John van de Laar

Author's details

Name: John van de Laar
Date registered: March 14, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Sacredise: On Loving — September 3, 2013
  2. Sacredise: Faith vs. Science? Really? — August 30, 2013
  3. Sacredise: We May Lose Faith, But Not Our Need For Liturgy — August 29, 2013
  4. Sacredise: Which Seat Will You Choose? — August 27, 2013
  5. Sacredise: Humanity, Embodiment & Sexuality — August 24, 2013

Most commented posts

  1. Sacredise: What Good Is Faith? — 2 comments
  2. Sacredise: Rev. Dr. Ross Olivier — 2 comments
  3. Sacredise: Welcome Palestine — 1 comment
  4. Sacredise: A Story of Life — 1 comment

Author's posts listings

Sep 03 2013

Sacredise: On Loving

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A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 14:25-33 for Proper 18C

We love the stories both before and after the Gospel reading for this week. The parable of the wedding feast, which precedes this short teaching, and in which all the outcasts and marginalised people are welcomed speaks of a grace that is extravagant and abundant. Following the words of Jesus in today’s text, the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin have brought comfort to many of us who have known the loneliness and grief of rejection and neglect. When the grace of God is proclaimed in images like these it sounds so inviting, so inclusive, so forgiving and so attractive.

So, why did Luke have to go and mess it up by sticking a sermon about hating loved ones and counting the cost in the middle of it? Quite simply, because without these words, we haven’t yet understood the grace which these parables describe.

I have often heard people respond with offense to Jesus’ words that we are to hate our loved ones. These words seem to contradict the Gospel of loving God and loving our neighbours, and they sound most unChristlike unless we grasp their significance. As almost all commentators will explain, Jesus’ instruction to “hate” is not literal, but is relative. As the New Living Translation puts it: “you must hate everyone else by comparison”. In other words, our love for Jesus – or rather for the mission and message of the Reign of God which he proclaimed and lived – must be our primary and all-consuming love to such an extent that all other loves pale into insignificance.

So far so good. But, isn’t Jesus being a tad narcissistic? What’s wrong with loving our families and friends? Here is where we need to understand the power and the challenge of God’s Reign. The truth is that, without following the way of Jesus, we really don’t know how to love. What we call love is usually deeply flawed. It is tainted with our own neediness, our desire to control those we love, our pride at believing we know what’s best for our loved ones, and our greed to be the centre of their attention even as we resist giving ourselves fully to them. Our love is often big on our need and desire, and small on sacrifice, self-giving, selflessness and service. Sometimes what we call love even becomes deeply destructive. For example, I was shocked to hear recently that in some of South Africa’s more broken communities it is common to hear people claim that “if he doesn’t hit you, he doesn’t love you”!

But, the love that Jesus proclaimed and lived – the love that is the essence of the Reign of God – is sacrificial, unconditional, selfless and self-denying. It is a love that truly puts the other person first, and that willingly lays down life for the sake of the beloved. And the only way we can learn to love like this is to love loving like this more than anything else. That’s why we need to love God’s Reign beyond anything. We can only love our loved ones as they deserve if we love God’s Reign – God’s way of loving – so much more that we transcend the inadequate thing that we usually call love. Think about this for a while.

It doesn’t take much to recognise that learning to love like this is going to be costly. Such selfless, sacrificial love is destined to destroy our pride, greed, power-hunger, aggression, need to be served, and anything else that would put our own needs and desires in competition with those of others. When we love like this we are going to give until it hurts and then keep on giving. We are going to serve until we have lost any remnant of pride, and we are going to continue to seek the best for others, even when they have long stopped considering us, loving us, or relating to us. It’s going to mean that we love even when the other has turned against us to such an extent that they see us as the enemy. It means that we will continue to love even as we hang from the cross and speak forgiveness.

To follow Jesus, thinking that his way is the path to personal security, comfort and entitlement is to miss the point of his call to discipleship. To follow Jesus and fail to recognise the cost is like starting a building project without ensuring that we have the necessary materials. It is like going to war without checking that we have the capacity for the conflict.

Make no mistake, God’s love is so gracious and all-encompassing that we are loved like this without any requirement on our part. We do not learn to love in order to earn God’s love. But, unless we are willing to embrace the cost of love, we will never experience for ourselves the depth and height and breadth and length of love, and we will never really know what it is to experience God’s Reign – that realm of true liberation, healing, equality, peace and provision for all. It is only when we are willing to give everything in order to love as Jesus did that we discover what love can really be. And only then will those around us know what it is to be truly and completely loved by us. Once we have touched love like this – even for a moment – anything else hardly feels worthy of the name.


Image: To Write Love On Her Arms Day by Ain Lim, on Flickr

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Aug 30 2013

Sacredise: Faith vs. Science? Really?

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I have had a sneaking suspicion for quite some time that the views expressed in this New York Times article are true – that science is being increasingly subjected to political (and, dare I say) religious scepticism that discounts its findings without any real foundation or scientific basis. I can understand how this happened, but I can’t understand why.

Here’s a quote from the article that disturbed and challenged me:

While the bargain between science and political culture was at times challenged — the nuclear power debate of the 1970s, for example — the battles were fought using scientific evidence. Manufacturing doubt remained firmly off-limits.

Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact.

I don’t understand why those of us who value faith highly feel the need to discredit scientific discovery in order to “prove” what we believe. I don’t understand how we can believe that a faith that has no reasonable foundation has value. I don’t understand how we can claim that making science “wrong” automatically makes what we believe “right”. Yet, that seems to be where we have ended up. The same can often be said for political argument – as we saw in South Africa during the AIDS denialism years.

I long for a world where science and faith and politics can co-exist without the competitive rhetoric and mental game-playing that clouds what we are finding to be true in our world. I long for faith to be valued as both reasonable and mysterious. I long for it to become common practice in the Church for us to draw on the findings of science to inform and shape our faith, and not to see the discoveries of scientists as a threat.

I thought we would be there already, but unfortunately not, it seems. Yet, I continue to hope.

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Aug 29 2013

Sacredise: We May Lose Faith, But Not Our Need For Liturgy

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If there was ever any doubt of the innate human need for liturgy, this article on the Patheos website (which references this article in the New York Times) would have removed it instantly. More and more research seems to be indicating that human beings are hard-wired to believe in something, and to shape that belief (or lack of belief – which, contrary to the arguments of many atheists, is still the assertion of certain truths that are taken on faith) by some liturgical framework. We need stories that help us to understand the world and our place in it. We need those stories to give us a vocabulary through which we can communicate and expression our deepest values and beliefs, and we need symbols (including images and metaphors) to speak to the deepest parts of our psyches about those beliefs. And, finally, we need rituals that bring the stories, vocabulary and symbols together and engage our bodies in what James K.A. Smith calls habit-forming activities.

For many of those who have grown disillusioned with the Church, leaving the Church has been a two-edged sword. On the one hand there is the freedom from the people and practices that were experienced as harmful. But, on the other, hand there is much that religion and/or liturgy offers that gets lost when we cease to be part of a faith community. This is why I am not surprised to see so-called “Atheist Churches” popping up. Here is a brief description of the one that was referenced in the New York Times article (and pictured above):

It would have been easy to mistake what was happening in a hotel ballroom here for a religious service. All the things that might be associated with one were present Sunday: 80 people drawn by a common conviction. Exhortations to service. Singing and light swaying. An impassioned sermon.

There was just no mention of God.

Thankfully self-designated atheists like Alain De Botton are honest enough to admit that they have lost something by throwing out religion – as he explains in his book Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion (Vintage) (affiliate link).

All of which leaves me with a lot of hope. The Church may seem to be increasingly unpopular in today’s world, but I have no doubt that, in time, as the Church learns to express and embody the Christian faith in more benevolent ways, and as people grow increasingly thirsty for the gifts that regular liturgical practice brings, people will return to communities of faith.

What are your thoughts? Does the idea of “Atheist Churches” offend you or encourage you? What thoughts does this new trend generate in your mind?

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Aug 27 2013

Sacredise: Which Seat Will You Choose?

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A Lectionary Reflection on  Luke 7:1, 7-14 for Proper 17C

Banquet tableThe race to the top has become ever more frantic in our society. It’s like we’ve come to believe that we have no worth unless we’re being talked about, written about, photographed or imitated by others. Whether through reality TV, social media, or some other way of making a public mark on the world, we easily get caught up in the quest to be seen as special, different, “better” or “more”. The prophetic image of the “caterpillar pillar” from Trina Paulus’ book Hope for the Flowers (affiliate link) has become the tragic reality in which we live.

Which is why Jesus’ parable in Luke 14 is so desperately needed. The message is simple, but dramatic – don’t seek the seat of greatest honour at the table to show off your importance. Rather, go straight to the foot of the table – the seat of least importance and prestige – and comfortably take your place there. Spoken just like this, with no further investigation into context or background, these words speak a powerful, healing message. But, if we dig a little deeper, the message becomes even more dramatic in its subversion of the values of our world.

The scene in which Jesus speaks this parable (as Luke calls it) is the home of a Pharisee in which (for the fourth time in Luke’s Gospel), Jesus has healed someone on the Sabbath day. The Sabbath is an important theme in Luke’s Gospel, largely, I believe, because it is the foundation for Jesus’ Jubilee understanding of God’s Reign, as proclaimed in the synagogue in Luke 4:14-21. In this understanding the Sabbath was not so much a day of rest, as it was a day to bring rest to others through acts of justice, compassion, service and love. It is in this spirit that Jesus constantly, provocatively, heals on the Sabbath and challenges the religious leaders in the process.

Following this act of liberation, Jesus notices how the religious leaders all seek the places of honour at the table. On a day when Jubilee was to be remembered and celebrated, when the least and the most vulnerable to be healed, uplifted, restored and included, this self-aggrandising behaviour is revealed as the source of the injustice that creates oppression and injustice in the first place. It’s exactly the kind of behaviour that prophets like Amos and Isaiah confronted and condemned in the Old Testament. And it is a startling and tragic contrast to the humble, serving actions of Jesus. Which is why immediately after the parable, Jesus follows up with instructions to the host to invite, in future, those who would be unable to reciprocate – which is to embody the spirit of Jubilee justice. Then, to drive the point home even further, Jesus tells another parable – this time of a wedding feast in which the invited guests all make excuses not to come, and the host sends out invitations to the outcasts, the marginalised and the neglected.

The simple truth that Jesus seeks to impress on us in these scenes is that the race to the top always results in winners and losers – and there are always more losers than winners. The result is an inevitable skewing of society in favour of the few who manage to play the game well, bringing them fame, fortune, power and comfort, while leaving the vast majority of the world impoverished, powerless, and forgotten. But, when we deliberately choose to opt out of the race, and take our place at the bottom, not only do we find liberation from the tyranny of the race to the top, but we also bring life and belonging to others. We become channels of grace, love, welcome and sustenance for those around us, even as they become channels of these gifts to us.

For the writer of Luke’s Gospel this message was more than an academic idea. Writing to a church in which Jews and Gentiles were trying to learn to live together, it was important that the Jewish believers learned to release their sense of entitlement as the “Chosen People” and embrace the equality and belovedness of all – including their Gentile brothers and sisters. And it would have been equally important for the Gentile believers who were Roman citizens to learn to release the entitlement and privilege of their position in the Empire. Only if they did this could the values and mission of Jesus be proclaimed and demonstrated to a world that was being oppressed by this same Empire and its values.

The race to the top is seductive. We all wrestle with it in subtle and destructive ways: In the drive to control our families and friends and be the one who is seen as the “best” friend/carer/supporter of all; In the quest to accumulate more than we need in the belief that this will provide us with security and/or prestige; In the desire to be seen as special, unique or above average so that we can feel good about ourselves since we are “better” than others; In the numbers game we play in terms of church attendance, or the glamour game of our sanctuaries; In the power we seek to exert through political agendas or connections that can manipulate our democracies in favour of our agendas. The list is endless, since we are particularly good, as human beings, at finding ways to compare ourselves with each other, and turn these comparisons into a competition.

Yet, when we allow ourselves to be seduced by the race to the top, we inevitably lose, not only our souls, but our relationships, our integrity, our sense of well-being, our health, our purpose, and, worst of all, our ability to contribute to making this world a reflection of God’s Reign.

So, what if we chose to opt out of the race? What if we made it a habit to choose the lowliest and least desirable seats at the table, opening up the more honourable places for those who “do not deserve” them (whatever that means)? What if we learned to find joy and comfort and connection and healing through the embrace of our ordinariness, our average-ness, our sameness with those around us?

Perhaps the only way we’ll know the answer to these “what ifs” is if we actually try. So, how about it?



Image: Banquet table by Roving I, on Flickr

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Aug 24 2013

Sacredise: Humanity, Embodiment & Sexuality

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In my experience, we have an uneasy relationship with our bodies in the Church. For many, the ultimate vison of salvation is to leave our bodies behind in a grave somewhere while we go to spend eternity in a dismebodied heaven with a disembodied Jesus. But, this is not the salvation the Bible speaks about. Rather, it speaks of a Jesus who was fully human – including a fully functioning (yes, even in those ways) human body. Salvation comes to us through an incarnated – i.e. embodied – human being, and it includes the salvation of our bodies (yes, even those parts of it).

For many of us, this is still something we can talk about, even if it makes us uncomfortable. But, when we begin to draw the line to our sexuality, we can no longer handle the conversation. Sexuality and spirituality are placed as far apart, for many believers, as the East is from the West (or further, preferably). Strange then that the Bible so often uses sexual language to speak of our spirituality.

This is why I particularly enjoyed Julie Clawson’s post from her blog on Thursday. Here’s the take-away section for me:

…it is just as demeaning to refuse to acknowledge the sexual embodiedness of another as it is to reduce a person to merely that. There is nothing wrong with being sexually attracted to other people, to find them desirable. Desire isn’t the issue; it is what we do with that desire that matters. Acknowledging and affirming that desire is one thing, letting that desire control you to the point that you do damage to yourself or the other person is toxic.

For when we repress our nature as sexual beings, we cease to be our full selves. This does not mean we must all give into every sexual impulse or desire we have, but acknowledge that they are a vital and normal part of who we are. (Emphasis original)

When we consider that the first question anyone asked of us when we were born was, “Is it a boy or a girl?” we can’t miss the fact that our sexuality is an essential (as in, part of our essence) element of our humanity. We cannot be human without being embodied, and we cannot be embodied without sexuality. Therefore, we cannot be human and not be sexual beings. Which means that if we are to find a healthy spirituality, we need also to find a healthy sexuality. The two are not separate quests, but are one and the same. Perhaps this is what is missing in both the Church and the world as we debate and discuss the struggles, the brokenness, the fear, the joy, the ecstasy and the creativity of our sexuality.

What do you think? How have your spirituality and sexuality intersected? How do you experience yourself as embodied, sexual, spiritual and human?

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Aug 21 2013

Sacredise: Sabbath People

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I’m preaching on the Lectionary Gospel Reading from Luke 13:10-17 on Sunday (see my reflection on this reading here), and so I’ve been reflecting on what it means to live as Sabbath People. Here’s a prayer I wrote some time ago that encapsulates my thoughts on Sabbath-keeping, and expresses my prayer to be person who lives the values of the Sabbath more effectively.

You may find it helpful to pray this prayer throughout this week, and see how it impacts your life.

Sabbath People

 How frightened we are by Sabbath, Jesus;

how afraid that if we stop,

we’ll fall behind,

we’ll have less than we want,

we’ll lose out to those who don’t stop;

how driven we are to protect ourselves,

to hoard what we can get,

to rise above the crowd;

and how wounded we and our world have become,

because we have forsaken the wisdom of Sabbath. 


Teach us again how to be Sabbath People, Jesus;

how to trust you for our daily bread,

how to resist the urge to accumulate and hoard,

how to defy the pressure to have more, be more, do more;

Teach us to dance to the rhythms of your reign, Jesus;

to work meaningfully and rest peacefully,

to enjoy shamelessly and share generously,

to love abundantly and include indiscriminately;

Teach us that the small, daily Sabbath-choices we make

to trade fairly and consume responsibly,

to treat all others with dignity and respect,

liberate us all from the crippling weight of greed and fear,

and heal those whose lives are bent and broken

from Sabbathlessness.


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