Engaging Well In Our Communities

For a number of years now, I’ve been thinking deeply about how churches can engage well — or at least better — with the communities in which they find themselves. The fact is, so often we don’t. Churches often condescendingly treat their local communities as a broken project in need of ‘fixing’ (conveniently ignoring our own brokenness), or fail to realise that people aren’t actually as stupid as we sometimes seem to think they are and can see straight through our thinly veiled attempts to get more bums on seats.

There is, I think, a more excellent way.

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Joy and Gardening

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It’s hard to find words for how much contentment and joy I feel watering the plants in our small community herb garden.

I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I think it has something to do with the fact that it can’t be rushed. I may have 10,000 other things waiting for me on my ‘to-do’ list, but watering the plants takes as long as it takes. There’s no shortcut; I may as well just enjoy it.

Of course, being outside is nice as well, and it’s always good to get out from behind a desk. But it’s especially nice to slow down, to breathe, and to just be. I find that watering the garden relaxes me, makes me feel less anxious, and allows me space to experience that otherwise elusive feeling of contentment (even if just for a moment). This always leads me to joy.

Spending time watering the plants also allows me to be present. I’m there with the plants, and I’m able to notice if they’re healthy, or to check for pests or diseases or nutrient deficiencies. It gives me time to check to see where seeds might be ready for collection, or if there are small seedlings already popping up through the soil. I’m there already, so I may as well deadhead some flowers while I’m at it.

Perhaps I’m pushing it a bit far, but I think what I’m learning from the herb garden also helps me to be a better pastor.

I am, by nature, an impatient person. I’ve got ideas and plans and schemes and I want them all to happen now! I’ve got hopes and dreams for our community, and there never seems to be enough time (or resource, or whatever) to make it all come together.

What I’m learning is that I can’t force it.

I’m learning to slow down; where else do I need to be? I’m learning to be present, to engage fully with the people who are in front of me (rather than already planning the next meeting). I’m learning to notice what’s going on, and to engage in the slow, sometimes frustrating, and always-rewarding work of learning to live together in community.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out just yet. I might go out and water the garden.

An observation on reading the New Testament

I’m a Christian pastor, so it makes sense that I think quite a bit about what the Bible says. But I also spend quite a lot of time thinking about how I/we read the biblical texts. That is, I’m very interested in hermeneutics.

I’ve been convinced for a long time now that most of the significant arguments (ostensibly) about what the Bible says are actually more about how the Bible is being read. It may be surprising to some, but there is not just one ‘correct’ way to read these sacred texts. I’m convinced that there are ‘better’ and ‘worse’ reading strategies, but I think it’s naive to suggest that there is only one ‘right’ approach.

I may have lost some readers already at this point but, if you’re willing to read on, hopefully I can make some sense of these initial statements (both in this post and those that follow).

I want to take a couple of posts to tease out some ideas on these issues, and would like to start in this post by addressing a phenomenon that I think is quite common — and quite mistaken — when it comes to reading the New Testament in particular.

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Can there be ‘space for grace’ in challenging conversations?

The Assembly Standing Committee for the Uniting Church in Australia has submitted a report (which will be taken to the next Assembly in July), recommending that the Uniting Church “offer the rites of marriage to opposite-gender and same-gender couples, while allowing Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants freedom of conscience to perform marriages or not.” This is obviously closely linked with recent changes to marriage legislation in Australia to include same-sex couples, and is the first taste of similar conversations that will be happening across many Christian denominations over the next few years

In one sense this is a big deal (even though it hasn’t, at the time of writing, been discussed and voted on at Assembly). Having said that, it has not risen out of nowhere. The Uniting Church has been committed to having these sorts of conversations for a long time now, even though they are often not easy conversations to have.

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James H. Cone

I woke up this morning to the sad news that the Rev. Dr. James H. Cone has died.

Cone is often credited as the ‘founder’ of Black Liberation Theology (the stream of liberation theology focused particularly on the experience of African Americans), forever disrupting ‘business as usual’ with the publication of his hugely influential Black Theology and Black Power (1969) and A Black Theology of Liberation (1970).

Like so many others, I can honestly say that Cone’s work has changed the way I think. He helped me see things that, previously, I was simply unable to see.

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