Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ark motif in movies

It’s interesting to see the different spiritual motifs that arise in film and TV shows and how they change and o ask the question why these particular ones appear at certain times.

In a lecture I was in earlier in the year it was pointed out that Vampires were very popular at the moment (not just because of the whole Twilight phenomenon) and it was postulated that often Vampires become a strong and popular motif at times when there is a fear of the unknown and in particular technological advancements. It’s like they are this dark force that stalks the dark nights of uncertainty of our society. Although I don’t know of what to make of the fact that vampires are stepping out from the shadows and becoming heroic as well as villains. Maybe it’s that we find ourselves caught between the utopian promises of our technology and still there in the background is the fear of a dystopia. That all this stuff is going to come back and bite us in the... well neck.

The lecturer also suggested that in the next year that the spiritual flavour will be Angels again. I don’t know what that represents maybe we are entering a time when there is a need for hope and knowing that there is something out there that can help.

But the Motif that I have found fascinating and wondering what it means is the growth of the Ark in a couple of movies.

Wall-E which has been called the best silent movie ever made is full of “Ark” imagery. Not only a spaceship sent away to wait for the flood of our own garbage to be broken down by the robotic cleaning crew. But the robot the white robot that Wall-e falls in love with( called 'eve' evoking Genesis again)is a dove, sent to look for an olive branch a sign of hope that will cause the Ark to return to the earth. The plant that Wall-E has to save from destruction represents that hope.

I took my tow oldest kids to see 2012 the disaster film to end all disaster films. Amidst an over kill of apocalyptic special effects and cheesy lines and visual references (like two of the main characters talking of something coming between them as a chasm appears down the middle of a supermarket between them and well you can guess where the crack first appears as the cistern chapel collapses). The world powers who have known of the coming destruction have been preparing and building a fleet of Arks to save the best of human society and the rich and powerful.
I guess in both movies the motif offers hope. Hope that our technology can save us from both the consequences of our own society’s excesses and any natural disaster. But both movies posse the question is it enough to save human beings and loose our humanity? In Wall-E the opulent consumer society seems to have been perpetrated and taken with humanity into space. In 2012 the rich and powerful unlike Noah and God in the biblical narrative have not warned anyone of what is going on and have used the old capitalist idea of user pays to build arks for the rich and powerful. Those with places on a luxury ark are asked if they have lost their humanity as they seal the doors (acting like god?) and leave the labourers who had built the arks behind to face the coming flood.
You can throw in other texts like ‘Evan almighty’, a resurgence of ‘Battlestar galactic’.

I guess I still trying to work out what it means and how it reflects on what this has to say to us. I guess there is the hope that we can escape consequences but also the realisation that faced with the unholy trinity of ‘extreme weather, extreme poverty and extreme ideology’ that Bono talks about that just maybe it’s a spiritual issue and our very nature needs to change or we need to rediscover what it means to be human.

Monday, October 26, 2009

wrestling with economics

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be ... Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land." - Deuteronomy 15:7-11

I've been reading and being challenged by Brian McLaren's book 'Every Thing Must Change' recently. McLaren presents Jesus and his teachings as an alternative meta-narrative to the one that is prevalent in our culture at the moment one which McLaren says is suicidal for the human race. As such Jesus teaching has many important things to say to our global crises encapsulated in what Bono sees as the unholy trinity of 'extreme poverty, extreme ideology and extreme weather.'

Today as I read the above passage from Deuteronomy (sent to me as part of the Sojourners verse for the day) I couldn't help but hear the echo of McLaren’s reflections on Jesus alternative to the religion of capitalism and its four spiritual laws of 'progress through rapid growth', Serenity through possession and consumption, salvation through competition alone and freedom to prosper through unaccountable corporations.

McLaren says of Jesus economy of love...

“This economy is 'bound to justice and not 'free' of duties and to neighbour and community... In his economy the goal is fruitfulness, not consumption."

Its guiding principles are four different spiritual laws: the Law of Good Deeds for the common good, satisfaction through gratitude and sharing, salvation through seeking justice, and freedom to prosper by building better communities.

AS I have read McLaren’s book and been challenged by scripture I have found myself wondering how much I am enslaved to the leading ideologies of the west. While we can change the very narrative we live by. How does that works itself out in everyday life?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Found myself agreeing with Bono's assessment of the controversial awarding of a noble peace prize to Barack Obama this year.

he wrote in an article in the new york times entitled 'Rebranding America'

"When Mr. Obama takes the stage at Oslo City Hall this December, he won’t be the first sitting president to receive the peace prize, but he might be the most controversial. There’s a sense in some quarters of these not-so-United States that Norway, Europe and the World haven’t a clue about the real President Obama; instead, they fixate on a fantasy version of the president, a projection of what they hope and wish he is, and what they wish America to be.

Well, I happen to be European, and I can project with the best of them. So here’s why I think the virtual Obama is the real Obama, and why I think the man might deserve the hype. It starts with a quotation from a speech he gave at the United Nations last month:
“We will support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year’s summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.”

They’re not my words, they’re your president’s. If they’re not familiar, it’s because they didn’t make many headlines. But for me, these 36 words are why I believe Mr. Obama could well be a force for peace and prosperity — if the words signal action.

The millennium goals, for those of you who don’t know, are a persistent nag of a noble, global compact. They’re a set of commitments we all made nine years ago whose goal is to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Barack Obama wasn’t there in 2000, but he’s there now. Indeed he’s gone further — all the way, in fact. Halve it, he says, then end it.

Many have spoken about the need for a rebranding of America. Rebrand, restart, reboot. In my view these 36 words, alongside the administration’s approach to fighting nuclear proliferation and climate change, improving relations in the Middle East and, by the way, creating jobs and providing health care at home, are rebranding in action.

These new steps — and those 36 words — remind the world that America is not just a country but an idea, a great idea about opportunity for all and responsibility to your fellow man."

Obama called his Nobel peace prize 'a call to action' and the in Bono's words

The Nobel Peace Prize is the rest of the world saying, “Don’t blow it.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Dead Don't Remember God Pslam 6:5

StudentSoul is the church that I am involved in planting in Auckland New Zealand. You can tell by the name that it's focus is the student and young working population. We meet for worship on Wednesday Night at the University's Maclaurin chapel. We are a small group but whenever we gather there is an amazing sense of God's presence.

This Wednesday (we've become fourth day Adventists, bad joke I know) We were looking at Psalm 6 (in a series we're calling 'give your soul a lift: exploring the Psalms as they are ways people have lifted their soul to God.'

and we wrestled with Psalm 6:5

5 No one remembers you when he is dead.
Who praises you from the grave

It has been used to talk about early Hebrew understandings of the after life but in looking at the passage there is a sense of David saying to God what good does it do if I die because I wont be able to live my life praising you and telling others of the great things you do'. I illustrated it by showing a clip of the theme song from the movie 'Bucket list' where two elderly men who have terminal diseases write a list of things they want to do before they die. It's starts off with wonderful adventures and adrenaline junky stuff and then gets down to real issues such as reconciliation with estranged family members and seeking forgiveness.

I asked the people at the service what was their bucket list. I found that while at 46 I may have had more of a sense of my own mortality and that (sigh) time is short that those at the service were not captivated by the concept of a bucket list.

The day after (sigh, it always happens) I was reading Terry Wynn's book 'Onward Christian Socialists' and came upon this challenging story about Gladstone and a Young Man.

"There is a story told of Gladstone and a young man in conversation: "What do you want to do with your life?”, asks Gladstone.

"I intend going to Oxford University and getting a first degree", the young man replied.

"What then?", asked Gladstone.

"I intend becoming a lawyer in a London practice", he replied.

"What then?", asked Gladstone.

"Then I intend to pursue a career in politics, becoming a Cabinet Minister", he said.

"What then?", asked Gladstone.

"Then I shall retire to a house in the country",

"What then?", Gladstone asked again.

"Well, then I shall die", he answered hesitatingly.

"What then?", said Gladstone slowly.

"I hadn't planned beyond that", he said.

Gladstone looked at him and said, "Young man you are a fool. Go away and rethink your plans."

Wynn concludes

"If Gladstone were alive today and he confronted many of the Christians I know with the question, "What do you want to do with your life?", I'm sure the answer would be, "To serve God as best I can". They do it in their everyday lives amid the problems and the troubles and the ridicule."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

'Get me Jesus on the line' in the age of electronic operators

I don’t like electronic operators. I’d much rather deal with a person on the phone than a machine. A while back I wondered what it would be like if God Installed an electronic operator to deal with prayer in more efficient way and I wrote this little skit (feel free to use it).

EO: Hi you’ve reached prayer central

If you are praying a prayer of Adoration Press 1
If you are praying a set/read or liturgical prayer Press 2
If you are praying a prayer of confession Press 3
If you are saying grace please Press 4
If you are praying a prayer of intersession Press 5
If you are praying a prayer of thanksgiving Press 6
If you this is your first time praying Press 7
If you are praying “the sinner Prayer” Press 8

Person: Oh OK I’d better press 5

EO: You have chosen ‘Intercessory prayer’

If you are praying for the World Press 1
If you are Praying for a specific country Press 2 And access our Continents directory.
If you are Praying for your city Press 3 And access our city directory.
If you are Praying for your church Press 4 And access our Denominational directory.
If you are Praying about your heath Press 5 and Access our Medical directory.
If you are praying for family members then Press 6
If you are praying an emergency prayer Press 7
If you are Praying for the Lost Press 8
Press 9 if you wish to hear these options again and 0 if you wish to be returned to the operator.

Person: Oh I’ll Press 7 this is a real emergency.

EO: You’ve selected Emergency prayer Hold the line please RINNG RINNG RINNG Click.

You’ve reached the voice mail for “God”. ‘Hi I’m Not in at the moment Please leave your name, phone number, church affiliation and a brief message after the beep and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. BEEP.

Person: Oh ah It’s Heinrich Morse, 347 0002, St Emma’s at the mall here, Umm I’m Just praying to you about my mum’s health. She’s Ah really sick, the doctors say she doesn’t have that long to live and that it’s only a miracle that can save her now. I tried to get you this morning but well I just got your answer machine again. I really would appreciate an answer”.

EO: Thank you.
Press 1 to end this call.
Press 2 if you want to hear your message played back.
Press 3 to delete your message
Press 4 if you would like to re record your message.
Press 5 for the soothing music of the heavenly choir
Press 6 If you are going to continue praying and would like to access another department.

Sometimes we pray and the only answer we seem to get is the mocking echo of our voices off the walls and ceiling , or deafening silence as we shout our prayers into the void.
We pray and we feel we are not heard let alone that any answer comes.

That somehow God is otherwise occupied, to busy with world affairs to hear our prayers.

He’s left the phone off the hook or we get his voice mail. It can be easy to get despondent and give up.

It’s as if the gates of heaven we’re closed tightly to us and we are left pounding on the on the doors hoping someone will hear us.

But God Jesus says is quick to answer pray, He doesn’t fob us off . He hears our prayers and he answers.

God doesn’t have an Electronic Operator, or voice mail nor an answer machine.
God’s open twenty four hours a day, and you don’t need a touch tone phone to get through.
God’s schedule is never to full that he will tell us to go away and come back another day.
God doesn’t have a guard dog secretary to keep people away. But rather ‘God will see his chosen Get Justice quickly’ (Luke 18)

In our minds and our hearts it may often feel as if God had turned his back. But there is always hope. The poet in lamentations is devastated by Jerusalem’s destruction. The fighting, the carnage, the suffering, the homelessness he grieves, it as if he has taken a bitter poison.

Yet hope returns when he remembers one thing :

“The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy continue,
Fresh as the morning ,
as sure as the sunrise.
The Lord is all I have So in him I put my trust”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hands: An Off Peak Easter Refelction

It's become a bit of a tradition here in New Zealand to have mid-winter Christmas dinners. Living in the southern hemisphere our Christmas comes in the middle of summer and is celebrated with cold meat and salad, BBQ's in the back yard, and slipping off for summer holidays at the beach somewhere. Having said that some still want to enjoy the trappings of a more northern hemisphere fare, so they do all the traditional heavy winter foods in the winter; in June or July.

Easter down here comes in the middle of autumn, where as in the north it is a spring event. If I can be so bold then as to offer an off-peak southern spring Easter reflection.

Maybe as you read this reflection you may also want to have your hands out in front or on your lap, because the other focus for this reflection is hands...


“Father into your hands do I commend my spirit”

The Old Testament speaks of God’s hands as a way in which God achieves all his purposes. Its a metaphor for the Spirit of God.

The Psalms speak of God’s creation by saying his hand cast stars in to space
They think of the infinite nature of God by saying that he can hold the whole of the ocean in the cup of his hand, and measure the vastness of the universe in the span of his arms.
It speaks of the immanence and closeness of God to his people by saying he holds them by the right hand. Holding our hand like a good friend or a lover
The rise and fall of Israel was achieved not by their own hands but the strong arm of the Lord

In Jesus coming the word became flesh
That hand of God took on skin and bone
As a baby it would have curled round its mother’s finger
Jesus adult hands reached out to bless Children
Touched a leper and bought healing and acceptance
Touched the blind and the lame and they were made whole
Gave to the poor
Beckoned for people to follow him
Pointed to a shepherd on a hill or a gate as an illustration for a parable
Pointed out corruption and oppression
Gestured for the outcast to come down and dine with him
Embraced a close friend at one final supper
Finally those hands were nailed to the rough wood of the cross

Maybe as we gaze today at the cross it is hard to see the hand of God in what happened there
Maybe it is easier to see the hand of man

Jesus prophesied that the son of man would be betrayed into the hands of men and they would kill him, but that he would rise again on the third day”

Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane is betrayed into the hands of the religious leaders by the kiss of a close and trusted friend
The hands of men drag him before unjust courts
The hands of men point with false allegations at him
They take him before the civil ruler. He is taken out and flogged and beaten by the hand of soldiers
The hand’s of men trust a cruel crown of thorns on his head

The hand’s of that civil ruler are washed of Jesus blood and justice bows to political expediency

The hands of man nail Jesus hands and feet to a cross and haul him upright on this instrument of torture and death
The hands of man point and mockingly gesture “ come on down Jesus, save yourself, he said he could save others but he can’t even save himself

The hands of man condemn him to die.

And Jesus response is not a clenched fist cursing or writing off of humanity
Rather he responds with love
His hands are nailed to the cross so in this greatest of his actions we listen to his words

A prayer for our forgiveness “father forgive them they know not what they do”
A word of salvation to a repentant thief dying on a cross besides him
“truly today you will be with me in paradise”
A word of comfort for a woman whose hands had held him when he was a baby, and a beloved disciple “Dear woman here is your son, here is your mother”
The sun refuses to shine and it is dark for three hours . It is as if God has turned his back. Jesus betrayed into the hands of men seemingly stricken by God, not suffering for his own sin by for ours cries out “My God My God why have you forsaken me”. The son and the father who have always been one separated for our sake.

He says “I thirst”. A parched throat and a parched soul yet all has been done and he said this to fulfil scripture.

There is kindness a human hand passes up some wine to wet his lips.

Then Jesus lets out a great cry of triumph “it is finished” Jesus has achieved all the Father had sent him to do. Our salvation has been won. The great reconciliation between God and humanity has been achieved. The hands of man have done their worst but the hand of God has done a greater good for us. Now it is time to return to the father.

As Isaiah has said “ as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth, and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater. So my word does not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I have sent it.”

It is finished and now Jesus returns to the father

“Father into your hands do I commend my spirit”

Then Luke’s gospel tells us he breathed his last and dies.

In the end the hands of man did not take Jesus life from him he yielded it up into the hands of the Father, Jesus is obedient unto death and dies.

“The reason the father loves the son’ Jesus the good shepherd had said in John 10 is that I lay down my life… no one takes it from me I lay it down.

Jesus commends his spirit into the all-powerful hands of God.
The Hand of God that was around the event s of the cross all along working out God’s purposes.
The hands of god that tore the curtain in the temple in two
Signalling that God was choosing to dwell with humanity that Jesus had died to save.
The centurion sees Jesus death and hears his last words and he is amazed and comments “surely this was a righteous man”

The crowd that had started by mocking sees hears Jesus final words of trust in God and they turn to go. Beating their breasts, a sign of grief and contrition. Their hands had done the wrong thing.

The hands of the soldiers take his body down from the cross.
The hands of the women and Joseph of Aramathia wrap him in a grave cloth and take him to a carved out tomb.
They cannot complete the task they of preparing his body for death because the Sabbath comes with the dusk.
Their hands stained with tears and wrung with sorrow as they are forced to leave.

You and I are also bystanders to the scene as we read the scripture as we reflect on the cross.

What is our response to Jesus last words?

Are we willing to follow Jesus example and place our lives into God’s hands being willing to do what God want of us.
Using our hands to pick up our own cross and follow Jesus
“AS Paul would say presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice…”
To use our hands to do the things that God calls us to do.
To hand over the reigns of our lives to the hands of God

God who hold our times in his hand
Who allowed his hands to be nailed to a cross for our sake
Is able to keep us, to hold us, to guide us
To be with us as we take the risk of stepping out and sharing his love
In word and deed
AS with the spirits help we live the risky life of a disciple of Jesus
As we lovingly accept God’s grace
As we raise our hands in worship
As we raise our hands to object to injustice
As we embrace the unloved and unlovable
As we give all we have to the poor
As we pray for the healing of the sick
As we invite and welcome the stranger
As we offer forgiveness from ones we have hurt
And accept reconciliation as other asks for it from us

“into your hand do I commit my spirit”
“into your hands do we commit our spirits

Both in life
And in death
Knowing that as Ecclesiastes says all spirits return to God
Knowing because of Jesus death on the cross
His great grace to us
We can hear the words well-done good and faithful servant
And receive the eternal embrace of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit

“It’s Friday” the old black preacher says “it is Friday but Sunday is coming”
“It’s Friday but Sunday is coming”

Philippians tells us about Jesus that the story does not end here. It tells us what God’s hand have done with Jesus Christ his beloved son.

“… and he became obedient even to death, even death on the cross.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
And gave him the name that is above every name
That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow
In heaven and on earth and under the earth
Every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
To the glory of God the father.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

leaving our nets to follow Jesus

16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 18At once they left their nets and followed him. _Mark 1:16-20

19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

In the film ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ the main character Douglas Hall is part of a team of three that create a virtual computer world. He can download his brain waves into a computer-generated character in that world and live there for a period. The created world is Los Angeles in the 1920’s, a movie exploring the frontier of digital technology and virtual reality goes back to a time and place where film, an older form of virtual reality, was being pioneered. The characters in this virtual world have no comprehension of anything beyond themselves, they don’t realise they are created they don’t recognise their creator as he steps in amongst them. One of the characters in the virtual world finds out that he is in a computer programme and tests this crazy idea by trying to drive out of the city. He finds as he drives past the city limits and out into what he thinks is the Californian desert that the whole landscape begins to disappear that at its edges the computer does not have enough power to generate a full programme anymore that his reality becomes made up of a series of green lines the net that computers use as the basis for their graphics. The picture on the cover of the order of service sheet is from the poster of the movie and depicts that scene. His world made up of these nets is challenged when the creator steps into it and he is changed.

The fisherman on the shores of the Sea of Galilee also live in a world and reality made of up nets and into that world of nets Jesus walks and because of this close encounter of the Jesus kind it totally changes. “Jesus words come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men’ not only calls them to leave the physical nets that feature in their lives, but also like in the film ‘the thirteenth floor’ it calls them to leave the very nets that are the basic structure and fabric of their existence and follow Jesus.

It affected their net worth. These are not just some poor fishermen eking out an existence, we know that the Sea of Galilee was known through out the roman world for its abundant fish stocks and there was a thriving export market in salted fish. In Mark 10 Peter’s words ‘Lord we have given up everything to follow you’ is not an idle boast they had given up a lot. James and John were in the prosperous family business, they hired other fishermen to work for them. To follow Jesus meant to leave this behind. It meant that their priority was no longer going to be hauling in the fish and the money but hauling in other people into God’s kingdom. Now the way that there was always a boat around when Jesus needed to cross the lake shows that they didn’t totally abandon what they had and we have the example of Paul who was able to support his missionary endeavours by being a tent maker. But to follow Jesus means leaving the priorities we have in our materialistic world and put Jesus and his kingdom first. In Luke’s gospel the measure of the depth of our discipleship was how it reached in the depth of our wallets.

It affected their networks. For James and John to answer Jesus call they left their father in the boat with the hired help and followed Jesus. Networks are the way we talk about the relationships we have that give us meaning and purpose in life. To follow Jesus means changing those networks of relationships.

Leonard Sweet, uses the idea of a network of right relationships to express what it means to follow Jesus. He actually uses the more “in” word Matrix. Being a follower of Jesus is about having a matrix of right relationships: a right relationship with God, God’s word, fellow believers, others outside our faith, with God’s creation, with material things and the spirit world and at the heart of those things is having a right relationship with Jesus.

At the heart of this new network is being caught up in Jesus. To be a fisher of men first you’ve got to be caught. Follow me is an invitation to a relationship with Jesus, its knowing and being known by him. It’s an invitation to intimacy and being loved, but also to a being a follower and a learner (a disciple) letting someone else lead. Jesus says to his disciples ‘You know I no longer call you servants but friends’ But that was still the friends of the king, the royal king who loves us and values us but is still the boss.

Net worth and networks are like the strands that weave together to make our safety net in life. They are the things that make us feel safe and we can fall back on. You see this in the disciples lives, in that after Jesus death Peter says to his fellow disciples “hey lets go fishing”. We see it in that phenomenon of our time ‘the boomerang generation’ adult children returning home to mum and dad when things don’t work out as they planned. But following Jesus calls us out from our safety nets, to follow with only the ever-loving arms beneath us around us.

Come and follow me meant that their basic network was changed. Not just their relationship network but what they did as well. They put aside their nets and Jesus said that they would become fishers of men. Jesus used their identity as fishermen to invite them into this new endeavour. They wouldn’t cast their net for fish but to follow Jesus means to do what Jesus does. To follow Jesus is to do network where people are gathered into the kingdom of God.

In the movie poster for ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ there is a man before a door leading into the light. It’s a way into a new reality beyond the nets that make up his life in the virtual world. The words of Jesus ‘come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men’ is an invitation that does reach down to the very fabric of our reality, A door that Jesus invites us to go through.

Jesus said ‘come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men’. And they left their nets and followed him. What nets do you need to leave? What fresh challenge do these words have for you? What doors do they open?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Black dog days, Gannet waves and the enduring presence of God

Yesterday was what Winston Churchill called 'a black dog day'. I have them from time time. Down days;one where the darkness and doubt just seem to sit there over your head. Outside it was one of the first real days of spring, with just the promise of summer. Inside it felt like the storm clouds of pending doom. Nothing special seemed to trigger it, no cataclysmic disaster happened, it just was.

In preparing for 'Worship on Wednesday'. The church plant that I am heading up meets on a Wednesday night at 6:30pm (we are fourth day Adventists I quipped to a Friend on facebook) I was reading Em Blaicklock's commentary on the Psalms and in the midst of the black dog day I felt the light of God's Spirit.

EM Blaiklock was one of New Zealand's foremost biblical scholars. He lived in Titirangi, the part of Auckland that I grew up in and he is part of my earliest childhood church memories. Once a year (close to Christmas) he would come to church and preach. I remember his sermons for the depth if insight (even for a young boy as I was then) and the richness of his language. Later I was impressed by the fact that he would stand up to preach and would read straight from his Greek New Testament translating as he went. The signed edition of the commentary on the Psalms ( in a scripture Union series) had been a gift to my mother who had been his house keeper for years.

At the end of his comments on Psalm 4, a Psalm that in the NRSV is titled a 'confident plea for deliverance from enemies' the man we had always known as "Prof" Blaiklock wrote:-

" It should be ever remembered that God's Spirit is no seabird flicking the wave tops only. He rides the waters, down between the waves and on their dizzy curling peaks."

Into my 'black dog day' came images from other times. Images of great days out off the west and east coast of New Zealand surfing (body bording actually). Images of days when the sun not only shone on the outside but inside as well. Images of sitting out in the water, waiting for the next wave. Images of watching Gannets ride along the wall of waves with one wing almost touching the surface of the water (If you look at the image that goes with this blog sadly you'll notice the bird is probably a Pelican). Effortlessly riding deep into the trough, even as the lip began o curl over. Almost mocking me for my lumbering attempts at riding the waves myself. But making my heart sing with the sheer beauty and grace with which these amazing birds flew.

Into my black dog day on gannet wings came the promise and reality of God's presence.

Monday, September 14, 2009

psalm 139 takes a strange twist at verse 19...

It has been said that if Psalm 139 finished at verse 18 it would be the most beautiful psalm of all. However it doesn't and it does leave us with some really challenging verses to deal with.

Psalm 139:19-24

19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God!
Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!

20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD,
and abhor those who rise up against you?

22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

At verse 19 the psalm takes a strange twist. The psalmist talks about his hatred of those who reject God. Maybe he has his accusers in mind and he sees these people opposing the very God whose presence and knowing the psalmist finds so precious. Maybe it is just an outburst of misplaced zeal. But when he sees the wonder and the love of the God whom he serves, he is aware of the great travesty of sin and he wishes that God would destroy the sinners.

It’s as if he sees God’s presence and knowledge like a great tree in the forest, like Tane Mahuta and sees people’s rejection and disregard like someone cutting their initials in the trunk. In the face of all that grandeur trying to say don’t look at the tree, actually it’s all about me.

You’ve got to admit that as he will finish this strope and psalm by asking God to search him and see if there is any wicked way in him that this is not a stance for the faint hearted. Maybe our picture of God is that we are concerned that God knows us so well and sees everything and that we cannot escape from him because we are aware that there is darkness within us. The very words that the psalmist finds comforting are used word for word in the book of Amos, to describe the terrible day of the Lord. The day of judgement, says the prophet, there is no getting away from it. Maybe he had heard David’s psalm being used at religious festivals where there was great rejoicing before God but the poor were being oppressed and says well you say it’s comfortable to know that God sees and God knows and God is everywhere, but God sees beyond our religious observance to how we treat other people, he sees the injustice and inequalities and unless that is changed, the day of the Lord it will be devastating.

While the Psalmist says that God knows him in this pray we see that the Psalmist may not know God as well as he thinks because not only is God all knowing, all powerful, always present but also all loving and full of grace. God does not answer the Psalmists prayer right away with wrath. No lightning bolts turning people into instant sinner burgers, like a cosmic ray gun.

But ultimately, and in God's time, God does answer. The answer echoes in the cry of a tiny babe born in a manger in Bethlehem.

It echo’s and resonates in nails being driven into flesh, not of the sinners and wicked but fixing the hands of an innocent man to a cross.

It echoes and is answered in the pain and anguish intoned voice from the cross saying ‘father forgive them they know not what they do’.

It is answered by grace: The God who knows us who knows all things who is everywhere, eternal and almighty gives his son for us. That as we have confessed our sins and put our hope in Jesus Christ, God searches us and sees not our disgrace but his grace..

Then the Psalmist finishes by asking the all-knowing all present God to come and search his heart. It’s in light of God’s grace we can pray the same challenging prayer. ‘Search me O God and see if there be any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting”. At the heart of spiritual renewal is a willingness to be open to the Holy Spirit showing us where the darkness within us that we need to repent of and to be sorry for, and to then confess our sins and look again to knowing and following God anew. It is the truth that sets us free.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

psalm 139 part 3: God's presence it ain't no dream

In the third Stanza/strope of Psalm 139 the psalmist picks up the fact that God’s knowledge is not restricted to the present. But that God’s knowledge and knowing of us was from before the beginning of our lives and encompasses the whole of our lives and on into eternity.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

17 How precious to [b] me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!

18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.
-Psalm 139:13-18

Even the secret place where we were put together in our mother’s womb was not hidden from God. When that half a DNA strand from our father meet with that half a DNA Strand from our mother and that first cell of who we were was fused. We were not hidden from God, God knew us, he was able to read that whole DNA sequence, not just as a long line of letters representing amino acids. Not just line after line of letters like computer code but knowing our uniqueness, knowing who we are. He knows all this even at three days old when we are but eight cells big (see image).

The psalmist marvels at how wonderful and complex he is, his individuality, all this is a gift from God: 'God does not make junk'. Before we saw the world or were seen God saw and knew us. Like in the creation story in Genesis 1 he says it’s very good. This has ethical implications for how we see and value life in the womb.

Then the psalmist turns and looks off into the future, which from our physical mortal perspective is shrouded in uncertainty and while we can have hopes and dreams for what lies ahead we are unable to see, but God sees and God knows. Like some sort of cosmic diary those days were ordained by God and written there. Not that life is fixed and determined, Christians do not believe in fate rather in providence, that God cares and hopes and plans for us. His pans for us are good and are never thwarted.

In light of this the psalmist stops and wonders and marvels at God “how precious are your thoughts about me O God how vast their sum. They outnumber the grains of sand on the beach.” By the way I Googled the number of grains of sand on the world’s beaches and one estimate from the University of Hawaii was that there are 7.5 quintillion grains of sand on the world’s beaches. That’s 7.5x (10x18) or 75 followed by 17 zeros.

While our modern mathematical brain wants to quantify this the psalmist just marvels and again brings it down to a very personal very mystical wonderful experience, its beyond his wildest dreams, yet when he awakes this God is with him.It’s not a dream it’s real This God is with us.

One of the great things about the Psalms is that they are real people in real situations really calling out to God. We find many examples of people calling out to God because the assertion that God is in control seems so far from their own experience. When it does feel like God is just a dream a vain hope. In Psalm 42 the writer uses illustrations of a deer being hounded by a hunter and unable to stop for a drink and the turmoil of waves crashing on the shore and the rapids in the river to express how he feels being dragged off into exile in Babylon. It is what is called a psalm of disorientation where like being caught by a monster wave you just get spun round and round and have no sense of which way is up or down. But even then the truth of this assertion that God's plans are never thwarted comes through as the writer of that Psalm tells his soul to be calm to give thanks to the God who feels so far away because despite all the evidence to the contra there is still the assertion of God's presence and his goodness.

Friday, September 11, 2009

psalm 139 part 2: nowhere is beyond the love of God

The second strope speaks of God’s presence. Where can I go from your spirit O God. The psalmist asks.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, [a] you are there.

9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

I don’t mean to harp on about Google but Google Earth is another search engine which searches NASA’s virtual globe. A globe made up of satellite images of the whole earth’s surface. You enter an address and swoop in closer and closer in what’s called a God’s eye view.

From looking at a computer generated globe closer and closer

to a country

closer and closer to a city

closer still to a suburb

even closer until where you were looking for or the very building you are in comes into view.

Now with Google street level you can even then go in and see a photo of the place you are in or want to go to..

It’s the sort of stuff that science fiction techno thrillers are full of. But its real and Urban myths speak of even more powerful even more worrying technology; spy satellites able to do face recognition and read the paper over your shoulder, technology that some worry impinges on our personal freedom and privacy that in the wrong hands could be devastating and you can’t get away from it. but for the psalmist the fact that he cannot escape God’s presence is comforting. That power to know is in the right hands, in God’s hands. A god who is righteous and Just in all he does.

The depth of the ocean, the deepest darkest cave, the most distant shore do not mean we are away from God’s presence. We cannot hide from God. The most distant shore is rather comforting for us here in New Zealand because we find ourselves close to being that for the psalmist. Even in the most hostile inhospitable places we are not away from God. Like the white desert here.

Not only physically but even in the most inhospitable landscapes for our soul we are not away from God. The pits of despair, the long dark night of the soul, grief and sorrow fear and doubt. As Romans says nothing can separate us from the love of God.

The strope finishes in verse 12 with praise for God. Google earth often struggles with light and cloud cover to see clearly but the psalmist says “Even the night is as day to you O God. “ And not just he ghoastly green glow of night vision goggles, not just the blips of light on a swath of blackness in satellite photos marking our cities.

9/11 eight years on

It is still with a sense of disbelief that I look back on the events of September 11th 2001 (September 12th here in NZ). Waking up to the radio tuned to sportstalk and hearing the announcer saying, " It seems a bit trivial to talk about sports when someone just crashed a plane into the World Trade Center. I wondered if it was just some sort of sick joke. Then turing on the new and seeing the other plane hit. Such a tragedy, such an act of horror and terror.

I was at Otago university as an adult student at the time, preparing for the ministry. I had one class mate a radical animal rights activist seeking me out to ask if there was something in the bible about this. He had a sense of Apocalypse about it. Another student from New York was just dazed and stunned. He couldn't get through to his parents, he was worried sick. Shattered.

I joined an online community that night based in a church in Seattle Washington and had a chance to pass on my concern and support and condolences to a people shocked by such an event.Saddened more by the fact that these followers of Jesus should he talking revenge and war. I guess it was to raw a moment to reflect on Jesus words to love one enemies and to seek justice not vengeance.

I guess the world did change that day. we became more afraid, more security conscious, more suspicious of people. Even here in New Zealand. I don't like travelling through airports here in New Zealand anymore and you feel like a criminal as you pass through metal detectors. I found myself up against a wall with people very intent on keeping me still. I had used an old day pack as carry on luggage and forgotten it had a pocket knife in one of the pockets.

Well, my prayers are with those for whom today 9/11 is still an open wound. Who don't just gaze at a skyline where there is a missing building. But whose days are lived with a gaping hole that the loss of a family member or loved one leaves.

My prayers are for the decision makers of this world that they would seek peace and justice not vengeance. that they would see that mercy and kindness and justice are what the world needs, not acts of error or feats of arms. They would pause and reflect on the cause, and work to alleviate the ravages of poverty and disease in the world. perhaps a naive prayer I hear you say. I don't know it sure sounds like it but then I have the words of another prayer echoing in my mind"thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Way beyond, Google, X-rays, MRI's and PET SCans to the knowingness of God

It has been said that if Psalm 139 finished at verse 18 it would be the most beautiful psalm of all.

It has been said that Psalm 139 takes the big theological words we use like omniscience and omnipresence to try and describe the incomprehensible grandeur of God and brings them out of the text books out of the dry corridors of academia and makes them pragmatic and personal.

Its a psalm in four stanzas or stropes. So here are a series of reflections on the Psalm in the context of our weird wired twenty first century.

1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.

5 You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

psalm 139:1-6.

In our world today search has taken on a whole new level of meaning. Google is a search engine that scorers the Internet for web pages and references to a certain topic or person or event that you type into it. It’s become so much a part of our culture that people talk about Googling someone as a way of starting to find out about them. If you’re mentioned on the web Google will find you. Maybe we could translate the psalm 'Google me O God’. But the psalmist says that God knows more than just our cyber-presence, our public side that God knows about our real time and private side: He knows when we sleep or when we wake, when we sit or stand, and he knows those things even if we are online or off.

Modern technology has changed the way we see things. Medical imaging technology can probe deeper and deeper into the human being.
An x-ray can see the bone structure inside our heads,

An MRI scan can pick up the soft tissue that makes up our brains.

PET scans pick up the chemical reactions and energy used by our brains as we think. It can even show that men and women think differently. Just in case you needed scientific evidence to prove it.

Electron microscopes pick out the individual blood cells that course around our bodies.

We are beginning to unravel the DNA code that lies like computer code at the heart of our being.

The psalmist says God knowing of us is way beyond that. X-ray’s and MRI may look inside our heads, PET scans can see brain activity but God knows our thoughts even before we think them God knows what words will come out of our mouth even before we speak them. This for the psalmist is cause for wonder and praise. It’s mind-blowing and beyond our comprehension.

While there is a genre of films and literature based around the abuse of power in our surveillance culture (eg Enemy of the State, End of Violence) and concern about the social engineering and behaviour modification promoted by Jeremy Bentham's 'Panopticon' ( ; that those who hold such power can be corrupted by it, for the Psalmist it is the nature of the one who is truly all knowing that turns it from a possible oppressive presence to a place of freedom and life.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

memories v memory

“More and more people choose are choosing to buy memory than make them...” Erwin MacManus.

My hard drive crashed and I am sad to say I am guilty of that very amateurish mistake: I didn’t back up my documents. I was staring at the possibility of losing seven years of sermons (no a great loss I hear you say), family photos, prayers and poems, a mysterious and often unopened document called ‘my writings’ that held my tentative attempts of putting pen to paper, my contacts, the virtual links that held my relationships together in between rear and precious face to face meetings. Gone also were movies, and videos that captured my imagination and tickled my fancy, meeting minutes that dictated movements and ordered my agenda for the month. No to mention logos, letterheads, recipes, adverts and posters, pictures and PowerPoint presentations. Equally devastating, was its impacted on my family with assignments and projects from school disappearing.

Spiralling down into a litany of self-pity and apocalyptic forecasts I fumed and fussed and yelled abuse at the dark tower that sits usually quite amenably by my desk holding those precious thoughts.

After going and buying a new hard drive and rebuilding and rebooting and an external hard drive to avoid such a void in my life happening again, I was able to sit back and reflect. I was so busy storing memories away for a rainy day what about the moments in this life I was missing. The kind of minutes that are to be experienced rather than turned into bites, mg’s and gigs of ones and zeros.

I used to be the family photographer capturing moments at family events. I could distance myself from what was going on by hiding behind the camera and the mantra that things needed to be preserved for posterity. Now I avoid the camera like the plague as I want to be involved in the moment.

Here are some moments that we can easily miss.

Angel Moments: Moments when people are messengers of God’s help and encouragement. After a rather disheartening turn out to an event we ran last weekend I received an email from a friend down country spelling out the situation I was experiencing and telling me that they were there to help. When my mother was dying I was amazed at the wonderful care she received from the nursing staff and a friend of hers had written a card which said she believed my mother was surrounded by angels and I responded ‘Yes some of them are beings of light and others wear white uniforms and comfortable shoes and got there by bus.’

God moments: When we are surrounded by the very presence of God in a tangible way. I believe God is always present but there are thin moments and thin places where the veil between the divine and the mundane of life begin to disappear. Walking in the city I find myself getting morose but am reminded of God’s presence and love for this place as I see pigeon’s flutter and roost around me. The dove is a symbol of the Spirit in scriptures and here that symbol in the everydayness of the streets. Or having your breath taken away by a sunset and even on rare occasions by a sunrise.

People moments: moments when there is that great connection with people. A chance to share God’s love with others. Be it simply a smile and a quick conversation. Or moments when the spirit leads us to go beyond the surface to deeper things and a bring Christ into someone’s life in a covert way (not sneak it in their but Christ covered in our flesh) and an overt way Christ simply seems to turn up in the meeting of our lives.

You can’t seem to put such moments on a hard drive and label them for easily retrieval from a directory they have to be experienced.

How In The World a cautious start

Hi welcome to my blog, welcome to my world, welcome to my reflections

How in the world! seems to be something I say quite often these days. It sums up the suprise I have at where I have found myself, what I have found myself doing and what happens to me.

More so it sums up how in the midst of this being suprised by life that I am more suprised about how God seems to be so involved in things. In the midst of everydayness with its routines and repititions, binality and complexity, it's crises and relaxed off days, that the divine steps in: That in the midst of the everydayness we encounter the eternal.

I guess coming from a reformed background (hey I am a Presbyterian Minister) I shouldn't be suprised by the soverignty of God in this world. But the reality is that I am suprised when that Doctrine or theological concept steps out of the pages of academic tombes and abstract thought and into ones personal life. I guess wehn it mingles with the amazing mystery of a personal God.

This blog thing is new to me. I'm a bit anxious to step out into cyber space and share my reflections. I've had people I respect and enjoy who say 'hey Howard you've got stuff to say, we value your refelctions you should blog'. At the time I didn't know what a blog was. Now I wonder if what I've got to share is what people want to hear/read. I wonder what's a person who has always maintained that 'English (particularly in its written form) has been my second language and I don't seem to have a first' is doing writting stuff in a public forum? Particualrly without a full time editorial staff!

I wonder is it a valuable use of my time? I've journaled at different times in my life but this is very different. It's out there, its permanent. Gasp it's interactive! you can respond!

We'll this maynot be an auspicious start to my blog-life but the good thing is it can only get better from here. one hopes!


PS: If you hadn't guessed How in the world is also a pun/word play on my name.