Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Steps to Seeing

Reflections from The Hill – Steps to Seeing
Belief in life before this life is nothing new; it’s been around for centuries in one form or another. For those who believe it, I’m here to tell you that you’ve been sold a lemon: it ain’t true; not then, not now, not ever.

This fallacy gets trotted out in today’s long Gospel reading from John. Did this man’s pre-birth sin cause his blindness? Did his Ma and Pa sin before the baby was born? Did this cause the
Was it something his parent’s ate, or drank, or was in the presence of? Did they run over someone from a different racial background to theirs on their way to the marketplace? Why do bad things happen to good people?

It’s not unusual to want to pinpoint the cause of our problems, whatever they are. In fact, it may be enlightening to know this. However, problems begin when we assert that this or that calamity is due to the sin of the individual concerned, or the sin of someone in his/her family.

Maybe you’ve heard it; maybe you’ve said it yourself, in jest or otherwise. The statement goes thus: “God must be punishing me for something.” It’s not just individuals who say it, either; communities say it about themselves, too.

Just recall some of the conversations you’ve heard following Cyclone Yasi or the Japanese tsunami and see if I’m not wrong. The belief is Out There.

So there’s the first step to sight: God doesn’t punish us because He thinks it’d be a Good Thing to do today. Sure, we reap what we sow but the sadness is that there are millions of people who are living under an unbearable weight of false guilt because of an idea that they did something wrong and God is punishing them for it.
Mercifully, life is not like a heavenly version of “Hot Seat” or “Weakest Link” and God ain’t remotely like Eddie McGuire or Cornelia Frances.

It is instructive to know that He has a plan for each of us that is far beyond all our explanations to solve life’s great puzzles. What do we do? We rest upon God’s infinite wisdom and love, that’s what – and that’s the first step to seeing.

Resting on Him has as much to do with assumptions as it has with knowledge, so a second step to seeing is to know that God doesn’t work according to laws of logic and decorum and it’s a mistake for us to assume that He can’t deviate from convention.

From Balaam’s talking ass and Naaman’s skinny-dipping seven times in the Jordan, to Jesus making mudpacks out of spit, it’s best to know that God’s ways aren’t ours. OK, maybe not skinny-dipping.

Want to raise a dead man? Stand at the grave and tell him to come out. What about getting a deaf person to hear? Stick your fingers in his ears. I could go on. “God can …” then is the next step to seeing.
It’s about now that I start losing friends, because the third step to seeing is to know that God works across denominational barriers. (‘This man is not from God …’). In fact, you don’t even
have to believe in God to get a blessing from The One Upstairs. How radical is that?

Add them all up, doctrines, articles, rituals, ceremonies, dogmas and menus for the Parish Dinner (these are among the things that divide us) and none of them even come close to being any reason to prevent Heavenly glories raining down on the just and unjust, as The Good Book says.

We, however, seem to have a different view. Unless people march to our drum, wear our uniform or chant our mantra, we say, then it’s too bad for them.

I read somewhere recently that Jesus died without the help or benefit of any church or denomination that is/was/shall be present today, or yesterday, or tomorrow. That’s a sobering
thought yet taking it on board is the fourth step to seeing.

The last step to seeing involve moving on, a difficult thing for any of us to do, even at the best of
times. Moving on has two parts: the first is to believe that our favourite church (‘We are Moses’ disciples …’) doesn’t have all the answers and that we can actually learn something from others.

“Sheep-stealing” or the “Once-an-Anglican-always-an-Anglican” chorus both carry with them the Moses Syndrome. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Rather, thank God for those many who have moved past Moses and have discovered the fullness of life in Jesus, in whatever denominational or religious tee-shirt they wear, if any at all. Maybe some of them were/are from your congregation.

The other part of moving on is being teachable (‘… are you trying to teach us?’). Clergy aren’t famous for this. We sky-pilots somehow get it into our heads that our brains and mouths are the repositories of all truth and lay people know zip about anything, that’s why they’re lay people.

It’s not a good idea to spiritualise this or any other miracle out of existence but, on the other hand, a fundamental step to seeing is to know that The One who can use a donkey to speak can actually do anything.
of the Week:

A Baptist went to heaven and was greeted at the Gate by St Peter, who began by showing him
around. They did the obligatory tour of the wing-fitting rooms and the band halls where trumpets are blown.

They walked on streets of gold and saw the lack of sea. It was a wonderful tour.

As they walked, our Baptist friend observed a high wall that stretched for kilometres in either direction, a bit like the Great Wall of China without hills.

From the other side of the wall, our friend heard the sound of partying: loud voices, clinking glasses, lots of “Yes, yes”. You know the sort of thing.

“What’s over there?” he asked.

“Oh that’s the Anglicans. They think they’re the only one’s here.”
One Liner of the Week:

War doesn't determine who’s right, war determines who’s left.

Quote of The Week:

… in spite of Samuel's grief and failings, the prophet remains open to God's word and to new possibilities. While this may not provide a comforting "central Bible truth," it does offer a realistic picture of the human condition and of the ways in which we might deal with disappointment. While we may often feel the grief, remorse, and guilt of past failings – real or imagined – God does not condemn us for them. Rather, God does provide God's servants with guidance and new
possibilities even when we may not see them.
David G. Garber.

Reflections Update:

There’s been a couple of changes
to the signature at the bottom of the emails you’ll receive from me from now on,
including Reflections.
The first change is the addition of both the Diocesan Web address and my blog site address. You can follow me at 

The second change is to the quote from Jim Elliott. It has been replaced by one from John Haggai and was actually last week’s “One Liner”.
We Three Amigos (+Bill, Chris N and I) are flying to Mackay for the Regional Consultation and other activities there this weekend. There are still unpassable roads in that Region, so we’re going over the top of them. I’m visiting Sarina Parish on Sunday and staying on for their LSM meeting on Monday.

Go well. Do good. Love outrageously. Laugh heaps. Be strong in God. Check in here occasionally.

In His Grip and Making a Difference


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Women, Wells, Water or just

Reflections from The Hill – Women, Wells, Water or just

North Queensland at this time of the year oozes
water – the ground, the skies, the plants, the animals, the buildings, even the
humans, drip with the stuff. Every body has a sheen on its skin that is best
dealt with in air-conditioning and not a little deodorant.

While I
confess to having a desire to live in the Antarctic at times like this, a
temporary madness that I know is easily cured, the smelly pillows can be
difficult to lay a weary head on, night after steamy night.

At this time of the year
one needs to constantly re-hydrate, which is kind of nice, as my friend Nikki
pointed out, given that this week’s raft of Readings have much to do with water.

I’ve heard some humdinger
sermons on this story that focus on the woman and her moral state: how only
immoral women draw water during the day out of shame (all the good people are
inside where it’s cooler, it seems) and I’ve preached a few along those lines,

However, in preaching,
it’s never a good practice to interpret a past situation from a present point
of view or to make assumptions about things that are not written in the text.
More than one preacher has foundered on those rocks.

Let’s take the Woman at
the Well. Plenty of preachers have pontificated that the brighter her nails,
the darker her mascara and the shorter her skirt, the greater the testimony to
the power of the converting word. Where’s that come from but an imaginative and
blokey mind, I wonder?

Neither John nor Jesus
demand or suggest that the woman repent of any sin. They don’t mention sin at
all. There’s absolutely nothing in the text to suggest she’s a prostitute or
has a shady past. Yet when many listen to her story this coming Sunday, they
are likely to hear the woman described in just those terms.

There may be many reasons
why the woman was in the situation she was in. All of those reasons are
unwritten; many of them may be tragic rather than scandalous but preachers
prefer the latter rather than the former and, to not put too fine a point on
it, many of those preachers will be male.

There is a long history
of disliking women, called misogyny, in Christian circles that is in stark
contrast to the actual place of women in the Gospels, attested to over and over
by the four evangelists to start with.

From the blame that’s
laid at Eve’s feet for succumbing to temptation while ignoring Adam’s presence
at her side to the making of assumptions about the Samaritan woman’s lifestyle,
there is an unpleasant whiff of chauvinism in some teaching and preaching,
particularly, in those traditions that refuse to recognise that women can
preach and teach with the same authority as men.

The Woman at the Well is
not a tale about immorality; it's a story about identity. In the previous
chapter – we heard it last week – Jesus was shirt-fronted by a Jewish male
(read religious, authority, power) called Nicodemus who couldn’t grasp who or
what Jesus was.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus
meets the exact opposite, and perhaps precisely because she is at the other end
of the power spectrum, she recognizes not just who Jesus is but what he offers.
It’s a precious gift called dignity.

Jesus invites her not to
be defined any more by her circumstances but offers her an identity that lifts
her above whatever tragedy she is in. The woman accepts the offer and, in doing
so, becomes the first character in John's gospel to seek out others to tell
them about Jesus.

If we preachers can rise
above the misogyny and moralising attitudes that characterise much Christian
teaching, we may be able to tell this woman's story for what it is: a story of
the transforming power of love and the capacity to receive and live into a new

In doing so, we won't be
talking about this woman any more; we'll be talking about ourselves and how we
need each other for this story is all about Jesus showing us a new way to learn
the truth about one other, of him teaching us to learn to need each other. We
are the Body of Christ.

In time, on another day,
also about noon, Jesus became thirsty. Then, his only option was vinegar. The
gift of his living water to the Woman at the Well will not be apparent to the
one holding that sour sponge.

Today, however, when
Jesus and the Samaritan woman meet, life is brought out of death. The water
they offer each other, water that quenches the thirst of body and soul, holds
the gift of life for all of us.

(I’m grateful to David
Lose and Fred Craddock for some insights in this Reflection)

Humour of the Week
(On Reading What the Text Says):

In these days of
climate control and recycling awareness, Bob was trying to do the best he could
for the environment.

He set up a bin near
his church’s doorway in time for Sunday and put up a sign that read:
"Empty water bottles here."

On Monday, Bob found that people were only as good as their instructions. The
bin was half full of water and there were no bottles.

One-liner of the Week:

Clergy and manure are
alike: spread ‘em out and they do a whole lot of good; put ‘em in one pile and
there is an odour.

Quote of the Week:

Every believer endures
attacks at undermining faith and commitment. It may be spiritual coldness, or
addiction to substances, or pornography, or covetousness, or mind- and
body-destroying worry, or a foul mouth, or idolatry, or narcissism.

Each of us is tempted
to allow Jesus last command to take a back seat to personal desires, selfish
interests and even spiritual activity falling short of total obedience to that

Yet we are compassed
about with those who would inspire and encourage us. Chief among them is the
Lord Jesus Himself, whose sympathies are for us and whose help is assured. –
John Haggai

The Bishop and I are
driving to Hughenden, Richmond and Julia Creek
(and back) this weekend, a distance of about 1300kms, to visit with the faithful
there and to celebrate the Easter mysteries with them, even if early. Such are
the vagaries of life in NQ.

In the meantime, drink
plenty of water. Do good. Stay well. Laugh a lot. Love extravagantly.

In His Grip and Making a


Ian McAlister

Ministry Development Officer

PO Box 1244

Townsville Q 4810

Ph 07.4771.4175

Fax 07.4721.1756

Mbl: 0417.078.575

He is no fool who gives away something he cannot keep to gain
something he cannot lose - Jim Elliott

Thursday, 17 March 2011


from The Hill – Being Born, Again?

There are two kinds of people who
travel on airplanes: those who talk and those who

Many, like me, are happy with
their own company: they can read a book, listen to their iPod or gaze at the yet
unlit strip of lighting that apparently comes on when the cabin fills with
smoke. I’m still to test that.

There are two other sub-groups of
air passengers: those who go for the window seat and those who prefer the aisle.
Hardly any like the middle.

I prefer the aisle because it’s
easier to get to the ‘loo from there. Otherwise it’s “excuse me …” “excuse me …”
while climbing other people’s knees, all the time trying to ease pressure on
one’s Unmentionables, a mind-distracting circumstance if ever there was

On a recent flight, one suited and
brief-cased forty-something businessman sat in the middle seat on the other side
of the aisle from me. A nondescript, jeans-and-tee-shirt clad fellow sat beside
him on the aisle.

This was going to be an OK trip:
one would get out his dossiers, the other the airline magazine and I would bury
myself in Janet Evanovich, a writer eminently suited to airline

We were climbing through 20,000
feet when I became aware of an animated conversation happening between The Suit
and The Tee-shirt.

"Well, have you?" is what I heard
The Suit ask. "Wouldn't you … eternal significance … Bible … magazine?” Even
with the aisle between us, I got the drift of what was going

Ever on the lookout for examples
of Friendship Evangelism, I looked across and saw an earnest man holding a tract
of some sort, waving it in the general direction of The Tee-shirt. I felt a bit
like an intruder.

I needed to make an informed
decision. Was I going to eavesdrop on what was shaping to be an interesting
spiritual chat or was I going to bury myself in Janet’s latest tale of
Stephanie, Morelli and Grandma Masur? I needn’t have

There was animation from The
Tee-shirt but it faded when The Suit turned to the unsuspecting traveller by the
window. I suspect Tee-shirt and Suit had come to some mutual agreement, with
some speed, but I digress.

From time to time, I think about
those two characters and try to contemplate this: if what was going on what I
thought was going on, what might my answer have been to “Well, have

Being ‘born again’ is not a phrase
that I warm to. I know we can’t avoid the meaning of the Greek word which is so
translated but it’s only one of its shades of meaning. There is another that can
be instructive, too.

This much I know: being ‘born
again’ is not what Nicodemus took it to mean, that is, a lightning strike that
can be spoken of in the past tense once it's over, like, now that's finished, we
can tick the box.

Being ‘born from above’ (the other
shade of meaning) has more of a participatory sense about it. It’s almost like
saying that this experience is a life-long process in which we are called to

According to John, the Gospel
writer, being ‘born from above’ is a daily pilgrimage from darkness to light, a
journey from belief as the recitation of a creed to belief as opening the door
to our spirit and letting Jesus in.

It’s a daily process of flipping
over the notice on the door of a life from one that says to the Lord, “Please do
not disturb” to “Please change the room.”

Of course, the wind comes, too;
not destructive like Yasi, but powerful to work at the depth of our lives to
forgive sins, to give us and our community the courage to live with joy and
purpose for others; to give peace and the assurance of eternal

By letting the wind blow through
us, our church and our families, who knows what might happen? For starters, the
resentments and prejudices we have cherished for years might be blown away; joys
and peace might well be blown in.

of the Week (courtesy Rowland Croucher):

Tech Support,
last year
I upgraded from Boyfriend to Husband and noticed a slowdown in overall system
performance, particularly in the flower and jewellery applications, which
operated flawlessly under Boyfriend.

addition, Husband uninstalled many other valuable programmes, such as Romance
and Personal Attention and then installed undesirable ones like Rugby, Boxing, Sailing and Continuous TV. Conversation no
longer runs, and Housecleaning simply crashes the

tried running Nagging to fix these problems, but to no

can I do? (sgd) Desperate

in mind that Boyfriend is an Entertainment Package, while Husband is an
Operating System. Please enter the command: ‘http: I Thought You Loved Me.html’
and try to download Tears.

forget to install the Guilt update. If that application works as it should,
Husband will automatically run the applications Jewellery and Flowers, but
remember – overuse of the above application can cause Husband to default to
Grumpy Silence, Garden Shed or Beer. Beer is a very bad program that will
download the Snoring Loudly virus.

NOT install Mother-in-law (it runs a nasty program in the background that will
eventually seize control of all your system

NOT attempt to reinstall the Boyfriend program. These are unsupported
applications and will crash Husband.

is a great system, but it does have limited memory and cannot learn new
applications quickly. It also tends to work better running one task at a time.
You might consider buying additional software to improve memory and performance.
We recommend Food and Lingerie.


Liner of the Week:

Attempt something so
great for God it’s doomed to failure unless God be in it.

of the Week:

Whether it’s a
pebble, a rock, or a brick, God wants to get through to us, but that’s not so
easy when we are all so competent, goal-oriented, and efficient. It isn’t easy
for God to get some time on our calendar, to get our full attention, to get us
to take a chance on a deeper, different life. I believe that deep down most
people would love to have God change their lives, but they either don’t expect
it, or are afraid that if that started to happen it would ask too much of

When God
throws a brick, anything can happen. The wind blows, the Spirit moves, people
start getting born from above into whole new lives

From “When God Throws a
Brick” by the Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd, Chicago Sunday Evening Club,


Rodwell lives in Ravenshoe with her husband, Paul. This is only a brief (and
edited) version of the article she wrote for Reflections.

- Perhaps she might share her recent testimony of healing with us sometime soon.
I hope so.)

‘The Church’ and I
had very little to do with each other when I was growing up. There were brushes,
of course. Like wanting to go to Sunday School but my mother soon talked me out
of that. And the brief time in my later teenage years when I defiantly went to
the village church; I was confirmed, too, but don’t remember what that was about
except there was a boy called Clive that I had a crush on

It’s really only in
the last twenty years that I became a serious seeker of spiritual

First I looked into
‘the east’ and was found sitting cross-legged on hard floors of different
ashrams “Ohming” away …

I did a year-long
transformation course and learned about the “peace that passeth

I went to St
Stephen’s Anglican Church near the University of Sydney and found fascinating people who
were intelligent and interesting and who expected to take an active part in
their services. We were a family and we went out for meals and to the pictures
in Double
and still knew each
other on week-days as well as Sundays.

After this came the
Quakers; they talked about ‘God within’ and of ‘walking the earth gently
answering that of God in everyone.’ I felt I had come home

Paul and I were
building a house on the edge of the rainforest near Ravenshoe and started to be
part of our new community in the early nineties … We went to our first service
at St Barnabas’ Church and found, then and over the years since, true fellowship
and fun by becoming part of the St Barnabas’ church

…Let us be a church
where people from all walks of life find spiritual nourishment. In these
troubled times, worldwide, may more and more people turn to God to find comfort
and strength (we’re going to need more churches). May we be able to open our
hears to strangers, remembering that ‘God has no other hands but our

Keep well. Do good.
Laugh heaps. Love extravagantly.

In His Grip and
Making a Difference