Messages of Hope

Month: July 2014

Another way of being, another way of knowing

Published / by Jana

At the end of all of the stories about the kingdom of heaven in Chapter 13 of the gospel of Matthew, strung together like a handful of the pearls that feature in one of the images, Jesus the spiritual teacher asks his disciples, “Have you understood all this?” And they say, “Yes.”

Well, bully for them.

Kingdom of heaven?
What are we even talking about in the first place?

Pearly gates? No, just one pearl, in hand.
Otherworldly? No, seed planted and treasure buried, in this earth.
After death? No, embodied; put into us like yeast in dough.

So that’s what it isn’t. But what is it, the kingdom of heaven?

Maybe what we’re talking about is a capacity. Amongst the definitions of capacity is “innate potential for growth, development or accomplishment.”

Now “capacity” on its own is a neutral word.
And “capacity” defined as “innate potential for growth, development or accomplishment” can go either way.
When cities start realising their capacity for growth by spreading out further and further we call that, pejoratively, sprawl. It is not necessarily a good thing, especially when inner city properties fall into disuse and what develops in abandoned neighbourhoods are ghettos and blight.

Think of the capacity for nuclear power, but remember the annihilating “accomplishment” of the atom bomb which terrified even the scientists who developed it. J. Robert Oppenhiemer famously breathed, “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” On the brink of marking the beginning of the First World War, with conflicts raging in so many places, we are far too aware of human capacity for destruction.

These kingdom of heaven stories are not cautionary tales, however. If anything, they are the opposite. We have images of people recklessly throwing themselves – all they have and are – to acquire the goodness of the kingdom of heaven.

There is an image of the innate potential for goodness hidden amongst the images of the kingdom of heaven in the gospel of Matthew, much like the kingdom itself is hidden in fields and loaves of bread. The gospel writer is making a hyperlink to Daniel 4: 10-22, particularly verses 11-12, which use a tree as an image for the great kingdom of God which is visible to all and for all:

11The tree grew great and strong,
its top reached to heaven,
and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth.
12Its foliage was beautiful,
its fruit abundant,
and it provided food for all.
The animals of the field found shade under it,
the birds of the air nested in its branches,
and from it all living beings were fed.”

Now we may be getting somewhere.
The kingdom of heaven is the capacity, the innate potential for growth, development and accomplishment, that results in:
everyone having enough
a perfect harmony amongst all living things – animals in the shade, birds in the branches, everybody fed
…how’s it that Jesus puts it elsewhere: abundant life

I’d sell it all to buy that.
Which is to say that I believe it to be our true capacity, wholeheartedly.
I’ve got a treasure in a field, and a pearl in my palm.
A belief in my heart.
I’m in, all in.

Turns out there is more to it than that, though.
There is the great work of casting the nets and fishing for what is useful to the pursuit of realising this vision.
That work includes careful discernment about what’s in and what’s out.
And, most disturbingly, it involves letting go of everything we think we know.

Jesus asks the disciples, “Do you understand these things?” And they say, “Yes.” And then Jesus says, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” The word translated as “brings out” is actually better translated as “throws out.” Yet another image of reckless abandon – sell it all, sell it all, sort it all out, then throw it all away.

Don’t get stuck on the answers, keep living the questions…with “all in” commitment to the vision of abundant life for all…and with “all out” humility.

For further reflections on the theme, visit Michael Leunig
and scroll to the prayer that begins, “Dear God, we pray for another way of being, another way of knowing.”

posted 31 Jul 2014 by Jana

Every bit, seeded

Published / by Jana

The parable of the sower is found in Matthew 13 (it’s also the title of a really great distopian/utopian novel by Octavia E Butler). A farmer flings seeds everywhere, indiscriminately, and this is an image of the realm of God.

This is not the way to farm.
Wasting precious seed by throwing it around everywhere – where the birds will get it and the sun will scorch it and the weeds will choke it. And if you’re lucky some of it will fall on good soil and actually produce a harvest.
Read like a DIY guide for the new tree change farmer, this is ridiculous.

The absurd might lead away from logic, but it also might lead towards insight.

What if the world really is strewn – indiscriminately – with good seed?
What if my life, with all its various and changing landscapes from rocky to thorny to pathless to rich and loamy, is riddled with good seed?
Across it all.
The worst bits and the best bits.
Every bit, seeded.
Every bit hosting the potential for life.

Life to be carried off to somewhere else where it will grow and flourish.
Life to be there for a moment, and then be gone.
Life to take root and give fruit.

If the Sower can be so carefree, then why can’t I?
Why do I get so hung up on trying to control the outcome?
What if the stores of love that are mine to sow are rotting in the barns while I decide where to put it; which bit is worth the risk; where will I get the best return or yield?
What if I could skip the soil testing…
Soil testing:
like the phone call after the arrest related to seeking answers to when will children be released from detention:
“but we don’t know what kind of people they are,” the caller warned.
They are the people kind of people, I suggested.
People whose lives read like landscapes – rocky here, thorny there, pathless in this patch and but some good soil too.
People like us.
As deserving of love as the rest of us, which is to say both yes and no.
But the job isn’t to decide who’s worthy, the job is to love.
Why can’t we love these people while we process their claims for refuge? Love them with freedom of movement and freedom from fear, with recognition of common humanity and the meeting of fundamental human needs for dignity and hope?

Love and grace – that spaciousness that allows us for new beginnings, fresh shoots – these are not currencies of merit to be metered out upon proof of worth. It was as scandalous then as it seems now. In the culture of the first hearers of the story, everything was thought to be finite, including love and honour. There was only so much to go around and all of it had to be earned. One must prove one’s worthiness. We aren’t so different today. Ask anyone in a Centrelink line how it makes them feel to prove themselves worthy of assistance in time of need. Ask anyone who thought getting rich would make them relaxed and happy but it hasn’t because now they fear they aren’t good enough to hang onto it; they are shadowed by the worry that someone will find out how ordinary they are and take away these trophies, symbols of being better than the rest.

This story, the parable of the Sower, is good news for every single one of us. We may have thought that there was work to be done to make us worthy of love and grace, of deep-down acceptance of who we are. But there is not. Our lives are already riddled with good seed. It is not if and when we clear our lives of rocks and thorns that we become lovable. We just are, loved.

Thinking like this might lead us to imagine that to say someone has “gone to seed” could be a good thing. It might mean we have allowed ourselves to let go of the need to be productive in favour of the hope to be of service; to spend energy giving ourselves away rather than fixing ourselves up. To give ourselves away like one of those puffy dandelions we used to blow on as children and delight in the scattering of seeds. (Now, I know, dandelions are weeds; but they do serve to make the children happy. As outcomes go, that’s a good one.)

So whilst there is no logic to our story for today, there is a great deal of hope.
We should be warned off from it as a farming manual.
But as a message of hope it’s pretty good.
The Sower has loved the rocky bits and the thorny bits and the pathless bits and the good bits.
Yes, only the good bits produce a real crop…
but the other bits feed the birds
and return nutrients to the soil
and spring up with beauty for a moment.
Who are we to judge these bits unworthy? The Sower doesn’t judge them; the Sower seeds them with potential.

This is not the way to farm. But it is the way to love.
Consider the action of a sower: it is letting go. It’s flinging. It’s indiscriminate.
What if we wake up and move through our days flinging love around indiscriminately. What a lark. We might even find ourselves whistling.


posted 18 Jul 2014 by Jana

In the beginning was the dance…..

Published / by Sandy

As an experiment, Joshua Bell, a world famous violinist, played in a metro station in Washington, DC. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

The organizers of the experiment were warned to expect a large crowd, and to plan for extra security. The violinist brought his 1713 Stradivarius violin — worth $3.5 million — and began to play the six most beautiful songs in his repertoire by Bach, for about 45 minutes. The world’s greatest violinist playing the world’s greatest music on the world’s greatest instrument.

A thousand people walked by, most on their way to work. You can see it on video here. Children would tug on their parents’ sleeves, but the adults were too preoccupied. A 3 year old boy stopped to look at the violinist, but his mother hurried him along. As the child continued to walk, he turned his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

A man leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

One woman threw a dollar but didn’t stop, and continued to walk on.

One woman alone recognized him and stopped to listen. She gave him a bigger tip ($20) than the other thousand people put together. They were in a hurry, hurrying past Joshua Bell because they had other things to do.

Only 6 people stopped and stayed a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk at their normal pace. He collected $32 in all.

When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people.

The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour:

Do we perceive beauty?
Do we stop to appreciate it?
Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

How might we hear the music – and dance with unbridled joy, shaking off the heavy constraints of schedules and expectations for a time?

‘Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music’. (Angela Monet)

Jesus said, Matthew 11:16-17
“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ (Matthew 11:16-17)

Source material:
Washington Post
Ortberg, John (2009-12-22). The Me I Want to Be (p. 100). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

(You can find the clip on Youtube)

posted 03 Jul 2014 by Sandy