'm thinking that this is probably totally valid, but not a universal means of carrying out the Missio Dei. Its valid because that is how their stories unfolded, and doubtless countless others. My own story probably follows a line of looking for acceptance, and needing to know that the love of God was genuinely true and for me as much as for anyone else. I think that at the root of this is probably an insecurity that comes from awareness of personal sin, but is translated as a need for the love of God.
I think in general confrontation with personal sin requires a worldview that categorises actions as right or wrong. Where this is individualised or relativised, then the power of the confrontation is limited. However, along with any individualising or relativising of a worldview to fit one person there comes sooner or later a need for our worldview being legitimised. We do this by communally agreeing not to disrespect or subjugate the worldview of another if they don't disrespect or subjugate ours. However it doesn't work, we are always on the defensive for the one who will subjugate. This is because built in we have a feeling that our worldview doesn't actually hold up, because we know ourselves to be imperfect in judgement. Some have better natural judgement than others so many apparently successful judgements will also act to legitimise their worldview. But sooner or later our judgement fails, so we doubt ourselves, and the absolute legitimacy of our individualised worldview. This is where we look for outside help, outside legitimacy. And we are confronted with a God who sets the worldview in his terms, but unconditionally legitimises our existence and right to participate in that worldview according the the way he has made us. His love legitimises our participation in his worldview. What we to come to terms with is allowing him to own the worldview. We do not necessarily participate in it in the same way as all the others, but we do have to allow all the others who have accepted the terms to participate, and we must open ourselves to the possibility that yet more will participate.
How can there be terms and yet there be unconditionality. God has done something to allow us to participate with full legitimacy despite our fallible judgement and limited ability to define the worldview perfectly. God has taken on the role of defining the worldview, hence it exists and unfolds in his terms.
So some of us come to God because of his love. We need acceptance. We can't define sin as acts, but we can define our own need of something outside because we know we're not quite complete, or as capable as we'd like to make out.
So how can the "sin is abhorrent" and the "accepted at last" people be church together? More on that sometime ...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

So the gate was open

Well after 4 years of soul searching, we have now been accepted as candidates for mission in Linz, Austria by European Christian Mission. My wife, Kristine and I had our interviews with ECM on 11, 12 Sept. It was a pretty intense time, but good fun too. I enjoyed talking through the way I had formulated my own theology through my time of study ... so I was able to test whether I had become a raging heretic through my time at ICC, or had had the opportunity to redirect my personal heresies towards orthodoxy. True to form, I never used one word answers if there was an opportunity for twenty. Perhaps they figured ' well lets get him into a different language zone, it'll force him to be more economical with vocabulary and sentence length.' We also had to confront the issue of how certain we were that God was calling us/ leading us in this work. That's been pretty hard to express. In one sense I guess I'm always wanting to keep a back door open in case I was wrong in reading and sensing guidance from God out of my devotional life and our circumstances over the last few years. In some sense certainty limits God to act only according to how I feel he's been leading. Yet uncertainty can also be a limitation on the power of the Spirit of God to break through human fallibility and convince me of God's leading. I guess the crunch question was "what would we do if ECM said no?" One angle on certainty of calling might be to respond, "if ECM say no, then God has another plan for us to serve in Austria, for this much we know, we must serve him in Austria." However, my own response was slightly different. What we as a couple have been certain of is that God has been leading us on a journey to apply to work in Austria with ECM. We have tried to divert from the journey in case the route we were following was of our own making, but each time we found ourselves led back to the route that headed towards Austria with ECM. This interview was a gateway on that journey. We knew with certainty that we needed to approach the gate and to see if it would open. We did not know with certainty whether it would. If it did, we would know with more certainty that we were to work in Austria. We knew with certainty that God had led us to the gate, so if the gate was shut, we would find a new path when we got there. That new path might lead to Austria by a different route, and it would make sense if it did, but it might lead somewhere else. But it seems the gate is open...

So now we move into language training, communicating our vision for the work to others to raise support, medicals and moving. Communicating the vision ... hmm sounds like I might need to economise on words for that. I'll have a think about that and maybe practice with a post here.