John van de Laar

Author's details

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

Latest posts

  1. Sacredise: The Last Blog for 2014 — December 19, 2014
  2. Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Transitions — December 17, 2014
  3. Sacredise: Labels — December 15, 2014
  4. Sacredise: Losing Yourself — December 12, 2014
  5. Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: The Problem of Personal Branding — December 10, 2014

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

Dec 19 2014

Sacredise: The Last Blog for 2014

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Over the last few months I’ve worked hard at maintaining a discipline of blogging three times a week. I still find blogging a challenging activity, and I’m still working out exactly where and how my blog fits into the work of Sacredise. But, I am slowly developing a rhythm and I am looking forward to where this blog will go in the future.

Early next year there is going to be a radical relaunch of Sacredise. The main website is undergoing an extensive redesign that will bring it up to date with the most recent best practices for web design and functionality. It’s also going to streamline the web presence of Sacredise, and bring all the different elements of my work into one place. This means that the addresses of all three blogs (this one, Daily Worship  and Lectionary Worship Resources will all change – which, I’m afraid for those who follow my blogs via RSS will mean updating your RSS feed links (don’t do anything yet – I’ll let you know when the change is going to happen). But, along with this new redesign will come a new focus and a new energy to the work of Sacredise. I’m very excited about that.

I can’t give an exact date yet for the relaunch, but it should be before the end of February at the latest. For now, I have a lot of work to do over the next few days leading up to Christmas, and then a break for a couple of weeks, which I’m really looking forward to. It will be time spent resting, connecting with family, and preparing myself psychologically and spiritually for next year.

So, this will be my last blog post for 2014. Thank you for giving the time and attention to read my rambling thoughts over the last few months, and for all the support you have given my work. May your Christmas celebration be joyful, surprising, and challenging. And may 2015 bring you a new depth of connection with God, with yourself, with friends and family, with neighbours, with enemies, and with this incredible world which is our home.

I’ll be back around 12 January. I hope you’ll come back to take our journey together a little further!

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Dec 17 2014

Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Transitions

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This coming Sunday is the last in Advent, and the focus, as usual, is on Mary. I’m not going to spend much time focussing on the texts for this Sunday, since I’ve written a pretty detailed commentary on the Gospel reading already. But, in this brainstorm for worship, I really want to focus on a few practical suggestions for making this week’s worship more meaningful.

  1. This is the last Sunday before Thursday’s Christmas celebration. That means that this Sunday gives us an opportunity to prepare ourselves, and, if we are worship leaders, our people for this significant moment of the year. Mary’s Magnificat - her song which expresses the significance of the coming of Christ into our world – is not just about joy and peace. It is a song of subversion that speaks of justice, of the wealthy and powerful being brought down, while the poor and weak are lifted up. That means that this Sunday we have an opportunity to remember the world-shaking nature of the incarnation, and to prepare to celebrate Christmas as a subversive proclamation of God’s alernative order that has broken into our world.
  2. Christmas is not just one day. It is twelve days, beginning on Thursday 25 December. This means that we have a really good chance to remind ourselves and our people that each worship gathering is part of a journey, and that it connects with what has come before and with what will follow. This Sunday specifically we have an opportunity to prepare people for the Christmas Season (not just Christmas Day), and to invite people into twelve days of reflection on the meaning of the incarnation. It also means that, in our Christmas preparations, we do well to think in terms of the movement from Christmas Day into the two Sundays following (Christmas 1 and 2). If we proclaim the importance of this journey well enough, we may even find that we can draw a few folk back to church on the next two Sundays, instead of the usual anti-climax after Christmas.
  3. As we move from Advent – the season of waiting, of anticipation, and of alertness – into Christmas – the season of fulfilment, of receiving, and of celebration – we have an important transition moment, and it is good to note this and use it well. Moments of transition are always significant (as I wrote about here) and they give us unique opportunities to reflect, to make necessary changes, and to move forward with new confidence, purpose, and faith. So, this Sunday it may be good to take a moment to think about what you’ve learned and experienced through Advent, and to ask how you can take these insights forward into the new season of receiving and celebration.
  4. Finally, as we deal with so much grief and suffering in our world this year, the Christmas celebration may seem out of place. But, this is where the Advent hope – which is the basis of Mary’s song – is so important. It reminds us that we can celebrate in the midst of pain, that we find healing when we refuse to allow our brokenness to define us, and that our celebration gives us strength to face whatever challenges lie ahead. Mary’s song is a great example of such celebration, since it was uttered in a time of national oppression, and of personal shame and insecurity.

So, if you’re preparing worship this week, how can you include some of these thoughts and ideas? And if you’re just going to be a participant, how can you prepare yourself to come to worship ready to dive into these experiences?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. And, if you’re looking for further thoughts and reflections for Sunday’s worship, check out this week’s Lectionary Worship Resources blog.

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Dec 15 2014

Sacredise: Labels

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In response to yesterday’s Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary, and following on from last week’s post The Problem of Personal Branding, I have been thinking about what it might mean to live out the Advent message this week. 

As I reflected on the passage from John’s Gospel, I found an interesting contrast. On the one hand there is the (desperate?) need of those who questioned John to label him. They needed to place him in some sort of pigeon hole so they could know what to do with him. But, of course, John refused to play their game.

But, then think about what comes before. In the prologue to John’s gospel, mention is made of the “Word” and of the “Light”. Both terms refer to the incarnate Christ, and both are wonderfully vague. How do you categorise a “Word”? How do you pigeon hole “Light”? Even John’s description of himself is wonderfully enigmatic and vague. So, it seems, that as much as people wanted to label John and Jesus, God has no such need or desire. God, it seems prefers to blur the lables, or remove them altogether.

Which makes me examine my own heart for tendencies to label myself and others. We label ourselves when we focus only on what we like about ourselves and deny or repress the bits we don’t like. But these “shadow” parts of ourselves (as Jung called them) do not go away. They continue to influence us, affecting our lives and relationships in often dramatic, and sometimes destructive, ways. By accepting some parts and repressing other parts of ourselves we create labels by which we must live, but that may become prisons that keep us from life in all its fullness. (It must be said that the denial and suppressing I’m talking about here is different from the kind of denial of self that I wrote about on Friday - but more on that another time).

We label others when we refuse to see their entire humanity. When we allow only a few aspects of the person (colour, race, language, economic status, educational level, political affiliation etc.) to define the entire person for us – what we sometimes call stereotyping – we rob other people of their full humanity and we keep them and ourselves from true relationship. 

So, perhaps this Advent, as we seek to allow the light of Christ to shine into us and through us, we can turn away from our labels. Instead of being like John’s questioners, perhaps we can let go of our need to define ourselves and others. Perhaps we can just allow ourselves to be – with all the wonder, mystery, and mess that entails – and allow others the same freedom. And, when others try to label us, we can respectfully inform tham that we refuse to play the game, and then we can invite them into the joy and wonder of encountering us – as we seek to encounter them – in the fullness of our humanity.

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Dec 12 2014

Sacredise: Losing Yourself

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Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23 NIV)

These are often felt to be some of Jesus’ toughest words. I must confess that I have personally wrestled with them over the years. Sometimes they feel like a contradiction of all the Bible’s promises that God’s knows and values each of us as the unique individuals that we are. At other times, they just feel impossible. We cannot live without a self. We cannot stop being individuals, no matter how connected we become to other people and to community.

I know that Jesus’ words are most often – rightly – interpreted as a call to reject our own selfish needs and priorities so that we can give ourselves to others in sacrifical service. But, the problem is that we cannot become selfless just by trying. It almost seems that the more we try to deny ourselves the more self-obssessed we become, and the less we are able to give ourselves for others. Perhaps that’s why history is filled with stories of those who abused themselves in the quest to be Christlike only to become abusive of others as well.

So, what if there’s another way to understand what these words mean? In my PhD research I think I may have discovered a new window into Jesus’ call to die to ourselves. Here’s a quick glimpse of what I’m working through:
We all know, for at least some part of our lives, what it feels like to be alienated from ourselves. Perhaps we have felt like we’re living a kind of half-life that feels empty and meaningless. Or maybe we’ve felt that we’re not really living as our truest, best selves. We know we could be different, we could be better, we could be more, than we are, but we don’t know how to get there.

Now, suppose we were given a vision, an image of our truest selves (which is exactly what Jesus is, although also more than just that). And suppose we were offered an opportunity to learn to become what we have envisioned. The first step to becoming our best selves would be letting go of (denying or dying to) our current, broken or inadequate selves. Unless we deny ourselves and lose our (current) life, we can never find and live into the best self we long to be.

And, of course, once we’ve begun to release our old, broken selves, we will  automatically discover that our best selves are compassionate, caring, selflessly serving, generous, welcoming, joyful and just. Then, we won’t have to try and work up some religious feeling, or some spiritual motivation to be Christlike. We will just automatically respond to people and situations in the same spirit that Jesus did.

The question is this: are we willing to let go of the life we have in order to attain the life we want?
I have to acknowledge my debt to two authors in particular who have influencd my thinking in this post: James K.A. Smith and Patrick McNamara


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Dec 10 2014

Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: The Problem of Personal Branding

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As someone who has been essentially self-employed for the last decade, I have read a fair amount about, and done a fair amount of work around, personal branding. This has been both extremely helpful, and very draining. And, while I’m very grateful for what my brand has made possible for me, there are definitely days when I would love not to have to worry about how my brand is doing, or how it is perceived by others.

But, I’m not alone.Today, it seems that everyone is expected to be a brand. You have to “work on your brand” before a job interview. You have to dress according to “your brand.” Heck, I’ve even seen articles about how you should consider your brand before entering relationships – because making the wrong choice could, of course, impact the success of your brand (i.e. you)!

All of which makes John the Baptiser an important person to study in this Advent season. In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, the religious leaders ask John to tell them who he is. In today’s terms, they were asking him to define his brand. But he wouldn’t play the game. John simply was who and what he was – without explanation or definition – and he pointed beyond himself to a far more significant reality.

In a branded world it’s tempting to make everything, including our Christian witness and worship about branding. It’s tempting to get caught up in explaining and defining ourselves to the world, and in forcing others to do the same. And, it’s tempting to label others without taking the time to know them or to acknowledge the infinite mystery of their unique human story. But, to do this is to lose the freedom, creativity, and complexity of our humanness. It is to trade the mess, and chaos, and beauty, and despair, and grief of being mortal women and men, for an airbrushed version of life and faith.

So, perhaps this Sunday we can allow John to teach us to release our need to present a branded version of ourselves to the world. Perhaps we can learn to shift our gaze beyond ourselves to a far bigger reality – the Coming Reign of God.  Here are some ideas for how we can let worship do this for us:

  • Let’s engage in praise that uses new metaphors and adjectives for God. Let’s allow ourselves to be surprsied by a God that is more than what we think and say about God. And let’s try and allow oru rpaise to move us into a space where words fall away and we are left with nothing but God’s infinite Mystery.
  • Let’s confess our fear of what could happen if we stopped “branding” ourselves. Let’s admit our need to place ourselves and others into neat categories so we don’t have to do the tough work of real, messy, confusing relationships. And let’s invite the Spirit to change our hearts and empower us to get real again.
  • Let’s sing with passion, even if we can’t sing. Let’s pray with honesty, even if we don’t have words. Let’s read the Scriptures with a questioning and open heart, even if we don’t like what we see.

If we’re preparing worship this week, we will do well to make space for such honest, self-disclosing moments with God. And, if we’re simply worshipping, we will do well to come to worship with open hearts. Not just open to God. But open to those who will worship with us. And open to discovering some new insights about ourselves through our meeting with God and others.

Which, of course, will mean letting go of the branded self we cling to like a security blanket.

For more reflections and resources for worship this Sunday, see this Lectionary Worship Resources post, and this blog post on the Gospel reading for this Sunday.

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Dec 09 2014

Sacredise: Shouting in the Wilderness

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If you heard the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary in your worship on Sunday, you encountered Mark’s brief description of John the Baptiser’s ministry. John famoulsy used a quote from Isaiah to describe himself as ‘a voice shouting in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord…”’ As we reflect on John’s work, we do well to consider what it might mean for us to be such a voice in the wilderness for our communities.

I am certain that, in today’s world of religion-fatigue, shouting in the wilderness does not often require literal shouting. There may be some people who are given unique opportunities to speak loudly and publicly in ways that challenge the injustices of our world and call all people to a kinder, more compassionate humanity, but, that is not most of us. For most of us the shouting we need to do is metaphorical. It is the simple task of allowing our lives to silently shout of an alternative way to do life.

What kind of metaphorical shouting could we embrace this Advent that would help us to be “little Johns” preparing the way for God’s Reign to be manifest among us? Here are some ideas that I’m wrestling with:

  • Let’s begin within our own hearts, seeking out where we need to prepare the way for God to impact and transform us a little more this Advent. That means doing the tough work of self-examination, confession, and repentance.
  • Let’s spend more time meditating on the biblical vision of God’s Reign – the Jubilee world of love and justice that Jesus lived and proclaimed. Let’s look at Jesus’ teaching again, and learn the simple, practical lessons of the Sermon on the Mount and the parables of the Reign of God. And then, let’s actually practice these things in our daily interactions with family, friends, work colleagues, and strangers: loving enemies, forgiving those who have hurt us, giving generously, serving with humility, and rejecting all attempts to build little empires for ourselves.
  • When faced with injustice, let’s ensure that our default is to stand with the most vulnerable in any situation. Let’s make sure that we reject any victim-blaming, and that we do the work to recognise how often the poor, broken, marginalised, and vulnerable are oppressed by systemic injustices.
  • Speaking of systems, let’s also do the work of identifying how and where we may be perpetuating unjust systems through our silence, cooperation, ignorance, or participation. And then let’s work to find a better way. When enough of us opt out, the system will change.

When enough of God’s people stop shouting over insignificant things (like what kind of greeting we use at this time of year), and stop trying to coerce others into our particular brand of religion, and start allowing God’s justice, mercy, compassion, and love be seen in our attitudes, priorities, and actions, then perhaps we will succeed in being voices shouting in the wilderness of this world and calling all people – including ourselves – to make straight paths for God’s Reign to arrive in our world.

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