What if?

I feel like the world is trying to live in a paradox.

One where everybody wants to be loved for who they are, but only love certain parts of themselves. One where people are hurt when they are not accepted, but do not accept others. One where we are all striving for something- we may not be sure what it is, but we’ll know when we get there.

There seems to be a lack of satisfaction within my generation. On social media, we make fun of ourselves for how self deprecating we are, posting about our insatiable desire for validation in an attempt to gain some “likes”. The irony of it is not lost on me. Perhaps this resounds throughout history, but the sound of it is just getting louder.

That we would present ourselves to society and expect everyone to accept us does not seem possible. Surely, in a world full of unique individuals, it would stand to reason that you cannot expect 100% of the population to agree on anything, including [but by no means limited to] your fashion statement, sexuality or religious beliefs. Furthermore, this seems like such an impossibility to me because we are bound by a tendency to not even completely accept ourselves. Take, for instance, in dating. One partner would have it that they are loved completely and wholly, mistakes and quirks included. That when they are irritated, it is for a reason and that is understood and absorbed by their significant other. When they indulge in bad habits, it is taken with a pinch of salt as it’s just “who they are”. And yet, there are things about us that, no matter how much we try, we cannot love. Memories that lurk, regrets woven into our personality, a temptation to be what we are tired of fighting. And yet, when we are rejected, even be it by one person in a sea of admirers, we take it to heart, and moan that no one truly understands.

And what about tolerance?

That what I say is the truth and what you have to say is a combination of your upbringing, background and probably some misunderstanding. Deep down, it makes me feel better to think you’re a little bit foolish for thinking in such a way. And of course we can’t discuss or explore our differences on the off chance someone will say something even remotely challenging, because that wouldn’t be… tolerating me. That might hurt. That might take some time and energy to understand. And I would rather not, thank you.

What about this sense that the world is not right? That we may never be able to make it right, what with all the violence and pain and hungry and global warming, for heaven’s sake, on top of all that. And we just don’t know how to fix it, but we know we have to so we’d better buy recycled toilet paper and give a dollar to the Salvo’s man.

I will here suggest something that will seem impossible.

Just as impossible as being accepted.

Just as impossible as everyone being tolerating.

Just as impossible as saving the world.

That there has been an answer all along.

What if there was someone who knew all of your flaws before you’d even really met them, and loved you completely? Loved you enough that, despite knowing everything you are ashamed of and afraid of, they died for you? Someone to fulfil your greatest desire of knowing that all the pieces of you weren’t to be displayed or hidden, but were puzzle pieces that form a beautiful picture.

What if there was an ultimate truth? Some people fight over what it may be, some people argue it doesn’t exist. But what if it did? And it was all mapped out, by someone who knew what they were doing? And it sort of just… felt right? A list of directions, so to speak, that you’d always been trying to follow, to a point, all laid out for you. A list of directions you could point others to. You always knew eggs, sugar and milk went together but now you’ve found a precise recipe.

And, what if there was a point?. A way to fix everything? And someone who was willing to do it, save the world? To make things right and beautiful again?

Maybe there is.

I believe there is.

I believe it’s Christ who loves you, Christianity which directs you, and God who is going to save the world.

And if you disagree with me, that’s fine. Just tolerate my opinions.

The Christian Feminist

Do you believe that women should be equal to men?

If you said yes, you’re a feminist. 

[Sorry if you were getting ready to fight me, it’s actually quite a simple principle.]

Feminism isn’t like a meringue- with precise measurements, and needing a lot of whipping into the perfect white shape. It’s more like being given the order of a “cake”. You can add or take away based on your own wants and passions, but there are a few foundational things without which it would not be counted as cake. 

As soon as you begin to believe that women are not considered or treated as equals globally, you begin to understand feminism. That women’s clothes and gendered products are more expensive despite the fact they get paid less, that displays of emotion are seen as feminine [and not masculine], that there are clear gender stereotypes, women can’t work in some societies, pornography and the sex slave trade are booming, and issues of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and harassment are deeply woven into every society. Once you start to think about all of this, it’s actually rather easy to consider the feminist perspective.

However, last night I was faced with a lady who had decided not to be known as feminist because she was a Christian, and so here I have decided to outline what I believe feminism means for Christians, both male and female. 

To keep it short and simple, I will list 3 cans and can’ts. 

A Christian feminist can be a Christian and a feminist. 

This seems remarkably obvious to me, but was not to the lady last night. She argued that feminism challenges the very foundations of what it means to be a woman, and destroys the ideas and purposes God has laid out for us. That feminism argues against the idea of [particularly a male] headship. However, a Christian feminist should listen to God as much as a normal feminist would listen to whoever is teaching her how to drive when she’s on her L plates. He is still sovereign, the Creator and loving. Like with science, political views need to correspond with biblical teaching, but often cover other or additional areas. Science explains the how, feminism explores a response to fighting for justice in a sinful world. 

I believe that feminism gives Christian women an opportunity to express freely what and who God has created them to be. In societies around the world, women are told what to wear, who to marry and how to behave. Feminism fights for a world where a woman is valued just because of who she is, while Christianity fights for a world where a woman is valued just because of who God sees her as. If they work together, they can achieve aa world where God is sovereign and a woman can recognise how much she is to be loved despite her appearance, grades or social status. A world where a woman is not defined by whether she is dating, but simply by her relationship with Christ. 

A Christian feminist can decide what they will and will not support and still call themselves a feminist. 

Many Christians disagree with abortion and same sex marriage. Honestly, some Christian women are uncomfortable not shaving their legs, wearing make up or having short hair. But this doesn’t mean they are excluded from the movement of feminism. This just means they are choosing their battles with another perspective. You should not purposely ignore every invitation to go to a rally which supports or opposes something because it is based on feminism [for instance, political rallies, mental health days, fundraisers for organisations which benefit females]. Indeed, it is probably more helpful to present a positive Christian influence than to withdraw from a name for fear of incorrect association. 

A Christian feminist can disagree with other Christians and still call themselves a feminist. 

I disagree with the woman from last night about a couple of the things she said, and that’s okay. Just like with church and Bible study, and everywhere else I get challenged on things in the Bible, it means I have to have a humble heart and allow myself to be challenged before I write people off. Sometimes quarrels are unnecessary, and weirdly, she might just end up fighting for things that I do under a different name. But that doesn’t mean neither of us can be feminist. Complementarians and egalitarians alike can be feminist, Protestant and Catholic- as I say, anyone who thinks women should have equal rights to men.

A Christian feminist cannot choose feminism over Christianity. 

There are admittedly times where it seems preferable to ignore what the Bible is clearly saying to follow everyone else. However, we simply should not compromise our faith to follow an easier or more popular path. There are many issues many feminists support which I do not believe actually benefit women or their rights, due to my understanding of God’s plan for the world. That means I cop some flack. Christ will always come before anything of this world.

A Christian feminist cannot purposely do things just to bug others. 

This is a weird one, but it is one that was brought up last night and has stuck with me. Another of my friends doesn’t believe in feminism because she recognises all of the things the word is attached with rather than the simple definition I began this blog post with [whiny middle class “slacktivists” who are happy to retweet other people’s opinions but refuse to change their lifetyles, and wish to oppress men. For example, my high school drama teachers, who didn’t recognise a need for the male gender at all.] [I do not subscribe to this view.]

 Popping the word “Christian” on the front means that, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we still have a mandate to be kind and loving. To not shove our opinions in other people’s faces unhelpfully, and to test every opinion that comes our way before mindlessly adopting it. The woman last night said she purposely shaved her head and ignored authority because it annoyed men, and that’s what [she thought] feminism is. However, there is a way to fight for better rights and still be helpful, meek and humble. I have shaved my head, but it wasn’t to shove it in anyone’s face [it was for charity]. I still have short hair, not because I despise femininity but because it’s practical, and, I believe, better for the environment. As with everything in life, consider how it affects others, how others perceive it and what you would say if you were asked a question about it.

A Christian feminist should not be scared. 

There are many scary things in the world today, and often the feminist movement has an urgency about it. However, the best thing about being a Christian feminist is that I know I am fighting to make this world better, but a day is coming where there will be no inequality, no fear of the future. A Christian feminist doesn’t have to worry about what other people think, or when other people disagree with her, as long as she is fighting for a world which is like God’s kingdom. 

In conclusion, I believe every Christian should be a feminist, no matter whether they’re male or female, and no matter how many of the “extras”/hashtags/movements they partake in. I think feminism campaigns for a world like God wanted, where men and women worked together not for themselves, their individual genders or the competition of it all, but for God’s kingdom come, his will done and earth like it is in heaven. 

Psalm 77

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me. 

[Where are you? I’m hurt!
I’m banging on heaven’s door.]

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
At night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.

[I’ve called out to you until my throat is dry.
I keep on praying, calling, screaming, pushing and
people are telling me I’m crazy, that’s it’ll all be okay but I want you.]

I remembered you, God, and I groaned.
I meditated and my spirit grew faint. Selah.

[I did what I was meant to do- you asked me to pray, so I did, even when I couldn’t find the worlds.
I couldn’t even eat, couldn’t drink, just sat and thought about you. Sigh.]

You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak. 

[I couldn’t sleep, restless in cold sweats
People keep asking me what’s wrong but I just shrug and look to the ground, and sometimes a tear will escape.]

I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.

[Remember the good old days? Playing and carefree when I was a kid;
I remember the songs I used to sing, and I sang them when darkness closed in.]

My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
“Will the Lord reject me forever?
Will he never show his favour again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

[Questions! They plague me, flittering around my head like wasps.
“Are you giving me the silent treatment, ignoring me?
Don’t you care about me? I don’t deserve this.
They call you loving, and yet how could a good God allow this? The God of Israel is nowhere to be found on Earth today.
Another promise broken- I thought you weren’t like everyone else?
Did you forget what you said, about protecting me? Did you forget about me?
Did I do something wrong?”]

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal
The year when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
Yes I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works and meditate on your mighty deeds.”

[Something clicked though, and I remembered the Sunday School stories.
I thought “I remember all that you have already done,
and instead of letting my head be filled with questions and my heart be filled with hurt, I’ll concentrate on who you’ve already shown yourself to be, through what you have done.”]

Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
You display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. 

[The way you act is set apart.
I look at the way everyone is living and recognise this is the best.
You can do things beyond our control and our imagination,
and you’ve shown us again and again.
You sent your son to die on a cross for me, because you loved me
and now I get to be a part of your family, adopted]

The waters saw you, God
the waters saw you and writhed,
the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth. 

[You’re not afraid of what I find scary
The scary things are afraid of you instead.
In the chaos, you have control
In the war, your weapons win.]

Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

[Your voice calls above the cacophony of my terror,
I can see you through the storm
Your power shakes everything to its very core.]

Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

[I remember when you made a way for your people,
even when it seemed there was absolutely no way out,
and you were there even when it really seemed like you were nowhere to be found.]

You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

[We’re lost. We’re scared and scattered
But you’re a good shepherd who protects us from the wolves and brings us back.
You give us good leaders- mentors, friends, and people to guide us along the way.]

Dear Wormwood

The Screwtape Letters is a book of short letters from an old, wise devil to a younger one named Wormwood. The album, Dear Wormwood is a collection of songs from a band called the “Oh Hellos” to that old, wise devil.

 
I think what hit me about this album is that the songs are incredibly relatable. In an interview, the band were talking about how they wrote it from the perspective of someone who is in an abusive relationship, which sort of gives off the feeling it’ll be depressing or frustratingly two dimensional, like a lot of stories year 12 students write about for the HSC when they have no experience but figure it’ll get some attention. However, the music itself is actually for the main part light hearted and lilting, combining a little bit of American guitar with a dash of Irish folk music. Bluegrass? It’s sweet, and soft and I just found myself leaning back in my chair, my hands still from what they were doing and my eyes closed. Songs such as “This Will End” just run through your blood to the beat of your heart. And yes, there is this clear story of being hurt, being sad, but in a way that anyone can think of a time something has been said or done and they’ve felt this way.
The best thing about the album [I’d encourage you to fight Spotify if you’ve got the free version, and listen to the album in order] is that the narrative rises to be positive. Suddenly, after feeling like this is their depiction of how life is, or how it can be, a hero appears in “Soldier, Poet, King” and we rise to overcome in the title song, “Dear Wormwood”. Here is hope. What’s interesting, though, is that isn’t how the album actually ends. With the musical interlude of “Danse Macabre”, there’s clearly some joy but something that makes you say, “this can’t be it? There must be something more.”
Well, maybe it isn’t. Maybe there is more story. Maybe there’s another song. Maybe the rest of the story is yours.
It’s a good album, and something good to sing when you’re scared.
4.5/5

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Confronted

Part 3

I wanted to write this blog post because, despite the fear that many people may skip it, or that it may hurt to write, I know it’s important.

 

I was most confronted by the things I didn’t see coming.

Growing up with an Indonesian mother, I’ve been to her hometown and the capital, Jakarta, a few times. I’m unfortunately not a stranger to poverty, so going to people’s houses in slums was frustrating, not confronting. No, the problem was in the problem- I was struck by how little I felt I could do about the problems I was facing. Kids getting sick by perfectly preventable and curable things like leaving sores on their legs uncovered and a lack of education about nutrition leading to people buying food that is cheap rather than useful. I was angry that I felt helpless.
During debrief one night, we were asked by what had confronted us and what we could do about it. My answer was that, even if I dedicated my life to medicine and tried to heal as many people as I could, I wouldn’t get to all of them. I wouldn’t get to enough. When I talked to people, whether for hours or minutes, I was aware that I could be speaking to a hard heart, with words going in one ear and out the other. When I slaved for hours in the sun painting what was to be a food hall for a women’s refuge, a voice in my head asked if anyone would even notice- we were mocked by the builders straight away for being women when they wanted us to move the building garbage outside first. I looked into the eyes of a little girl on the bus with a scab covering half of her face and I wondered how she would get it and how long it would last, my little first aid kit pointless. I was confronted by my own weakness, a drop in the ocean.

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Then there was the reaction of the people around me.
I was scared I would judge the Fijians, and I found myself instead judging my own friends. There’s this part in “Tomorrow When The War Began”, a great series of novels by John Marsden, where the main character, Ellie, thinks about an ice block she threw away. She describes how it’s burning hot and all she can think about is this ice block she threw away before leaving home because it had too many little icicles on it and what she would do to have it back. However, she reflects, given enough time back at home, she would probably throw it away again. We had just emerged from the slums and all around me was chatter about how the cordial was probably diseased and complaints that we had tuna curry for lunch. Some people outright threw it away. That was scary, the feeling of anger bubbling up inside of me and trying to hold my tongue in case something regrettable was said. I was rapidly remembering every time I hadn’t finished a meal, hadn’t put in offering at church, had gotten distracted during a video or presentation by missionaries trying to help these people because now I was one. I was feeling these emotions, raw and hard, and the scary thing is, the people around me were probably so frustrating because they were reflecting who I had been.

I’m not sure if confronted is the right word, but I was surprised by the easy attitude. Three quick examples are religion, time and use of things.
In Australia, it is perfectly okay to be an atheist. However, if you were to be some religion or of no religion, you are usually ready to defend your beliefs because into any conversation could slip a dangerous “why?” The amount of times people have questioned my religious beliefs at home, not out of curiosity but so they could tell me I’m wrong, means I’ve developed a nice little speech to use as a shield. In Fiji, there is no such thing. While it was easy to ask people what religion they were [pretty much the only answers being Christian or Hindu], and to enter into light-hearted conversations about God, there was no sense of having to be wary. It was hard to actually challenge people on their beliefs because I didn’t want to break this sense of assumed okayness- when people gave theologically wrong sermons, when Hindus told me Jesus was “one of their gods” and when people listened to my beliefs, it was all done with a smile and a nod. Almost bred to be trying to prove myself right, I found it both relaxing and frustrating to talk to people who were just happy to accept anything. I think this is a reason behind a lot of “nominalism” or being whatever religion because your parents were- it’s just easy. Cool beans, sure I’m a Christian.
Time! FIJI TIME!!! I love organising, plans, and being on time. But, when we woke up at five a.m. on our first Sunday in Naimalavau to be ready for a church service and there were only people from Year 13 there for the first 45 minutes, it was clear planning wasn’t going to be a priority for us. It was frustrating when people were late or just didn’t show up. On one hand, it’s a privilege and a great opportunity to be asked to put together a youth service with five minutes notice because there just happen to be a bunch of teens in the community hall. On the other hand, it’s remarkably stressful. However, I was truly challenged by this ease of attitude around time when one day, a rugby match which we had been excited for all week and prepared signs for with the kids was cancelled. We were literally walking to it, when Ma [homestay mum] noticed some people walking back and, in a casual tone, asked “is it on?”
“No,” they replied.
“Okay,” she said.
And we turned around and went home. She didn’t shrug, she didn’t appear mad or disappointed and I realised just how much it is a part of Australian culture to get righteously angry over things. If a rugby match was cancelled like that in Sydney [because some kids were playing cricket on the field and the school had forgotten the match was on], there would be a riot, letters written, angry rants on Facebook. But the Fijians were perfectly fine with it. After all, what could they do? It would probably be rescheduled and they’d post photos on Facebook of the kids with our signs. Then we decided to go to town to get the ingredients for Ma to teach us to make roti. Okie doke. Why spend the energy?
The use of things, though, and the ease of those attitudes stung. In Australia we are constantly being bombarded through advertising on television, bill boards and packaging to change. This is bad for the environment, they’ll be bad leaders of the country, your dog food isn’t good enough. And we’re taught to think critically and we’re convinced by reasoning. In Fiji, you just do things the way you do them. On one level this looks like burning your rubbish in a fire [including plastic], and using a machete to cut the grass. You have a problem, and a solution. On the other hand, this looks like feeding the chickens because you’re going to eat them and their eggs but neglecting the dogs because they don’t need to be fat to protect the house. We were followed around by a young dog we affectionately named Alfred, who enjoyed our company because we did the odd thing of patting him. However, one day he followed us to the house in which we had our meetings and a lady walked out with a wooden plank and beat him as a group of teenagers listened horrified. Things are used for what they are needed for. Dogs protect the house. Fire destroys the rubbish. Machetes cut things. And I know I’m not completely off in my understanding of this mentality due to the advertising in Fiji. Apart from the fact that there’s barely any, the government is clearly trying hard to change things because there is no polite reasoning- it’s blunt.

Seatbelts: “the belt your child actually needs.”
Speeding: “breadwinner dead to speeding.”
Pepsi: “Stop staring, start drinking.”
McDonalds: “Big Night? Big Mac.”

Australians, I feel, would be positively offended at being communicated to like that.

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Alfred

 

So, there were a lot of things that confronted me in Fiji. A lot of things I wanted to hide from, or attack or at least feel like I was making a dent on. However, when I wanted to shut off I realised that it would be cutting off a lot of change- I was here for a purpose, and that was to be used by God. I had no idea what to do in a lot of those situations, but I did realise I could do something in some situation. One story emerged of a woman who was heavily pregnant- it cost $20 Fijian to give birth in a hospital and we spent that on an average Macca’s run. When some people from Year 13 gave her that money, she broke down. I’ve been challenged by how I spend my money and time, and I am set on changing and challenging those around me.  I reckon, in a way, I caught a glimpse of what God feels every day- an overwhelming compassion to love and fix. While he has the power to do what he wants, our pastor Luther who gave a lot of talks on mission while we were over there, reminded us he is always with us and giving us that power as well. As helpless as we feel the reality is that we can and have the heart to fix things. In Fiji, it was generously giving and accepting the white teenagers. In Australia, it might be putting in more effort at Sunday School, upping my offering, supporting more organisations with my money or even one day dedicating my life to mission now that I’ve seen what it does and how it feels. No, things won’t be perfect until heaven and we live in a broken world. However, until then, I can only do what I can do, and, with His help, trust that it’s enough.

“18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

 

Difference

Part 2

I stepped off the plane yesterday and the smell of the air was different. It was freezing, and when I went home I had the first hot shower in a month and opened my drawers to dozens of different options. After a month of being told we weren’t allowed to touch or hug the opposite gender, we probably shocked the Australians with our vigour in embracing our loved ones and each other. I slipped on a pair of skinny jeans after a month of long skirts, and got my hair cut. I had hot chocolate and sushi.

Travelling to another country means we were told to expect differences not only in the obvious things, but in the small things. Yes food, culture and sights and smells. Having five different types of friend breakfast [bumbakau, roti, pancakes, toast with butter and sweet and sour bumbakau- I wasn’t joking. Plus, not much fresh fruit due to the recent cyclone.] But church, family and manners also took a major twist.

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Yesterday, when I went to order that sushi, I tried to ask the man about his day and he nodded at me before turning away to continue what he was doing. The lady with the hot chocolate was tart, and didn’t add anything unnecessary, like a “thank you” for handing over my money, or for ordering. It was confronting after a month of being greeted with huge smiles by construction workers, welcomed into stranger’s houses as family and being clung to by kids at kids club.

So, the biggest difference was how huge Fiji is on hospitality.

Four times we went on visitation- the first time in a slum, the second in the birthplace of Hinduism for Fiji, and the last two times in our “Local Church Mission” village, Naimalavau. We were told to spread out and meet people, encourage them to or in faith in Christ.
The first time, we hadn’t even reached as far as we were planning to go before a man came out and asked us what was going on and would we like to join him. We followed him onto the veranda of a house made of tin which he had painted a bright purple, where he offered us cordial and stood while his son sat on a hard wooden chair and offered us the couch. The resounding thought in my head was they had nothing, but they were offering us everything. And, despite being Hindu, they listened to me for an hour on Jesus, offering questions and nodding. I have no idea what was going on in their hearts, but as a little girl arrived from school, clinging to her dad, and we were greeted by an elderly grandmother, it became more and more important to me to convince them this life is not all there is. Surrounded by poverty, disease and the overwhelming love they had showed us, all I wanted was for them to know God loved them and was watching over them, as they worshipped their careless, distant statues. By the time we left, I was spent, praying silently in my head that God would use that conversation somehow.
The second place was relatively well off, however my friend M and I were somehow drawn to what I initially thought was just an abandoned shack at the bottom of a concrete driveway, so old grass was growing through the cracks. When we knocked on the door, a small Indo-Fijian lady [of Indian descent, from when Britain brought over Indian slaves to work on the sugar plantations] peered around the door and asked “what side are you on?” Foolishly thinking geographically, I told her we were staying in Suva. She repeated the question, adding “Hindu or Christian?” We emphatically replied Christian and she let us in, revealing a family gathered in the living room. The next twenty minutes were filled with discussions of Christ and how they had ended up using the “house” while there were struggles over the lease. They gave us cake straight from shopping bags, and burning hot tea in chipped mugs. I gave the daughter a leather bound diary and she was almost in tears. Once again, I left with an overwhelming compassion and sense of helplessness, figuring I may not see them again until heaven. Praying we had made a difference.
The third place, though, possibly impacted me the most.

Every day in Naimalavau, our breakfast, lunch and dinners were prepared for us by the village split into their Bible studies or “cell groups”. Every family falls into a cell group because every family is “Christian”. While it was often discussed how heartfelt that faith was, it was definitely acted out in the generosity and love afforded every meal, and our reception around the village. Somehow, by the end, they all knew our names. My very own home stay mother Marica [pronounced Maritha], had an empty fridge and still managed to fill a crate with snacks for my homestay buddy and I. We shared a paper thin mattress on the floor of a room they had given up to us, and every day we returned to it swept, our clothes folded and any washing done.
The thing about visitation, though, is that it’s often with people you have literally never met before. There isn’t a rule about it, but when a friend I had made named Oscar leaned out of his window and greeted M and I, I almost kept walking. Thankfully, he had the wisdom to linger long enough to ask whether Oscar had been visited, and, when it turned out he hadn’t, we ventured over the wooden planks squished into the mud to enter his home. Inside we found all of Oscar’s brothers, sisters and their children. We sat and shared our favourite Bible verses, praying for them and Oscar’s mother who he told us was rather ill. However, we had only been there about fifteen minutes before she walked out. It turned out she had been listening the entire time, and she was in tears. Oscar gently explained they were due to her pain- the illness affected her breathing. Yet, once she’d introduced herself, she told us in pained whispers, completely out of the blue that we wanted to sing for us. We listened to her and Oscar then perfectly harmonise not one, but two hymns. And, as we sat there fighting tears, she openly wept, reading us encouragement from Jeremiah. Nancy told us how she knew God had sent us to her, at a point when not even her own family had visited her upon hearing she was sick. By the end, we were holding hands and praying, not just that she would recover, but thanking God for bringing us together.
The last lady we met on one side of the village and she led us to the other side just to have us in her house. She told us the story of how her husband was away for months at a time, and she was praying for him as he had a new found faith but had recently been demoted. As we sit and listened, she completely opened up about the different spheres of her life and how she needed prayer for different things like her son at school, and that her kids wouldn’t miss their father too much. In Australia, I have no idea what the odds are of even being let into a house while doorknocking. A two hour conversation can skim but the shallowest of subjects, and to cry in front of a stranger is shameful. Yet, here we were in front of a lady being completely vulnerable with two people simply on the basis that we were Christians and we wanted to share time with her.

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From the right: me, friend Amelia, homestay mother Marica, homestay buddy Ashleigh, Fijian friend Oscar, friend Hannah.

So, the good differences are clear- so many things moved my heart and made me wish home was a little more different. The hospitality wasn’t just in feeding us and going hungry, but in pouring love and kindness on strangers.

 

Not all of the differences were so good though.

Going to an all-girls school where feminism was breathed, having to wear a long skirt every day spoke volumes to me. We had to sit a certain way during cultural ceremonies and, although I was allowed to take part in them as part of Year 13, the women of the villages weren’t invited to join. Once a woman is married, she needs to give up her job and join her husband. I resisted the temptation to ask how that felt, not wanting to negatively stir the pot, but it was foreign. However, that modesty came into play quite quickly for me. During our visit to Nasikawa Vision College, a high school built on the vision of a Korean Mother’s Group of all things, we had the opportunity to spend two nights with a family. Constantly being on our toes not to offend or come across as the Western ideal we knew from training had been beamed to them had begun to seem tiresome. However, when we found out the youngest daughter refused to watch anything but MTV, I knew we were in for a tart reminder. I don’t have MTV at home, and I hadn’t watched any television for two weeks- suddenly exposed to the grinding, scantily clad women I so blindly glanced over in my everyday life, I felt almost protective of the little girl trying to imitate them, transfixed. Several outfit changes, random brand placement on flashy cars and women in their own videos almost completely exposed shocked me, as I curled my feet under my floor length skirt and looked around at my family in their long sleeves. I wonder how they felt. The stark contrast made me ashamed of my own world, and all the judgement towards the traditional modesty of Fiji evaporated for a while. Although it was uncomfortable, I was forced to challenge the notion that my life is the “normal” standard.

 

Something one of my leaders said is that, yes, there are differences. But you shouldn’t judge them and you may not be able to change a lot of them. Just take from them what you can. I’ll think twice before getting changed, before politely refusing to be visited by someone of a different religion, before spending all my money on food and leaving spare change for church. That missionary said we were “like dogs in a museum”, but I disagree. I saw everything, but I observed. I didn’t understand everything, but I struggled to understand some things. And I just may have.

 

The night of Bible study in the village, I was disappointed because I didn’t get to go to my homestay Mum’s. However, when I returned she was sitting with my buddy and sharing what they had been thinking about. She’d been meditating on Jesus’ call to be the light of the world and I laughed because I had preached my youth talk on that exact passage. Completely out of the blue, she began to cry. [Side note: a definite difference in the prevalence of bursting into tears. However, you’re not allowed to make a sound during funerals, or you’ll get whacked by a warrior with a wooden stick. True story.] She told me that she now knew I was meant to be there, in her house. That the Holy Spirit was in both of us and had put the same things on our heart- we were connected. All the time and love she had given, she had given just to try and demonstrate God’s love, and I understood that. I’m still struggling with whether this love is different from Australian society, but all I can do is do my part to make sure it isn’t.

 

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16

 

Mission

 Part 1

Yesterday morning, I returned from a one month long mission trip to Fiji.

To avoid answering a million of the same questions and giving awful, holey answers, I’m going to take the opportunity to summarise everything I can in a few blog posts. Also, seeing as it was only yesterday morning I was shivering in the dark on a beach praying with my mates, a lot is still processing. There just isn’t enough space on the internet or room in my brain to talk about every second of every day. However, hopefully here you’ll get a glimpse of what it was like, how I feel and most importantly what God has done.

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Short term mission would be nicely summarised as going overseas to spread the gospel, and a large part of our goal was to help support the churches that are already established and that we’ve already supported previously. Something to keep in mind is that, while I was only there for a month, there have been groups going to Fiji from Year 13 for about 10 years, so our impact isn’t as limited as some other short term mission trips. A lot of the people we came to knew had known our predecessors and it was inspiring to recognise that what we were about to do would be remembered.

People have a large range of feelings about short term mission, or even just mission in general.
I had a (non-Christian) friend angrily rant about the invasion of mission on the people of a place- shouldn’t they be allowed to keep whatever ideas they had? The thing is, though, that 128 of us decided to spend the money, time and energy to get to Fiji because we know how significant the impact of Christianity can be. In a country with 35.2% living under the poverty line, a bit of hope can be useful. In a country with a military government, knowing there is a sovereign yet loving God can be comforting. And knowing that whatever happens in this life isn’t all there is to come isn’t just awesome, it’s news Christians are commanded to spread. The first missionaries came to Fiji 150 years ago and got eaten. The only reason Fiji is still largely Christian is because people continued to courageously recognise the importance of spreading the hope and good news of Christ to them. And, while we were under no such threat, it was still slightly terrifying to leave home and all its comforts to go and spread the gospel. While a few sermons were preached but 90% of ministry was through two way conversations and the rest was through manual labour. So, no invasion.

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Another conception is that short term mission is pointless. You can’t learn the language, build strong relationships, or make a strong change in the time you are there. One missionary who has been there for three years described us as “dogs running through a museum-seeing everything but understanding nothing”. So, if we were on any sort of pedestal in our own minds, we were quickly knocked off them. The thing is, while you can’t convert a Hindu taxi driver in three minutes, it quickly becomes apparent how important it is to you that they are converted. For a lot of people that will manifest in a new found courage at home to tell people about Jesus and keep trying when it seemed initially too scary- for some it may actually manifest in coming back and trying again, or being a long term missionary overseas. The focus is on the change around us while I think by the end the point is to look at the change that’s occurred inside us and how that will then begin to affect our surroundings. A friend of mine said he was worried that our mission trip would turn into something selfish- that he would only change within himself, and not make that much of an impact. My response to him was that perhaps God wanted or needed the change to happen within himself first. Yes, our short term mission impacted us the most greatly- every time we talked to people, painted something or taught a scripture class, the cost and impact was adding up to no one but ourselves. However, I think of two things at this point.

Primarily, the starfish story. The value of short term mission is that it’s still an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. People were still astounded and, dare I say, changed by a group of teenagers paying to spend time with them, dressing and acting differently and respectfully, and pioneering for a God they knew so well. [How often we saw white tourists and felt ashamed at their short shorts, tribal tattoos and sunburnt necks. White person, a.k.a. kavalungi.] Every person we talked to may not have heard about Christ before as we know him so well, and now they do. Whatever impact we made was part of God’s plan and he’ll use it. But, another big point is that the way in which we have changed are significant. These changes, even if unseen aren’t insignificant and will impact our daily lives, our activities, and our churches.

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So yea, it had its ups and downs. But it was definitely worth it.

One of my last diary entries reads this:

“In year 12 Biology we had to catch some bugs and examine them in a slide under a microscope. That’s how Fiji, or rather our short term mission, has been. You cannot escape as you are closely examined. You are representing Christ every waking moment. And, as you friends, leaders and Fiji watch you I’m reminded of a quote from T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.

“And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin …?”

Every emotion within you is also magnified. You love stronger, you hate harder, you cry easily and you always want to sleep. Your head, heart and body are tired. So tired that kids making fun of you in a language you don’t understand, or one more dog yelping or even someone’s kindness can tip you over the edge. You fall into a drum beat fast enough that you don’t have time to think, you pretend you don’t need what you want and you march – crawl – slog through what you thought was light rain until your feet became stuck in the mud. The chairs you scrubbed will become dirty again, the kids may forget what you said and your bones will ache to the rhythm of your heartbeat.

 

So why am I here?

Because I’m looking forward to home.

Not the comforts of a warm shower and my dog.

HOME.

Where God will greet me and run as he sees me coming. Where everyone I impacted in Fiji, everyone changed by me will embrace me in thanks. Where I’ll get to sit for eternity and play games with the kids who made me laugh. Where I’ll see my lifelong friends from my LCM and their tired, ashen faces will instead be lit by joy.

I’ll dance with Jesus.

My Father will be proud.

Everything makes its mark. If I’m feeling sad, it means I’m reacting to something, which will initiate a change God planned for me. If I’m smiling, it’s a reminder that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it. And as much as it hurts now, when I’m counting my bruises, I’m grateful for each one.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

 

Throw The First Stone

  

I recently heard Stephen Fry’s opinion of Gods justice based on the verse where Jesus defends an adulterer with the words “that of you which has not sinned, throw the first stone.” I don’t often listen to Fry as he is one of those people who will express his opinion in such a way that if he disagrees with you, you are bound to get your feathers ruffled. However, I have decided to dispute this particular opinion because I figure it is shared by other, less hostile people. 
Interestingly enough, I seem to have done more research than Fry on the background of this story. Of course, a seventeen year old knowing more theology than a celebrated atheist isn’t so bad when you consider he is trying to prove a point against who I believe to be a perfect and blameless God. That was always going to be hard. Fry’s qualm was basically that God cannot be a God of justice if Jesus were to defend a woman caught in sin with “you can stone her to death (the punishment of the day) if you haven’t done anything wrong”. Well, we’ve all done something wrong, and so the Jewish teachers walked away. As is the best way to breed ignorance, however, the idea was taken out of context and not further explored. 
First of all, God is a god of justice. It saddens me that our society tries to deal with this either by magnifying it or minimising it, while its just a fact of Holy existence. God is pure – we were given free will, which we use to do things that arent pure and so we are separated, like clean and unclean laundry. Some people (who call themselves Christians, which I will contain to describing as “laughable”) would emphasise this means that everyone is going to hell- they love merciless, sweeping generalisations- fire and brimstone garbage. This is forgetting that Gods justice means a fair trial, and further forgetting that God is omniscient so he knew we would all fall short (Romans 3:23). He therefore sent Jesus so we wouldn’t have to try to be good to be pure enough to be with God- just accept his gift of Jesus and apologise for what we’ve done (intro to Christianity in two sentences). 

This is where some (including a man that I actually really admire, Russell Brand), when faced with the opposing view, try to ignore Gods justice. This will never work as God makes it very clear he is just. God loves the world but will judge everyone’s heart in the end. It’s the solace for people who wonder what will happen to murderers and rapists in heaven, as well as bigots and hypocrites even within the church- God only accepts those who have repented in their hearts, because he knows (omniscience). And so were faced with a perfect, merciful and loving justice. It’s something we face with our parents, in our relationships and of course in court, and something we strive for. 
Then we get to the verse, which Fry insists means God isn’t a fair judge. 

First for a little context. Ironically, the Bible says (we’re in John 8) the Pharisees had brought this woman before Jesus to try and incriminate him. You’d think Fry would have avoided one of the instances Jesus rebukes intellectuals trying to use dogma to embarrass God. Jesus was known for his teaching and mercy to even those who didn’t seem to deserve it (does anyone?) , while God was seen for his strict justice, a great cop out for the Pharisees who lived to follow each of the 214 rules. They, like Fry, didn’t understand the concept of this “merciful justice” and were trying to test the man who claimed to be the Son of God and see how he would strike a balance. However, even in court today a judge without mercy is a terrible sight. It is at this point that Jesus bends over and begins writing in the dirt. While the Bible doesn’t specify what he wrote, and some commentators don’t believe it’s significant, I read one very interesting theory. Jesus doesn’t say much out loud, but in those moments, the Pharisees understand he isn’t just referring to any sin ever. The Pharisees had found and brought the woman to Jesus as she was caught, undeniably, in the midst of adultery. However, as Jesus may have quietly written on the ground, they couldn’t have been occupied with justice as they claimed because they had only brought the woman- where was the man? (It takes two to tango). The wrongdoing of this story isn’t just by the woman who Jesus seemingly defends, but the Pharisees who were trying to use anything to trap Jesus. Fry has taken the quote so out of context but summed it up so beautifully in that we cannot unmercifully judge our fellow human beings as we commit such sins ourself. 

In a cold way of thinking, there is just black and white fairness. But in Gods world, we use mercy. If something hurts someone else, consequences include punishment unless deemed sufficiently insignificant. The justice system is just that on a larger scale. If a person commits a murder, it is the job of the judge and jury to decide the effect this is to have on society and the punishment to discourage others. We expect them to have mercy in their judgement, and trust them, although none of them is perfect, to do so. We have a conscience for a reason- as we are made in the image of a just Creator, so we strive for fairness within our society. And so it is with God. Jesus was teaching the Pharisees that no one is exempt from Gods justice, not even them who had been willing to throw someone under the bus to prove him wrong. God is just but he exercises mercy as we would hope of any judge. 
To conclude, the woman didn’t get off scot free. Jesus looks up from drawing on the ground and asks if anyone threw anything- she replies no. He says to her, as he says to everyone who has sinned, “go on your way and from now on leave your life of sin.” God isn’t aiming to punish everyone. He gives everyone on Earth infinite chances until they finally stand before him and have to answer to whether or not they accepted him in their heart during their time on earth. As for Christianity and the justice system, it is important to remember that we must strive not just for love or for fairness but for both, as God does. 

  

Satisfactory

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The thing I hate about the Snickers bar is that their catch phrase tells me they really satisfy. Yet, whether it’s because I can convince myself a King-sized constitutes a square meal, or when I’m rifling around the bottom of a packet of “fun sized” while sitting in a nest of wrappers, it occurs to me they are not satisfactory at all.

The world promises many things that satisfy. I suppose the question is, though, do they really?

The first thing I find myself unsatisfied with is myself.

I’m going to pose a feeling to you which you may be familiar with- loneliness. I find that one can be in a crowd of people, including their own peers or family and still feel completely alone. Even when you make “friends”, be they a handshake, Facebook companion or years of carefully constructed relationship, you can still find yourself completely alone.
So, once one figures out that they’re dissatisfied being alone, they can do what generations of people have done, and “prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet” [-T.S. Eliot]. We play the part. This usually means we end up with a few groups of people who are fine, and a lot of people go through their entire lives being “fine”. Doing the forty hour famine, I went and had rice with soy sauce and salt for two days, whetted with tea and water. And I was fine. You could survive on protein shakes instead of food for a long time, and you’d be fine [I think]. You can settle for the second best date, for a dress a size too big, for paint a shade off what you wanted and be fine. But not satisfied.
And yet there is a promise of someone who will accept us for who we truly are. Someone who actually made us who we truly are, and has a plan for that person. Someone who died for that person. “6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:6-8]

Even when it comes to those I cherish the most in the world, I found my thirst for connection would not be quenched. One of the greatest problems with humanity is that we’re all human beings. As much as I love the people that I love, I know they can let me down. Some call it “the God Hole”, however, I’ll call it “the Love Hole”. I feel like everyone [caution: bold statement] knows something is missing. We can cram whatever we please in that hole, but it doesn’t work- square peg in a round hole. Whoever I love will fall short, as I will for them. Until I came across a perfect, flawless love, offered to me. Because this God doesn’t just love, He is love [1 John 4:8]. He satisfies this need for love. I was considering that we have evolved to survive. This is where competition comes from- competition for resources, pride, land, ownership. Competition leads to separation- you can’t win if you’re all on the same team- and from there comes a losing side, displayed in poverty, slavery, war. But where does love come from? Selflessness, kindness, doing good things for no reason? Where do giggles come from? Hugs, tickles, smiles, joy- pointless, sentimental, nostalgia that opens us up to weakness amongst people who should be only out for themselves. We are built to lean towards love, and to search for it. What if there is only one thing that is good enough to truly satisfy?

Finally, I had to face the question of whether I was okay with death. For years it has been religious verse non-religious in this sector. “Religions only make up a concept of something after death because they can’t deal with the idea there may just be nothing.” However, as much as you can ignore it, we all yearn, especially for what we cannot have. A few instances include The Biggest Loser, food. The Bachelor, love. Lord of the Rings, the ring. It’s human to yearn. Someone said to me the other night that they have just never felt the need for a religion. As much as I may try to convince you there is a hole in your life that you cannot fill, whatever you attempt to put there, you don’t have to believe me. And you can keep trying to live life to the fullest, and keep trying to make your own decisions that will lead to the best life you can muster, but for what? A good job that will end up going to someone else, a family that will continue without you, to be immortalised forever on the internet. Every connection you make, every smile you smile, every word of wisdom you give to someone tottering along on this journey, reduced to nothing but ashes [or mulch…]. And I can’t accept that. That, for me, is the least satisfactory thing of all. The deal I can’t make. A man named Jesus said don’t accept that- the watered down, depressing, defeated capitulation society has created as a prize for second best.

Life is much like a movie that many people stop watching ten minutes before the end. They’ve ended perhaps in the scene where it looks like the protagonist can’t win the fight. They end maybe when the couple that are meant to be together get on separate flights. They end when the hero dies, and they convince themselves that that’s okay, and it’s satisfying, and they’re glad they spent $15 watching something that left them wondering what should have been. But there’s an ending to this story that has made Hollywood rich, because they know what satisfies an audience. An ending that resonates with everyone- a love story of reconnection between someone who was lost and has been found, and someone who has been welcomed home.

13Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 14:13-14

So, my question for you is this.

Are you satisfied?

Relationships and Religion

Socks and shoes. Cereal and milk. Toothpaste and toothbrush (shout out to the Elizabethans who used twigs and chalk). Some things just go better together. 
I was thinking about the purpose of a relationship, recently, and it’s a bit of a weird question (my favourite type). While we all seem to fall into them from time to time, first with our family, then with friends and later dating, et cetera, we rarely question the actual purpose of relationship with each other. But why? Dangerous thoughts spring up when you stop wondering how or what and start thinking why. 
So, we turn to the Bible. Genesis 2, the first ever relationship, and it’s not between two people, but man and God. V7, “the Lord God took a handful of soil and made a man. God breathed life into the man, and the man started breathing.” In v16, the first exchange of conversation. As it was in the beginning, Jesus also encourages the relationship between man and God as the primary one. Matthew 22:37, Jesus says there are two commandments that sum up life. Interestingly, both have to do with relationships. The first, as mentioned, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.” The purpose of relationship, I’ve come to realise, is to grow a loving relationship with the one who programmed this want and need into us. The first, and most important relationship and reason for a relationship is God. 
I’ve got to say, though, that having been a bit of a loner at times, I’ve tried to live on a diet of only God. Waking up every morning and having a conversation with him is good, but not great. And I realised that the problem wasn’t that I wasn’t satisfied- God can satisfy- but that I wasn’t full. Our God is a God of abundance and love. He isn’t happy with half ways or 80%’s. Our God is a god of 110%. Genesis 2:18, God says “it is not good for man to be alone,” and he makes woman. Adams joy is pretty much the first love song ever. (V23) “Here is someone like me! She is part of my body, my own flesh and bones. She came from me, a man. So I will name her woman!” Jesus says that the second most important commandment is “to love your neighbour as yourself“. It’s pretty simple and straightforward. God gives us the ability and desire to love people (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 1 John 4:8) and highlights its importance throughout the entire bible. Our religion doesn’t dictate one of loneliness, but one of fellowship and connection as we build each other up and learn to live life to the fullest. 

So, my theory so far is that God gives us relationships to teach us about his heart, and who he is, teach us to yearn for him and have fun in life, but what role do relationships play in our lives? What about when they don’t go the way they’re supposed to?

I think the part some people forget when looking at the story of Adam and Eve is that they had a great time when they were doing as God wanted. Religion, or rules, aren’t there to make life suck, but to make it better. This whole “marriage oath” thing isn’t a contract to be adhered to, but the suggestion that loyalty and faithfulness is more significant than difficulties encountered when doing Gods work and loving each other. Sex shouldn’t be saved for marriage because God is a prude, but because he’s got a great plan for it (110%, remember?). Genesis 2:24-25 (funnily enough, Jesus also mentions this verse), “that’s why a man will leave his own father and mother. He marries a woman and the two become like one person. Although the man and his wife were both naked, they were not ashamed.” In the original plan, the two people did as God said and there was nothing wrong. No shame, nothing. It worked. It screws up when they screw up. 

Genesis 3:6; the woman eats the fruit and the man follows. The first sin.

Genesis 3:7; the shame. Just comes. It just happens. First thing, shame. They cover up. Then 

Genesis 3:10; the relationship with God is screwed up, as Adam is frightened when he hears God walking through the garden

Genesis 3:12; the relationship between the two of them is ruined as Adam blames Eve to try and save his own skin. 
So, what do we do? What can we do? If we are stuck in this stuffed up relationship with God, how are we meant to have any connection with each other? Every person you will ever love will die. Every person you will ever love has the ability to hurt you- quote, “love is giving someone the ability to break your heart and trusting that they won’t.” End quote. Suddenly something beautiful turns into something that scares a lot of people. It scares me. Well, once again we turn to the Bible. 
God knows that we’re lost, and that we’re going to screw up. He always presents us with hope, though. 
He connected us with him. 

John 3:16- it was Gods love that brought us back to him. He reaches out for us, and all he asks is that we come back, through Christ. He wants to repair that relationship, even though we will continue to stuff it up, again and again, generation by generation (Romans 5:6-8). The Bible draws a connection between that first relationship between man and God and the one we have now. 

Romans 5:12-21.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ,overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And then, through the Bible, God teaches us again how to love others. He teaches us about forgiveness, and loving our enemies, love for the poor, compassion, romance. He gives us all we need to keep living lives where we connect with everyone, discriminate against no one. We will screw up, but the God who looks past that and encourages us just to keep trying, in his name- well, that’s one hell of a love story. Hosea presents us with the story of a prophet told to marry a prostitute to demonstrate Gods love for us, Isaiah foreshadows the death of someone who we will mock and beat and yet will still die for us, Song of Songs is a collection of love poems from God to his people, we are described in Ephesians as being the bride of Christ- God is screaming out about the purpose of relationships in religion. A God who wants to know us, and wants us to know each other, not shallowly, but walking every step of the way together. He is our father, our friend, our groom, our king. A relationship that humbles us and lifts us. One of grace. One that teaches us how to love each other. A plan. 

Zephaniah 3:17 (a lesser known one about our relationship with the Lord, but a good one)
The Lord your God wins victory after victory and is always with you. He celebrates and sings because of you, and he will refresh your life with his love.”