Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Feedback to 'those commandments!'

I have received some wonderfully creative responses to the challange of reframing the commandments so I thought I'd share some of them having received permission from the authors:

Mary wrote:
1. The Lord God is one, all embracing, all religions, all peoples, the Cosmos. He is everything that is and isn’t, therefore mystery. All we know and don’t know, therefore mystery.

2. Be creative and imaginative; write, sculpt, draw, paint, sing, compose, play an instrument, dance with joy.

3. Remember thought is matter and matter is energy. Be positive rather than negative.

4. Remember to keep every day, however spent, holy; that is, complete and worthy of the highest ideals.

5. Honour your father, mother, family and nation, all people and all species, the planet and the cosmos.

6. Seek peace. Love the unlovable as well as the lovable.

7. Sex is a gift and a necessity. Use it with love and wisdom.

8. Share what you have, be generous.

9. Be honest in all your dealings and relationships.

10. Show gratitude and be thankful.

Pam wrote:
1. Remember and acknowledge the mystery that is God within everyone and everything you know and don’t know.

2. Remember that God is beyond containment and beyond any image you have.

3. Remember to bestow your blessing on everyone and everything in your environment and to speak with kindness.

4. Remember your body is wonderfully made and treat it with respect.

5. Remember with thankfulness your parents who gave you life and reward them by being the best you are capable of.

6. Remember your responsibility to enrich and endow the lives of others.

7. Remember to honour the intimacies of marriage and family.

8. Remember the abundance of the earth and the rights of all to share in its plenty.

9. Remember to speak and act always with integrity and truthfulness.

10. Remember that greed diminishes and insults the goodness and generosity of God.

Patty wrote:
ONE: 'You shall have no other gods before Me.' Do remember that God is my best friend, always to ask for help, and to say thanks to when I find something, or just want to appreciate a beautiful day.

TWO: 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image--any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.' Do remember that God is complex so there isn’t any point in trying to copy him, he’s just awesome, do try to remember that He also made me, and apparently I too am awesome(I can’t make anything in my body without him, and he made me in his image, right?)

THREE: 'You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.' Do have a bit of respect for Him. Mouth wise =Zip it. *My hardest challenge!

FOUR: 'Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.' Do make the time once a week to relax and reflect, and if it’s church, then be sure to take something of value spiritually away with you, and leave a little something too.

FIVE: 'Honor your father and your mother.' Do love your parents, too easy, but also understand that as parents; they unwittingly gave me my greatest gift, of life, and they are human. Appreciate them every day, living or not.

SIX: 'You shall not murder.' Do help others, and share what you can with them, in every way. Help enrich their life, and not take away things that might disempower them. Do encourage, not criticise, do not kill ideas, or hope, or courage. Do enable people to step beyond themselves, and help them grow as a person, and they might just do the same to you. :)

SEVEN: 'You shall not commit adultery.' Do be faithful, in a loyal and loving way, both mentally and physically.

EIGHT: 'You shall not steal.' Do have original ideas, and be prepared to do the hard work yourself, and not take someone’s else’s anything: thoughts, stories, plot lines, concepts.

NINE: 'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.' Do tell the truth, at all times. Be honest, especially with yourself, you’ll sleep better.

TEN: 'You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.' Do celebrate and share your own possessions, and life, your home and family, and friends. There’s little point in living an envious life, it just makes you sick.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Reframing Those Commandments

The first reading last Sunday morning came from the Hebrew wisdom writing known as Exodus. I think it is a very important piece of writing for it describes God giving to Moses, on the top of a mountain, the Ten Commandments. These are the ten rules for community life that the Jewish people understood God had given them at some stage in ancient history. Even though we are not Jews these commandments have still played a significant part in shaping the legal systems of the Western World, and the understanding of the Christian Church about what is right and what is wrong. Therefore, there is no doubt in my mind that we have to take these Ten Commandments seriously, and the invitation in Lent is for us to say them as part of our community worship each Sunday.

You may be thinking if they are that important why don’t we say them each Sunday of the year? You’ll notice on other Sundays of the year we say the Great Commandments that Jesus identified when he was challenged by a lawyer described in Mark 12:28-34, Matthew 22:34-40, and Luke 10:25-28. At the time of Jesus the Ten Commandments had been developed into 613 laws that the Jewish religious professionals debated and made judgements about. We need to remember that Jesus lived in a world without TV or radio, without CD players and mobile phones, a world that may seem incomprehensible to some of our teenagers. In that time people talked to each other face to face and discussed and debated how to please God in the different circumstances of life. The ‘hot potato’ hypothetical at the time of Jesus between the two leading schools of Pharisees, one led by Ben Hillel, and the other Ben Shimai, was that if you saw a Samaritan drowning and you let them drown… would God judge you for it? One school said, ‘Yes!’ and the other said, ‘No!’

So when the lawyer asked Jesus which of all the Jewish rules was the most important, people would have been very interested in the response. Astonishingly, Jesus didn’t refer to any of the Ten Commandments he said – and I paraphrase, ‘Really there’s only one, and maybe another that flows on from that!’ He said, ‘Love God – with everything that you are, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.’

As I have reflected and taught about this over the years I’ve reframed the statement of Jesus into three phrases because I find so many people do not love themselves. From my work with young people and adults I would suggest that there is a chronic lack of self-esteem, a lack of self-worth, in our society. I think the reasons for this are many and complex and possibly the focus for a different sermon. But the three phrases that come from this teaching of Jesus are active and positive – Do love God! Do love others! and Do love yourself!

I think the gift that Jesus offers in transforming the Commandments, those being the rules from an honourous list of negative Do Nots’ to a threesome of positive Dos… is immense. Anyone who has worked with teenage boys would understand this!

Maybe it is a Western cultural phenomena where we encourage individualism and affirm the right of individuals to live the way they want to. Maybe it’s just a normal part of adolescent development where a young person may want all the rights without the responsibility. Whatever it is... when you tell some people they should not do something, that thing can becomes more attractive to them. The challenge for them is to somehow do that thing without being found out… or do that thing legally through some loophole in the law. I think people can often play games with the ‘Do Nots’ of legal systems.

An example that comes to my mind is the law that says ‘Do not steal’ – that seems pretty clear. But what do we call it when a company called Pacific Brands increases the pay of their CEO by 170% in the midst of a global economic crisis? Her pay last year was increased from $686,000 per year, to $1,860,000 per year. This was done at a time when the company was deciding to make 1,800 workers in Australia redundant. Last year, the thirteen Directors of Pacific Brands did not technically break the law as they more than doubled their own salaries and almost tripled the salary of their CEO. Technically they honoured the letter of the law which says ‘Do not steal’, but I would argue they have flagrantly ignored the spirit of the law which is ‘Don’t take from another person what belongs to them.’

I would suggest that the greed of these Corporate leaders has stolen from a significant number of people in Australia the opportunity to work. The opportunity to pay off their houses, educate their children, and pursue their leisure activities. I think there are gross inequalities and injustices in our world because of the legal games people play with the ‘Do Nots’ of our legal systems.

In addition I think there is another aspect to the psychology of ‘Do not’ because it is an absolute term. When I stop to reflect on the Ten Commandments I think I am compromised on each one of them. I am not simply sharing this because the Bishop is out of the country and it will be a few days before you can call him to make a complaint!

When I read ‘Do not worship anyone or anything other than God’ I recognise that I have frequently fallen short of that ideal. I have worshipped and adored my wife and my children and they are, quite rightly, central in my life.

When I read ‘Do not make idols or bow down to them’ I recognise that I have pursued my work sometimes at the expense of everything else. Sometimes to prove to others that something is possible that they thought was impossible… and in those times I made an idol of my work.

When I read ‘Do not use the name of God wrongly’ I don’t wonder about the occasional word that slips out when I hit my thumb with a hammer because I don’t refer to Jesus at such times! But I do wonder about some of my teaching in the past where the answers I gave were too easy and I don’t think the mystery and challenge of God was honoured.

When I read that I am to rest on the Sabbath and I recognise the wisdom of it – I remember the culture of activity and busyness that all too frequently causes me to ignore the Sabbath principal and not have a day off.

When I read that I am to honour my parents – there is a complex response within me because there are unresolved things in our relationship. Because we live in different parts of the world and see each other every five years it is easy to ignore the pain of that reality. But is that honouring my parents, or running away from them?

When I read that I should not kill I feel confident that I have not taken somebody’s life with my bare hands, or some kind of weapon. This will probably come as a relief to many of you? But when I think about the cheap clothes that I wear made in the sweat-shops of Asia. When I remember the life expectancy of people who work in such sweat shops – because they are overcrowded, underpaid, and have dangerous machinery. My confidence is diminished because I have condoned the conditions of their work through the economic system that serves my interest.

When I read that I should not commit adultery – again I can feel confident that I have not kissed or had sex with another woman since I married Kate eleven years ago BUT I have from time to time thought about it – and been attracted to it. So I have fulfilled the letter of this law – but I don’t think the spirit of the law has been honoured all the time.

When I read ‘Do not steal’ I again think that I’ve honoured the letter of this law – but then I remember some of the books that I’ve borrowed over the years; books that I’ve still got on my bookshelf because I’ve forgotten to return them. So, I’ve still got property that belongs to other people and surely that is one form of stealing.

When I read ‘Do not lie’ I am forced to ask the question ‘What is a lie?’ If a lie is telling the half of the story which puts me in a good light, while omitting the other half of the story which puts me in a less favourable light? I think I am guilty of this one as well.

When I read ‘Do not covet your neighbour’s possessions…’ I think I go OK most of the time. Generally speaking I don’t think I wish I had her house, his car, her guitar, or his income. However, I do sometimes covet their talent.. I wish I could play guitar like him, or sing like him, or run like her, or speak a language like her… and so on.

So, I score zero out of ten. This has the potential for leaving me feeling like a failure because it seems to me like I just don’t measure up to the big rules.

All is not lost… I think as human beings there is an interplay between words and people. What I mean to say is that people shape words, and words shape people. So let us shape some words together! I’d like to invite people in our Parish this week to use their creativity and reframe the Ten Commandments from ‘DO NOT’s’ to ‘DO’s’. Let us have a quiet revolution of words that can overflow into our spirituality, psychology and sense of being.

To help with that process I’ll share with you some of my thoughts, recognising that they are imperfect and quite personal. But they are offered to prime your creativity in responding to the challenge…

ONE – Do remember that God is present in every moment – in the easy times and the hard times. So remember to say ‘thank you’ as well as ‘help!’

TWO – Do remember that you are unique, and awesome, and loved.

THREE – DO think about the way you use words and name your experience of God.

FOUR – Do rest regularly and take to time to reflect and play, so that your physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual batteries get recharged.

FIVE – Do love your parents.

SIX – Do help others

SEVEN – Be creatively faithful to your partner, your family, your friends, and your ideals.

EIGHT – Be thankful for what you have and share it.

NINE – Be truthful

TEN – Be thankful and ask God’s blessing on those who have more things or abilities than you.

I look forward to reading yours…

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pelvis & Philippines

Each week through Lent we have an inward and an outward focus for reflection. The inward focus is grounded in Psalm 139 verse 14 which affirms that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. To help us reflect on this statement we have a life size skeleton in the church for Lent and each week we will think about the bones which are found in a particular part of the body.
This week we give thanks for our pelvis: The pelvis, or pelvic girdle, is the irregular
bony structure located at the base of the spine (properly known as the caudal end). The pelvis gets its name because in Latin, "pelvis" means "basin" or "large bowl". Because of our pelvis we can bend over, walk upright, and do so many things…
Our outward focus is grounded in the reality that within our worshipping community we have people who speak twelve different languages other than English. As we progress towards Easter we are invited to pray intelligently for the countries that seven of those languages come from.
This week we remember the people of the Philippines. The Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands in the Western Pacific Ocean. It has a population of 90 million people making it the twelfth most populated country in the world. In addition to this a further 11 million Filipinos are estimated to be living in other countries. 90% of Filipinos identify themselves as Christian with 81% being Roman Catholic. Please pray for the people of the Philippines.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Two Focus Areas for Lent

Each week through Lent I’d like to have an inward and an outward focus in reflection.

The inward focus is grounded in Psalm 139 verse 14 which affirms that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. To help us reflect on this we will have a life size skeleton in the church throughout Lent and each week we will think about the bones which are found in a particular part of the body.

This week we give thanks for the bones of our feet and legs: the femur, tibia, fibula, tarsals and meta-tarsals, and phalanges; the ball joints of our hips and ankles; & the hinge joints of our knees and toes. What a gift to be able to walk upright – run – dance – play games. What about those people who cannot walk, and have to use wheelchairs? What about those people who have joints in their legs that are worn out, or are damaged by disease?

The outward focus is grounded in the reality that within our worshipping community we have people who speak twelve different languages other than English. As we progress towards Easter I’d like our Parish to pray intelligently for the countries that seven of those languages come from.

This week we remember the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In land area it is the twelfth largest country in the world, and has a population of 62,600.000. The languages used for administration are French, Lingala and Swahili. The Capital of the DRC is Kinshasa, and the country has extraordinary cobalt, copper, diamond, and other mineral reserves. Tragically, the ongoing conflict in the DRC is regarded as the world’s most deadly war since World War Two. It has claimed an estimated 5.4 million lives! Please pray for the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.