Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ikea, Lego and Christianity

This is actually a repeat of an old post from January 2007, but as I spent the last 24 hours assembling a new piece of Ikea furniture it came to mind so I thought I would repost it. I've come along way in terms of 'rebuilding my life' over the past 3 years. Life has taken turns I didn't expect when I wrote this post, and I'm so glad that I took the turns that life offered me!

I'm speaking in the Contemplative Service this Sunday and I'm struggling to get my thoughts together. The central theme is an illustration that I read in the book 'Post Evangelical' by Dave Tomlinson that resonated with me and I will attempt to put into my own words here.

The Christianity I embraced in my teenage years was one that is very similar to 'Flat Pack Furniture' that you can purchase at Ikea and many other stores. You receive a set of parts (hopefully complete) and a list of instructions. There is a distinct right and wrong way to put the pieces together. It doesn't matter who is building the furniture, or where it is going, everyone builds the same and you can easily judge how successful the person has been by the appearance and sturdiness of the construction and whether they have any extraneous pieces left over.

But what if Christianity is more like a bag of Legos? Everyone receives the same blocks, but each person is free to build them into a model that is their own unique creative expression of their relationship with Jesus.

I wonder what are the blocks that would have to be included for a person to be called 'Christian'?

In my 20s I often used phrases like '....ask Jesus to be your own personal savior...' a phrase that interestingly enough exists nowhere in the bible! For much of my life I judged a person's faith by whether they agreed with a set of Propositional Truths that I carried around in my head. I cared more about right doctrine than right living, more about what you said you believed than how you lived.

It was all about how well you built the flat pack furniture.

I'm at a turning point in my life. I am planning on tearing down the flat pack and rebuilding my Legos in a way that to some people would seem as if I have become 'Luke Warm' or 'Back Slidden', or even 'Straying from the Fold'.

This isn't a spur of the moment decision however. I've changed considerably over the past 6 years and every change has been agonizingly prayed over. So please don't judge in 2 minutes what has taken me years - I'm worth more than that.

Wow, I seem to have strayed from what I was going to originally type!

I will share the illustration of the Furniture and the Legos in the service, but I will not share how it intersects with my life. My silence is not out of fear, but out of a desire for everyone to find themselves in the illustration without me imposing my interpretation on them.

I am under construction - watch this space for more building information :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Living between 'Extraordinary' and 'Heartbreaking'

Random thoughts for this Sunday's Contemplative Service.

For part 1 click here

When I stop and consider the question 'What has been holy ground for you this week?' my mind goes back to places where life seemed amplified above the normal. Those strange, unpredictable moments of transcendence where it feels like God peeks through the clouds. An unexpected conversation. a sudden 'aha' moment of understanding. A flash of creative inspiration. All of these are moments when life is elevated from Ordinary to Extraordinary.

When I answer the question 'What do you want prayed for this week?' my mind goes to the low points. Those stories and situations that seem overwhelming. Haiti. My good friend Jo who's 7 month old son is having open heart surgery on Monday. All my friends who are coping with their parent's health issues as they age.

Most of my life is spent in the gap between Extraordinary and Heartbreak. Surfing Facebook. Going to work. Playing Boardgames. Cooking. Watching t.v. etc. When I think of the mundane things of last week, I think of cleaning the stove top (never a fun task), answering emails. Building furniture from Ikea. Doing laundry etc.

If every moment is spent on holy ground and every moment is has the potential to be a God encounter what do I do with the Mundane? The majority of my life is spent in the Mundane, so how do I meet God there, rather than just in the Extraordinary or the Heartbreaking?

[I've sat with that question for the last 48 hours and had this post 'on hold' while I've attempted to formulate an answer]

I didn't encounter God when I was cleaning the stove, but the next morning when I stumbled downstairs to make a cup of tea and I saw how the cooker was clean I felt a little touch of unexpected joy. Building furniture was not my favorite task, but the memories that it brought up of my dad attempting flat pack furniture and cursing the instructions brought a smile to my face.

It's not the particulars of the event that are important, but my awareness in allowing that event to touch me and point me towards those little moments of reflection, joy, longing, and even loss, that have become signs for me of the presence of God.

When you look back over the last week, over the mundane, the ordinary, what memories arise for you? How were those events holy ground?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2009 Board Game Five and Dimes!

I played a lot of games last year - 378 plays of 186 different games to be precise. So here are the games I played the most frequently. Most of the games on this list are lighter games, I do enjoy meatier games but they tend to take longer and consequently do not get so much repetition. I also introduce my gaming passion to lots of new groups and this list contains many games that are easy for people who are new to the hobby to learn and enjoy.

Dominion was played more than any other with a whopping 22 plays. The speed, tactics are variability of this game means it hits the table often. I enjoy it, and with more expansions coming out I don't see this one waning in popularity anytime soon.

Kakerlaken Poker (Cockroach Poker) (11 Plays) It's such a simple premise really. Pass a card to someone else and either lie about it or tell the truth. The opponent gets to either challenge the passer or pick the card up and see it for themselves. The card moves around the table being seen by various people until someone has to challenge it. It plays up to six people, is easy to teach and produces such delicious agony that I see this game staying as one of my 'Go to' games for new people. It is also responsible for one of my favorite gaming memories of 2009. Suffice to say my brother cannot lie and consequently this game was agony for him!

Alhambra (8 Plays) Building your own palace whilst trying to manage different currencies and corner the market on palace features. My brother and his wife loved this game when I introduced it to them years ago, so consequently we played a game every night whilst we were on vacation together. It's a great game, but I would never play it with more than 4 people as it slows down quite considerably.

Dice Town (7 Plays) Is a great game using poker dice. It is a wonderful feeling to watch your opponents face fall because you somehow managed to roll 4 Aces at one time.

Pass the Bomb (7 plays) is another game that can be taught quickly and accomodates a large crowd. A card is turned over that will have a sequence of letters on it (e.g. ent) and you have to name a word that has those letters in that exact order somewhere in the word (e.g. represent). The bomb is passed around as a variable timer and if you are holding it when it explodes then you get the card. The person with the least cards at the end of the game wins. Very simple and again creates agonising moments when the person before you in the circle names the exact word you were going to use and consequently you are stuck holding a ticking bomb wracking your brain trying to come up with an alternative.

Die Aufsteiger ~ The Climbers (6 Plays) I love this game. I went through a lot of trouble to import it from Germany. It looks wonderful and is a very interesting abstract game that involves racing to the top of a tower while stopping your opponents. It's a flashback to childhood because you get to play with blocks, but it's all very tactical :)

Chains of Fenrir (6 plays) is another game that is very easy to teach. Players build up chains of stones on the table and try to eliminate their own stones before their opponents. It plays quickly and is a good quick game (10 minutes) to teach new players.

The Hanging Gardens (6 plays) Another building game, this time constructing the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Tiles with various features are turned up and you get to try and combine them to create the longest areas of adjacent designs in your garden. It's an interesting mechanic as you are allowed to overlap cards, but the placement of the designs on the cards is such that a careful thought is required.

Snow Tails (6 plays) Every player has a dogsled that they are racing to the finish. Trees, snow falls, crevasses and other sleds all block your way and as your sled gets damaged it gets less manouverable. Fun!

Werewolf (6 plays) I love this game. It needs a Moderator and at least 8 people to play it so I don't get to play it often, and when I do I'm usually running it for others to experience. How many games do you get to lie through your teeth and try and sway a group over to your point of view? It's amazing how a skilled orator can manipulate a crowd and cause people to lay aside common sense. This game has become a staple of our church staff retreats...and it's curious how good preachers are at this!!!

Games with 5 plays

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Take off your shoes

(Random thoughts for this Sunday's Contemplative Service)

Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the west end of the wilderness and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. The angel of God appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a bush. He looked. The bush was blazing away but it didn't burn up. Moses said, "What's going on here? I can't believe this! Amazing! Why doesn't the bush burn up?" God saw that he had stopped to look. God called to him from out of the bush, "Moses! Moses!" He said, "Yes? I'm right here!" God said, "Don't come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You're standing on holy ground."

Exodus 3: 1-5

I love being barefoot, I spend most of my time either with nothing on my feet, or with sandals. I wear shoes about once a week, on Sunday mornings when I come to worship. When I was travelling in Thailand I visited a number of temples that required you to remove your footwear before you could enter - imagine what Church would be like if we had that requirement, lines of shoes out in the hallway by the Registration table.

Imagine you were a visitor to a church and discovered shoe removal was a requirement for worship, would you still attend? I'd be worried about whether my socks had holes in and were they in fact clean this morning or did I just recycle them from last Sunday. Lori said her first thought would be 'How is my toenail polish?'

We wear shoes for protection, but they become a barrier between us and the world in which we live. We encounter the beach very differently when barefoot, we notice subtle changes in the terrain that we would miss if our feet were covered.

Moses is instructed to remove his sandals and is informed that he is standing on Holy Ground. He is told 'Don't come any closer'.The rabbis had two schools of thought about this passage. Some taught that Moses had to keep a distance from the burning bush out of fear, reverenceand sacred dread of the presence of God. But another Rabbinic tradition taught that Moses was instructed to not come closer because he did not need to come closer. He already had the full experience of God's presence, he just needed to remove his shoes and become alive to it.

The act of removing the sandals, laying aside the protective covering opens us up to the insight that God is already here, I am already in the presence of the Holy. I do not own many pairs of shoes, but I am aware of many protective coverings that I clothe myself in for my own safety.

Coverings like:

'If I am vulnerable I could get hurt, better to not risk it.'
'They don't want to hear my struggles.'
'Reject them before they reject me'
'My faith is not like _________ so I must be wrong somehow'
'If it is different to my way of thinking/doing, it must be wrong.'

Some of us have become so attached to our coverings, our 'shoes', that what was originally just for protection has become a defining characteristic.

As long as we wear our 'shoes' there is something dead between the live soles of our feet and the holy ground on which we stand. To take off this deadness means taking off that which familiarity breeds contempt and boredom: it means coming alive to the place where we are. ~ David Steindhal Rast

What shoes do you need to remove?

International Security Levels

Stereotype humor!

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out.

Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to a "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588 when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards" They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide". The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

It's not only the French who are on a heightened level of alert. Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout loudly and excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans also increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbour" and "Lose".

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Americans meanwhile and as usual are carrying out pre-emptive strikes, on all of their allies, just in case.

And in the southern hemisphere...

New Zealand has also raised its security levels - from "baaa" to "BAAAA!". Due to continuing defence cutbacks (the air force being a squadron of spotty teenagers flying paper aeroplanes and the navy some toy boats in the Prime Minister's bath), New Zealand only has one more level of escalation, which is "I hope Australia will come and rescue us".

Australia , meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be right, mate". Three more escalation levels remain: "Crikey!', "I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend" and "The barbie is cancelled". So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quote of the Day

Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion – and who, therefore, in the next instant (when it is evident that the minority is the stronger) assume its opinion … while Truth again reverts to a new minority.

~ Soren Kierkegaard

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What is in your cask?

Abba Ammonas came one day to eat in a place where there was a monk of evil repute. Now it happened that a woman came and entered the cell of the brother of evil reputation. The dwellers in that place, having learnt this, were troubled and gathered together to chase the brother from his cell. Knowing that Bishop Ammonas was in the place, they asked him to join them. When the brother in question learnt this, he hid the woman in a large cask.

The crowd of monks came to the place. Now Abba Ammonas saw the position clearly but for the sake of God he kept the secret; he entered, seated himself on the cask and commanded the cell to be searched. Then when the monks had searched everywhere without finding the woman, Abba Ammonas said, 'What is this? May God forgive you!' After praying, he made everyone go out, then taking the brother by the hand he said, 'Brother, be on your guard.' With these words, he withdrew.

from 'The Sayings of the Desert Fathers' ~ Benedicta Ward, SLG

I wrestled with this story when I read it this morning. I was right there with the monks wanting to denounce the 'evil monk', the behavior of Bishop Ammonas seemed at odds with the 'right thing' to do. I wanted the monk to have the woman brought into the light so he could be shamed, face his sin and find redemption.

As I sat more with it, I began to be aware of the things that I have stored away in casks, areas that could be the subject of a witch hunt, or a 'shame you into salvation' meeting. I don't know if Bishop Ammonas was 'right', but I do know that he was 'loving', and sometimes the two are not the same thing.

As I sat further I also asked the difficult question 'What are the activities that cause me to go looking through other people's cells for evidence of sin?' I was away on a silent retreat yesterday and as part of the preparation we were told to leave our cell phones in our cars. I found myself judging someone who didn't and placing myself higher in the mystical realms than them. We did three 20 minute sessions of Centering Prayer, again I found myself judging the people who left part of the way through for not being sufficiently 'Holy'.

'You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye so you can see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers' ~ Jesus

As I wrote that I could feel my old tapes of self-denigration starting to play. 'What a miserable christian I am........I'm such a failure'. somehow I think those thoughts are far more dangerous than anything else I could hide in my cask, sins of 'attitude' are far more deadly than sins of 'action'.

'As a man thinks in his heart, so is he' ~ Proverbs 23:7

I need the bishop's loving warning but I need his protection too.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Learning Theology at Disney World

I spent last week with Steve, Rima, Toby and Sophia at Disney World. As it was Sophia's 6th birthday we celebrated in style. We visited all 4 parks, ate at various Character dinners (Including eating inside Cinderella's castle!) and I saw more Princesses than I have at any other time in my life.
Useless trivia: Which Disney Adult Princess has the least amount of screen time?
Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) appears on screen for less than 18 minutes.

Everywhere we went Sophia was treated as a Princess, Disney definitely does a great job of making you feel welcome and important in their parks. We all had a wonderful time even though my motion sickness made an unwelcome return and caused me to skip a few of the rides.

Throughout the week I had a curious lyric pop into my brain that it took me a while to track down. It's from Gilbert and Sullivan's Comic Opera The Gondoliers.

"When everyone is somebody then no-one's anybody."

My brain was processing the fact that if every girl is a Princess then surely being a Princess is meaningless. Isn't being a Princess only important if it is exclusive? But I know this isn't true, I saw the delight in Sophia's eyes throughout the week. Being a Princess wasn't meaningless for her even when surrounded by all the Disney Princesses.

In my car this morning my brain did a little double flip of its own replacing 'Being a Princess' with 'Being God's Beloved'. Even though I believe that everyone is beloved of God that doesn't minimize God's love for me or the importance of His love in my life. It does make me think about people who fixate on who is 'in' or 'out' of God's Kingdom as if Heaven would somehow be diminished if 'the wrong sort' of person was let in or that their share of God's love would reduce if it was spread around to everyone.

It all sounds so selfish....."I don't want to go to Heaven if [blank] is allowed in". I minimize others to make myself feel important - 'Well at least I'm travelling First Class and not with the crowds in Coach'.

It took a trip to the Magic Kingdom to remind me how extravagantly God loves, and how extravagantly we should love too.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Wrinkle in Time?

In her wonderful book 'A Wrinkle in Time' author Madeline L'Engle describes Space and Time as a large blanket and suggests that if you can scrunch the fabric together you could jump from wrinkle to wrinkle to get directly to wherever and whenever you wanted.

The Liturgical Church Calendar jumped through a wrinkle this week. Last Sunday was Epiphany - the celebration of the visit of the Wise Men to baby Jesus. This week is Baptism of the Lord Sunday - when we remember 30 yr old Jesus being baptized in the Jordan river by John. That's 30 yrs jumped in the blink of an eye. To be fair though the gospels themselves do go into hyper-drive jumping from the birth narratives to the baptism with one brief stopping point with 12yr old Jesus at the Temple wandering away and giving Mary and Joseph a few extra grey hairs - as if being charged with the responsibility of raising the Son of God wasn't enough to turn your hair grey overnight!

Given the gospel accounts we could be forgiven that Jesus' life was one roller-coaster ride of high adventure, of miracles and teachings. It only takes one sentence for Jesus to get to the next town - even though the walking journey may have taken weeks. All the books we read and the movies we watch seem to jump from adventure to adventure, even so called Reality T.V. has the boring moments edited out - though I did discover a channel once where you could watch the Big Brother house mates live - very boring from 11pm to about 7am when they were all asleep.

We like our reality sped up. We want to wrinkle through the boring sections to get to the next adventure. What I want to learn this year is to find the presence of God in the boring stuff of life and to realize none of life is truly boring if you are awake to it. In the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder, the character of Emily goes back in time after her death and experiences her 12th. birthday again. The memory is too painful for her and she says

"I can't. I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another....oh, Earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you.....Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it!- every, every minute?"

the Stage Manager responds

"No........The saints and poets, maybe - they do some."

Maybe if we slowed down and savored life we would be overwhelmed by all that life has to offer, and so we speed up our existence and close our eyes.....and miss the flowers on the path.

Maybe this year I'll take the long way round.