Before the cross, we are forgiven. We reset our lives to be people of love and service.
Reflections written by Liz Milani and Matthew Maury.
By Matthew Maury
Begin by reading Matthew Maury's reflection:
The “new normal” is an expression that has become quite common over the past months, framing the way society talks about life after COVID-19. Like me, you might have had some discussions about what the “new normal” will mean for our lives, our work, our churches, our schools … the list goes on. I wonder if “new normal” is language that a secular world uses to talk about a deeper truth: an indicator that each of us is created in the image of God, and deep in our souls we recognise that things in this world don’t work the way they should. That “normal”, with all of its pain, brokenness, injustice, inequality, racism, nationalism, and oppression, is not what we want.
This year marks Tearfund Australia’s 50th anniversary. There are many ways to celebrate a milestone birthday party, so about a year ago our team started actively thinking and praying about what that will mean for us this year. As we talked about plans, we agreed that it is important to create space to pause, look back and celebrate God’s faithfulness and the amazing legacy of lives transformed through Tearfund-supported projects around the world. And we agreed that it’s valuable to look forward and dream about what God may have in store for the next 50 years as we continue to work for biblically shaped justice and the eradication of all forms of poverty.
That was 12 months ago. Then, the world shifted in ways that no one imagined were possible. COVID-19 changed everything. Milestone birthdays over this past year have come and gone with little or no celebration. We have probably all had some significant life event over the past year that was different than “normal”. Perhaps a wedding celebrated in a driveway, a funeral attended over Zoom, or an 18th birthday around the kitchen table with your immediate family. At least those are some of my experiences from the past year. Nothing was “normal”.
At Tearfund, the past year has been focused on the huge needs facing the communities we partner with around the world as they struggle through the health, economic, social and other far-reaching implications of this pandemic.
At Tearfund, the past year has been focused on the huge needs facing the communities we partner with around the world as they struggle through the health, economic, social and other far-reaching implications of this pandemic. Nothing has been “normal”... and we certainly have not been in “birthday party” mode.
In graduate school I had a professor named Ron Sider, whose seminal work Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger helped shape the ways that many evangelicals understood what it means to have a biblical response to poverty and injustice. It was a book that challenged evangelical Christians to think about a “new normal” that is shaped by what the Bible says about wealth and poverty rather than by the world’s view of economics. His course was the first time I had studied in-depth a Christian understanding of economic relationships for the people of God. I learned that one of the foundational stones of biblically-shaped economics is the concept of jubilee (every 50 years), which is initially in Leviticus 25 but referenced throughout scripture, including by Jesus as he announced the launch of his ministry in Luke 4. As Sider wrote, “God requires radically transformed economic relationships among his people… we discover in the scriptures that God created mechanisms and structures to prevent great economic inequality among his people.” Jubilee was, in effect, a call for a “new normal”.
As followers of Jesus, we have always believed that we are called to a “new normal”. Over and over we see throughout scripture a call for repentance from old ways – and to live in ways that embody love for God and love for our neighbour. To be born again. We are called to a kingdom-shaped “new normal”.
We won’t be having a “normal” 50th birthday party this year. Instead we want to take this moment to reset for a better new normal. As an organisation we are carving out space to explore what this might mean by learning from global south theologians and our partners what “radically transformed economic relationships” mean and how we should respond as we look outward to a world with greater inequality than ever; with a climate crisis that is devastating poor communities; with a vaccine distribution system that allows the wealthy preferential treatment.
I invite you to journey this jubilee year with us. To join us in prayer, reflection, dreaming and acting for a kingdom-shaped “new normal” that is good news to all people.
By Liz Milani
Liz Milani paints a picture of what ‘resetting’ means, providing some liberating insights into God’s ongoing invitation or renewal:
“Reset” is usually a point of frustration; a button that you hit when something isn't working the way it's supposed to, and you can't figure out why. You've probably reset your phone and computer and TV and dishwasher hundreds of times. But how do you reset a life? How do you reset your faith? When it seems they stop working the way they always have?
We love to feel certain and safe, and modern privileged living has lulled us into expecting certain things always to be the way they are. Discomfort and change and the unexpected can leave us feeling threatened and unsafe. The aversion to resetting and starting again is ingrained into our way of life. But it doesn't have to be. Resetting isn’t an indictment of the old. It doesn't mean that you've failed or that you're wrong. It's simply an acknowledgement that it's time for something else. And while it may loom large and hard, and while it may require creative energy and determination, you are built for it, you are capable of it, you have the strength and the courage to see it through. Change has always been a normal part of life, and if you look closely, you'll see that you've been doing it all this time, already.
Isaiah said that God said:
"Be alert, be present. I'm about to do something brand-new. It's bursting out! Don't you see it? There it is! I'm making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands." (Isaiah 43:18-21, MSG)
That wasn't a one-off declaration. It was a Divine reminder about the nature of living a life. New stuff is forged on the way, during the journey, in the middle, muck and mess of our ordinary lives, during pandemics and movements and elections, moving from one thing to the next, letting go, surrendering, learning, changing, resetting ... You're doing it already. You're building the roads, you're helping the river flow (you are the river that flows) – the new things that God does always come through flesh and blood and bone; they always come through you and me and all of us together.
You don't reset your life to a place where you are devoid of experience and trauma and damage. You don't reset yourself instantly back to the start of it all. Reset is a position of the heart and spirit. It's an openness and a willingness to be a part of the roads bursting forth in the desert, and to flow with the rivers in the badlands. It takes you to a place of faith where you drop what you thought was certain – it never was anyway – and surrender to the grace that doesn't need to have everything working the way you think it needs to to be able to live the life that you have.
“Faith is not a full stop; it is a Divine and creative AND.”
Reset is an integrative experience. It normalises change, and it creates space for peaceful pivoting. Resetting, changing, pivoting – these practices do not deem everything done before them a failure. It works with the old – on what worked, what didn't, and what used to but now doesn't – and builds into the new. Faith is not a full stop; it is a Divine and creative AND. It's not a set of rules and dogmas and doctrines; faith is how you stay open and awake and aware of life happening all around you, in you, and through you; it's how you journey through the changes. The more you make room for your reset experiences, the more you'll feel nourished and healed, the more you'll see that it's the portal to miracles and wonder, the more you'll be able to make peace with how the things you thought weren't working were doing exactly what you needed them to: they were showing you what (not) to do next.
Reset doesn't have to fill you with frustration. Yes, it requires grace and guts and focus; it may mean that there is a challenge to traverse and the unknown to navigate, but on the way, the road will start taking shape, and the river will start to flow, and you'll lean into the grace that will carry all the way through to somewhere new.
By Liz Milani
The world is changing and here I am in the middle of it.
Lord, I surrender to the reset.
I choose to rest in the fluidity of God’s grace.
I know that I am safe there, even though I feel unsure.
Thoughts and feelings interrupt, reminding me that things haven’t turned out the way I had planned... I choose to resist.
Lord, may you again have your way, that I might be and do what you created me for: to flow and change and become.
Paying attention to the way that God is resetting things in us and the world around us takes practice. One way to tune our ears to God’s “flow” is by practising the prayer of the Daily Examen. The Daily Examen is our Reset Faith practice for this week and involves remembering the significant moments of each day and paying attention to your spirit in the midst of these moments.
Ideas for Small Groups and sharing the Reset Faith journey with others.
Transformation happens in community. Share the Reset Faith journey with friends, your small group, your tribe. Share a meal, speak honestly, pray together. Be changed together.
Liz Milani is the co-owner and author of thepracticeco.com
Matthew Maury is the CEO of Tearfund Australia.