Category Archives: Something to think about

What does a loving church look like?

The church is its people, not its religion. I think we’ve forgotten this.

Coffee with my yoga group is one of my more enjoyable moments of the week. Our conversations cover a wide range of topics – from the day-to-day routine of our lives, to the more complex issues around love and relationships. Sometimes conversation takes place as we traverse the hills of Papamoa, other times they are a quick one-on-one after class, but mostly they take place at our favourite cafe. Our banter is always lively, and everyone contributes from their perspective on life.  I feel safe with this group.  Safe to download, upload and explode. A couple of weeks ago I did just that, last week it was someone else’s turn. These conversations, this group of people, are precious to me.

Likewise, so is my conversation with my terminally ill friend. With Kirsty there is a piece of treasure in every conversation. We discuss, rant and rave about this God we love and seek to know better. Again, I feel safe having these conversations with Kirsty. Secure to voice my often-wavering and questioning faith. Safe to be who I am. And again, these conversations are incredibly precious to me.

Then there is my elderly neighbour. Our weekly coffee morning chats are most enjoyable. Her perspective on life is intelligent and interesting and I always leave with a sense of well-being from having had a good healthy, robust conversation with someone who knows their topic.

Although these conversations vary in subject and participants, one connecting strand links them; I am having conversations with people I feel safe with. Friends I can openly share how I’m feeling about my life at that moment.  I trust these people with the ups, downs and anguishes of my story, and they trust me with theirs.  You cannot intellectualise that feeling of ‘feeling safe’ it is something you just know. When I leave these people, I leave with all of me intact. My heart and soul unjudged and undamaged.  I feel loved. And I’ve been thinking about this – wouldn’t it be great if the church was like this.  A place for everyone to engage in robust, hearty discussion about God, life and love, and feel safe doing so. The church, becoming THE place for conversation.

For most people their first introduction to God is by going to church. I have always felt a bit like ‘a square peg in a round hole’ in church settings. And for years I have blamed myself. I have had such amazing experiences of God’s love so going to church should be a breeze. But it’s not. Dread and anxiety accompany me and euphoria escorts me out; a relief that I made it.  When I attend church, I feel like a lion being tamed for a circus. My experiences of God and love become masked by religion and religiosity and I sense life being sucked from me, as a woman and as a person. My joy. My weirdness and humour, my creativity and energy, all that my wonderful God created me to be, feels silenced.

God is becoming irrelevant the media are telling us, and statistics show declining church attendances across several denominations. We can blame this on external influences all we like, but the truth is, the church is doing a pretty good job of adding to the problem. As my friend Kirsty so accurately describes, love has been ‘trodden down under religious mores’.  Yes, God and religion are difficult to untangle. When we merge God with religion, we are in danger of extinguishing the real message of God – the message of love.  I think it’s time for the church to wake up.  Love is the by-product of God, not religion.  There is nothing, we need to do, or be, to experience God’s love.  God’s pure unadulterated, unfettered, untamed love is free for everyone.

Thankfully, the Bible presents us with a list of characteristics, a bit like a recipe, of what this love should look like.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a, NIV)

There’s a lifetime of living in those 15 ingredients. The aching for love and acceptance is a strand of yearning that links all people. Thankfully there’s no time limit on love. It is the greatest weapon we have, but it cannot be forced or imposed on anyone. We must be the love. The church is its people, not its religion. I think we’ve forgotten this.

Let’s bring back the people. Revitalise love, using Corinthians 13 as a guideline. Make church a place for both believers and non-believers. A place to interact with people who are different than us in some way, whether it be culture, language, identity, or something else. A place for people to be listened to and heard. People everywhere having conversations, sharing their lives, making sense of their lives. Feeling accepted. Feeling safe. Feeling loved for who they are, where they are. ­­­

What an opportunity!  What would the Church look like for you if love was present?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My friend Kirsty is dying

There will be no reprieve, no remission and no cure. The medical profession describe it as Motor Neurone Disease (MND). For two years now, this ogre of a disease has ransacked Kirsty’s body, causing chaos as it plunders and pillages, weakening and wasting all her muscles. I liken it to a home invasion; when all you can do is watch as someone violently strips your home of all its precious belongings.  Motor neurone disease is a progressive wasting and weakness of muscles responsible for speech, chewing and swallowing. Kirsty lost the ability to talk, cough, eat and swallow in the early stages of the disease. Her gait is now a lurching stagger and her head too heavy to hold up.  Motor neurone disease is fatal. Kirsty can do nothing but watch and wait, fully conscious of what is happening, for her end to come. Even her family of doctors, one a prominent Neurosurgeon, are powerless to offer lifesaving intervention – because there is none to offer.

But I don’t want this article to be about MND. This article is about the soul – mine, yours and especially Kirsty’s.  Does MND leave the soul alone. No!  Not even the soul has a free ‘get out of jail’ card.  MND taunts with power, boasts with its relentless destruction of the body. ‘Where’s your God now,’ it scoffs. But with the help of voice assist technology and some rather hilarious miming, I can tell you, Kirsty’s soul is alive, alight and very much on fire. Much, much more alive than the ravages of the disease. You do not see the illness when you talk with Kirsty. Her love for her God, her unwavering faith and the sureness of God’s love for her, stirs something in you. ‘What’? I hear you say. ‘If this God is so loving why the disease?’ ‘Why doesn’t God just heal her?’.  Good questions.  Kirsty and I touch on this from time to time, especially on the topic of healing.

As Christians we are taught and told of the miracles of healing the sick and raising the dead. Just pray and believe they said.  As a young Christian I believed this implicitly. But as I traversed the highs and lows of my faith, I began questioning. The multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, the blind to see, the lame to walk, bringing the dead to life, did they really happen and, if they did, is there any real, fail safe evidence that physical healing is happening now?  Will God answer my prayer and heal Kirsty? And if God doesn’t heal Kirsty, what does this say about God? What does it say about me? What does it say about Kirsty?  There had to be something we’re missing I mused.  The first part of the answer came from Kirsty herself.  I have reprinted it here.

Heaven or Healing?

It wasn’t so long ago that I had strong opinions about healing. I held a gritty assumption that healing was the rightful expectation of the believer. With sufficient faith and power-packed Scriptures, Satan would be disarmed, and God would triumph.

And then I got MND. I was the one needing healing.

As I faced this giant, I found that my thinking had changed. My growing understanding of God and deepening relationship with him had altered my perspective on the matter of healing. Also relevant was watching some mighty believers struck down by ‘untimely’ deaths.

Maybe there was no formula after all … and no guarantee. Maybe insufficient faith was not the culprit when healing did not happen? An element of divine mystery seemed so apparent.

From diagnosis I experienced a strong faith inside me. It was not faith explicitly for my healing, though there has never been an iota of doubt that my God heals. It was a faith that my Beloved held me securely in his hands and he was ordering the path before me. He called me to trust him with the unknown, with the fearsome.

As the months have gone by with MND’s unrelenting assault on my body, that faith has never wavered. His pleasure over me is real, his presence wrapped around me is strong and sweet.

Jesus the Immanuel … God with us … God with me. I gave him permission to have his way with my life, no matter what that looked like. I loved him so much that I just wanted him to be glorified – whether by healing me and letting me testify, or by taking me home. My real home. I trust in his wisdom and kindness.

So that is where is I am positioned this day. Almost overwhelmed by the ravages of MND but peacefully held. I would have it no other way. Hallelujah!

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Psalm 73:26 NLT.

What an inspiring piece. This issue of physical healing is still a mystery to Kirsty.  She, me and we, do not have the answers to physical healing. But even though she is, as she says, ‘… almost overwhelmed by the ravages of MND’, Kirsty’s faith in God’s love for her, never wavers. And although I want, pray, cajole,  and demand, Kirsty be physically healed, God has been silent on the issue.  But God is bigger than our demands, expectations and perceptions – that’s the lesson I get from Kirsty’s writing.  She never stops seeking and searching to know her God better.  I love this about her.

In an earlier blog, I asked the question, ‘What if everything you perceive God to be is a lie?’.  It’s a thought-provoking question: It nudges, irks and challenges our ego. This is what it means to search and seek. It’s a question that excludes no-one – a God question that includes the atheist to the most ‘devout’.  A question daring us to let go of our perceptions of God. A question worth going back to time and time again because of the potential to discover new and greater possibilities of God’s love for us, every time we ask. This is the essence of Kirsty’s writing.

Whenever I visit Kirsty, I always hope I may be of some comfort to her as she faces the day to day grind of MND.  But exactly the opposite happens. I always leave with this weird feeling that Kirsty has comforted me. That my soul has been gently guided back onto the right track, as if I had been lost, and didn’t realise.   In our last conversation she was a bit down, “I just feel sitting here all day, I’m not contributing to anything,” she said. Well, I want my friend to know there is no bigger job than the work of contributing to the soul. Kirsty, you do that in bucket loads!

If you would like to follow Kirsty’s as she writes about her journey with God and MND you can search for her on Facebook – Prayers  for Kirsty.

 

 

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The only thing we can change as individuals is our behaviour. 

So much hate dressed up in garments of religiosity and ideology. [MC]

Less than 24-hours after the attack, when a heavily armed, white supremacist, stormed into two Christchurch mosques killing 50 Muslim worshipers, I wrote how I felt powerless to effect any change. I don’t have a political platform or a public voice. My voice is barely a whisper among the finger-pointing cacophony of public opinion surrounding the attack. The only place left to go is within. Try to understand the ‘tilt’, and process the disquiet that has been slowly building. To be honest, it’s been a little uncomfortable.

The ‘tilt’ is not an entirely unfamiliar feeling. The first time my world tilted on its axis was when my sister woke me late at night to tell me she could hear my parents having an argument. We tiptoed down the hallway to listen. As a ten-year-old I had never heard my parents argue. And it rocked me. I was worried and scared. Something shifted inside me. I went back to bed with my fear and never talked about it again. But since the terror attack, I find myself thinking about this incident. When I try to process recent events, I am reminded of this past event. As though in some way they are linked.

And in their own way, they are linked. In both these situations my worldview shifted. I now understand my parents were only human, and not superhuman, as seen, and expected, through my eyes. It is only in hindsight I understand the lesson of this event. However, the lessons from the March 15 attack have been a little more confronting.

The most uncomfortable truth has been my worldview of Islam and of being Muslim.  Since 911 we have been bombarded with images and comments that talk about Islam, Terror, Muslim and Radical, as if the words were joined together at the seam. As though one could not exist without the other. All or nothing. I believed it.

Most of all I feel cross with myself because I did not question. Nothing is what it seems – and this is exactly why we should question everything we think, see and are told. Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing?”

I did not question what I was seeing and hearing. Did not do my own research – trusted everything I read and watched. And my left-over crumbs of ‘religiosity’ sealed the deal nicely. I saw only what I wanted to see instead of investigating to see what there was really to see. I became judge and jury according to any narrative dished out by so-called experts. I am deeply sorry for this, humbled by the grace, love and dignity shown by the New Zealand Muslim community.

Since writing this piece there has been another attack. This time in Sri Lanka when suicide bombers struck three Christian churches and four luxury hotels killing over 300 people. At face value it seems hypocritical, ridiculous even, to talk about God as Love when we are surrounded by all this hate ‘in the name of God’. So much hate dressed up in garments of religiosity and ideology. God has suffered a great injustice at the hands of those who claim to be the closest to God.  God is not responsible for this hate. Religion is not responsible for this hate. It is the people who use religion and God to hate and control who are responsible for these attacks.

Author, Speaker and Educator, Ruby Usman says we forget that humans are only humans.
“And it is the weak humans who use religion to exact power upon other people. It is not Islam; it is always the person who is using this power to control people in their lives.”
It is these people, Ruby says, who need to be called to account. Not God. Not religion.

Yes, my world tilted, my worldview was challenged, and my soul feels uprooted. What a lesson on Love Our Muslim community has given us. I feel like I have been both reprimanded and given a gift. Been asleep and just woken up. Reminded that no religion or belief system has a monopoly on God.  That I cannot contain God in a box of my own making. Love is the goal and we all have access to this Love. The Muslim community reminded me of this. Thank you.

 

Yesterday, when hate was unleashed, we lost our innocence.

No one can learn to love by following a manual. (MC)

I am just an ordinary person trying to grapple with a hate crime.

Normality amid tragic circumstances is bizarre. Today, I walked the dog, chatted to a neighbour, watched a large peloton of bike rider’s speed by, and did the weekly shopping. A normal life of a very ordinary person.

Turn me inside out though, and it’s a different story. Shock, grief, sorrow, helplessness and sympathy smother my ‘ordinary’.  We woke this morning in New Zealand feeling different. Less than 24 hours ago our peaceful country was infiltrated by hate, violence, and ignorance. An act of terrorism. A country in mourning after a deadly massacre at two Christchurch mosques. As of today, 49 have been confirmed dead with more than 30 people hospitalised, some critical. We are a small county, sitting at the bottom of the world map. We believed we lived in a safe and peaceful country. Yesterday, when hate was unleashed, we lost our innocence.

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We are never ‘there’ on the spiritual journey

The spiritual journey must be experienced, not Googled. [MC]

How is my spiritual journey going? I feel it’s not going well at all, but I have a sneaky suspicion I’m right where I’m meant to be.

Sometimes I remind myself of that kid in the car who continuously asks: ‘Are we there yet?’
We live in an era where we have instant access to knowledge, so embarking on a journey is relatively simple these days. With a push of a button, GPS tools can quickly guide us to our destination, even pointing out the obstacles along the way.  But when it comes to the spiritual journey the dynamic changes. There is no road map, no GPS, and, as frustrating as it is, there is no instant answer matters of the soul. The spiritual journey must be experienced, not Googled.

In my last blog I wrote enthusiastically about being awakened to my feminine soul. It was a beautiful moment of awakening and, for a few days, I was ‘fist-pumping’ with euphoria and enthusiasm. I instantly became, or so I misguidedly thought, a voice for feminist spirituality. I had finally shed my spiritual confusion and found purpose. I was ‘there’!  And it felt wonderful! But I began to feel unsettled. The more I read about feminine spirituality, the more I realised what little I knew. I didn’t know what I was doing or how to get ‘there’.  Everything I tried went nowhere. There was no doubt I had been awakened, but what the heck, I did not know what to do.  As it turned out, I needed a few basic lessons on the spiritual journey, and I want to share these with you.

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What matters most … is a matter for the heart

Love cannot come in to you, it can only come out of you. [MC]

The last day of the year and, like every other year, the endless wandering of my soul ‘ups the ante’.  When my yearning and longing reach their crescendo. It’s noisy, creative, anticipative and full of fire in the belly.  It also dumps with it, a bunch of melancholy. A restlessness. An ache. Of something I cannot quite see or grasp. It’s like waiting for that bus you know should come, but never comes, but you keep waiting for it.   I feel a bit like a ping pong ball – pinging and ponging my way between the fire in my belly and the stormy blues of melancholy. But today, round one, goes to the fire in my belly – the ignition point at the heart of my yearning and longing … love.

We spend a lifetime searching for love and acceptance.  A friend of mine sums this up beautifully. She says most of us are limping along in this life with deeply buried inner pain, facades of confidence, with no idea how to make it right. Love has always been at the core of my search.  The chasing of futile dreams in fantasy places, happiness in external pleasure, love in religions, even other people, hoping to fill the emptiness that has plagued me. The irony is, the only place I ever needed to search was within. How fabulous is that!

Most of us journey a long way to find what is near.  People carry such wrong notions about love. We look everywhere for our perceptions of love. But love cannot be found through external influence. Not in people, power, wealth, beauty, legislation or status. Love is not about performance or doing or going anywhere.  No-one can learn to love by following a manual. Love does not force its will on anybody. We cannot control it.  And contrary to how the world portrays love, love has no economic value, it is impossible to measure. You can’t love to order – love’s steps are experienced not constituted. Author Mitch Albom says,
“Love is not revenge. It can’t be thrown like a rock. And you can’t create it to fix your problems. Forcing love is like picking a flower, then insisting that it grow.”

I have talked in previous blogs about the way the truth hits you – both hard and gentle at the same time. How it punches you in the stomach as it puts a loving arm around your shoulder. [Anne Ursu].  A few years ago, at a time when I was mentally at my ugliest, I had one of those moments of truth.  I love to run. I find the action of putting one foot in front the other calming when life is in a turmoil. On this particular run, when my thoughts were anything but calm – full of self-pity, anger and confusion, I heard the words, ‘Margaret, love cannot come in to you, it can only come out of you.’ Wham!  It still sends shivers down my spine. I literally stopped dead in my tracks and looked around me to see if anyone else had heard anything. What a truth!  ‘Love can only come out of you.’ Those words of love literally changed and saved my life.

We are all looking for that place where love has hidden itself away. The aching for love and acceptance links us all. To truly understand love, we need divine help. People don’t like to hear this, because we tend to want to be in control of love, dictate love on our own terms, but we won’t get there without God, because God is love – nothing more, nothing less. To seek love is to seek God. And that is a matter for the heart.

I want to finish the year with a quote I used at the beginning of my blog journey. I’m hoping you may take this into the New Year with you.  It’s by the 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, Rumi, he says,

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

The greatest weapon we have is love.  And love starts with you, from the inside-out. You must be the love. It’s what you feel in your chest.  Your heart knows the way so run in that direction. The alchemy of love can only come from inside you. Oh yes, what matters most is most definitely a matter for the heart. Happy New Year.

A miracle happened to me last week

Photo of a pohutukawa flower

Miracles happen every day, change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you.  [Jon Bon Jovi]

Miracles do happen – they really do. Let me tell you about mine. Last Friday, in an act of sheer rock-bottom desperation, I got on my knees and literally begged whoever was listening for help – God, Jesus, my deceased parents, my ancestors, the universe, the angels – everything and everyone I could think of. “Please help me!  I don’t know what to do. Please keep her safe.” Over and over again. To be honest, the silence that followed was expected, but the agonising noise of aloneness at that moment, I think, will stay with me forever.

Afterwards, for want of something to do, I sat at my computer and keyed in the words ‘help for homeless kiwi women living in Australia’. Hoping for anything that could take me to my next step of doing … well just doing ‘something’. For those who don’t know ‘Kiwi’ is the nickname used for people from New Zealand. The name derives from the kiwi, a native flightless bird, which is a national symbol of New Zealand.

Google search results gave me nothing to smile about. Numerous articles and stories about the more than 3000 homeless New Zealanders in Australia filled the search results. Sadly, this figure also includes my Melbourne based thirty-nine-year-old daughter.  Here in New Zealand we often refer to Australia as our Trans-Tasman relations (relations across the Tasman Sea). We are geographically and culturally close, both countries share a British colonial heritage, and our bond made even more special by the ANZAC’s who fought side-by-side on the battlefields of WW1 and WW2. Australia is also one of the first place New Zealanders head to for a ‘change of scenery’, whether it be to work, live, or holiday. My daughter has been living there for 15-20 years.

As I scrolled aimlessly down the depressing search results, I intermittently clicked on charities I felt could offer help.  I clicked links and sent messages telling my story.  I wrote about my daughter who has been living on the streets, on and off for years. Of how she was mentally unwell, a consequence of addiction issues, and certainly not well enough, mentally or physically, to hold down a job. She was not eligible for any assistance in Australia and she had finally reached out and said “I want to come home. I want to heal.” A charity paid her fare back to New Zealand, but because of unpaid child support, and several reneged plans to pay it back, she had been denied permission to leave the country. So last Friday she returned back to the city from the airport, and continued her life wandering around the city, begging, and sleeping on park benches.

“I don’t know what to do, and I am desperate”, I wrote.

And then the miracle. The following morning, from across the Tasman, 2693km away, a message in my inbox. One single response to my previous night’s pleas. A group called Tautoko Whanau Help Australia, offers to assist in finding accommodation for my daughter and help navigate the processes and systems that would enable her to get back to New Zealand. I cannot begin to describe what it meant to see the words ‘we can help’.  From hopelessness to hope – that loving arm around my shoulder I spoke about in a previous blog, Perceptions of God. Someone listened, someone heard my prayer, and someone felt the pain of an anguished mother battling for the life of her daughter. My prayer was heard. That was my miracle.

I learned a valuable lesson about miracles last Friday.  Miracles don’t happen by waving a magic wand. They are not a sprinkling of foo-foo dust, nor a spell or a potion for an instant fix. In my daughters’ case, we are only at the beginning of a long winding road with several twists and turns.

No, miracles are the doors that open. People selflessly working together. Communities reaching out to those in need, time and time again. Taking the hand of someone and saying, ‘I am listening.’ ‘I care.’ ‘I can help you.’ Miracles occur when people love and care for one another.  It’s as simple as that. Read more

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