Watering the Dirt

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Last July, we moved into a house in our neighbourhood.  Our neighbourhood is very diverse – working class people, refugees from Asia, Africa, Middle East and other places.  Polish refugees from WWII. Vietnamese refugees from the Vietnam War.  It’s not the sort of suburb most people want to move in to.  Lots of people want to move out.  And yet, we rented a house here.

It wasn’t anything fancy, but we moved in with joy and excitement.  We have been slowly getting to know our neighbours, as well as facilitating a placemaking event each Saturday morning at our Neighbourhood Community Centre.   Our Saturday mornings consist of setting up pop-up coffee (Called Random Acts of Coffee), meeting the neighbours and distributing free bread from a local bakery.  It all sounds so simple!

It’s so much more than that though!  It’s a community.  Neighbours come together and chat, laugh, cry, tell jokes and get to know each other.  Mum’s and Dad’s walk down with their kids for their morning hot chocolate.  Oldies drop by for perhaps their only social interaction of the week.  Teenagers play with little kids on the playground.  People pick herbs from the community garden or feed breadcrumbs to the chickens.  And we share stories.  We’ve all got to know each other.  We are neighbours… and friends.

When we moved into the house, the front yard was a mess.  It was overgrown in some parts, and the lawn had all but disappeared.  There was a big patch of dirt where the previous tenants had parked cars.  The back yard was worse, so we decided to set to work and make the front yard more habitable, and it has become the place where we often sit with a coffee and let the dog chase balls and greet the neighbours with a suspicious bark.

But there was this big patch of dirt, with a little grass around the edges.  I decided to make it my project to grow the lawn!  I spend a fair bit of time there. Usually most evenings.  While the dog plays, I water, pull out weeds and long for the day of an even green covering.

I started watering the dirt.  not all the dirt, just the dirt that was next to where the meagre grass was growing.  For my kids, this raised a big question, “Why are you watering dirt?” 

I explained to them that I was watering the dirt to encourage the grass to grow into the barren places.  They sort of rolled their eyes and didn’t ask again!

But a strange things happened.  Slowly, not even noticeably, but slowly, the brown became less and the green became more.  The small bare patches were filling in. The large desert was shrinking. Little by little.

The other day I was sitting outside, contemplating my developing lawn and mulling over the challenge of COVID-19.  Our Community Centre was closing due to the pesky virus.  We were being encouraged to distance ourselves.  But our friends and neighbours were still highly vulnerable and would need us more than ever.  What should we do?

And then this little piece of paper blew down the driveway.  I don’t know where it came from.  It was the size of a post it note.  Like a Fortune Cookie from heaven, it said this

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Amazing!  This is what we had been doing.  Not just watering our front yard dirt.  We had been watering the hard soil of our community.  And the ground was soft. And the grass had spread out.  And now, we were ready.

So last Saturday morning, we used the lawn.  We set up our coffee gear in the front yard, put up our banner, piled the bread onto tables and invited the neighbours.  And they came.  Many of our “regulars” – and lots more.  We made new friends.  We laughed. We despaired. We chatted. And we all felt better.  We felt happy.  We felt HOPE!

So let me encourage you.  If you’ve been working on something that has been hard, and maybe felt like watering dirt, perhaps this is the season for fruit and growth.  This is our call.  To help our neighbourhood flourish.  And to flourish with it!

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shedding

1394_1Welcome to 2019. 

I have had a couple of weeks of leave and it was a very special time.  As well as simplifying a whole lot (and throwing a lot of things out and giving away a heap of stuff), I had a good amount of time to slow down and reflect on 2018.  Many people have been saying 2018 was a difficult year for them, and I tend to agree.  It’s hard to generalise though as there were some significantly great things that happened too.

As I was thinking about this, the image that came to mind was of a snake shedding its skin.  I confess I didn’t know too much about this process, so I did some research.  What I found has given me a great framework for thinking about my year.

  1. The New Skin grows while the snake is still wearing the old!  This is very similar to how God worked with me.  While doing the “normal things” I did in life and ministry, the new growth began.  And it was like growing a new skin under the old one. I began to think differently about God, about church, about ministry.  I read new books, studied new courses (particularly the Grad Dip In Spiritual Direction) and I discovered new relationships in our local community. I became passionate about our neighbourhood.  And I became sure that I needed to find a new way of doing mission that broke out of the old skin and old institution.  The old skin had become tight, and it was constricting growth.
  2. When the time is right, the snake releases a fluid that separates the layers of skin.  This is fascinating to me.  This is my 2018! This fluid that the snake releases helps the old skin to separate, but it also causes the snakes eyes to become cloudy and makes it harder to see.  Just before the breakthrough moment, it gets harder to see!  Vision gets clouded.  One breeder says his snake bumps into things and hurts itself.  In so many ways 2018 felt clouded.  I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but I couldn’t see the way ahead. I kept bumping into things (figuratively and literally) and it hurt.  All I could do was stay in the process, with the help of my Spiritual Director, and trust that the change would come.  This is what some people call Liminal Space.  The time or season between leaving one thing and stepping into the other.  It’s lonely, confusing and doesn’t make sense. It’s also essential for growth.
  3. There is an itchiness that causes the snake to begin rubbing and banging its head.  Then it all gets too irritating.  The old skin needs to go.  So the snake starts rubbing and banging its head against hard or abrasive surfaces.  Again…. 2018!  Felt like a lot of head-banging, a lot of irritation and a lot of hurt.  Eventually the skin breaks and the snake can slide out of the old and start living in it’s now well-formed, shiny new skin.. with clear eyes!
  4. The biggest danger is if the skin does not shed completely.  Here’s the trap for a snake though; if the old skin isn’t shed properly or fully, it can cause health issues.  The snake can be trapped in its own skin and get sick.  The challenge for me in 2019 is to fully shed the old…  whatever that means.  Jesus talked about it in similar language when he told the parables of the wine skins and the cloth – the key point to these parables (and he was talking about the old covenant and the new kingdom) is that if you try and mix the old with the new, EVERYTHING is ruined!  So completing the shedding is very important. (More on this in a later blog).

The key lesson for me as I reflect on 2018 is that there is great joy and victory in GIVING UP!  Surrender is something we have traditionally not been good at in the West or in Evangelical/Charismatic circles.  We look for growth, for more, for much.  But I have had to deal with some very personal challenges in the past 12 months, and all of them have involved giving something up.  It was hard and felt counter-cultural.  But as I enter 2019 I feel freedom and joy.

I wonder what 2019 will hold for me?  And for you?  I’d love to hear what you sense God is up to!

Emerging

41585433_1651293681649182_2288703031685939200_n.jpgSunshine!  It’s amazing! Look at this photo I just took out the front of my house!  As the skies turn blue and the days begin to warm up I am very grateful.

This past winter, our family has been under a never-ending cloud of sickness.  I don’t think we’ve ever spent so much money at the pharmacy.  Colds, flus, infections, conjunctivitis, asthma… we’ve had it all.

I have been noticing today how my mood is changing as the temperature increases.  I feel more energy to get things done. I have been a whole lot more productive.  For the first time in a number of months I feel hope again.  The long, cold winter has certainly sapped my energy and I don’t think I realised just how flat I felt.  As the bare trees burst into bud overnight, I can almost hear them singing.  There is no doubt the emerging flowers, birds and warmth signal new life and resurrection.

It makes me reflect how we miss out in the Southern Hemisphere by experiencing Easter in the Autumn.  We read and sing of new life just as the days get shorter, the leaves are dropping from the trees and the coolness creeps in.

What a joy today to experience the “season of Easter” at the wrong time of the year.

And yet for me, the timing is just right.

I am beginning to come alive again!

The Journey Begins

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If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat – John Ortberg

 

Have you ever stepped out into the unknown?

Have you ever followed that quiet voice that’s been nagging you for a long time?

Have you ever finally just decided to jump?

Well, that’s my story.

And I want to invite you to share it with me.

From safe, conservative Christian to unsafe, radical Jesus Follower.  It’s been a lifetime in the making a few years in the developing, but now I feel ready to share the journey with others.

So, if you’re a Christian who thinks there must be a different way than pews and rows and hymns and rosters, this is for you!

If you’re not sure about God, whether there is one, and what God would be like anyway, this is for you!

If you are a Pastor or a Leader and want to explore discipleship, spirituality and practice in a safe place where you can ask questions and make daring conclusions, this is definitely for you!

Welcome aboard. Strap yourself in. Let’s journey together!