Loving our neighbour

the good stranger

My son has a great book by children’s authors Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen called Favourite Parables from the Bible. One of the stories from the book is The Good Stranger, based on the famous parable from Luke 10:25-37.

The story of the Good Samaritan has got to be one of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables. It focuses on what it means to love our neighbour and who our ‘neighbour’ is. This parable speaks directly into some of the most topical issues of today’s world, including how we as Christians respond to the refugee crisis.

The wave of refugees flooding out of Syria, Iraq and northern Africa has been incredible this year and at the forefront of world’s attention. Initial public response to the refugees, particularly following the tragic story of Aylan Kurdi and his brother, tended towards sympathetic, with people seemingly supportive of providing homes for these people who had risked much to escape a terrible situation. However, ever since the more recent terrorism events linked, either directly or indirectly, to ISIS (notably Paris and San Bernardino), the public response seems to be changing, with people like Donald Trump, a large number of states in the US, and a number of countries (particularly in eastern Europe) starting to tar all refugees with the same brush, with calls for closed borders and bans on Muslims.

It is becoming an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation – something that should be abhorrent to Christians. We are called by Jesus to love, and this call isn’t restricted to those that are similar to us, those that we’re comfortable being around. We’re called to love everyone.

The scandal of the Good Samaritan parable is that it is the Samaritan man who aids the wounded Jewish traveller, not the priest or the rabbi – aka the fellow Jews. Brian Krum, teaching pastor from Greenlane Christian Centre, was invited to preach at our church last Sunday. His sermon was on the woman at the well (John 4) – another famous passage that involves a Samaritan. Brian made it clear that the Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people – they were the worst of the worst, complete outsiders, people who any self-respecting Jew would have nothing to do with. What a shock it must have been for the religious scholar for Jesus to turn around and say that we are to love everyone, including the Samaritans.

To see people and countries start to turn their backs on refugees because they are different and out of fear is awful and isn’t something we should tolerate. It’s not an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation, because that is not how Jesus calls us to see people. Jesus says love our neighbour as ourselves, not make our neighbour like ourselves. I read a great blog post the other day about how the Bedouin love people through hospitality. Chad ends the post by saying:

Love just loves.

This is powerful and is what Jesus is calling us to do. Our response as Christians to the refugee crisis shouldn’t be ‘keep them away, leave them to fend for themselves’. We should be actively seeking to embrace these people who are struggling, hurting, longing for a peaceful life. We should be extending mercy and hospitality to them.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan finishes with the following dialogue between Jesus and the religious scholar:

36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbour to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

Oh that we would take this to heart and go and do the same, both towards the refugees and everyone else in the community around us.

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Sacred and holy moments

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The upcoming birth of our second child (due in less than two weeks!) and the fact that Christmas is just around the corner remind me of a chapter from Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist, where the following quote comes from:

I can assure you: there isn’t anything very dignified about giving birth.

And yet, that was the moment when I felt my carefully constructed line between the sacred and the secular shatter once and for all. The sacred and holy moments of a life are often our most raw, our most human moments, aren’t they?

The bolded section resonates with me when I look back on my life so far. Two of the moments which, both at the time and on further reflection, have been the most sacred and holy were also my most raw…

The first moment was when I was made redundant from my job in 2010. I’d been working for the company for the first three years Kim and I had been in Dunedin and, while there had been a lull in work – not great if you’re a consultant – being called into the manager’s office and told that I was going to lose my job absolutely blindsided me. I remember feeling completely numb returning to my desk after the conversation. I nervously headed home at the end of the day and it wasn’t long before I shared with Kim what had happened, tears streaming down my face. The following day I spent at home and found myself scrubbing the kitchen floor and crying out to God – asking “why?” In this moment I felt so close to God, it was incredible.

The second moment was while Kim and I were in the midst of infertility, holding on to the hope of a child after three years of trying to conceive. In October 2012 we attended our church’s annual camp at Pounawea in the Catlins. After one of the sermons there was an opportunity for those who wanted prayer to be prayed for by others. We asked for prayer and were surrounded by a small group of familiar faces. As I tried to explain what we wanted prayer for I found myself choked up with tears, unable to get any words out. Up until that point our infertility journey had emotionally impacted Kim much more than me, but in that moment, opening up to others about our pain, I struggled for words. We were covered with prayer on that day and I recall a great sense of peace about the situation following this. One year later our wee surprise arrived – an incredible blessing after trying for so long.

In both of these moments I was faced with a loss of control and certainty about the future. I was weak, vulnerable, on my knees, crying out to God. I’ve found that these moments of inadequacy and uncertainty are such amazing opportunities for God’s grace to shine through.

In his book, Man Enough, when discussing vulnerability Nate Pyle says:

There are going to be times in our lives when we are not strong enough to change the situation. Cancer. The loss of a job because of an economic crisis. Losing a loved one in a car accident. Only when we realize how truly little control we have over the world around us will we being to accept just how weak we are. And if we can embrace our weakness in the world and stop the pretense that we are super-natural he-men impervious to the threats of a broken world, then we will begin to see the strength of Christ move in and through us.

This is so true, and is something I will continue strive towards in the future. I want to be someone who is vulnerable and aware of the inherent uncertainties of life, who is willing to share these weaknesses with family and friends, and who endeavours to create an environment where others can also be vulnerable.

This is crucial to creating a close-knit community of disciples, where we journey with each other to seek Christ through the good times and the bad, where our human-ness shows through in sacred and holy moments. One further quote from Sarah Bessey:

[God] never shied away from our most piercingly human experiences – birth, pain, death, sickness – and so, can we not find him and his redemption ways there still?

Finally, I’ve been reading 2 Corinthians recently and what Paul writes in chapter 12 speaks directly to this topic:

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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Changing the flag

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Voting in the first referendum on the New Zealand flag closes at the end of this week. With everything going on around the world at the moment this seems like a bit of a side issue, but it is still getting some airtime in the news media (largely focussed on the general public indifference towards the referendum).

I support changing the flag in principle, but it has to be at the right time – now is not that time (in my view the right time would be when/if we become a republic).

Even if I did think now was the right time, I’m not convinced any of the choices are that inspiring or really do justice to our country. Particularly the initial four options: the three silver fern flags look like messy attempts at branding, the koru is a bit plain. The ‘Red Peak’ flag intrigues me, but I still wouldn’t vote for it over the current flag in the second referendum.

Of all the public debate on the flag referendum, some of the arguments that have been put forward about the reasons why the Government (seemingly driven by John Key) is changing the flag have been amusing at best – conspiracy theorists of the highest order! I particularly enjoyed the theories around how a change in flag will reduce sovereignty or the apparent links to the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. Good times!

John Key was at a conference I attended in October and in his speech spent some time talking about the flag and why he’d like it changed (from what I’ve heard he does this in almost any speech he makes). I can understand his reasoning, he puts forward a good case, but I don’t think that now is the right time.

So for me, I’ll likely be voting ‘Red Flag’ in the first referendum, and ‘Keep the current flag’ in the second.

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