Having had the privilege of having a couple of great meals with World Vision Australia Chief Executive Tim Costello it was great to find this short little video on Jason Goroncy’s blog ealier in the week. Tim is talking about the role of faith in aid and development. Thanks Jason.
p.s. If you haven’t read his little book Hope: Moments of Inspiration in a Challenging World it’s worth it. Lot’s of short reflections, including one on his experience with Bono from U2. It’s a book I haven’t read from cover-to-cover, but is one I randomly dip into, reading a chapter or two at a time.
Here’s another video clip, more specifically on the book Hope
As noted yesterday, today, more from Chris Erdman. A podcast conversation in which he and
the show’s host talk about “…about his overlapping roles as pastor and father. He also shares about
the pain of divorce, the joy of a new marriage, and the spiritual depth to be
found in the daily tasks of parenting."
The show's blurb notes that:
"The Rev. Dr. Chris Neufeld-Erdman is the
senior pastor of University Presbyterian Church in Fresno,CA. He is the father
of two young adult sons, and three adult step-daughters. He is the author of
several books, an accomplished speaker, an adjunct seminary professor, and an
oblate at the New Camaldoli Hermitagein
I was struck by the following as I read a reflection on Vaclav Havel (1936-2011) written by Paul Wilson and published in the New York Review of Books, 9th February 2012. Here it is. Highlights are mine.
“…a week in which the Czech newsstands were flooded with special commemorative editions of magazines and newspapers devoted to Havel’s passing, there was scarcely an aspect of his life and ideas that was not mulled over and parsed for deeper meaning, or recalled in pictures. The most iconic of those pictures—a shot of Havel with his back to the camera, walking toward the ocean—was turned into a poster and widely displayed around Prague, along with a quotation expressing one of Havel’s most deeply held beliefs: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
A ringing statement, but it was not quite in focus. What Havel meant by “something”—as his other formulations of the same belief make clear—was action. All his life, Havel lived by the belief that if you wanted something to happen, you had to do something to make it happen, and damn the consequences, including arrest and prison, and possibly even death. Speaking about the early days of the post-Stalin thaw, he once said: “The more we did, the more we were able to do, and the more we were able to do, the more we did.” It is a fine summary of his attitude, and, in a sense, his legacy. Havel was continually pushing the boundaries of the possible, and in doing so, he was able to create space for others to follow…”
… What put him in a league of his own is the corollary: you act not to achieve a certain outcome; you act because it is the right thing to do. That is what he meant by “living in truth,” a notion he explores in some depth in his most radical and enduring work: The Power of the Powerless.
Like many great Czechs before him, Havel insisted on the importance of truth, but with a difference. “Truth and love,” he was fond of saying, “must prevail over lies and hatred.” He was often ridiculed for what seemed like a Hallmark sentiment (“Why love?” people asked), but he defended the slogan by referring to one of his greatest insights: truth, by itself, is a malleable concept that depends for its truthfulness on who utters it, to whom it is said, and under what circumstances. As a playwright, Havel turned this insight into a dramatic device: in most of his plays, the main characters constantly lie to one another and to themselves, using words that, in other circumstances, would be perfectly truthful. Truth by itself is not enough: it needs a guarantor, someone to stand behind it. It must be uttered with no thought for gain, that is, in Havel’s words, with a love that seeks nothing for itself and everything for others…
…Havel was a deeply spiritual man who expressed his spirituality, if that is the right word, almost entirely through his actions in the world…
… Havel’s generosity toward Sudeten Germans points to one of his finest, and most radical, qualities: his capacity for forgiveness…“and Havel knew that the only way to break out of [the] …cycle of hatred and vengeance was to forgive those who have wronged us. If,” he added, “they ask to be forgiven”…”
You can read the full New York Review of Books piece, here.
Recently I finally got to see the award-winning film Of Gods and Men on the big screen. It’s in my top 5 movies of the decade (2000 to 2010). Based on the true story of a small group of Cistercian monks who inhabit the Notre-Dame de l’Atlas monastery in the Atlas mountains near Tibhirine south west of Algiers in northern Algeria it examines links between French and Islamic culture; and too some degree, between Christianity and Islam. I’m halfway through the book-length account of the story behind the film. It’s titled: The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeriaby American journalist John W. Kiser. The now-abandoned monastery is located near Medea, 70 km south of Algiers. “…The monks had worked among the people in the poor district. They had provided free medical care, a service that is deeply missed by the locals…” according to the Catholic News Agency.
Sitting in a dark theatre was a truly special experience, from the script to the cinematography, to the acting, to the soundtrack – everything worked. I loved it and was profoundly moved through a range of feelings and emotions. It’s a movie that can be ‘read’ on so many levels. It’s a profoundly human story, while also a story of friendship, community and of interdependence – in this case between the monastery and the village of Tibhirine. It’s also a story of “interiors and interiority” wrapped in a message of peace. Surely a message that is desperately needed today. Br. Jean-Pierre (age 87), one of the two survivors has said of the film that it is “an icon”.
In many ways this is a classical and profoundly modest film, and perhaps that’s an important reason why the film really touches and moves you. There’s something about its portrayal of a full range of human emotion in the face of which, for many of us, the unrest and tension would be a sufficient reason to sever connection with relationships and place. They beautifully transition through anxiety, fear, and deep inner anguish to a place of deep rootedness, trust, and commitment. They resist every urge in their bodies which whispers to them that they should leave; or that independence is more important and transformative than interdependence, relationship, love of God and neighbour, belonging, and community. Truly important and subversive messages at a time in our Western culture(s) where everything is disposable and every person and relationship can be thrown away when the circumstances of life, inside and outside of us demand that we stretch, change, and grow. The monks of Tibhirine face into their fear and in the process create something truly beautiful, truly human against a backdrop of dehumanisation. Its a profound reminder that love is not a feeling; its an action; its actions.
So much resonated with my own experiences of regularly being in a monastery within the Trappist / Cistercian tradition.
From the Film:
Reading at Meal (34:22)
“Accepting our powerlessness and our extreme poverty is an invitation, an urgent appeal to create with others relationships not based on power. Recognizing my weaknesses, I accept those of others. I can bear them; make them mine in imitation of Christ.
Such an attitude transforms us for our mission. Weakness in itself is not a virtue, but the expression of a fundamental reality, which must constantly be refashioned by faith, hope and love. The apostles’ weakness is like Christ’s, rooted in the mystery of Easter and the strength of the spirit. It is neither passivity nor resignation. It requires great courage and incites one to defend justice and truth and to denounce the temptation of force and power…”
This excerpt from the films script (above) is courtesy of a really helpful study guide for the film produced by Christopher Page (he’s written a few really helpful study guides for church or Christian communities with which to accompany films). You can find a PDF of the study guide here.
Inevitably controversial, but invariably representing a blending of both the provocative and the evocative, Matthew Fox (former Dominican priest – now Episcopalian), was recently featured in a Sounds True podcast where he talks about “…how we can apply the four spiritual paths [of what Fox terms “Creation Spirituality”] in every part of life, the value of grief rituals, the reinvention of Christianity, and what spirituality might look like in the future.”
After having listened this week to Mike Riddell wonderfully (and also provocatively) deliver the 2011 Ferguson Lectures it was nice, albeit from a different perspective, commitments, and journey, to be again reminded – this time by Fox – that so much about Christianity is both in crisis and in need of “reinvention” as we decide what to take and what to leave behind in the face of an uncharted future and the Spirit beckoning and inviting. Indeed as Mike suggested, and Fox reminds us, perhaps the invitation is not a retreating conservatism, but an open and vulnerable radicalism. Or, as Anglican Priest Kenneth Leech might say, a “subversive Orthodoxy”.
Fox has an audio (CD) release with Sounds True titled, Radical Prayer: Love in Action, Matthew Fox covers, among other topics, "What is authentic prayer?" recovering the sacred masculine and sacred feminine, and what it means to explore "the dark night of the soul."
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Tami Simon [interviewer]: But I am curious about an aspect of the via negativa which has to do with suffering, and bringing suffering into the room, brining the via negativa into the room. In some ways—the spiritual path and the spiritual life is talked about—the idea is to get away from suffering. You know, that's something that we're trying to escape from, but here, you're bringing it right in as part of our path. I'm wondering if you can talk about that a little bit.
Matthew Fox:Sure. Well, the mystics talked about "the dark night of the soul," and Hafiz, the wonderful 14th-century Sufi mystic, says, "Sometimes God wants to do us a great favor: turn us upside-down and shake all of the nonsense out, but most of us, when we hear that God is in such a playful, drunken mood, quickly pack our bags and hightail it out of town." What he's talking about there, I think, is that the warrior energy of the mystic and the spiritual person is about sticking around when times get rough—and times do get rough for all of us! We do have our valleys and our mountains to travel through. To the mystics, the dark night of the soul is a way to say, "Hey, there's something to be learned. There's a school here that we're attending when there's suffering in our lives."
What is it that we learn? Well, one thing is compassion. We learn what it means for others to be suffering, because we are paying attention to our own. As Meister Eckhart says, "Compassion begins with one's self, with one's own body and one's own soul." If we don't pay attention to our own suffering, we're not really going to understand others', but when we do, suffering itself is a common language. It's an absolutely universal experience. Of course, this is what the Buddhists are teaching when they say that all beings suffer in the universe, and it's part of the archetype of the crucified Christ in the Christian tradition. All beings, including good people, like Jesus and the Cosmic Christ, we all suffer, so we want to ask, "What is there to learn from it?"
Another thing we learn from the mystics talking about the dark night of the soul is that for them, this kind of suffering is a purification of our longing. That's really the essence of what we learn at the school called "suffering": to purify our longing. I think that's a very important issue today. I really think our species is in a great dark night of the soul at this time, because we're all unsure about what the future holds, with so many decisions ahead of us and so many institutions not working, from government to politics to economics, and many of our religions are in bad shape, education... It is one of these times when there has to be this breakthrough. This creativity has to come out of the emptying. People in AA learn this too; that the "bottoming out" that happens there is a profound shift in their entire way of being in the world. The late Father [Bede] Griffith, this wonderful [Benedictine] monk who lived in India for many years, he said that, for many people, despair is a yoga—that they do not experience God or transcendence until they go through some very deep experience like alcoholism, for example, where there is a profound emptying that happens.
I think, as I say, that our species is going through a great emptying at this time. Hopefully, we'll learn some of the really important spiritual lessons that we have to learn from that, including this issue of the purification of our longing…”
One of the rich benefits of listening too and being in conversation with Alan Roxburgh is the interesting ‘places’ you’re taken to. Alan, after spending time with Anglican’s in Wellington, headed north to the Waikato for two-days with Anglican clergy at Findlay Park. It’s been a couple of years since I last saw Alan, so lots of benefits on a personal level. Alan early on had a strong leaning toward and intellect for philosophy. My sense is that while his focus has increasingly been on Missiology, particularly in Western culture and particularly within what Alan terms “Western-Euro-Tribal Churches”, he still retains and nourishes a love of learning and intellectual exploration. It’s that willingness to explore and think broadly that enables many of us to pick up the threads and for these threads to be woven into our own narratives, experiences, and exploration.
Remember of course that Alan’s time in the Waikato follows in the footsteps of Alan Jamieson (giving voice to the experiences of those for whom their faith and explorations are churchless in a traditional sense); Steve Taylor (“postcards from the innovative edge”); Richard Rohr (the importance of spirituality within the Christian religious tradition); Ian Mobsby (nu-monasticism and innovative approaches to being church engaged within the wider culture(s) and local contexts); and Dave Tomlinson (speaking from a traditional parish context about creativity and creative ways of being church).
One piece of what proved to be a really rich vein of thinking was the input around diffusing innovation and systems / organisational change. In particular it was the conversation around living inside an unravelling context, i.e. a church without solutions, without being able to “fix it”. Nothing more boring, unhelpful, or further from God’s imagination than the question: “How can we make the church work?” Couple these themes with how to cultivate a different imagination, systems theory, the change process, diffusing innovation, and you go to some interesting places, not least for me, at a relational level when the multiple narratives and realities of our lives come into conflict with those of others. When, like a church community, the central narratives coalesce around its experience of dying, of not having a future, of having little hope. Is the Spirit at work? Where are the invitations, the opportunities for new learning, experimentation, and small (new) beginnings – new growth?
Can God and God’s invitations – the work of the Spirit – be found in all things, in all contexts – even when little hope seems apparent? The future of relationships, to adapt a phrase Alan regularly uses, is within the relationship or relationship(s), whether we’re thinking about a church, a workplace, or a marriage. The challenges and opportunities are the same. If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get the same outcomes. Crises creating disequilibrium are important invitations to creativity, systemic (DNA) and culture change (“culture is not simply “out there”; its deep inside us”), to the discovery or recovery of new (old) stories and resources, to adaptation, innovation and its diffusion etc. Change happens when we’re able to prepare the soil, open it up and soften it, nourish it, and plant new seeds and thus tend, protect, and nurture new possibilities and opportunities for life.
In this respect Alan reminds us that culture / relational change is cultivated (its doesn’t just happen; and it doesn’t happen without intervention) when we create a safe environment that engages people at the level of habits, practices, attitudes, and values. Systems, relational and culture change must happen at this level before its adaptations can be meaningfully and deeply diffused, in order that a new future or futures might be created. Habits, values, attitudes are “pre-reflective”, i.e. “unconscious” and are deeply connected to experiences, feelings, and identity, i.e. how we are, and how we’ve become that way. So, if change doesn’t get to the root and begin to diffuse and create, then meaningful change is less likely to happen. Culture change is the result of working at multiple levels simultaneously. For example, in a relationship, we need to be working at the individual level (my habits, values, attitudes, identity, formative experiences, my imagination and ability to see with new perspective, and to see new possibilities. But is also requires work at the relational level – how we relate, how we do things, our shared beliefs, narratives, and value etc. How we are oftentimes unconsciously formed and shaped by external forces and influences; by culture itself – cultural assumptions and values that are deeply at work in us, and thus between us. “How do we change the world?” a person was asked. “One person at a time,” was the response. If people individually are willing to remain committed and engaged, but willing also to change and grow, then bigger, wider change never happens.
The impetus for adaptive change might come from the edges, but broad change only happens when the broad middle is changed. Change within an existing paradigm (or way of being) will not change culture.
So, today I wanted to share a poem by Oliver. Its called “Wild Geese” (with thanks to Maggi Dawn for bringing it to my attention)
“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting– over and over announcing your place in the family of things”
I was first captivated by Oliver via a short essay by Roger Housden in his fantastic little book Ten Poems to Open Your Heart(a book of love); a book I keep coming back to time and time again. His essay works with Oliver’s poem West Wind # 2Housden introduces his essay with a great quote from Oliver from her Poetry Handbook:
“…Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes indeed…”
And the following from a review by G. Merritt of Ten Poems to Open Your Heart.
“…Roger Housden observes that "suffering is part of how it is on earth; it is an inherent part of the fabric of existence. And if we are lucky, it will break our heart open" (p. xiii). The ten poems Housden has collected here reveal that, even in the midst of life's difficulties, disappointments, and broken dreams, love can bloom. And, as Mary Oliver reflects in the book's opening poem, while there is life without love, it "is not worth a bent penny, or a scuffed shoe" (p. 15)…”
And finally, a great couple of quotes to journey with:
Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.”
- Theodore Roethke
"The purpose of a book is to serve as an axe for the frozen sea within us."
- Annie Dillard
More on the importance of poetry tomorrow. Today? I'm out to spend some time with Alan Roxburgh.
Paul writes – Australian friend Simon Holt took Arthur of Ponsonby’s advice seriously (see this post), although he didn’t know it at the time. Remember what Arthur said? ““Sometimes you just got to let yourself go and see where you end up.” So twelve-months later Simon offers a couple of reflections about the transition:
“…I came to Collins Street Baptist Church one year ago this month. In a community of such history, I am still new. I came from seventeen years of teaching practical theology in seminaries and universities. When I accepted the call to Collins Street, eyebrows were raised, my own included. Why would I leave the security and stimulation, not to mention the opportunity to influence, that teaching provides? And why, in the breathless age of ‘new missional communities’ and ‘emergent churches’, would one join an ecclesial relic in apparent decline?...
I have read the statistics, the predictions of demise for churches like this one: stories of sinking ships and chronic relevance deficit. I’ve listened to whispered warnings of a conservative community, liberal in theology, jealous of its history, hording its resources and resistant to change. Despite all of this, I packed my bags and moved in.
…What I have found could not be further from its reputation. Collins Street is anything but an ecclesial relic! Indeed, it’s a relatively small congregation—I often say it’s a small church with a big building, a big history, a big budget and a big impact—but far from being on its deathbed, this church is very much alive. What I have found is an extraordinary community of people, diverse in every possible way, alive to the Spirit and deeply committed to the future. A year in and I am very glad to be here…”
You’ll find the original post here, and the follow up one here. Its good to see Simon reflecting again on personal narrative, change, the ordinary and the everyday… and a book recommendation (see both posts) – to which I can but add my own endorsement. It’s a fascinating and useful book.
The story Simon tells is a story of courage, possibility and hope. Confirmation that the future is present and is nurtured in what de Caussade called the “sacrament of the present moment”. It’s true in seemingly “dying” churches, just as much as it’s true with regards to businesses and institutions – indeed of any kind of organization.
For more on these themes and the role of leadership (though not exclusively a book only for “leaders”) in change I highly highly recommend Margaret Wheatley’s Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. It isn’t a practical step-by-step book, but what it does really well is frame and informs the kind of deep conversations and practices that need to be engaged. See also Baldwin and Linnea’s The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair.
Alan Writes – In Putting Hope to WorkHarry Hutson and Barbara Perry bring together their ten plus years of exploring the role of hope in work place setting. There primary finding is that Hope is an often ignored yet vital necessity of productive and purposeful work places.
As Rabbi Maurice Lamm said – while “we know in our bones that hope is everything. In the back of our minds we suspect it is nothing at all (p8).”
So Hope seems both highly elusive and very significant. Not surprisingly definitions are numerous from a variety of literatures (religious, medical, counselling, psychological and organisational) developing around ‘Hope’. Hutson & Perry neatly cut through the plethora of definitions to define hope in a very biblically conducive was - as “an orientation to a positive future that engages our heads, hearts and hands (p115).”
Hope begins with facing the truth. In this sense Hope is rooted in unalloyed reality. This is where Hope parts company with optimism. “Optimism, Prof Cornel West says, adopts the stance of the spectator who surveys the evidence in order to infer that things are going to get better”, while “hope enacts the stance of the participant who actively struggles against the evidence (p47).” Hope gets its hands dirty in the reality of struggle, pain and life and works towards a better future. As Martin Luther King so famously said “we will be able to hew out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” This is Christian hope at work; hope born out of and modelled on the cross of Christ. This is not detached optimism but realistic engagement. Because “hope draws its power from within in order to reach positive goals, whereas optimism expects something good to happen while taking pains to segregate itself from the negative (p47).”
You will find the full post (plus diagram) attached as a PDF below.
Alan Writes – As a student of “Hope” I was keen to get a copy of Tom Wright’s latest (truth be told he’s probably written two more by now) book. I have already mentioned this title here but what I have read so far excites me enough to want to comment further.
The essence of the book is summed up in the opening pages:
“This book addresses two questions . . . (1) what is the ultimate Christian hope? (2) What hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present?
Wright’s primary response can be put like this: as long as we see ‘Christian hope’ in terms of ‘going to heaven’, of a ‘salvation’ which is essentially away from this world, then the two questions are bound to appear as unrelated. . . But if the ‘Christian hope’ is for God’s new creation, for ‘new heavens and new earth’ (Rev 21) – and if that hope has already come to life in Jesus of Nazareth – then there is every reason to join the two questions together (p5).”
From here he deals with issues like paradise, Easter, the cosmic future, heaven, hell, judgement, purgatory, space, time, matter etc.
Part I of Surprised by Hope should be read by anybody wanting a level-headed but impassioned defence of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.