Tag Archives: Church

A noisy gong or a clanging cymbal

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.

11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

This is possibly one of the most famous passages in the Bible, found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It is frequently read at weddings, even non-religious weddings, where more often than not it is picked up at verse 4: “Love is patient and kind” with the implication that the “Love” spoken about is the love between the “Happy Couple” being wed. Religious purists would claim that this is not the type of love the author was referring to at all. However, I do not intend to delve into those type of intricacies here.

I have been pondering lately the thorny concept of how it is that people who we love, and profess to love us, can really get under our skin, can wrong us, can hurt us, can be thoughtless. But yet not mean to. Or not intend to. Or have good intentions. But yet, the damage is done. However, underneath, that person still has a relationship with you – they might be your friend, your family member, your colleague. And they are not necessarily a bad person.

Yet in their thoughts, their words, their actions, they have done damage.

How do you reconcile that?

How do you deal with somebody you love but who is volatile? Can you love somebody but ultimately not trust them?

I had a difficulty with one such person recently. Afterward,  I confided the situation to a mutual friend, who had known both of us for literally decades. I lamented that there was so much good in this person, but if she could only change….. His response: “But that’s just what she’s like”. “She will never change”

What about the reverse? A person who you love. But is not always particularly warm to you, that you wonder sometimes if they actually “approve” of you, that sometimes makes you feel unworthy, but is utterly, utterly dependable and you would trust with your life? But that you wish would be more demonstrative? Who would show you that they notice? Maybe tell you that you are appreciated?

Similarly I confided such a desire to a relative of such a person recently. “But he’s always been like that, all his life. It’s just his way. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t care.”

MOPS Article 17-5 crop
We made the local paper!

A dozen years ago, when my son was a baby, I was a member of an excellent group called MOPs (an acronym for “Mothers of Pre-schoolers”). It was a Mothers Group with a difference – sponsored by a local church in the Regional town in which I lived at that time. The organisers provided a crèche for our children so the women could spend adult time together. Many of us, some with newborns and therefore suffering interrupted sleep and surrounded by nappies, lived for those two hours per fortnight where we could feel semi-human.

At one stage we took on a parenting course, as many of us had a toddler as well. One unit dealt with appropriate discipline of Toddler behaviour, and I remember well an illustration where a see-saw was drawn, with “Wilful Disobedience” at one end and “Childish irresponsibility” on the other. The distinction was made that a child should not be severely punished for, say, simply being clumsy – such as knocking over a drink. Equally the FIRST time they “misbehaved” the parent could “give the benefit of the doubt” that the child did not KNOW the behaviour as “Wrong” or inappropriate. However, once the child DID understand this, then SUBSEQUENTLY, it was a different story.

The other thing reinforced in “Parenting 101” was to “Focus on the Action, not the person”. Hence, (and sadly this is all too common) the scenario of a toddler screaming in a supermarket, frustrated mother yelling “YOU ARE A NIGHTMARE” is Wrong. Admonishing the child: “It is not acceptable to hit your sister” = Correct.

How does all this tie together? As the Corinthians passage puts it, “11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

As adults, “Conflict Resolution” techniques also teach to “Focus on the Action, not the person”. Sadly in my experience, adults can be extremely bad at this. All too often, when there are difficulties, problems, disasters, or personal conflicts, very quickly things degenerate into a “Blame Game” and it becomes more about “Saving Face” and “Might over Right” and the first casualty is often the truth. The smallest and most fragile and vulnerable are often trampled and the victim blamed, while there is a scramble to cover-up.

As rarely problems only occur due to one single factor, the honest thing to do would be to appraise all the components, see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and see what could be improved next time, with each in good conscience and fairly taking responsibility for their own part, no matter how big or small – plus acknowledging other circumstantial factors outside anyone’s control. However, for this to happen, there needs to be a large serving of honesty, humility and grace, which is sadly lacking amongst many.

And, as the old saying goes, Power Corrupts. The more powerful an individual, the less likely one is to see them put their hands up and utter those three incredibly difficult words to say…not “I love you” but “I WAS WRONG”.Messy

This may all seem very deep and profound, but, as I suggested, I have been doing much thinking and contemplating of late.

I’ve also been reflecting on this. What is my own part in various difficulties that have beset me over recent times? To what extent do I need to take responsibility for my own problems?

Am I, indeed, the problem? Am I a lightning rod for problems?

Have I caused much of my own misery over the last 18 months because of the person that I am and/or my own actions? Has the conflict I have suffered in that period of time – and at various times over the entire of my adult life – actually largely been my own fault?

Am I wrong to see myself, at least in some instances, as “the victim”?

Am I, indeed, the cause of my own misery?

Last year, in the midst of a lot of personal turmoil, an authoritative person tried to counsel me over my “faults”. Which he detailed as “Your passion for what you do can overwhelm others. Your singlemindedness about your work is something that people find difficult”. At the time I was relieved, as I thought that there were plenty of worse “faults” I could have been criticised for.

But then, this month, I have been accused of talking too much and listening too little (a recurring theme of which I know I am frequently guilty) but also of being “pushy and aggressive” which startled me. As I have never perceived myself as an aggressive person. And again the issue of promoting something I believed in has been raised, which reminded me of this other man’s words. Perhaps he actually meant “Pushy and aggressive” but was being kind.

Fables abound as thoughtful life lessons…most children will know for example, the tale of “The Hare and the Tortoise”.

Here is another which I find most telling.

The Fable of the Frog and the Scorpion:Scorpion-and-the-Frog

Once there was a beautiful frog who was about to make her way across the river.

A scorpion came to her and asked her “please may I ride across on your back?”

Frog refused, of course, because she was afraid the scorpion would sting her. But the scorpion assured her: “No, I promise I won’t sting you, I am grateful that you would help me. Why would I sting you?”

The frog then decided that she would trust the scorpion and take it across the river….

During the swim across the scorpion stings her.

The frog yells in pain and asks WHY he did that.

“It was an accident and won’t happen again.” said the scorpion.

The frog continues to allow the scorpion to ride with her and keeps swimming.

“Thank you for being kind” said the scorpion. “You’re welcome” said the frog.

And just as the frog was reaching the other shore of the river the scorpion stung her again.

While in pain the frog yelled “WHY would you do that?? Now we are both going to die! We will drown!”

The scorpion looked to her and said “It is my Nature.”

 To what extent can we modify our nature?

We all have certain character traits, natures if you like, and also innate skills and attributes.

Sometimes the gene pool is strong. In my own family my 12 year old is, in many ways, his father’s son, in looks and in perhaps his hot-wired traits.

But he is not a total clone. For one thing, he has had my influence as a mother – both genetic and nurturing, which must surely have rubbed off somewhere. Plus he has had different opportunities in life than his father had. One good example is that we have been able to encourage his innate cricketing skills and he has played at Club level from the age of 7 – an opportunity in a different era and country (England) his father did not have.

Recently my 15 year old daughter received an Academic Award at school for “A” grades in four different subjects. P1080480 cpdSome boys in one of her classes apparently paid her some clumsy compliments, then were a little embarrassed when they realised they might have implied (she is attractive and blonde) that they didn’t realise she was smart. “Oh”, Miss15 replied brightly, “It’s Okay. I might be good at Chemistry, but I have no Common Sense.” And then went on to disarm the young men by telling some anecdotes against herself.

 

 

Our basic character types – categorised various ways by experts – are something which I do not believe we can much change.

However, I believe what we can change is our behaviour and attitude.

So, therefore, for example, if we are creative, relaxed and happy-go-lucky by nature, but therefore not innately a good timekeeper – which frustrates others and makes us appear unreliable – it is possible to learn to set alarms, write diaries and develop organisational techniques.

Similarly, people who are not naturally warm and personable characters are not going to have a personality change overnight – but this does not mean that they need to go through life – and workplace situations for example – bullying and demeaning others in order to get their own way. It is possible – and certainly desirable – to learn and exhibit more appropriate “people management skills”, whether or not they “come naturally”.

I believe we can choose our behaviour and can make choices in our actions. We might not be able to change our basic character type, but we do not need to be slave to its flaws.

And, as adults, surely we can learn to think before we speak, plan courses of action and endeavour not to hurt others.

One of the things I struggle with the most is unfairness and injustice. For others, and to a lesser extent, for myself.

Like my daughter (although she is evidently younger, prettier and definitely slimmer), my ditzy blonde image belies the fact that I am not quite as dumb as I may appear. I believe I possess quite some logic, education and intelligence. My world needs to make sense to me and it really rankles with me when it does not.

Therefore when I see dishonesty, cover-ups and blame-shifting or simply people not playing fair, it really disturbs me. What I, on a personal basis hate most, is being blamed for things I have not done. Of course, it is awkward  for anyone to be criticised, and when we know we are wrong or have contributed to a bad situation and there is an aspect of guilt, it is uncomfortable. But I think I am big enough to take responsibility for and “own” my part. What disturbs me is when others will not, and especially when they look to deflect blame elsewhere.

So I will go back now and attempt to answer my own questions.

  • How do I reconcile that a person who loves me can hurt me, through their thoughts, words and deeds? And, importantly, should I forgive them when they do?
  • How do I deal with a person who I love and trust but who does not demonstrate that they love me?
  • How do I recover from the trauma left by being abused by those who appear completely unrepentant, indeed apparently continue exactly the same behaviour towards others, having not learnt or modified their ways despite past difficulties?
  • How do I cope with being blamed for difficulties which I believe I did not cause? (Or only partly caused)? And being accused of things I have not done?

I have come to the conclusion that the best I can do in all these scenarios is essentially the same, and both profoundly simple and extremely difficult at the same time.

Practice Love.

The first two are really the simplest. Frustrating as the “sinner” might be, having seen the error of her ways and understood what she has done wrong, she has apologised and deserves forgiveness. Hanging onto what has gone wrong will achieve nothing. And the person is more important, ultimately, than the action. However, the consequence is that you need be wary of trusting that person in the future.

For the second, the underlying relationship is in the long run more important than overt displays of affection – nice as that may be. And Trust in relationships is ultimately more significant than outward appearances.

The third is one I have most struggled with, debated strongly with trusted confidants for literally hours, and literally cried over. Unfortunately, in my experience, some people just do not take responsibility for their actions and continue to inflict hurt on others. Continuing to forgive the unrepentant really is “Cheap Grace”. For true reconciliation, I believe there (at least from Christian perspective) needs to be understanding of wrongdoing, some repentance, and at least the intent to not do the same again.

Living in England in the early 1990’s when the IRA was active, you would periodically see a grieving parent go on television generously stating forgiveness to an IRA Bomber who caused the death of their child. The fact that parent could forgive, rather than hold that bitterness and even hatred in their heart, will ultimately be healthier for them and perhaps help them to deal with their grief.

However in many cases there is never any true resolution, or problems are only solved superficially, or “papered over the cracks” between two individuals because the root causes are never tackled and properly resolved. In my experience, I have unfortunately had repeated conflict with certain individuals for this very reason. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

I finally had a personal breakthrough on this issue, paradoxically through a light-hearted chat recently with a mutual contact. It was mentioned in passing that a person who I had suffered great difficulty with, and I had been blamed for past problems with, and had come to the position I held responsibility for a large part of those issues, was, in many ways still exactly the same “whether you, Kylie, are here or not”. This lifted a great weight from my shoulders as I finally came to a recognition that, at least to some extent, like the scorpion said: “It is [their] Nature.”

And dealing with being blamed for things I have not done? Much as this rankles, to be wary of those who do not deal with me fairly. To learn to better trust myself, to have faith in myself as others have faith in me.

Because the one thing which I have not noted – thus far –  is how truly humbled I am by how many people have supported me in good times and in bad, have shown faith in me even when I have doubted myself, and have been there for me when I have truly needed it. Because I, too, am imperfect. And they have demonstrated their love for me.

This month I celebrated a round-number birthday and my husband and I our 25th wedding anniversary.

Cake Cut

We had relatives come to join us from Melbourne, and a long term friend from Perth. Others drove long distances from Queensland locations.

Cousins
With elder sister Jill and cousins Miriam and Elisabeth. Also reunited were the Wedding and Bridesmaid Dresses after a Quarter Century.

We coupled a party on the Saturday night with friends and family with a formal restatement of vows in Church on Sunday morning, which was my actual birthday.

We were especially blessed that the wonderful Minister who conducted our original wedding ceremony, now long retired, made the trip from Adelaide for the weekend, just because I asked.

As both my husband and I have had our own separate difficulties in recent times, the presence of Pastor John was literally a Godsend in our home for the weekend for many, many reasons.

The very fact that he would come was incredible, but his calming presence and quiet wisdom on many fronts was just what we and others needed.

SSS 001
James with Pastor John

So, what to ultimately make of all of this?

When all is said and done, life is imperfect, people are imperfect,

Do not be dragged down in by those who would draw you into darkness

But cherish those who uphold you in the light.

For we are surrounded by Love.

Wedding Group Guthrig (1)
Our younger, shinier selves.

 

 

 

 

 

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Knowing me, knowing you

It was suggested to me recently that I’m having an “Identity Crisis”. I guess that is one more thing to add to my extensive list of “Issues”.

know-002This came about because I was having another wail about Church People just seeing me as “The Pastor’s Wife”. This variation on my 25-year old long-running theme was a specific gripe, due to me feeling taken advantage of over a current issue, too convoluted to relate here, but one aspect being playing Pipe Organ in Church five out of six consecutive weeks. Which I actually enjoy doing. But, while at the same time, there had been some question raised over my qualifications and skills as an organist. The irony of the confluence of these two things was not lost on me.

I have reflected before on how we go through life being identified, I feel, in relation to other people and other things. Which is natural. Someone’s child. Someone’s sister or brother.

As a student at a particular school.

know-008
Hilary,Kylie, Frances, Caroline in “Die Musiker Studio” days

As a member of a sports team or club perhaps. Or, at a Music or Ballet school on the weekend.

Then, later, as someone’s husband or wife. Then parent of our child or children. By the job that we do.

But to what extent is our identity just “ME”?

My long-ago, long-term Piano Teacher’s wife, Beryl Kimber Leske, an eternal matchmaker, was extremely excited, a img500quarter-century ago now,  when she discovered I was engaged and wearing a diamond ring. One of her first questions was “What does he play?” I explained my fiancé was a “Nice Lutheran boy” (I thought this might go down well, as the Leskes also have Lutheran connections). She was a little taken aback to learn that Neil was not a musician per se (although he does sing well). But then she brightened, stating “Ah, well, every Performer needs an Audience”.  She had assigned a Role for him that, in her world, worked.

On Thursday of this week I did the closest thing to “Work” that I have since I resigned from my school teaching position in September 2016. My daughter’s violin teacher had asked me to assist at a “Strings Day of Excellence” at the local High School where she teaches. This involved the resident String Orchestra of the host High School, plus invited String Students from five nearby Primary Schools.  The purpose of the day appeared to be twofold. Firstly, to give the younger students the opportunity to participate in a larger, more proficient group of musicians, and to inspire them to continue studying by seeing and experiencing where they might be in a few years’ time. And secondly, as a PR exercise by the High School to showcase their Performing Arts options – because they would be looking to recruit students from these Primary Schools.

I arrived early to an assembly hall already set up with 150 chairs and music stands, a few staff getting ready, and a handful of High Schoolers. A few “early birds” – anxious small uniformed children – started trickling in with parents in tow. After checking the plan for the morning, I amused myself how quickly I unconsciously slipped into “Meet and Greet” mode, as the trickle of visiting Primary children became a flood. “Good Morning!” “Welcome!” “How lovely to see you” “Please unpack your instrument over there”. And then “Let me help you tune your violin”. I looked up and realised a queue had formed in front of me of a dozen children all waiting for me to help tune their instruments.

febmarch-039rs

In the middle of all this, a harried looking woman approached me and stated: “I’m one of the other String Teachers”. And then, in an irritated tone: “Nobody told me what time I had to be here, or what I was supposed to do”.

“I’m just borrowed for the day” I volunteered brightly, and carried on tuning fractional-sized violins, violas and cellos. There was something resentful in the other teacher’s tone, which I deliberately did not pick up on. I noticed, however, that neither did she instinctively start another “tuning station” which would have prepared the children more quickly. She simply disappeared in a frustrated huff.

I’m sure we all have “Family Folklore”, those little stories which our parents and Grandparents love to tell of times gone by, as some type example or thing to remember. In our family there was one such tale of a relative who consulted her mother about her current boyfriend. Who she found perfect in very way. Except one.

She was concerned that “John” was not very much of a self-starter where domestic things were concerned. That he did not seem to notice that a table needed to be set or that dishes could be washed. That she was worried that if they were married, she would shoulder all of these things herself.

Her wise mother thought for a moment, and then counselled her. “There are two types of people in this life. Those who “see the need and do”’ and those who need to be asked. Perhaps your young man just does not “see” and you need to “ask”. “Try it”

So her daughter tried this tactic. “John, would you please set the table for me?” “Certainly, dear” and he would immediately leap up and do it. A more helpful, loving and giving person you could not wish for than John. Her mother was right. John just did not “See”.

I have long wondered if this is partly typical of men of this era (“John” is now in his 80’s) – those who were children during World War II and grew up in a time when male/female roles were much more defined such that males were typically “Breadwinners” and females “Homemakers”, so there was an assumption that certain things were “women’s work”. Because I have noted this same lack of domesticity in other men of a similar age.

However, it’s not necessarily restricted to senior folk – “Generation Y” appear to have many, if not enhanced of these tendencies – the ability to be in a room totally oblivious to the fact that others are busily working or things need to be done. “Millennials” – according to one expert – are accused of being lazy, self-involved, cosseted, politically apathetic narcissists, who aren’t able to function without a smartphone and who live in a state of perpetual adolescence, incapable of commitment.

But that’s probably a discussion for another day.

All that said, I believe that being such a person, one in the “See the need and do”’ category, transcends Gender and Age.

It is a way of thinking. In the much bigger picture – A way of defining yourself.

Because I think I have finally got a handle on this “Identity” thing.

(Hallelujah! say long-suffering friends).

I am the See-the-need-and-do person.

I am the Whatever-it-takes person.

I am the Above-and-beyond person (which was the “Theme” of my previous school the first few years I worked there.)

above-beyond

For years, my Facebook “About Me” section has included a statement I wrote some years ago, in reaction to someone who had been quite dismissive and negative when I had suggested trying something more challenging than had previously been attempted in a certain situation. I had found her attitude really frustrating. and it had prompted me coining the statement:

Kylie warns those who say:
“It’s too hard and it can’t be done”, I consider that a challenge and I WILL PROVE YOU WRONG!!

I also found the following quote, printed it out in an attractive font and hung it on the Office wall, where it stayed for some years:

Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly. (Robert H. Schuller)

The last – now five – months of being “Gainfully Unemployed” have also been a time of considerable reflection and soul searching for me, much of which has been personally difficult.

And trying to rationalise and compact so much down to try and work out what, ultimately matters about it all.

Spending seven years of your life going, yes, “Above and Beyond” in a place, working closely with particular people, establishing relationships, building something substantial (in the case of the Strings Program) and aiding in the growth generally of something that is meaningful to you (the Music Department of a school), having the opportunity to impact the lives of young people.

On a personal basis, coming to the “Big Smoke” from a small, regional town where you have built up a life for yourself, including a network of supportive friends, and having to start again from nothing. For the first two or three years counting only three people as friends on the Gold Coast. This sprawling, soul-less, artificial, fake, somewhat seedy place. And two of the three “counted as friends” people being colleagues at the school.

So, over seven years, the school is not just a place you go to, punch the time clock for your allotted hours and leave.

It is Family. It is Community.

And what is “My Role” “My Job”?

Interestingly, I never had a printed Job Description. I was employed as “Instrumental Teacher”. And so, I made the role my own. Whatever needed doing, I did it. So did, at the time, my colleagues. Amongst things my former colleagues did … costumes for Primary Musicals – sourced in lunchbreaks. Sets? Paint them yourself. Christmas Carols to be sung? (as related previously) – throw a choir together. The students have never heard a Symphony Orchestra play?  Research and organise a Group Excursion and put them on a bus to Brisbane. As my Mum used to say “If you want something done properly, do it yourself”.

One year I was drafted into playing Lead Piano in the High School Musical 10 days before Opening Night, in response to an S.O.S. from the High School Music Teacher. “Kylie – I need you. Please help”. I dropped everything and learned the entire score – eighteen complete songs –  for “Aladdin” in one weekend.

Whatever it takes.

However, this exact same approach has got me “into hot water” repeatedly. I have a long history of rarely sticking to my “Job Description” (when I have actually had one). 23 years ago I assisted a hardworking small business owner in England with his accounts and paperwork, including some letter writing and legal work as, English  being his second language, he had got into arrears with some payments and was very stressed and concerned about losing his business. [I was actually employed to sell accessories at 40 pounds cash per week.]

Later, I had a part-time job as coffee-maker and telephone-answerer for a Graphic Design Company in North London. By the time I left there for Australia, the Director had indulged me by calling me his P.A. (which does look good on my C.V.)

Where people have wanted to “pigeon-hole” me and required me to “stay in my box” and “do what you are supposed to do” I guess I have literally felt boxed in. Sometimes their attitude is couched in terms of apparent concern for my welfare – suggesting I should not overwork or overstretch myself – that there are other people who can/should be/are actually employed to do those additional tasks which are “not your job”.

But what is often missed is that much of what I actually enjoy doing is not in the “Job Description”. And one of the things that frustrated me mightily last year was, when I stopped, by request, doing things I was not “supposed” to do, many of these were not picked up by other staff, by anyone – they just ceased altogether.

And – witness the lady at Thursday’s Workshop – I seem to have an innate ability to Irritate people by simply existing. By just diving in and doing what needs to be done. She at least appeared to be put out that she did not know who I was, yet I was doing obstensively “her job”. Yet, importantly, I noticed that she allowed her pique to come to the fore. Instead of taking over, or taking the “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and setting up beside me – after all, why can’t we work TOGETHER in life – she chose to take offense.

Amusingly. my ACTUAL role for the day was “Designated Pianist”. AND I was slightly late for the first part of the rehearsal (for the role I was actually hired to play) due to the fact I was busy tuning literally one hundred instruments – something this lady was skilled and able to do. And which was actually her role (probably). But it was not me, but her attitude which prevented her from fully assuming it.

matter-mindFortunately, the organiser of the Workshop, my daughter’s teacher, who had invited me to participate, was the exact opposite. She appreciated all my assistance and thanked me for “pitching in” and helping out wherever needed.

At the risk of sounding like some religious group (and Mr. Google tells me there are a number with this exact name) there comes a point where we all need to step forward in faith.

To stop looking behind ourselves, second-guessing and mistrusting.

To realise that the exact same qualities we have which make one person love and appreciate us, may make another resent and even hate us.

And perhaps true Maturity is finally being able to be content with that.

This is the year that my contemporaries and I reach “Round-number” birthdays, and already some are asking how I might celebrate it. Well, I’m not really intending to. Because there are plenty of people who have walked this earth longer than I have, have achieved more than I have, who have contributed more than I have.

Equally, there are many who have fallen by the wayside, whether that being simply not achieving their potential, or they are staring into some mid-life crisis or have suffered ill health or pain, anxiety, or depression. Or perhaps have tried to deal with life’s complexities, its ups and downs with the use of medications or alcohol or drugs or other therapies.

None of us are perfect and none of us are getting any younger.

This week I came across a handful of letter copies I had written home during my early efforts at word-processing when I first moved to England twenty-five years ago. Including quite lot of “life advice” to a younger friend was I pseudo “Big Sister” to. Reading it now, in some ways I seemed wiser then than I seem to be now.

But equally, I think perhaps I have learned the odd thing in the past quarter century.

And this month, perhaps I’m a little closer to learning Who I Am.

pooh-and-piglet

O Sacred Head, now wounded

Each Good Friday I ask my husband “Can I show Cassie (our 13-year-old daughter) “The Passion of the Christ”? And each year he replies: “No, Not yet, not for another good many years”. It is true that Mel Gibson’s 2004 film is R-rated for a reason, and was criticised when newly released as being unnecessarily graphic. Parts of it are certainly extremely uncomfortable to watch, most especially because, to use a Hollywood cliché’ it is certainty “based on a true story”.

I first saw the movie on “the big screen” in Ararat, Western Victoria. In fact, I helped organise a community event with people from other local churches, to offer a special showing with discounted admission. A delightful local Mum (who later became a firm friend) and I walked up and down Ararat High Street, requesting flyers to be placed in shop windows. Such initiatives were encouraged by the production company, who also provided free copies of “The Gospel of John” with a cover branding matching the film. My recollection is there was concern that the film, expensive to make, would struggle at the Box office with standard publicity, as it was not sponsored by a Major Studio and was made by an independent production company.

Mel and Jesus

In addition, the producer – actor Mel Gibson – conceived the movie to use authentic languages, therefore it was either left for the viewer to soak in unfamiliar Latin and Aramaic or scan the subtitles. And the censors moved in to give it an R (Restricted to Adults 18+) rating, usually a death-knell for many productions.

Fears of a “flop” were unfounded – “The Passion of the Christ” is the highest grossing foreign language film in the US Box office history. It is also the highest-grossing “R” rated film, earning $370 million. And, in a rarity for Hollywood releases, re-entered the number 1 spot at the box-office for the weekend of Good Friday, 2004.

The reason it has stayed with me (and despite owning the DVD, I have not watched it repeatedly) is that it depicted so movingly the human side, the very ordinary side, of the –  as Graham Kendrick’s song “Meekness ad Majesty” proclaims –  “Man who was God”. The way that scenes of blood and gore are intercut with flashbacks of happier times, such as the scenes of Jesus as a small child being protected by his mother, who was powerless to protect him as an adult. And especially the juxtaposing of the wounded, bloodied, half-dead, miserable figure hanging pitifully on the cross of Capital Punishment, then interjected with the clean, beautiful face of Christ only hours before, with his disciples, breaking bread, sharing wine and proclaiming “This is my blood, which is given for you”….the next frame being a single red drop falling off his jagged wounds high up on the wooden cross onto the ground below.

No, I’m not being paid as a Movie Critic (unfortunately). But, trying to recapture what struck me about this depiction – the very “human-ness” of events, and people, and reactions, that have now become so much of Christian almost-folklore that they have become unreal and somewhat sanitised.

In similar descriptive vein is Irishman Thomas Kelly’s 1804 Hymn “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted” – a sombre affair in both lyrics and tune. The opening line draws from biblical Isaiah 53:4 “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted”.

In verse two, we are forced to consider the depth of Christ’s passion, his groaning, his betrayal, his insults, and his unmatched grief. The deepest stroke that pierced him, however, was the stroke that divine justice gave.

Sometimes we hear the cross described as a symbol of how precious we were to God. This is true, so long as we understand that we were not some diamond in the rough that irresistibly drew God to us.

The cross certainly shows us the depth of God’s love, but is a love wholly undeserved. For the cross, verse three reminds us, displays the true nature of sin and human guilt. Verse four elegantly summarises the hope of the gospel: “Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt! None shall ever be confounded who on him their hope have built.”

Easter is viewed by many, especially in Australia, as a wonderful 4-day “Long Weekend” to refresh and send time with family. Traditional foodstuffs such as Hot Cross Buns and Easter Eggs, once specifically symbolic of Christian (or at least “New Birth”) concepts have lost their meaning through commercialism, lack of education and the annoying insistence of stores displaying them earlier and earlier each year. (I very much enjoy consuming “Hot Cross Buns” but I find it pretty weird to see them in the supermarket in early January, even before the chronologically next “Commercial Festival” of Valentine’s Day!)

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In my local supermarket on 6th January this year.

The essence of the celebration of Easter is indeed the “Passion of the Christ” (the process, not the film title). And not just the “Oh Happy Day” that many modern churches like to focus on, but the extreme emotional highs and lows of some of the Bible’s most significant events.

Traditional Churches call this period “Holy Week”, commencing with “Palm Sunday”, celebrating Christ’s triumphant ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (which was last Sunday), then, in quick succession, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, then Easter Sunday (or the “Day of Resurrection). Indeed the aforementioned film is a depiction essentially of the last twelve hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, on the day of his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

The story opens in the Garden of Olives where Jesus has gone to pray after the Last Supper. Betrayed by Judas Iscariot, the controversial Jesus is arrested and taken back within the city walls of Jerusalem. There, the leaders of the Pharisees confront him with accusations of blasphemy; subsequently, his trial results with the leaders condemning him to his death. Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Palestine, for his sentencing. Pilate listens to the accusations levelled at Jesus by the Pharisees. Realising that his own decision will cause him to become embroiled in a political conflict, Pilate defers to King Herod in deciding the matter of how to persecute Jesus. However, Herod returns Jesus to Pilate who, in turn, gives the crowd a choice between which prisoner they would rather to see set free–Jesus, or Barrabas. The crowd chooses to have Barrabas set free.

Thus, Jesus is handed over to the Roman soldiers and is brutally flagellated. Bloody and unrecognisable, he is brought back before Pilate who, once again, presents him to the thirsty crowd-assuming they will see that Jesus has been punished enough. The crowd, however, is not satisfied. So, Pilate washes his hands of the entire dilemma, ordering his men to do as the crowd wishes. Whipped and weakened, Jesus is presented with the cross and is ordered to carry it through the streets of Jerusalem, all the way up to Golgotha. There, more corporal cruelty takes place as Jesus is nailed to the cross–suffering, he hangs there, left to die. Initially, in his dazed suffering, Jesus is alarmed that he has been abandoned by God his father. He then beseeches God. At the moment of his death, nature itself over-turns.

The Bible says in Isaiah 53:5 “But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.”

This is the essence of the Christian faith.

That we believe that somebody else took the responsibility, the blame and then the punishment, not for their own wrongdoings, but for others, and ultimately the whole human race.

In our daily lives, at least in my experience, this is, sadly,  rarely the case.

Ephraim R. McLean cynically coined “The six phases of a big project”, a favourite of office posters in the 1970’s.

The “Six Phases” have been jocularly described as:

1. Enthusiasm,
2. Disillusionment,
3. Panic,
4. Search for the guilty,
5. Punishment of the innocent, and
6. Praise and honour for the non-participants.

The unhappy fact is that there is more truth than fiction in the list.

Unfortunately, with many a project there is lack of support in early stages, and then quick abandonment if things go wrong, followed by finger-pointing and blame-laying.

Should things go badly, many have a tendency to wash their hands, Pontius-Pilate like, and distance themselves. Little responsibility is taken.

However, should the project, in the end, be a success, often there is a tendency to “bask in reflected glory”, where those who did not put in the effort and energy still want the recognition which should in fact go to those who put in the hard work from the beginning.

I have chronicled elsewhere, struggles I have personally had with various situations in life, be it personal or professional. At the root of some of the issues I have dealt with, is tousling with the concept of people accepting responsibility (and even blame) for their own part in events.

In some instances, finding true solutions to problems, including forgiveness and reconciliation has proved elusive. Because if there is no admission or acceptance of wrongdoing, and responsibility is not taken for one’s actions, then true restoration is impossible. Forgiving a person who takes no responsibility is in many ways “Cheap Grace” – it may bring relief or release to the “forgiver”, but any attempt at solving problems will be like my own inept efforts at gardening. (Yes, whipper-snippering over the weeds to temporarily keep them down).

Pulling a thistle out by the roots disturbs the ground, and can be hard to do (and requires strength, and time) if the roots are deep. Once it is done, however, it has been done completely and healing can begin. On the other hand,  just chopping the things off at ground level is only a temporary fix, and before long the weeds are just as high as they once were.

Locking people into a “Groundhog Day” scenario of repeated conflict which is never quite resolved, because even when particular situations or issues are seemingly sorted out, the underlying issues remain, just waiting to come back and bite, like the snakes on Greek Priestess Medusa’s head.

Medusa

What a contrast this is to the reported life and work of Christ, especially in the last week of his life!

He took the responsibility and blame for deeds he did not do, sins he did not personally commit. Christians believe that in so doing, our own sin and guilt is washed away. Even though we continue to “sin” day by day.

Whatever your own personal religious beliefs, may you take the time to reflect on the events of Easter some 2000 years ago. As often quoted on Remembrance days, reflecting on other sacrifices  “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. (John15:3)

Let us all be a little kinder, a little more loving, a little less proud, a little less defensiveBunny and Chicken 031 perhaps, be the “bigger person” and open our hearts to each other this Easter time.

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Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, see him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected; yes, my soul, ’tis he, ’tis he!
‘Tis the long expected Prophet, David’s son, yet David’s Lord;
by his Son God now has spoken: ’tis the true and faithful Word.

 Tell me ye who hear him groaning, was there ever grief like his?
Friends thro’ fear his cause disowning, foes insulting his distress;
many hands were raised to wound him, none would interpose to save;
but the deepest stroke that pierced him was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin by lightly nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation, his the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded who on him their hope have built.