A Different Kind of King

Last week I watched the story of Private Desmond Doss, a soldier in the second world war whose story is told in the movie Hacksaw Ridge.

Doss grew up as a Christian and a devout pacificist – he was a conscientious objector to war. But he chose to sign up and do his bit as a medic. He wanted to serve his country, do his part and help the cause.

He just didn’t want to kill anyone in the process.

He confused his fellow soldiers because he didn’t play by the rules. He refused to pick up a weapon or to get involved in anything that would hurt another person.

Doss was taunted and abused by his fellow soldiers who considered him a coward. They saw someone who lacked courage and who just didn’t get it. So they beat him up and tried to get rid of him.

They tried to make army life so unbearable that he would quit and go home.

The truth was, he didn’t lack courage at all – he was more than prepared to put his body on the line – in fact he had the courage of 10 men. He roamed the battle field without a gun of any kind, running out to attend to those who had been hurt and to pick up injured soldiers and literally carry them on his back to safety where they could be cared for.

Often those injured soldiers were the same ones who had abused him and accused him of weakness. His presence to save them – at risk of his own life – must have been confusing to say the least.

Doss was a man of great courage and conviction and he was the first conscientious objector to be awarded the congressional medal of honour for bravery.

He saw the world different to those around him and he was misunderstood and abused because of it.

He was a soldier – but a different kind of soldier.

That was the battle of Okinawa in 1945.

Today we remember the battle of Golgotha in C 33 AD where two other kingdoms collided. And we see another man who saw the world differently and who suffered for it.

He was a king – but a different kind of king. He was misunderstood, abused and maligned for his un-kingly ways. And yet that was the very point.

He came as a different kind of king to establish a different kind of kingdom – to lead people into a new way of living – but in doing so he confused his followers who were counting on him to win a military victory and establish a kingdom of power and might.

The only way people could see victory was by force and might, but Jesus wasn’t going to win anything by that means.

If you live by the sword you die by the sword.

But if you die by the cross then you can call people to live by the cross. You can call people to a way of life that is not about being the boss, but rather is about being a servant.

In Mark 10 Jesus was speaking with his disciples about this new kingdom he was going to establish and an argument broke out about who was going to be 2IC – who’s going to get the prestige jobs in the new administration!

And Jesus just says ‘ no you guys don’t get it do you?’

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

He came to serve – and to give his life. In fact when Peter objected to having his feet washed by Jesus replied, ‘If i don’t wash your feet then you have nothing to do with me’

He was a different kind of king

Instead of smashing his way to the top Jesus came and served and people didn’t get it. We still don’t. On this planet the man with the biggest guns still rules and gets his way

They misunderstood him at one level and understood him perfectly on another – which is why he was executed. Instead of playing the game, working the system and colluding with those in power he critiqued them. He saw thru their self centredness and ego and he saw the mess that that approach had made of God’s creation.

So they plotted to get rid of him

In fact they feared him. His ways and ideas and his life was at odds with theirs and eventually it came to a head.

Someone had to win. Someone always has to win.

So what does a ‘win’ look like when you don’t want to play the game like those who are abusing you?

What does it mean to stay true?

For Jesus it meant death. It meant allowing himself to be killed by those who didn’t get him and who felt threatened by him. He gave his life literally.

For him it meant not fighting back. Not playing the same game, but drawing a line in the sand and saying ‘from now on new rules apply’.

Jesus willing ness to die set the tone for the kingdom he came to establish so today we reflect on a different kind of king and the darkest day in history when we rejected his rule and killed him.

 

We come to Easter Friday now with the knowledge of imminent resurrection, but that first Easter there was no recognition of that possibility – just despair and utter grief that it had all come to nothing. The plan had failed and Jesus was another disappointment.

I guess it all depends on how you see the world…

 

 

Where the Magic Happens

Back when I used to play basketball regularly I would go thru patches of good form and bad form. There would be 5 or 6 weeks in a row where it felt like you ‘couldn’t miss’ – every shot you put up felt like it was going in and often it did.

Then there were those weeks where you felt ‘out of form’, where the ball left your hand and you fully expected to hear a clang rather than a swoosh. Those weeks could go on and on and they were painful.

What was odd was that there wasn’t any way of determining when you’d be on form or off. It wasn’t that you ever stopped being a good basketballer, but simply that some days what you did worked and other days not so much.

I find the same happens with communication in a church setting, but with one distinct and curious difference.

RIght now I’d say I’m in a bit of a ‘form slump’ – putting teaching together has been really hard work whereas often it just flows – the creative ideas aren’t sparking and I’m just having to give it the best I’ve got – to hang in until things change. I can’t pick a specific cause or reason. Its just how it is. In this space I’m struggling to find the inspiration I want and the thought processes are clunking and grinding rather than meshing smoothly.

In the sporting arena that translates to poorer performance – games lost – and stats down. But curiously in the spiritual arena its often when the Spirit does his best work – when I feel like I’m not performing – when my own game is lacking.

I’ve been doing it long enough to know that what I think is my best work – the days when I have ‘belted it out of the park’ (as preachers say…) may not actually be the stuff that the spirit uses, but what I consider awkward and clunky and maybe even ho hum will often touch people’s hearts in unexpected ways.

So I’ve learnt not to worry – not to panic – but rather to wonder ‘how will God use this offering?…’ Because that’s what it is – an offering of the best I’ve got  – 5 loaves and 2 fish which he can do something pretty cool with.

In my early days of ministry I would have happily ‘subbed out’ during these periods and let someone else take the floor, but these days (while I still don’t enjoy periods of ‘creative constipation’) I actually find myself turning up expectant and curious as to what God will do with the best I’ve got to give.

And funnily enough, right this moment, just as I was about to hit ‘post’ a message came in from someone who found this morning’s message helpful…

Ha… Makes me smile…

When The Cupboard is Bare

empty-cupboardI haven’t preached at church for nearly 4 weeks now and I haven’t blogged on here for over 3 weeks.

Its lucky I haven’t had to preach because the cupboard feels pretty bare. I am lacking inspiration and spark – maybe if I was more spiritual I would say the Spirit’s voice is quiet, but the more honest reality is that I have been ‘blue arsed fly’ busy – and my thoughts have been consumed with my business and its demands.

As a seasonal worker whose ‘season’ started late after a long cold winter, I have now been deluged with phone calls and service requests. People have turned their sprinklers back on and discovered they don’t work… and the rush is on to get them fixed before the real heat begins.

After 10 years in business I have enough regular clients to never run short of work so my phone rings constantly and no matter what I am doing, I am almost always interrupted. Texts come in from 6.00am to midnight and sometimes in the middle of the night…

Its not a pace of life I enjoy, but I surrender to it for the three months each year that it requires. It means the rest of life suffers during that time as I work 10 hour days from Tuesday to Thursday and try to get thru as much work as possible.

Its difficult to be a good dad and husband when you are preoccupied and weary. Its hard to get motivated to see people, or go out. I eat dinner, watch some braindead TV and then chug off to bed around 9pm and generally I’m asleep in minutes. I was going to go to swimming training with the kids on Friday mornings but I just can’t bring myself to physical exertion on a day when I don’t have to go hard.

That’s one way in which busyness takes its toll, but the other way I see it impacting is on my creativity.  In this time creativity shrivels up and lives in a dark corner of my world and the tasks which it fuels (preaching, blogging, future dreaming) get dropped or done sub-standard because there is little fuel in the tank.

I sometimes open this blog, click on ‘new post’ with a vague idea percolating and discover that there just isn’t the clarity of thought or turn of phrase that comes so easily when my head is in a different, slower space.

My observation is that (at least for me) busyness is absolutely incompatible with creativity – that for the mind to be in a generative mode there needs to be peace and space and quiet. Even in the still moments I do set aside at the start and end of each day I am conscious of the need to ‘get going’ or of other important business pressing in on me. Prayer becomes a task – often a futile one – and I sometimes just give it up and go and ‘do something useful’.

Some of my most creative moments are actually on holidays – when there is nothing to do and nothing to think about. But even then it can take a while to get into that zone.

So for now this blog will show signs of neglect. I will do my best to pull together ideas for teaching at church, but chances are I won’t be ‘in the zone’ for a little while to come.

That said, I know there will come a day – I’m guessing in January once people have overspent on credit cards – when I will get a breath and I will be able to sit at peace with little pressing and listen to the ‘other voice’.

I know that will happen… but what about those for whom ‘January’ never comes – those for whom all of life is lived in the frantic zone? I’d suggest one of the reasons imagination and creativity is seen as the domain of children is because they have wide open mental spaces in which to play and they are not caught up in a life of activity – yet…

I would suggest we all have a creative side to us, but unless it is tended it gets squeezed out of us by a world that insists we get busy. I know there are times we need to be run hard, but I sense the world would be a richer place if the creative spark were fanned into flame more often albeit at the expense of productivity.

The Conversion of Eric Edgar Cooke

cooke1

The years 1959-1964 were a unique time in Perth history as they marked the Eric Edgar Cooke years – the period during which the city’s first serial killer was making his mark. If you want to read an intriguing account of this time then Robert Drewe’s Shark Net is well worth the time. 

Drewe recounts living in close proximity to Cooke and observing him as he worked at his father’s Dunlop factory. He devotes a whole chapter to the 1959 Billy Graham crusade in Perth and his insights are valuable. An aspect of this story that has always left me both curious and chilled was his account of Graham’s evangelistic altar call:

He kept quietly urging and beckoning us to join him. It was hypnotic. It was contagious. The people getting up from their seats didn’t look like religious maniacs. The looked like your average movie audience on a Saturday night. I recognised neighbours and a contingent of boys from Wesley College whom I’d played sports against. I saw my friend John Sturkey. I saw the chemist’s wife and my old maths teacher. Two rows along I saw Eric, the Dunlop delivery driver, sitting by a sign saying ‘South Perth Methodists’. People stood up all along the rows or chairs and people began sliding down from the roofs of the cattle, horse and pig pavilions. The chemist’s wife stood up. Eric stood up and joined Billy Graham. People were having conversions all around me. p.174

Aside from it being a beautifully crafted piece of writing, it is an account that raises some enormous questions.

So Eric Cooke became a Christian at the 1959 Billy Graham crusade… shortly before he went on his 5 year rampage of 22 violent crimes and 8 murders?… What exactly happened there?

Eric Cooke hanged in Fremantle prison on October 26th 1964, the last man to die by capital punishment in Western Australia. Will we see Cooke in the next life?

I’ve been pondering questions of conversion and this is one that has stuck in my craw since reading Shark Net back in the mid 2000’s. Perhaps the broken, messed up person that was Eric Cooke did have an encounter with the grace of God that could never be undone, no matter his crimes. Or maybe Cooke was just another casualty of an evangelistic methodology that sought to herd ‘souls’ like cattle rather than disciple real people into the kingdom of God.

More ‘conversion’ reflections to come after I’ve done some teaching on this issue tomorrow.

And here’s a link to the trailer for the TV mini series that was made from the book.

52 x 52

feet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you multiply those two numbers together then that is how many times in my life I’ve been to a church service.

Its a lot

In reality its probably more than that, because for the first 38 years I went twice on Sunday… (remember those days anyone) so I think the mathematicians would work that out as (38 x 104) + (14 x 52) which is 4680 church services give or take a few for holidays and for the years when we had 3 or 4 services a day running.

Let’s call it 5000…

After 5000 church services what is there still to learn, to do, to experience to be part of?… Surely 5000 times is enough?!…

And most of it has been the same kind of thing happening over and over… Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…Sing, pray, listen… sing, pray, listen…

Or in my case once I got a gig it was sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…sing, pray, preach…

Ok point made, church is repetitive – to the point of tedium even.

Not unlike my days, or yours for that matter.

Wake, eat, work, sleep or some variation of that. Every day is pretty much the same and even if I change the content of those activities I am still going to do pretty much the same thing for the rest of my life…

Wake, eat, work, sleep and repeat…

The point?

Repetition is not bad – in fact it is part of life – and health even.  Certainly we all need a holiday and a shift in focus from time to time, but 99% of life is repetitive and routine.

99%

Really.

And we need routine and repetition to give form to our days.

It would seem odd to delete ‘eating’ from our routine, or ‘sleep’. Many would like to delete ‘work’, but if you’ve done that then you would know the emptiness that accompanies a lack of purposeful living.

I’m no fan of church for church’s sake, but increasingly I see the value of the simple discipline of turning up – saying ‘this is what I do’.

I meet with my ‘family’ every week and I check in. And like most family gatherings some weeks its a hoot, other weeks it feels like white noise and others still we fall asleep or zone out completely.

But families get together.

Most evenings 4 of us gather around the table for food and to ‘be there’. Some nights I don’t feel much like talking. Some nights we laugh and joke loudly. Most nights Sam is the last one finished his meal because he talks more than the rest of us.

Our family’s evening meals are rarely inspiring, and captivating, but there is a simple beauty in being there – in turning up – and recognising that its not the same if someone is away – or if we eat at different times.

So I will continue to meet with the family in its various forms just because it matters – even if at times I find it hard to see.

When Stories Diverge

diverge

Recently I was at a dinner party and speaking with a person who expressed an interest in all things philosophy and religion. I found myself in conversation with this bloke for a while, so I began to ask him about his religious / philosophical views.

I asked if he had done any study and he confidently told me he had. I was thinking a philosophy degree or similar, but when I asked he explained that he had been on a weekend retreat back in 2011 with a group called Landmark Forum and it had revolutionised his life and been the basis for his thinking.

‘So… 3 days? Was that it?…’ I asked.

‘Yes, but I could do part 2 – another weekend – if I wanted to’ he added.

I admit I was skeptical of someone who would call a 3 day weekend a substantial amount of study…

As we chatted I heard that the group who held the weekend gathering in question  base their work on the EST movement, a school of thought popular back in the 70’s and 80’s but now rebranded as ‘Landmark Forums’.

I had heard of EST, but didn’t know much – they just fitted in my ‘alternative spiritualities’ category. I came home and did some googling and they get both rave reviews and scam warnings, depending on who is writing and what their experience was.

After reading up on them in various places, the common thread I observed was that the weekend was an intense focused time where people were broken down and then ‘re-built’.  It seems the goal of the conferences are to break people emotionally – to help them see and encounter their own brokenness and screwed-upness and to have them experience their own darkness and failure. In that deeply emotional state people are encouraged to scan their past for broken relationships and damage done that needs fixing.

From there they are encouraged to get on the phone, or set up a meeting to reconcile with those they have wronged.  And then once the ‘past has been dealt with’ they can move forwards. Many accounts describe this as a time of powerful healing and breakthru.

The philosophy has connections to the human potential movement, believing that in yourself you have all the capacity to achieve fulness and completeness – to be fully human.

I found it interesting to follow the train of thought and to see the similarity with my own faith – the belief in our brokenness and the need for healing – the importance of reconciliation, but then to see the divergence when it comes to how wholeness is achieved. In Landmark Forums you are seen as capable of moving yourself into a new headspace and of being your own saviour. All around us today in contemporary spirituality are variations on that theme – you are enough – you are your own authority and source of hope.

Its the dominant narrative of our time and in some places it leeches into our Christian story, eroding and ultimately eliminating the need for Jesus. The guy I was speaking with told me that he felt he had evolved past such a primitive mode of thought as Christianity, a theme I hear in the more recent teachings of Rob Bell, as he talks less about Jesus and more about an evolving consciousness. (And yes – I still listen to Bell – because I like him, find him intriguing and I think he has some amazing stuff to say alongside that which I would despatch)

My need for a saviour actually sounds quite ‘weak’ alongside those who would argue they don’t need anyone, which is probably what Paul was getting at when he spoke of the foolishness of the cross and our only boast being in the Lord. (1 Cor 8)

I guess the ultimate question is whose reality is true, but then that’s not the kinda question you ask in these times either…

 

 

The Real Work of Leadership

facetoface

So much of what is written or spoken about in Christian leadership seems to be about the organisational task of moving a church towards its ‘vision’ or intended direction. Not wrong and I agree that there is that element to leadership, but anyone who lasts a while in ministry knows that the real work of leadership and ministry is actually done in the micro-setting – one to one in personal relationships.

It’s as we help people grow and develop that our ‘organisation’ actually becomes what we want it to be. More specifically its as we help people become more like Christ that the church takes on the shape it is intended to have. ‘Equipping the saints’ may have a ‘skills’ aspect to it, but I am increasingly convinced it is more to do with shaping character and helping people tap into what God is up to in their lives.

You just can’t do that anywhere near as effectively by running a program or preaching a sermon. Even a small group has a limited impact. But as you sit with someone and spend time fully engaged with them, you have the potential to make a significant difference.

These days I tell people I have 3 simple roles leading, teaching and meeting with blokes – just 3 things. I’ll also meet with women where its appropriate, but by and large the most important stuff I do is in those purposeful connections with men. Its where the bulk of the ‘leading’ gets done.

I remember as a young pastor knowing I needed to catch people one to one and doing it, but not really knowing quite what I was doing, why we were meeting or what I was hoping for. I often felt awkward and like I was spinning my wheels, and even wasting people’s time because unless it was a Bible study, I lacked a sense of purpose and I also didn’t feel genuine permission to ask significant questions of the people I was meeting with. I’m guessing they felt it too – nice to see you, but so what?…

I can’t say I feel that now, nor do I have many meetings where there is no sense of purpose. Sometimes the purpose is simply to catch up and shoot the breeze. Many of those in our church community are my good friends and its nice to have lunch and talk cars, caravans and surfing. But most often if we are meeting one to one it will involve deliberate inquiry as to a person’s life trajectory, particularly their spiritual formation, and then helping them reflect on their experience of God and prompting them to consider what God may be saying in their life. Its not about how often you’ve read your Bible, prayed and gone to church. Its focused on helping them pay attention to the work God is doing in their own experience and as they encounter scripture. Its intentional and unapologetically, direct at times.

Of course people can do this themselves but sometimes its easier when someone else is guiding and prompting than just listening to your own thoughts.

I’d say that any Christian leader who isn’t spending intentional one to one time with a small but significant number of people is actually neglecting the core work that is required to shape a community and lead it purposefully. Preaching only makes sense if we know the people we are preaching to, leading only takes form when we know the people we are called to lead.

Its the real work of leadership that we have been called to – helping people form into the likeness of Christ and then seeing what takes shape out of that.

 

Murky Boundaries

I have it on good authority that a previous generation of pastoral leaders were advised often not to become friends with their congregations, to keep them at a (professional?) distance and maintain the relational boundaries – the pastor / congregant divide. So when ‘the pastor’ came to visit everyone was on their best behaviour as they sat in the ‘good room’ and drank tea together. I think we know such talk is utter nonsense now. In a world where authenticity is our greatest currency who wants to be a number on a church roll?

My generation heard another rather binary message. Maybe it wasn’t intended as so, but the essence of it was that you needed one day off / week where nothing of church entered your realm and when you took holidays you allowed no church business to be part of what you did. It was intended to allow clear boundaries between work and rest and to ensure recharge actually happened. Good in principle but maybe not so much in practice, especially if your church community are your friends and you want to go on holidays with some of them, or if you are able to live in such a way that life is not a desperate 6 day sprint followed by a brief window of collapse and exhaustion.

For the last 15 years or so we have allowed the boundaries in our lives to become increasingly blurred, to mix work and fun, rest and engagement and we haven’t come close to burn out or to disillusionment. My hunch is it’s partly a maturity/identity thing where we feel at ease in who we are and don’t feel a need to attend to every request the moment it comes in, but it probably a result of a more peaceful approach to life in general. Rarely do we have nothing to do and rarely are we bordering on exhaustion.

So as we trundle off for two weeks of holidays I know I will answer the phone to people, I will respond to emails and I will think about work both in its pastoral form and my business. But the boundary I have is that I do it when I choose to. I ignore what I don’t wish to deal with and I engage with that which I do.

This morning an inspiring email came in from one of our church community offering their service to help others.

‘What are your thoughts Andrew?’

I don’t use an autoresponder these days – because I generally like to respond – and I wrote back straight away. It was good – a great idea and one we can discuss more when I get home. That didn’t hurt – I wasn’t offended that he had emailed me while I was on leave. I enjoyed the energy the idea brought to me.

We’ve been thinking thru a new venture as a church community. It feels like a great idea that we are pursuing, but I don’t have the time to be the primary driver in it. Conversation with our friends while in holidays has helped me see what my role needs to be. It wasn’t hard to have those conversations. It’s just who we are and what we do and it would be weird not to talk about one aspect of our lives because it was holidays. And the outcome was clarity and peace – a win.

Perhaps you need the distinction of the ‘day off’ or the uninterrupted holiday. That’s fine – I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach to Christian leadership, but if you’ve only been sold the one binary model then maybe you should (intentionally) experiment with a different way – ‘intentionally’ because then you won’t feel guilty and see if there are other ways to live that work better for you.

I get the sense that frustration is inevitable when we try to make that which is fluid and complex into something solid, defined and clear, because it just won’t play out like that. So when a day off gets interrupted or a boundary breached we get gnarly rather than just rolling with it.

We are very much at home now in the murkiness of indistinct boundaries and a fluid work, family, play schedule. Occasionally we may just turn everything off and disconnect but now that’s the exception rather than the rule. It is a way of being that fits the life we have chosen and the rhythms we live by. But I wouldn’t want to make it a rule…

Then we’d be back to square one 

Mankaded

You probably wouldn’t have even known the under 19 World Cricket championships were happening earlier this year except for one incident. A West Indian bowler ‘mankaded’ the last Zimbabwean batsman as the game drew to a close, denying the Zimbabwean team the opportunity to go thru to the quarter finals.

Chances are unless you know cricket you also have no idea what ‘mankading’ is, but if your name is Vinoo Mankad you probably regret the day you decided to play by the letter of the law rather than the spirit, because now a piece of universally regarded unsportsmanlike conduct has been named after you.

Mankading can happen when the bowler is running in to bowl and the batsman at the non-strikers end is walking down the pitch in preparation for a potential run. The batsman is out of his crease and the bowler can dislodge the bales and make an appeal. Technically the batsman is fair game and needs to be given out.. The etiquette of cricket is that you need to give at least one warning before taking a wicket in this way. Even then its considered a pretty dodgy practice.

Vinoo Mankad will be remembered for all of history now, but for all the wrong reasons.

A bit like Aussie cricketer Trevor Chappell…

Oh yeah… we did that whole underarm thing against the Kiwis didn’t we?… That happened 35 years ago now but its still one of the ugliest moments in Trans-tasman sport. Acting on instructions from his brother Greg who was captain at the time, Chappell bowled the final ball of the day… underarm. Yeah – he rolled it along the ground… What an insanely dumb thing to do… The Kiwis needed a 6 to win the game and by bowling the way he did he denied them any opportunity of making a shot that would give them the result.

I think we might now call that ‘un-Australian’… But the fact is we did it. It was legal – it was permissible in the rules of the sport, but it just goes to show there can be a canyon of difference between legal and ethical or ‘permissible’ and ‘good’.

But its always been that way.

You can be perfectly correct and yet obnoxiously wrong. Mark Twain once spoke of those who were ‘good people in the worst sense of the word.’

I think of the story in the gospel of John where Jesus is confronted with the woman caught in adultery and he chooses not to play by the rules of his own religion. Those who were ‘good in the worst sense of the word’ have arrived and declared her guilty and punishable by stoning – which was true.

Jesus knows this is the case and says ‘sure go ahead – kill her – but let’s start with the person who has never sinned throwing the first stone.’

It gets a bit quiet in the street and John writes that one by one they dropped their stones and left.

So the woman is then left alone with the one man who could genuinely pronounce a condemnation – the one without sin – and yet he chooses not to enforce the law as it is written. Maybe its his law – he can do what he likes with it… but its not that… Its not an abrogation of the law but an awareness of what the law was there for in the first place.

He says to her ‘so… no one left here to condemn you then hey?’

‘Nope’.

‘Well – I don’t condemn you either.’

I think its really important we see that first statement Jesus makes because his second statement gets a lot more attention. His first action is to not condemn – to withhold whatever punishment was due – because that is what God’s like.

Then he says ‘alright – go and don’t sin any more’.

Because God’s also like that. He calls us to a better life, but that call comes out of love and grace rather than fear of condemnation.

In John 1 Jesus is spoken of as the ‘one full of grace and truth’, which I find a beautiful tension. We so often err on the side of grace – allowing sin to go unchecked, or on the side of ‘truth’, pointing out the rules divorced from their context.

What’s the point?

Simply that we can ‘get it all right’ and yet get it so terribly wrong. We can create a culture of law abiding and even ‘enforcement’ in Christian communities (whether its overt or subtle) and yet miss the heart of God that loves, accepts and forgives all of us for our screw ups.

If Jesus came to set us free then it won’t be because we live in trepidation that one day someone is going to Mankad us – or nail us on a technicality – because God just isn’t like that.

Margins

margin

So if I were to ask you now how ‘full’ your life is and you were to express it as a percentage what would you say?

60%?… 70%?… 80%?…90?… more?…

When is ‘too full’? And what implication does that have?

If that seems like a strange question then maybe its because you haven’t come to appreciate the importance of ‘margins’.

By ‘margins’ what I mean is living in such a way that you have plenty of space in life. You are not perpetually rushing – not hurrying from one activity to the next – not feeling like there is never enough time in the day, and even in the quiet moments feeling edgy because there must be something to be getting on with.

I remember as a 20 something living such a packed life that I simply ran fast from one activity to the next and it set the pattern for my existence for the next 10 years. It was largely ok as a single guy with boundless energy, as even emergencies managed to get catered for by just having a later night. In that phase of life the goal was to get as much done as was physically possible in one week.  There simply were no margins and if there had been I would have filled them to overflowing!

But I don’t believe its a healthy way to live – running hard and squeezing as much in as is physically possible. In fact I would suggest it is a way of depleting the soul, draining joy and slowly but surely bringing us undone in every way.

The absence of margins inevitably means an absence of time in reflection – because reflection will be seen as unproductive time. And the absence of reflection leads to a life lived without examination. What was it ole mate Socrates said about the ‘unexamined life’? I don’t think I have ever heard of a more ‘contemplative’ leader having a moral failure (which isn’t to say it hasn’t happened), but far more often it is the driven, type A workaholic who finds themself here, and my guess is that it is in part related to the absence of reflective space and the ability to see their own vulnerability.

The absence of margins will see a productive body but a withering soul.  However… because busyness and accomplishment is valued so highly in our society you can often get away with a depleted soul for longer than you can the lack of achievement. In reality busyness and hurry are like cancer to the soul and while their effect may not be immediately visible, the damage is being done. That’s not to undervalue achievement because I still love to get stuff done and I want to be successful, but its to say that it cannot be at the expense of the soul.

The absence of margins will inevitably have a detrimental effect on relationships. You simply can’t stop and be present with people if your brain is constantly focused on the next thing. You will piss people off because you clearly ‘need to be elsewhere’. You have better things to do than sit back and fritter a few hours away with friends. If you’re overly busy then it will show in your speech. You will talk fast and people will not rest easy in your presence… and if people don’t feel at ease around you then relationships will always struggle to take shape.

The absence of margins will also show up in your availability to people who call outside of your schedule. Margins are the space in life where the unexpected stuff can be attended to – and with care and focus rather than just as a duty to be dispensed with as quickly as possible.

I find it hard to measure ‘margins’, but I know when they are there and I know when they aren’t. Its been a long time since I lived with narrow margins and I doubt I ever will again.

To live with generous margins could be perceived as lazy, as wasteful even and at times I have struggled with being seen that way. But to live with margins also means to live in such a way that both people and God are paid attention to and given the time they deserve rather than being quantified as a task and allocated a slot in the diary.

In speaking of this I used to say that since living with margins ‘I get less done, but I’m a nicer person for it’, but more recently I’ve been questioning whether I actually ‘get less done’, or if in fact I just accomplish different things.

I guess it all depends on what we believe really matters in the end…