Tag Archives: Jesus

A Fringe review and some reflections

It’s Mad March in Adelaide again, which means the Festival, the Fringe Festival, Writers Week, the now oddly-cereal-like named Superloop 500, Womadelaide and much more. Living in the city is ideal at this time of year, and I’ve loved the opportunity to wander down to the riverbank to see the Symphony for our World (which was an outstandingly beautiful reflection on creation and creativity) and Yabarra: Gathering of Light (which is an engaging and vital project grounding the city in its long history and culture).

In terms of the Fringe, so far I have seen a truly terrible comedian (who I won’t name and shame here) and an absolutely enjoyable choir performance that I have not only been singing the songs from for days, but has also had me reflecting on some deeper themes it touched on.

So, this is my part review and part reflection on The Choir of Man.

Nine talented performers singing well known songs in impressive harmonies is always going to be a recipe for a good night out. The talent on display is pretty remarkable, including a piano virtuoso, a Dein Perry-esque tap dancer, a poet or three, comedic timing, audience participation, multiple instruments and dancing styles, all held together by nine strong voices. Songs covered include those that had the audience clapping and singing along, like Welcome to the Jungle, I Would Walk 500 MilesSome Nights, and the iconic Aussie favourite You’re the Voice; others that showcased impressive soloists telling stories through melody, like Adele’s Hello, Don Quixote’s The Impossible Dream, and Sia’s Chandelier; a heartrending rendition of Luther Vandross’ Dance With My Father during which you could have heard a pin drop; and an almost benedictory traditional closing song, The Parting Glass.

That this performance is set in a working bar, a classic English pub, where both the performers and the audience are invited to authentic fun and engagement (and to a pint or two) and is drawn together by a narrator who reflects on mateship, community, love and loss, adds to the enjoyment, but also leads me to my deeper musings.

“Some pubs have a football team or a darts club,” we are told. “This pub has a choir.”

The show is a bit of an ode to the local pub, the place where regulars can get together for a drink and share something of life. But we are also told it’s not a “boys don’t cry” kind of pub, and the idea of a community where genuine experience and emotion can be shared and supported – whether just by listening or by lending a hand – is significant throughout the storyline. To me, this is mateship. Friendship. What community should be. What for me as a Christian and a pastor, the church should be. My church is currently doing a sermon series exploring ideas of friendship and community, family, work, rest and play together, and so this show resonated with some of the same ideas, both encouraging and challenging me. Encouraging me that the church at its best has something valuable to say to our culture on this; challenging me that we can too often think we have a monopoly on it or hold it to ourselves, rather than championing it wherever we see it and inviting others into it.

This is also a show by, for, and about men. The (male) friend who recommended it to me warned that I might find it “a bit blokey.” And I did. But in a way that I loved. The characters in the pub are all pretty blokely blokes. (And yes, there is a song performed at a urinal). As a group, there’s a lot of testosterone on display. But there are men with hipster beards and man buns, as well as men with six pack muscles and classically strong jawlines. There are also men of less than average height and of over average weight. More importantly, these are not only men who sing and dance together, but men who are unafraid to both laugh and cry together. These are men who provide a glimpse into what male camaraderie and mateship can be.

And while there is some serenading of women in the audience and relationship woes played for laughs, at the end of the night I realised that they had managed to put on a public performance of broad-shouldered masculinity that didn’t need to objectify or degrade women to do so. (Unlike the aforementioned comedian, who the less said about the better). One review of The Choir of Man I read said this was a picture of the “opposite of toxic masculinity” and that’s not a bad description. In a cultural moment where there are certain voices criticising feminism for seeking to emasculate men, these guys affirm that it is a not an either/or proposition. They reminded me in some ways of my brothers and what I love about them. And in a week where unfortunately I had yet again had some (men) devalue what I do simply because of my gender, I needed to be reminded of that.

Of course, these brothers of mine, in my church family and community, go much further than a 90-minute performance. They don’t just meet the minimum standard of “not degrading women,” but champion and advocate for women, make space for us, support us and honour us, all without compromising their masculinity.  I value what they as men have to offer that I cannot, as they value what I as a woman bring. I love doing life alongside them.

As I watched this performance, in the back of my mind was the sermon I had been writing for Sunday. Perhaps that’s what put me in such a reflective mood. Talking about what ‘rest’ and ‘play’ look like for the church, I was challenged to consider how we encourage one another to explore and appreciate creativity in all its forms, and where we are talking about what we see and hear and experience in art, song, comedy, music, where it resonates with the creativity of our Creator, and how it keeps us hearing his calls to life in all its flourishing.

For me, the ongoing questions are how Jesus calls men and women to life together, and all of us to the expression of community, in ways that reflect and point to who He is and what He is bringing about.
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Today would be a good day to be in Nazareth

It’s hard to believe 5 months have flown by since we were in Israel. Today I’m wishing I could head back for the day to one of my favourite towns. Nazareth is most famous as the place where Jesus and His family lived and it is great to ground some of the stories of His life in this place. It’s also just a really lovely place to hang out, observe and share life in today.

What have I loved about Nazareth?

Like many places, it is the combination of geography, history, and culture, that weaves the story and invitation of this place.
Nazareth is located in Galilee, in a natural ‘bowl’ surrounded by hills. This great view of the city is found from Mt Precipice, believed by some to be the place where the people of the town wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff after his sermon in their synagogue.

The mountain looks out over the Jezreel Valley, the most fertile part of Galilee, and standing there makes me feel like I’m standing in the middle of a map.

In the city itself is a maze of donkey-track streets going up and down, round and about, what I have found to be a great place to wander and a tricky place to drive!

I love seeing the beauty of houses from different eras built side by side, standing as testimony to the many lives and stories in this place over generations.

Nazareth today is a large town with a largely Arab population, about 1/3 Christian and 2/3 Muslim. Near the central old market is the beautiful old White Mosque.

Even older again is the so-called Synagogue Church, a simple room built atop crusader ruins to remember  and evoke the church where Jesus preached.

And even simpler (and older) again are the caves located underground where it is believed Christians hid during Roman persecution.

The layers of history are also seen at the Catholic Church of the Annunciation. The large church was built in the 1960s.

Inside is a church within a church, with an 18th century altar.

This is located inside the grotto, an ancient church where 5th century mosaics have been located.

Outside, excavations underneath the church have discovered the remains of the village from Roman times.

In the bustling town today people live and shop and socialise in the footsteps of this history. Take this carpenter’s workshop for example, its owner following in the traditional profession of the town’s most famous resident and His father.

Or the renowned Elbabour spice shop, milling and grinding local produce for over 100 years.

When travelling without the larger group, I’ve had the privilege of staying in the beautiful Fauzi Azar Inn.

The staff and volunteers of this guesthouse have a heart for the local community and were engaged in numerous projects including this youth drop in centre with its juxtaposition of modern facilities in an ancient location.

What have I learned from Nazareth?

There are two experiences in Nazareth that I have found educational in complicated and unexpected ways. The first is Nazareth Village, an open-air museum built to reconstruct and reenact life in Jesus’ time.

I have mixed feelings about this place.

It is certainly helpful for bringing the biblical story to life …

… and evoking imagination about a different time and place.

But it is run by non-locals and has a distinctly Western flavour.

And, I think it is fair to say, it can feel a little bit kitsch.

The other place I continue to ponder is the Church of the Annunciation itself. It contains some of the most beautiful modern stained glass windows I have ever seen, which shaped some of my reflections in a previous post.

But it is also decorated by mosaics from around the world depicting the annunciation story.

Each one depicts the story from their own national perspective.

On one hand I do like the idea of drawing our own connections to the significant stories of our faith.

On the other hand, it feels like perhaps we are re-creating Mary and Jesus in our own image.

I have used these photos in some of my biblical studies classes to raise this question.

And of course inevitably someone asks about the Australian artwork, which I have to admit I personally find one of the more difficult to engage with.

I think in the end my favourite is the one from Nazareth itself, both because of its simplicity and because of its authenticity to the story’s location within history, geography, and culture.

It reminds me again that there is still much to learn from the people who make Nazareth their home today. Apparently the bulk of visitors to this city do a day trip to see a combination of these main sites but don’t actually stay in the town. If that’s true, they are missing out. The generosity and hospitality of the local people here, despite significant political and social challenges, is inspiring and challenging. I hope to spend more time among them if I can.

 

Today would be a good day to be on the Sea of Galilee

We’ve just started to plan our next study tour to Israel and Jordan in 2018, which of course has got me thinking about some of my favourite places in that part of the world. I love the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem and the beautiful history of Caesarea, but for a tranquil place to contemplate and reflect, a favourite place of mine in Israel is the Sea of Galilee. I’d love to be able to spend the day there today.

What do I love about the Sea of Galilee?

Many of the places in Israel feel like a tour through church history, seeing how previous generations have chosen to remember places that have biblical significance. So the first time I visited the Sea of Galilee, there was a sense of relief at its untouched natural beauty – “they can’t build a church on this!”

The Sea is somehow both bigger and smaller than I had imagined it to be.

Visiting it brought many stories to life. Reading through the gospels, the Sea is almost a character in the narratives as Jesus and his disciples transverse back and forth across it …

fish from it …

experience storms upon it …

and even walk on it.

When I returned to spend time in this part of the world by myself, I stayed in one of the most beautiful and tranquil guesthouses I have ever visited and had the privilege of this view out my window:

It was a wonderful, peaceful place for reflection and contemplation, whether at dawn …

as the sun rose …

… or after dark.

What did I learn from the Sea of Galilee?

There is something beautiful and pristine about many bodies of water. But this one is special to me because of its connection to the story and history of One Man.

As a follower of Jesus, I walk in his footsteps metaphorically every day. Being able to connect that tangibly to real places is a wonderful privilege. It brings a concreteness and a specificity to my faith.

But the bigger truth it teaches me is not so much that I have walked where he has walked, but that I have a God who has walked where I walk. Who entered into human history and everyday life and experienced beauty and sorrow, tiredness and energy, rest and bustle, food and water and sunlight and dirt and noise and taste and smell and everything else that makes up the ordinariness of my life. And somehow the fact that he has done so transforms it all and makes it all new, inviting me into a new experience every day of walking with him.