Friday, 14 December 2018

The Lament and Hope of Ecclesial Leadership

The most painful part of being around church leaders is not seeing dear friends suffer from white-anting, rejection, dishonouring and disillusionment. The most painful part is seeing beautiful, excellent and wonderful friends behaving atrociously. The perpetrators of injustice and stupidity are people we love. They are just like us. They are capable of great love and great evil. When I look at their decisions and behaviours, I know, I too am capable of great evil. In that moment, I become aware of the brokenness of our shared story... the one that keeps repeating on a loop of depravity. Good people behave badly - and usually, something inside their reasoning is listening to a serpent reasoning, rather than remembering to simply love God and each other.
One of my Fuller Professors, Sherwood Lingenfelter, recently released a book, ‘Leadershiin the Way of the Cross’. It was painful for me to read, as some of my own case study material was in it. As I read, I remembered my own regrets - mostly people I had hurt, decisions that impacted badly on others, my inability to draw out what I had perceived as the best from people. I confess my own culpability and brokenness. I have sometimes behaved as I thought I should and have later discovered that my thinking was grounded, not in love, but in evil. Is this intentional - I think not - but we are easily blinded by our own defensiveness. Repentance requires turning away from destructive behaviours, not seeking justification for them.
After I had concluded as the final Director of the ELM Centre (a wonderful and quirky place for lay ministry formation), Rev John Mallison (the founder) kept an eye on me. I had gone to Newcastle, where he also had been the Minister. He actually sent me an encouraging email the morning he died (just before he went on his last walk). He reminded me to keep investing in individuals - ah - all those coffees he would have at Pages Café at Koorong! Mentoring, he said, was one of the few things the church could not control. Invest in relationships of substance and worth! 
John and I held a little funeral for ELM. It was a child we had been given care of. It was flawed and fragile. There were many mistakes and people pinned too much on it. It represented all the ordinary and everyday disciples forgotten by the structures. John and I both wept and bore witness to one another’s regrets. Holding one another’s stories is not easy, but it helps us integrate all of who we are and what we have experienced. Do not forget your colleagues and friends. I especially remember those who were failed or hurt during that time. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t cover it.
Birthing a new community - The Commons - was a wonderful and terrible thing. Only recently, they have moved into new premises - rejected and outcast from a church that doesn’t want fresh expressions they cant direct or control. People who cannot name God are doing God’s work - loving people into a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven... God will have God’s way, with or without the Church! They are beyond comprehension now - they will not be counted in church statistics - but they are more real than the false structures that are holding us back. It is a very imperfect way of being, but The Commons is an attempt by people to live out the concept of blessing... a seeking to draw forth good. From The Commons I learnt about the God on the margins, who will never be held by a strategic plan or structure. As long as plans and structures dominate, God will turn over the tables. It will keep happening.

In my next appointment, I found myself in the centre of politics and power. In a role familiar to people in many places, I experienced the unconscious bullying and daily power games that seem to infest executive settings. The church does not equip us well to stand against such pressure. We come to believe this is part of ‘the game’, yet, this is exactly what we are called to challenged. In that setting, I learnt that personal mentoring and models of senior management of staff were important, but that the ongoing work of cultural change required spiritual interventions... the shared liminal experiences that bring about communitas... I became grateful for having written a dissertation (that no-one will ever read) for it made me notice ‘blessing’ as a form of spiritual interruption and transformation. I spent a lot of time reminding people that, for the church, God is core business... what is God’s blessing?

Since ELM days, I have thrown myself into national and international work. I co-wrote and facilitated much of the Space for Grace consultative process around marriage for the last 7 years. I write about S4G elsewhere, but essentially it is about an integrative approach to sharing stories and discovering truth together in spiritual disciplines (feasting together, dancing together, reading the scriptures together, praying together). When people refuse to hear or see one another in their real life stories, how can they read the Bible with any Truth? (I have also copped extraordinary criticism for this... mostly from people who are unable to conceive that God might still be revealing Godself among us. They seem to think God stopped operating among people with the publication of their translation of authorized text. Yet, God speaks louder in the scriptures among those who see themselves in the stories of Rachel and Leah and the Ethiopian eunuch.) I now continue some of that listening-storming work in my role on the Council of the World Methodist Church. Again - the continual reminder - God is core business... where is God’s blessing?

So - God and God’s blessings being core business - what now? When we can see with 20-20 hindsight are we still able to move forward? I will never forget the funeral of a friend, whose exercise books were full of names and commitments to pray. That cloud of witnesses again!

We came home after a difficult farewell recently, hearts heavy for friends and others in difficult situations. We prayed and lamented. It opened up questions about vocation and church. I believe we need to work to make radical change in focus. There is too much busy-work and not enough blessing. Too much problem-solving and not enough feasting. There is a heavenly party and we should be at it. I have lots of ideas! Do you?

Living with my husband’s daily approach to living with cancer makes me conscious of the value of living life to the full. Why waste time? There is too much beauty and wonder and delight and joy to spend our time creating pain. Yesterday, I spent time with a broken student, who was desperate to hear from her own mouth a word of hope in a dark world. In order to voice it, she first needed to confess the darkness around her and the impact that has had on her decisions and actions. My role was neither to condemn nor to preach, but to companion her on a difficult journey. She is suffering and has more suffering to come, but she is also now able to articulate her hope in a choice to live. Bearing witness to her word may yet bring me life.

For those of you who are able to speak out of your own brokenness, take courage - your suffering gives you credibility. For those who do not know you are broken, be silent - wait and listen - Christ is always coming.  

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Gambling Advertisers on Our House

A friend posted a question on Facebook about our réponses to the SOH debacle...
This is my comment:

1. OPERA: As a former opera-singer... Although opera costs a lot to put on, opera is not-for-profit. It depends on philanthropy and generosity. In most countries where it happens it is heavily subsidized by Govt so it can be accessible to everyday people... why? Because great opera lifts the soul. Great art challenges thinking, tells eternal stories, plays between myth, mystery and existentialism. Opera inspires World Cups and brings down governments. Opera is frivolous and fun and offers the dramatic emotional reality of genocides and betrayals. Grand Opera is an investment in creative genius in our community.

2. PLACE: In the SOH, Sydney has a place that reflects and enhances the most beautiful harbour in the world. It is not glitzy. It is not a passing fad. It is architectural landscape of the highest order. It states that on this beautiful place - a place where we also remember hardship, confrontation and dispossession, here is a place where a city can work on its soul. Here is a ‘sacred place’ where communities encounter one another through the mutual respect built by sharing song, dance, literature, drama. It is a place of encounter and engagement... it is where you take the date you want to impress. It is where you take your overseas visitors. It is a place where I take Terry in his wheelchair, to receive soul food.

3. GAMBLING: The Opera House Lottery was not cheap. A ticket was the birthday gift you gave in our family because it was a choice of going to the movies or investing in the future of live theatre. We never bought a ticket expecting to win. We bought them to build our House.
In our extended family, we have seen destruction and death, failed marriage and abuse within the home as a result of gambling addiction. It is evil. This doesn’t mean I dont appreciate sports. It means I hate what the unbridled (pun intended) corrupting influence of what this industry has done.

4. HORSES: One of the most wonderful things Terry and I did was to go to the Sydney Olympic Equestrian events. At the 3-day event we saw horses (and riders) pushed to their limits. They certainly took risks in sport. They were the supreme athletes. Horse-racing misses and distracts from the nobility of horses fulfilling their physical potential - why - because (overall) the industry invests a mere pittance into the wellbeing of the animals. The money changes everything. It is about making profit at the expense of animals and punters. Is about reaching the economic top by trampling others. It is about greed. I dont want to place greed on Our Opera House.

4. CORRUPTION: When T and I went to see the symphony recently, we were also treated to aboriginal artwork on the sails... part of the ongoing exhibition post-vivid. Projections like this creatively use the sails for creative engagement - for us, it was a form of blessing. To remember and acknowledge whose place this is. The projection of gambling advertising reminds us only that power and greed corrupt our community, leading to great suffering.
I work for Parramatta Mission - we deal with homelessness, gambling addiction and substance abuse. We dont ask you to advertise the solutions on the Sails of Our House, but please dont create more problems for us!

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Why should we be Seeking Common Ground?

A few years ago I was involved with a bunch of radical disciples who birthed a new community it’s called ‘The Commons’ in Newcastle, NSW. The founders were inspired by Acts 2:42-47.

42The believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44All the believers were united and shared everything. 45They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47They praised God and demonstrated God's goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. (NRSV)

There are plenty of people I find it difficult to share with. I get uncomfortable when I don’t know customs or food types. I don’t like to have to conform to other people’s dress codes and I struggle with differentiating behaviours towards women and men. Nevertheless, I recognise that the world is bigger than me. I admit that the world is not made in my image and I am not the Centre of the universe.

Last year I had the opportunity to visit Rome, not as a tourist, but as a member of the World Methodist Council Steering Committee. I was able to present a collection of music, poems and art to the Vatican on behalf of Methodist and Wesleyan and Uniting/United peoples around the world. We can and should make a contribution, just as we seek to learn grow others.

I am in awe of the One who was born, lived and died for the sake of people who seem like such strangers to me. Surely, they must be worth getting to know more about! God loved and loves others. They are made in God’s image. As I get to know them, I may be privileged enough to see the revelation of God’s image in their lives. They may be gracious enough to teach me of their experiences of God. Surely we want more of these stories?

Over the last two months, I have had the opportunity to get to know Fred. He helps me with the Soup Kitchen at The Uni where I am a Chaplain. Fred is Jewish and each Thursday he serves at least 30 Muslim students soup. I have had the opportunity to listen to Muslim and Christian scholars exchange understandings about Adam, Eve and Creation. I have been part of a study group with Buddhist Catholic and Pagan members. Together, we have encouraged one another to use ur gifts in service to others.

I do not claim to be the same as ‘others’. I stand firm in my commitment to share the Gospel as I know and experience it, but I am learning to listen and learn in new and fresh ways. I am delighted to discover fresh questions and rich ideas about God and what is sacred. This is the ‘risky’ part of ‘risking the way of Jesus’ to keep discovering that God is beyond the limits of my imagining.

If we are to strive towards the renewal and reconciliation of all things as the promised end, we need to accept that ‘relationships with others’ must be part of that end. We can do it sooner or later, but we are called to be in those relationships that bring all into God’s harmony… God’s Shalom. Eventually, we must be willing to look for the image of God in the faces of those we do not yet know.

Thy Kingdom come. 
Thy will be done.
On earth as it is in Heaven.

If you would like to learn more about the Uniting Church in Australia’s ‘Seeking Common Ground’ Circle of Interest, go to this link.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Based on Psalm 17

Based on Psalm 17

Hear my honest explanation
No excuses, but truth be told.
Can you find guiltless in me?
For I am still the child you hold…

Go ahead, see right inside me,
Look within my darkened soul—
Here you see I’m what I claim.
I did not invent the role you gave.

I’m not seeking to tread my path
    in the way of this world
I’m trying to find your path,
    Travel along your Word’s Way.
I’m seeking to tread your path
    Setting my steps
In line with yours
    I won’t give up.

I cry out to you, knowing you must answer.
    Hear me!

Share the Truth
in ways we can understand
Offer Grace
in ways we can receive
Call us to you,
 from the bullying of this pressured violent world
Call us home…
 To you

Watch over me
Shelter me under your wing
Keep me safe
From the enemies closing in

Their hearts are hard
 and their angry voices shout
They chase me hard,
  Trying to bring me down,
They will rip into me and tear me apart
Hold them… break them…
Free me from them
Keep them away, these narrow minded judges

I’d like to see how they like it
    Starving, malnourished, from their greedy attitudes
The waste they’ve sown
    Baked into tasteless bread,
Shared amongst their children

And what about me?
I want to look into your face.
When I come home,
I want to see you, to stand in your presence
    and live in your heaven here on earth.

(C) 2018, A.Koh-Butler

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Voices in the silence

We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” 
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” 
“I raise up my voice-not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard...we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
― Malala Yousafzai


Ahhhh - ohhh - ahhh -ayeee [vocalise solo]

From the bowels of the earth
Seeds of life fill my being
I sense the fire 
driving breath throughout my soul

From the caverns underground
Vibrant streams flood my seeing
I behold the colours 
Swirling round my core  

From the death of fallen fruit
Shoots of green break through terrain
I feel tingling in the cells
Flowing through my veins

[instrumentals, featuring moments of silence, and finishing in silence...]

I raise my voice - out of the void
I raise my voice - out of emptiness
I sing this song - out of the space around me
I sing these words - when no-one wants to hear

I will not be silenced!
I will not withdraw!
I will sing with my every breath -
I will form the words for all -

These are the names of forgotten
The names of those whose harmonies -
are needed to bring peace -
and missing from our tables -
are hidden from the pictures
that we paint of common life.

I will not be silenced!
I will not withdraw!
I will sing with my every breath -
I will form the words for all -

C.2018,  A.Koh-Butler