A Meeting of Shareholders

sharesSo I had this dream.

Normally I don’t remember much of what I dream but, for some reason, this one I remember as if it were a technicolour movie.

In this dream, I walk with my family into what appears to be an arena of sorts—not a sports arena, but a small, but open space that looks similar to art I’ve seen depicting the Roman Senate at the time of Julius Caesar. Around the square floor of this arena rose wide limestone steps, like those of an amphitheatre. The steps were wide enough so that tables and chairs could be set on them. The levels were about 2 feet high and there were five or six of them between the arena floor and the back walls.

At the tables sat men and women who were listening intently to someone whom, I assumed, was in a position of authority, speaking from a small stage under a gazebo built in the middle of the arena. As he was speaking, I heard murmurs of approval or disapproval from the audience, and several of them were writing things down on papers (which I later found out to be a type of ballot).

The man in the arena was addressing the audience as ‘shareholders’ and it seemed like he was urging them to make decisions on some aspect of the yet-unknown company’s operations.

As my family and I walked around the edge of the arena floor, just under the first level of tables, I also saw children and youth milling about. Some sat on the floor by some of the tables, but most took the opportunity to play around the roof-supporting columns of the upper levels of the stands.

Returning my attention to the floor of the arena, I saw, surrounding the leader, men and women. Some were carrying books, some had instruments (It appears there had been some sort of performance prior to the speaking.) In front of the stage were tables with rows of old, leather-bound books, not unlike the records of proceedings which decorate the centre tables in the chambers of Parliament. I remember assuming, as I dreamed, that this was no ordinary shareholder’s meeting since it appeared to meet on a fairly regular and consistent basis in this space.

As the meeting in my dream progressed, I made my way towards the stage and ended up standing next to this leader. Seeing the stands from this vantage point, I began to notice a flow of people in and out of the arena. It appeared that, at different points in the meeting, some who disagreed would pack up their papers and books and leave and others would come in and take their place. On their way out, they would hand over some paperwork to a person who stood behind a bench and they would return to them something that looked like cash. These were obviously the shareholders who had decided that they no longer wished to be investors in the company, cashing in their stock and leaving.

It’s then that I began to see, as if my eyes had been out of focus but had somehow regained 20/20 vision. I recognised some of the ‘shareholders.’ They were fellow members of my church. The men and women standing around the stage seemed to morph into elders and members of the church board. The people holding instruments, the worship team. The CEO addressing the crowd, our pastor.

Whether or not this vision was influenced by recent church meetings, I have no idea. Votes were being made, people were leaving on the basis of those votes. The pastor, try as he might to persuade folks to vote in a certain way, couldn’t seem to make any progress, and the meeting dragged on as my family and I walked out the door which we had entered earlier.

I don’t know if this dream has any significance beyond the fact that I really don’t like church meetings. Yet, somehow, I can see in this a snapshot of how our contemporary version of Church has bought into the consumer culture where we can ‘shop around’ for a better church that ticks all of our personal wish list boxes. If things aren’t going well, we can either exercise our shareholder’s prerogative and attempt to change the direction of the company through lobbying, voting or investing more, or we can ‘sell our shares’ and move on.

In many ways, the clergy (with the support of the elders, board, council or other church body of authority) is doing much like the CEO of any corporation—selling the vision, encouraging people to buy into that vision and then invest their time, money and talents for the prosperity of the company. As more invest, the share price goes up, the public reputation on the ‘Church Exchange’ rises, and the church grows.

I don’t believe this is the community that shares the vision of Christ.

If we are seeking our own comfort and to perpetuate that sense of ease in our congregations, if we are seeing the ballot as the only catalyst of change, if all we are concerned about is getting our own voice heard or our idea approved, we are not following in the steps of the one whose name we claim.

The Church was never meant to be a meeting of shareholders. It was not established to be ruled by the principles of free enterprise. It is, and always ought to be, a place that exists for the betterment and success of those outside its walls.

And if it fails to live up to that modus operandi established by its founder and Saviour, then I believe we all need to cash in our shares and walk out that door.

And once outside, we may see that this is where God has been working all the while.

Jesus Bombs and Other Bad Ideas

Josh spoke in church yesterday and challenged us with his unique and totally real perspective on how we need to be incarnational, intentionally so, as we seek to follow Jesus into our neighbourhood.

I appreciated his exuberance and enthusiasm. This is, in fact, what he actually is doing. He is moving to Melbourne to intentionally be involved in the art scene, to serve those on the streets, to be part of a fringe community, to live with them, share with them and be Jesus to them. His journey to this point is inspiring and shows real evidence that God is moving in his life.

After telling his story, he shared a few things about what he has learned about life and serving others (and a lot of other things). In his words, “One of the great things about having a low IQ is that I can learn things from almost anyone.”

JesusbombBut what he said about ‘throwing Jesus bombs’ and then running back into the safety of our Christian community struck me as being so real and true about how many choose to ‘do witnessing.’ This has become the normal way of doing things, the modus operandi of ministry.

I picked up an American magazine this morning and was leafing through it (if you can call turning on-screen pages ‘leafing) when I came across this comment at the end of an article entitled, ‘Compassion for the Lost:’

‘Let’s choose to show  compassion toward lost souls. Let’s equip ourselves with gospel tracts, a mindset of unselfish service to others, and let’s seek to share Christ with someone today.’

‘Equip ourselves with gospel tracts’? Really? Do you really think this is the best way to ‘share Christ’?

Is unselfish service simply an add-on to the real intention of deploying a Jesus bomb? Is that act of kindness a ‘tool’ to get an opportunity to hand out a gospel tract? Is that Christmas hamper given to that needy family purely an effort to get a ‘foot in the door’?

tractsI grew up with this method of ministry and, honestly, I cannot remember seeing one person who came to faith through such a method. (What I do remember is a lot of  angry people shouting abuse and throwing our ‘good news’ on the ground–but that was because they were under the power of Satan and didn’t understand that Jesus died to set them free from the chains of sin that so obviously were binding them. How else would you explain their rejection of our gospel leaflets? There was always the consolation that we would never know until we get to heaven what happened to the ‘seeds of faith’ that were ‘planted in the hearts’ of all those ‘lost souls’ who received our literature.)

Again, going back to Josh’s message for us, ‘We are called to be witnesses, not “do witnessing.”‘

Being is something that we are, not something we do. It is a lifestyle, as natural as breathing. It flows from us as much as our own personality and character flow. Being is who we are.

I am not a bombardier. Using the good news as a ‘tool’ has never been who I am. I don’t buy into the ‘bait and switch’ or the agenda-driven-kindness.

I know I’m not the only one.

To me there is something honestly compelling about seeing a person who lives like Jesus, who loves like Jesus, who serves like Jesus. Encouraging. Inspiring. Inviting. Welcoming. Healing. Accepting.

The only bombs would be grace bombs. The only agenda, love. The only catch–well, there is no catch! None at all. It’s fully unconditional, unassuming, no big expectations. Just being.

Thanks for reminding us of this, Josh. May grace and peace be with you in every step of your journey into your new neighbourhood.

Church Filipino-Style (Philippine Adventure, Part 2)

You know you’re in the Philippines when . . .

I could complete that sentence in countless ways, but for me the most striking is this:

RoosterYou know you’re in the Philippines when you are woken up at 4.00 a.m. by crowing roosters (I found this true even amongst high-rise buildings in downtown Manila!)

So began our first day.


Seeing as we were staying in a pastor’s home, it was natural for us to go with him to his church, Litex Grace Gospel Church of Christ to be exact. The service began at 9.30 with the lively singing of choruses led by one of the “Bible Women” (in Australia we would call them “Pastor” as we do their male counterparts).

Filipinos LOVE singing, and I could tell church was no exception. Some of the choruses I knew from years ago and others were more contemporary. All were sung by all joyfully and loudly.

2013-04-21 (12-58) Philippines 023Once the preliminary songs, Bible verses and prayers were finished, we moved into the more formal worship service. Surprisingly, the same format was followed then that I remembered being used 40+ years ago: hymns interspersed with Bible Readings, prayers and announcements.

Probably most amazing cultural difference was the offering which seemed to have a much more prominent place than in Australian churches—not prominent in that money was made a big issue, but giving as an act of spiritual service was elevated by the reading of a verse, a prayer, the actual offering collection and then, as if on cue, everyone rose and sang “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

(Side note: I found it interesting to read in the denomination’s Ministry Handbook later that week how that they encourage their churches to charge an annual “membership fee”. Agree with it or not, it seems people place a greater value on that for which they must pay.)

Dad was the guest preacher and I was asked to sing a song before his sermon (they called it “rendering” a song). Following the message was a Child Dedication which was far more a momentous occasion than it is down under. It seemed there were numerous godparents who all had to sign the official church certificate. There was a huge banner with the baby’s picture on the stage. It was a rather elaborate service in itself and quite an honour for dad and I to witness.

2013-04-21 (13-27) Philippines 017After the 2-hour-plus service was finished (with the traditional singing of the fourfold “Amen”), and after the photo taking of anyone and everyone present (“One more, for Facebook“), chairs were pushed to the side and lunch was served. They do this every Sunday so I was told. Rice, chicken, vegetables, sweets, all cooked and prepared in an open kitchen behind the church. Filipino hospitality shone once again and we enjoyed chatting over good food.

2013-04-21 (11-05) Philippines 066Impressed as I was by the excitement and joy of those attending the Litex Church that morning, I was even more impressed by the genuineness of those present. These were mostly young people, and an assortment of singles and families. They had a very real sense of who God is and of their place in God’s mission in their world. They spoke of mission as if it were a given (not an option that is so often the case in Australian churches). This was reflected in the stories I heard about how people came to be together in this congregation and how they came to faith in Jesus.

Whilst I see a high level of professionalism in our congregations and the way we do church here, there is so much we can learn from this grassroots faith community and the way they are the Church in their corner of the Philippines. Certainly cultivating a greater heart for mission/purpose and a greater focus on “coming together” rather than finely choreographing that gathering are key points from which our churches here can take a lesson.

That being said, no church is perfect and I hope to unpack elements of this in a later post.

Now I can’t really see how this all translates into our own context–or if, in reality,  it should–but I do know that participating with these dear folk showed me how grace, love and joy can easily cross any national, linguistic or cultural barrier and bring together people under a common banner of being the people of God together.

(to be continued . . .)

Missional Church: Christianity as a Lifestyle

Christianity is a lifestyle – a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an established “religion” (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one’s “personal Lord and Saviour” . . . The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great. – Richard Rohr

What draws me to the “Missional Church” concept (as opposed to the “Attractional Church”) is the way those in a missional setting view their calling as incarnational—that is, following Jesus in being part of the greater and local community (or, as The Message puts it, ‘moving into the neighbourhood’).

What the Attractional Church model says is, ‘Come to us and we will share the life of Christ with you.’ The Missional Church is saying, ‘We will come to you and share our lives with you.” There is no agenda but being Christ to your neighbor. If they never darken the door of your church, you are still committed doing life together.

The attraction-based church fails to do this well, although I have seen some that have found a good balance in encouraging missional-focused small groups.

Here’s a simple illustration of how these two frameworks operate:

Attarctional vs Missional (courtesy of blindbeggar.org)
Attarctional vs Missional (courtesy of blindbeggar.org)

(For a great example of being missional, read Missional Evangelism from The Blind Beggar blog)

The biggest problem with the attractional model is that it encourages a consumerist Christianity where you ‘shop around’ for a church that you like, where you fit in, and that offers programs and services that suit you and your family. Therefore, we see attractional –modeled churches growing simply by transfers of membership, not because people are being pulled in from the ‘outside.’

Missional-minded churches see no distinction between ‘outside’ and ‘inside.’ They tend to be open, welcoming, integral components in their own local communities. They are involved in civic initiatives, establish relationships with local schools, organisations and local government. Generally they have a ‘belong-then-believe’ mentality rather than setting faith as a prerequisite for active involvement.

If we believe the Church is the hope of the world—the ‘suffering’ Earth—then simply attracting people to our Sunday services would not be congruent with our mission. Not that we would be repellant. We want people who attend to encounter God in whatever way they are able and at whatever level they happen to be. However, being salt and light, as Jesus says we (corporately and individually) are, we need to have as our number one goal to reach into our world with the love of God, being—as Christ himself—in the neighbourhood.

Salt must have flavour to enhance that to which it is applied, but it also must be in close proximity to the food and used in appropriate amounts to be of any value.

Light just shines in the darkness to dispel the darkness. There is no additional sound, no bells or whistles, just shining. There is no way that darkness can overpower light because where there is light, there can be no darkness. Even the darkest night can be pierced by the light of a single candle.

The metaphors of Salt and Light are clearly lifestyle pictures.

So rather than be a collection place for salt or a lighthouse, the church needs to see their mission as equipping and sending, encouraging and supporting its people in their lives lived in generous love.

This is a life to be lived, not a religion. This is a way of being, not a building. This is our mission; may we not be distracted into being a place for our own pleasure rather than being a people who truly love.

The Church Creative

ChurchCreativeI’ve been reading John C. O’Keefe’s excellent book The Church Creative: How to be a Creative Gathering in the 21st Century. What strikes me about this book is its numerous typographical and grammatical errors (just kidding!). No, what I find striking is the pointedness at which O’Keefe identifies the problem (lethargy) and presents a solution (creativity).

I must admit that I found the first section a bit sluggish to get through. Perhaps this is because of my experience in the middle of the gigantic mud puddle that is the Church Lethargic. Whilst O’Keefe goes to great lengths to demonstrate there is this lifeless spirit killing the Christian Church (generally speaking), I can see it around me and in my history. He’s preaching to the converted.

And his remarkable solution? Creativity. Unleashing the great ideas and those gifted with bringing these things to life: art, music, drama, prayer, liturgy, architecture, and so much more.

This is more than another program, he is adamant. This is about change–real, committed, dramatic, paradigmatic change.

I’ll let the author tell it like it is:

Like me you have tried every program placed before you to make the right changes to provide missional awareness, and they never really worked. Like me, you’re listening to the world, and not what the Divine was saying. We allowed the present hard time to define us, while not embracing the coming good time.

We’ve done the 40 days of… (fill in the blank) and found nothing truly worked. We’ve tried so many different programs that at this point we’re programmed out. Some of us are at the point where we doubt who we are, our call and even those around us – we’re so beaten down that we have become lethargic.

We’ve invested so much time, money and people into all different kinds of programs, conferences and books, all the time getting nowhere – or we’ve seen a slight bump, only to decline soon after the program ended, which just brought us down further.

No matter what Christian Bookstores tell you, no matter what the Christian Publishers tell you, programs never work all the time, for all our gatherings or for all the people. Programs, it seems, are designed to suck you in, chew you up and spit you out. But, because you want the program to do for us what you’ve heard it did for others, you’re quick to get the next latest and greatest program only to fail again. You’re like Kevin Bacon’s character in Animal House, as he’s being bent over and smacked by the paddle, screaming, “Thank you sir, may I have another” every time you get smacked with a program.

What is the last thing you need right now? Think in terms of your gathering; what is the last thing you need? If you’re thinking that the last thing you need is another program, you would be right. What I’ve found is that all programs are designed to fit a new idea into your old system – and that never works.

Knowing that a program is the last thing you need is a good thing, because creativity is not another program; a program is something that costs you money, time and people; something you do for a short period of time with the expectation of the promised magic results. What I’m talking about with creativity is not a program designed for some quick fix. Creativity is a refocusing in the way you think; a way of becoming, a way of moving from where you are now, and into the idea of becoming a missional gathering.

Think of it this way, it’s a new way (actually, a very old way) of defining your life and gathering, in a redirection; shifting you from where you are now, to where you should be in the future, while bring about a core change in your thinking. It opens you to a way of embracing your gathering where you invite those who are the Creatives to move about in a fluid nature with their natural energy and envelop the entire life where service, unconditional love, grace, forgiveness and acceptance are a way of life. The best way to address a lethargic gathering of followers is to invite creativity and its natural energy to the table.

Many gatherings of followers today have lost creativity, lost the desire to even try to bring it back – so they’re in what I call Maintenance Ministry. The curse of lethargy has taken root and they’re taking care of a dying, lethargic congregation, getting them ready to close their doors. Even worse, they’re ready to simply accept their current condition and walk in the status quo.

In my view, neither is a good place. We need to move past the lethargic nature we find ourselves in and open our eyes to the Church Creative. We need to embrace the energy that Christ gives to each of us…

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”

When you focus on creativity it brings something amazing, something so wonderful, once you try it you will feel the shivers of excitement run down your spine and your toes will tingle. Something so life enhancing, so entrancing, so wonderful it will cause you to look at the world in a whole new way. Once you taste what creativity has to offer, you won’t settle for anything less.

What is this amazing thing creativity brings to the table?

No, it is not a 100% fat free ice cream with zero calories that actually tastes like ice cream — though that does come in a close second.

What is it? It’s called change.

That’s right, change.

This is a necessary step the gathering must take and O’Keefe has done a brilliant job in showing the way.

How to accomplish this may not be so cut-and-dry, black-and-white. But if what this book says is even partly true, then it must be all about creativity.

Meanderings . . .

From StillSpeaking:

Can reading be a form of prayer? I think so.

Not all reading. The books that are marketed as “page turners,” or with words like, “you won’t be able to put it down,” aren’t in my experience all that conducive to something like prayer (though they may get you through a long plane ride).

But many books – not only the Bible – but all those books that cause us to listen, to wonder, to pause and to ponder, can lead us to reading that is a form of prayer. A listening for God, a being seized by something deep and holy and true.

“Why are we reading, if not in the hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?” asked Annie Dillard.

“Why are we reading, if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we feel again their majesty and power?”

For most of my life, I’ve begun my days early and by reading. For me it is a form and time of prayer, a time to listen for and to God. It is a time that leads to other prayers, including this one:

“Loquacious, still-speaking God, thank you, thank you, thank you – for books and for writers, for words and for reading, and for those who taught me to read and to learn to love it.”

Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson

*   *  *   *   *   *   *

From Bruce Reyes-Chow:

Every once in a while during some online interaction, I find myself pounding my head on my keyboard in frustration and asking myself, “Why bother?” The frustration is usually born out of a conversation about a political or theological tweet or update, when it becomes clear to me that some folks are more interested in winning battles than building community. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for vigorous and passionate debate, and I am often complicit in exacerbating unhealthy dialogue, but too often it seems that we slip into modes of communication that seem to say that the only way I can be built up is for you to be torn down.
Honestly, sometimes building community just gets too damn hard and I want to quit. It’s not worth my time, my energy or my effort. After all, I could be doing so many other things that would be so much more worthwhile. And then I remember this great exchange from the movie, “A League of Their Own,” when star player Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis),wants to quit the team and she is challenged by manager Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) to ask herself, “Why?”

Jimmy Dugan: Shit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.

Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.

Jimmy Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great. (Read the rest of this post here)

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

From Emergent Village:

What you give leadership to will always grow. That is, if I give my time to getting in shape, I’ll get in shape … If I give my time to creating a great teaching ministry on Sunday morning, then we’ll provide a service to people who really like that kind of ministry. Since we know most Sojourners don’t wake up Sunday mornings looking  for a good sermon, we’ve decided to put our energy, efforts, and focus into the  incarnational aspects of our church instead of the presentational aspects. – Hugh Halter

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

From Diana Butler-Bass on the Future of Faith:

In many cases, I’ve learned from “enemies” how NOT to behave in the world. Indeed, a dear friend, who once watched as I was struggling with an institutional crisis, said to me, “Diana, the point of this is to teach you how to be a leader. You now know how to listen because no one has listened to you; you now know how to respect others because you haven’t been respected; you now know the importance of the outsider because you have been cast out.” I hadn’t thought of that until he underscored this for me–I realized how often we take negative experiences and return evil for evil. That’s a primary problem in our political life and global relations–not to mention the life of denominations and congregations. But Christians should be able to break that cycle—and turn even the most painful experiences and worst criticism into a life of learning how to do better, how to forgive, how to love more. Understanding, listening, discernment are the basic practices in living a life of forgiveness—and when one is hurt, those practices are often blocked by fear.  But the more you do them, the more habitual they become. And it becomes easier to learn from everything from mere differences of opinion to verbally violent attacks.

That’s what I’ve learned personally. As a church, I hope we can learn defensive-less-ness. Jesus was not one who was much interested in protecting or defending. Jesus was about loving and laying aside. Movements that are about “protect and defend” are far outside the Gospel narrative, outside the witness of Jesus.  They aren’t Christian. We need to understand the fears that motivate such movements and the people attracted to them. But we must be equally clear that there is another way–and we must always, always, always stand as communities of conviction based in love. (Read the full interview here)

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

“Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.” – Paul Tillich

“What the Gospel forever takes away from Christians is the right to judge between the poor and the unworthy poor.” – Dorothy Day

“Be wise not to use or abuse people to pursue vision and projects. Vision and projects may perish. People don’t. Value people.” – Eugene Cho

‘”Good morning, God,” I said to start the day. “Good God, morning,” I said after sighting headlines “Police slam Catholic Church”.’ – Father Bob

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

From Eagle Brook Church:

Clearly, the most creative Church promotional video I’ve seen in a while. But then what would you expect from a church with nearly 15,000 members?

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

And now for something weird and wacky: For the Bible Tells Me So? And our ‘worm’ on ‘Can of Worms’ tonight is: “Should parents be allowed to execute their own children?”

Shaking the Shame from Religion

Last night Vicki and I had the wonderful privilege of hearing Rev Dr Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church in New York City speak about public ministry—namely ‘Shaking the Shame from Religion.’

From the very start, beginning with the opening prayer, her message was one that brought a breath of fresh and invigorating air to all who sat in the pews.

Dr Schaper began by comparing church people with the growing group of 20- to 30-somethings who are choosing to be “Spiritual but nor religious’ (SBNR).  In her observations, she noted how church folk seem to always be busy doing the work of God, and—often unconsciously—believing they should be doing more, and feeling shame because they don’t. Ultimately, this leads to blaming other people, forces, or institutions for the lack of end results. ‘SBNR people want to know God, but all we [The Church] want to do is work, work, work.’

Schaper recalled how Rev James Forbes of Riverside Church in New York City was asked to compare black churches in America with white churches. He said, ‘Black churches know they need God; white churches think God needs them.’ The white churches mentioned seem to be typical of the average western progressive Church.

In proposing a way forward, Schaper makes these points:

Can we please notice what we have lost? The world for which we have been prepared has been taken away from us. We live in a society that is grossly inequitable, where the majority do not have the resources necessary to live the life they were created to live.

Would you mind if we developed self interest as a conscious motivator? Motivation from a moral grounding, or from a mentality of ‘I should do this’ won’t produce the results—this has been proved many times. If we appeal to everyone’s self-interest, we can work to eradicate poverty because giving everyone the chance to prosper is good for everybody.

Could we rethink the mission trip, the field trip, the exposure trip? People who go on a mission trip help themselves more than the people they go to help. In fact, many times they do more harm than good.

Can we learn to always say prayer at the table. We need to be grateful for what we have.

We are all broken. Dr Schaper’s favourite Bible verse is Romans 3:23, ‘For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.’ Why is this so important? Because it levels the playing field—we are all in the same boat as broken people who sometimes do and think wrong things. She recalled writing a letter to her family at one point in her life which started with the words, ‘I think our family is too judgmental.’ Even in saying this, she realised she had made a judgement. But we all pass judgment on others (we’re all ‘Punishmentalists’ to a degree), and always will. This emphasises our need to receive and to give grace. Shame tells us we are not worthy of a connection with God or with others. Grace says we are worthy of a connection with God and with each other. Therefore, grace should be preeminent in all our interactions.

Perfectionism, striving to be good, being afraid of stepping out of line and enduring God’s punishment, is anti-grace, and fuels the negative cycle of should, shame and blame. Our first response when faced with a negative circumstance is often, ‘What did I do wrong?’ We must reject this way of thinking and replace it with an understanding of God’s great love. There are times we, individually and as churches, will do both right and wrong things. We need to accept this as part of who we are and move on with life. If we accept each other as we are, we are living the life of grace and being channels of God’s grace to each other and to our world.

Our mission will be stronger when it is full of grace and fun. Our mission will be weaker when it is full if should and shame and blame.

Dr Schaper recognized there is so much to be done to alleviate poverty and to work for justice in our world, including the need to care for our planet. Yet it will not be ‘should, shame and blame’ that will achieve any progress in making our world a better place for all, but an outworking of God’s love and grace in the lives of ordinary people.

During the question time following, Dr Schaper spoke about many practical aspects of public ministry, encouraging us to have a look at Brene Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html)

In speaking about the best way forward in reaching those in need, she stated numerous times ‘The more we tell it instead of show it the worse it gets.’

She also observed how that many churches claim to be ‘open’ to all—welcoming people of all faiths, ethnicities, and sexual orientations, but so few are ‘open AND affirming’ (O&A). The ‘affirming’ part goes beyond welcoming into valuing and connecting with people just as they are, not imposing shame or fear on them, and not expecting anything from them except that they be who they are, fully and without shame.

I left the forum appreciating more fully the love of God and the all-encompassing grace God extends to all. I’m looking forward now to reading a few of Donna’s books and seeing how this new perspective shapes how I live and interact with others.