Thursday, August 28, 2008


Here's a precis of the talk I gave to the Australian World Vision staff yesterday:

Friends, it's good to be here again. Early in the 1980s World Vision Executive Director Harold Henderson asked me to work for WV as a 'Leadership Enhancement Consultant'. My job: to wander around the country and be a resource for pastors and churches. A secondary mandate: the churches generally were suspicious - even resentful - of World Vision 'taking money from our people'. I think we were able to turn that around: I don't hear complaints like that very much these days...

They were heady times: I spoke to about 100 pastors' conferences in Australia and in other places; and to about 700 churches. We produced a Leadership Letter - 'GRID' - which I was told was the only literature sent to all the pastors (and others) in Australia - 23,000 of them. Some of those articles can be found on the John Mark Ministries website (see, e.g., etc.).

Part of my responsibility was to take Church leaders to various parts of the world to meet 'the poorest of the poor'. On one of these trips I vividly remember Pedro, a day-labourer who with his wife Isabella lived in one of the 400 favellas/slums around Fortaleza, in north-east Brazil. They had five children (from nine live births) - all malnourished. Pedro could only get work about every third day; Isabella made clothes on a basic sewing-machine lent by World Vision. But sometimes they had no food at night, and to stop their starving kids crying from hunger Isabella would feed them little balls of rolled-up moistened newspaper, sprinkled with sugar. These had almost no nutritional value, but at least the children wouldn't cry so much and Pedro could get some sleep. They'd owned a black bean farm, inherited from Pedro's father and grandfather, and one day the police, bribed by a wealthy landowner, drove them off their farm. They had no legal redress - the authorities were in the pockets of the rich.

We asked this couple, through an interpreter: 'What do you need?' Isabella replied, 'We have only one blanket for the children, and when the roof leaks they get wet and cold and sick, and many children here have died. I would like a blanket for each child.' And Pedro: 'I need a job every day to feed my family.' What else? Pedro: 'I want my farm back, and for justice to be done in my country.' Anything else? 'Yes, where is the God we worship at Mass every Sunday? Why are we treated like 'the scum of the earth'?

Hold that in a part of your memory-bank: we'll return to that story...

How are we supposed to relate to one another in a Christian organization like World Vision? One short answer: As Martin Luther put it: 'Act as Christs to each other' (or, conversely, treat others as if they were Jesus). Another: Learn to view one another as more than role-players (IT person, HR person, PA to an executive staff-member etc.). Don't let what *describes* someone/yourself *define* them. To paraphrase C S Lewis: we look around this room and see others with various roles, with whom we work, or see in the cafeteria... If we really understood who they were, created in God's image, we'd be tempted to fall down and worship *them*!

This morning I want to offer some thoughts on three aspects of relating Christianly to others. These three concepts underlie *all* relationships between humans, between humans and God, and even between humans and animals...

Now another story. Being an itinerant ('hit-run') preacher since those days has some advantages. I remember a Sunday evening service in a conservative church in rural Victoria, Australia. They had big black Bibles and severe expressions... They knew their Bibles, and were proud of that. It was a smallish group, so I decided to engage them in dialogue.

'Who knows who the Pharisees were?' They did. 'The Pharisees got a pretty nasty press in the New Testament - especially Matthew.'

'Now tell me all the *good* things you can think of about the Pharisees.' I wrote them up on a blackboard:

The Pharisees knew their Bibles; were disciplined in prayer; fasted twice a week; gave about a third of their income to their 'church'; were moral (very moral); many had been martyred for their faith; they attended 'church' regularly; they were evangelical/orthodox; and evangelistic (Jesus said they'd even cross the ocean - a fearful thing for Jews - to win a convert).

There was a deep silence. I asked 'Peter' sitting at the front: 'What's wrong?' He pointed to the list and said 'That's us!' 'Is it?" I responded. 'Well,' I said, 'You've got a problem: Jesus said these people were children of the devil!'

Then we did an inductive exercise on the question: 'What's so wrong with this list of admirable qualities?' Short answer: it omits what was most important for Jesus. Whenever in the Gospels he used a prefatory statement like 'This is the greatest/most important thing of all...' none of the above were emphasized by him.

What were his emphases? Yes, loving God, loving others, seeking first the kingdom = obeying God the King ... And, from two Gospel verses the Evangelicals/orthodox have rarely noticed - Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42 - justice/love, mercy, faith. Jesus paraphrased the famous Micah 6:8 summary of what life is all about: justice, kindness, and walking humbly with God...

There they are - the three underlying dynamics in all relationships:

[1] First, Justice. Social justice, a major theme of the biblical prophets, is essentially about the right use of power. Injustice is the abuse, misuse, non-use of power. Each of us - psychologically - is the sum-total of all the powerful things said or done to us, positively or negatively... Think about that. We believe about ourselves essentially what others - or our society - have told us we're worth, in terms of achievements, appearance, what-have-you.

But each of us is more powerful than we might realize in terms of encouraging others. As James says in the New Testament epistle that bears his name, our words have great power.

In our marriage enrichment seminars Jan and I talk about the negative power of anger in her life. Her father was an angry and violent man, who beat his children up to the age of about 18. If ever I appear angry with Jan (which thankfully is very rare), she reacts fearfully.

We cannot live as adults as if we did not have these powerful inputs into our lives as children.

Think: * What's the difference between 'power' and 'authority'?

* What gives a person 'power' over another?

[2] Mercy is love-in-action. Where justice/power addresses the origins of someone's personhood (or pain) mercy or compassion addresses the symptoms. Christian love (agape) is the relationship between subject and object which creates worth in the object, rather than responding to worth.

Pause: * What does that mean in terms of the uniquely Christian notion of unconditional love?

* What is the difference between empathy and sympathy?

An essential element of empathy is 'attending' to the other: being 'present' for them as they share a life-story. If we are distracted, or using their words to think up how we can then be heard, we are not truly empathetic (as the Brits say) or empathic (the term used by Americans). See the article 'How to Help Your Friend - and Others' ( )

A retired clergyman asked what I was going to do with the rest of the day? 'Talk confidentially to a pastor who's thinking of leaving parish ministry.' His question: 'What will you say to him?' My response: 'I want to hear his story first before I can appropriately walk with him through whatever options might be there for him...'

[3] Faith is the third dimension in all relationships. We trust that what we are experiencing with others is true. When faith is tested by, for example, lying, we mistrust others. Faith in God is essentially a commitment that God *is*, and that God is there for us, as God was with his people in the past. Were they always delivered from danger, disease and death? No, and that's the ultimate mystery.

I used to discuss 'faith matters' with an alcoholic parishioner whose family was highly dysfunctional. She'd had nine major operations, including a double mastectomy, and was physically beaten and abused by her drunken family-members. But a miracle occurred for her. What was it? She died at about 70 years of age *of natural causes*! She persevered with the faith she had, and survived, where others might have given up - perhaps given up on life itself. Miracles come in many forms, but most of them are slow and steady!

We have more power than we realize in building up others' faith...

So as we interact with one another today, let us humbly acknowledge where our powerlessness and/or our power lies, and employ power with love. Let us ask ourselves, as the good Samaritan did, 'What resource can I be for this one, or for others, today?' And finally, how can we 'stir up one another's faith' today?

Final exercise: Back to the story of Pedro and Isabella: how do these universal Christian principles relate to their situation?


Shalom/Salaam/Pax! Rowland Croucher


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