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Victoria is suffering its worst natural disaster with the bushfires that have raged through the central parts of the state.

One Sunday my wonderful wife was in our backyard and she said “Look at this mess in this yard.”  The wind which had fanned the flames had caused some tree branches and leaves to fill our backyard.  I replied “We should be thankful we have a backyard still.”  It caused my wonderful wife to stop and think.

What has surprised me is the reactions to this tragedy.  I receive emails from different groups and people with responses varying from the need for leadership, the need for compassion and this is God’s judgement.

I am not going to enter into a theodicy instead I want to consider what does it take to wake us up to be thankful.  I realise this disaster shows us how hard it is to be thankful.  You see we seem to need to be pulled up short, and stopped to think to be thankful.  To live lives that are truly grateful, thankful for what God gives us is something we need to be woken up by and seem especially woken by tragedy.

This seems wrong to me.  If we are truly living in God’s presence why are we so unthankful?  Why does it take tragedy to make us realise the blessing of a backyard, a school, a police station, a car, an unburnt house and our lives?

While being self-absorbed seems to be what we are soften I pray that God turns our hearts more to him to be a people who are thankful for all the good that God gives.

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Last weekend I read Frederick Buechner’s Yellow Leaves.  Now I decided I would write about Buechner this week before I saw Simon Holt’s article.

I was introduced to the writings of Frederick Buechner while I was living in the US.  I was particularly challenged by the idea of a Presbyterian minister who almost won the Pulitzer prize.  Yellow Leaves fills in some holes I did not know about Buechner – especially as I have read little of his autobiographical works.  I am not sure if it was a professor at Fuller Seminary or a class mate or a book I was reading that mentioned him.  I eventually read his dictionaries which are delightful collections of vignettes and ideas on biblical characters.  I read some of his sermons, gave his book on Jacob to a friend and collected more of his works.  I even introduced one brother-in-law to him.

Yellow Leaves is Buechner’s latest and quite possibly last book.  The introduction starts as:

I can still write sentences and paragraphs, but for some five or six years now I haven’t been able to write books.  Maybe after more than thirty of them the well has at last run dry.   Maybe age eighty, I no longer have the right kind of energy.  Maybe the time has simply come to stop.

This is not an affected kind of writing but much the style of this book and others.  Buechner is fully aware of his limitations and yet uses language delightfully.

My favourite dictionary entry in Peculiar Treasures has to do with Joseph as Buechner raises the issue of what is a greater accomplishment for God rescuing Israel or making Joseph a real human being?  And the delight of seeing the gospel as a fairy tale is not as bad as it sounds when you read it in Buechner’s Telling the Truth, which is why it took me such a long time to read the book.

So you can see how much I like Buechner.  But as Buechner says, for today,  “Maybe the time has simply come to stop”.

Over the last few weeks we have been renovating with new pergolas, painting a pink bathroom vanity and replacing our retaining wall.  And while I’d love to admit I am doing it all only the painting was my work.  In the mean time different friends have moved house, finally purchased a house after a year of negotiations with a US bank,  had kids at their house and been in hot houses.  I had to make a weather comment after all it is 40 plus degrees celsius here today.

But this got me thinking to the old question what makes a home?  A home is more than a house.  I know many people who live in a house but it sure does not feel like a home.  For some reason their is no warmth or something intangible is missing.

I think our house is turning into our home.  This is partially because the more we live their the more we like it.  Partially it is because we have a united vision of what the house is and is to become.

It was those reflections that made me realise that unity is one of the things that make a home.  It also makes a team work better and projects go better.  Without a sense of what you want the house to be there is no way it becomes a home.  It is just a glorified motel room where you are allowed to cook food and maybe have pets.

So what else do you think makes a home?

I tried to make a comment on David Fitch’s blog but was not successful as the comment editor does not leave me enough room to draw some of what I wanted to say.

Read David’s post and then read this rambling reply of me doing theology on the run:

David,

I love your questions and thinking.

The use of Hauerwas is helpful but maybe we need to go back to the God question.  Jesus was sent by the Father from the Trinity into the world, so the Church was sent by God from the people of Israel into the world.  Both start with an act of God’s sending.

The epistemological issue is how do we know God?  Well we know God through Christ mediated through the church and scriptures.  So the knowing (al a Volf) comes from encounter with the church. “All members of the church create the ‘plausibility structures’ in which the communication of faith and life in faith become possible.”

This implies to me a twofold issue to use Len’s shorthand:

> Church
God
> Mission

Going to Trinitarian theology God the Trinity’s mission precedes Christology as there is no need to send Christ with no mission.  Thus we have:

> Church
God’s Mission > Christ
> Mission

God’s Mission also creates more than just church it creates God’s people amongst whom Christ is incarnated and from whom his human identity is derived.  Thus:

> Church
God’s Mission > God’s people > Jesus Christ
> Mission

Now the epistemological questions seem to disappear as it is in the what is the relationship of the Church and Mission to God’s people we get an answer.  God’s people were always supposed to be on a mission thus:

> Church
God’s Mission > God’s Missioning People
> Jesus Christ

Maybe we need to summarise not as the church is a missiology but:

The church does not have a mission, the church is missional.

Epistemologically we may not be God’s people if we are not missioning.

Thoughts?

There is a buzz-word in Educational circles called “continous improvement”.  It is the idea that what we teach, the environment we teach in, the learning spaces, the administrative processes, the staff and everything involved can continue to improve.

Now at one level this is unrealistic.  There is a point I expect when someone says I am the best I can and will be and an institution realises it is at its peak.

The other level is that no institution can ever say we have no challenges and nowhere we can improve.

So continuous improvement is a term we will need to live with for a while.

Interestingly it is a reflection of a similar idea in Christian Theology – sanctification, which is both position and process but that is not todays work.

A few conversations I have had over the last year have been about how in the midst of doing church, talking theology, studying ministry or practising pastor that somewhere along the way something becomes more important than Jesus.

Within some traditions this may be the tradition, the worship, the acts of social justice, the structure of the church or the role of Scripture or something else.  In the end this thing that is supposed to point you to and help you toward Jesus somehow stops you seeing Jesus.  As I put it the other day we eclipse Jesus.

Now when I think of eclipses I think of the solar eclipse whereby something gets in the way of the sun and the earth (the moon) and stops us seeing the sun correctly.  It is just the same with some of our church practices, they get in the way of us seeing the Son.

Now prevention is better than cure but how do you stop the moon getting between the Earth and the Sun?  As we know the Earth is smaller than the sun and the moon smaller than the Earth.  Similarly in our spiritual lives it can be the smaller things that trip us up.  It is not like for an eclipse we have a sun eater destroying the sun, or a big black cloud blocking the son but a relatively small object getting in the way.

Thus to prevent these sort of problems you need to choose what is orbiting you.  What are the distractions or things that are attractive and can make you focus where you shouldn’t.  I remember at the last solar eclipse being told not to look at the sun as I would go blind but this was not the issue of the sun per se but an issue of looking at the occluded sun.  The reality it is not the sun that blinds but the thing that blocks the sun that focusses the rays.  Retinal damage can occur if you look and don’t notice the harmful radiation.

So what might be getting in your way of the Son?

Recently I was talking to someone and they lamented that all their friends were now married, getting married or in de facto relationships.  In the course of the conversation I wanted to say, “you mean shacking up”, as the people being talked about had only been together for a short time.

Soon after I read about the guy on Google Street View who wanted to make a better second proposal to his wife.  Please note his words concerning this on http://www.marrymeleslie.com

Let’s start at the beginning. Some time ago, I met a wonderful girl named Leslie. We fell in love, eventually moved in together, and have been building a life with each other ever since. Things were great! As a result, I decided to do the obvious thing: I proposed (“Proposal 1.0”). And within moments, she said YES!

There is this idea that the natural course of relationships is to have what the British call a “common law wife”, Aussies call a de facto, Americans call moving in together.  I am aware of a study in Britain that this has been the major trend of relationships for centuries so I am not condemning this just wanting to get the facts out.

So what do these things mean?  Within Victoria, where I live, I was interested to note the law states that the following are considered relevant in deciding if a domestic relationship exists:

(a) the duration of the relationship;

(b) the nature and extent of common residence;

(c) whether or not a sexual relationship exists;

(d) the degree of financial dependence or interdependence, and any arrangements for financial support, between the parties;

(e) the ownership, use and acquisition of property;

(f) the degree of mutual commitment to a shared life;

(g) the care and support of children;

(h) the reputation and public aspects of the relationship.

In other words “shacking up” may or may not mean you are now married in the sight of the law.  It means you are literally together but if there are no kids, no financial sharing, no joint property and not a lot of commitment then what becomes of the reputation and public aspects of the relationship?

Put this next to Hosea who was an object lesson for Israel.  Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute to remind Israel of its unfaithfulness.  The description above “no kids, no joint property and not a lot of commitment” sounds like Israel.    The financial sharing may have been mutual but I suspect in reality there was little of this really going on.  God gave but the Israelistes ignored where their blessings came from.  Hosea ends up having kids with Gomer, and the kids themselves are walking descriptions of what God thinks of Israel.

God’s heart is for faithfulness.  Not relatonships that have no mutual commitment to a shared life.  God shared his life most clearly with us in sending His son Jesus Christ to redeem us and sending the Spirit to empower us.  God ha lived with us and wants us to be in relationship with him.

So what sort of relationship are you having with God?

I have lived in three countries, Australia, the US and the UK and three different states in Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.  This year is the first year I have been in Victoria during the great horse race known as the Melbourne Cup and thankfully a year when I was not in the US during election season.  The results of both races run on the first Tuesday of November are important media events.

So at this time I am not going into bashing Yankees or other Americans or deplore the $150 million bet on a race.  I want to reflect on some aspects the state of the US from the perspective of someone who has lived there.

Today I read how watching sexy TV programs becomes an indicator of kids getting pregnant.  The article in The Age is here.

I also read how as one blogger put it, he must submit a post about the results of the election.  That post which is very good no matter who you wanted to win is here.

So what is the state of the US?  It is in need of change.  No surprise there.  But then so is there need for change in our lives.  Nothing is perfect in a country or a person.  Putting a Christian in government or Christ in charge of one’s life does not automatically mean everything gets better.  Scripture talks about the fact that Christ’s foes are still arrayed against him and until Christ returns and death is finally defeated then there will be battles in a country and a life on how best to do something.

You see we can hate what happens in another place or love the result of an election.  Regardless we need to see Christ being glorified by the Church.  God’s Spirit has not stopped working just because someone was or was not elected.  The Spirit of Christ still continues to work in your life and may even do so with the disappointment that someone was or was not elected.

So what is the state of your union?

Tonight I am lecturing my last class for semester.  Funnily enough one of the issues I want to raise at the end of class is the end of creation.   That is why this post is titled the end at the end.

Pentecostalism is historically described as a millenial movement and while that may be true for aspects of its early days in America it may not be so true now globally.

So why do we talk about the end so much in theology?  Is it because we want the end to come?  Is it because we want hope? Is it because we are bored now?

Tonight I will be presenting that how we see the future affects how we live and that is why we talk about it.  The future impacts our present.  I’ll be interested to see how it will go.

So how does the future impacting the present affect your life?

It continues to amaze my students, and to some extent me, how much the Spirit of God can speak through the Bible and through preaching.  I find even writing this blog seems to have some impact on people as God seems to speak to them through their reading of it.

The question I want to think about today is not if the Spirit speaks of Jesus through sermons, the Bible and blogs, but what sort of speaking do we hear?

You see I heard a powerful sermon on Saturday on issues of social justice.  Numerous people I know are making different choices because of what they heard.  Is this going to be lasting change?  I am not sure yet.  But even my four and a half year old super son this morning was told by my wonderful wife there are people in the world today who went to bed hungry and woke up hungry and therefore we were not wasting their money on us eating out tonight.  This is a different response to the usual, no we are not doing it.

The speaking of God to us is not so much about a word that is new and fresh to us, though these do occur occasionally, but a word that reminds us of his Son and how we are to be like Him in the midst of living our lives.

Yesterday I mentioned turmoil, tumult is also a good word.  In no way was it supposed to be a reflection of the governments comments on Victoria University though it captures that issue well. A prophetic word?  No just learning to be wise like Jesus is.

The Spirit speaks of Jesus, are you listening?