John van de Laar

Author's details

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

Latest posts

  1. Sacredise: Starting the Conversation (2) — September 19, 2014
  2. Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Undeserving — September 17, 2014
  3. Sacredise: Learning to Forgive — September 15, 2014
  4. Sacredise: Starting the Conversation (1) — September 12, 2014
  5. Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Forgiveness — September 10, 2014

Most commented posts

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

Author's posts listings

Sep 19 2014

Sacredise: Starting the Conversation (2)

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This post is a follow up on last week’s post which explored what it means to think of God as the Causative Voice in our worship.

It is so very easy to come to any spiritual activity with a passivity that feels right, but that can rob us of some of the adventure and transformation of true encounter with God. Of course, there is also the temptation to get all achievement oriented around our spiritual practice, and make it about our own effort – which is just as unhelpful. But what if there is a third way – a way in which we recognise God’s initiative, and open to ourselves to be receivers of God’s gifts, but also actively engage with God as participants – or initiators even – in our own journey of spiritual growth? Or, to use the language of the last two weeks, what if we have a role to play as Causative Voices in our worship?

Imagine for a moment that God waits for us to initiate conversation. Imagine that God longs to hear our stories told our way, that God loves to be questioned, challenged, confronted, or even criticised, because that’s what happens in real relationships. Imagine what worship might look like if those who prepared and facilitated it began from the experience of being human, and coming to God from our perspective. Imagine if, as worshipers, we came not just to express how we feel about God, but to wrestle with God like Jacob. Imagine if we sought not just to know that we were in God’s life, but that God was in ours?

Two thoughts immediately come to mind in response to these imaginings:

  1. The truth is that the only way we can ever connect with God is from our own human experience. We are incapable of stepping out of our skin, our history, our culture, our relationships, and our perceptions. So, in that sense, in the specific conversations that we call worship services, we cannot be anything other than the Causative Voice. We start the conversation by showing up and by using our bodies, voices, and attention to express our love for God and our trust that God will draw near to us in response.
  2. The incarnation, which is at the heart of our Christian faith, is all about God seeing a human need (our cry to God, as it were) and responding by taking on flesh, and stepping into our experience, our humanity. This is a “conversation” in which we have initiated (albeit unintentionally) and God has responded.

So, what does this mean for our worship? Here are a few brief thoughts:

  1. It means that worship is not a passive experience in which we come to “get filled” and which allwe do is to “glorify God”. It means that neither we nor God are passive spectators, but that we engage with God in wrestling, questioning, exploring, discovering, knowing and loving. It means that we can expect to do stuff in worship – stuff that actively and intentionally causes us to engage with God.
  2. It means that our story matters. God is not just sitting on a throne waiting for us to tell God how awesome we think God is. Rather, if we want a human image to visualise it, it’s like God sits cross-legged among us and asks, “What’s happening with you?”
  3. It means that we do not have to silence our doubts, questions, fears, joys, imaginings, and curiosities. Rather, we can come to worship with all of these parts of ourselves and express them (would that we were allowed more time to wrestle with the tough questions in our worship services!).
  4. It means that we do not have to believe or agree with everything we hear, sing, or are told in our worhsip services. Rather, we can come to worship with a willingness to listen and explore new ideas, but also with the freedom to differ where we are not convinced by those who facilitate the conversation.
  5. And, speaking of facilitation, it means that those who “lead worship” or preach need to adopt an attitude of humble respect for the stories and wresltings of thsoe who gather. We need to move away from those who “tell others what to think or do” and learn to be those who open conversations, raise questions, share our struggles, and invite others into an ongoing journey of discovery.

What might it mean for you to come to worship as a Causative Voice? How can you bring your own story, your wrestling, questions, fears, joys, hopes and disappointments into the sanctuary and offer them to God? How can you engage in worhsip not as a passive spectator, or even just as a receiver, but as an initiator, an active participant?

Next week I’ll be exploring one other important possibility when we consider the Causative Voice in our worship. Come back soon!

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Sep 17 2014

Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Undeserving

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As we gather for worship this coming Sunday, we may come seeking “blessing”. Or we may hear someone who has experienced some fortunate event in their lives praise God for God’s “blessing”. We may also be tempted to wonder, as we consider those who are “less blessed” than we are, what they may have done, or failed to do, in order to miss the blessing.

There is a dangerous delusion in our world that we get what we deserve. But, of course, grace tells us the xact opposite – we all get what we don’t deserve. But aside form an undeserved welcome into God’s family, we still don’t get what we deserve. As we so often tell our kids, the world is, in fact, not fair.

And this, whether we like it or not, is the Story of our worship this week.The Gospel reading is Jesus’ parable of the labourers who, though they started work at different times in the day, all received the same wage at knock-off time. Much like Jonah (in the related Old Testament reading) we may feel offended at the idea that some, whom we feel deserve punishment, don’t get it, and some, whom we feel do not deserve what they receive, get it anyway. But, as we enter this story, we are called to two responses:

  1. We need to release our need to be offended at those who receive what we feel they don’t deserve, even as we release our superiority over those whom we feel have ended up in trouble because that’s what they deserve.
  2. We need to recognise that, in the Reign of God, no one is deserving and we all come by grace alone. And this should lead us into celebration, gratitude and compassion.

Of course, this story seeks to teach us a new Language - that of generosity, sharing, and the valuing of people for their divine image, and not for thier achievements, wealth, or status. This is not just about the words we speak (especially to, and about, those whom we consider less than worthy), but about the tone we use, the actions we perform and the ways our lives communicate our faith (or lack thereof) in God’s economy of grace. Expect to be called to express thanksgiving, generosity (both in sharing our material possesions and in Spirit), and a sense of kindness and welcome toward others.

Symbols and Images of grace can be difficult to find in a world where meritocracy rules, but in our worship this week anything that speaks of the gratuitous generosity of God would touch our hearts. Of course, Jesus’ own image of labourers all being paid the same is powerful enough to carry our worship without adding anything else.

But, perhaps the toughest questions is how we can participate in Rituals that express this gratuitous, un-meritocratic grace of God. It may be fun to celebrate things that are not usually considered praiseworthy. Perhaps you coujld have a prizegiving of sorts in which people are awarded prizes for their warm smile, or their willingness to help, or the loudness of their laughter. This would be especially powerful if everyone received a prize, no matter who they are. If, in some way, people can be drawn into the story of this week in a physical, experiential way, that could be very powerful.

So, what ideas are you exploring for this Sunday’s worship? Which reading are you planning to focus on? How can you create an experience of God’s unmeritocratic Reign this Sunday?

For further refleciton on the Gospel reading, check out this blog post. And for other ideas for the worship, see this Lectionary Worship Resources blog post.

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Sep 15 2014

Sacredise: Learning to Forgive

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Who are the ones by whom you’ve been hurt or betrayed? What are the grudges you’ve been carrying in your heart? What debts, literal and figurative, do you refuse to write off, adding a little interest each day as your sense of offense grows?

These are the questions we are called to face this week as we seek to live out the worship of yesterday. It’s common to speak of forgivenss in church, but when it comes to living a life of forgiveness through the week, it becomes much harder.

But, perhaps one principle can help us come to terms with forgiveness. Whenever we get hurt by someone else, the temptation is to reduce that person to the suffering they have caused. We begin to define them, one-dimensionally, by their wrongdoing, and they cease to be human for us. In order to give power to our grievances, we eliminate any common ground, any sense of connection, any compassion or empathy.

But, if we allowed ourselves to feel these things, it would be much harder to hold on to our grudges. We would recognise that we have done things that have hurt others unintentionally, or out of ignorance or misunderstanding, or just because we were having a bad day. We would admit that, when we do wrong by others, we have a list of extentuating circumstances by which we justify and defend ourselves. And, once we’ve admitted these things about ourselves, we have to acknowledge that they are probably equally true for those who have hurt us. They, too, are human and make mistakes. They, too, have bad days, or misunderstand things, or don’t know things. They, too, get caught up in unhelpful emotions and attitudes. They are actually a lot like us.

If that’s true, then there are perhaps extenuating circumstances for what they’ve done to us. And if we can just allow ourselves to consider this, the pain and anger might just ease a little, and we might feel the shift within us that shows a move toward forgiveness. But, if we’re enjoying our pain, if we gain strength from our bitterness, we will not want to admit these things. We will prefer to stick with our one-dimensional stereotype of the other person, and we will refuse to see any other truth about them beyond the hurt they have caused.

But, of course, if we choose this course, we have become what we despise, and our lack of forgiveness loses its justification.

So, perhaps, this week as we seek to live into the grace of Christ, we can bring our desire to “one-dimensionalise” those who have hurt us to Jesus and seek forgiveness and healing. Perhaps we can ask the Spirit to open our eyes to the extenuating circumstances in the lives of our enemies. And perhaps we can begin to reach for a way to see their humanity, the parts of them that are just like us.

Because, after all, that’s what grace is all about – and this grace is the only way I know to be healed of the poison of unforgiveness that too easily consumes us.


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Sep 12 2014

Sacredise: Starting the Conversation (1)

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Last week I began to explore what it might mean to think of worship as a conversation with God. Let’s develop that a bit more today.

It is pretty common to speak of worship as always being “for God”. In this view it is always God who initiates relationship with us - by creating us, redeeming us, filling us with God’s Spirit, etc. – and we can only respond in worship. To rephrase according to last week’s framework: God is always the Causative Voice in worship, God always starts the conversation. We just reply.

In a general, cosmic, eternal sense, this is absolutely true – God is the primary Causative Voice. Every conversation begins with God, because if God hadn’t spoken, nothing would exist. So, our worship is always a response to what God has started. This is the context in which the specfic “conversations” of our worship gatherings happen.

Flowing out of this, we may feel (as expressed by Ian’s comment on my last post) that the preacher is the Causative Voice in our worship services. Perhaps this is because, traditionally, the preacher is viewed as proclaiming God’s word, and so it is God, through the preacher, who is starting the conversation. There is truth here, but I think God’s first word in worship can be experienced even more powerfully.

The conversation of our Sunday gathering does not begin with the sermon. It begins with a Call to Worship. We come because we are called, because we have experienced God’s ‘Yes‘, God’s desire for connection with us. So, the Causative Voice, the one that begins the conversation, is the Spirit of God who speaks through the first moments of our gathering, through the prayer, Scripture, hymn, video, or actions that draw us into an attitude of worship.

When we approach worship in the light of this understanding, it can have a deep impact on our lives:

  • Worship stops being a “duty” and becomes an adventure in which we are drawn into the embrace of a Lover who longs for us. We come as those who know they are truly, and wholly Beloved. And, this means that we can go through life knowing that we are Beloved as well.
  • We no longer have to “crank up” some emotion at the start of the service (or at any other point). The “success” or athenticity of our worship does not depend on us. Our worship is already guaranteed to be everything it is meant to be because God, in God’s grace, has made the first move. To change metaphors: God is the choreographer, we just need to follow the steps. But even if we don’t, worship, as an intimate encounter with God, is happening anyway – though we may not be aware of it.
  • Worship is no longer about “getting filled up” for the week. It is a moment in which we open ourselves on purpose to experience God’s reaching out to us, and in which we learn to be sensitive to the presence of God and to the voice of God. If we learn what worship seeks to teach us, we can go through the week with an abiding sense of God’s presence, and with the ability to hear and respond to the promptings of God’s Spirit in every situation.

What difference might it make to your worship to think of God as the One who initiates a converation with you? How might you experience worship differently if you come as a Beloved one who is called into conversation with your Divine Lover? How can you allow worship to teach you to be more aware of God’s presence and to hear God’s voice in every facet of your life?

I want to end with this thought: If what I’ve outlined above is the only way we think of worship, we inevitably fall into a very one-sided relationship with God, and we miss out on some of the glorious grace that worship can offer us. Next week, I’m going to offer a “Contrary Voice” to what I’ve just written, and explore what it might mean for us to consider that, in some situations, it is appropriate for us to be the Causative Voice in worship. Stay tuned!

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Sep 10 2014

Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Forgiveness

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What comes to mind when you hear the word forgiveness? Do you think of praying a prayer and being released by God from the consequences of what you’ve done? Or do you think of letting someone who has hurt you off the hook? Do you long for forgiveness – or long to be able to forgive? Do you carry the deep burden of being unable to release your anger and bitterness at another person? Does it offend you that God could forgive some people – the ones you believe have done something unforgiveable?

These questions go to the heart of our worship this coming Sunday. As we prepare ourselves to worship, or as we preapare to lead others in worship, we do well to search our hearts and get honest with ourselves about our relationship with forgiveness.

You can’t be human and not have to wrestle with forgiveness at some point. And our struggle to forgive is often linked with fear. If the “bad guy (or girl)” gets away with what they’ve done, what will stop them doing it again? If we forgive, then how will justice be served? But, our refusal to forgive has not made the world safer, and it has not brought about justice. It has not silenced our fear, and it has not led us to peace. Perhaps it’s time to consider a different way – the way of Jesus. The way of forgiveness.
This means that as we gather for worship this week, we are invited to learn the difficult art of forgiving. We are being reminded of God’s limitless and “unjust” forgiveness of us, and we are being called to stop making certain things more “deserving” of forgivness than others.

To say both “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” is to prioritise healing and reconciliation. These words create the potential for a new relationship, a new way of being, even with those who are not safe, and a new way of seeking justice in our world – a restorative way, instead of a retributive one.

The image of Christ speaking forgiveness over his persecutors as he hung dying on the cross is, perhaps, the most powerful call for us to risk this new way. Its impact is in the fact that Jesus did not wait until the pain was over before releasing his anger and hurt. He did it in the midst of the suffering. And, not only was it a gift to his executioners. It was the doorway to life for Jesus himself. He could never have made it through to resurrection if he had allowed his bitterness to hold him in the grave!

Perhaps, as we prepare for worship, or even as part of our worship practice this week, we could write down the names of those against whom we have some grievance. Perhaps we could take a moment to read these names and place ourselves in the shoes of our antagonists. Maybe we could even go so far as to try and understand what made them hurt as they did. Then, we could pray for them, inviting God to bring healing and grace into their lives, even as we pray for God to do the same for us. Then, perhaps we could find the courage to burn the list, and let the rising smoke be a sign of giving those people over to God, and releasing our hold on them, and theirs on us.

These are just some ideas around the Lectionary for this week. What ideas are you working with? What symbols, rituals and language will you be using?

Don’t forget to check out these posts for a deeper reflection on the Gospel reading, and for more resources and ideas for worship.

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Sep 08 2014

Sacredise: Not Just a Cosy Huddle

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“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them” (Matthew 18:20) We love this verse. It makes us feel all cosy and warm when we get together with our Christian friends and hang out, or worship, or do Bible Study. It feels like it’s not just us hanging out, but Jesus is there with us – one of the guys and/or gals.

But, we also like to ignore the context in which this verse is written. In Matthew’s Gospel, which was written to a primarily Jewish community of Christ-followers, one of the big challenges which the writer seeks to address is how to bring Jews and Gentiles together into a “new” Judaism that remains faithful to and continuous with the tradition passed down through the Law and the Prophets. The verses immediately preceding this statement about Jesus’ presence with us speak of how to handle disputes between Christian sisters and brothers. They describe a process of addressing conflict in such a way that reconciliation can be found. But, if it is unsuccessful, the offending party is to be treated like “a Gentile and a tax collector” – which, in Jesus’ way of being, means loving them, including them and serving them as he did.

So, the chances are that the “two or three” to whom Jesus was referring was not our little in-group of friends who all think, speak, act, and believe the same. In verse 19 when he says that anything will be done for two pray-ers who agree, he is, again, speaking about two people who, through great struggle and wrestling have come to find common ground which was initially nowhere to be found.

This means that Jesus is calling us to work especially hard at finding ways to reconcile with, agree with, and love the company of those with whom we would naturally be in conflict, disagreement, and antagonism. This is no comfortable little huddle. It’s a community that has come to unity through blood, sweat and tears.

So, if we want to live out the challenge of our worship this week, if we want to allow our lives to reflect the Christ to whom we sang and prayed on Sunday, we are going to have to embrace the tough call to reconciliation. We are going to have to seek out those whom we would rather ignore, and do the hard work of finding common ground and unity.

So, who are the ones with whom you are being to called to reconcile? How can you make the first move to connect and find common ground? And how can you open yourself to experiencing Jesus’ presence in those in whom you most struggle to see Christ’s image?

These are important questions in our own personal lives, but, as we watch violence break out across the world between different races, religions, and social groupings, we cannot help but see that learning the capacity for reconciliation is necessary for the survival of our species.

So, how are you going to practice reconciliation and unity in your small corner of the world this week?


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