Poppies In The Wasteland


Like a poppy growing in the middle of some waste ground, I love to find signs of life in unexpected places. The Joshua tree in the desert or the tender care of one vulnerable person towards another.

I’m writing these words whilst in Ukraine, a place I have visited on many occasions. I always go with the intentions of giving and serving, but always return feeling like I am the one who has been enriched by the community I have gone to serve.
Something happens when we deliberately choose to live on the margins, when life among the marginalised becomes the norm rather than the exception or the token gesture.

On one of my first visits to Ukraine many years ago, I sat with a fellow biker. His face was deeply scarred with a skin condition that was afflicted on him by the fallout of the Chernobyl disaster. We rode to the ruins of what once his orphanage home and he told me his story. All I did was listen, for maybe two hours. At the end of our time together he embraced me and thanked me for listening. This was the first time he had told his story to a foreigner. As far as he was concerned, he and his story, the plight of his community had been completely forgotten by his own government and the rest of the world.

To feel forgotten, to be left bereft of any sense that your voice is heard or even matters if it is heard, is a desperately lonely place to be.
Over the years, I have found great inspiration from the on the road stories of Jesus of Nazareth.

On one such occasion, he and his mates travelled across a lake to a graveyard, adjacent to a pig farm, that probably supplied the Roman garrison its food. The purpose of their journey was to meet a man that was caught in a trap of bizarre behaviour that manifested itself in many ways including self-harm, living naked among the graves and displays of almost supernatural strength that rendered him so unpredictable the community tried to chain him up.

As Jesus was a Jew, this man presented every reason under the sun why he shouldn’t be on Jesus’ radar for a conversation. An encounter with a naked, madman, living among the dead, next to a pig farm, would have ruffled more than a few feathers in the temple courtyard and effectively rendered Jesus untouchable.
There are many levels to this story found in the Gospels, but the thought I want to leave for reflection is this.

At the end of the encounter, the man was clothed and in his right mind. At the beginning of the encounter, we find Jesus, deliberately choosing to go out of his way, break some cultural taboos, put himself in a vulnerable position to demonstrate to this guy, he and his suffering was not forgotten.

If our concern for those who are marginalised, for whatever reason, moves us to act, let us be prepared to cross borders, be vulnerable ourselves and be surprised at the poppies we find growing in the wastelands.

Cheers and God bless.
Sean Stillman

“A Hell Of A Weekend” – Easter Thoughts – Part 3

Imagine how different it would have been when the girls rocked up at the tomb, where Jesus’ body lay, to discover the tomb wasn’t empty. And also to discover that neither was it closed up, with a couple of bouncers at the entrance. There’s a third option; I sometimes wonder what the reaction would have been if they’d showed up, saw the stone rolled away and as they peered in; saw Jesus sat on a stone bench. Maybe he would be picking his scabs and making mention of having had ‘a hell of a weekend’ and could they ‘nip down the Seven Eleven to get some paracetamol’. Fully alive, but still sat in the tomb, not daring to venture back out into the world.

As bizarre as this thought may be, the reality is that for many Jesus followers, the tomb, is as far as we dare to live out our faith, naval gazing and scab picking. For many and varied reasons it becomes all too easy to live in a Christian ghetto where life becomes stifled, beige, bland and disconnected with reality. The resurrected Christ walked out of the tomb, back into a kaleidoscope of colours, contradictions and questions – back in the company of his mates and their ‘warts and all’ world – not just watching it walk past his narrow window on the outside. Just as well really.

Got a life? Get walking.

Cheers and God bless ya this Easter time!

Luke 24:1-12

Originally written for my personal blog, Sean Stillman

Don’t Forget To Pull The Curtains and Put The Lights Out – Easter Thoughts – Part 2

In the recorded stories of Christ’s crucifixion the ripping from top to bottom of the 60 foot curtain veil in the heart of the temple is more than a bit of a gust blowing through. This massive curtain was only to be ventured behind by the most devout and on very few select occasions – access was seriously restricted, and denied to 99.9% of people, but it was all part of Israel getting it’s house in order with God and the limited access was understood and respected.
 
 When Jesus breathed his last all kinds of wierd stuff happened – including this curtain tearing in two. The way was now blown wide open as a result of Christ’s sacrificial death. Access into the presence of God was no longer for a select few on a particular date and time in a designated holy place. Intimacy with God – the seeking and granting of his gifts of forgiveness, grace, mercy, hope, justice, peace – came out of the confines of the temple and into a wounded world for real.
 
 The story of Easter – of Jesus the Nazarene – is not just for a religious few that have got it all together – it’s the stuff of revolution as the ‘temple courts’ are filled with the most unlikely. Bob Dylan picked up on a similar vein:
 
 “Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an worse An for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe An we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.”
 Bob Dylan – Chimes of Freedom, 1964

 
 Freedom had a price. Freedom is a gift.
 
 Luke 23:44-46
 
 Originally written for my personal blog, Sean Stillman
 
 
 
 

Easter Thoughts – Part 1

I’ve always been quite impressed with the response that G. K. Chesterton gave to the question posed by The Times newspaper, ‘What is wrong with the world?’ – the reply came simply as; “Dear Sirs, I am.”

To a greater or lesser degree throughout the history of humanity we have been unbelievably successful at defacing so much of what is beautiful, sacred and cohesive. The decay of a physical world and the prevalence of the law of the jungle extinguishes all but the most stubborn flickers of light.

But in the embers the Easter message continues to burn as ‘The prophet in rags gives hope to a fearful world’. Amid best mates’ betrayals for cash incentives, desertion and denials, kangaroo courts, and dodgy dealings the death of Christ was surrounded by people like us. Human frailty meets the eternal. Truth and justice collide with catastrophic and miraculous consequences in equal measure as Christ wrestles, prior to his arrest, with the question; ‘is this a road I have to go down – a cup I have to drink?’

At the heart of the Easter story there remains an ember that burns in the darkness – sparks of hope, flickers of light, shelter from the cold for ‘problems in the world’ like you and me.

Previously written on my personal blog, Sean Stillman