Sunday, September 30, 2012

"If the Earth were small" by Olaf Skarsholt

If the earth
were only a few feet in
diameter, floating a few feet above a
field somewhere, people would come from
every where to marvel at it. People would walk
around it marveling at its big pools of water, its little
pools and the water flowing between the pools. People
would marvel at the bumps on it, and the holes in it, and they
would marvel at the very thin layer of gas surrounding it and the
water suspended in the gas. The people would marvel at all the
creatures walking around the surface of the ball, and in the water.
The people would declare it precious because it was the only one,
And they would protect it, so that it would not be hurt. The ball
would be the greatest wonder known, and people would come
to behold it, to be healed, to gain knowledge, and to know
beauty and to wonder how it could be. People would love
it, and defend it with their lives, because they would
somehow know that their lives, their own
roundness, could be nothing without it.
If the earth were only a few
feet in diameter.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Discovering God (in nature)

When people talk about becoming a Christian, the term sometimes used is 'finding Jesus' as though Jesus were hiding somewhere and one only has to look in the right place to find him. In fact, a number of cartoons have illustrated this possibility, with Jesus hiding somewhere behind a curtain or a couch.

Putting the emphasis on Jesus indicates that the only way to 'find' God is by 'finding' Jesus. You may feel spiritual, you may seek to know God, but until you 'find Jesus' it is actually you who is lost.

The other thing this term does is make 'finding Jesus' a one-off event. When you find something, you've found it. No further looking is required. Of course, you may lose it again and then have to find it for a second time. But there are times when you have 'found' something and times when you haven't, with no middle ground. You can't half find something and once you've found it you don't keep looking. It's either found or not.

Despite the claims of many born-again Christians, I don't believe that 'finding God' can be so neatly differentiated into a before and after stage. Rather than a game of hide'n'seek, it is an ongoing journey. We are continually seeking and continually finding. The word 'discovering' therefore seems more appropriate to me than 'find'.

Furthermore, God is not just discovered by Christians, but people who aren't Christians are continually discovering him too. This includes not just people of other religions - but also agnostics and even atheists - although they may not recognise what they have discovered is God.

In The Mind of God, Paul Davies[1] says: 'even hard-nosed atheists frequently have what has been called a sense of reverence for nature, a fascination and respect for its depth and beauty and subtlety, that is akin to religious awe.’ That to me sounds very much like the process of discovering God.

And while I believe God can be discovered in many different places - in religion, in relationship, in receiving kindness from others, in feeling solidarity with others, in feeling compassion for all living creatures, in seeking to correct injustice - it is in nature that I believe many people do find God.

Nature is incredibly beautiful and incredibly complex. That in itself often causes people to think about the reason behind it all. While not everybody will come to the conclusion that that 'reason' is God, many will - even if they reject religion. And even those who do not believe that God had anything to do with it, the very act of thinking about that 'reason' is part of discovering God.

If I stand in front of the Mona Lisa, and I think about the one who painted it, I am at least partly discovering Leonardo Da Vinci - even if I come to the conclusion that the painting occurred by someone accidentally throwing paint onto a canvas which just happened to land in such a way that the Mona Lisa face appeared.

Secondly, the beauty of nature often is so breathtaking that all we can do is stand in awe. To stand in awe of what God has made is to discover God. To feel wonder and delight and joy while looking at God's Creation is to feel part of the same wonder and joy and delight that God feels. Although, as finite beings, we will only feel that wonder and joy and delight on a limited scale, when we are truly captivated by nature I believe we sense for just a moment a tiny portion of what God feels. It seems we are raised just a little bit above our finitude and humanness.

Something else we often sense in nature in peace. Partly, this is because nature is soothing. There is a reason why when people want to relax, they listen to CDs of bird calls rather than CDs of bulldozers. Discovering that peace is part of discovering God.

So too is the recognition that we are not just individuals but part of the community of Creation. Nature often brings peace because it helps us forget about ourselves. We are lost in the moment and our own concerns are either forgotten or become less significant.

It is hard to discover God when we are solely focused on ourselves. Being in nature often turns our focus outward. The 'I' as an individual is enveloped in the 'we' of Creation. We are then able to see not just that we are part of a larger picture, but how we might act in ways to help that larger picture. Discovering God is not just about saying, 'Yes, I've found Jesus' and now I can put him on the mantelpiece along with my rock collection to stare at. It is about discovering his will, not just in our lives, but in the whole of Creation, and helping to see God's will be done.

I don't think God can ever be 'found'. Human beings will never be able to completely understand him or completely know him. We can't put him in a box, label him and store him somewhere safe so we can't lose him again. But we can catch glimpses. We can come close. We can have moments when we seem to rise briefly above our human nature. And we can keep looking and discovering, knowing the journey will never end, that there will always be new things to find and new things to search for - and that's what makes the faith journey so exciting.

Davies, Paul. The Mind of God; Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning. Maryborough, Victoria: Penguin Books, 2008.

[1] Paul Davies, The Mind of God; Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning (Maryborough, Victoria: Penguin Books, 2008).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Social Justice and Consumerism

One of the problems with consumerism is we often don't see the stories behind the products that we buy. And with more and more of our products made and sold by multi-national corporations, with much of their manufacturing taking place offshore, those behind-the-scenes stories are becoming less and less visible.

Yet those stories are important. And this year's Social Justice Sunday, taking place on 30 September with the theme Peace in the Marketplace, reminds us that consumerism often contributes to injustices, inequities and suffering.

We need to be reminded of the harsh and unfair conditions that people in Third World countries work under in order to produce our goods. We need to consider the impact that our purchases are having on the environment. And we need to reflect on what consumerism is doing to ourselves, not just in terms of employment practices that maximise profit and leave employees worse off, but also in terms of seeing life through a framework that values individuals over relationships and community, that leaves people feel worthless because they do not earn enough money or own the right things and that leaves almost all of us in a constant state of dissatisfaction because the advertisers keep persuading us there is something else we need to be happy.

Social Justice Sunday also reminds us that, while many people in our society see economic growth and consumerism as desirable, that is not the only possible view. Considering the negative impacts economic growth has on the environment, on people and on communities, maybe it is time we looked for a new over-arching framework, a new way of living in and seeing the world.

The Church must be a prophetic voice in this consumeristic, growth-driven culture. It must be prepared to show how our economic structures are damaging the earth and hurting people. It must be prepared to say there are more important things than profit, growth, money and purchases. It must be prepared to challenge the power of corporations and the way they conduct business. And it must show the world a different way, a way that values relationships, communities, peace and wellbeing, a way that puts people before profits, the earth before purchases.

The bible shows us that God cares about unfair economic structures. Therefore, Christians should care about them too. It is not an excuse to say we didn't know. We must make it our business to know. And if we really do care about seeing God's will done on earth, then once we know, we must do something about it.

The National Council of Churches in Australia has a pamphlet and worship resources on its website ( for Peace in the Marketplace, Social Justice Sunday, 30 September. This wonderful prayer, based on the Beatitudes, comes from those resources.

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
      for yours is the kingdom of God.’

God of the poor,
We hear your voice calling us to the reality of life in our land, in the country and in our cities.
The goodness of your creation has been twisted out of shape by the greed of people.
The land lifts up its voice in mourning, and the poor of the land cry out for justice.
Help us live out your just kingdom here in this part of the earth.

‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
     for you will be filled.’

God of the hungry,
Our indigenous brothers and sisters still struggle with worse health
and lower life expectancy than the rest of our population;
asylum seekers still wait months and years for settlement in safety;
the elderly, ill and unemployed struggle to live on pensions.
Help us know how to share our resources wisely and generously
so that all may be filled.

‘Blessed are you who weep now,
      for you will laugh.’

God of the desolate,
Young girls are exploited to sell fashion clothes,
while women slave in sweat shops for minimum wages.
Men work long hours at dangerous jobs
and young people turn to drugs and alcohol to cover their hopelessness.
We in the developed world enjoy our luxuries
at the expense of those who struggle to make a living growing them.
Help us protect the humanity of those who produce the goods we use.

‘Blessed are you when people hate you,
     and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you.’

God of the marginal,
Governments appear to favour those with economic power,
instead of investing in education;
megastores drive small businesses to the wall;
people deafened by the strident call to consume
fail to hear the whispers of the homeless and hungry.
Help us to speak fearlessly for those with no voices,
and to remember that your grace is abundant enough for all to share.

‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,
     for surely your reward is great in heaven.’

God of joy,
We pray that we who follow the way of Christ might live by your grace,
modelling care and integrity in our business transactions,
courage and hope in our politics,
and love and reconciliation in our relationships.

May our lives be evidenced by generosity,
daring to live in hope,
that our life together might point beyond ourselves
to the One in whose image we are made.
In the name of Jesus Christ, who showed us how to live. 

Acknowledgement: These worship resources have been compiled by Rev Dr Meryl Blair for use with the Social Justice Sunday 2012 resource Peace in the Marketplace.