Have you noticed the world getting louder? That there’s just so much more grabbing for your attention? I’m finding I’m being bombarded almost from the second I wake up, to the moment I go to sleep. There just seems to be so many ‘things’ that want to take from you. Expectations. Things you ‘should’ do. Political messages, religious demands, work pressures, the crush of insatiable capitalism. It’s unrelenting, and it seems to be increasing. I don’t really ‘live online’, and try to keep a low social media profile, however even I’m finding there’s so many things that make my blood boil as soon as I log onto Facebook, or read the news. Things that affront my faith, heresies, wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. Things wanting to tear down. I’ve found there’s a stack of things simply yelling at me. Yelling, assaulting almost every part of my being. Have you found that? Even in my own walk of faith, there seem to have been people and organisations yelling out at me, proclaiming all sorts of things. Yelling out a mish-mash of political messages intertwined with an ‘interesting’ doctrine. Yelling out for me to attend their church, their conference, their course, or read their latest book. Yelling out for me to join their particular political movement, cause or group. These things – they burden. They saddle with distraction, and they crowd out the quiet whisper of truth. Yelling out. Here’s what I’ve also found, in amongst the noise. The quiet whisper of truth. From the get go, this quiet whisper isn’t some zen-like state. It’s not finding mindfulness, or meditating on nothing. It’s not something abstract that distracts you, or promises self-fulfilment, or fills your mind with another distraction. No, this quiet whisper is something completely different. I’m talking specifically in relation to my faith, but I think these principles can probably be applied to most areas of life. You see this yearning for the truth in so many areas. You see it with food, when people seek out the ‘original’ ways of doing things. You see it in some aspects of environmentalism, where people seek ways to live without the noise of everyday, and electing for a sustainable lifestyle. You see it when people restore cars, aiming to get their classic back to ‘original’ condition. You see it when people lose their way in their relationships, and they seek to find the things they first enjoyed about each other. The quiet whisper of truth. Listen to her. This is how she makes herself known to me: She is the quiet whisper guiding me to holiness, when there’s yelling about ’10 things I need to do to improve my life’ She’s the gentle beckoning to repentance, when the seductive siren of lust tries to tempt me She’s the sweet call of righteousness, when the hiss of shadows tries to lure me to corruption She’s the unfailing rock I grasp to, when the tide of popular culture melts beneath my feet She is the wisdom of ages, unchanging, unfailing, unfaultable, when the dross of fancy speakers, loud music and ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ messages turn to dust. This quiet whisper of truth. Heed her call. I’ve found this whisper, this whisper in places seldom sought. I’ve found her in the beautiful Law. I’ve found her in the ancient voice of the prophets. She calls out your name. I’ve found her, not in the flashing lights of the pulpit, but in seeking, and searching the scriptures. This whisper of truth, I have found her in the counsel of men who speak quietly. I have found her in the voices of women refined by fire. Her voice isn’t brash, but her authority is immutable Her call is sweet, but her message is life-affirming Her whisper illuminates the hidden darkness in you, her embrace calls you to repentance, her grace calls you quietly, calls you to the light. I’ve found this quiet whisper of truth makes me squirm, and makes me uncomfortable. Truth will do that, for darkness can’t hide when the light of truth beams down. Let me encourage you to seek this truth. Seek out her quiet whisper, this quiet whisper of truth.
I was privileged to go to a Samoan wedding last night. It was the first Samoan wedding I’ve been to. Actually, it was just the wedding reception, but there was enough Samoan to know it was almost exclusively a Samoan wedding. I’ve been to other cultural weddings in the past. I’ve been to a Macedonian wedding, an Indian wedding and plenty of Aussie weddings. Incidentally, do you know the difference between an Aussie wedding and an Aussie funeral? One less drunk.
Jokes aside, it was a beautiful reception. The groom was a couple of years younger than me, and is currently a professional rugby league player. To be honest, no-one really mentioned the bride, as lovely as she was.
Now, I don’t know how indicative this reception was of Samoan wedding receptions, but there were many things that the MC would preface much of the proceedings by saying ‘in Samoan culture’. For example, he’d say ‘in Samoan culture, we always invite the priest and his wife to eat first’, or ‘in Samoan culture, we share dances and songs at gatherings like this’. Indeed, there was much singing, dancing, prayers and formalities. Most of the reception, save for a few speeches, was done in Samoan. One of the grooms family members was a tribal chief, who gave a very ostentatious speech in Tongan. The women all gave dances, the men gave dances, they all gave dances. At various times during the evening, they broke out into beautiful Samoan songs – many of which I recongnised as old church hymns, except in Samoan. It was truly a beautiful experience, and it gives me goosebumps even now thinking about it. Regardless of your views on faith, there is something totally inspiring about spontaneous hymns in a beautiful language.
Just over a year ago, I was in Fiji. Going there, it weighed heavy on my mind the disparity between my Western wealth and the humble, austere living of the Fijians. Anyone who has been to Fiji will know what I’m talking about. How do I reconcile having a plate of food, served by a beautiful Fijian man or woman, who goes home to a simple home, perhaps without even electricity. It wasn’t until I visited a nearby village and partook in a kava ceremony that it made sense – how the Fijians could live like this – really in what we would describe as poverty.
During this ceremony, the village elders described how they were deliberate in preserving their culture. How they were committed to seeing their culture and their way of life preserved and passed onto their children, and their children’s children. They were describing their love of their culture. So we sat there, on the floor of this wall-less shelter listening to the elders, sipping kava, being mesmerised by this simple way of life. It wasn’t until that moment that I realised that even though there was a huge disparity – and I mean huge – between my shallow wealth and the depth of their culture that I wondered who was missing out.
I can’t help wonder, now, what is my culture. Even as a fairly conservative kinda guy, I don’t have any real rituals, customs or rites. I had no formal initiation into manhood. I have a personal faith, but to say the predominant culture I find myself is in anyway religious would be incorrect. I have no tribe with a chief, I have no songs of my forefathers, even at significant events (weddings, funerals etc), to say there are cultural expectations would be a stretch of the imagination. I have no special language to pass onto my son or daughter, no lore nor rites. I pray I will train them up in the ways of the Lord, and this is one inheritance I am very proud to implore them to find their faith in Him.
So, we – I – have very little in the way of culture. What do we have? I have been searching for the answer. What have we found our new culture? I look back to the social revolutions of the 60’s, where there was a very clear rebellion against the conservative ways of the 50’s. It is very easy to see the difference this rebellion, if you want to call it that, had on our Western society. But even now, if one was to rebel, what culture would they be rebelling against? If I was to tell my culture to ‘stick it’, so to speak, what would I actually be rebelling against, for the cultural rules and expectations placed on me are so minimal.
In the years proceeding 1990, Latvia, along with many other former Soviet republics regained independence after being occupied, bound by the evil yolk of communism. During those oppressive years, the Communists imposed their might on the Latvians, forbidding the language, the culture, the stories, the lore. In the three decades since independence, Latvia, as well as her sister states Lithuania and Estonia have been deliberate in nurturing their culture, their language and traditions. Jay Nordlinger writes that for many Lativans returning to Latvia after Communism it has been both a physical and spiritual experience. Many Jews similarly express similar sentiments when they return to Israel.
I love capitalism, and firmly believe ethical capitalism (I know some friends will scoff at that term!) does much more benefit than controlled economies. What capitalism can’t do, what it cant buy or produce though is connection, culture and being. I wonder, if, here in ‘the West’, we have traded culture, connection and a sense of being for a never-satisfied need for ‘things’ and ‘stuff’. I wonder.
Culture, in the traditional sense of the word, doesn’t spring up overnight, but something I think needs to be practiced daily. One only needs to look at the Jews to see how, especially for observant Jews, their culture is a daily practice. It’s a culture that’s sustained them through over 3500 of human existence, through being scattered amongst the earth, through Pogroms and Holocausts and ever present promises of destruction.
So I ask – do you come from a strong culture? How do you see culture in terms of identity? Is it a culture you wish to impart into your children? Do you find comfort in the company of ‘your own’?
You may think this blog is somewhat somber, and perhaps it is. I guess I’m just missing this idea of culture, this idea of belonging to something bigger than myself. Something that perhaps compliments my faith, and something bigger to shepherd my children in as I guide them through the wilds to maturity. I’m interested. Tell me your thoughts.
Picture credit from http://www.qiane.co.nz/anele-nigel-le-lagoto-resort-savaii-destination-wedding/
The Australian Government currently has a very strong policy to deter people seeking asylum in Australia. This policy has generated huge debate in Australia, both for and against it. Part of this policy is holding asylum seekers in camps in Nauru and Manus Island (part of Papua New Guinea). I can only imagine how hot, uncomfortable and basic these camps are.
Over 250 asylum seekers have been brought from Nauru and Manus Islands to Australia for medical treatment. The Australian Government has mandated these asylum seekers be returned to Nauru or Manus Island on completion of their medical treatment. In response to this, there was a challenge put before the High Court, questioning the constitutional validity for the Australian Government to make laws allowing the return of the asylum seekers to Nauru or Manus Island. The High Court affirmed that these laws were constitutionally valid.
In response to this, the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT), an initiative of the National Council of Churches in Australia have offered to open up a number of churches and cathedrals as a ‘sanctuary’ for asylum seekers who are facing deportation back to Nauru. A press release from the ACRT asserts that the concept of ‘sanctuary’ is an ancient principle that goes back to the Old Testament.
The concept of a city of refuge (or sanctuary, as the ACRT dubs it) is not a feel-good ancient principle. It is a very important, very significant part of Jewish law (also called the Torah). The Old Testament references to this can be found in Deuteronomy 4:41 and Numbers 35. This important law relates specifically to an individual who has unintentionally killed another. You see, the family of the killed could legally avenge the death, regardless if it was intentional or carelessly unintentional. The killer could go to a city of refuge and plead his case. If the elders or judges of that city find that the death was carelessly unintentional, then that person would be permitted to live in that city. They could only leave the city once the High Priest had died, and during their stay, they were obligated to learn, study and live the Law. There were serious obligations placed on the city of refuge, and serious obligations placed on the person who had sought refuge. For example, the city couldn’t hold the killer to ransom and demand a price from the family of the killed. The killer similarly would fall outside the protection of the city if they stepped outside the walls of the city. The legal principle of cities of refuge has many very significant implications both physically and spiritually for Jews, and Christians.
History is littered with examples of churches and Christians defying unjust and inequitable laws. History is littered with examples of Christians rallying, protesting and petitioning against unjust and inequitable laws. History is littered with Christians speaking out against injustice. One only needs to look at the likes of William Wilberforce, the English MP who was instrumental in ending the slave trade in Britain. There were countless of Christians during WW2 in Europe who literally risked their lives hiding Jews from Hitler’s evil reach. Martin Luther King Junior was a fearless preacher who stood up against segregation and racism in America.
Without a doubt, the ACRT, along with many fellow Australians, are showing kindness and compassion to asylum seekers. I know of a number of churches and Christians who go about their way quietly supporting newly arrived refugees, supporting them practically, helping with English and being welcoming, kind Australians. There’s no doubt in my mind that places like Manus and Nauru are horrible places at best. Can I understand the rational of the Australian government’s policies? Yes, I can. Is the outworking of these policies harsh? Yes, definitely.
What I don’t understand is why the ACRT is taking a very important, very significant Biblical law that offers legal protection (and obligations) to a killer and truncating it to speak out against the policies of the Australian Government. To me, it’s a complete misrepresentation of the intent of that particular law. I don’t understand why the ACRT is wilfully misrepresenting Biblical law, especially when there are other precepts that relate specifically to ‘strangers’ or ‘aliens’ in the land .
The ACRT have acknowledged that their campaign is against Australian law (which it is). Why doesn’t the ACRT simply say that they are choosing to be kind and compassionate (which they are doing) and elect to defy the law because they think the law is unjust? Why water down and trivialise a significant Biblical law and adapt it to a political cause (however good or proper the cause is?), especially when there are many other more appropriate and specific references that could be used?
Groups like the ACRT play an important part in our democratic process. They play an important part in supporting refugees and asylum seekers. I just wonder why an inappropriate Biblical reference is used to justify breaking the law, when they should just simply breaking a law they believe is unjust and inequitable.
I recently found myself embroiled in a situation where I felt someone I loved dearly had defiled standards that they set for themselves. I’ve viewed this particular person as a real rock in my life for many, many years and it really, really hurt me seeing them doing things that I thought they’d never do. It left me struggling, in a way, to find a bit of stability.
In the Jewish calendar, we are currently in Hanukkah (or the Festival of Lights). Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greek-Syrian occupiers in Israel at the time. The Maccabees were a band of Jewish fighters who, essentially, had enough of the Hellenization and paganisation of Israel, the Temple and the Jews. They led a pretty crazy campaign against the occupiers, took control of Jerusalem and the Temple and re-dedicated it to God. To the un-initiated, Hanukkah is not just the ‘Jewish Christmas’. It represents a series of very significant events, military battles, the miracle of the Menorah and the re-dedication of a people to the Lord.
Why do I compare these two stories?
I’ve noticed, as I get older, the implicit contradictions of life. Of how we proclaim social justice, yet buy clothing made by sweat-shop labourers or slaves. Of how we ‘ride with you’, yet leave 1400 English girls to be raped. Of how we complain about the price of petrol yet continue to buy bigger cars. Of how we complain about the price of food, but waste it by the ton every year. Of how we want to #bringbackourgirls yet leave countless Indigenous children to be raped and neglected within own communities.
I compare these two stories, because after the abovementioned event, it made me want to reach for the baseline, concrete absolutes of my childhood. If I can say so, I was brought up in a Christian movement that focused on staying away from vice and a relatively strict interpretation of scripture. Whilst some may see these rules as strict and stifling, there is a great security in knowing firm boundaries. I’ve relaxed some of my views as I’ve grown, but fortified others. I guess that’s part of growing up. In the face of the above-mentioned challenge, however, it made me want to re-kindle and re-affirm the ‘absolutes’ I grew up with, like someone drowning, gasping for air.
In times of crisis, our natural reaction is to grasp for something concrete. When I was learning how to ride my motorbike, the instructor told us that if we panic, we’ll likely want to grip onto something strong (i.e. the Earth) to protect ourselves. After these terrible events in Sydney this week, we saw a huge number of people suddenly ‘get religious’, filling churches, offering prayers, seeking comfort in faith – all good things.
What I suspect is that most – if not all humans have is a longing for something real. An unshakable foundation.
The Maccabees (indeed, the whole nation of Israel) were facing the extinction of their homeland, their culture and most importantly, their faith. They saw the desecration of the Temple. They were not content to see all they held dear destroyed. They fought – ruthlessly – for what they believed in. They strove to reclaim the concreteness of their faith and their connection to God.
I’m not saying follow your childhood beliefs in an unquestioning manner – to the contrary! We must all test what we believe. You need to know what you believe and why you believe it, and know what you don’t believe and why you don’t believe it. Permissiveness and passivity has seen the rise in a generation of ‘meh’, unsure of what is truth, willing to follow any trend like long grass blowing in the wind.
It’s easy, as we grow up, to see the contradictions and pain in the things we love, and be jaded by it. It’s easy to be jaded, for example, the Church and all it’s inherent contradictions, but miss the life-changing, liberating message of Jesus.
Is it time you revisited the concretes in your life? Faith, family, liberty? What do you hold dear – do you see it slipping away? Have the events in life made you jaded? Angry? Dismissive?
Like the Maccabees all those years ago, is it time for you to restore those truths you used to hold so dear, no matter what the cost?
Image from http://www.thejerusalemconnection.us/blog/2011/12/21/would-the-maccabees-be-proud.html
The wilderness. A place far away. The wilderness of the soul. The wilderness of relationship. The wilderness of being. A place where all senses are both parched, starved and then finally, restored.
I’ve been pondering times when I, and those around me have been in the wilderness. When ones I’ve loved have been far away – either physically, mentally, relationally or spiritually. Times when no amount of reaching out could save them from the scorched earth they have found themselves in.
History is littered with times of people who have had wilderness experiences. Some are self-imposed, some are enforced by outside forces. I think of Joseph, head filled with dreams and promises, sold as a slave. I think of Moses, wondering around the Middle Eastern desert for many, many years. I think of David, who was promised to become king, running into the desert for his life.
All these stories have similarities. These men’s lives start full of promise – whether it be dreams, a royal upbringing or a promise of greatness. I think of a life changing event or events these men had – challenges on their life, a fissure between their promised glory and their present reality. I try to empathise with these men – how would I react if everything I held dear was ripped away from me? My home, my family, my comfort, my stability taken away and I was flung into the desert.
There’s a few ways we can react when we are having a wilderness experience. When everything seems far away, when even a little comfort seems unattainable. When we thirst for refreshment of the soul, of the mind, of the spirit or some nourishment relationally.
I guess there’s a stack of ways you can act when you’re in the wilderness. You could just let it overcome you. You could fight it out. You could go into survival mode. I guess everyone is different and deals with those experiences differently.
The more I hear of people that have had ‘wilderness experiences’, the more I see an emerging pattern. After being in the wilderness, there’s a restoration, but that restoration is always a choice. People generally don’t chose to stay in the desert forever. We all know the aforementioned stories end – Joseph does not lose sight of his visions, regardless of what life throws at him (and a stack is thrown at him). He stays true, he believes, he is lead through his many wildernesses. Moses? He led the Israelites out of Egypt. That’s no mean feat! David? From shepherd boy to giant killer to desert wanderer to King.
Here’s the crunch. What were those dreams you had in your heart, all those years ago? Where are they now? Have they been snubbed out by life? By a wilderness experience? Maybe your partner walked out on you. Perhaps you lost your job. Maybe your faith has been battered by the storms of life. Maybe the lure of riches ended up just being a rusty fishhook.
I truly believe those dreams were put in your heart for a reason. I also truly believe sometimes we need a wilderness experience to remember those dreams. To remember what it is you believed in, those many years ago. You don’t need to be in the wilderness forever. You don’t need to be separated – from life, from promise, from relationship, from destiny, from hope forever.
What has being in the wilderness taught you? When all has been stripped away, what is really important to you?
What’s stopping you from getting out of the wilderness? Pride? Past hurts? You’re right on your own? You like being in the middle of the desert? Whatever it is, you can be restored – but you need to make the decision.
Look around you – the world is full of stories of the odds being battled. Of sunshine after the rain. Of the stillness after the storm has past.
It’s time for you to write your story of coming out of the wilderness.
Image from http://www.hashtagpics.com/?p=595