on meals, community, love and jesus

A message shared with Toowong Uniting Church in July 2017. Read John 13:31-35 first.

Last week, June 29 was Eat Together day in Canada.  A day when Canadians were invited to eat with neighbours, friends and colleagues, to see what happened. Watch this:

The official website introduces the idea like this: “When we eat together, good things happen. Whether its poutine, pad thai, paella, or pemmican. Nothing brings us together like eating together. We’re on a mission to make the world a better place by sharing a meal. It is time to stop watching and start acting! Join in on June 29th for Eat Together Day. Whether you eat with your neighbours, friends or family, make a time to eat together.”

It’s an invitation that is extended as part of Canada’s celebration of its 150th year as a nation. Other elements of the celebration include National Aboriginal Day, St Jean Baptiste day, Canadian Multiculturalism Day and Canada Day.  The film we just watched introduces the concept of eat together, and tells its own story. It’s a beautiful film, filled with funny, poignant moments. And it reflects many of those other elements of Canada 150.

I’m sure you that you, like me if you cast your mind back, can think of some memorable meals. Times and places where the table was the centre of a wonderful community time. Where conversation flowed as food was shared. Where the bonds of friendship were formed or strengthened.

There is something wonderful about sitting around a table and sharing together.

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the pothole

The pothole (the geological kind, not the road traffic kind) is, I think, an interesting phenomenon.

A little pebble gets caught in a crack or depression, swirls around and gradually, bit-by-bit, grinds away the underlying rock. It digs deeper and deeper, over hundreds, thousands, even millions of years.

I quite like potholes because they remind me that with persistence and time, even a little gravel can make big changes.

But the metaphor works the other way too…that over such a long period, a little pebble can do a lot of damage.

I’m starting to wonder more and more if there’s a sad, disturbing kind of pothole forming in in our (western, mainstream, Australian) culture. Here’s a couple of symptoms:

The vast majority of climate scientists are very clear about anthropogenic climate change. We are heating up our planet with our insatiable desire for burning fossil fuels, and we will pay a heavy price. More frequent, more intense weather events, rising sea levels, loss of habitat and flora/fauna, people dying. Those that are best placed to know, appear relatively certain that this is all true.  Almost every counter-argument has been demonstrated to be false.  And yet we stand on our right to hold our own opinion, be held hostage by big business and declare “climate change is crap” because “I know a guy who said….”

Immunisation rates are falling, with the result that herd immunity against long-ago contained diseases is now at risk in parts of Australia.  Medical experts (those that are best placed to know) are clear about the value of immunisation, and the tiny risks involved in it. And yet we stand on our right to hold our own opinion, to deny our own children (and other children) this safety net.

Politicians are almost universally disliked and regarded as untrustworthy.  For non-believers the same is true for religious leaders. And probably a long list of others.  We who sit at home and google conspiracy theories feel quite justified in declaring that we know better than those best placed to know…about nearly any topic we care to name.

I personally am the “World’s Expert” (TM) on medicine, climate science, national leadership, international relations, economics, search and rescue for lost aircraft,  Formula 1 Team Management, Australian Cricket team selection, NRL refereeing standards…and plenty more.

And so I make  up my own mind, irrespective of the views of those who are best placed to know.

I’m not (really) interested in debating the pros and cons of climate science, religion or immunisation, but I am wondering whether these things are symptoms (rather than causes) of a bigger issue:

The erosion of trust.

As a society I can’t help but wonder if we are becoming a place in which trust is an ever decreasing commodity.  With the rise of the individual and of self-determination, comes a first subtle, but now accelerating erosion of trust.

I don’t trust politicians, I don’t trust the media, I don’t trust scientists, I don’t trust religious leaders…on and on it goes. I don’t trust my neighbours enough to let my kids walk to school alone.

And sure, let’s be fair and honest, some of those whom we no longer trust bring it on themselves (I’m looking at you Australian politics), but just as often it’s because I get an idea in my head that I know better.

I know better than the climate scientist, the immunologist, the referee, the footy selector.

And so the next time we disagree, I’ll trust them a little less.  And a little less. And a little less.

Until there’s just not a whole lot of trust left.

Mis-trust might just be the pebble that is digging away at the bedrock, forming a deeper and deeper pothole.

And trust, it seems to me, is one of those things that is self-fulfilling.  If I exhibit trust, then those I trust are more likely to act in a a trustworthy way, and so I’ll trust them more (and so on).  Could the reverse, I wonder, also be true?

If my pondering has any merit (and lets be frank, as I’ve already announced, I’m the World’s Expert (TM), so it must) the question must be, what to do about it? How to remove the pebble of mistrust and start to repair the damage?

Is the answer to try harder to trust the people around me? The people who are best placed to know? To explicitly put my trust in them and demand trustworthy action?

Perhaps.

But just as important, it seems to me, the answer is for me to act in a trustworthy manner myself – to build the pool of communal trust that is going around, by ensuring that my family, my friends, my colleagues, those I support in my daily work, my neighbours (those I encounter as I live my life)…they can trust me.

To trust, and be trusted.

Sounds like community.

(p.s. just so we’re really clear…the “World’s Expert” (TM) claim is an attempt at humour…)

 

just around the corner

I parked yesterday in a suburban street in West Launceston.

It could have been anywhere. Houses, footpaths, cars. Kids playing. People walking. A school at the top of the hill, a shop down the road.

It was so very normal. Suburbia.

And then I walked.

After two minutes I was in ‘First Basin’ where the South Esk River comes spilling out of the upper sections of Cataract Gorge, into a large open pool, before continuing down the Gorge to the waiting arms of the Tamar estuary. The water is surrounded by cliffs and hills, parkland and bushland, a 300m chairlift carrying excited school kids overhead. Peacocks fussing and preening.

It’s anything but suburbia.

And I walked again, following a trail upstream toward the delightfully named Duck Reach.

Not 10 minutes from setting out on foot from my car parked in the heartland of the suburbs I was a world away.  The remnant of last week’s floodwaters tumbled down the rocky riverbed. The steep sides of the gorge deep with forest, the atmosphere still and heavy – the river and an occasional bird’s call the only sounds beyond my own footsteps.

It is a beautiful place, and all the more remarkable for being so close to the heart of the city.

At one moment I was in the normalcy of suburbia, and minutes later deep in tbe beauty of the gorge.  It never ceases to amaze me that such a remarkable spot can be so close to ordinary life, literally just around the corner.

As I walked I thought a lot about that fact. I wondered how often we who are caught up in the ordinariness of daily life miss the spectacular, the remarkable, the astonishing that is just around the corner.

And I wondered about the church that I work among, so obsessed with worrying about our daily bread that we miss all the opportunities that lie just out of sight.

It seems an obvious connection. Lift our eyes from suburbia to find the remarkable that is literally on our doorstep.

But as I trod the riverside path on my way back home, something started to stir for me.  I had parked my car in the middle of everything that I know, and gone off to find something better.

And how often, I wondered, is that the case?  How often do we give up on all that is normal and around us to go searching for the something remarkable?  How often do we leave suburbia to go hunting for Cataract Gorge?

The closer I got to my car the more I realised that suburbia is anything but ordinary.  This is where I live. There are friends and family, there are stresses and tension, there is laughter of kids playing in the front yard, heartache as an amublance races to the scene of a domestic tragedy.

This, suburbia, is life. It’s not ordinary, it’s incredible.  When I go looking for the amazing that I’m convinced is just around the corner I think perhaps I miss the remarkable that surrounds me right where I am.

The grass is always greener, or so we say.  The salvation of my church, the restoration of my soul, the reclaiming of my world as a better place….these things are perpetually just around the corner.

Except they are not. They are right before my very eyes. They are my neighbours, my family, the shop at the end of my street.  The best stuff isn’t around the corner, its right here.

Perhaps I’d best start just here.

let silence do the heavy lifting

There’s a spot, just off the side of the walking track that runs up through Cataract Gorge here in Launceston.

It’s one of my favourite spots. You climb a few steps up off the walking path, into a space that is dark, and sheltered, mysterious and quiet.

There in the silence there is rest, peace, freedom.

And marvellous carved and polished granite artworks. Each stone has one of two words.

Silent

Listen

And if you sit there a while, it becomes possible to do just that, listen to the silence.

I love going there, and rarely miss a chance to step off the path into this place of stillness.

Silence, I think, is one of our most under-rated resources. In a world that is constantly noisy, and in which data streams to us from every imaginable source almost without pause, silence is rare and precious.

Maybe its just the introvert talking, but today I crave silence. Stillness.

But, of course, the reverse is true. There are moments when silence is destructive. When injustice is being done, silence is complicit.  When harsh words are spoken, silence can be agreement.

And so, while it is right for us to let silence do the heavy lifting (to unashamedly use the words of Susan Scott), there are moments when we have to shout loudly, to refuse to go gently into the night (to yet again use someone else’s words).

The trick then, has to be finding the right moment. Finding the time when silence is golden, when silence transforms, renews and, yes, challenges.

But to be wide open to the times when silence is the last thing that’s required. When it is exactly the right moment to call our society, our leaders to account, to speak truth to power.

Let silence do the heavy lifting, but speak clearly when it’s important. That’s what I’m learning this week.

workshop description: re-imagining worship in a traditional space

The Uniting Church in Tasmania is blessed with many fine old church buildings.  They’re traditionally shaped, and often furnished accordingly. Long fixed pews, pipe organs, even old-school box pews are common. Heritage listing prohibits re-shaping many of the buildings to a form more appropriate for a modern faith community.

Those buildings are both a blessing, and a profound challenge to the church – in ways that we’ll continue to explore.

Last week we had the opportunity to run the latest in our regular “Hobart 2020 Forums” for those interested in exploring the themes of “How then shall we live?”, the interim report of the Uniting Alive: Hobart 2020 process.

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hammering home hospitality

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail……or so the saying goes.

For those churches who follow the lectionary (a set cycle of bible readings around which church services are based), this week there is a story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman who washes Jesus feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, then cracks open an expensive alabaster jar of perfume to finish the job. All this happens in the middle of dinner….at which Jesus is a guest, and the woman an uninvited gate crasher.  Read it here.

I was chatting briefly about the passage with a colleague this morning, and she pointed out what were, to her, the important features of the story.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a bit about hospitality lately, as I’m working with a group of people to host a training/reflection weekend on that theme.  So with hospitality in my mind for other reasons, I read this story looking for, and finding lots of expressions of hospitality.

When you have a hammer, you see nails.  And that’s the beauty of good stories (and the bible has more than a few good stories). Good stories speak at many levels, offering insights into many different situations, and allowing many different ways of interacting with them.

As I think about this story through the lense of hospitality, I’m drawn to ask the question, who offers who hospitality in this story?

Jesus is invited for dinner, but not particularly cared for by the host.  The cultural practice of offering water for foot washing for instance……is not extended.

The woman is not invited, but comes anyway and offers generous hospitality to Jesus.

Jesus in turn, seeing that the host is not happy about this intrusion, or Jesus welcoming of the visitor, extends welcome and honour to the uninvited guest in a must unexpected way.

What does it mean to offer hospitality in our culture today?  Or for that matter what does it mean to accept?  Surely it’s more than bringing a bottle of wine to dinner….or offering to do the dishes (an offer which must by convention be politely refused).

And who are the outsiders in our day? The uninvited? Who is not welcome at the table?  How can we make the outsider welcome…even if we are guest rather than host?

These are the kinds of questions this story evokes for me.  But I have to say, I’m wondering, what do you see in it? What kind of hammer are you holding?