A pertinent follow-up from another century

I’m reading “Spiritual Progress – Enhanced Version” by Madame Guyon, Francois Fenelon and wanted to share this quote with you, as I thought it pertinent to my recent post. This could have been a letter written by Fenelon to his friend Madame Guyon, to encourage her in her spiritual walk.

“You were at first in the fervor of your beginnings (I think this refers to the start of her/his profession), when no difficulties appear formidable. You said with Peter, it is good for us to be here; but it is often with us as it was with him, that we know not what we say. (Mark ix. 56.)

In our moments of enjoyment, we feel as if we could do everything; in the time of temptation and discouragement, we think we can do nothing, and believe that all is lost. But we are alike deceived in both. You should not be disturbed at any distraction that you may experience; the cause of it lay concealed within even when you felt such zeal for recollection (reflection).

Your temperament and habits all conduce to making you active and eager. It was only weariness and exhaustion that caused you to relish an opposite life (reflection & meditation). But, by fidelity to grace, you will gradually become permanently introduced into the experience of which you have had a momentary taste. God bestowed it that you might see whither He would lead you; He then takes it away, that we may be made sensible that it does not belong to us; that we are neither able to procure nor preserve it, and that it is a gift of grace that must be asked in all humility.

Be not amazed at finding yourself sensitive, impatient, haughty, self-willed; you must be made to perceive that such is your natural disposition. We must bear the yoke of the daily confusion of our sins, says St. Augustine. We must be made to feel our weakness, our wretchedness, our inability to correct ourselves. We must despair of our own heart, and have no hope but in God.

We must bear with ourselves, without flattering, and without neglecting a single effort for our correction. We must be instructed as to our true character, while waiting for God’s time to take it away (I prefer to think of this characteristic being transformed by God into something beautiful and beneficial to our greater wholeness and oneness of person). Let us become lowly under his all-powerful hand; yielding and manageable as often as we perceive any resistance in our will. Be silent as much as you can. Be in no haste to judge; suspend your decisions, your likes and dislikes. Stop at once when you become aware that your activity is hurried, and do not be too eager even for good things.”

(My comments in brackets)

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“It is the growing ability to allow the dark side of our personality to enter into our awareness that prevents a one-sided life in which only that which is presentable to the outside world is considered as a real part of ourselves.”                                                                     The Dance of Life by Henri Nouwen, edited by Michael Ford

Walking into a dark, deserted house at midnight when the heavens are dark with clouds and you are alone and nervous, can be quite daunting – and more so if there is no means of dispelling the darkness by switching on a light.

When our feelings are dark and depressing, when we feel trapped by the dark side of our personalities, with angry, negative or destructive thoughts, we can feel like a haunted house with all its spider webs, shattered windows and doors banging at the mercy of icy draughts howling around the darkness.

When there seems to be no promise of light or warmth, the night attempts to convince us that it will never give way to dawn. But we know it will, because it has happened every day of our lives. We need to believe as well that, even though we are presently shrouded in disillusionment, depression or despair, tomorrow may well herald a new beginning.

Millions of inventions have enhanced our standards of living and co-existence with one another because people have taken on the challenge of dealing with darkness, lack of light, of warmth, transport, communication, good health, education, spiritual well-being, brotherly love, sound minds, admirable attributes and values.

Inventors have taken the bull by the horns and made problems and difficulties serve a worthwhile purpose, rather than allowing them to rampage through our lives causing despair.

We need to do likewise, take on the challenge of those parts of our personality that we feel are ugly and unhelpful. Maybe it would be more constructive to acknowledge them and work through them rather than denying or defending them.

We could accept their presence and try to honestly assess and discover what it is they tell us about ourselves. We could treat them as the means by which we get in touch with things that need to be changed, corrected and transformed into something more beneficial in our lives.

We can begin to see our darker sides as teachers in the wings, waiting for us to co-operate with them so that we may grow into more whole and complete persons.

For instance – instead of being bogged down by our impatience, we can perhaps notice that we need to pay more attention to caring for those who irritate us, or stopping before we express our frustration by thinking about what would bring greater peace to the situation. That, in the long run the argument will be forgotten but a friendship may have been lost. So our impatience becomes the means by which we learn to bide our time and become more gracious in our relationships – a trait we can now gratefully acknowledge and own as an important agent in our growth.

St. Paul of the New Testament, despaired of his thorn in the flesh and begged God to take it out of his life, but without success. In the end he had to accept it as a part of his essential self that God would use to keep him humble and teachable.

If we can see that the dark sides of our personalities can in fact be life-giving as we acknowledge them and learn from them, we will be more fully alive as we embrace them and use them to good effect. We will also be more transparent and better known to ourselves and others.

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If the consequence of ‘you reap what you sow’, is anything like the law of gravity, can we logically expect to escape the consequences of our words and actions? How do we un-burn the bridges we have burnt?20140923_094744

Think about a convicted murderer sentenced to prison for the rest of her life. It would be foolhardy for her to plead with God or man to save her from being incarcerated. But she could confess having messed up big time, ask for forgiveness and the grace to accept and cope with her predicament.

Few of us don’t live behind walls or facades of one kind or another – maybe not within the concrete walls of a prison but imprisoned and bound by any one of life’s heart-breaks, broken dreams, grief, sadness, discontent, bitterness, anger, hurt, resentments, jealousies or envy.

And how often don’t we pray anyway, hoping something will happen to save us from the mess we have landed ourselves in? We hope God and those involved will forgive us and carry on as usual in spite of what we have done.

When it seems we can’t get rid of the consequences, it is easy to become despondent and to lose hope. We may become angry at God, towards someone else or life in general and feel things didn’t need to turn out quite so badly. We may deny our responsibility in what has happened, justify our behaviour and blame others. This is sometimes the road we have to travel before we will accept accountability in the matter.

How things turn out and our attitude towards what has transpired can sometimes give us important insights into ourselves. It may be that we lack appreciation, respect or tolerance of other people, of certain circumstances, road laws, common decencies, beliefs and ways that are different to the way we believe things should be. It may be that we want our child, husband, job, home, status and respect back without doing the necessary, and often hard work of examining ourselves and acknowledging where it is we failed, and why.

It can take a while before we are ready to examine our own consciences and do what is necessary to pick up the pieces and move on – somewhat like an anesthetic, a time of respite. Sometimes we need professional help and healing before we can accept or even see our part in the mess-up.

Many years ago Merlin Carothers wrote in his book Prison to Praise, how beneficial it is to look for something to thank God for in the circumstances we find ourselves in. Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning wrote how it was those who could find some meaning in their suffering that were best able to survive the horrors of the concentration camps. The bible is full of injunctions to believe that good can come out of all things because of God’s love for us.

I remember once my friend, Joyce, and I praying for my father and his alcoholism. One Monday visiting him and his wife, he told me that he had spent the weekend in prison on a charge of drunk driving – of course quite erroneously! Later that day I met Joyce for supper and she commented on an accident she had been involved in on the previous Friday when a drunk driver had smashed into her car! Unbeknown to each other, but known to me – father dear father.

For two weeks I tried without success to get hold of my father to ease his anxiety and tell him what I knew about the accident. Eventually he got hold of me and told me that he had gone to his employer in desperation for help with his alcoholism. When I told him that he had had an accident with the very person praying for him, he said he wanted to meet her. When they met his first question to her was “how did you react to me bashing into you”. Joyce answered straight off: “I praised God because I know he will work all things for the good.”

That was a turning point for my father to know that God loved him so intensely to allow the accident with Joyce, so as to speak definitively to him of his worth to him.

My father went into rehab feeling that he now had something to replace the bottle with – the reality of the love of God. He died six months later from cancer of which he had been totally unaware. Before he died he called in my mother, my brothers and sister to ask us all to forgive him for the hurt and havoc he had caused in our lives. I will always remember his frail frame and his joyful anticipation of meeting his maker. I thanked God that his long battle with alcoholism had come to an end and that he would never again struggle with his Achilles heel.

There are easier ways to learn the important lessons of life, but like a child warned to stay away from the fire learns only to do so once burnt, we too sometimes take the more painful route.

When we find the pearl of great value within our suffering, we will treasure it and know that whilst it came at a cost, we are a better, stronger and wiser  person because of it and would not be without it.



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It was 8 o’clock on Saturday morning and my husband, Tom (not his real name), had not yet returned from an outing with a friend the night before.

We had been married for three years. We were reasonably happy, but we were beginning to quarrel about a lot of things. Long before the phone rang that fateful Saturday, I knew in my bones that our marriage was over. Sure enough he told me that he would not be coming back home as he no longer wished to be married to me.

Devastated and broken-hearted, I cried out into the empty space “if my husband can’t love me forever, who will?” In words that were as clear as if they had been spoken, I heard: “I will love you forever”. Although I was a nominal Christian who seldom bothered with God, I knew that quiet reassurance reaching out to me in my pain, was God. Those words and their reality for me became my life-line. They supported and carried me for months and months helping me to cope with the loss of my husband, my marriage and my dreams.

I had done nothing to deserve God coming to tell me so specifically and personally, but I am sincerely grateful that in my moment of deepest pain and aloneness, God came and put his arms around me and held me tight and told me the most important thing of my life – that I am deeply loved by him, and always will be.

One would think that with the impact of this experience, I would never forget God and his love. Whilst I have enjoyed many years of a close and vibrant relationship with God, regrettably, there have been just as many years when I have battled to feel God’s presence and joy in my life.

With the passage of time, we not only forget our Father and his arms of love, but we start wrapping ourselves in all sorts of things which bit by bit cloud our experience and remembrance of God all the while getting pretty lost in our own worlds with our own selfish priorities, ambitions and concerns. We don’t ‘hear’ God’s invitations or feel his nudges so well anymore and then one day we land up in the wrong place, at the wrong time and blame God for not guiding us or caring enough for us to allow such a thing to happen.

In one of the Linn’s book they tell a story of a little girl who begs her parents to allow her a little time alone with her new baby brother. They are a little nervous but see that their daughter is not going to let up nagging them until she is able to have her way. With the door slightly ajar, they stay out of sight while keeping watch on the little girl. They hear their daughter say to the baby: “Please tell me about God, I am beginning to forget.”

I think we all need to be reminded of God’s love and of his dreams for us and the world.

Francine Rivers’ has written a wonderful modern day classic, Redeeming Love, about the Old Testament prophet Hosea and his faithful love for his unfaithful wife. It is the story of each person’s life really: God’s persistent faithfulness towards us and his confidence that even though we are constantly faithless, rude, disrespectful, irresponsible and all the rest, he will in the end convince us of his consistent, never-ending love.

For me, this is what the prodigal journey is all about – a journey we all have to make to fully understand, appreciate and accept God’s love.

We leave our father’s home full of excitement and expectations and travel to faraway places, where we experience sometimes great thrills and challenges, but also begin to learn that life is tough, sometimes too tough for us to handle on our own. When we have bumped our heads enough, maybe been disillusioned or hurt enough or experienced too many disappointments in life and love, we begin to remember our Father’s home and his unshakeable, faithful love. No matter how battle-worn we are or dirty, worthless or disgusting, we intrinsically know our Father will welcome us back, take us in his arms and love us as much as when we first left home. His love will not have changed but our appreciation and understanding of that love will be far deeper, steadfast and personal. We are on the way to loving him even as he loves us.

Unfortunately, our marriage did end and in that same year Tom died in a motor accident. Before he died, however, we had made our peace with each other and I believe knowing God loved me as he did, helped me to release Tom and move on. A decade later I met and married a special man to whom I am still married 33 years later, and who is the father of our two children.

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For many years I have lived as a Christian confused by the conflict of loving and fearing God at the same time.  One part of me knew God loved me, but another part of me was afraid of him.

Living with God as the lover of my soul and my judge, was living like a yo-yo – in and out of favour with God.  When I was good I felt God loved me; when I was bad I felt he condemned me. Sometimes I didn’t know whether what I was doing was what God liked or disliked and so I didn’t know whether I was safe or in trouble.

The Linn’s tell a story in one of their books, of a family visiting a so-called favourite uncle.  A good, wise and godly uncle whom they are told loves them very much and whom they must love in return.  However, this same uncle tells them that if they do anything ugly, or are unloving or disobedient, he will take them down to his cellar where he will torture them till they change their ways.  Is this the type of uncle they would love to visit? Yet many a person with this kind of image of God is called to love and serve God.

If you feel I am exaggerating, think about the doctrine of heaven and hell, where the good sheep and the bad goats go? If you have lead a mostly good life and adhered to the teachings of your church’s requirements and its interpretation of God, count yourself lucky, you are a sheep and heaven-bound. But, if you have erred on these and other sacrosanct principles you are a goat who will land up in hell unless you repent. However, maybe the statement: “I have been and done good and bad – I am both a sheep and a goat” is closer to the truth.

As mothers, who of us have not thought to some degree or other: “I’d rather go to hell than ever think of one of my children going there”. What does this say of God, when we say, ‘but God will, he will allow you to go to live in hell if you don’t choose him and his ways”? Can a mother’s love be greater than God’s love?

I believe that whist many people are living in hell here on earth, maybe as a result of their or other people’s choices, God is there in their midst, loving them and encouraging them to know how his love can help them through to a better place.  And I don’t think it’ll be any different if it were hell in the hereafter. Saint Augustine conceded that there may be a hell in the hereafter – but it is empty. If we believe God’s love will overcome evil with good and reign victorious, how can we believe in the eternal survival of evil?

Isn’t it true that God created all things beautiful, including us, his most beloved of creations?  Our very creation in God’s image is the core of our being which can never be separated from God. If we are condemned to hell for what we have or haven’t done, then God to whom we are eternally connected, will surely go there with us. Can God dispense with or obliterate that which is a part of him?

There are many stories in the Bible and examples in life, about the effects of what a severance from God results in. But I believe they are reminders to us of God’s graciousness and goodness – and what our fate could be if God were not, first and foremost, a God of love.

Is ‘heaven’ or the fullness of life, earned or is it a gift?  What is a gift – like the air, and the sun and the moon?  Do we get them only if we have been good; or maybe because God feels obliged to give them to us, having created us; or because we’re a mixed bunch of sheep and goats, good and bad together and so in order to bless the good, the bad get his gifts as well?

Christianity, I believe, is portrayed as very conditional. We only become children of God if we are baptized, if we believe certain things, if we live lives of obedience and service, if we accept God’s offer of love and forgiveness, if we …., and if we …. and if we ….

Yet Jesus the initiator of Christianity lived, served and ate with the unholy, those living in darkness, the outcasts, the marginalized, the downhearted and the down and out. He didn’t ask them to first repent, but by visiting them, being with them wherever they were and spending time with them, he showed them a better way to live and invited them to join him in discovering this way. If they did reject him and his offer, I’m sure that like me, they had many more visitations, exhortations and invitations to join him.

Isn’t it the nature of love to pursue its beloved until its love is returned?  Does love ever stop; does it ever fail? Even if I go down into the underworld, Psalm 139 vs 8, says God is there with me. There is no place, or sin, where God will fail to be with me. God is always present with me, even in my darkness, – which is not darkness to him (Ps139: 12). Isn’t love the greatest of the three things First Corinthians 13 says will remain forever –  hope, faith and love?  Evil will be overcome by love, just as light overcomes darkness and the sun dispels the night.  If this happens in creation, surely it must happen in us, God’s greatest creation? God tells us to love our enemies and undoubtedly God practices what he preaches.

Of these two conflicting natures of God – judge or lover, one has to take precedence over the other consistently, for us to understand or make any sense of scripture, life and God.

I have far more hope, faith and love stirring within me when I dwell on the life-giving, unconditional love of God, than when I envisage him condemning and convicting me for my rebuttal of him and his ways.

I choose to believe that everything is determined by God’s love and not by our sin; by God’s unconditional love which is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow; and that his sustaining love will bring us all through to a better place.

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Arguing or nitpicking about the facts of a story be it from the scriptures or elsewhere can detract from the important essence or meaning of the story.

I think of how I have battled with passages in the Bible and with certain “facts”, nasty biblical characters, including God, and horrific stories of plunder and murder.

I think that before we throw up our arms in frustration and disbelief, it is important to clarify our image of God – or if you prefer, determine what are the most important values by which we live our lives. Once we have done that we have a more reliable measure against which we can assess the value and the truth of a story or the problems we are facing.

God’s overarching attribute for me, is his unconditional love. Unconditional as in unreserved, unrestricted, absolute, regardless of who we are, what we believe or do or don’t do. A simple example is the love we have for our children. If they make mistakes along the way and do bad things we continue to love them all the while encouraging the good in them.

This view of God made me question anything that seemed to be unloving or a conditional way of loving by God and/or those he interacted with. If there was a conflict I would ask God to clarify the matter for me so that it made more sense. Inevitably he did.

It might have been that it was not really God’s point of view but the people’s view point of how God would deal with their enemies which they interpreted as God’s enemies as well.

It might have been in a word misinterpreted, as with ‘God loved Jacob but hated Esau’. A better word for hate in this instance would be preferred – and preferred as in for the tasks ahead; tasks Jacob would better handle than Esau.

In the case of the gentile woman whom Jesus told she was not worthy to pick up the crumbs from under the table of the Jews. Undeterred she responded with a clever and humorous remark: “even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs under the table”. Here I choose to see Jesus bantering with her and sharing a joke knowing she could take it. It is inconceivable that Jesus would turn away a seeker, a person in need.

It might have been as J.S. Spong writes in his book “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic”, that not everything should be taken literally but metaphorically. Easy examples are that Jesus didn’t look like a door but that he could open up our understanding about God – or that a word wasn’t a lamp though it could help us see the way ahead more clearly.

Spong writes about the limitation of words. Even the three years of Jesus’ ministry is not able to capture or contain truth in all its extent and complexities. Finite words can never explain something that is infinite and for the most part, mysterious. If a story that contains a truth is fictional does that make that truth, false or worthless? Would this rule apply to Jesus’ parables as well? The world is full of stories some true and some fictional. But they all have the potential to teach us more about life and God.

What I have experienced as insights and blessings from scripture and elsewhere are important in what they have told me about myself, about God, others and the world I live in. The essence of the story, of the parable, of the experience is the pearl of truth waiting to be discovered. It’s not all about the shell, the facts, but the treasure of truth it contains for us personally.

One case in point was my focus on the status of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I didn’t like the way the Catholic Church venerated her and I was stuck on this for many years. There was a blessing waiting for me to experience but I could not get to it because I was constantly arguing my point of view that Mary should not be put on a par with Jesus. This debate was not really with other people but with myself.

One day at a Catholic silent retreat I became aware of what it was that was preventing me from experiencing the hidden blessing of Mary. It wasn’t  Mary’s veneration that was the problem, but my jealousy of her importance to Jesus. I felt threatened by her relationship with Jesus because I didn’t believe Jesus could ever love me as he loved his mother.

Thinking about my daughter and son whom I love very much was the key to unlocking the blessing of Mary for me. Suddenly, I could identify with the love relationship Jesus and his mother must have had. My jealousy was transformed into gratitude that they had each other to love and care for. Glad for the bond they shared. Grateful for the unique love-relationship that I have with my daughter and my son, and the many other and different love-relationships I have with my parents, siblings, husband and friends.

This understanding made me realize that I did not have to compete with Jesus’ love for his mother. I could rest assured that I am deeply and uniquely loved by that same depth of God’s love as evidence in Jesus’ life. My dilemma with Mary faded away. I can now look upon her relationship with Jesus with joy and thanksgiving.

The enduring truth is that I am uniquely loved by God … and so is every other person on the planet – vibrantly, uniquely and assuredly. Stories and experiences can be the vehicles to speak to us about truth. In the long run it is not the details, the variance of interpretation or dogmatically held beliefs that are of importance but the truth they contain that are of lasting benefit and blessing to us.

I hope we can engage in sharing the blessings of the deeper truths of a story rather than argue its facts as we see it.

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Nearly a century ago an American Baptist, Walter Rauschenbusch, wrote A Theology for the Social Gospel in which he proposed that the life and teaching of Jesus would be better portrayed if the “four institutionalized spiritual evils in American culture” – individualism, capitalism, nationalism and militarism – were replaced by collectivism, socialism, internationalism and pacifism.

A few years ago I would have adamantly repudiated such a doctrine and seen it as embracing communistic ideals and forsaking the centuries-old teachings of the church. I am most grateful to one person in particular, Frances, who “gave me permission” to question what I had believed for decades.  She told me, which I did not know, that various interpretations of the Bible were taught in theological colleges and universities. I was astounded! I experienced a great relief from the guilt I was battling that I was denying God’s word.  I realized that what I was questioning was not God but the teachings about God by other people.

Whilst there are many aspects of living in a socialistic country I would be unhappy about, I also know there are aspects about Jesus’ life and teaching that are far more socialistic than the comfortable Christianity many of us have been taught. Our understanding of love and compassion has also been romanticized and devalued, which doesn’t help us in understanding the difficulty and discomfort of what it means to love God as Jesus did.

For example, did Jesus and the first century Christians live their lives thinking about themselves, their welfare, goals and happiness with little interaction or concern for those in their communities or the world at large? Did they seek personal wealth and benefits from the gospel they lived and taught, making it profitable for them and those closest to them regardless of those less fortunate than they were? Did they close ranks against the Jews, Gentiles, the marginalized, widows, orphans or women? Did they encourage separation, animosity, division, revolt, violence, hostility and aggression?

Or did they encourage and share whatever they had be it good news or a meal, fair play and compassion to those less fortunate, understanding, going the extra mile, taking up one’s cross even if it meant dying as Jesus did, forlorn and rejected and alone on a cross?

How much closer have we, as Christians, come to living the way Jesus lived?

During the Apartheid era in South Africa, I supported the National Party for a while believing there was imminent danger that the country would be infiltrated and come under communist rule. Such was the indoctrination of the government and the fear they instilled in many of the white population. Only after an eye-opening experience did I realize we had been duped and betrayed by our own government. However, the welfare of the majority of South Africans has changed little in the last 22 years despite our country having a democratic government run by the African National Congress.  The majority of South Africans are still impoverished in many ways.

I wonder if South Africa’s history would be very different today if many more Christians practiced their faith in line with Rauschenbusch’s understanding of Jesus and his teachings.

If you were a Roman in Jesus’ day, or one of the Jewish religious elite, you were lucky. You would probably have lived pretty comfortably with the wealth, resources and privileges your status afforded you. The poor and voiceless were less fortunate and subjected to the unfairness, indignities and harshness of those better off than themselves, much as it  still is today throughout the world.

I was listening to an audio book by Richard Foster entitled Longing for God in which he suggests that the image of God for many of us is the faith or the teaching we had about God in our youth. Our social, political and other beliefs are often based on our experiences and what we’ve come to believe and value within our own cultures, as well as from people and institutions whose opinions we value.

On this reasoning alone, we need to constantly reflect on and examine our experiences and the information passed on to us. If we don’t we are not our own person but a mere clone of someone else and what they believe. Somewhat like sheep, blindly accepting what their faith or culture stipulates. Also, when imitating great persons, like Jesus or Nelson Mandela, it is our responsibility as maturing adults to ensure our hearts and minds agree so that we don’t become confused and deeply discontent. It is fine to accept what other people believe and encourage us to believe, as long as we examine our consciences and can agree on what we are giving our allegiance to. To be authentic, we need to own the truths we live by, continually review them. Unfortunately we are often “too busy”, lethargic or quite happy to be an unthinking clone or sheep, preferring to ignore anything that might threaten our comfort or upset our way of life. Sometimes it takes a crisis to reassess our values to realize how we may need to live them differently.

Jesus’ gospel was not a comfortable one. He not only ran into trouble with officials in government and the Jewish hierarchy, but also with the less generous, compassionate, greedy, frightened, pompous and self-righteous people around him – people like us. Our complacency and insensitivity can make it hard for us to share our good fortune with anyone outside our clique, be it family, faith or country. Maybe this is because we don’t have the kind of heart, mind and lifestyle that made it possible for Jesus, but so hard for us.

Many will argue against a social perspective of Jesus’ life and message. I have also, in different ways, criticized this approach, thinking that it is political and shouldn’t be preached from the pulpits of religion.

What is the dictionary’s definition of ‘political’? One definition is: “relating to the balance of power in relationships, especially in a group or organization”. Marcus Borg writes about Jesus’ stand against domination of any kind and that it was his refusal to conform to the status quo of ‘live and let live’, of ‘don’t rock the boat’ and of his defense and compassion for the underdog, that landed him on death row.

Think of any abuse and in it you will find some form of domination, some preference for self above another. We are told to love God, our neighbours and enemies as ourselves. The love that we want is the love we must also wish for and exercise towards others. Jesus showed us how it can be done.

Maybe updating our Christianity is a matter of returning to what was important to Jesus and not to what has become important to us as individuals, or as members of any faith, group, culture, country. What we call ourselves, how we define ourselves and our beliefs are not what is important. What is crucial is a loving and caring lifestyle and a relationship with God, others and ourselves that supports, identifies and imitates the uncompromising compassion and fair-mindedness of Jesus.  Maybe a problem we perpetuate is aligning ourselves to anything that classifies us as this or that, rather than as a person who, with all humanity, seeks to love and live as demonstrated in the life of Jesus and others like him, with integrity, honesty and commitment.

I am most grateful to Bruce Cooper for his time and expertise in editing this article for me. 

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