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The God Who Sees: Spiritual Formation Book 3

"Hagar in the desert reminds all of us that the Spirit can be found in the places we least expect: with the poor, the outcast, the enslaved people, the domestic help, and the foreigners. God is present with anyone who is treated as a human resource instead of a human being."   The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong by Karen Gonz├ílez is the third of my spiritual formation books this year. (It was meant to be fourth, but after battling through The Imitation of Christ I decided I needed something easier to read.) Gonz├ílez moved from Guatemala to the USA with her family when she was a child, escaping the civil war in her home country. She currently works for an organisation which supports immigrants and refugees. Her book intersperses her own story of relocation with reflections on the Bible and the experiences of people she has worked with. What are the main themes of this book? The chapters of The God Who Sees alternate between Bible stories and

Being different (a queer Bible story)

Here is a man. He's always known he's different. It's the kind of difference that, when people find out about it, they ask questions like, "What went wrong? Was it his upbringing? Or something faulty in his brain?" He often asks himself the same questions. In the endless hours of the night, he wonders what could have been changed, or what could still be changed, to alter who he is. One day this man meets someone who says a startling thing: that this difference is not  something wrong inside of him. He doesn't need to alter who he is in order for God to work in his life. They say this in such a way that the man actually starts to believe it. They enact a simple ceremony - a little mud to dirty him, a gentle touch, a wash in a pond to make him clean - which fixes this belief in his soul. His difference is no longer a sign that he is broken. It is a sign that he is whole. His community quickly notice the change in him. For the first time, he starts to feel like h

My life in... flowers

Our time in Texas didn't get mentioned in my previous post .  North Texas does have trees, of course, but it's not big tree country.  It used to be prairie.  There is grass, and cacti, and flowers.  Even the cacti have flowers. Transplanting myself from cool damp British woodlands to hot dry Texas prairies meant learning a whole new wildflower vocabulary.  Instead of Cowslips and Ragged Robin, there was Turk's Cap and Indian Blanket.  In the spring, you didn't go to take photos in the bluebell woods, but among fields of bluebonnets. English bluebell woods Texas bluebonnets So much of the original prairie has gone now, that there is a strong movement towards preserving what is left, and planting native species.  We visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centre in Austin, which is stunning - lovely buildings merging beautifully with the surrounding scenery.  And I had a go at cultivating my own patch of native flowers in the backyard. Even when you don't think you

My life in... trees

Starting Get Outside in Lent made me think about how the natural world has intertwined with my life.  Considering the different categories - trees, water, flowers, birds - immediately brought up memories of particular plants, animals and rivers. Writing about this feels a little like escapism - conjuring up birds in clear skies and summer afternoons in a canoe, instead of dealing with destruction and desolation.  But being connected to nature is what makes us human too.  We cannot reduce the rest of the world to an exploited resource, or a mere backdrop to our fights and squabbles.  We are part of the earth, and the earth is part of us. So, trees. Image © Yeldall Manor. Used with permission. Like many children, my early encounters with trees involved climbing them.  I remember a particular cherry tree on a piece of rough ground next to our house.  An old lawn chair provided the boost up to its lowest branch, which was worn smooth and shiny from all the fingers which had swung from it.

Tree hugging and queer reflecting (Lent 2022)

The 40 days of Lent can be awfully long if you're trying to do something (or not do something) every day.  Here are a couple of things I found this year which I thought I might actually be able to keep up with.  One has a very small action each day, and the other is something to read and think about - but only on Sundays, until you get to Holy Week. Get Outside in Lent Christian environmental charity A Rocha has provided six weeks of ideas to get you and your family outside in Lent.  The PDF is here:  https://bit.ly/ECGetOutsideforLent .  There are six activities each week (and yes, the first one really is "Hug a tree") and a suggestion for a celebration and prayer on Sundays.   The logical way to do six weeks seems to be to start next Monday, but then the final Sunday is Easter Sunday.  So I guess you could also start today (or tomorrow) and finish on the Thursday before Easter.  There are no dates, making it pretty flexible. Ashes to Rainbows: A Queer Lenten Devotional

Extravagant Generosity - Five Practices No. 5

There are five things you can do with your money.   spend it (bills, food, holidays, electronics...) save it (in a bank account or under the mattress!) pay taxes (or else the government comes after you) invest it (in something you hope will make more money) give it away (to charities, good causes, family or friends)   Giving away When Christians talk about money, they often focus on the red segment, the giving away one.  Are you giving money away?  How much do you give to the church?  Should you be giving more?  What does your level of generosity say about your heart? These are good questions.  Robert Schnase focuses on these kinds of ideas in his chapter on extravagant generosity.  He particularly talks about the practice of tithing - giving ten percent of your income to the church - and how giving in this way can deepen your faith. But even if you are giving away ten percent, what about the ninety percent? The full hundred percent It's what we do with all our money that shows ou

Risk-taking Mission and Service - Five Practices No. 4

Risk-taking?  Me?? definitely not me! I don't think so.  No heroic stories here of trekking through jungles to bring medical aid, or smuggling Bibles into hostile countries, or mentoring malnourished children in a deprived inner-city area. The idea of taking risks reminded me of some thoughts I had about the story of Ruth.  Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, and Naomi's family had moved from Judah to Moab to escape famine. (This is way back in Old Testament times, you understand - probably about 1300 BC.)  Naomi's two sons had married local women, and everything was going fine, when suddenly Naomi's husband and both sons died, within a fairly short space of time.  Naomi, understandably, was heartbroken, and decided to return to her homeland.  Both daughters-in-law accompanied her a short way, but Orpah went home, while Ruth followed Naomi, pledging her devotion in a famous speech ("your people will be my people, and your God my God"). Most talks you hear a

Intentional Faith Development - Five Practices No. 3

My children are taking music lessons. Every morning, Toby is downstairs playing I Will Always Love You on the keyboard, while Theo is strumming the chords from Back in Black on the electric guitar, upstairs.  We've made it through the whole rigmarole of online lessons through lockdown, when the music lesson was the one fixed point in their whole week.  I figured out how to record Toby so that he could take his Grade 1 exam by video (he passed with Merit!)  And they've spent ages on pentatonic scales, finger exercises, and chord changes.   But it's not the idea of practising endless scales and arpeggios that motivates someone to pick up an instrument.  It's that moment when it all comes together and actually sounds really good.  When Theo plays along with his teacher and the backing track and says, "That was great, Mum!"  When Toby's teacher tells him he was "perfect" at playing a piece.  Suddenly they get a glimpse of what all the practice is f

Passionate Worship - Five Practices No. 2

Passionate. When you hear the words "passionate worship", what picture comes up in your mind?  I see a person, eyes closed and arms flung high, singing with all their heart, utterly lost in the moment.  But then - somehow - it also makes me think of the opposite.  The other person, hands shoved tight into pockets, feet shuffling, who watches that passionate person and thinks, 'What's wrong with me?  Why don't I feel like that?' Maybe it's because passion is a two-edged word.  We use it to mean a great love, a fervent adoration.  But the root of it comes from passio , meaning suffering, enduring - that's why we talk about the Passion of Christ.  Sometimes we come to worship full of joyful emotion.  And sometimes life is so grey and bleak that it takes all of our energy merely to walk into church, let alone do anything enthusiastic when we get there.  So if we talk about passionate worship, maybe we need to mean both kinds.  The heights and the depths.