Comment

Sacred Differences blog: Finishing Reflections pt 2

A7A1FEB4-6B1F-4A0D-9447-B7DB223A001C.JPG

Guest written by Laura Taylor from the The Oh Nine.

SAFE, BUT NOT COMFORTABLE PART 2: EXTRAVAGANTLY LOVING

“The gospel doesn't need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors and shouting - welcome! There's bread and wine come eat with us and talk. This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy, it’s a kingdom for the hungry.”
- Rachel Held Evans

 

If you’re just jumping in here, this has been a wee thread of reflections around the theme of diverse, uncomfortable, table of our community. We have discussed the somewhat aspirational vision of a space with no social constructs or divisions, the reality and painful experience of the barriers and pitfalls, the desire to be a space of safety but perhaps not comfort, and  for this final post I want to look at something slightly different, being a reckless loving community. 

We recently had some members from Celebrate Recovery (our 12-step recovery programme) get up and share some of their journey with us. And I sat there bawling my eyes out (surprising both myself and the people beside me). In front of me was such a raw, real manifestation of what it looked like to feel totally safe, in a recklessly loving community. Where there was no fear (ok maybe a tiny bit) of failing, no stature to lose or rungs to fall from, but absolutely everything to gain. Here were six people, choosing to open up to their community that they had been broken in some way by addiction, and are bent on using it to help anyone else brave enough to hope for recovery. Because who better to offer solace in the journey, than those who know the joy of recovery? Teju Cole, an incredible journalist, writes “hope has nothing to do with mood or objective facts, but is rather a form of hospitality offered by those who are tired to those who are exhausted”. 

I remember before I came to Central Vineyard, I had heard it tossed around it was a place being gravitated to by people who were ‘burnt-out’. We are a community full of tired people, who have been exhausted. Exhausted by religiosity, bureaucracy, legalism, sexism, racism. And as a once exhausted people, we have now found ourselves sitting around the table, and being asked to open it on up. Better yet - to burst through the doors and sing welcome! Oh you too have been exhausted by these things? You too have been heartbroken? You too have been crushed? Come and sit, you have a place here. We are called to be recklessly loving, recklessly hospitable and to do that we need to be a community totally unafraid of filling our room with the wrong people.

Because the thing is, exhausted people, broken people, people whose shiny exterior has been ruthlessly diminished  see things that the whole ones can’t see. It’s when we are crushed, uprooted and thrown into liminal, trying spaces that we shift our value to, as Nouwen says, “the gift of life that has revealed itself in the midst of all the losses”. The bible is full of it, blessed are those who flat-on-their-face mourn. I have been reading an incredible journal, The Theology of the Disabled, which shares a myriad of lived experiences from the disabled community and what the concept of healing looks like within a christian framework - and this quote stayed with me “through grace, weakness becomes strength, as a gift to a community. The christological paradox of strength being revealed in weakness to deliver a wholeness which otherwise would not be, challenges and transcends human notions of weakness and wholeness as God works all things together for good.”

I recently wrote this piece, in it sharing some of my own learnings from a time of loss; “Sometimes during those two years in hospital when I needed a break, I’d go to the big floor-to-ceiling windows on Level Eight and watch the traffic below on Park Road. The cars would build up around 7pm, and I would watch people sitting bumper to bumper, little gold and red lights nudging each other.  It would ground me to think the world was still flickering out there, people on their way home, planning things for their weekend, for Easter, heck, being able to have plans in general. But the strange thing was, I both envied and empathised with them. I longed for the normalcy of their lives, but felt they were also somehow missing out on the intangible rawness that seemed to present only in the face of heart-wrenching pain. Now I know, as C.S. Lewis superbly describes, ‘it is often in places of discomfort our little happinesses start to resemble broken toys’, that the veil is lifted. Getting uprooted popped my head above the water, and I knew that something had cracked in me. That I wouldn’t be able to just float anymore.”

I could no longer float because I had been broken. I peered behind the curtain. Or to be honest, the curtain had been ripped from its railing and lay in bitter shreds on the floor. And while I would not revisit that suffocatingly bleak period in a hurry, through it and through the overwhelming love made apparent to me in that time - I was gifted sight. And I want to be part of a community of people who see. Who have seen. Who are not defined by or dwell in their broken, sinful, painful moments but are willing to be loved and used in spite of them. Because of them. We all win when, as Nouwen says, hostility is converted into hospitality “for then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them”. 

I didn’t know it when I moved in, but my flat falls in the centre of an area focused on by an intentional community - and I freaking love it. They operate by generously loving their neighbours and meeting needs, physical, emotional and spiritual. One of my good friends is an active member of the community - and I asked her what it looks like, practically, to live in this recklessly loving way; “The thing is, safety isn't created by laws and rules (like a lot of us christians love to impose on each other). It is created by listening and time and generosity. It is loving, but in new ways. Not being nice - but truly loving. I think learning how to have conversations about things in a loving manner, with no agenda but to hear each other and just listen is super important. Conversations are possibly the most important part of doing church. Through them, you start to understand that you are loved beyond difference, and in fact that your differences are SUPER important and valuable and beautiful”.

Let us be a place to have the conversations. To go out on a limb, as we are compelled to in 1 Corinthians, and extravagantly love. I mentioned above the journal I had been reading, and this quote in particular is from a reflection on God’s use of the disabled to usher in his kingdom and it absolutely gives me the shivers so I think it’s a good place to land this baby. “God does not heal people in order to bring them into His service, God does not try to overcome diversity by homogenizing human beings, the people whom God calls are blessed and used precisely as they are”. 


Comment

Comment

Sacred Differences blog: Finishing Reflections pt 1

A7A1FEB4-6B1F-4A0D-9447-B7DB223A001C.JPG

Guest written by Laura Taylor from the The Oh Nine.

SAFE, BUT NOT COMFORTABLE PART 1: FLAT-LADDER LIVING


“Imagine if church became a place where everyone is safe, but nobody is comfortable”
- Rachel Held Evans

 

If you haven't caught on already - this series was all about who is welcome at the table (spoiler, its everyone). In the opening post, we discussed this idea of uncomfortable, diverse community, and continuing in theme, this instalment is around the concept of  ‘flat-ladder living’. This idea that we are called to be a community that does not operate within social constructs and divisions, but instead an even-keeled playing field, with no boundaries to entry or rungs to climb. I think it is summed up beautifully in this quote from Searching for Sunday our differences matter, but ultimately, the boundaries we build between one another are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace”.

Despite best intentions - the church is a loaded space for many. We would be ignorant to brush over the hurts that historically and presently push people away, and more painfully that have been used globally by the church to keep people out.  As much as we would like to think the ladder is flattened - there are rungs, barriers and assumptions that really nothing but the lived experience, and being open to listening to that, can teach us.

Take, for example, the role of women in the church.  Amanda Pilbrow is a member of the Central Vineyard community, who for years served in church ministry. I asked her to share candidly some of her experience in leadership;  “To be completely honest, the only people who know how difficult is to be a woman in ministry are the women themselves – they are the ones in the ring fighting to be there and yet getting the abuse from the spectators…. when the issue is raised, many are taken aback - disbelieving that ‘women in ministry’ is still an issue, assuming that those in the ring (so to speak) are being over sensitive or forgetful of just ‘how far’ the church has progressed. But the proof sadly is in the pudding. Just last week I heard of another young lady, theologically trained, presenting her very first, and apparently brilliant sermon. Afterwards, when the coast was clear, a man handed her a folded piece of paper and left. It read: “A woman’s place is not to teach – God will not bless you or this church if you continue.” 

If you are reading this contemplating whether or not this is still an issue faced by women, it only takes watching this video to see how deeply ingrained sexism and prejudice is within the church system  - despite the fact that methodist churches have been endorsing females in leadership for five decades. And it sits across a spectrum. In my own life there are the less-harmful and now kind of funny stories, like when I was called up by a well-meaning older lady on how I dressed when I sung on the worship team. I was told that jeans weren’t appropriate...but neither was anything on or above my knee. I went to Glassons searching for what I could only describe as an Gloriavale-esque skirt and came up short, ironically. And then there are the slightly more sinister ones, like when I was 14 and IM’d on MSN  - the OG messenger - by an older male member of the worship team two decades my senior, who told me he had a thing for blondes.  No matter where they sit on the spectrum, every block, barrier and uphill battle desecrates a space that should be safe, but at times can resemble a warzone.

And there are other rungs or perceived barriers of other natures too. I was chatting recently to a friend about the concept of ‘visible sin’ - the kind that is public knowledge and the visceral reaction that comes with ‘wearing’ it.  She shared with me her experience as a young adult going through a divorce, within her own church community. “I don’t know If I ever felt unsafe in church, just lonely. There were some kind people who came and talked to me, but most seemed to feel too uncomfortable around me. I had a few close friends that did an amazing job of walking alongside me in this difficult journey. However some did the exact opposite. Everyone in the church community was so for my marriage to work, that they forgot to be there for me. It’s almost as if people felt if they sat with me, listened, prayed and showed love towards what I was experiencing, that it meant they agreed with my decision to divorce, and therefore they were tied to my sin.  Unfortunately in my experience, some people can pass a lot of judgement and more importantly - don’t know how to journey with you.”

Journeying in the depths with and alongside the ‘other’ is not an original idea. In Corinthians - Paul instructs that “there is to be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another”. He was calling the early church into a way of living where all members were one body, when one suffered they all suffered and they could no longer show preference or selectivity for who they cared for. What would it look like if we were a community to live without division as Paul suggests? How do we champion, encourage and enable flat-ladder living? I’ll go out on a limb and say that the first baby step is being unafraid of doing a Jesus and meeting at the well, at the lake, at the dinner party. Entering in and holding space with our community. 

I  mentioned in the last post our multi-generational home group, and I will never forget when one of our members came along and hesitantly shared something they hadn’t been able to anywhere else, fearful of judgment. And for a brief second, I looked around the room hesitant to see the reaction. But all I saw were tears in everyone’s eyes of pride and compassion as we sat on the floor next to them, hugging and gathering around to pray. That kind of deep, unconditional love doesn’t just happen. We put effort into building and creating a space that was safe, in all senses of the word. Safe to share, safe to step up, safe to fail.  It takes travelling together, and nurturing a deep love for the other - and in moments like that, when you are part of a journey, it is unbelievably worth it.

In the video mentioned above, a group of male pastors are left in a state of shock over the comments that have been said to their female colleagues. Some are despondent, some are fired up, some are speechless.  I am hoping, (team relentlessly positive over here) that none of them went home from filming that day and walked back into their lives passively. As we have seen recently with the Me-Too movement, silence is a much an oppressor as any. Silence creates divides, it negates the need for challenge, it provides a breeding ground for self-doubt and loneliness.  So for the conflict averse (guilty) I’m sorry to say it but we are also challenged to speak up when we see a barrier go up. After all - Paul calls us not only to love, but to challenge the powers and structures that cause suffering and dissention. 

And finally, we need to become a community that is unafraid to hold the tension of differing ideas and opinions. As  Alice Miller describes in one of her studies: “It’s not only the ‘beautiful’ and ‘good’ feelings that make us really alive, deepen our existence and give us crucial insight, but often precisely the ones from which we would prefer to escape. Helplessness, shame, envy, rage, grief, confusion - when these feelings are understood they open the door for our inner world that is much richer than ‘beautiful countenance’.

After all, none of us are wholly one thing. I love in the Ragamuffin Gospel when Brendon Manning discusses being a bundle of paradoxes, a fully human being who all at one time has the capacity to hope, doubt, hate, love, feel bad about feeling good. So If you are reading this, and you were brought up being told every Sunday that women can’t speak in church and you are struggling to see where this article coming from - that is ok. Please, don’t grapple alone in silence. We tautoko you to reach out and graciously say  - “I just don’t understand, but I’m open to talking”. We need to commit to creating a table where these ideas can be discussed, debated and held, and where shame isn’t a factor, where everyone is safe, but not comfortable. 

Comment

1 Comment

Sacred Differences blog: Uncomfortable Community

A7A1FEB4-6B1F-4A0D-9447-B7DB223A001C.JPG

Guest written by Laura Taylor from the The Oh Nine.

Over Queens Birthday, I held an ‘orphans’ dinner for anyone stranded here for the long weekend. When putting the word out I completely relinquished control of the guest list, and we ended up with 30 people crammed into my flat. It got meeeessy - cousins, flatmates and neighbours all bumping knees and glasses - but something magic happened. I watched as people arrived and did a double take as it dawned on them this was a mostly unfamiliar room of...others.

Imagine if church became a place where everyone is safe, but nobody is comfortable” - Rachel Held Evans

The concept of being uncomfortable is something I have been becoming familiar with, at least over the past five years. I started my first job as the only pākehā in my team at an indigenous broadcaster. I then walked in as an ill-informed and equally sheltered church girl to manage the marketing for arguably the world's most liberal media company. I grappled with the immense imbalance between the able-bodied and disabled societal experience when my boyfriend at the time became a wheelchair user. I kept getting uprooted and then placed into communities and scenarios that in all honesty I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for myself. And while they sure as hell didn’t keep me comfortable, each time I found myself leaving with a new layer of empathy and understanding.

It is often in places of discomfort when, as C.S. Lewis superbly describes “our little happinesses start to resemble broken toys” that the veil is lifted. On his years spent at a disabled facility, Daybreak, Henri Nouwen wrote “when I think of my own pain, inner unrest and turmoil, I think not of how God brought me to sheltered place isolated from pain. On the contrary, nowhere can I better see hardship than among people who have suffered. I have been surrounded by people in great and inevitable need. And still, nowhere have I celebrated so much or so richly. When we celebrate together, we do not marshal degrees, prizes or promotions but rather that the gift of life has revealed itself in the midst of all the losses”.

Divinity meets humanity

I grew up with a pretty warped idea of love, it was always just quite out of my grasp (anxious/avoidant attachers you feel me). I longed to fall in love and finally ‘feel home’, but when the opportunity presented itself, it felt like a show-home; one I couldn’t quite believe I deserved. So I would hold it lightly, scared that if I clung to it, if I wanted it too much, it would shatter, all broken glass and splintered door frames. And when ultimately the walls that had housed me and the warmth that had healed me splattered and burst before my eyes, combusting quickly in the flash-fire of two people clumsily trying to work out whether or not they could share this space, it would confirm that message - you aren’t good enough.

Which was the narrative I told myself for most of my adolescent life, and the more I talk to people, seems to be the shared experience of many young people in the church. Which really is just nuts considering the bible is littered with stories of Prodigal love, of divinity meeting humanity. God seems to constantly show up in the broken/uncomfortable/insert-dissonant-adjective-here to be with the very people who have a definitive lack. Everyone’s favourite German, Jürgen Moltmann writes on this “in a civilisation that glorifies success and happiness and is blind to the sufferings of others, people’s eyes can be opened to the truth if they remember that at the centre of the christian faith stands an unsuccessful, tormented Christ, dying in forsakenness.”

Amongst the difference, amidst the brokenness, when we long to deeply, truly know the other, that is when we start to discern just how deeply and truly we too are known. I couldn’t know His grace until I fell from it, I couldn’t realise His strength until I was floored by my own inability, I hadn’t experienced the freedom of forgiveness until I was deeply hurt.

As Rachel Held Evans puts perfectly - “He shows us how to enter into a way of life in which the broken and sick pieces are held together in a way of love, in which strangers literally touch each other and in doing so make a community spacious enough for everyone”. It’s time to grow the heck up and start listening to our other. Let go of the accommodating narratives that keep us comfortable, flag the ‘my-perfect-wife-in-the-front-row-and-two-kids’ daydream and instead be honest that if we haven't experienced brokenness yet, we probably will soon, so let’s just wrap our arms around each other and really try this love thing.

And it’s not easy, opening yourself up to love another really hurts. That’s the risk of asking to be known. It’s admitting that you care, and that it would cost you something to lose this person. It is fighting through awkward, uncomfortable and sometimes outright humiliating conversations when letting go would honestly just be easier. Again Henri writes “loving someone means allowing the other person to respond in ways you have no control over. For the great mystery of love is that while it can be received it can also be rejected, every time you love you enter into the risk of love”.

It is a self-giving, sacrificial, deeply vulnerable gift. But I’m convinced it is at the same time a work of art and the most natural thing we could ever do. It is the calling and desire of our heart and to mourn the loss of it, does not mean it was never there, or won’t be again. We don’t float in and out of love as much as God doesn’t float in and out of the sky to dabble here and there. Love is always here, love is in our blood and our bones cry out to give it.

Loving the other

I go to a homegroup and I often think about how on paper, it’s completely nuts. Amongst others, we have the husband who makes hilariously inappropriate comments, the beautiful mum who is full of wisdom, the dearly-loved dad who a few weeks ago asked what ‘lol’ means (wait not lots of love?!)  thrown in with a couple of students and burnt-out millenials who gather biweekly around a coffee table and a plate of Mint Slices joined together by one common purpose - to truly love one another. It’s not smooth, there are mismatched beliefs and uncomfortable moments but over the past four years we have carried one another through real crap. At some point, and I couldn’t tell you when, we stopped seeing age and stage and became a family. And it is the most pure and beautiful thing I have ever been a part of.

What if the next step, for all of us, is both as simple and mind-bendingly complex as loving the other. In whatever space, romantic, familial, friend, we all just commit to being out here, walking each other home with grit and willingness and most of all propelled by grace. That’s the kind of church we all could get on board with.

“We created something precious, together, in the midst of very dark times. Is that not what love is all about? - Jared Noel

1 Comment

2 Comments

Next message series: Sacred Differences

image1.png

Following on from Pentecost something amazing happened in the people who were following the way of Jesus; they became a place in the world of radical diversity, unified despite their differences, making peace for all to be welcomed into this new Way. They became a community of sacred differences.

Join us on this new series June 16—July 28 as we explore what diversity means in the story of the Kingdom of God right now.

2 Comments

Comment

Pentecost Takeover Part III: Where To From Here?

Pentecost.png

So, there’s a strong sense that we’re swivelling in our own prophetic story. We’re hurling toward this Pentecost feeling as though we’re becoming stronger, more open, and more willing to take on responsibility for the hurting world around us. Change is in there air and we’re reshaping the way we tell our own story.

Where to from here then? How does any of this change our daily, weekly, monthly rhythms as a community?

Well, here are three ways as a starting point that I see we can lean into this newness moment;

1. A New Story Requires a New Outpouring

Whenever the Spirit brings a new calling to a person or community it brings with it a deep sense of insecurity and self-awareness.

If the many of us in our community are to move from identifying as exiles finding a home to wounded-healers building a new home for others, we’re going to need some divine grace to grow in the gifting we need to see it happen.

Pentecost is about God’s empowerment partnering with our intention.

We need a new outpouring of the Spirit to invite those we’re not connected with yet into our midst, and then we’ll need the Spirit’s gifting and power to give us the courage and strength to heal them in the way they need it most.

This is God’s work from beginning to end and we will need a newness of God to achieve it.

2. A New Story Requires A New Language

Psalm 107 has given us a language - this North, South, East and West in-gathering of our generation to the table of hospitality. We’ve leant into that language and given ourselves and each other space to heal.

Now, we’re leaning into the latter verses where we can “establish a city to dwell in” (107:36) and “sow fields, plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield. [that] By his blessing they will multiply greatly” (107:38).

Not because we haven’t done it, but because we’re now identifying it with our collective calling, not jsut the calling of the minority.

This means each one of us needs to seek a Spirit-empowered-prayer-dependant trust in God to build this community right. It means we start to build a common language of building a home for others, for divine hospitality, for divine encounter and for healing.

The shape of our prayers can continue to turn outward as they already are, and Tables, CR and Gratis can be ever further engulfed into our collective spirituality, allowing them to take the lead in showing us how to reach out to our own worlds.

Every one of us is responsible for this journey of language discovery.
We’ll only discover it together.

3. A New Story Requires New Practices

Starting with prayer.

There can be no new outpouring of God’s empowerment and no new language without first discovering it in prayerful imagination. We are not inviting people to our table, but to God’s and to do that we must first practice the Spirit’s hospitality ourselves.

If there is some kind of cost to owning new space and becoming more responsible for the world around us it’s surely first discovered in prayer. Where we take on the longing for healing and freedom and love of the world around us, on our knees, in the quiet spaces we’d otherwise give to entertainment and self-satisfaction.

Prophetic words are a co-artistry with the Holy Spirit, and prayer is the palette we paint with.

But that’s not all we have. These prayers should lead us into new habits of invitation toward family, workmates, colleagues and acquaintances to our own dinner tables.

Our prayers empower our actions, they don’t replace them.

To sum it all up, what we need to become is a community seeking the Spirits empowering for the good of the world around us, discovering a new language for the house we’re building, and praying our guts off to see God’s kingdom come in our midst.

You in?

__

Reflection:

Changing our story and living into God’s invitation takes intention and grace. We need a new Pentecost moment with every new call God brings into our lives because it’s his kingdom-power that delivers the goods, not our own energy. But by leaning into the language of where we’re going and seeking God in urgent prayer, we can partner with the Spirit to bring about newness in our community and city.

Preparation:


What areas of your life do you feel you need a new outpouring of the Spirit to see breakthrough in?

What could it look like for you to partner more intentionally with God in those areas?

What rhythms or ministries within Central Vineyard are you passionate about seeing empowered?

What practices do you have in your life currently that remind and prompt you to pray for God’s outpouring into yourself and the work you’re doing in the kingdom?

Take a minute to ask the Spirit whom in your life he may want to invite to his table in this season?

Prayer:

We need your power, Father,
now as much as ever.
Only you can change our story,
empower our community life,
and form us into a people of loving-prayer.
Teach us how to participate in your holy invitation,
To the world and to each other,
That we may build the kingdom your way,
in your strength,
and in your tender love.
Amen.




Comment

Comment

Pentecost Takeover Part II: Learning To Tell A New Story

Pentecost.png

Earlier this year Rob Wiseman said something to me that really stuck. I was in the middle of making sense of a sudden change of life for the better. I’d gone from some incredibly hard years into a space where it felt like things were getting constantly better for me and the family. As weird as it may sound to you reading this, it was actually hard for me to lean into the idea that things were changing for good and that it wasn’t just some small interval before the next disaster.

Well, in the middle of my verbal processing with Rob he stopped me and said something really profound, “sounds like it’s time for you to change the narrative you’re telling about your life.”

He was dead right.

It’s not always easy to change the way you’re telling our own story because more often than not there are no clear page turns or new chapter titles - we transition through seasons slowly. That’s what makes prophecy so beautiful.

When God speaks prophetically into our lives he gives us a new story to hook into, one that can change the way we speak about our circumstances and the small decisions we make in our immediate hours, days and weeks.


Prophecy opens up a new space in our imagination so we can tell another story. The story of who God is helping us become.

Well, five weeks ago we felt God say the same thing to us as a community as Rob had said to me. We were drawn back to relook at our story in Psalm 107, to see where God leads these exiles once they’ve been gathered from the four corners of the earth. As we reflected we felt the Spirit calling us to rediscover our lives in this new city we find ourselves in. To retell our narrative as the gathered people and not no longer the still-gathering.

As we prayed it through he showed us that once this generation were drawn together where “he let’s the hungry dwell, and establish a city to dwell in” (107:36) they were then called to “sow fields, plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield. [that] By his blessing they will multiply greatly” (107:38).


In other words, they changed the story they were telling about their journey.
It may sound like semantics, and it’s not like we haven’t been putting our roots down these years anyway, but when wanderers begin to take responsibility for the land they’re settling in they take ownership of the space of hospitality.

They pivot from the mentality of those in need to those reaching out to others who need.

What that doesn’t mean for us, is our creating new programs and changing the way we are in order to become more “evangelistic” in whatever sense you may hear that word. But what it does mean is that we need to be willing to change our own narrative from being a people who are gathering from the four corners of spiritual doubt, cynicism, pride or woundedness to a people setting a table for a world that feels all those things without the hope of Jesus.

That will be easier for some of us reading this than others.

It means us re-looking at our practices and how we live them out with even more intention and love. It means taking on responsibility for our part in the table setting of divine love.

If we start building our community without stepping out of our exile identity as a generation, we’ll probably never even think to imagine we’re ready to begin playing our part in that table setting.

It’s not impossible to get addicted to healing up and to being given space to rest and time to get your bearings. But we can’t live there. Not if we want to keep healthy.


What’s meant to be a stage in our coming back to communion with God can quickly become a lifestyle. But if we primarily identify with our hurts, doubts, and aches, we begin a process of blinding ourselves to the needs of others.


That’s why the ending of Psalm 107 is so important to us, and why we based an entire series “Faithful Presence” on it. Because ultimately, this North, South, East and West gathering of ours was for a purpose - it was to become wounded-healers, the hospitalised becoming the hospitable, the hungry now becoming the table setters for the great banquet of love that is the kingdom of heaven.

How do we go about this as a community? You’ll have to wait until the next blog post for that. What’s important today is that we consider the shift. That we look deep within ourselves as individuals and as a community and to ask ourselves if we’re willing to open up, to accept that we are no longer a generation of cityless people, but that we’ve found a home, and it’s time to open it up to the world with new eyes.


That’s not assuming you’re not already doing that by the way - our living this way is one of my great prides in our community. But as I learn’t in my conversation with Rob, it’s not only about what we’re doing or not doing, it’s about starting with a story change and allowing the prophetic Spirit to move in us through that as we tell a new story together.

So, are you ready to respond to the Spirit with us and help us change the story of Central Vineyard?

Arohanui,

Strahan.


__

[As part of our preparation for Pentecost I’ve created some questions and prompts to pray through individually and in whatever circles you’re gathering in these next few weeks. Each blog post will end with an opportunity to allow the Spirit to prompt you in your own journey and your place in the whole as we work toward our Pentecost evening on June 9.]

__

Reflection:

Sometimes it takes us a while to catch up with what God is doing and to find language for it. Every now and then we have to choose to change the story we’re telling about our lives before we’re even ready to accept it - a prophetic decision to lean into the future God is designing whether we feel ready or not. We feel the Spirit telling us that we’re in this moment as a community. That he has gathered us from the four corners of our generation and that it’s time to respond to him in discovering how identifying as welcomers, and not exiles, in God’s tomorrow looks like.

Preparation:


What are some moments or seasons in your life you’ve felt God calling you to “change the story you’re telling about your life”?

How have you responded to this invitation over time? Or have you not?

What do you think it looks like for us as a community to respond to this invitation?

What part do you play - large or small - in helping us lean into this prophetic moment?

What do you feel the Spirit might say to us to encourage us at this turning point?

Prayer:

God of ever-flowing newness, make us your newness people too.
You have gathered us and healed us,
At times in part, and at times in full,
At times in minutes, and at times with patient longevity.
Make us wounded-healers just like you,
Gatherers of thirsty, hurting and disoriented souls,
Table setters in the wilder-places,
Courageous ushers of your kingdom.
You’re changing our story, you’re writing new history,
Teach us how to build with you,
As you prophesy to the uncertainty within us.
Amen.




Comment

Comment

Pentecost Takeover Part I: Our Prophetic Journey

Pentecost.png

When I first stumbled into the Auckland Normal Intermediate hall where Central Vineyard was meeting at the time I was at the end of myself spiritually speaking. Katie and I had been visiting churches for well over 9 months trying to return to local church after a three year hiatus where we’d been meeting in home churches, prayer gatherings and through local and international travel.

We were exhausted. Exhausted because we were tired of walking into church communities that felt foreign to who we’d found God to be. But also exhausted inside. We were wondering whether to give up hope that there was a community that felt as if the Spirit would be free to lead us as a people, together.

Walking out of ANI that day, out of that small gathering of forty people, Katie and I didn’t even discuss it, we just knew we’d found our home.

We felt at the time like we were exiles who had found a table to eat at, sojourners who’d finally found a place of acceptance. A place we could rest. We’d found our home now not only in God’s kingdom, but in a particular local community that understood.

This story and this language has been a consistent theme over the years when we’ve asked newcomers their experience of walking into one of our gatherings. From day dot we’ve been walking in a story of homecoming, and on our first birthday the Spirit confirmed it when he told us through a prophetic word that we were and would become a Psalm 107 community.

Psalm 107 depicts a people - an exile people - being gathered from the four corners of the earth, being healed by God and welcomed back into his family. It’s the only Psalm or small body of writing in the entire bible that repeats the same phrase four times only to represent the four navigational points of both our physical and spiritual worlds.

for us, This Psalm is an all-embodying statement that God was bringing us home from spiritual malnourishment, disappointment, hurt, cynicism, depression, pride and loneliness. it was our homecoming.



This word and Psalm were the foundation of our Faithful Presence series which helped us lay a foundation of hospitality, gratitude and spiritual expression in the worlds around us. Many of us felt like we were re-building the basics of following Jesus together through the months and years that followed.

As we slowly grew into who God was inviting us to become we became living proof that “He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water” (107:35).

From that first birthday of around 80 people or so to the next we doubled in exiles finding their way home. Now, as we head toward our fourth birthday we’ve tripled that and then some the size of our table with people who have met us over dinner, found us in our aching to overcome, sat with us in our desire to beat numbness and celebrated with us in the new life that God has brought.

This Pentecost, we remember that god spoke, then transformed us. He made a highway in the wilderness for us. he made a people where there had been no people.

On our first coming of age he told us he would bring in more of us, and he did. He kept his promise because it was his pleasure and longing to do so. That’s so much of what the prophetic is.

In our story so far, the Spirit moved among us to do what so many people thought would be impossible - he brought in hundreds of us from a “lost generation”. One we’re told were doing little more than leaving religion behind for cynicism and hurt.

So maybe our own prophetic Psalm could go something like this:

“God saw us out there in the far reaches of our liminal spaces,
and he loved us too much to leave us in our wandering.
He drew us in, little by little,
until the deserted city became a flourishing garden -
One not full of overconfidence and self assured know-how,
but full of the meek,
the unsure,
the recovering.
God brought us together and blessed us so that we could heal,
so that we could re-understand his love for us
and his promise to make a Way.
Now, Central Vineyard has become a gather place
for the North, South, East and West of a lonely generation.
Our own little monument to hope,
in the midst of a world experiencing a crisis of faith.”

But God is speaking to us as a people in a new way again.
The Spirit is on the move - as he always is - and we’re not about to stop following him.
This Pentecost we’re preparing for a change, a pivot, a swing into something new, discomforting and exciting.

And we hope you’re ready for the adventure.

Arohanui,

Strahan.


__

[As part of our preparation for Pentecost I’ve created some questions and prompts to pray through individually and in whatever circles you’re gathering in these next few weeks. Each blog post will end with an opportunity to allow the Spirit to prompt you in your own journey and your place in the whole as we work toward our Pentecost evening on June 9.]

__

Reflection:

God is the welcomer of exiles. He goes out to find any person who is lost, overwhelmed, exhausted or dehydrated by their own mistakes and by the worlds. He has drawn us all into a particular spiritual family in a particular place - Central Vineyard - and now we have a particular story together. God is restless until he has met us kindly in the wilderness. We remember and we celebrate him in our communal awakening story this Pentecost season.

Preparation:

Read through Psalm 107

Where do you find yourself in the story of the exiles coming home?
What was it like for you before you joined the Central Vineyard whanau?
What’s changed since you have?
Who has God revealed himself to be in this journey?

Prayer:

Father of the four corners of our hearts,

  our world,  

     our cosmos;

we celebrate your welcoming disposition toward us;

       your drawing us in and your making us a home together

               in this place of hope and healing.

We remember our unique collective story -

 That you have given us a family,

    And that you have built us a home.

May we never forget it.

Amen.


Comment

Comment

A Prayer Vigil Homily: Love, hatred and us

This homily was written and spoken by Strahan Coleman at our Prayer Vigil on March 20th.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
— 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

What is love?

We say that God is love.

But if so, what kind of love is God? Is it the kind of love that seeks for itself to be in control? Or to overcome evil or their enemies through coercion and strength?

Is God the kind of love that separates, see’s others superficially and seeks to overcome their individuality and personal expression?

What is love?

God is love.

But what kind of love is he?

And if God is love, then what does that mean for us, for humanity and for the world?

God may not be anything at all for you tonight. God, may be a myth, a hypothetical or an obstruction to love. God may even be a terrible memory or a bad taste in your mouth.

If so, then what is love?

And if God isn’t love to you, then who is God?

We can be in danger of misunderstanding love. Without an anchor love can become a chameleon to our own personal motives, our selfish ambition or at worst, our untamed hatred.

When we misunderstand love, we misunderstand one another and even our enemies because humanity was made to function perfectly only under the warmth and expression of love. Love is meant to be in our DNA. Like oxygen, love has the power to air out the sickness within us, within our communities and within our minds if we will allow it.

So when we lose love, when we misunderstand or manipulate it, we risk the wellbeing of our society, and the fabric of goodness that holds it together.

Regardless of religion or belief few people could disagree about the qualities of love that we heard earlier tonight - that it is kind, that it is patient, that it is caring and seeks to build up rather to tear down another.

Few people would argue that love is violent, that it is self-seeking, that it excludes or that it would rather risk harming the other before laying down it’s own self.

In the Christian tradition it is believed that God is love, and that he is the kind of love that would rather die for His enemies than kill them. Something we largely misunderstood for millennia, and something that sadly today, many of us still completely miss. That kind of love, that Christ-love, would have been found lying with the victims in the mosques last Friday. That kind of love would rather have bled with them than be the aggressor against them. That kind love, we must sorely admit, has on the whole been absent from our tradition for far too long.

That same kind of love would refuse to coerce even its enemies to believe as it does, or to act as they do. Because that kind of love also respects the autonomy of the human heart to choose.

Because what is love if it is not free?

Love was made to be the fabric of every culture, religion and race.

Love is humanity expressing herself at it’s best. But when love is centered on oneself, one’s own race, or one’s belief systems, then this distortion tears at the fabric of human dignity.

What happened last Friday was not right-love. It was fractured love, love for self and an obsession over differences.

In fact, it wasn’t love at all. It was hatred, hatred born from the fear of losing power. What if that kind of hatred is born when we consider ourselves more worthy of particular rights than another? More worthy of land or peace or power.

Maybe hatred isn’t in that sense necessarily an absence of love but a misdirection of it. Maybe it’s an over consideration for one’s own self which when placed in the hands of ideologies that further exaggerate them, causes love to suffer great harm.

In this light, last Friday, the life of fifty people were taken because one refused to allow a self-sacrificing love, an other-love, to inform their own worldview.

It’s easy to place the blame for that kind of misdirected love solely on the deranged, the obscure or the rare. But painfully, the risk of that kind of malfunctioned love exists within every one of us.

Last Friday true-love wept and grieved as hatred stole the lives of fifty innocent people.

People who were themselves seeking greater love, greater peace, and greater hope.

These fifty people had taken time out of their week to actively embrace love, and were slain during their ascension toward it.

That injustice, that heartbreaking image will haunt our history forever. There is no way to go back, no way to erase the pain and horror that their families now experience as a result of another’s hate.

In our limited capacity we can’t change the past.

But we can change the future.

We can change the future by not waking up tomorrow as we did yesterday, but by being more aware and more willing to seek out the other.

We can change the future by refusing to continue to love in a passive or naive kind of way.

We can change our future by allowing our love to be affected by grief, even matured, even transformed by it.

By choosing tonight to wake tomorrow with the kind of love that humanity should hope for - a selfless, other-filling love, love that seeks to embrace and celebrate difference rather than allow it to separate us, a love that doesn’t need to agree in order to eat together, play together, or dream of a better future together - we can change the country our children will grow up in and that the marginal in our communities can enjoy.

These days require so much more of us than the past. For the religious, they require us to practice what we’ve preached for so long but refused to live. We must look outward toward those who are different to us and unite in the face of a world in crises, an environment in deep threat, and a society broken in pieces by the politics, beliefs and actions of hate.
These days require us to not allow assumption to empower our enemies. They require us to speak up, not just for Muslims, not just for immigrants or those from different cultural backgrounds, but for the marginalised wherever and whoever they may be.

These days require us, regardless of beliefs, to seek out a true love, a love that can unite an increasingly hostile global community and an increasingly aching one. They require us to lay ourselves down not for one another’s similarity, but for the innate value of humanity in every single human being.

Because the kind of love we long to celebrate, the kind of love we hope to saturate our lives in, is the kind of love that seeks not to assimilate one another, but to honour and embrace.

That is probably the kind of love being sought by the men, woman and children at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre last Friday.

So today we grieve, we weep and we remember the fifty who were unjustly slain and their mourning families.

But we can also resolve to not allow our communities, our families and ourselves to go on un-evaluated and unwilling to make this world a better place, in love.

We may carry wounds, we may carry anger and frustration, but those wounds can strengthen us if we let them, they do not have to weaken us.

They are a part of our story now. A story of redemption and hope and of forgiveness and love, if we choose it to be.

My prayer is that that story will become our story.

The story of Aotearoa.

A people learning to love.

Together.


Comment

Comment

New journey: Twenty_One_Days

Twenty-One-Days.jpg

We’ve just spoken about our sacred togetherness as a community, and now it’s time to put our action where our intent is. As a church our vision is to pursue Jesus fully with our whole lives and to actively play the unique part He is calling each of us to, together.

You might realise something as you read that, but if you missed it, we’ll make it clear: something our church is passionate about is to see the vision Jesus gives you for your life happen.

But how do we get this vision?

Jesus had a rule for how he went about this himself. He said in John 5:19 that He “only does what He saw the Father doing.” He did this by retreating to pray and seek, or other times He did it by spotting the Father’s leading in the moments right in front of Him as He met a person who needed to be healed or forgiven. All Jesus did was informed by His choice to be a person of prayer, so as a church, we are taking 21 days to seek God in this way for ourselves, our church and our city.

TWENTY_ONE_DAYS is us together seeking God in many ways – messing up the norms and moving the furniture around as we do so – and if you want to pursue Jesus intentionally with us, we’d love you to join us in this journey.

CHECK OUT THESE OTHER PARTS OF TWENTY_ONE_DAYS:

 

Comment

Comment

Welcome to 2019 at Central Vineyard!

photo-1506385980587-3045034f2e3d.jpeg

We’ve had a couple of weeks powered-down and this week we have turned off the auto-reply on the emails and flicked everything back into action.

With the beginning of this new year we are excited to begin with our new staff and leadership structure. Welcome to Rob and Alisha Wiseman who now begin their new roles as co-leaders at Central Vineyard alongside Dan and Gab! There are some other changes in our team and some new things, but more on that later in the month...

With this new season, we want to ask something of you: Can you please take some time this week to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you afresh about what His call is to you and our church this year? We are so quick to put in plans, but we do not want to go where Jesus is not leading us as we begin this chapter of the pilgrimage together. As Jesus taught us to pray; give us today our daily bread – what we need for now, not what we had last year.

We believe that as we continue to trust Jesus we will be in for a great journey this year.

See you at our gathering this Sunday – or the next one if you’re still away – and don’t forget to get your tickets for our big start-of-the-year moment together: formatio.

See you soon!

Comment