Thursday, 31 March 2016

What do Spring Rolls and Playdough have in common?

I wonder how you eat spring rolls? I have always loved spring rolls, but I had never tasted spring rolls like in Hanoi, Vietnam, until this year. I think I have been spoiled for life now. They are quite a delicacy in Hanoi and nothing compares to them anywhere. I also learned a lot about how they eat them. That was very inspiring.

In Vietnam culture, the spring roll is something that is shared with the community, it is something they do together, using the same dips for everyone. Where in Australia, we have a rule of NO double dipping, in Vietnam, it is an essential part of eating them to share the same dips and to dip together.

The spring rolls “dips” are also very symbolic of the experience of doing it together. The dip is a mixture of lemon (sour) , garlic ( smelly) , capsicum, chilli (hot) , Pepper (spicy), fish sauce (sugar) , water that joins it all together.

The ingredients of the dips represent all types of tastes and combinations, coming together and being blended to make something special. This is a symbol of community. There are all kinds of people who should make up community and it is the variety that makes it TRUE community. What a beautiful example of what community should look like. We all get to be together at the banquet sharing it together. It reminds me of the great banquet Jesus talked about where all were invited and welcomed to share together. The sad thing is that, just as in the parable, there were many who wouldn't come. So it is with our culture, which has become so obsessed with having our own dips and making sure that we are separate so as to not share germs, and allowing everyone to have control of their own combinations and eat what they want to eat and not have to share.

I often do this excursive with all ages, where I give them a piece of play dough and everyone has a different colour. I begin by asking them to design something with their play dough and create something that represents them. Many enjoy this process but the next step is hard for them. Even though this is only a piece of play dough, it is amazing how attached they get. I ask them to share their creation with other people in the room and as they do they must share a piece of play dough, which means they give a piece away and gain a piece. As they continue to swap with people over and over again, they end up with different colours in their hands.

It always amazes me how the majority of people keep all the colours separate even when I am constantly asking them to massage the colours together as they go. When they sit down I ask them again to massage the colours all together in order to make a new colour. Many just can’t do it. They have either been conditioned to NOT mix the colours or they don't like the fact that their creations has been destroyed and it is no longer the same as when they started.

Again this practical exercise reminds us that to be TRUE community means that in the sharing process, what we end up is not the same as what we started with. Some people love this, but more than often our “isolated”, “controlling”, “self-focused”, “comfortable” culture means that we really struggle with this exercise. Sounds harsh I know, but there is no other explanation for this behaviour. If this is so hard in an exercise with play dough, imagine the sacrifice it takes for people to live in TRUE community. Like the spring roll experience, life is meant to be shared and done together. And through the combining and sharing we are all transformed to become something different..

How about you ... are you okay to SHARE your sauce dips and double dip your spring rolls? Can you MIX your play dough colours ... or does the thought of that make you cringe?
The bigger question is ... is life in your faith community truly shared and mixed together, and if not what are you missing out on?

Monday, 21 March 2016

You can always rely on the sun

On one thing you can be sure, the Sun rises every morning and sets every evening. I have to admit it is something I rarely see, as in the morning I am nearly always asleep and in the evening I am usually home making dinner or settling in the for the night. 

The last couple of weeks I have been travelling and as schedules would have it I have seen a few sunsets and sunrises. I said to my fellow travellers as we were looking at the sunrise..."I never tire of seeing that, it captures my attention every time". Now, having just admitted that it is not a regular occurrence, you may wonder how I could say that!  Over the 48 years of my life, I have seen my fair share of sunsets and sunrises, and not one has been the same. They are so unique and beautiful. I can only imagine this would never change. 

But it makes me wonder how different my life might be if I simply began and ended my day gazing at the sun?  Would it change my perspective on life, on creation, on my creator?

To daily gaze upon His consistency, His faithfulness, the beauty that is always the same and yet always different fact two times a day. The bigness of the sun and the way it stretches so far across the universe that I could see it no matter which part of the world I am in. The intensity of the Sun, so much so that there are moments when you simply cannot gaze directly at it or you are blinded, and then as quickly as that it disperses into the clouds and allows you to see it’s far reaching effects. The fact that one minute it is dark and then in a moment light appears OR at sunset it is light and within a minute is it dark. The fact that as you watch the sky it continually changes moment by moment. It is a photographers dream to capture the moments, and every day it is a never ending challenge. The colours are ever changing and morphing before your eyes. 

It would only take an hour out of my day to see it and yet I am not prepared to make this commitment, even though I know it would be a great way to start and end my day. We are often not good at doing what it best for us. The sad thing is that there are many things that actually take more than an hour of my time each day that have no earthly or eternal value to my life. They can actually bring stress, pain or negativity and yet I continue to allow them to dictate the way I live my life. All the while the sun rises and sets each day, whether I see it or not. It is consistent, faithful, not demanding that I acknowledge it, yet it remains beautiful and inspiring. It is a message from the creator that I can rely on Him to be there every day and to remind me that just when we think we have seen what He can do, He amazes us with something new. 

The other day I had a really tough night and was feeling rather down in my spirit, so I decided I would get up and watch the sun rise to get a different perspective.  But this day it was very cloudy and I sat there thinking “great, I bothered for nothing; I won’t be able to see anything”. Funny how God does that … challenges you in ways you don’t expect. Here I am feeling more sorry for myself that I got up early to see the sunrise, but the clouds were in the way. And then a peek of brilliant sun burst through the clouds for just a moment, and then nothing much more for that morning. I realised that even when we can’t always see it, when the clouds and darkness of life fill our minds, the sun still rises and sets. Even if we choose not to see it, or let the clouds consume us, He remains consistent and faithful, still beautiful and inspiring.

I do believe I live each day differently when I begin and end my day with Him. The sunset and sunrise reminds me that it is always the best choice. And it IS our choice. He never changes. He has made his choice. We CAN rely on the sun to rise and the sun to set. Like the Sun, we can rely on the Creator of the sun to be faithful, consistent, colourful, life giving, ever inspiring, amazingly beautiful and one to be in awe of. The choice is… will I live each day with that perspective and see how that can change the way I live? 
From the rising of the sun to its setting The name of the LORD is to be praised
Ps 113:3

Monday, 14 March 2016

What makes a home?

I entered a beautiful, well ordered, nicely set out home. It had all the modern things that we consider a house needs; a fully equipped kitchen, lounge with two big TVs, in a safe neighbourhood. The rooms were nicely furnished and everything was in its place. The bed was very nicely made with a welcome note on the bed and a few lollies left for me from the owner. 

The owners were away, yet they graciously allowed me to stay there for three nights, which was a blessing. There were two boarders living there, and while friendly when we occasionally crossed paths in the hallways, they pretty much stayed in their own rooms behind closed doors. My schedule was busy so I spent very little time at the home, but I entered and left most days with all the rooms in darkness, hearing very little voices or life in the house...certainly no laughter. Of the two encounters I had with one of the boarders, one was to ask me to turn down my iPad while in my room as the sound of what I was watching was disturbing her in her room. The other was to make sure I put my glass in the dishwasher after I had a drink. 

Everything in the environment encouraged me to stay in my room, when there was a perfectly lovely lounge room, spa out the back, a lovely kitchen to cook and eat in. But the whole time I was there it was dark and closed up. I felt like it would be wrong the turn the light on and enjoy the spaces, even if it was by myself.

It was a beautiful looking house, but it was like being in a hotel, which in some ways was what it was for me. While for this trip it suited my purposes, it made me think how I couldn't live like this, and it made me wonder how many people actually do?

As I left on the third morning heading toward my loud, crazy home that is filled with people and noise and laugher, I appreciated more than ever before what really makes a home. See, I too have two boarders so I understand this living arrangement. We regularly congregate in the kitchen for long, fun conversations, the lounge room is rarely vacant, and there is laughter, activity and life. We insist on eating together as regularly as we can, we create environments where we do things together yet respect that everyone needs their own space. But I realise this happens because there is intentionality in our home to make it this way. It takes setting a tone of how we want to live in community, or at least how what living together in our home looks like. If we didn’t I could imagine how easy it would be for everyone to migrate to their rooms and only pass in the hallway occasionally. 

Another encounter I had with the other boarder was when she let me into the house. I asked her how long she had been living there. She said over a year, and continued on by saying she loves it when the owners are there, because there is always lots of family around. I know for a fact that it would have been a very different experience for me it they had been home. As the stewards of their home, they have the ability to create an environment that is either a home or a hotel and I know that they do that. Anyone however can be a part of making this happen. It is a matter of choosing it.

I know that my husband and I work hard at this, mainly because it is how we want to live together. But, I pray we are also able to model to all who live or stay with us in the short or long term, or for those who simply visit our home, that a home can be a safe, fun, empowering and life-giving place to do life with others.

A home is the people, not just the well planned floor plan: it's the personal interaction, not just the modern comforts : it's the love and shared life, not so much enough space that we can choose isolation. Maybe more than anything it is the choice for all in the household to be intentional about sharing the space. While that means our shared spaces get messy at times, sometimes “chaos” is apparent, lights and noise fill most spaces, the kitchen is full of smells and prayer is that people feel welcome, accepted and that when they enter our house, they have a place to call home. 

Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Vietnam Way

If you have ever been to Vietnam you will know that crossing the road is an adventure and a confidence builder. Basically the rule is, step out and just keep walking, wave your hand a little, but don't stop... the cars, bikes, trucks, food vans and pedestrians work on the rule of “Yield and forgive.”
It means that if you walk out in front of someone, they will yield, forgive that you got in their way and simply go around you. There is something very invigorating stepping out in front of 3-4 cars coming directly towards you and as you keep walking and watch them all go around you in all different directions. If you stop or step back or hesitate, you mess up the flow and then you cause a crash...

Even if you do crash, they still work on the basis and Yield and forgive, and generally if there is not too much damage, just keep on going. I am sure that it doesn't always work, but it was fascinating to watch what would have meant a serious traffic jam with no one moving in Australia. In Vietnam it all just keeps moving. It is especially great when you are wanting to turn in from a side street and join the traffic. In Australia you would be waiting all day for a break in the traffic. In Vietnam you just drive on into the traffic and everyone drives around you. It is funny there are traffic lights that generally keep order on the roads, but often they are described as “a suggestion.”

I was only there for 10 days, but it was quite interesting how quickly you get used to it. The first day I got home to Australia, I drove to the shops, went around the roundabout, thinking I had plenty of time to cut in before the car coming around would reach me, but I was met with a horn blast and some very choice words...clearly I thought he would just slow down and let me in.

It works in Vietnam because everyone lives by the same rules...Yield and forgive...It doesn't work when everyone is not willing to “yield and forgive”...OOPS ... I quickly was reminded that I was back in Australia.  The rules are different here and it sometimes feels more like “get out of my way or I will let you know how I feel about it”...I mean, seriously, there was plenty of time for me to come into the roundabout before him!

Anyway, we had a family meeting not long after that and I was talking about how we would live together in one house as a family this year. It is a good thing to do each year as so much changes from year to year.  It made me think it was a great way to live...being other-centred that allowed for “Yielding and forgiving”, working around each other, forgiving quickly when we get in each others way, empowering each other to stay on track and encouraging each other, building confidence as each person steps out, knowing we will support that, not get in each others way. Knowing we don't have to stop all the time and command our own space and especially not “honking” at each other because things are not always going our own way.  Of course there needs to be rules and guidelines and maybe they need to be more than a “suggestion”, but even when rules are broken, living in such a way where we “yield and forgive”, like the grace that God gives us when His rules are broken. It is definitely a better way to live, is it not? 

Imagine what life would be like if we lived this way in everything.  I can’t explain it but in Vietnam, it was freeing, it built my confidence, I felt empowered and it was exciting. I know that under God’s grace and forgiveness I feel the same, and to live that out towards others is surely the way we are called to live.

Of course it only works when we all live the same way. As soon as someone breaks that rhythm ... crashes happen. And in families or households (close quarters) it happens all the time.

The question is how should we respond, “blame or punishment” or “yield and forgive.” It certainly started some good conversation in our family that day and although it sounded like a such a great idea, it has become very challenging to live it out in our family daily. How about yours?