Three Ways Forward

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I am on a deadline. I have a thesis due in 5 weeks and I’m behind. I’m behind because, in hindsight, I have treated it more like a hobby than a mission. I have dipped in and dipped out of it. I have spent concentrated time on it but I have also let it lapse at times. It has not received the deeply focussed attention that a thesis deserves. And now, I find myself with 5 weeks to go and a lot to do. And that’s OK.

It’s okay because God has used the last 2.5 years of part-time thesis writing to teach me a great deal about himself, his kingdom and my own heart. If the process teaches you then the process, no matter how painful, is worth it. flight 93

I have been writing about the tragic events of 9/11 and how God’s name was used in the aftermath of that tragedy. As I’ve delved into Presidential addresses, speeches by religious leaders, 9/11 memorials and the musings of pop culture I have been struck by three things that seem to be a way forward for all of us through the pluralistic and divided world we live in: Hear and honour each other’s stories; practice radical hospitality and make space and spaces for God.

First, hear and honour each other’s stories. We’ve just held a woman’s conference at our church and they spent most of it hearing and sharing the stories of their lives. They are now bonded together in a way they never were before. When we hear each others story we honour each other. We honour our past, our heartache, our courage and our faith. Stories create empathy which is the foundation of compassion, and, as people who have all suffered wounds, we all need compassion. Even being aware that everyone has a story behind their actions creates increased empathy, and doesn’t this world need a little more empathy these days?

Second, practice radical hospitality. Look up my post by the same name for more on this, but, it seems to me that eating together, being in each others homes, seeing who they really are and letting them see you is a powerful tool of love. So often as Christians we want to correct people, preach at them or judge them. We create distance between us and them instead of closing the gap and creating a ‘we.’ We don’t need to compromise our faith or our doctrinal stances to do this but we do need to be courageous in our love. We also need to be wise and discerning. Jesus was but he still ate with Pharisees.

Third, make space and spaces for God (see my post ‘Making Space for God’). As I sat in reflection at the memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the sight of the Flight 93 crash, God drew near. The way the designers blended the natural landscape with man-made elements made reflection and prayer possible and even, probable. They didn’t need to impose God on people. Instead they created a space where it felt right to turn to God. We need more of these kinds of spaces in our lives. We also need to make space in our own lives for God. A poorly designed memorial is one you don’t pause at. If our life doesn’t have pauses in it then it’s a sign that we have designed it poorly.

In my research I found all three points in action after 9/11. By doing so places like St Paul’s Chapel, the 9/11 memorials and Redeemer Church in New York helped to bring healing and love to many. Singers like Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon gave words to the suffering. Leaders like Billy Graham and Tim Keller communicated Christ’s loving presence. These three points are for anyone, Christian and non-Christian, to practice but they gain real power when the love of Christ is at their heart. May we practice them well in this world that desperately needs God’s love to be seen and heard.

Blessings.

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4 Responses to Three Ways Forward

  1. Mark Row says:

    Very interesting reflections Rob. It’s interesting that a lot of what you are talking about seems to have been the ‘norm’ in the early church in Acts and yet we seem to have lost a lot of this in the practice of the modern church which seems more of a ‘top down’ approach with the congregation as ‘worker ants’ and/or students to be taught ‘truth’. The aspect of story, reflection and sharing seems to be subservient, if present at all. Yet, in the bible the use of story as a teaching tool (e.g. Nathan to King David) or for sharing thoughts, ideas, experiences and for discussion (Philip and the Ethiopian, David to Saul) was commonplace.

    Several years back I was at a day with Rob Harley where he had everyone sharing stories with one another and it was a very affirming and enriching experience.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for sharing Mark. Agreed! I think the Enlightenment took us far away from these practices and it’s time to reclaim them as true Christian practice. But how? Thoughts?

  2. Mark Row says:

    Well I need to reflect a lot more on this but here are some suggestions for a start:
    Firstly, I think the standard western church type service needs to change. One of the reasons committed Christians are leaving ‘the church’ is that they feel they are outgrowing just sitting listening to sermons each week. I’m not saying there is no place for teaching and preaching but people want to be involved. My preference is for some teaching or challenge that leads into people breaking into groups and sharing/wrestling with trying to seek what God is saying.
    Secondly we need to actively listen and share. When I did a missional leadership course each session started with a time of reflection and sharing. We got into pairs, reflected on a verse (or 2 or 3) and then shared with each other. The rules were – we weren’t to pass judgement on what the other person was sharing or interrupt them but listen. Then when the groups came back together we had to share what we thought the other person was saying without embellishment.
    Thirdly, hospitality and reaching into the community. This is even harder and requires active effort. A while back I decided that I would try and do something each week for someone that cost me – time, money, whatever. I can’t say I have always succeeded but the intent has meant that, on a number of occasions, I have consciously changed direction, stopped my busyness and invested time into someone else. I’ve also been talking with my family about creative ways we can reach out, just with a word of encouragement, a small gift, whatever and represent Jesus to others. Got a few ideas I hope to put into place in coming weeks.
    Ultimately though we need a change of focus and the best example I can think of at the moment is of a Christian family who had decided to build a pizza oven at home. Rather than put it around the back they put it out the front, on the boundary with the oven facing the road. Then they let the neighbours know they were free to come along and use it. The result was many shared meals with others in the street. It’s that totally new way of looking at being missional and community focused that we need.

  3. Great thoughts Mark. I love that last picture. It speaks of beginning with our shared humanity and deepening relationship from there through shared stories. I truly believe that’s our way forward. Thanks for your engagement with this post.

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