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If we could all
just stop throwing stones,

and stoop, knees bent
and write in the dust,

we’d see that the dust
was once stone –
grand, and hard, and proud, and tough –
now ground and dissolved
in grace and tears.

So… how much better
to be a grain of dirt

on that kind prophet’s hands
than a stone
in the cold, accusing Temple
of the pure.

(from The Open Office: a tool for groups exploring a rhythm of life that has a liturgical edge to share resources.)

How often are we like the stone… cold, hard-hearted, distant and judgmental to those we love and to those around us. May the Spirit of Christ break up the hardness of our hearts, grind us into bits of dust through his grace, love and mercy. May we have a heart of tenderness, kindness, compassion for others.

Beannacht (“Blessing”)

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

(Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, by John Donahue)

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Complex Christ book cover

The Complex Christ, by Kester Brewin

This week I’ve been re-reading a book by Kester Brewin of The Vaux Community in London, England, The Complex Christ: Signs of Emergence in the Urban Church.

I want to share a few thoughts from the chapter on “Gift.” These are direct quotes from the book. I encourage you to purchase the book from Amazon.com by clicking on the book cover to the left. I cannot say that I am in total agreement with all that he writes in this book, but once again, it has impacted my life and ministry.

Christ began his journey to embrace the city in the desert, where he rejected the crude transactionalism of those who would tempt him to seek devotees through stunts and bread. He turned away from a style of ministry that tried either to get people to exchange their commitment for the meeting of their material needs, or wow them into belief through displays of power and magic. Christ did this because he had dedicated himself to a new way, to a conjunctive approach to the city. . .

However it is clear that, despite resisting these trades, there was some kind of transaction occurring in Christ’s ministry, just as there is in the Church’s ministry today. Something is given, and something is received. It is vital that we, like Christ, get the nature of this exchange right, for we risk ending up as another product to buy or sensation to seek unless we do… a conjunctive approach to faith must re-evaluate the Church’s modes of exchange, and … central to our critique of consumerism must be the rediscovery of the transaction of gift. (p. 117)

At a basic level then, we might reflect on the extent to which our practices in church function as commodity or gift. . . We must clearly be careful about our gift practices in the context of faith, and ensure that we get the distinction between appropriate commodity transaction and appropriate gift transaction. To blur the line between the two is likely to cause all sorts of problems and lead to allegations of manipulation. (p. 120)

… if worship is a gift, then it is absolutely not about what I am looking to get out of it, but what I am looking to give. Churches must steer clear of ‘selling worship’, as if it could be re-marketed and rebranded through some surface pick-and-mix of popular culture. Who am I to come to worship the Almighty and expect to get something? Yet that’s what most of us do,, turning up tired from the week’s work and busy weekend, needing our batteries recharging, looking for a bit of a power-pack from God or to be caught up in some holy moment. (p. 121)

Churches must aspire to become centres of gift exchange in the broadest sense. They should provide hanging spaces for artists, venues for music of all types, forums for discussions and debates, classes for expectant mothers… whatever gifts there are in the local community, the church should be the place where these gifts can be exchanged or shared. I reiterate: this is not just about services of ‘Christian’ activities. This is about engaging with the local environment and having open boundaries. It is about refusing to see this as infection, but encouraging it as cross-fertilization. It is about declaring our interdependence with the locality we find ourselves in. (p. 128)

My thoughts:

As an artist, as a musician and as a minister of the gospel, my spirit resonates with these thoughts on gift. I believe that too often the church has commercialized its worship, offered assistance to the community with strings attached, or has had a ‘patriarchal’ attitude toward the people groups in the community.

The church must allow people to bring their gifts and share them at all levels of ministry, with no string attached, with no profit expectations, with no analysis to see how many new worship attendees or church members have resulted from the ministry attendance and response.

Jesus wants to reunite us with God because he loves us and longs for an intimate relationship with us. If we are to love others as Jesus loves us, we too must offer such a loving relationship as a gift, without any function or expectation.

Where the mist rises from the sea
Where the waves creep upon the shore
Where the wrack lifts upon the strand
I have seen the Lord.

Where the sun awakens the day
Where the road winds on its way
Where the fields are sweet with hay
I have seen the Lord.

Where the stars shine in the sky
Where the streets so peaceful lie
Where the darkness is so nigh
I have seen the Lord.

The Lord is here
The Lord is there
The Lord is everywhere.
The Lord is high
The Lord is low
The Lord is on the path I go.

Landscapes of Light: An illustrated Anthology of Prayers; David Adam

Psalm 84; The Message.

What a beautiful home, God of the Angel Armies!
I’ve always longed to live in a place like this,
Always dreamed of a room in your house,
where I could sing for joy to God-alive!

Birds find nooks and crannies in your house,
sparrows and swallows make nests there.
They lay their eggs and raise their young,
singing their songs in the place where we worship.
God of Angel Armies! King! God!
How blessed they are to live and sing there!

And how blessed all those in whom you live,
whose lives becomes roads you travel;
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,
discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!
God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and
at the last turn–Zion! God in full view!

God of the Angel Armies, listen:
O God of Jacob, open your ears–I’m praying!
Look at our shields, glistening in the sun,
our faces, shining with your gracious anointing.

One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship,
beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches.
I’d rather scrub floors in the house of my God,
than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin.
All sunshine and sovereign is God,
generous in gifts and glory.
He doesn’t scrimp with his traveling companions.
It’s smooth sailing all the way with God of the Angel Armies.

In ancient times, great fortresses were built on mountain tops. Many of those fortresses remain today in Europe and Asia. Few such places of protection can be found in the US. During this turbulent time of economic and spiritual crisis, most people around the world would wish to find a place of protection, a place of security.

A reading from Psalm 43 in The Message strikes me as a message of hope for all of us today.

Give me your lantern and compass, give me a map.
So I can find my way to the sacred mountain,
to the place of your presence,
To enter the place of worship,
meet my exuberant God,
Sing my thanks with a harp
(how about a guitar, keyboard or flute)
magnificent God, my God.

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God —
Soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face… He’s my God!

Simply spoken.. He’s my God. I can trust in Him, enter into a breathing space, a space of His presence. There I meet Him and sing my thanks. Basking in the light of His presence, my soul is lifted up, my spirit takes courage to face another day of the realities of life.

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