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Friday, September 30, 2011

The assassination of Fr. Jose Reynel Restrepo

In a recent post I talked about the movie "Of Gods and Men" and posted a link to the letter written by Brother Christopher before he was assassinated. Today I read about yet another killing. This time of a Priest in Columbia who was prepared to die to stand against terrible injustice. Here are the first few paragraphs of an article by John Dear SJ:

"Fr. Jose Reynel Restrepo, the 36 year old pastor of the Catholic Church in the town of Marmato in Colombia, was assassinated Sept. 1. He was riding his motorcycle through the countryside on his way home after visiting his family when he was stopped and shot dead.
A few days before, Restrepo had publicly condemned the mammoth Canadian/Colombian mining company "Gran Colombia Gold" for their plan to wipe out his entire parish and town. The week before, he had traveled to Bogota to meet with government officials to prevent the mind-boggling injustice.
This evil behemoth, Gran Colombia Gold, along with the Colombia government, was going to force the entire town of Marmato to move from its ancient present location. Founded in 1540, Marmato has a population of 10,000 people. It is one of the historic gold-mining regions of the hemisphere.
After the residents of Marmato were displaced, Gran Colombia Gold was going to dig a new open-pit gold mine in its place -- and make a fortune. Canadian mining in Colombia is favored by the so-called "Free Trade Agreement" between Canada and Colombia, and like evil U.S.-Colombian multinational partnerships, wreaks havoc upon the poor rural communities."
The full article with an embedded You Tube clip can be seen here. Towards the end of the article there is a link to a site that enables you to send emails to relevant Columbian authorities to add our voices to those of the Columbian people. It took me less than half an hour to read the article, view the You Tube and send the emails. It is so little to do from our privileged environment to stand with those whose whole future is at stake.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Water: World water monitoring day

The 18th of September was world water monitoring day. I don't think it was well advertised but here are a few interesting - and sobering - facts and perhaps some reminders of the part we can all play:
  • Although over 70% of the earth’s surface is water 97% of that water is saline (salt water), leaving a mere 3% of fresh water. Of that 3% over 2% is frozen in glaciers and frozen ice caps leaving less than 1% readily available for consumption. 
  • While fresh water is a renewable resource, the world’s supply of clean usable water is decreasing faster than it can be replenished. 
  • Here in NZ over half of our monitored rivers are unsafe for swimming, one third of our lakes are unhealthy and two thirds of our native freshwater fish are at risk or threatened with extinction.

  "We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one" ~ Jacques Cousteau

Water saving tips:
(Just 5 taken from 100 ways listed here.)
1. Don’t leave the tap running when you clean your teeth.
2. Shorten your shower time by one minute and save hundreds of litres a month.
3. Wash your car from a bucket – not a hose.
4. Save the cold water when you are waiting for the tap to run hot in the kitchen sink. Catch it in a jug for drinking water or a small watering can to water house plants.
5. Compost food waste instead of using an insinkerator/waste disposal – saves many litres every time.

If you live in Auckland make sure you go and  see AQUA at Auckland Museum (till 24th October Labour Day). Click here for more information. It is excellent – and suited for all ages.

"We never know the worth of water till the well is dry"
Thomas Fuller

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

When the Tide Goes Out

(Recently someone told me that the article below was particularly significant for her when it was published in Reality many years ago. Clearly it has been remembered. So here it is again - hopefully significant for someone in 2011! The photo was taken this morning on Long Bay beach. I love walking the beach when the tide is out. It's a more expansive place to explore. I wonder if there's a parable in that!)

Do you remember when prayer was exciting, when you couldn't wait to get to your daily quiet time because God spoke so powerfully to you from his word every day? If this is your current experience, you don't need this article right now. I'm writing for those who find themselves having to admit that the tide seems to have gone out in their devotional life.

It does happen you know - even to faithful, mature Christians; maybe even to people who are in the process of discipling others! Bible reading can become boring, prayer seems pointless and a hundred and one things crowd in and sabotage quality time with God.

A vital spiritual life can be a bit like physical fitness: easier said than done! We don't dispute the theory of the value of exercise and the necessity of pushing through the pain barrier, but actually exercising until we reach fitness is something else again.  Similarly we can know, and even exhort others, about the necessity of keeping our relationship with God fresh, alive and growing. But getting out of our conversational armchairs (or pulpits) and demonstrating the reality is a challenge we'd often rather not face.

Guilt trips don't help much, however! Perhaps having one's cover blown and being forced to admit that the tide is out spiritually can provide some initial motivation for change. But in the end guilt won't carry us very far into a new reality. So, what will?  Let me suggest some possibilities.

Look at What You Really Want. Have a go right now at putting into a sentence what you most want or long for in your relationship with God. What did you come up with? If you didn't stop to formulate your own sentence do it now! One author suggests that the process of any transformation depends on the answers to three questions: What do I want? Where does it hurt? What price am I prepared to pay?[i] Ask yourself the second two questions as well.

Wanting or longing or desiring are at the heart of most spiritual growth. The Psalmists knew how to express their longings.[ii] And as Joyce Huggett points out, "The language of spirituality seems punctuated by words like desire, thirst, hunger, pining, panting, homesickness, languishing, sighing, seeking, restlessness and yearning."[iii] If you don't genuinely long for anything it is hardly surprising that nothing seems to change. But if you do  have a deep desire for a renewed, more intimate or disciplined or dynamic walk with God, then take heart: your longing itself may be the first indication of the turning of the tide.

Face Up to What is Getting in the Way: Reasons for spiritual dryness, boredom or lethargy  are many. Careful discernment as well as honesty and common sense are essential here. If ill health, emotional trauma or lack of sleep, are causing that "tide's out" feeling, then take the appropriate action and don't "spiritualise" your problem.

Then again, there are times when Jesus allows his disciples to go through desert periods as a way of strengthening faith. Here the disciple's response is to continue in consistent commitment to regular spiritual disciplines without demanding pleasant feelings or exciting experiences. In this case nothing is "wrong"; the challenge is to stay faithful to God even when God seems hidden from you.

Having drawn attention to the two possibilities above, I want to focus most attention on a third area which is likely to be more common. Strange as it may seem we often avoid the very thing we say we want most - a deeper relationship with God. We avoid spending time with God in prayer, reflection on Scripture and openness to the Spirit, for a variety of (often unconscious) reasons. For a start, the enemy is hard at work to keep us from such a vital relationship. We should never underestimate the subtlety here. Resisting him requires determination and faith. Read CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters and Letters to Malcolm About Prayer for some insights on this.

Perhaps we avoid spending quality time with God because we are afraid of what we might discover if we really became quiet enough to listen. For all our talk about a God who loves us and whose purposes for us are always good, we seem strangely reluctant to give God our undivided attention. It is true that God's love is sometimes "tough love", but to avoid loving discipline is also to reject the process which enables us to "share his holiness" (Hebrews 12:10).  Besides, if we give no priority time to God's company, we remove ourselves from the nurturing, affirming, strengthening aspects of God's love too!

Having raised the issue of priority time, let's grasp that nettle. A very commonly given reason for inadequate devotional life is lack  of time. But the truth is, no person on this earth has more time, or less time, than another. We all know that the real issue is priorities. Knowing that doesn't solve the problem though! If this is an issue for you I suggest the following diagnosis and solution: over a period of a week make a list headed "Things to Which I Give a Higher Priority Than Prayer". On that list write everything that you did in the time that was supposedly set aside for prayer, quiet time or devotions. Then spread your list before the Lord and let him respond to it. You may be surprised! Sometimes God may agree that another priority was more pressing and give you understanding support. About other things the Spirit may provide you with a creative solution you would never have thought of alone. And, yes, at times you may sense God's sadness and rebuke.

For some people the blockage to what they desire in their spiritual lives comes from being in a rut. Relationship with God is exactly that - relationship. Like any other relationship it needs to be kept vital and growing. Two essentials for relationships, both human and divine, are commitment and creativity. This is especially important when an emotional low tide tempts us to resign ourselves to mediocrity, or worse still, to give up altogether.

Having decided what you really want, and looked at what might be hindering that, let's turn to a third step which suggests some practical perspectives on commitment and creativity. 

Explore New Possibilities. Old habits do die hard, but often that's a good thing! The strength of a good habit lies right there. It sticks and carries us through many times when our feelings or willpower might let us down. Good devotional habits have the same quality. Those of us who were brought up on a carefully structured Quiet Time (probably before breakfast!) as an unquestioned priority in every day, have much to be thankful for.

But even good devotional habits can lose their original purpose. Sometimes they are no longer adequate for the new growth areas God is leading us into. Or perhaps the very familiarity of the routine has dulled the freshness of relating to a living, creative, surprising Person. In such cases we need the freedom and the wisdom to let God expand our horizons. Our focus needs to be on growth in Christlikeness rather than on adherence to a routine which no longer serves that end.

What new horizons? What kind of new creative ideas? What replaces old habits which are no longer useful? These are the obvious questions! At this point I am in a bind! I can write a few hundred words giving some specific suggestions which may be just right for some people but not at all applicable to others. Or I can give some guidelines for discovering your own answers. As you have probably guessed I'm choosing the latter!

1. Ask God. Let your desire for a deeper relationship, and your honest assessment of the blockages, prepare you to listen intently. Jot down any thoughts, ideas, questions, promptings, suggestions.

2. Consult books and people. There is a wealth of material both old and new on the subject of devotional life. There are also people whose lives give evidence that they have wisdom to share. Careful choice is necessary though. You can't follow all the ideas in all the books! And your needs, lifestyle and personality may not be the same as the person you admire. But a prayerfully discerning choice can allow God to open new doors for you. 

3. Commit yourself to a regular pattern of behaviour which strengthens your relationship with Christ. Even if some of your old habits need to change, don't allow new possibilities to be mere novelties or gimmicks. Remember that commitment as well as creativity are the essentials for a revitalised relationship.

4. Be accountable to someone. We are the body of Christ. Jesus did not teach or model an individualistic spirituality. Growth in Christlikeness involves walking in the light of honesty with one another. A prayer partner, support group, spiritual director or a "father" / "mother" in Christ, can provide support, challenge and prayerful reinforcement for our commitment to a renewed spiritual life. We all need that.

Are There Any Guarantees That the Tide Will Turn? No and Yes! No in the sense that God is both personal and sovereign. God is not a computer to be programmed to our specifications. God and God alone, knows the purpose of low tide times in our spiritual lives. Our faithfulness and not our feelings are the measure of our maturity.

But I think there is a "yes" as well. It is God's own guarantee that if we seek wholeheartedly we will find.[iv] Jesus reiterates the promise when he says that if we ask and seek and knock we will not be disappointed.[v] If we fulfill the conditions, these promises will undoubtedly be honoured, for nothing less than the "full tide" of life in Christ is our inheritance.[vi]

[i] Maggie Ross, The Fountain and the Furnace Paulist Press, 1987 p6
[ii] eg Psalm 42:1-2; 84:2; 102:2.
[iii] Quoted by Peter Toon in What is Spirituality? Daybreak, 1989 p11
[iv] 1 Chronicles 28:9
[v] Mtthew 7:7-11
[vi] Colossians 2:9-10