Peter: A Good Friday Story

Enlight1I imagine Simon Peter as a rough fisherman-type man. He’s probably salty-mouthed, says-whatever-he-thinks, does-anything-for-you type of guy. In my mind’s eye, I see him as what we in Australia would call a “bogan.” (Chances are, if he lived in South Australia, he’d be a Port Adelaide footy fan, listen to bands like AC/DC and Chisel, and drink cartons upon cartons of West End.)

So imagine with me the moments after Jesus’ death and his friends are preparing his body for burial. They’ve been asked to say a few words before he’s put into the tomb.

This is Peter’s story.

Hi. I’m Simon, son of Jonas. You might know me better as Peter ‘cuz that’s the name Jesus gave me. Y’know, when he said that “Who do you say that I am?’ line? I just can’t get what he was after, I mean He was the promised Messiah, right? So that’s what I said and he answered by giving me this name. He said,”You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.” What? Seriously?I’m a fisherman. I can’t make sense of that. But Jesus was like that. He told it like it is.

I remember some of his sermons. I reckon I stayed awake through most of them…. It’s kinda hard when you fish all night and then spend the day in the hills with thousands of people around you. But what I did catch was that Jesus was all about people and people knowing and helping other people. I mean, like really serious about helping other people in the way that he helped people. He didn͛t seem to get tired of teaching us, even when we didn’t listen.

He also loved kids and I guess that’s why he like threatened those who abused them with stuff like”It would be better if you had heavy weights tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea than to offend one of these little oness.” He loved the kids.

There were some awesome days. Like when me and James and John and Jesus climbed Mt Tabor— amazing view from there! And we were like looking around to see if we spot our town. The view is really amazing! Anyhoo, Jesus just like *transforms* into some incredible angel-like being—like an alien or something from another planet. We were all standing around like gob-smacked. Couldn’t believe it. And weirder still two other alien-like people stood next to him and I swear they were the prophets Moses and Elijah. We like just stood there and didn’t know what to do. Best I could come up with is”Hey Jesus, why don’t we set up three tents for you and them two.” I’m glad he ignored that comment ‘cuz it was a little stupid, looking back now.

Jesus sure knew how to confuse a bloke. He told us that we were gonna rule with him in his kingdom, that we would sit on 12 thrones. Then he said that the greatest of us is a servant, and we had to become like a little child to enter the kingdom. He chose us and called us to follow him knowing that one of us would turn him over to the Romans to be killed. … Can’t quite figure that one out.

Seriously, but. Jesus was a top bloke. He was a good mate who always looked after you. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He didn͛t have a bad bone in his body. When we went to parties—and we went to a lot of parties– he was there to turn the water into wine. Whoa! How good was that?! We loved it when we would go into a town and crowds would flock around us like seagulls around kids with chips.

But things got nasty. The temple crowd wouldn’t have a bar of Jesus and wanted to knock him off. We could see it a mile away. But Jesus … I wish I had done things differently now. I tried to warn him about coming to Jerusalem, but he like wouldn͛t listen. He got quite stroppy at me and said something like”Get behind me Satann.” (Man. That hurt!)

I … I just wish I could have been stronger. This whole business came crashing down around us real sudden. We ate Passover dinner with Jesus and, next thing, Judas leaves. We left the house and walked a few k’s down the road to this garden and it was late and we were a bit tired and Jesus told us to like wait and went off by himself to pray. He knew something was going down but we just fell asleep waiting. Then the Roman soldiers came with the priests, Judas kissed Jesus and they arrested him … and we were all so scared, and we ran away.

Should’ve stayed. Should have stayed and gone to the trial at least. Mind you, I did go back to the Chief Priest͛s house later that night to see what was happening, but that didn͛t turn out so well.

If only I … but it’s too late for that now. He’s gone. There’s nothing we can do. That’s how it ends.

I remember that night when me and James and John were fishing and a storm came up. We thought our boat would like go under and we would all die. Then Jesus, Jesus comes walking on top of the water towards us! I thought it was a ghost. We were all like terrified. I thought it looked like Jesus. He sounded like Jesus. I said,”If it is you, Lord, ask me to come to you”—and he said “Come.” And I stepped out of the boat and walked on top of the water towards him. I was walking on the water!! But … but when I suddenly saw what I was doing, Ithought,”No way. This isn͛t possible.” And I  started to sink into the water. Jesus saved me. He pulled me up and we got into the boat. He shouted something like”Be still” into the wind and the sea became like glass and the clouds vanished.

If I had the chance to do it all again, I would. I never would have imagined that following Jesus would take me on such an adventure. We had some great times together, the thirteen of us. Yeah, there were some bad times as well, some disappointments, some things I wish we could do over. I wish I would have trusted Jesus more and I wish I would have stood up for him . . . Maybe, maybe things wouldn͛t have turned out this way.

We’ll miss you, mate. Thanks for believing in me even at those times when I didn’t believe in you.

Just in Case

justincaseI’m not a hoarder . . . any more.

There was a time when I would wander through Kmart or Target and find something that attracted my attention. I didn’t need it, but I bought it anyhow. Just in case.

I had cupboards full of things and felt quite satisfied with myself that I had anything anyone could need for any given situation. I kept everything, just in case.

I had clothes I no longer fit into. I was hoping one day I would. They cluttered up my wardrobe because I may lose weight one day. Just in case.

I was a sucker for sales staff. I bought insurance policies for this that and the other because one never knew what might happen. I got an expensive monitored security system installed. I had to be prepared for every possible disaster. Just in case.

Filing cabinets full of ancient documents.

Boxes in the shed full of books, crockery, knick-knacks.

That huge drawer filled with every cable you could or may (or may not) ever need.

Every piece of music I ever played, sang, and lots that I filed away . . . just in case.

Just in case weighed me down.

There came a point in my life when I was reviewing my insurance needs and I realised I was paying money to protect myself against the loss of stuff I didn’t need, that was cluttering my life. I was buying a policy just in case I lost a lot of junk that I had accumulated in my house just in case.

I know the Boy Scout motto is ‘Be prepared.’ But prepared is a subjective word. There is no way I can be prepared for everything that happens in my life. Just trying to do this causes so much worry, fear, anxiety and nervousness.

In a rather famous sermon, a wise preacher once asked his congregation:

Why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

His advice has the power to change not only the way we look at stuff, but our attitude towards life itself.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Read full text here.)

Fear of loss breeds anxiety. Fear of things not being just the way you would like brings worry. The root cause of all this is a lack of trust (faith) in a loving God / Presence / Universe / Force that looks on Creation with compassion.

So what happens if our house burns down? We are still loved. In the words of another group of wise preachers: “All you need is love . . . love is all you need.”

What happens if thieves break in and take our treasured possessions? We still have our lives, our memories, our family and friends.

To store up stuff just in case is to prepare for the worst. It is quite a negative approach to life. Rather, living in a simple acceptance of what is, and trust that we will always be cared for by our all-loving God is enough to see us through anything we face in life.

I think it’s time for another cleanout.

All of Life is a Prayer

magpie

The magpies chortle in the gigantic gumtree behind the fence,
calling in sheer joy and enthusiasm to each other,
greeting the new day.
Dogs in the distance greet one another,
and the neighbour’s dull Labrador-cross-who-knows-what
with the crooked tail howls. Each one making
the sounds of play and boredom respectively.

And we, in our early morning mindless banter,
speak blessings to one another,
affirmations, petitions, thanksgiving and praise and,
at the same time, whilst hiding our own irritability over lukewarm coffee, utter curses:
decrying the banality of someone’s existence in a dead-end relationship, or
the apparent lack of resilience in another, or
the poor taste of yet another in their choice of job, car, house, attire, food.

Are not all these prayers to some
ever-present yet invisible deity
(one who is beyond ourselves, perhaps
even as expansive as the universe)
who listens intently to the groanings of creation,
each one singing, speaking, sobbing, blaspheming
their own private prayers that, although perchance unintended,
always find an answer?

Why I’m Not Getting On Board

trainThere’s a lot of talk about ‘getting on board’ lately. The most recent example is the U.S. Election and the slogan ‘Get on board the Trump train’ (or as I call it, the Trump train wreck).

This kind of talk has always been present, in the background, directly-stated or quietly implied. People have always tried to get others ‘on board’ with their plans, dreams and agenda. After all, isn’t the great evangelical missionary movement of the 19th and 20th century testament to this?

I suggest that the politicisation of the Church is a prime example of this The now-famous phrase ‘If you’re not for us, you’re against us’ has caught on in many Christian circles in the wake of 9/11 and the ongoing Western slaughter of middle-easterners. Today you are either with ‘us’ or ‘them,’ a ‘Democrat’ or a ‘Republican’ (in Australia, ‘Liberal’ or ‘Labor’), a ‘Christian’ or an ‘Unbeliever.’

Why do we have to be one or the other? Why does the call go out to ‘get on board’ when, perhaps, we are already on board and everyone else is at the station: dreaming, redecorating, imagining, rearranging the furniture?

Seriously, when somebody says that I’m not following the determined agenda or embracing the organisation’s vision because I’m too fearful and that I need to trust God more, it only shows they don’t really understand the way that this kind of faulty logic wreaks havoc in my mind.

To me it sounds like you’re saying  (1) God only has one way of doing things and it’s yours, (2) if I don’t jump on board with that it can only be because I am afraid and I don’t trust God enough, (3) my hesitation has nothing to do with how I have felt through the whole process and how I perceive an incredible group bias in ‘discerning God’s will,’ and (4) my hesitation has nothing to do with the fact that possibly I find this kind of change difficult because it has a totally different meaning to me than it has to you. Please stop pontificating, using manipulative language and assuming you know me and my way of processing information. Stop equating your path with God’s plan and your vision with a word from the Almighty. And stop expecting I ‘get on board’ this great cruise ship of holy dreams. I’m not there. I may never be there. I’m not sure I even want to be there.

 So, please, be careful with the words you use and the assumptions you make based only on your understanding or experience. You might be surprised how many people are just like me.

A Prayer for Autumn

Autumn foliage at Mt Lofty Botanical Gardens, Adelaide, South Australia. Source: Jon Shriver

God of the seasons:
There is a time for everything.
There is a time for dying and rising.
We need courage to enter into the transformation process.

God of autumn:
The trees are saying ‘Goodbye’ to their green,
Letting go of what has been.
We too have our moments of surrender with all their insecurity and risk.
Help us to let go when we need to do so.

God of fallen leaves lying in coloured patterns on the ground:
Our lives have their patterns.
As we see the patterns of our own growth, may we learn from them.

God of misty days and harvest moon nights:
There is always the dimension of mystery and wonder in our lives.
We always need to recognise your power-filled presence.
May we gain strength from this.

God of geese leaving for warmer climates:
Your wisdom enables us to know what needs to be left behind and what needs to be carried into the future.
We yearn for insight and vision.

God of flowers touched with frost and windows wearing white designs:
May your love keep our hearts from growing cold in empty seasons.

God of life:
You believe in us, you enrich us, you entrust us with the freedom to choose life.
For all this, we are grateful.

Amen.

(Source: Unknown)

Wanting Less

MinimalistRoomI’ve been attracted, lately, to the concept-movement of Minimalism. This began about 9 months ago when I came across, quite accidentally, the website theminimalists.com curated by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. I was drawn in by their story and their journey together from the dog-eat-dog corporate world to a simple, minimalist life. I immediately bought their book Everything That Remains and devoured their story. What attracted me to the lifestyle they presented was the freedom of owning less and the contentment that came from needing less.

Now it’s not all about living in a house where the Living Room consists of a rug, a lamp and a chair and your refrigerator’s contents would fit in a handbag. It’s about being intentional in your possession of things: only owning what you need and what brings you joy (and these can be the same things).

I have been studying this phenomenon for several months now through books, podcasts, blogs, and videos. My curiosity has taken me into the Tiny House movement which sprang up in opposition to the bigger-is-better mentality that pervades the real estate industry. I have been bemused by the journeys of Colin Wright who asks readers of his blog where he should travel next, and then makes his home there for three months before, once again, moving on to another democratically-decided destination. Joshua Becker is another who has written and spoken extensively about minimalism, through the lens of his family’s ‘conversion’ to this life and his most recent book The More of Less is on my current reading list.

I’d have to say that choosing to live as a minimalist forces a person to be incredibly intentional regarding possessions and the use of money.

In his post 10 Reasons to Escape Excessive Consumerism, Becker lists several reasons I find compelling:

Less time spent caring for possessions. “The never-ending need to care for the things we own is draining our time and energy. Whether we are maintaining property, fixing vehicles, replacing goods, or cleaning things made of plastic, metal, or glass, our life is being emotionally and physically drained by the care of things that we don’t need—and in most cases, don’t enjoy either. We are far better off owning less.”

Less need to keep up with evolving trends. “A culture built on consumption must produce an ever-changing target to keep its participants spending money. And our culture has nearly perfected that practice. As a result, nearly every year, a new line of fashion is released as the newest trend. And the only way to keep up is to purchase the latest fashions and trends when they are released… or remove yourself from the pursuit altogether.”

More contentment. As Fields-Millburn and Nicodemus often say, releasing one’s grip on possessions is like dumping a heavy load of anxiety, clutter and wasted energy. We enjoy what we have more when we actually have less.

More generosity. “Rejecting excessive consumerism always frees up energy, time, and finances. Those resources can then be brought back into alignment with our deepest heart values.”

Greater ability to see through empty claims. “Fulfilment is not on sale at your local department store—neither is happiness. It never has been. And never will be. We all know this to be true. We all know that more things won’t make us happier. It’s just that we’ve bought into the subtle message of millions upon millions of advertisements that have told us otherwise. Intentionally stepping back for an extended period of time helps us get a broader view of their empty claims.”

As Joshua Becker concludes, “Escaping excessive consumption is not an easy battle. If it were, it would be done more often… myself included. But it is a battle worth fighting because it robs us of life far more than we realise.”

I’m not a minimalist . . . yet. But I am becoming more intentional about this area of my life each day and am happy to say, in small ways, I have proven true the vast majority of what are preached to be the benefits of Minimalism. And what I have enjoyed so far makes me want less. Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? But it is true.

Contemplative Positivity

Negative or positive, opposite signs

How I really love listening to Richard Rohr! Seriously, if I need to choose one person who has challenged and changed my perspective on life and spirituality the most, it would be Rohr. From his books to his daily reflections to his seminars, his understanding of and ability to articulate what it is to be a present-day Christian Mystic is incomparable. You can check out his work at www.cac.org.

He and Rob Bell recently recorded a conversation about the Alternative Orthodoxy on the Robcast podcast. In this conversation, Richard spoke about the seven themes of Alternative Orthodoxy (which, as its title suggests, is a different way of understanding Divine Truth). You can see a summary of these themes here.

There are so many quotable moments in this interview, but one that grabbed me was the neuroscientific study Rohr cited that showed how our brains stick to negativity like Velcro. Not only is our mind attracted to the shadows, but it grabs these thoughts and clings to them, sometimes for years. And, while it takes only a split second for a negative image to be imprinted on our minds, it takes 15 seconds of savouring a positive thought to accomplish the same impressing into our brains.

That’s why we find it so easy to thing bad things of people and remember every ill word spoken and every evil action done towards us. Likewise, we find it terribly difficult, at times, to see and remember the good.

Rohr goes on to show how this should cause us to be more contemplative, aware of the goodness around us and focusing on that good purposefully for a span of time.

Fifteen seconds focussing on that smile, that encouraging remark, an uplifting tune, the laughter of a child, a feeling of peace and contentment. Fifteen seconds to centre your awareness on the streaming sunlight, the warmth of the fireplace, the beauty of that waterfall, the fragrance of that flower, or the refreshment of the falling rain. Fifteen seconds to sit in reflection on the good in that person, their fine attributes and positive character traits.

Fifteen seconds.

That’s a challenge, definitely one that I need. How my life would change if I simply spent time investing in this one change of habit!