Tag Archives: living as a christian

Lady Preacher

In less than a month I begin maternity leave and hit the pause button on my (paid) ministry career. I am expecting lots of things to be different, so I am taking some time to thank God for what this last season has looked like.

I’m especially thankful that I have been given so many opportunities to teach people from the bible, especially as a preacher. There is a broad spectrum of evangelical opinions on women teaching, but I’m thankful that so far, my story of training as a teacher has been filled with very supportive people – even among the institutions and personalities that I least expected, and even among people who may disagree with what I do.

So, a month and bit out from having a kid, with no more scheduled sermons or SRE classes to give, hardly any kids church lessons left to run and only a handful of bible studies left to lead, here is a collection of thoughts on what it has been like to train as a lady preacher.

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David Malouf: Remembering Babylon

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I read this a while ago, but I am still haunted by this fictional journal entry, from a fictional Anglican minister, in a fictional white settlement in 1840s’s Queensland:

We have been wrong to see this continent as hostile and infelicitous, so that only by the fiercest stoicism, a supreme resolution and force of will, and by felling, clearing, sowing with the seeds we have bought with us and by importing sheep, cattle, rabbits, even the very birds of the air, can it be shaped and made habitable. It is habitable already. I think of our early settlers, starving on those shores in the midst of  plenty they did not recognise, in a blessed mature of flesh, fowl, fruit that was all around them and which they could not, with their English eyes, perceive, since the very habit and faculty that makes apprehensible to us what is known and expected dulls out sensitivity to other forms, even the most obvious.

We must run our eyes and look again, clear our minds of what we are looking for to see what is there. Is it not strange, this history of ours, in which explorers, men on the track of the unknown, fall dry mouthed and exhausted in country where natives, moving just ahead of them, or behind, or a mile to one side, are living, as they have done of centuries, off the land? Is there not a kind of refractory pride in it, an insistence that if the land will not present itself to us in terms that we know, we would rather die than take it as it is?

For there is a truth here and it is this: that no continent lies outside God’s bounty and his intention to provide for his children. He is a gardener and everything he makes is a garden. This place too will one day, I believe, yield its fruits to us and to the great banquet at which we are the guests, the common feast; as the Americas brought corn and tomatoes and sweet peppers, and rhubarb and the potato, that bitter root of the high Andes that women, over long years, by experiment and crossbreeding, have leached of its poison and made palatable, to be the food of millions. (There is a lily-root here that the women know how to boil and make edible.)

The children of this land were made for it, as it was for them, and is to them a rich habitation, teeming with milk and honey – even if much of its richness is still hidden; but then so was the milk and honey of the Promised Land, which was neither milk, in fact, nor honey, and the land itself to all appearance parched and without promise. We must humble ourselves and learn from them. The time will come when we too will be sustained not only by wheat and lamb and bottled cucumbers, but by what the land itself produces, tasting at last the earthy sweetness of it, allowing it to feed our flesh with its minerals and underground secrets so that what spreads in us is an intimate understanding of what it truly is, with all that is unknowable in it made familiar within…

…The theodolite offers only one way of moving into the continent and apprehending the scope and contours of it. Did we not, long ago, did not our distant ancestors, bring in out of the great plains where they wandered, out of mere wilderness, the old coarse grasses that lapped the bellies of their horses, and, separating the grains and nursing them to plumpness, learning how to mill and grind and make daily bread, and how to tend the wild vine till its fruit yielded wine, create settled places where men and women sit at tables among neighbours, in a daily sacrament which is the image of the Lord’s greater one? All this can be done again. This is what is intended by our coming here: to make this place too part of the world’s garden, but by changing ourselves rather than it and adding thus to the richness and variety of things.

How I wish that this character were true, and that his hopes for his new home had come true.

 

Rachel Held Evans: ‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood’

‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood’ was another book out of the borrowed pile, and another non-fiction one. After one of many chats about being both a woman and a Christian, a friend of mine suggested reading Rachel Held Evans for a perspective on the issue, so (eventually) off I went.

I enjoyed this book so much.The premise was fascinating – one woman living out the female-specific commands in the bible as literally as possible for a year. The writing was engaging and her actual experiences were at turns profound and hilarious.

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I appreciated Rachel’s methodology. Firstly, rather than tackling all commandments all at once for 365 days, she broke them down into twelve categories and lived them out month at a time: this sounded wise not just for her sanity, but also for helping me to process it all.

Secondly, she included many interviews and reflections from women who think quite differently to her: I didn’t personally agree with all of her interpretation as she reflected on ‘biblical womanhood’ – nor those of everyone she interviewed – but I liked the way these different voices made room for me to both disagree with her and stay engaged in her story.

Thirdly, between chapters she included twelve short devotions on women in the bible, which was a nice counterpoint to the laws and exhortations she was living out. I’m very glad she included these reflections, so we could hear the stories of women in the bible among the story of Rachel’s year.

The highest point was her month of living out Proverbs 31, celebrating ‘women of valour’. I think I will come back to that idea again and again. It is a marvelous thing to  celebrate the valour of other women.

The another high point for me was this succinct explanation of the care and thoughtfulness we need to put into interpreting the bible:

For those of us who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose but how to pick and choose. We are all selective. We all wrestle with how to interpret and apply the bible to our lives. We all go to the text looking for something and we all have the tendency to find it. So the question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are we reading with the prejudices of judgement and power, self-interest and greed?

If you are looking for Bible verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to liberate and honor women, you will find them…

…This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not, what does the text say? but what am I looking for?

Yes! I think I fist-pumped when I read this. We are always – subconsciously or intentionally – wrestling with interpretation as we read the bible. We should always be pausing to ask ‘what am I looking for’?

And at this point I really wish Rachel had gone on to talk about coming to the bible first and foremost looking to know Jesus, and his sacrificial, redemptive, far-reaching, all powerful love. We should be concerned most of all about Jesus and his love for us, before we come with any other agendas about our gender, or whatever else we are hung up on. I am convinced that focusing on him, above our own personal agendas, goes some way to helping us avoid self-interested interpretations of the text.

Sadly Rachel didn’t quite land there. But even if she didn’t say it, this is the message I have taken away from her book: the attitude we bring to interpreting the bible absolutely shapes the way we read it, and so the best attitude I can have is one that is centred more on Jesus than on myself. I know in reality that reading the bible is not as simple as that, but examining my attitude like this is definitely a start!

The Grand Tour

Our Grand Tour wrapped up two weeks ago and it was incredible.

Lots of people have asked me about our highlights – one amazing thing that happened, or a shortlist of the places we liked best. My usual answer has been that the whole trip was a highlight: everything we saw and smelled, tasted and heard was so beautiful and overwhelming, that every day was just as wonderful as the last.

That being said there were some things about the trip generally that I really loved. They’re not really highlights, I guess. They are the things we did throughout the whole trip that, in the end, made the Grand Tour very grand indeed.

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G.K. Chesterton on Mysticism

Mysticism keeps men sane.

As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them.

He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight : he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)

The Lord’s Supper

The Eucharist is a mysterious thing, and even more so when it’s late on a Saturday night and your husband mentions that the person who brings the bread for the Lord’s Supper is away on summer holidays and you offer to go to the corner store to buy some for tomorrow while he prints off his sermon.

And then suddenly you are out in the darkness among the revellers of Newtown and you are scouring the shelves of the convenience store for the bread and you head back home and its going on midnight. You cross the road with noisy people heading home after a night of partying and you walk down the quiet laneways, swinging the bag of bread irreverently and catching yourself in the act.

“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Can you swing the body of Jesus in a plastic bag? Can you swing the bread that is going to be the body of Jesus in a plastic bag?

And you lift up the bag to eye level and stare at the thing and wonder. What really goes on when this preservative filled loaf is consecrated? What is a sacrament? How does this ordinary loaf become a holy thing?

Tomorrow my brothers and sisters will eat his body in rememberance that Christ died for us; they will feed on Him in their hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving. I guess that is the best answer I can come up with right now.

‘Live out your time as foreigners here’

A couple of weeks ago I was not particularly looking forward to going to church.

Why? (Alison! You love church!) Because our church was holding a special service to reflect on the international character of The Church, and also our own church.

Why is that a bad thing?! (Alison! You love the international character of the church!) Well, we do this every year, and every year I think why aren’t we doing this every week!? I mean, the global church exists every week, and there are multiple languages/birthplaces/passports in our church every week. Why just talk about it once a year?

I should have known that with an attitude like that I was in for a sharp rebuke from the Holy Spirit. The service was excellent, with a sharper focus than previous years. There was a moving testimony from a brother who became a Christian on his journey to Australia via Christmas Island and videos and messages of encouragement from old church members who have moved on to Singapore and South Korea and Colombia. The church was decorated with flags from all the countries our congregation members hold passports to. Special effort had gone into the music, the bible passage was dramatically story-told. And at the end of the service, was a sermon from one of our assistant ministers that I really, really enjoyed: an encouragement, from the book of Daniel, to be prepared to live as foreigners in the world. (You can listen to it here – look for the sermon by Leo Chen on the first Sunday in August).

The significance of the evening dawned on me as the week progressed and our church community prepared for a new teaching series on hospitality. We are spending the next month thinking through why and how we open our lives to others, so one week later I was back in church, being reminded from the gospel of Luke about how Jesus used hospitality to show the grace of his Gospel.

It’s a big challenge, and exactly what I need to be reminded about. As if complaining about having an international service merely once a year fixes anything. The way to really be a community that embraces across cultural divides is not to do international service every week, but to keep praying that we will grow in love that is genuinely Jesus-like, ready to bear the cost of crossing boundaries and genuinely care for brothers and sisters. I am so excited we are making this a priority right after that international church service. I really need to pray for some things to change in me.