John van de Laar

Author's details

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

Latest posts

  1. Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Joining Stories — October 1, 2014
  2. Sacredise: No Need to Flaunt It! — September 29, 2014
  3. Sacredise: Starting the conversation (3) — September 26, 2014
  4. Sacredise: Wrestling with Authority — September 24, 2014
  5. Sacredise: The End of Blessing — September 22, 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

Oct 01 2014

Sacredise: Brainstorming for Worship: Joining Stories

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This week I’m feeling a nudge to take this brainstorm in a different direction. Rather than focus on a particular reading from the Lectionary – which may or may not be helpful depending on whether you’re going to be using or encountering that reading in church on Sunday – I thought I would brainstorm around a principle of preparing worship. I hope that this will mean that my thoughts will have a wider application. Please let me know if this is more or less helpful for you.

If the purpose of our worship is to encounter God intimately in a way that transforms us into Christlikeness, then one of the tasks of worship is to give us a sense of union with God – a joining of our stories (individually and collectively) with God’s story, if you will. It is when we find ourselves in God’s story and when we experience God as part of our story that our values and priorities are realigned with God’s.

So, if you are coming to worship as a participant this week, what is ahppening in your life that you need to bring to God? What part of your story needs to be more deeply connected with God’s story, and how can you prepare yourself for this process of union?

If you are planning or leading worship this week, what can you do to help your congregation join their story with God’s? What elements of the Scriptures that will focus your worship connect with the realities of life for those who will be in worship on Sunday? What might the story of union between God and human beings look like this week? What words, gestures, tones, and body language can communicate this story, and shift the way we think about ourselves and God and our world? What symbols, images and metaphors can draw our imaginations into the story, and imagine our story in a new way in the light of God’s story? What rituals can we perform that will teach us the habits of living our story in union with God’s?

When these questions inform our worhsip preparation, and our worship participation, then our gatehrings begin to take on a new life, and we do experience ourselves being changed, a little more each week, into the kinds of people we want to be – the kinds of people God created us to be.

What stories – biblical and human – will be shaping your worhsip this week? How will you prepare your heart for worship? And, if you’re a worship leader, how will you be preparing this week?

If you are following the Lectionary, then you may find these resources helpful. And if you’re focussing on the Gospel, you may find this reflection helpful.

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Sep 29 2014

Sacredise: No Need to Flaunt It!

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“If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” goes the saying, because, after all, what’s the use of having power, beauty, fame, or money if you can’t use it to manipulate the world to your own ends? What’s the point of having it, if no one knows you’ve got it? If fact, if no one knows, do you really have it at all?

Yet, when the religious leaders challenged Jesus to reveal the source of his authority, he danced around them, and refused to give anything away. He even died with his secret intact. Yet, again and again, the writer of Matthew’s Gospel shows his readers that Jesus carried the authority of God, and passed that same authority on to his followers.

But, here’s where we miss the point all too often. The kind of authority Jesus revealed was not about domination or competition, or manipulation. It was not having access to government funds and lackies to create a protected personal paradise. It was about undermining everything that oppresses and harms human beings. It was about having the stamp of God’s approval on all the line-crossing, law-redefining, unclean-people-touching, and gatekeeper-bypassing that Jesus did. It was not about manipulating the world to his own ends. It was about undoing all the manipulation that imprisons the world in injustice, conflict and unnecessary suffering. The authority of Jesus freed him from marching to the tune of society’s values and priorities, and empowered him to march to the tune of God’s Reign in acts of generosity, compassion, inclusion and self-giving. And, it is this authority which Jesus has passed on to us!

So, as we seek to follow Jesus this week, let’s remember that the authority we’ve been given does not need to be flaunted. Let’s hear the call to step out of line and dance to a different rhythm from the world around us – in small, gentle, and often hidden ways. And let’s resist the urge to use whatever power we think we have to manipulate, control, or coerce those around us.

Whenever we see an opportunity to bend someone else to our will – be it our children, friends, colleagues, or spiritual companions – let’s step back and ask ourselves how we can use our authority to liberate them and lead them to be more fully the God-imaged person they were created to be.

Authority like this requires no credentials or proofs, and it does not need to flashed around. But, when it is employed, you can bet that everyone whom it touches will know about it.

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Sep 26 2014

Sacredise: Starting the conversation (3)

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been exploring what it might mean for us to consider worship as a conversation  and in the last two posts, I’ve been asking who we might consider to be the starter – the Causative Voice. In the first exploration of this question, I suggested that God is always the primary Causative Voice. Then, I explored what it might mean for us to be the Causative Voice.

But, there’s one last possibility that we also need to consider when we think about who begins our worship conversation with God. What difference might it make to our worship if we considered the world as potential Causative Voice?

The Old Testament prophets often drew connections between the worship life of Israel and the justice (or lack thereof) in their social/political/economic life. The prophets seemed convinced that the worship of God’s people should be connected with the realities of the world in which they lived. They even suggested that their worship should lead the people to live such a way that they made a positive difference to the realities in their world. This means that, for these Old Testament prophets, the world in which the worship of Israel was happening had something to say to what happened in the worship.

It is easy to fall into thinking of worship as an escape from the world, a moment when we leave our cares behind, find shelter in Jesus, and get our fill-up f rthe coming week. But, this kind of escapism is neither helpful nor healthy. And it does not conform with what the Bible calls worship. From a biblical perspective, worship is the classroom for life. It is the place where we bring the realities of our world into the sanctuary with us, and learn to navigate them with the attitudes, values, and habits of God’s Reign. Which means that the context in which we worship, the world (which God loves) in which we live, is a “voice” that contributes to setting the agenda for our worship.

What are the implications of this for worship planners and participants? Here are some thoughts:

  • We need to listen more carefully to our world, and identify the struggles that break God’s heart – which should also break ours.
  • We need to lose the escapist view of worship, and embrace the challenge of bringing the struggles of our world into the sanctuary with us, learning how to navigate them, and hearing God’s call to eb God’s agents of salvation as we go back out into this world.
  • We need to ensure that what we do in the sanctuary has relevance for what we do outside of it, and vice versa.
  • As we worship, we can see ourselves – all of us, not just the worship leader or preacher – in a kind of priestly role, representing our broken world before God, and bringing the pain and joys of the world to God in worship, and then going out as representatives of Christ, carrying the grace, love and justice of God into our communities.

The challenge, when we put these thoughts together with those from the last two posts, is that it can feel confusing to try and have three Causative Voices (God’s, ours and the world’s) all operating simultaneously in our worship services. Sometimes, when there are resonances between our personal story, the story of our context, and the Scriptures for the day, this can feel like what’s happening – like God, us, and others all start speaking at once about the same thing – as sometime shappens in conversations. But, sometimes we have to choose, based on the theme of the worship gathering, and the particular time and place in which we’re worshipping. Sometimes, we’ll start with hearing God’s Voice first, and then respond. Sometimes we’ll start with the voice of our grief or celebration and wait for God to respond. And sometimes we’ll begin with the world’s voice, and see how God leads us to respond.

Nevertheless, however the conversation begins, it must begin somewhere, and it must lead us into a deeper love for God, for our world, and for ourselves. If it doesn’t, it’s not worship. Stay tuned for the next Voice in the conversation – the Collaborative Voice.

What are your thoughts in response to this? What might it mean for you to ceom to worship and allow the world to be the conversation starter with God? How can you adopt a priestly role as described above?

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Sep 24 2014

Sacredise: Wrestling with Authority

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Who gets to hold power? Who decides how things are done, how resources are distributed, how people relate to one another? Who chooses what we are allowed to think or believe and what is heterical or unacceptable?

These may seem like strange questions, but, if you’re following the Revised Common Lectionary, they are at the heart of the worship for this Sunday. In the Gospel reading, the religious leaders question Jesus’ authority, just as, in the Old Testament readings, the Israelites question the authority of Moses (in the semi-continuous reading) and the authority of God (in the related reading). The question of authority relates, for us, to the question of power, of the ability to influence and control the world, to determine our own destiny. And, we are not willing to give authority to those whose use of power undermines our ability to control our own lives (even though, we so often do this in spite of ourselves). But, as the Philippians reading shows, Jesus defined authority very differently – which is what disturbed and frightened the religious leaders. Jesus’ authority was a divine gift, and was expressed not in exercising power over others, but in serving others and empowering them to give their lives in service of the dream of a world of love and justice.

Based on this alternative story of power and authority, Jesus offers a parable of two sons. One gives a positive response to his father’s request to work in the vienyard, and one refuses. But, the one who refused did go and work, while the one who agreed, did not. Which means that, for Jesus, faith, love, and authority are all revealed, not by what we say, but by what we do. Our worship, then, really needs the language of action and ritual this week.

So, if we come as congregants to worship this week, what can we do to prepare ourselves, and to enter into the worship more meaningfully? Here are some suggestions:

  • We can recognise that attending church, saying certain religious phrases, or even quoting the Bible, are not the things that define our following of Christ. It is the way we live our lives, and particularly, the extent to which we are willing to give ourselves to nurture love and justice in our part of the world, that define whether we are truly following Jesus or not.
  • We can release our need to be in control of our lives, or the lives of those around us. We can stop seeking “authority” or power to control our lives and those of others. We can come to worship as an act in which we give up control and submit to the values, priorities and behaviours of God’s Reign.
  • We can open ourselves to God’s surprising work in us and in our world. We can let go of what we think we know of power, authority, and of what God does and does not do. And we can embrace the mystery and surprise of a God who works through those whom we would ignore, and who uses the ordinary, the hidden, and the unexpected to bring God’s Reign into being.

And, if we come to worship as those who prepare and facilitate the experience, we might want to consider how we can create space for the unexpected move of God’s Spirit. We may need to be willing to release some of control over how things proceed, and allow for some spontaneity, for congregational participation, and for moments of silence, of waiting and of receptivity.

What ideas do you have for worship this week? Which readings will you focus on? How will you engage with God’s upside-down view of power? And, if you’re leading, how will you create space for some surprising encounter with God this week?

Here is a deeper reflection on the Gospel reading, and here are more reflections and resources for worship this week.

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Sep 22 2014

Sacredise: The End of Blessing

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What does it mean to be blessed? And what, do you think, qualifies us or makes us worthy to be blessed? These are important questions to consider. We throw around words like “blessed” and “deserve” and “fortunate” so easily, bu we often fail to consider the impact these words have on our view of the world, and on the way we live.

When we think of blessing as some material or spiritual reward for being good (worthy), then we will automatically see those who have an easy life as blessed. But, the problem is that it is then a short step to view those who suffer or struggle as cursed.

But, the implications go even further than this. Our idea of blessing is also tied up with our view of justice or fairness. We like to think that the world is fair, that those who work hard and live to the benefit of others will be protected, provided for and recognised. We also like to think that those who are lazy, selfish, and careless get what they “deserve” – which in our minds is some sort of punishment. It is amazing and disappointing to see how this thinking has infiltrated the Church. Many of us have fallen into a version of faith in which we believe that followng Jesus will bring us lives of safety and comfort, and that disobeying God (or our version of God’s law) results in pain and punishment.

But, then we come across a parable like the Gospel reading for yesterday and all our meritocratic thinking gets swept aside. We cannot deny that, if Jesus’ parable speaks truth, the world is not fair – and neither is God. No one gets what they deserve, and most of us receive grace of which we could never be worthy.

But, how are we to live as Christ followers in a world which is unfair, for better and worse? To begin with, I believe we need to stop viewing the world through categories of deservedness. There can be no doubt that living in certain ways builds stronger relationships, and enables us to find greater levels of fulfilment and joy, no matter our circumstances of financial status. But, this does nto mean that it is ok for us to judge those who have not found a way to these healthy ways of being, or to consider ourselves more worthy than others. Perhaps, instead of thinking in terms of reward and punishment, we speak simply of consequences.

But, there is another implication of Jesus’ parable. It relates to how we react to the “good fortune” of others. In a competitive world, it is very difficult to celebrate when others succeed, and it is very easy to rejoice at the misfortune of others. But, such attitudes do not build a kinder, safer and more just society.

So, this week, perhaps we can release our addiction to “fairness” and “worthiness”. Perhaps we can make an intentional effort to celebrate with those who enjoy good times, whether we feel they deserve it or not. And perhaps we can grieve with those who walk through tough times, even if we think they’ve brought them on themselves.

After all, isn’t that how we would want to be treated?


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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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