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Breaking Free from a Transactional Society (Part 1)

Christmas is upon us, and as much as the season should be readily reminding me about the birth of Jesus, the immediate image that comes to mind is a radically different one – the annual exchange of $50 gift cards at our extended family gathering.

Yes, perhaps when we were younger there was some fun, with random toys and another yellow shirt from Nan, but now that we are older, nobody is surprised when the envelopes come out. No complications, equal distribution, no judgement as to whether something is good or bad – a supposedly “beautiful” economy of equity for all parties to enjoy. Being a little OCD myself, I can understand the delight, yet it also is a sobering reminder that we rarely give more than we can afford to lose.

It is in this season of Christmas, that the image of transaction comes to the forefront of my mind. I’m reminded of Sheldon proclaiming to Penny in an early episode of The Big Bang Theory,

“You haven’t given me a gift, you’ve given me an obligation!”

I have no doubt you have experienced this before, and you will have your own stories to share. But what I do know is this, a spirit of obligation gives birth to guilt, shame, frustration and even anger. Which raises the question, how can something as pure and selfless as gift giving end up causing so much destruction? Is it any wonder that “gift” derives it’s meaning from the German word for “poison”!

However as followers of Jesus there is a different economy that we can participate in, one that turns the other cheek, or goes a second mile in the face of transaction – the radical, unfair economy of grace.

More coming soon.

An “Open” Sermon

I’ve been experimenting recently with a style of communication that I like to call an “open sermon”.

The idea behind it is that for so many young (and old) people, the sense of responsibility for personal revelation through the Bible has been lost, or more so, delegated to “professional” pastors who study a passage for a week or so, to later bring the truths to the church table for consumption. The result has been a rapid decline in Biblical literacy, and a consumer mentality within our churches.

An “open sermon” is a teaching of dialogue – and by this I don’t mean lip-service to this term “dialogue” that some indie-churches often profess to action while sadly not making any real changes – but I mean, actual dialogue, which means embracing a new paradigm of teaching.

Just a couple of weeks ago as a youth group we were looking at the Book of Revelation, because apparently that’s all the rage these days! I thought to myself, “I could tell them everything that I know, but what would that actually accomplish?” So I decided to break the teaching up into five sections:

  1. I initially provided an interpretive framework (this was especially important because of the content), and told them that we were doing things differently (10min)
  2. I split the whole group into four groups of around 20 youth and leaders, and gave them each a different yet “familiar” passage of the topic text. They read the passage and drew initial impressions with each other. (15min)
  3. A spokesperson for the group threw their thoughts back to me (everyone listening), and I reflected/paraphrased what they shared, adding more context to each passage. (10min)
  4. The groups then were asked to discuss the question: Why is this passage in the Bible? (10min)
  5. They threw their thoughts back to me (everyone listening), and I summed up. (5min)

A warning: it takes a lot more work for the presenter, as you need to be prepared for whatever the groups may throw back to you, but equally an encouragement: it was well worth the effort because that night was fantastic. The sense of exploration was brilliant, and you could witness young people taking ownership of their discoveries.

It’s the difference between being told about a treasure and finding it for yourself.

It’s early days, and I’m still wrestling with the paradigm, but if we can help young people step out of the consumer mentality, whether by practice or paradigm, I believe that we can help cultivate a generation of explorers.

What do you think? Have you ever tried an “open sermon”?

Open Method vs. Closed Agenda

This morning I was reading the story of Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:1–19 and was perplexed as to how the son of Solomon, the wisest man to ever live (up to that point), could be so stupid. But even while perplexing, perhaps it is not surprising at all, because we do this all the time.

Rehoboam was preparing to receive the kingship of Israel following his father’s death. As part of the transition, he consulted the people and listened to their petition. He asked for some time to think about his response, then consulted elders who had served with his father, and even in practice, widened his sphere of input by including the opinions of some young friends.

While on the surface his decision-making method appears solid, the outcome was one of destruction and foolishness. Rather than running with the wisdom of his elders, he decided on the path of least resistance to his agenda.

13 The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, 14 he followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.”

There are so many factors that pour into decision-making, whether it be big or small, but a principle I cannot help but draw from the story of Rehoboam is that:

You can be open in method, yet closed by your own agenda.

It is a common temptation to regularly seek after advice that simply affirms your held position, whether that be through sermons, the voices of friends, or books – but who do I have around me that can bust open my agenda, even when it hurts?

A kingdom may not be at stake, but it may just save me a lot of pain.

Dear Grade 5 Teacher…

Hey Mr McKeown,

I’m currently working on a sermon about the Book of Revelation (because apparently that’s what all the kids are into nowadays!) and was reminded of the time you mentioned to me, I think it was in Grade 5, that this mysterious book may not be just about the future, but about the past that breaks into our present.

That day, as a naturally confident 13 year old futurist, I thought you were crazy and wrong. It’s funny the things that stick with you as a kid, but I never let that conversation go.

So after six years of Bible College, I just wanted to let you know that I have rethought my position and I take my diagnosis back. Perhaps I can challenge this next generation as you challenged me.

Grace and Peace,

Gavin.

Free Radicals

The term “free radical” belongs to the field of chemistry, defined by The ARC Centre of Excellence for Free Radical Chemistry and Biotechnology suggesting:

“Free radicals are everywhere, in the air, our bodies, and the materials around us. They cause the deterioration of plastics, the fading of paint, the degradation of works of art, aging related illnesses, and can contribute to heart attacks, stroke and cancers.

Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons. In their quest to find another electron, they are very reactive and cause damage to surrounding molecules.

However, free radicals are also useful because they help important reactions in our bodies take place and can be utilized to manufacture pharmaceuticals, custom-designed plastics and other innovative materials.”

How well does this illustrate the human state one might ask? For in many ways we are all free radicals in the world; we all carry a charge, one that can be positive, at other times negative, and occasionally neutral. Full of potential, for good or for evil.

For me to claim to be a free radical, whether theologically, socially or otherwise doesn’t mean that I am not content, but rather it illustrates my own passion for movement, change, a dissatisfaction with simple maintenance of the status quo, and a desire to witness the kind of shifts that contribute to the ongoing health of life through the process of exploration. I am convinced that to be fully human we need to explore; curiosity appears to be hardwired into us – one only needs to look at the weekly uptake of tabloids and the incessant persistence of TMZ to be convinced of this.

Yet somehow within the sphere of spirituality, some of this curiosity appears to have been lost. We would much rather reach into the lives of others (the places where we are not welcome), than reach into ourselves and do the kind of difficult but necessary inner-work that God has invited us to do from the beginning of time. We would rather people reflect on us, than to dare self-reflect at the fear of what we may be convicted by. The revelation of others is easy to brush aside, but self-revelation has a way of sticking to our soul with a loud voice that we cannot ignore.

Aren’t you curious about yourself? A free radical contends that there is always more to explore.

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