Roxy is the chaplain at St. Cuthbert’s college in central Auckland.
There are three things that have struck me deeply over the last ten years with regards to the teachings of Jesus and the way that we as church organise ourselves and live our faith and life journeys.
First of all, before my ordination training, I took classes in Church history (I had managed to avoid this entirely while studying for my theology degree back in the 90’s), and in one of the books I read, the author observed that even within the first 350 years of the Christian faith – before Constantine can be blamed for institutionalising us and aligning us with power and status – even before that, those who were perceived as heretical – doctrinally questionable or incorrect – were treated violently. Violence has always been part of the mainstream Christian reaction to conflict and difference.
For me, this was a huge revelation, because I thought that early Christians and the early church was deeply pacifist, following the example of Christ with a level of commitment that we only dream and talk about…all the violence was done to those martyrs, and none of them retaliated or sought vengeance not because they had no power, but because they chose not to.
That’s clearly not the whole story. And the fact that violence has always been part of how we deal with diversity and conformity how we attempt to create unity sends me back to Jesus’ teachings with lots of practical questions.
Secondly, the movements out into the deserts and wilderness places, into solitude, silence, reflective and contemplative practices have always recognised that the inner life is best nourished and attended to from the margins, from the edge of crisis (self –imposed or from outside), from the place where we accept our limitation and our need without question and also without experiencing this as judgement needing explanation or excuse.
Others had the same practical questions about how to live faithfully to the gospel witness of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, justice, generosity and grace. And they needed space, practices and disciplines and small communities to help them.
This has been a cyclical revelation for me – I dip into it and circle away because the edges are a hard place to live all the time (as I’m discovering at the school where I am chaplain), and yet this is where the deepest wisdom, the keenest insights and the most efficient ‘bullsh…’ detectors are to be found. But how do I live a part of a community and apart from community? How do I have space when so many varied demands are made on my being engaged? How can I keep on track and accountable with practices and disciplines that truly do feed and grow my soul??
Lastly, from the very edge of ministry and the margins of church life and community, this is what I have observed: familiarity breeds unfamiliarity – stories are so well known that they cannot speak a new word because no one is really listening for one; form is taken for content – feelings run high about the tune a hymn is sung to, the version of scripture used, the proper and right way things should be done (Sunday morning, hymn sandwich, book of order, committees, conveners) and this is taken for faith. For faith! And I do not know where the Spirit is blowing in the PCANZ, or what the Spirit is saying to the church in Aotearoa New Zealand! But I wonder if it might be: AWAKE! LISTEN! FOLLOW!
I visited at a church that felt like this was the foundation of people’s choice to be present together on a Sunday morning – following Jesus, and attending to every aspect of life through a different lens of faith – one that is challenging, welcoming and engaging. It made me sharply aware of my hunger for a community of companions on the journey of faith and life.
Disclaimer: I am very conscious of my ‘edgy’ voice…I’m not in the parish so how can I speak about the parish? I am not in a community, how can I speak of community? But then maybe also I don’t have the blind spots of belonging, either. I can see what can’t be seen from within, and perhaps also, I can see a fuller context from outside.
It has been so challenging to dwell at the margins in chaplaincy, and I’ve learned some painful lessons in humility and reciprocity – who am I serving and for what reward? have been questions I’ve had to sit with for the last two years as I’ve peeled through the layers of my answers….I am happy if some of that work can bear fruit for the church.