Wednesday, 15 February 2012

It's Not Time to Worry Yet, Scout

I’ve been staying in Dunedin for the last ten days or so. The night before I left I packed in a mad rush. I did that thing where you open your wardrobe, pull out all your draws and throw into your suitcase anything you like the look of without any real thought as to what is useful, practical or necessary.
Last year I had spent a couple of months travelling around the UK and Europe. I had packed less clothes for those two months than I did for these two weeks. It’s all about preparation really. I had been more prepared for those two months. I had thought carefully about the places I was going and the adaptability of the different items I had packed, whether they would dry quickly, or could be layered to keep me warm, or rolled up and stuffed into my pack so I could have more room and weight for other things.
This time though, I didn’t think about any of those things. I didn’t really care either. This time I was much less concerned about function and far more concerned about fashion. You see, every now and then people tell me I look like a teenager. Every time this happens I think to myself, “Cate, you have got to stop wearing jeans and a t-shirt,” because every time I do people think that I am younger than I am, and somehow I think that’s a reflection of my maturity, and therefore my respectability. Perhaps that’s a bit of a jump, but that’s the thought process anyway.
So, I turn up in Dunedin with far more clothes than I probably need. At least I thought I did. Suitcase after suitcase went around the conveyer belt, the number of people standing around waiting got smaller and smaller, and my suitcase still didn’t arrive.
One of the ladies at the counter offered me a ‘Feminine Hygiene Overnight Pack’ while the other checked the system to see where my suitcase was.
I had had a connecting flight in Wellington. I hopped on the plane and my suitcase stayed behind. I had arrived in Dunedin at 8pm, the last flight from Wellington for the day.
I spent the night at a friend’s place, just me and my carry on – which was next to useless. Who needs a laptop, a couple of books, and some biscuits when you don’t have pyjamas?
In my Goodie Bag from the airline I had a plain white t-shirt, size XL. I have never loved a t-shirt so much in my life.
This wee incident reminds me of the time Jesus says;

“Why worry about clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?”

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  (Matthew 6: 28-34)
This little story was true for me as I was sleeping in my extra large t-shirt, wondering if my suitcase would arrive the next day and I’d have clean clothes to wear.
This was true for me when I arrived at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and was worrying about being an Intern, and maybe even being a Minister one day.
I was worrying about a day other than today. Today has its own trials and triumphs.
Atticus Finch, a character from the novel ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird’, was right when he said to his daughter, “it’s not time to worry yet, Scout”.  
I don’t know if you are worried, but if you are, you don’t need to be anymore; your heavenly Father knows all your needs, and he will give you everything you need.
It’s almost as if Jesus was saying to me, “believe me when I say that I care about you. I care about you because I love you. And I love you because I love you. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to prove that you are worthy or respectable. You just have to respond.”
In a sense, I worrying about what I would ‘wear’ – figuratively.  It was about the kind of person I am now, and the kind of person I want to become as I am continue along this process of formation. It was about the kinds of things I was wearing from my current wardrobe full of characteristics and personality traits – the good, the bad and the ugly – and the kinds of things I need to wear as I continue to seek to be Christ-like. The words Colossians 3 encourage me, saying:
 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.” (The Message)

Perhaps love is like a plain white t-shirt; a basic all purpose garment.

So, let us throw open our wardrobe doors, let us clear out our closets, and;

When our caring tears apart at the seams, may we be clothed with Christ’s compassion
When our kindness is stained, may we be clothed with Christ’s kindness.
When our humility wears out, may we be clothed with Christ’s humility.
When our gentleness gets grubby, may we be clothed with Christ’s gentleness.
When our patience wears thin, may we be clothed with Christ’s patience.

When our strength can’t be found, may we be clothed with Christ’s strength.
When our love gets left behind at the last place we were at, may we be clothed with Christ’s love.

At St Paul’s we sing this song with our kids. The lyrics go like this:

Look at the birds of the air,
and the flowers of the field.
The God who cares for them,
he cares for us.

It’s not time to worry yet, Scout.

You are clothed in Christ.

Monday, 6 February 2012

It's a Matter of Life and Death

The Sunday before last was my final day as the Children and Families Pastor at St Paul’s Katikati. On Tuesday I began my internship there – I’ll be a Ministry Intern, a student for ministry.
I wanted to write something beautifully eloquent to mark the completion of this chapter of my life. Perhaps, a eulogy of sorts, as I reflected on and rejoiced in this life that once was, and will never be again.
Gosh, that sounds awfully depressing! It sounds like a part of me is dying. It sounds like I am wanting to write the final chapter of a tragedy after the heroine has died and all hope is gone.
The truth is; I want to let this part of my life die. I have been shaped by the things that I have seen and experienced over the last three-and-a-bit years, and these things have contributed to who I am and who I am becoming. I want to value and appreciate this time for what it was, and I want to put it to rest. Otherwise, I’ll keep trying to live this old life, I’ll keep trying to resuscitate something that was never meant to live forever, I’ll keep trying to write a storyline that stops connecting with the main theme because it’s just going on and on and drifts further and further away on some ridiculous tangent.
So if we imagine that life is like a story, and like any good story, with chapters and characters, conflicts and climax, each part of the story contributes to the overall narrative flow. This latest chapter of my life – one which has been full of beauty and mystery – may have come to an end, but it is not the end of the story.
The more I live, the more I understand that death is a part of life. The more I live, the more I understand that death brings things to an end. The more I live, the more I understand that death isn’t ‘The End’. Death is never the final chapter, but it is a necessary chapter.

The Gospels tell us the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. His death leads to life.

It’s the same for us too. At the end of our days, when we close our eyes and take that final breath, we will enter into death, and we will experience new life in Christ. His death leads to life.
So, if it’s the same for us, what if it’s not just the same for us at the end of our days, but every day? What if we didn’t think of death as this big, formidable enemy whom we avoid at all costs, or give our lunch money to so he won’t beat us up today? What if death is something we experience daily, as we stop trying to sustain life on our own terms, by our own exertion (which doesn’t really lead to any kind of life at all), and finally allow ourselves to be found in the life of Christ? What if we put to death our pride and our desire for control, and surrender ourselves to the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life? What if we embrace death, and live?
That wouldn’t be tragedy. That would be triumph. Not because we thought it would make a good twist and decided to write that into our own stories, but because it’s a part of God’s story, and we are too. Our stories are found in his story. Our lives are found in his life.
To be continued…