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18 June 2012

"Baking the Loaf"



I like to bake bread.  When we came to New Zealand we left behind a lot of cookbooks but I scanned in my favourite pages from my favourite bread cookbook so that I have those recipes and directions on my computer.  I have used them many times, most recently this evening. So when I was listening to my Daily Audio Bible podcast the other day and I heard the story about the “Widow at Zarephath” in 1 Kings 17, it struck a cord with me.  Perhaps what really hit home was the commentary after the reading in which the reader, Brian Hardin, summed up the passage with the directive to “Bake the loaf.”  What does this mean?


Some of you may recall the story.  There is a drought and famine in the land and God sends the prophet Elijah to live by a brook where he is able to drink water and eat bread and meat brought to him by ravens.  Then, the brook dries up and Elijah is told to go to Zarephath, where there is a widow whom “God has directed” to give food to Elijah.  Now, first of all, it is not at all clear from the story just HOW God directs the woman to give Elijah food.  It almost seems as though the first the woman hears of it is from Elijah himself.  Perhaps.  God works outside of our constraints of time and space.  In any case, he goes and finds this woman gathering sticks to make a fire to bake her last little bit of flour and olive oil together to make a meal for herself and her son.  She believes this will be their last meal.  There is no food anywhere in the land and so she is prepared to eat this last little bit of bread with her son and then wait to die.  It’s a heartbreaking story, really.  The woman is hopeless and yet so full of love for her son that she is going to make the effort to make the most of their last tiny meal together.  So, as she is in this frame of mind, along comes this prophet of God who asks her to get him a drink of water and a piece of bread. She tells him her story.  Remarkably, the first thing Elijah says to her is, “Don’t be afraid.”  These are the same words that Jesus uses over and over.  These are words that I have come to understand as “a miracle is coming, wait for it.” Or, to put it another way, “Trust me, and watch how things turn out.  You’ll be amazed.” Elijah proceeds to tell her that IF she trusts him and does as he asks, her flour and oil will not run out until rain comes to the land, signaling the end of the famine.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if that were me, I’d be pretty skeptical.   I realised as I listened to this story and to the commentary afterward, that this is something that is played out in my life in so many ways.  On a very literal level, what is my response when a homeless person or a panhandler asks for money?  What if they “promise” something in return?  I’ve found that more often than not I am tempted and, indeed, often succumb to the temptation to turn away or to offer excuses as to why that person isn’t “worthy” of “my” charity.  And then there are the more metaphorical examples where I may hear a call to do something or to go somewhere and I make excuses for why I can’t do it or why the call may not be a genuine call.  But beyond that, what’s really going on is that I don’t TRUST the outcome.  I don’t believe that whatever it is will turn out the way I want it to.  I can’t imagine how it could ever turn out in my favour or how it could ever “be right.”  And this lack of faith can paralyse me into doing nothing, staying with the status quo. 

This theme plays out in other places in the Bible.  There’s Abraham and Isaac, when Abraham actually takes his son to sacrifice him to God, all the while TRUSTING God’s promise that through Isaac he will have a nation full of descendants. (Genesis 22)  The story seems so barbaric and gruesome to us, sometimes to the extent that we miss the point entirely.  Abraham LOVES his son and he KNOWS that God knows how much he loves his son AND he TRUSTS that somehow God will see him through this.  And God does.  [Why God would put someone through a test like that is beyond the scope of this post and, frankly, beyond the scope of my theological imagination to answer at present.]

The other story that comes to mind is the parable of the talents. (Matthew 25 14-30)  In this one, a man gives “talents” (or money) to each of 3 servants.  He goes away and comes back and finds that while he was gone two of them have invested their money and doubled it while the third hid his under the mattress (so to speak).  He is very angry at the third son for his  laziness and obvious lack of shrewdness in investing.  This parable could be (and probably is) used as justification for the “rich getting richer” approach to politics and economics.  However, I see it a bit differently.  I think the reason this parable came to mind when I was hearing the story of the widow is because PERHAPS there is a parallel.  Quite possibly, this parable is about the third servant’s lack of FAITH.  He hangs on tightly to the status quo, to what he’s got, instead of investing it (sharing it, sowing it into a world of great need), and by playing it safe, he helps no one, including himself. 

And so, Brian’s commentary admonishes me to “Bake the loaf,” to give it all to God, to take risks in order to share the God’s grace and mercy and unfailing love with those who need it.  I need to do this EVEN (or especially) when I feel like I might be down to my last cup of flour, my last measure of oil, my last penny, my last nerve, my last bit of compassion. 

These thoughts have been swirling around in my head, mixing it up with the images and reports I’ve received from various friends on Facebook of the events of the Montana Gay Pride event this past weekend.  Montana Pride has a history of being very unlike other Pride celebrations.  The first time I went to one I was fascinated that they held WORKSHOPS.  Most of the Pride events I'd been to  in other places involved a big, flamboyant parade and parties.  Maybe there were outdoor bands and concerts, a dance, a drag show or two, but never workshops.  Last year, I went to a workshop on faith and sexuality and met some amazing people there, including a woman named Michele whose son is bisexual and who shared her journey of coming to accept that.  I’ve gotten to know her a bit more over the past year and she has shared some of her experiences on her blog, Rainbow Icecream. This year, my friend and “little brother” Tom was director of the whole thing and apparently did an amazing job (not surprisingly) and a woman whom I know from GCN (Kathy at CanyonWalker Connections) came to speak and to meet people and to do her amazing work of reconciliation between the Church and the gay community, especially those (most of us) who have been so wounded by the Church.  I believe it took someone like Tom, a passionate Christian gay man, to bring this most unique aspect to a Pride event.  I would imagine this must have been, in a sense, Tom’s “Bake the loaf” moment.  As I described in a previous post, it’s often not popular for gay people to be associated with Christians or Christianity because of how we have been wounded and rejected by many Christians.  Tom and Kathy and Michelle and many others have responded to that call to reach out in faith, knowing that it might (and does) bring abuse and ridicule and rejection from both sides.  It’s humbling, really, to see that kind of courage.  And yet, just like the widow, just like many of the people whose lives Jesus transformed, just like Abraham, many of us have found ourselves at rock bottom with nowhere else to turn and out of that brokenness has come the gift of truly knowing, believing that it really all comes down to GOD. 

I am challenged by the story of the woman who gave her last little bit of food to a man of God, TRUSTING that God would come through for her and her beloved son.  I am challenged by the story of the Apostle Paul who suffered all kinds of abuse for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and truly believed God when he said, “My GRACE is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  I am challenged by people who suffer unimaginable hardships to bring that grace and compassion to others.   It all comes down to trust in God to work things according to a plan that I don’t need to, or really even want to know.  Just “Bake the loaf.”

18 May 2012

Meditations on Motherhood


Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, both in the US and in New Zealand.  I used to think that Mother’s Day was just a cheesy Hallmark holiday.  However, since becoming a mother, it has, of course, taken on new significance.  When we were in Guatemala waiting to take Kate home, Guatemala celebrated their version of Mother’s day and we were SO excited to finally be mothers that we participated in the apparent tradition of going out to eat at Compero Pollo (the Guatemalan version of KFC).  We then arrived home on the weekend of the US version of Mother’s Day and got to celebrate our new motherhood again. 

It’s wonderful to celebrate Motherhood.  Being a mother is the strangest, most wonderful trip I have ever experienced.  And yet, the concept of celebrating Mothers and Motherhood is fraught with difficulties.  During the years that we were trying to become Mothers, Laura and I experienced such a range of emotions including excitement, loss, pain, grief, joy, anger and fear.  It was a roller coaster that threatened to destroy us individually and as a couple.  Mother’s day for those who want desperately to be mothers is a very painful reminder of what they desperately want but cannot have.  I have also walked with friends through the deaths of their children and have found that, especially in the case of the loss of an only child, those women want to be acknowledged as mothers yet find, sadly, that people are uncomfortable wishing the mother of a dead baby “Happy Mother’s Day.”

To make matters even more complicated, many people have very complex and troubled relationships with their mothers.  I used to think I was one of those people but over time, I have discovered that compared to many, my relationship with my mother is actually quite ordinary, perhaps even HEALTHY!  At the very least, it is pleasant.  I enjoy spending time with my mother and value our conversations.  I perceive my mother to be less critical than she used to be.  I don’t know if that perception is based upon any change in HER behaviour (perhaps she just doesn’t tell me what she really thinks?) or if it is simply that I am not as sensitive as I used to be.  In any case, I am grateful.  And I am keenly aware that many people are not so fortunate.  I know Mother’s Day is very hard for those who have broken relationships with their mothers, those whose mothers have died and especially those whose relationships with their mothers were never healed prior to the death of their mothers. 

As the mother of an adopted child, I am also keenly aware of the complicating issues of unwanted pregnancy and the choices that face girls and women in that situation as well as the difficulties faced by children who have been given up by their mothers.  Kate will always wonder and imagine what her birth mother is like and why she “really” gave Kate up for adoption.  And, although she is blessed to have two mothers who love her dearly, she has endured a huge loss at a very basic level.  We can’t dismiss the importance of the bonding that occurs between the mother and baby in utero. 

But for those of us who are fortunate enough to be mothers when we’ve wanted to be and to have a happy relationship with our mothers, Mother’s Day is a good time to reflect on the many nuances of Motherhood. 

Being a mother is FUN.  

There is never a dull moment in our house.  Kate is always coming up with new things to do and new ways to do them.  It is amazing to see the world through the eyes of a child.  It’s a cliché but it’s so true.  When I stop what I’m doing and just watch her, I see her thinking, struggling, listening, and seeing in ways that I’d forgotten all about.  She never stops learning and, as a result, neither do I.

Being a mother is SCARY.

Terrifying, actually.  How many mothers have held a tiny baby and wondered, “What do I do now?”  How many mothers have had nightmares about horrible things that might befall their children?  I’d daresay the answer is somewhere between most and pretty much all of them.  I shiver sometimes to think of things like the time Geyser got stuck in the flooded culvert and Kate tried to rescue him while standing on the bank of the swollen creek with a stick in her hand.  We found them in the nick of time, nudged; I’m sure, by the still small voice of God calling us outside to check on them.  I spend a lot of time praying for God’s guardian angels to shield and protect Kate both physically and emotionally/spiritually but in spite of all that prayer, I am, still, often afraid.   John Irving in “The World According to Garp” coined the term “undertoad” to describe the feeling of impending danger.  Garp heard his mother say “Beware of the undertow” when swimming in the ocean.  He misheard “undertoad” and always imagined a very large toad under the water, waiting to sweep children away.  It’s a powerful image as most of us can readily imagine that there is just such an animal lurking unseen, waiting to snatch our precious children from us.  For those of us who struggled to become mothers, I think the fear might be somewhat greater.  We know better than to take this gift for granted.  All love involves the possibility of loss.  Motherhood is no different.

Being a mother is BAFFLING.

The truth is, I have NO idea what I’m doing.  None of us do.  I have learned that it is really important to not compare my insides with other people’s outsides.  Those mothers who seem to “have it all together” probably don’t.  I know this, in part, because, as a doctor, I am privy to the secrets of these women who seem to be supermoms.  I can’t reveal their confidences but I can speak in generalities and say that in many cases the perception of “Supermom” is a total illusion.  I don’t think it’s “shaudenfreude” to take some comfort in the revealed weaknesses of other mothers.  I don’t take pleasure in anyone’s misfortune.  But I do feel a bit better knowing that I’m not alone in my befuddlement.  I just wish mothers could be more honest about those feelings instead of perpetuating the illusion that we “have it all together.”  I certainly don’t have it all together.  I don’t have a CLUE.  I just pray that my daughter will grow up to be a reasonably capable adult, in spite of me. 

Being a mother is AMAZING.

By that, I mean, it fills me with amazement.  What a miracle, what a gift.  How did I get so lucky, so blessed?  It’s easy to forget all that it took to get here. It’s easy to get swept up in the day in day out work of parenting and forget what a gift it is.  But when I stop to consider that part of things, I AM amazed.  I always thought I wanted to be a mother, but I had NO idea how hard and how wonderful and how scary and heartbreaking it all would be. 

Mother's Day Breakfast in Bed


As I was thinking about this post, I found myself contemplating some examples of mothers that I’ve found interesting.  Many of these mothers are Biblical, some are fictitious or fabricated.  One in particular is the mother of the boy who shared his lunch with Jesus, who went on to multiply it into a feast for thousands.  I was reading an “Arch Book” version of the story to Kate once last week when this thought occurred to me.  The story was told from the perspective of the boy whose mother packed him a lunch so that he could go with a family friend to see this man they were calling The Messiah.  The boy tells her he won’t need a lunch because he believed Jesus would provide food for the masses.  The mother, however, insists that he’d better bring some food along, “just in case.”  It’s fascinating to view the story from this perspective.  This mother is a prime example of how our actions vis a vis our children will have huge ripples that we may never ever see.  This boy’s mother probably never thought that she would pack a lunch that would be turned into one of Jesus’ greatest miracles, and certainly one of his most famous.  Most likely, all she wanted was to make sure her boy had enough to eat and, perhaps, she wanted to make sure he learned to “pay his own way.”  It is also clear that this mother had instilled some very important values in her son.  She did not teach him to take what he had and hoard it.  He had obviously been taught to share what he had with others, no matter how little he thought he had.  He had clearly been taught to trust God to provide for all his needs.   It reminds me that, as a mother, it is vitally important to teach my child to trust God and to share with others. 

If I’m going to discuss Biblical mothers, of course, I would have to mention Mary, the mother of Jesus.  It turns out that the most prominent “Mary story” on my mind this week has been the story of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus famously turned water into wine.  This story is one of a couple of accounts of Jesus seeming to rebuke his mother in a way that could be seen as “dishonouring.”  In this story, Mary comes to Jesus for help and he tells her, “It’s not my time, yet.”  She ignores him, of course, and tells the servants to do what Jesus tells them to do.  Once again, it’s the mother behind the scenes that has a tremendous impact on the course of events.  What if Mary had not insisted?  This miracle was recorded by John as “the first sign” in Jesus’ ministry.  Once again, the faith and the faithfulness of the mother have monumental consequences in the course of history.  Now I realise this might sound hyperbolic, especially to my non-believing friends.  That’s ok.  The point is, MOTHERHOOD MATTERS. 

Then there are Mother Goose, Old Mother Hubbard, and the “Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe.”  I’m not sure what these mothers would add to the discussion of mothers but it seems appropriate to give them a shout out for Mother’s Day as well!

Overall, I think it’s important to acknowledge the blessings, the challenges and pitfalls of Mothering and Motherhood.  But while we consider these things, may we be sensitive to those who have less positive experiences around Mothering and Motherhood.  Mother’s Day is more than just a “Hallmark holiday.” It’s a time to consider all the joy, pain, sadness, and blessing that go with being a mother and being mothered.  

06 May 2012

Family togetherness

I haven't had time to write in awhile.  Kate and Laura have finally arrived, and by now they've been here for 10 days so writing has taken a back seat.  The days just prior to their leaving and the days they spent in transit were quite nerve-wracking for me.  It's hard for me to not be "in control" and sometimes things like this make me realise just HOW not in control I am.  I spent a lot of time with the the Serenity Prayer and praying for the grace to let go and leave them in God's more than capable hands.

And so, they made it, tired but happy.  And Geyser made it, too, to Christchurch, where he will be in quarantine until tomorrow.  He will be flown down to Dunedin and we'll pick him up there tomorrow evening.

The plane arriving in Dunedin
Tired girls getting off the plane in Dunedin
It was a happy reunion, especially for Kate.  She was SO excited after not seeing me for 2 months (and feeling a bit neglected because of all the time Laura had to spend getting the shop situated for her absence) that she couldn't stop talking.  She'd lost 2 more teeth, she'd gotten a new dress and some new stuffed animals, she'd learned more reading and maths skills, she'd grown and outgrown shoes and clothes.  You miss a lot in a kid's life at this age and I tried to just take it all in, rather than dwell on how sad it was to have missed it.  Laura, on the other hand, was a bit sick with a bad cold, and utterly exhausted.  So I put her to bed and took Kate to see her new school, where she was suddenly shy and didn't want to talk to anyone!

They arrived on a Thursday morning and we'd planned for Kate to start school on Monday.  However, Kate, despite her shyness, was SO excited about starting school that she insisted upon starting on Friday. She was up and dressed in her new uniform by 7 am so we decided, hey, why not?  It would give Laura some extra rest and maybe get Kate into the swing of things quicker.



Kate ready to go for her first day
It was interesting to see how the jet lag affected Kate.  Basically, her body clock was about 6 hours ahead, so at 2 PM here her body was getting ready to sleep.  For the first couple of nights we let her go to sleep around dinner ("tea") time but she kept waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning and not going back to sleep.  On Saturday, we went on an outing to the Catlins and she had a wee nap in the car on the way back.  So we snatched the opportunity to wake her up for dinner and prod her awake until about 10 PM.  She slept through till about 7am the next morning.  Mission accomplished!  She's actually been sleeping much better here, going to sleep more easily and waking up on time to get to school.  It helps that school starts a bit later and that she doesn't have to spend any time picking out clothes or fussing about not having the right ones.  I LOVE uniforms!

All during this week, we've basically been trying to get back into the swing of things as a family.  It's the first time probably ever that I've had to worry about getting Kate up and dressed and fed AND getting myself ready for work.  It's a challenge but it's going well.  In addition to the things I just mentioned (later school time, uniforms), it's also a big help that I typically don't have to be at work until 9 am (except for the weekly doctors' meeting at 8:30).  I don't have hospital rounds to do and I've usually completed all my tasks from the day before prior to going home for the evening.  It's quite a luxury having nights and weekends off!



The first weekend after Laura and Kate arrived, we had our first visitor, our friend Bill from north of Seattle.  He was in Auckland on business and decided to fly down and see us (it was cheaper than two nights in the hotel up there).  So, in addition to Laura and Kate getting used to things, we had a house guest who was keen to see the area as well.  We decided that since he would be here for, basically, one full day, that we should do a bit of the Catlins tour that I did a few months ago.  It was a lovely day, although a bit chillier and, occasionally, rainier than the previous trip.  Of course, we are late into autumn and heading toward winter, here and, given that, the weather has been quite amazing!


It was really fun to watch Kate as she saw the ocean for the first time.  Like me, Kate seems to have the ocean in her blood.  In spite of the coldish weather, she insisted on throwing off her shoes and wading in the surf, collecting shells and digging in the sand with her hands.  To top it all off, we went to the beach with the penguin hide and managed to see 5 yellow-eyed penguins.  We caught a couple of them as they were waddling up out of the water.  Laura had her excellent camera and so she got a few pictures that were way better than the ones I tried to take with my Android.
Yellow-eyed penguin walking out of the water



Capital of Country Music 
The big trout in Gore
Yesterday, for our second weekend together, we decided to drive down to Bluff, stopping at Gore on the way.  Gore is "New Zealand's Capital of Country Music".  There is also a fabulous little art gallery and a few museums, including a "Moonshine" museum (which we skipped because of the admission charge).  While we were there, eating in a cafe, we suddenly heard a high-pitched voice behind us yelling, "Kate!"  It was a little girl from Kate's school, whom we had met earlier in the week.  This little girl is in the class younger than Kate's but I suspect she's on the older end of that class, while Kate is on the younger end of hers.  She seems to be quite a social butterfly and apparently, according to her mother, she was chatting about Kate all the way from Balclutha (about an hour's drive).  We laughed because, back in Livingston, Kate had gotten quite famous.  We'd meet people everywhere who knew Kate and we'd have no idea who they were.  It was funny that, after less than 10 days in the country, we'd drive an hour from home and run into someone who knew Kate!  She makes an impression, for sure.

The best part of the day was playing on the rocky beach at Bluff.  Unfortunately, Laura's camera battery died before we got there and I left my Android in the car so we didn't get pictures of what would have been just a classic Kate image.  Kate was dressed in a very fancy pink dress, one of her favourites.  I don't bother trying to get her to NOT wear such things when we go to play on the beach, because it's not worth the fight and it makes her happy.  She, of course, shed her shoes the minute we reached the beach and started frolicking in her fancy pink dress.  She climbed around on the rocks, picked up shells, and examined the very interesting sea life.  We even found 2 tiny hermit crabs.  Laura had picked up a couple of shells, thinking they were devoid of life, and suddenly saw tiny claws extending from them.  We put them back in the sand and watched them very slowly make their way back to the water and safe hiding places under rocks and seaweed.

Laura and I at the beach at Paptowai
We ended the day with some battered oysters and chips and a lovely drive home with a big almost-full moon periodically enshrouded in mist.  Tomorrow, Geyser will be joining us.  Another exciting reunion!   And then it's down to the business of seeing as much of New Zealand as we can, in case this adventure really only lasts a year because, believe me, a year is not nearly enough to see all of the amazing sites we've read and heard about!


23 April 2012

We’ve talked about religion, how about politics?


Last year, I tried to “give up” politics for Lent.  I am admittedly addicted to politics.  It’s like a dangerous drug, for me.  It makes me angry, crazy, and depressed, and yet once I get going I cannot stop.  It’s interesting, though, since coming to New Zealand, I’ve almost adapted the attitude of an outsider when it comes to American politics.  I almost hate to admit it, but I feel relieved that I’m here, far away from the insanity.  However, if all I’m doing is running away from one crazy system, then I’m not really experiencing the culture where I am now.  What would be the point of that?

With that in mind, I’ve decided to do a little research into the New Zealand political system and compare similarities and differences with US politics.  I’ve been working on this post, now, for over a week and so far, the best I can do is, in the words of a friend I was talking to yesterday, sound like I’m studying for a citizenship exam!

So, I’ll try to be brief about the boring stuff.  New Zealand is a Constitutional Monarchy, which means that Queen Elizabeth, II, is the Head of State of the “Realm” of New Zealand.  It is also Parliamentary Democracy with proportional representation.  Effectively, this means that there are multiple (more than 3) parties in the game and the number of seats each party has in Parliament is proportional to the number of votes the party’s candidates (and the party itself) get.  The leader of the majority party is the Prime Minister.  Currently, this is John Key, and he is a member of the National Party.  You can read all about this on Wikipedia.

New Zealand is not divided into states or provinces but is governed in its entirety by the Parliament.  Regional and territorial issues are managed by a variety of boards and councils, including District Health Boards which manage the delivery of healthcare to the people in their particular region.

The rest of this post is more observational than factual.  First off, the idea of “proportional representation” is quite appealing to me.  It lessens the probability that one party can essentially “take over” and assert its agenda to the exclusion of all other voices.  Instead of a “winner take all” system where a party has to have a winning candidate in a certain district in order to get a seat in government, New Zealand has a system where a political party only has to get 5% of the vote to have a seat in Parliament.  Mind you, in reading through the list of parties, it seems that they are all some version of the progressive/liberal/moderate/socially conservative/fiscally conservative spectrum.  On the “far left” are those who want to the government to take care of all of the social needs of its citizens and raising taxes is a good thing to do to achieve that. On the “far right” are the people who want to rein in government spending, want lower taxes, AND, in some cases have a fairly conservative social agenda.  HOWEVER, these are people that would be seen as “moderates” in the US.  The “National” party which is currently in power seems, to me, to be fairly moderate, although it is criticised for wanting to gut social programmes and for giving tax cuts to wealthy corporations and being too beholden to special interest lobbies?  Sound familiar?  Only the scale is much different.  When I read/hear these things, I shake my head and say, “If you ONLY knew.”

RELIGION, POLITICS AND “MORAL” ISSUES

One notable thing about the “socially conservative” agenda is that there is not the vitriolic rhetoric you hear in the US. First off, most people aren’t really all that concerned about what the RELIGION of the candidate is.  Of course, Christians might tend to vote for a Christian, if they thought that person would do a good job of representing their values and interests as Christians. The same goes for people of any other religion or, for that matter, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender.  But it doesn’t become a subject that’s open to scrutiny in the question of “can this person do the job they are being elected to do?”  Second, the two biggest “litmus test” issues for conservative candidates in the US are, still, abortion and same-sex marriage.  Now, don’t even get me started on how ridiculous it is to debate these things when the gap between rich and poor is growing at a stunning rate, when children in one of the wealthiest countries in the world are starving, when people are going bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills.  In New Zealand, same-sex marriage is not legal and there is some debate and discussion going on about it.  However, no one is trying to amend the (non-existent) constitution to deny that right to gay people.  In fact, sexual orientation is listed in all the non-discrimination policies that I’ve ever read here. So, how does that work?  How can gay people be free of discrimination but not be able to “get married?” Well, for one thing, New Zealand DOES allow all couples to have a Civil Union which basically is legally identical to marriage.  I don’t quite get the difference, actually, since couples in a Civil Union (straight or gay) have the same access to medical decision making, inheritance, tax breaks and other benefits that married people do.  In any case, it is, for the most part, a non-issue. 

Similarly, there have been some efforts to outlaw abortion.  Briefly, groups like “Operation Rescue” came over and staged protests.  However, attempts to actually ban abortion entirely have repeatedly failed in Parliament and the issue seems to have died down and all but gone away in the political arena.  Abortion is legal in New Zealand but there are reasonable (in my opinion) restrictions.  It can only be performed if two doctors (one of whom must be an OB/GYN specialist) agree that it must be done to protect the life and/or health (physical or mental) of the woman.  It’s the “mental health” part that is invoked in most cases.  I know there are efforts, such as government subsidised contraception and family planning programmes, to try to reduce the need for abortion.  This is something I need to research a bit more, however.  I know there are abortion providers in the area but I have never seen people carrying signs with pictures of dead babies and to my knowledge, abortion providers do not go to work wearing bullet-proof vests. (But then, guns are a whole other issue.  I just found out the other day that the police are not armed!)

WHAT DO THEY CARE ABOUT?

So, with 2 of the issues that take up so much of the time of American politicians virtually out of the way, what do lawmakers have to do all day?  Well, they decide on how to spend money for things like healthcare and care for new parents and young children.  They decide on how much to spend on infrastructure and supporting business.  I’m sure they waste time on things that tax payers don’t think are important.  But if they waste too much time on those things, guess what? They get voted out! 

WORK, INCOME AND POVERTY

It is, of course, very complex to try to define poverty and then quantify it.  To make matters worse, comparing the US to NZ is extremely difficult because the two countries define poverty differently and, remember, the US is a REALLY big place with a lot of variation in income, employment, and cost of living.  New Zealand has a minimum wage of $13.50 per hour.  The NZ dollar is worth about US$0.85 but that still puts it at around US$11.45.  The US minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.  Some states have a higher minimum wage but many do not.  The minimum wage in the US is, almost universally, not enough to live on.  It seems to be designed to keep people in poverty while allowing businesses to thrive.  A worker making minimum wage in the US and working 40 hour weeks would earn about $15,000 per year.  When I went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website I found that the workers in the lowest paying jobs in the US (burger-flippers, dishwashers, etc) had a median income in about the $18,000 range, just barely above minimum wage. On the other hand, a similar list for New Zealand had the lowest payed workers, including wait staff, baristas, caregivers, and fast food workers, making something in the $31-32,000 per year range.   Both lists had doctors at the top, with American anaesthesiologists making well over $250,000 per year and New Zealand doctors as a group making around $143,000 per year.  The bottom line is, if you have a full time job in New Zealand, you will be making more at the bottom and less at the top than you will in the US BUT that means that the gap is much smaller and those at the bottom have a chance of actually making a LIVING wage.  The median hourly pay in NZ is $20.  Incidentally, the spread of housing costs is similar between the two countries depending on the area and there are certainly some areas in New Zealand where housing prices are too high for the wages people are earning in those areas.  There are poor and homeless people in New Zealand and there are NGOs as well as government programmes aimed at helping them.  A lot of the recent poverty and homelessness can be attributed to the disastrous earthquakes in Christchurch.  They are still rebuilding from that, and facing huge insurance issues and increases in premiums.  However, today, someone told me that his homeowners’ insurance premium had skyrocketed all the way up to $600 per year!  It’s all relative, I guess.

ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE

It seems to me that this is not up for debate in New Zealand.  We are responsible for our environment and keeping our planet healthy and happy.  Full stop.  Again, this is an area I need to research more, but my observation is that people fairly readily accept the taxes on carbon emissions (such as petrol, or gasoline) and the recent start of government subsidised kerbside (the kiwi spelling of “curbside”) recycling pick up has been widely embraced by just about everyone in town.  I’m sure there are debates on how, exactly, to allocate resources to ensure cleaner air and water and what government’s role should be in that effort.  But the facts are the facts and the kiwis simply cannot understand how supposedly intelligent, educated Americans can deny those facts. 

THE INSANITY OF IT ALL!

Some of the assertions I have made here are backed up by facts and others are wild speculation based on what I see and hear and experience.  My overall impression of life in New Zealand, so far, is that there is a lot less of the “shared psychosis” that I see in America, whereby people jump on a bandwagon for a cause, no matter how lame that cause might be, and can’t let go.  The economic picture, while certainly scary for a lot of people in NZ, is even more dire in the US with the huge gap between rich and poor widening rather than shrinking.  Healthcare is in danger in NZ because the government has subsidised so much and costs are going up. However it seems that there is a saner approach to fiscal responsibility, with a party that sticks to this policy agenda rather than getting distracted by micro-managing people’s personal lives. If American politicians could buckle down and get the work done instead of spending all their time trying to get re-elected and worrying about how they can next niggle in people’s lives, imagine what they could get done?!

In a coming post, I want to get into more detail about one of my big social justice concerns:  Human Trafficking.  But that will require still more research so it might take awhile.  It's much easier for me to just rattle off my thoughts than to actually sit down and wrangle with facts.  But that's important, too, and so wrangle I will. 

14 April 2012

Living near the sea

I love being near the ocean.  I always have.  I grew up near the ocean, and have lived near the ocean for large chunks of my life.  For the past 11 years, I have lived in the land locked state of Montana and have rarely gotten to see the ocean.  I moved there for a relationship, and it was well worth it on that score!  I was told that in Montana, "the sky is the ocean."  Montana has some lovely skies, beautiful mountains and a lot of  beauty in general.  But since being in New Zealand, especially being near the coast, I have realised how much I have missed it.  It's good for my soul.  The vastness, the sounds, the power, the wildlife...it seems it's all just part of my DNA somehow.

So, this post will be devoted to photos of the ocean.  Yesterday, I set out specifically to spend the day at the beach.  I ended up going to Dunedin, where there are some great beaches...a little bit on the commercial side, although nothing the likes of Rehobeth, Delaware or Ocean City, Maryland.  What I found was plenty of sand, waves, seagulls, surfers, runners, dogs, and people just walking up and down the beach enjoying the beautiful autumn day.  I did some running myself, realising how much I miss running on the beach.  I like to imagine what's on the other side of the ocean.  In this case, I guess it would be the southern part of South America.

The rest of this post will mainly be a photo album, basically me indulging my love for the sea.  If my readers enjoy it, all the better!

The first set are taken at St. Claire Beach, Dunedin
Surfer

Waves

I love the juxtaposition of sandy beaches and rocky cliffs

Beautiful blue water



Self-portrait

Some sort of pretty purple flowers


Another self portrait (the day got warmer!)

Lots of people enjoying the beach

The end of the beach and a tide pool



A sea kayaker

Pretty spot for wedding photos





The next set are taken at Bluff, on the southern tip of the South Island.  It's not quite as far south as New Zealand goes, though.  That would be Stewart Island, about 35 km further south.


That big thing on the righthand side is picture of a Right Whale

Toward sunset


Part of a Maori legend about an anchor and a big fish

 Because it seems appropriate, I am going to end with the "Benedicite Aotearoa", a special version of the "Song of Creation" for New Zealand (NZPB page 63)

O give thanks to our God who is good:  whose love endures forever.
You sun and moon, you starts of the southern sky:  give to our God your thanks and praise.
Sunrise and sunset, night and day:  give to our God your thanks and praise.
All mountains and valleys, grassland and scree, glacier, avalanche, mist and snow:  give to our God your thanks and praise.
You kauri and pine, rata and kowhai, mosses and ferns:  give to our God your thanks and praise.
Dolphins and kawawai, sealion and crab, coral, anemone, pipi and shrimp:  give to our God your thanks and praise.
Rabbits and cattle, moths and dogs, kiwi and sparrow and tui and hawk:  give to our God your thanks and praise.
You Maori and Pakeha, women and men, all who inhabit the long white cloud:  give to our God your thanks and praise.
All you saints and martyrs of the South Pacific:  give to our God your thanks and praise.
All prophets and priests, all cleaners and clerks, professors, shop workers, typist and teachers, job-seekers, invalids, drivers and doctors:  give to our God your thanks and praise.
All sweepers and diplomats, writers and artists, grocers, carpenters, students and stock-agents, seafarers, farmers, bakers and mystics:  give to our God your thanks and praise.
All children and infants, all people who play:  give to our God your thanks and praise.

10 April 2012

The Lord is Risen!!

He is risen, INDEED!

I am late posting this, although, really, it's never too late. Plus, liturgically, Easter lasts for another 6 weeks until Pentecost.  I'm suffering from a bit of "OCD" writer's block.  I keep thinking of things I'd like to research and write about, things like early Church history around celebrations of the resurrection, and I'm not finding the time.

So, first, a bit about my celebration of Easter.  I went to Dunedin, to the Great Vigil at All Saints' Anglican Church.  Here's a little information about the Easter Vigil liturgy.  The service started with a bonfire in front of the church.  One of the advantages of being in the Southern Hemisphere this time of year is that it is not only possible, it's EASY to start the Vigil in the dark, as the rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer suggest.  In Montana, after Daylight Saving Time begins, it's still light at 8 PM and since this is typically a long service, it's quite difficult to start it after dark and not lose people due to the late hour.  (Of course, we are all wimps, because this service originated as an actual all-night vigil. Check out the Wikipedia article for more information than you could ever want about that.)

To back up, just a tad, I got a flat tyre (tire) on my way to the service.  It's a long story but to truncate it a bit, I called my boss (I was near his place) and he came and rescued me and took me to church then went back and put my spare on and then drove my car back to me while his wife drove their car so that I could go straight home after the service.  It was probably the most wonderful part of the whole thing!  This man couldn't care less about church.  He's not "anti" church or Christianity, just not interested.  But he exhibited a most Christ-like, genuine care for me and for what he knew was important to me.  And he never showed any degree of annoyance or in any way made me feel like I needed to repay him for his kindness.  As I was waiting in the dark for him to come and rescue me, I was thinking how much I had wanted to go to the Vigil and how I had planned out the day with just that in mind and I was so close to making it and it looked like I was going to miss it.  I had a moment of peace and clarity there--I said a prayer asking God to make a way for me to make it there or to help me to be ok with it if I couldn't make it.  I took a deep breath and let go of my wants and expectations and had a sense that whatever was in store was completely God's will and exactly where I was supposed to be.  That's nothing short of miraculous, frankly, as I'm the world's worst control freak!  And, in the end, the surprise was Branko, coming through to help me with my car AND get me to church!  Who knows what kind of work the spirit might be doing in him, or me?

So, to get back to the vigil, it was a beautiful service, starting with the bonfire and lighting of the Paschal candle.  The first part of the service is in the dark, by candle light with readings from the Hebrew Scriptures which tell the ancient story of God's salvation of his people.  The readings were interspersed with psalms and canticles.  The musicians were amazing, including the 15 year old organist!  After that, the lights come on and everyone joins in the proclamation that "Christ is Risen!"  The remainder of the service is spent in hearing the Gospel, singing songs of praise, and remembering our baptisms and renewing our own baptismal vows.  And afterwards, there's a big party!

It was interesting, because this service, for me, is always the START of Easter!  Although the space of time from Good Friday morning to Saturday night is quite short, it is a long time for me, an impatient person, to sit in that space of grief and pain.  But this year, I celebrated this amazing event in one of the very first time zones in the world!  I couldn't, then, go on Facebook and proclaim the Good News, could I? Not when most of my friends were still in that hard place with Jesus in the tomb.  It seemed sort of inappropriate.  So...I drove home on my spare tire, went to bed, and got up in the morning and did it all again.  Sort of...I did it in an entirely different format at St. Mark's in Balclutha.  I found I can really get into modern praise songs, as long as I've also been able to bathe myself in the rich tradition of the ancietn liturgy.

Because of my tyre, I stayed close to home for the remainder of the holiday weekend.  No fabulous photos to post.  I wasn't able to get the tyre fixed until Tuesday, the day I went back to work.  But that's ok.  It was good for me to take some walks and runs and meditate on the beauty and glory of it all.

One of the things I did was listen to a sermon by Jeff Miner about how we can live into the power of the resurrection.  It's nice to say "Christ is Risen" and rejoice that Jesus was raised from the dead.  But what does that really MEAN? And how does it or should it affect my life?  Often, churches are packed on Easter Sunday with people you won't see again until Christmas Eve.  Pastors have a hard job to do, to make the most of their one shot at reaching those people with the Gospel.  People want to see that we're really "walking the walk."  Are we REALLY following Jesus?  Even when it's really hard?  Are we "dying" to our own expectations, our selfish desires, and letting God raise us up to a new life of love, surrender, worship, and service?  If all people see is our "Hallelujahs" and our hand waving and clapping but no substance, no acts of love for the poor, the oppressed, the outcasts, what good is it for us to proclaim that Christ is Risen?  It's something to think about...daily, weekly, not just on Easter Sunday.

In keeping with the rather scattered motif of this post, I want to share something that comes to mind every so often, especially when thinking about death and resurrection.  It's a memory of my car wreck in 2006.  I'm not sure if it's ACTUALLY a memory, but it's become embedded in my narrative of the event to the point that I hold onto it as a memory.  In July of 2006, while driving home from work, I rolled my car off the interstate.  I don't remember why and I may never know why.  I remember only bits and pieces of what happened after that for the next several days, as I was rushed to the Livingston hospital, flown to Billings, operated on and taken care of in the ICU. At some stage, I had this very vivid flash of a memory of what happened as my car was flying through the air.  I remember a feeling of total surrender, knowing that I couldn't possibly survive this.  I didn't "WANT" to die--we had just returned from visiting Kate in Guatemala and I wanted to bring her home!  But in spite of that, I found myself looking straight into the eyes of Jesus, saying, "here I am, Lord, I guess it's time." I felt a sense of absolute peace and love, as I knew that I would be safe in his arms.  And then I heard, "No, not yet.  It's not your time, yet.  Your family needs you.  There's more for you to do."  It was like I'd been hit with a ton of bricks (maybe that was the car landing!) But it was a moment of disappointment because I knew that this was going to hurt...a lot...and that I was going to really have to fight for my life.

What the memory does for me, at Easter, is it drives home to me how I don't have to fear death because Jesus overcame death.  But, on the other hand, it also makes it crystal clear that Jesus' death and resurrection must not be in vain.  My life was spared for some reason.  It's all part of being "Guided by Grace" again.  I'm following in the path that is put in front of me, even though I often have no idea what it means or why I am on it.  It's very simple, and yet, sometimes it's the hardest thing in the world to do.

Christ is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!!

06 April 2012

Watch and Pray

As I write this, it is the afternoon of Good Friday, in New Zealand.  Liturgically, symbolically, Jesus has been betrayed, handed over to an angry mob, beaten, mocked, and crucified and then buried in a tomb.  It is that time of tension, waiting, sad but anticipating the joy of Easter Sunday.  I spent the morning doing a variety of “worship” activities. The first was a contemplative worship service at St. Mark’s Anglican, the church I have tentatively called my “home” while I’m here.  Following that, members of most of the congregations in town gathered outside St. Mark’s for a procession in which a large wooden cross was carried to each church in town, some readings and prayers were offered at each place of worship, and then we ended at the Town Hall, where there was an ecumenical service for Good Friday.  That was much more contemporary and, frankly, a bit jarring.  However, the whole experience was quite powerful for me.  It engaged all of my senses in the process of reliving Jesus’ final journey and act of overwhelming, all-encompassing love and grace.  And I have been left with a feeling of sadness, of emptiness deep down inside.  I think that feeling is meant to be there…when I reach in and examine it; I find that it is a sense of profound loss and grief, of rejection, fear and guilt.  And then I find that all of that is encased in a deeper feeling of hope.  All of that grief and fear and emptiness is being laid to rest in the tomb.  It is what Jesus took upon himself so that I can finally be free of it all. 

That raw feeling of grief must be what Jesus’ mother and the other women who were there with him at the cross felt.  It is likely what the disciples felt before they fled in terror.  It had all come down to this.  They had placed all of their hopes and trust in this man.  Hope fed by the miracles, the acts of mercy and justice, now all broken to bits as their hero, their saviour allowed himself to be unjustly condemned to die a horrible, shameful death.  In their grief, they didn’t know the ending of the story.  They should have, given all the hints Jesus dropped.  They should have been able to trust, to hope, to believe that this could not be the end of it all.  And, as I sit with these feelings, I know what they could only dare to hope for.  I know of what lies on the other side of the cross and the tomb.  I know, but it’s not time to go there yet. 

These spiritual exercises are far more than just memorials or nice things to do.  When I allow myself to turn inward and examine what happens when I take this journey with Jesus to the cross, it becomes real for me.  I think that’s what is meant by a “Sacrament.”  Somehow, the real presence of God comes into my heart and my soul in a real and tangible way.   And I have to sit with it.  I have to stay here and experience what I would be feeling if I were literally there with Jesus at Golgotha.  We live in a “fix it now” world.  We find it almost intolerable to sit with pain, with fear, with uncertainty. And we are not alone in that.  Jesus begged his closest friends to come with him to his darkest hour. “Watch and pray,” he said, and then he found them sleeping.  They couldn’t tolerate the intense loneliness, fear and pain that Jesus was about to endure.  Perhaps they didn't believe he would really go through with it.  Perhaps they were thinking that this time, like all the others, Jesus would pull a well-timed miracle out of his hat or find just the right searing words to say to his persecutors to put them in their places.  Ultimately, of course, Jesus forgives them of their lack of fortitude and their unbelief.  That is indeed good news, but it doesn’t let me off the hook.  In due time, I will get to rejoice in the glorious celebration of the resurrection, when all of the pain and suffering and death is turned upside down.  But if I jump the gun, I miss out on a critically important part of the process.  I miss the point entirely.  Easter means nothing if Jesus was not crucified.  And Jesus’ death means nothing without Easter. 

I think there is a bigger, broader lesson here.  We are often taught that Jesus took all of our guilt and shame and suffering upon himself and did away with it, once and for all.  I believe that is true, to a point.  However, there is more.  See, when Jesus was with his disciples, both before and after his death and resurrection, he didn’t tell them that life was going to be easy for them from then on.  He told them that they were going to be left behind on earth to continue Jesus’ work.  They were promised everything they needed for their work but they were also promised that they would suffer immensely, just as Jesus did, for doing that work.  So what was the point, then?  I think the point is that in walking with Jesus, in taking that journey into Jerusalem, to Gethsemane, to Golgotha, to the tomb and beyond, the disciples and we can see to what lengths God has been willing to go for our sake.  We have seen Jesus take on ALL of that sin, despair, hatred, and fear.  Our lives and our hearts have been split wide open.  Jesus has seen into the deepest, darkest places in our souls and has said, “I forgive you, I love you, I want to be with you forever and I want you to walk with me and continue my work.” In the resurrection, we know that we will never be alone and that we have the strength to go to those hard places, wherever they may be.  


Jesus didn't simply take away all of that grief and pain and suffering.  Instead, he gave us the assurance that we are clothed in God’s grace, we are forgiven, we are PART of Christ’s body and we have been given the strength to bear each other’s burdens, to suffer with the oppressed, and to cry with the broken-hearted.  This is “compassion:” "feeling with."  As we do this, we are healing the wounds of sin and separation from God, in whose image we are ALL created.  But, I believe, we can’t truly do this unless we spend some time with Jesus in that place of emptiness and isolation.  In order to know joy, we must walk through sorrow.  In order to fully appreciate the joy of the resurrection, we must suffer some of the grief and pain of death, knowing that nothing we suffer comes close to what Jesus went through for us. It is through the hope of the resurrection that we are able to endure such suffering and pain.  Like Advent, this is a past, present, and future event.  I must live in the present reality, while at the same time celebrating the past event of Jesus’ death and resurrection and anticipating the future promise of eternal life with Christ in Glory.  Watch and pray.

31 March 2012

Conformed? Or Transformed?


I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."Romans 12:1,2 (KJV)

For some reason, my Lenten meditations have led me to this passage.  I decided to quote it here in the King James Version for two reasons: one is that that is how I memorised it as a child.  The other is that it uses the word “beseech” and, well, I just like that word!  Just to clarify, the word “beseech” means to “urge” or “implore.”  It’s a word which gives this passage a sense of importance, that this is something that Christians really MUST do. 

A few weeks ago, I heard a sermon (or, perhaps more accurately, a lecture) on “Christianity Lite” in which this passage was used.  The idea was that many of us “go through the motions.” We go to church, we say some prayers now and then, we perhaps enjoy the fellowship but we don’t really RISK anything.  We haven’t surrendered our lives to the service of Jesus Christ. We haven’t allowed ourselves to be TRANSFORMED by God’s spirit working in our lives. 

Then last weekend, I met with a friend whom I had met through the Gay Christian Network.  He brought me some CDs of various messages that had spoken to him in his faith journey.  One was a keynote address to the 2009 GCN conference by the late Rev.Peter Gomes, who had been a professor at Harvard. Rev. Gomes was an African American gay man who grew up in the 1950s.  He loved Jesus and was devoted to preaching the Gospel, the scandalous and offensive Gospel as preached by Jesus Christ himself while he was here on earth. (An excerpt from that speech can be found at GCN Radio on the 28th August 2009 episode.)

I listened to that CD yesterday while driving around the beautiful New Zealand countryside.  Rev. Gomes pointed to this passage in Romans as a call to action for gay Christians.  Interesting and significant, since it had already been on my mind. 

The thing about being a Christian, while at the same time, understanding oneself to be gay or lesbian or in some way “outside of the heterosexual mainstream” (to quote WendyGritter), is that we are given a lot of grief by both sides.  The Church, in many cases, has been a hostile environment for us.  We have been told that, on the one hand, Jesus loves all of us, BUT, on the other hand, we aren’t welcome in the Church unless we try to change.  Sometimes we are told that it’s ok that we are gay AS LONG AS we are committed to celibacy.  But even if some of us have chosen that path, we are then told (perhaps not in so many words) that we are defined by who we sleep with, so if we are celibate, we are no longer gay.  The implication there, of course, is that we must not TALK about our attractions to those of the same sex.  Those are merely “temptations” that must be avoided and overcome.  The clear messages for many of us have been that, not only are we disordered because of our orientation; we are also “worse” sinners than anyone else.  Why, then, ask our gay friends, do we stay?  Why do we put up with the rejection and abuse in the name of Christ? 

That is a very good question.  For me, it comes down to this:  I have come to realise over the years that my sexual orientation, who I am fundamentally attracted to romantically, sexually, and spiritually, is not a choice. I believe this is the case for most people. I have also come to realise that my faith is also not a choice.  This realisation came later out of some very powerful experiences and spiritual conversations with God in which I came through with a very real sense that God had a hold on my heart and my life and was not going to let go.  At different times in my life I have suppressed, hidden, or denied either my faith or my orientation.  At those times, my spirit has been deeply troubled and I have not been at peace.  When, finally, I was able to reconcile those two aspects of my life, and live them out with integrity, I was able to find peace and joy in my walk with God. 

In listening to the testimonies of other gay Christians, I have found that their experiences, while not identical, have within them some version of my own.  We are in a place where we are called to be NOT CONFORMED to what the world thinks of us.  We have been called all kinds of names by the Christian community: promiscuous, idolatrous, God-hating, amoral, rebellious, etc.  By the Gay community, we have been accused of having “Stockholm syndrome,” of identifying with the oppressor, of selling out, of betraying our gay brothers and sisters who have fought so hard for equal rights and freedom from oppression and abuse. 

It’s interesting to note that Jesus was accused of similar things.  The religious establishment of his time accused him of being a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners (as if that were a bad thing), of not having proper respect for the laws and traditions of his faith.  Those who wanted him to be their Messiah were quite disappointed that he took the path of humility and meekness rather than riding into Jerusalem on a white horse, sword drawn, ready to drive out the occupying Romans and save the people of Israel from oppression once and for all.  I’m not at all implying that gay people are analogous to the Messiah.  What I am saying is that, by not conforming to the expectations of the world around us, whether it be the Christian world or the Gay world, or any other sector of the world, we may be closer to walking in the footsteps of Jesus than we ever imagined. 

But there’s more.  We are called to be TRANSFORMED.  I would submit that it is impossible to truly have an encounter with the risen Christ without a transformation occurring.  I am not a Greek scholar, but it is my understanding that the verb tense used is sort of an ongoing one.  The transformation is happening, as our minds are renewed, as our ideas and our beliefs are changed to see each other and ourselves as Jesus saw us.  The remarkable thing about Jesus is that he had a choice.  As God, he created us in God’s image and we went astray. We have chosen our own self-interest over relationship with our Creator.  God could have said, “I’m very disappointed with what I have made, they haven’t turned out as I intended.  Oh well, let them go their own way, I’m done with them.”  But instead, God said, “I love these people I have made SO much; I’m not going to let them go.  I’m going to become one of them, to show them that I know what it’s like to suffer what they suffer, to feel what they feel. Not only am I going to become one of them, I am going to become one of them in the most humble and poor circumstances and I am going to really get to know the outsiders amongst them and bring them back into community with each other and with God. In fact, I’m going to take it the end, to suffer torture and execution as a criminal, though falsely accused.”  Talk about being TRANSFORMED! 

That is the Gospel, the truly good news of Jesus, the Christ.  God wants all of us back in relationship with God.  And to do that, God needs us to continue in the path of Jesus, all the way to the cross and beyond.  God needs us to take the oppression, the pain, and the abuse and transform it into love, repentance and forgiveness.  We are not called to change people’s hearts and minds. That’s the job of God, the Holy Spirit.  We are called to love our enemies and forgive our oppressors.  We are called to set an example of humility and meekness while working for justice and peace for the oppressed.  We are called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ that ALL are loved and welcomed and forgiven by God and that we can come as we are to the throne of grace and let God change us according to God’s own will and purpose. 

This is truly good news.  And it is the challenge of the journey of Holy Week.  Today’s collect from the New Zealand Prayer Book reads: 
 “Jesus, when you rode into Jerusalem the people waved palms with shouts of acclamation.  Grant that when the shouting dies we may still walk beside you even to a cross.  Amen.”

What does that mean for us?  Will we conform to the image of the world around us?  Or will we stand out as agents of transformation in this broken and finite world?  Jesus overcame the pain and suffering and was resurrected so that we can know that we are forgiven and reconciled to God and so that we can see that this world CAN be transformed to be what God intended.  When we see in others the face of God, in whose image they were created, we must respond with those acts of love and service that Jesus carried out when he touched the untouchables, spoke to the outcasts, forgave those whom everyone else wanted to condemn and write off. 

I beseech you, my sisters and brothers, to not be conformed to the expectations and images of the world around us but to be agents of transformation as we walk with Jesus in love and service to those who oppress us and those who are oppressed by others.  May God bless your Holy Week journey.