Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Visionary Dreaming

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. ~John Muir

We grew up on vast continents whose stories are no less expansive than the landscape. The American west and Australian outback are characterized by sweeping western landscapes, uninhabited except for a few brave couples and the resulting children. Their stories, set against jagged mountains and oceans of grass, spoke to a deeply rooted desire for a simpler life within each of us. A simple life – one without fashion magazines and TV’s blaring, without incessant music and advertising, without all the soul-sapping features of modern life. It is no wonder we first fell in love exploring Thoreau together. Dreams of nature, solitude and beauty still inspire our souls and imaginations.
We have a dream of a place, a plot of land. We dream of a piece of land with a house large enough for a few guests, a home for one small part of the Body surrounded by vast spaces and big skies with a lake or ocean. It is a dream bred in vast continents with exploration histories, where land and landscape are known for their power to change and renew, inspire and kill. John Muir wrote, “everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
Our small corner of earth would be a place where people could go for study, reflection, relaxation, adventure, inspiration, prayer, renewal. A place where an evangelical pastor, a charismatic preacher, and a catholic priest could share a meal around a campfire or large table and, as brothers, have a hearty, challenging, and uniting discussion. A place where the world weary could find respite from the too heavy concerns that cling to the edges of the mind, even while asleep. A place where those who are searching, young or old, could read, study, ask questions, work the land, camp, and meet God. A place where backpackers could stop for a week or a year for an entirely different type of adventure as they search for themselves along the leaves and trails of the world. Our dream is of a love child between L’Abri and summer camp’s that was raised in a monastery. A small part of the Body working out what it is to love our Lord and each other from day to day, no matter who is in the room next door. A community centered around our Lord, prayer, work, exercise, worship, rest, adventure, solitude . . . We call it a retreat center, but perhaps a better word for it is a homestead, a homestead open to whoever passes by.
We have a dream. Some would accuse us of being visionary dreamers as it is a dream of Christian community, an ideal of life together with other believers. If you have read Life Together, you would remember that Bonhoeffer does not approve of visionary dreaming. In fact, “God hates visionary dreaming.” While Bonhoeffer’s original point, in context, is a good one, being a visionary and having dreams is not always bad. If the dream becomes the end in itself and the dream becomes more precious than our Lord and the broken reality of his Body, then it is abominable. And if it is a pipe dream – a hope that has yet to be fully explored or realized but a desire that is whispered over and over again, a dream that you hold with open hand and pray for God to do what he will, waiting without hope or thought . . .
Visionary dreaming? Maybe. But we are not dedicated to serving this ideal. It is merely a dream we are willing, even happy, to have God change, strip, redefine, or refine. Until then, we dream of going to the ‘woods because we wish to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if we could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when we come to die, discover that we have not lived’ (Thoreau).

Join us ...

Dear Brothers & Sisters,

We wanted to write to our brothers and sisters in the Lord, to share with you the beginnings of a journey we are on. We want to invite you to travel with us in spirit and bless us as we go.

On 24 September we will fly to the United States to spend two weeks with our family in California. This will be our first trip back to the US since we were married in November 2003 – we can’t wait to be there again! On 10 October we fly to Vancouver, where we will spend 4 days. The main reason why we are going to Vancouver is to explore the possibility of studying at Regent College.

Before we met, we both felt a deep desire and calling on our lives to serve the Lord beyond what is practical in our current 9-5 jobs. As a couple, we feel called to this together. We are still unsure of what this looks like, but we feel that being trained and equipped to more deeply know and understand our great God, his creation, his people, his work and his Word is the next step. This is where Regent College fits in. We are not sure what lies beyond, but we do have a pipedream of what it may look like … to find out more see our blog entry ‘Visionary Dreaming’.

Regent College is very appealing to us for several reasons. Regent is a truly international and interdenominational community, which provides a unique opportunity to experience the beautiful variety of the Body of Christ. The College has a history of attracting some of the most acclaimed theologians, writers, thinkers, teachers and witnesses in the contemporary Church. Regent College is known and respected in Australia, North America and right across the World. Vancouver is a stunning setting. After spending the first few years of our marriage in Australia, being closer to the other half of our family for a time is appealing to both of us.

Over the last few months, we have tried to learn as much about Regent College as possible – from the experience of studying there and what we will learn along the way, to the people we will meet and where our studies are likely to take us. We have been in contact with former students over coffees and emails, and had dinner with Paul Barnett, a Regent College Fellow. We have also been thinking about what it would mean to leave Sydney – our home, our friends, our family, our careers, our life as we know it – to take a path into the unknown.

This is an exciting yet daunting road ahead for us – a journey that we don’t feel that we can travel alone, nor do we want to. It is an adventure that we would like to share with you, if you will let us. As we prepare to leave and as we are in Vancouver in October, would you support us with your prayers?

Could you pray that we will have a safe trip and a wonderful time with our North American family; ask the Lord to give us clear direction about the next step in this journey, be it Regent College or something else; pray that we will continue to grow in the knowledge and love of God through this process.

Either before we go, or when we return will you share with us your wisdom about the opportunity we have ahead?

Walking on (again) …

Andrew & Jessica

Monday, September 05, 2005

Distracted from Distraction by Distraction

“Continual partial attention.” Microsoft apparently coined the phrase to identify the current human experience in the developed world. Marketers know this, consequently, in order to sell a product, they must be quick, engaging as many of the senses as possible – a barrage of colour, sound, flashing lights and disconnected images to engage the subconscious and conscious mind while keeping the ears listening and the eyes focused.

But it can’t last for more than 30 seconds.

At that point, even when saturated in stimuli, we know how to tune out, engage something else. Or worse, stay with one ear focused while the other locks on something new. Multi-tasking is the nice word for it. That glorious ability to answer emails, talk on the phone, listen to music, help the kids with their maths homework, and cook dinner all at the same time. Many wake up to music and fall asleep with their little while earphones, like tiny seashells, plugged in their ears. The noise is deafening, and that is the point.

Our world is, in a word, complex. Complexity is good, mature, wise even. We like the complex flavours of an exquisite meal or complex body of a nice red. We work in office complexes, we live in apartment complexes (if we are American) and we know that to be a complex person is to be interesting. We want every second of our lives packed full of action, information, excitement, entertainment, complexity. Living lives that are a tangled web of friendships, work, family, finances, social commitments, we cannot slow down and we will not stop. Besides, why would we want to bring an end to all this wonderful amusement? If we did, we might get bored. Instead, we rush from one thing to the next, "men and bits of paper, distracted from distraction by distraction."

If we rebel against complexity, we are left with the simple. To be simple, a generation or two ago, meant to be developmentally disabled. Even today, if something is simple, it is easy, obvious, unsophisticated. Simplicity has a slightly better rap thanks to vegetarian yoga magazines encouraging a simplicity in living and interior design, which usually involves brownish lentils, drinking water, and buying a frosted glass coffee table with tribal wooden accessories. Simplicity is only chic if it is expensive and cliché. Occasionally, we embrace this simplicity, but no more.

And we are tired. The world truly seems weary and stale underneath all this fun and we are, in truth, living "lives of quiet desperation." Even in church, the music often remains loud and slides accompanying the lyrics are increasingly colourful. But we can’t hear our own crying for all the noise and we certainly can’t hear a small voice whispering “be still.” If we could hear it, would we listen?

“Come aside to a quiet place and rest a while.” Jesus called is disciples away from the busy-ness of their lives after they had returned from ministering in the countryside. In order to find a quiet place, we must first remove the distraction. It is true, God can speak to us in the noise of the world; he is God, after all, and he is free to do as he pleases. Yet, we often find, as Elijah did, that the voice of God is not in the whirlwind, earthquake, or fire, but in the silence.

Getting away from distraction is difficult, especially with a TV in front of us, earphones in, and the internet an arm’s length away. In order to develop lives of stillness, we must first have lives characterised by simplicity. It is not always possible to quit work, take off for the bush, and live simply. Yet, in the rush of everyday life, we must find ways to turn off the images that bombard us, to silence the chorus of voices that keep us from hearing our own voice and, more importantly, the voice of our Lord. We must find ways to step outside the cultures that tell us we must have everything now, that we must be beautiful and popular and strong and funny. We must find ways to “be still” and know our God.