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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Packing Thoughts and the luggage we carry



Gracious God,
when two or three are gathered in your name, you are there.
Be present with your family, the church.
Give us grace and maturity when we are in conflict.
Help us to listen, to forgive and to live together in mutual love.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. Amen.

It's a bold frank collect, very realistic.   And I would like to be a fly on the wall of the Cathedral to hear what the preacher may make of it.  Matthew 18 is such a gospel to engage with.  The best and simplest comment I have heard on Matthew 18 is below, a comment by a very wise and experienced pastor who understands the dynamics of congregations...

"Jesus says to love your enemies. But there is a difference between loving and tolerating - especially for the sake of the “little ones,” that is, the rest of the congregation. One negative person can suck all the energy from a room. One skilled gossiper, craftily playing on others' craving of intrigue, drama, or titillation, can bring down a good pastor. One envier, with a huge unacknowledged shadow, can demolish a church.

Love the envier. Love the gossiper. Love the poor nay-sayer. Pray for them. Listen to them. But don't let them infest the church - because everyone will suffer. Be as innocent as doves but as wary as serpents - because the folks who bring down a church often do their work in secret until the foundations crack beyond repair.

A woman who just lost her job said to me, “Sometimes an angel has to push you off the cliff before you get the help you need. I'm scared, but grateful I lost my job - because that's the only way the good that is to come can happen.”

Don't stop the angel from nudging. Let God help the troubler face the consequences of the hurt they carry inside but project onto the community. I always thought that the church should put up with all kinds of malevolence, and asking even the most destructive person to leave was not a Christian option. But now I know what looks cruel may be, in fact, kind."


This has been a strange day with odd moments of hilarity and anxiety - packing to travel for four weeks of flights, buses and walking, overnighting here and there and doubtless hordes of other tourists.  Dunstan is unhappy, he knows something is up. He follows me from one room to the other and eyes the suitcases with deep suspicion.  He clearly wonders about the early morning walk routine - or is that just me?  Few chances for writing in the blog for a while I fear.

Dunstan




Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Sign of The Cross


The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2017

Choral Matins


Do you have a memory of a film that profoundly affected you?  I have memories of a variety of films with powerful moments, some moments almost too much to watch, but I have a particular memory, now more than 60 years old – it was The Ten Commandments and that moment when the wandering Moses encounters the burning bush and is told, “Take your sandals from off your feet, for the ground on which you stand is holy ground.”  That is the moment when Moses hears God’s voice and receives his call.  I remember that moment and the frisson of awe that shook me as a very susceptible nine-year-old; that thought of ‘The Holy’.

Moses and the burning bush
In the scriptures, that is the moment where the purpose of God is revealed and promised, God will deliver his people from oppression.  And so begins the great mission of Moses, accompanied by all the turmoil, the blood sweat and tears, that marked the Exodus.  In the course of this mission, Moses is transformed, his life is no longer his own, and God’s purpose is accomplished.

It is no accident that in the New Testament Jesus is seen as the second Moses; he is charged with the redemption and deliverance of Israel and the World.  So, too, in the gospel reading this morning, when Jesus discloses what the cross means for him and for us, it is made clear that the cross is not an abstract principle but the agonising precondition of following Christ.  "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

In these words Our Lord outlines in summary form a whole way of life.  The denial of self is a clear renunciation of wilfulness, of having our own way, of indulging our preferences for the soft option; this is a way of being that is summarised by the cross; and embedded here is a life-changing and soul shaping process of transformation.  This is at the heart of our calling, the cross changes us and shapes us.  Paul explains this when he writes: “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

In the Episcopal Prayer book, the office for Morning Prayer,  the Collect for Friday is explicit:

A Collect for Fridays
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I remember being prepared for confirmation by the university chaplain at Ramsey House, the Anglican Centre in Victoria University, when I was a young student.  The Chaplain was in the Catholic tradition of our church and had been trained at Mirfield, in The Community of the Resurrection.  A little of that rubbed off on me: I was taught to make the sign of the cross.  It is not about lugging the cross around, but was always about taking the cross inwards! An Eastern Orthodox has put it this way:

“The summation of the life of Jesus in the symbol and the sign of the cross is not meant so much as an act of "taking up" the cross, as it is of "taking the cross inside." The direction of the sign of the cross is inward, which suggests embracing and internalizing the life of Jesus. Nevertheless, this inward direction suggests that, starting with the historical events of the life of Jesus, we live these events here and now, appropriating them outside time and space, as we become one with the timeless Christ.” (Andreas Andropoulos)


I still remember how strange it felt for me, newly confirmed, to make the sign of the cross and how self-conscious I initially felt doing it. (This was something utterly alien to my family’s staunchly protestant tradition). ‘Taking Christ in; putting Christ on’ … these were quite conscious thoughts then; and now, I often deliberately recall them to remind myself.  

By chance I came across reference to a former 18-19th  century Episcopalian who converted to Rome and was taught to make the sign of the Cross while there.  She became the first American-born Saint, Elizabeth Anne Seton  (1774-1821) and she remembered the impression of making the sign of the cross for the first time.  She wrote: “I was cold with the awful impression my first making it gave me -- the sign of the cross of Christ on me! Deepest thoughts came with it of I know not what earnest desires to be closely united with Him who died on it. Oh, that last day when it is to be borne in triumph!

To bear the cross is to be vulnerable and we do not know where it may lead.  I am very struck by these word from Sophie Scholl, a German student who felt led to oppose Nazism.  She was a founder of the society known as The White Rose” and was captured for distributing anti-Nazi literature and trying to arouse Germans against Nazism.  Her words describe what I consider her way of the cross.

"The real damage is done by those millions who want to “survive.” The honest people who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves – or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.

Source: Die Letzten Tage  (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) )

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The real question we have to answer







Readings: Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Psalm 124Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20


Who do you say Jesus is?  That is the great question that all the Gospels try to answer; that is the question that looms behind all the stories that are remembered, treasured, recorded, mulled over and meditated upon.  Within the question is the ‘Open sesame’ for all the questions of our lives and of all our searching; within it is the map that shows us the way home and gives us the keys to the kingdom.

Who do you say Jesus is?  How do we begin or where do we begin?  Do we begin with what we know, or rather with what we think we know?  Is this simply a matter of thinking?  A matter of getting our theology sorted out?  Good luck with that!  Can we sort out our Christology and answer the question?  Have we world enough and time?  

Can we explain how Jesus is both truly God and truly human?  Reason would tell us that is an oxymoron: one or the other might be arguable but not both.  Paul encourages Jesus as a model for all his followers and in arguing his case offers a suggestion as to how the two natures, human and divine, may be imaginatively linked.  In Philippians 2 (5-8) he says:


5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.


Christ ‘empties himself’ of his divinity, he puts it aside.  This self-emptying we know of as kenosis – from the Greek term Paul uses.  It could be seen as a dangerous approach to the problem.  Because is a Christ drained of divinity, even voluntarily, really God? But, by the same token, if divinity is not yielded, how can he be truly human?  Are we going to sort out our Christology this morning?  

Paul takes us boldly into the intolerable abyss of ambiguity and seems to grasp the terrible anguish of a God who endures such a state – even ‘death on a cross.’ To be truly human must entail uncertainty: meaning limited knowledge and limited power.  So when Jesus asks the disciples what people say about him, is he voicing his own inner uncertainty?  Is he trying to identify who he really is and what God is requiring of him?  If that is so, is the consciousness of his calling something that gradually emerges over the course of time and through the experience and encounters his ministry provides?  

You may remember from last Sunday that I touched on this in his encounter with the Canaanite woman – when she out-manoeuvred him in theological debate – as I said then, ‘The Son of God changed his mind’. Are we going to sort out our Christology this morning and answer the question?  It seems our minds can’t quite get us there?

Now, what is happening when Jesus asks the disciples what they think of him?  Is he seeking reassurance?  Is he testing them?  Or is he giving them an opportunity to commit themselves and to make a leap beyond where the mind can go?  Perhaps all of these possibilities are on the table.  

Peter’s response seems typical of the man.  He speaks impulsively – typically from the heart rather than the head.  He speaks out of his experience of Jesus – the experience that the gospels record and much more that we can only imagine must have taken place in the informal talk shared during long journeys; conversations through the nights by a fire; questions that arose when impossible things happened; healings, of course;  and then maybe that eery sense of sheer mystery, of otherness,  that always seemed to surround Jesus; but perhaps, most of all was his feeling that whenever he was near Jesus, he felt he was truly and utterly at home; known through and through; at home and at peace.  It was being loved… yes, that was it, love was the key!  

Peter answers out of love.  "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  Love takes Peter where the mind can’t quite go and love gives him the keys of life.  The life we all seek from the very depths and marrow of our being.

Be encouraged in this great journey of the heart, as one great Archbishop of Canterbury, noted:

O Lord my God,
teach my heart where and how to seek you,
where and how to find you.
Lord, if you are not here but absent,
where shall I seek you?
But you are everywhere, so you must be here,
why then do I not seek you?...

Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.

-Anselm of Canterbury c.1033-1109


Lord Jesus, ‘Teach our hearts’.  Give us the keys to the Kingdom.Amen!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Christ in the flux of History


20th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Reflection

Political events this week – Riots in Charlottesville, North Korea tensions, terrorist violence in Barcelona, the tragedy of the mudslide in Sierra Leone, this is a catalogue of shocking  pain and loss. What response can we make? We come this morning with these matters on our hearts.  Alongside these stories of the world’s confusion and pain we come also to hear again and remember the stories that shape our faith.

The story of Joseph is a tremendous family story of jealousy and betrayal and of reversal of fortunes as the young man sold into slavery becomes a leader of a nation and the story climaxes in the moment when the brothers who sold him come before him for his help.  In a dramatic moment  of disclosure, a brilliant and emotional moment, Joseph re-writes the family story; and sees the whole family narrative, its tragedy of loss and pain, from a greater perspective, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.”  This most Jewish story recognises the purpose of God faithfully keeping the covenant with his people Israel, working within the flux of history.

The gospel this morning is caught up in a family debate within the Judaism of Jesus’ time.  Some of the Pharisees promoted a tradition of hand-washing before meals as a way of encouraging holiness, a spiritual discipline, not a matter of hygiene.  Jesus dissents from that tradition when he declares that holiness proceeds from the heart and not from the laws and customs associated with food: this was a controversial position to take.  In this moment we see Jesus speaking as a Jew within the assumptions and debates of Judaism.  But what happens next?

Jesus heads away from Jerusalem and heads northwest toward the Mediterranean coast, toward a region associated with non-Jewish communities.  There he encounters an unknown woman identified only as a Canaanite – the ancient designation for the inhabitants of the region.

The Canaanite Woman asks for healing for her daughter . 
Juan, de Flandes, approximately 1465-1519 
The Jewish Jesus is confronted by his cultural and religious antithesis – a Canaanite woman who wants him to heal her daughter.   Again we see Jesus speaking as a Jew within Judaism: he ignores this religious ‘outsider’.   She creates a scene and obviously makes his disciples uncomfortable – because they ask him to send her away “for she keeps shouting after us”.  He explains the problem and why he ignores her: she is not within his mission: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.  This is a very orthodox Jewish point of view, a family perspective if you like.  His objection is entirely comprehensible to Jesus’ Jewish followers.  There is no surprise in this.

But what follows does surprise us.  The Canaanite woman directly approaches Jesus and kneels in front of him directly with a direct petition “Lord help me”.  In that moment, by that movement, the Canaanite woman cannot be ignored.  She is seen differently, she becomes a person and cannot be dismissed simply as a cultural outsider.  She says, “Lord help me”.   It cannot be more direct or simple than that.  It is the suppliant’s prayer.  We may find ourselves praying that a dozen times a day: in every situation where we are stumped as to what to say or do.  It is a relational plea; it produces a relational realignment.

This is not Charlottesville, a race confrontation  with no one really ‘seeing’ each other,  just different groups , ‘us’ and ‘them’, yelling across a history of stereotypes, slogans and prejudice.

Jesus’ response is still firmly rooted in his exclusive Jewish vision: salvation is for the Jews.  Accordingly his response sounds harsh: "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."  For him, the Jews are the children, and the dogs are the Gentiles.  Admittedly his harshness  is somewhat softened by his use of the term for puppies – but that is a trivial nuance – the relational position is still severe: Jews are children; Gentiles are dogs.

Her clever response turns Jesus’ words back upon him "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." In a word, all are fed by God.

At that response Jesus, the Son of God, changes his mind: in that moment his vision of salvation is transformed; expanded beyond recognition. He is ‘out-theologised’ by this early feminist theologian!

Jesus’ theology has shifted; it has become more comprehensive as it has been challenged in this ministry encounter. But it is even more than that: his consciousness has changed. He starts to understand his calling differently under the pressure of this encounter. Maybe here we see something of the nature of the incarnation; a Christ who develops into his calling; in the activity of a God who works constantly within the untidy flux and hazards of history. God works in the encounter with this unnamed Canaanite woman; it may be that God is at work in the shambles at Charlottesville, even in the tragic death of Heather Heyer.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Believing with the Heart


19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14: 22-33;

Reflection:  “One believes with the heart”

There is a moment in Mark’s gospel (Mark 9) where a desperate father brings his son to Jesus for healing and, when Jesus says all things are possible if you believe, the father says “I believe, help my unbelief.”  I suspect we can all sympathise and identify with that man’s dilemma: do we believe?  How can we know? Be certain?  Is the voice of doubt and unbelief perched on our shoulders whispering?  Each time we say the creed, just that first phrase “I believe in God…” is there a tremor of uncertainty, a moment in which we engage with the question “what do I mean”, and “what if this is true”?  In that brief moment our world begins to shift, the paradigms by which we see ‘reality’, tilt and something new emerges.

Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1996) has traced the way scientific method has advanced, especially when the results don’t fit the accepted paradigm and supposition and imagination press the boundaries to find a new way of seeing.  A new paradigm emerges.  George MacDonald wrote about the imagination as enabling the scaffolding of hypothesis without which “the house of science would never rise.”
So, if Mark reports the situation accurately, what changes for the father when his son is healed? Belief is not just a hypothesis but a paradigm shifting moment in which he sees Jesus differently. Can we imagine how we might respond to such a moment in our lives?  I am confident that we too would experience a paradigm shift and believe!

But such a paradigm shifting belief is not founded on intellectual conviction or scientific comprehension – for we don’t have that measure of control – but something else, something that Paul describes in terms of the heart. He says “one believes with the heart.” One believes with the heart! Take note, we are so accustomed to think of belief as a matter of the mind and intellectual conviction, but instead Paul locates the core of belief in the heart! In saying that, he follows a consistent thread through the OT scriptures where the heart is our spiritual, intellectual, moral and ethical centre. It shapes our fundamental disposition; and Proverbs accordingly counsels us “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23) Much closer to our own time we find similar conviction in Blasé Pascal, who famously noted "The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of... We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart."

So I encourage you to read our gospel this morning not merely with the critical faculties but also with the warmth and insight of your imagination.  Remember the context: the disciples have witnessed the spectacular miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand and have been separated from Jesus who went off to pray while they launched off into the Sea of Galilee.  These are experienced fisherman, used to weather, boats and the ways of the sea; but nothing in their life has prepared them for the appearance of Jesus walking on the water toward them.  Can we believe the gospel here?  Is the gospel presenting a symbolic and metaphorical statement about the nature of God or is this a literal account of something that happened?  If it is a true record, what are its implications for us?   Is this a moment when the disciples’ understanding of reality and the world endures a radical paradigm shift and adjusts to a new understanding of faith and of Jesus?

Their initial reaction to the sight of Jesus walking on the sea is one of fear – they dismiss what they cannot comprehend, and explain the improbable and inexplicable event as a supernatural apparition – a ghost.  Can we blame them?   But Jesus identifies himself and in terms we associate with the resurrection appearances “It is I, do not be afraid.”
Peter’s response is a test: “Lord if it is you command me to come to you on the water.”
‘If it is you’ – This is the question.  Peter is testing the unknown.   He knows the sea, its dangers and the hazards he faces so far from land – he risks himself to know the truth.  “Lord if it is you command me to come to you on the water.”

He knows this is madness, sheer folly.  We do not walk on water.  And yet against every human instinct he steps out of the boat and begins to walk toward Jesus.  Maybe like a tightrope walker his eyes focussed ahead to his destination and all his thoughts keeping at bay the thought of the depths  beneath him until, until the moment he is distracted and,overwhelmed  by fear, he  sinks into the dark waters.


“Lord save me!”  That is the moment when we are told that Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him saying “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”   As Peter finds himself held and safe, what might have gone through his mind; or is it rather what overwhelmed his heart?  He was safe in the abyss, in the dark waters.  

All of us may recognise something of ourselves in Peter and something of what it means to be people of little faith.  We may say, Lord it is human to doubt.  We want to believe but help us with our unbelief. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Prayers for the City at noon


Most days the Cathedral offers Midday Prayers for the city.  Some have asked what we use and I post it here for those who are interested.  The greatest variation is about the 'particular' collect which usually engages with a particular concern for the city.  (However we did create a collect for the Grenfell Towers tragedy.)  Suggestions for Midday Prayers are always welcome, and local offers to share the prayers especially so.


Midday Prayer

The ambulatory bell is rung at noon

Welcome to your Cathedral.  Please pause for this brief midday prayer.

Invocation

E te whānau / My brothers and sisters,
our help is in the name of the eternal God,
who is making the heavens and the earth.
Eternal Spirit,
flow through our being and open our lips,
that our mouths may proclaim your praise.

Silence

Let us worship the God of love.
Alleluia. Alleluia.

O God of many names,
lover of all peoples;
we pray for peace
in our hearts and homes,
in our nations and our world;
the peace of your will,
the peace of our need.  Amen.

COLLECT FOR THE CITY
Gracious Lord of all that is,
You delight in all fullness of life;
Look with your grace and mercy upon our city:
Bless all who labour for the common good and who
serve to build up the life we share;
Bless our City Council, our University and all places of learning;
Bless our Courts, all who administer justice and all who seek it;
Bless our hospitals and all places of healing, social service and support;
that your fullness of life and purpose may abound and flourish here.
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Particular Collect (may vary)
God of grace, we thank you for the many years the Cadbury Factory has enriched the life of our city: provided employment; sustained families; and served the common good.  We grieve the factory closure and ask your grace to uphold all affected staff and their families in the days ahead that they find alternative local employment. In the power of your Holy Spirit, so lead us that this darkness and adversity will not prevail and we will know the joy and purpose of your perfect will, through Jesus Christ our Lord, ever one God, world without end. Amen

COLLECT FOR MIDDAY
Blessed Saviour, at this hour you hung upon the cross, stretching out your loving arms; grant that all the peoples of the earth may be drawn to your uplifted love; for your kingdom’s sake.
Amen.



THE LORD’S PRAYER & BLESSING
Jesus, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever.    Amen.

Dismissal & Blessing
In the following a deacon or layperson says ‘us’ instead of ‘you’.
Go forth into the world in peace;
hold fast that which is good;
render to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak;
help the afflicted; honour everyone;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and the blessing …




Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Deacon on Social Services Sunday


Social Services Sunday and Christine, a Vocational Deacon, gave the sermon for us - sharing reflections on her calling and her daily work with the most troubled of children.


Readings:  Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The gospel reading this morning asks us to imagine a fertile world
where seeds and weeds
look so much alike
and grow so closely together
that the owner will have to wait until they are fully grown
before he can separate the weeds from crop.
It seems that this is a world where it takes time for things to grow
and for truth and value to become clear.
If we are to learn anything  -
it may be that we are not to judge by appearances
and, above all, not rush into judgement
It reminds us
that there may be a lot more going on than we can see on the surface.
Deeper yet,
there is the sense of a greater purpose
and sustaining presence,
which I think we may discern as love

I work as a counsellor for traumatised and troubled children. 
My task each day
 is to listen to the confusion, the fear and the anger of children struggling to make sense of their
world.
A world that has been turned upside down
by the actions and decisions of others.
Often by the same people who are expected
to love and care for them:
expected to keep them safe;
to help them flourish, and become all that God created them to be. 

This is not a place for judgement!
My task is to give focussed attention and love
and to pray
when they leave
that these fragile plants survive despite a hostile environment.

So many of the decisions that affect our children
are made by others:
parents, families, caregivers, teachers, social workers, police, lawyers, judges and politicians.
Against the noise of these competing voices
it is not surprising that the voice of the child
is, so often, lost.
Children speak with many voices.
Which should we listen to and act on?
Do we listen to the voice of love
that continues to love despite years of abuse;
or to the voice of fantasy
that believes things are going to be different now;
or to the voice of trust
that believes because you are who you are,
you will do right by me and you will see what I need.

My task as counsellor
is to listen attentively and faithfully to the voices that speak out of
heartbreak, pain, fear, anger, frustration, confusion, hopelessness. 

To be honest, at times,
I ask myself, who in their right mind would choose to sit alongside such anguish
hour after hour, day after day, year after year?
These are feelings we often shy away from
and want to put in the 'too hard basket'
as they remind me of my own feelings of inadequacy.

All I can say is that it is God driven
I can only make sense of it through my calling to the Diaconate.
This journey began many years ago
when I explored what it means to be called by God
and found in the Diaconate
There was a call to always work alongside others.
Not to lead; not to assist;
but always to work and walk alongside.

I began as an industrial Chaplain  and trauma counsellor.
I soon realised God wanted more.
This led to acceptance into the diaconate and a degree in theology.
Again I thought this is where it would end,
only to find myself being asked to work with traumatised and abused children and their families.
Feeling woefully inadequate I gained a masters degree in counselling, specialising in working
with children.

But always working alongside -
 alongside Bishops, alongside Priests, alongside Servers
and in my daily work alongside Social Workers, alongside Families
and alongside children.
Children broken and torn apart by things beyond their control.
To me this means always being part of a team,
never a one person band wanting to do it all myself.
 Knowing this keeps me from stepping into a space where others need to be. 

Working this way brings moments of delight
when I see others stepping up
when I see the the smile of change
And I see them becoming what God meant them to be.

But working this way can also bring heart breaking pain
because we seem to struggle against impossible odds.
Nevertheless,
and so much hangs on that 'nevertheless' -
my job as therapist is to hold onto hope,
and help these young people endure and survive despite the odds.  
A hope that only God can give

Try to imagine what hope means in various situations:
  
When a child's evidence is not believed in court;
 
 When a 10 year old girl,
traumatised by years of neglect and abuse,
faces her 5th temporary placement because there is nowhere for her to go;

   When a caregiver's heart, good intentions, and patience
have been worn away by lack of support and understanding
of the difficulties she was taking on;

  When a social worker says "I have no choice the court has ruled that he goes back";
 
 When a mother learns for the first time that her child has suffered years of abuse by a trusted
friend of the family

When, yet again, a little girls mother, fails to turn up for an access visit after many promises
 
 When a terrified 7yr old sits on the couch waiting for an hour before the mental health team can
come to help her mother calm down;
  
When a lawyer's argument results in a child being placed back in the family home where little or
no change has occurred and they are likely to be uplifted again in 6 months;
  
When lack of funding means a child may wait over a year before they have a cognitive
assessment that will allow their school to apply for a few hours of assisted learning in the
classroom.

The list goes on, highlighting human need and suffering on many levels:
lack of understanding; lack of vision; lack of funding and resources;
conflicting human rights and ethical dilemmas.

So where does that leave us as followers of Jesus Christ,
our most radical agent of social change?

We all share in a world where
good and bad,
joy and sorrow,
what is and what may be
seem to coexist and be intertwined;
a world where God's purpose is not yet clear
 but where, nonetheless,
a sense of love and hope may still shine through. 

We work with that hope;
all of us;
caught up in the mystery
of being the many faces of love. 

As Paul famously reminded the believers in Corinth:

"Now faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love."  (1Cor: 13:13)