Thursday 20 February 2014

What do we notice?

We are currently using a study book based on the movie 'Chocolat' in one of our congregations. Today the session looked out how we deal with people who are different to us. There was one question that I found particularly challenging. It asked, 'What do we notice first when we meet someone new; the differences or the similarities?' On reflection, I thought of two separate but similar interfaith experiences that illustrated the effects of what we notice first.

The first of these occurred a few years ago now in Bali. I was on an exchange trip with the church. Our group of 12 people had visited various Christian programs and villages around the island. On this particular day we were visiting a Hindu temple. We walked up many, many steps until we could go no further. There were tourists everywhere, but they were restricted from entering the holiest part of the Temple that was reserved only for worshippers. A Balinese gentleman who was monitoring those who entered the holy section showed some interest in our group. He spoke with us and, on finding out that we were Christian, invited us to enter the holy area. 'You can come in and spend some time worshipping your God' he said. What a privilege! And what an experience!

The second situation was just last year in Jerusalem. We were taking an opportunity to have a close look at the Dome of the Rock, a magnificent building. For me , however, the opportunity to experience prayer and worship inside was exciting. We copied all of the other people approaching the entrance, covering our heads and removing our shoes, only to be told at the entrance, 'No tourists!'

Now, there are possibly numerous reasons for the different responses in these two places of worship. But, if I reflect in a totally selfish way about how I felt, there was a huge chasm between the two experiences. The Balinese man, although we were obviously not Balinese or Hindu, noticed the similarities we had. We were all people for whom the spiritual was important and valued times of worship. The result - a unique, inspiring and memorable time of worship. The Muslim man at the Dome of the Rock probably had good reason to notice our differences, but that is all he saw. 

What we notice does have an impact. Not only does it change who we are as a fellow human, but we may never know how it affects the one we are noticing. So, the challenge for me is to notice the similarities first and then learn to appreciate the differences later.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

If I only had the nerve

A friend of mine has a word that they focus on each year. It is a word that encourages personal growth and hopefully a change in attitude or behaviour. I was reflecting on what my word for this year might be. Two years ago my word was 'integrity' and it was a year of learning to be true to myself and my own beliefs. A lot happened in that year that contributed to my growth in this area. Last year I adopted a short phrase, 'no living in fear'. My awareness was raised at the impact fear has on our lives. It paralyses us, motivates us to behave in ways we would prefer not and distracts us from acting out of love. I don't know that it is possible to master such huge things in your life in the space of a year, but it certainly was helpful to have a focus.

So what is the word for this year? Courage! In many ways it is related to my themes of the previous two years. Living with integrity and without fear takes great courage. Courage to speak up when you know that your opinion is not popular. Courage to take risks and give new things a go. Courage to show strength and find your true potential. Courage to confront. Courage to love. Courage to stand on the margins. The list could go on.

As many of you know, one of my favourite movies is 'The Wizard of Oz'. The cowardly lion joins the journey to see the Wizard in search of courage as if it is something that can be attained or achieved. On finally speaking with the Wizard about his request he discovers that he had courage all along inside. So, learning from this piece of wisdom I need to be careful not to start a quest for the nerve I need. Instead, this year needs to be a year of going deeper within, spending more time being still and quiet and discovering the courage that already lies within. And so the Year of Courage begins!!