This third Easter is a charm

Many of my childhood Easter memories revolve around chocolate eggs and holidaying with my surrogate family in a lovely english coastal town called Beer. A single-parent, my Mum arranged for us to get away in the school holidays with neighbours. It worked out well for all: as the eldest I was able to keep an eye on their younger offspring and my Mum got some much needed adult time.

It was an annual tradition. Waking up early on Easter morning to discover chocolate eggs at the end of the bed. My neighbour’s youngest son devouring a Yorkie Trucker’s Egg before 8am. Me tracing my fingers over the correctly-spelt Philippa on the hand-made Thornton’s egg.

I don’t recall us attending church on Easter day. Then as I grew up and away from C of E schooling into agnostic new-ageism, Easter simply signified an handy long weekend. I’d roll my eyes at Big T wanting to only eat fish on Good Friday, but for me it simply was about the chance to drink wine with friends, maybe get away camping, and chocolate.

Nowadays I’d categorise my most recent Easters as akin to ‘Grumpy’ ‘Weepy’ and ‘Smiley’

Grumpy Easter

This was the ‘wake me up at 3am with song lyrics and shove bibles at me’ Easter. I was not impressed. I couldn’t take a step on the beach without a sailboat thrusting Christian logos at me. What? Are you talking to me? For goodness sake, leave me alone.

Weepy Easter

A year down the track and I’d done plenty of cage-fights with God by the time my second Easter rolled around. It was a pensive, reflective time. I’d moth-dived towards the light, spent some time in the gospels and had got stuck in the Groundhog Day nature of how humanity had crucified an undeserving man. Reflecting back, the enormity of the suffering outweighed my joy in the resurrection.

I spent Weepy Easter uncertain that I could do it again the following year because, not only was I in sorrow due to the enormity of what Jesus sacrificed, I was weighed down by how little humanity has learnt since. I found myself wishing that something would change. That, somehow, there would be a different ending. That we’d learn.

grass_egg_smiley_smile_humor_macro_54212_300x300.jpgSmiley Easter

I write this at the start of my third, Smiley Easter. And I cannot wait. Whether it’s because I prayed earlier this week for God to show me how to embrace the Holy Spirit within, or because – miracle of miracles – Big T and I have almost managed a week of daily ‘his n her’ prayer, but I am behaving in a decidedly unAnglican manner.

The poor check-out chick who wished me a dour happy easter at the shopping centre earlier is now probably shaking her head over the nutbag happy-clappy Christian who jumped behind the counter, washed her feet and tried to anoint her head with oil. Luckily the SAP was willing to take the call when I asked for bail to be posted…

But you know what? Deal with it.  As Brussels shudders in shock, we need something more substantial to put our hope in than ourselves. Our selves are the problem. And anyone who honestly thinks we’re doing OK as a DIY society is delusional.

Easter is a chance to reflect on what we could all learn from Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection: This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12).

Easter reminds us that Jesus offered the selfless laying down of his life for our eternal gift. Compare that to the selfish blowing up of life we saw in Brussels two days ago. If you haven’t yet thought about what Jesus offers in comparison to such worldly horror, there’s no better time than Easter to do it. 

Over achievers don’t need Jesus. They’ve got DIY.

It’s easier to take Jesus to the starving in the slums than it is to the over-achiever.images-4

The handful of pastors I’ve polled on this agree. Yet while they all agreed ministering in less well to do suburbs is easier, it isn’t for the reasons one might assume.

Suburbs that suffer from generational unemployment, poor job opportunities, low education — low hope, you might say — are more honest, gritty and real about their issues. Which makes ministering easier because people living in that world can’t help but look at the issues, experience the pain, and, for the most part, let it all hang out:

“I need another drink because that no-hoper boyfriend of mine just smacked me around again and my dickhead boss cut my shifts.” There is no glitz and gloss. Life is harsh, cruel and there’s no shame in letting everyone know. Which makes opening up the Jesus conversation a little easier.

“Your mate Jesus wants to come in and take a look and help? He wants to show me I’ve got more worth than the next no-hoper boyfriend? I’d like to see him try. But, hell, Ok then, I’ll have a listen.”

It’s harder amongst the demographics where do it yourself (DIY) has displaced Jesus. Where resilience has shifted into papering over the cracks. There are still issues – domestic violence, gambling, drinking, financial insecurity, adultery, pornography addiction and over-stretching – but heaven forbid anyone talks about it. Stepford suffering. Pastors have a harder gig breaking through the facades.

Yet what if you’re not suffering, are meeting your mortgage payments with ease, can afford a nice holiday once or twice a year, you’ve got a good good group of friends you can call on in a moment for help, are building up your self-managed super fund and life is sweet?

You don’t perceive you have any lack. You’re confident, with a great job, with well-rounded kids attending a well-rounded school for which you pay well-rounded fees.  So what does Jesus offer you? Aside from eternal life…which you possibly think is a crock anyway.

The ‘surrender to Jesus’ message doesn’t gain traction here. Not only has DIY displaced Jesus,  DIY is done so well it’s easy to say, “Sorry, God and Jesus, you don’t fit in with our decor.” Hell is imaginary. God being in charge, with talk of hell at the end of your unbelieving life, is to be scoffed at.

I write from first-hand experience. To all intents and purposes my BC life was sweet. I wasn’t filling up any gaping psyche wounds with alcohol or trinkets. But I was always a ‘seeker’. I have always been drawn to the mysteries of life, not because I was filling a gap but because I wanted to understand more. This odd siren call in my heart that would have me look around at the world and know – quite fiercely – that it was all a facade. That there was much, much more hiding in the heights and depths.

So why do some seek out the mysteries while others sit firmly in reality? If God writes all our names on His palm, when He drops eternity in all our hearts, how come some of us recall the watermark echo and others don’t?

It can’t simply be upbringing – I have friends who grew up in God-loving homes who are atheists, and others, like myself, who have come to Christ despite the lack of presence of anything Godly or spiritual in childhood.

It isn’t always suffering – but I suspect that has a great deal to do with it. It was really only when my Mum passed away that I paid more attention to what God was trying to tell me. It’s like I say about the year Big T and I split up early in our relationship: sometimes you have to hurt a bit; and then go back and scrabble around in the mess, dust and coal to realise there’s a diamond right under your nose.

My largest frustration is how to describe exactly what has changed since G&J rocked in. Sure, I record what’s lost in translation between what I thought I knew and what actually is in these posts – but it’s a poor facsimile of what has occurred in my brain, heart, soul and cells.

Before he became a Christian, Sydney’s new Dean, Kanishka Raffel, recalls asking his friend, now Moore College lecturer, Andrew Shead, what the big deal was. What being a Christian actually meant. Shead replied, “It means I’ve lost control of my life to Christ.”

That’s it. My life is no longer my own. Which is desperately hard to explain to the ‘DIY, in control of my life’ demographic. Why on earth would I give away control of my life?

Simply, I had no choice. Approaching my second Easter on this Christian journey, I am reminded of how I kept expecting ‘it’ to wear off. That the joyful, fizzing feeling that invaded my soul would fade away. That my sensible, educated, degree-holding, rational brain would argue Jesus away.

Neither happened. Instead, Jesus delivered evidence to my head and miracles to my heart. God forged His relationship with me in such an intensely personal, bespoke way, I was a goner.

I mean, what are the odds? A straight-talking ex-journo with a dry sense of humour calls a church. She gets a straight-talking, smart-alec pastor (SAP) with a similar sense of humour on the other end. Who – when I made my first visit to church – turned out to be an excellent type of preacher that didn’t annoy or aggravate this communications professional with monotone delivery, verbal ticks, squeaky voice and boring content.

I mean, let’s be honest, on the scale of probabilities the odds were higher of me getting someone, ahem, less likely to engage and entertain. I’d experienced plenty of snoozy sermons at school.

Of course it wasn’t odds. It was God. His tailor-made, bespoke, personal call for engagement. He knows me so well. That he would give his son at Easter so I may be in a closer relationship with Him is amazing enough. But to think He would take the time, care and attention to understand my impatient, judgemental heart.

To know, that first day back at church, the likelihood of my rolling my eyes at a poorly-executed sermon was high. That I was looking for excuses not to be engaged. That when I first called the church, I would have run rough-shod over some more polite, diplomatic pastor whilst making awful judgements about boring Anglican Revs who were out of touch with the real world.

And all because He wanted me back. That’s personal. And it doesn’t wear off.

Moth diving towards the light

Today is messy. I don’t know if it’s due to Easter, or I’m tired of polishing words for clients, but I want to write without censor. Just to see what happens when I sit and simply let it flow out my fingertips.

the-moth-radio-head-elisa-006I just arrived home from the Easter assembly at school. Where I had volunteered to be a team leader on stage as part of Mission Week. Based on the theme of Jesus being the light of the world, we played a game. My team were moths. The lights went down. And when the house lights came back up we had to do what good moths do when they see the light. Forward, back, messily banging wings and being hit off course. Yet, still, wanting to go towards the light.

There were two other teams. Cockroaches and plants. This is a junior school. So the metaphors couldn’t be too nuanced. Plants grow in the light. Cockroaches scurry to the dark. Moths bounce around trying to get to the light. The takeaway: how do you want your relationship with Jesus and God (the light) to be?

The school minister encouraged us all to be plants. The principal thanked me for my participation. And as I looked over at the (winning) plant team I thought, “wish I’d been a plant…”

Yet, back home, in front of the keyboard, when I really ought to be writing a million other words for a client website, all I can think about is moths. Fine, delicate, powder-coated insubstantial wings. Drawn towards a light that confuses them. I see so much of my Christian journey in that imagery.

Once, very, very early on, my witticisms about The Life Of Brian in an email prompted the SAP to suggest meeting up for a chat over coffee (well, chai for him). I suppose when you are faced with a seeker using Monty Python as a yardstick for getting to know Jesus, a good pastor recognises the value of early intervention. For me it was a moth day.

There we sat in a busy cafe, with the SAP using language rich with God, Bible and Jesus. Back then was the first time I had ever properly sat down with a ‘qualified’ Christian and had an adult conversation.

Here’s what I thought as I listened and internally moth-dived: Man, he’s really into this. Not sure I’d ever be that keen. Then, looking around at all the tables close by: And he doesn’t care if anyone hears (which left me feeling both impressed and with edgy images of cafe patrons with pitchforks).

I had possibly attended church twice by then and mentioned the recent sermon about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. The SAP commented what it must have felt like for Paul and receiving that astounding level of love, grace and forgiveness.

Then, in his describing of it, and which will now always be one of my ‘burnt on the retina’ memories, the SAP’s eyes welled with tears. And there it was. My first, tiniest glimpse into the joy that Christianity has since delivered. I may not have been able to name it then, but it was the initial synapse flare that shoved into my heart: That, I thought. That’s what I’ve been seeking.

The light. Despite my envy of the plant team earlier today, moth-diving crazily into it seems to have worked for me. With the realisation that whether plant, moth or cockroach, it’s always there. Sometimes you just need a glimpse.

Even when it’s in a crowded cafe. From a SAP.

I’m done, Easter’s cancelled

I know I’ve only been a Christian for about a minute, but today I reached an important faith decision. I’m cancelling Easter. Throw as many choccie eggs (fair trade, please) at me as you like, but I’m done. SNF04CRUNCHA682_773694a

Before you think the smart-alec pastor (SAP) has fallen down rather horrendously on his job, I do understand Easter has immense significance in the Christian calendar. That’s the problem. I’m beginning to doubt whether I can do Easter, year in, year out, without, well, breaking a few eggs.

It started because I was trying to be a ‘good’ Christian (rather than the less compassionate one who drops F-bombs and has to stop herself from telling people to swallow concrete and harden up).

I had decided to download a Bible study app about Easter. I’d been plagued by a nagging notion to seek stillness, not unlike the days prior to my Lipton-ing and, given it was Easter a year ago that started me off on this Christian journey, I quietly chose to do some gentle honouring of the event.

I do love a good Bible app. It’s like G&J for the time-poor. Not only does it give me the choice of putting the Bible books in alphabetical order for quick-find brilliance (imagine my shame over a backyard lunch one day when a UHT Christian recited all the books in order), it comes with a built-in narrator! The New international Version (NIV) chap sounds a bit like Garrison Keller (his inflection when he says Jesus makes me grin each time) while the bloke who does the King James Version (KJV) sounds like Anthony Hopkins crossed with Richard Burton. Incredibly Shakespearean, darling.

So there I was, driving to my early work appointment, with Garrison Keller narrating the Easter Reading plan. John 13-21, Luke 22-24, Mark 14-16 and Matthew 26-28. Let me tell you, it was awful (not the narrator, the content).

I was fine with Easter before I became a Christian. But now? As I listened, and re-listened to Easter narrative from each gospel, my heart tore. We (humans) beat an innocent man, spat on him, humiliated him, taunted him, gave him an unfair trial and killed him brutally: crucifixion is death by suffocation, loss of body fluids and multiple organ failure. Not only was I in sorrow due to the enormity of what Jesus sacrificed, I was struck afresh by how little humanity has learnt since.

Listening to those 14 chapters in close proximity, the similarities jumped out. I found myself wishing that something would change. That, somehow, there would be a different ending. That Jesus’ prophecy about Peter disowning him three times before morning would alter. That Pilate, asking the crowd did they want Jesus or Barrabus, would throw up his hands in disgust and say, “Don’t you get it yet? The dude who performed all the miracles is the one you want, not the red-neck who started the riot.”

It was like listening to a car-crash. Groundhog Day of the worst order. No matter that I knew it unfolded the way it did to fulfil scriptural prophecies from the Old Testament and the Psalms, from the dividing of Jesus’ clothes to the piercing of his side, to resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” – I still hoped I would hear a plot change. Some new twist that would redeem humanity’s inhumanity to another.

Worse, when I shared with the SAP about how harrowing I found it, he answered he finds it the same. Still. After all these SAPing years. Which means I’ve got some sorrow-filled Easters ahead of me. So that’s why I want to cancel it. Or at least bury myself behind the cushions until the worst bit is over.

Of course, I know I can’t really. Whilst the Easter narrative leaves me hollow over how flawed humanity is, it does offer the promise of something more joyful. Yet paid for so awfully – “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28) – in such circumstances.

Yet the cliff-hanger of the Easter story is not Jesus. It’s me. And every other flawed, imperfect human and what we might choose to learn from Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection: This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12)

Dear God, can Hugh narrate The Bible app, please?
Dear God, can Hugh narrate The Bible app, please?