Sunday, March 15, 2009

This blog has moved

Hi all,

Thanks so much for encouraging me to continue blogging with your encouraging feedback. This is my last post on blogger. The inevitable has happened and I am shifting to I've been using wordpress for the other blogs I magane and, well, I just like it better. My entire blog has been exported to a new location, archives, comments and all.

Foolishness is now located at

I hope you continue to read and interact with my blog. Thanks again

Mark Riesen
Signing out from blogger

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lent - part 1

We are well into lent by now and I've finally made some space to blog some thoughts and reflections on the season. I thought I'd break this into stages so if anyone wanted to have a dialogue about it I'd love to hear from you.

I have had many robust discussions with colleagues about lent, why or why it is not practised and the value of it and I can tell you that among these conversations have been passionate disagreements.

I come from a fairly conservative Churches of Christ up bringing and am currently engaged in ministry with the Churches of Christ in South Australia. I have never really been exposed to much of the traditional liturgy or rituals of the church because it has never really been a core focus of our restoration movement - that's not to say that the rituals aren't important, they just never played a major role in the life of the church I grew up in.

As I was emerging out of my final year of college I began to participate more and more in ecumenical conversations and where possible would attend services held by other denominations so I could learn and appreciate the different forms of worship and why they practised in this way. Some things I didn't quite get and others I knew wouldn't gel with me but I learned to appreciate anyway, while other worship practices enriched my Christian experience. A Church of Christ colleague of mine who was a couple of years ahead of me in college and is still a very dear friend helped me a great deal not only to appreciate different traditions but exposed me to how to recreate variations of these worship practices so our Church of Christ congregations could appreciate something of richness of alternative forms of worship.

So for the past few years I have chosen to take my congregations through the Lenten journey, each year is different and each year we learn something new about ourselves and who we are called to be. I came across a blog as lent was beginning titled - 'why Baptists don't observe lent'. I found the title intriguing so I read on. To cut a long story short I found the blog post to be short sighted and arrogant towards a tradition that might not be fully understood. The blog author referred to lent as a '40 day period preceded by the most intense gluttony and occupied with the setting aside of trivial pleasantries and followed by a return to the same old same old'. I disagree.

I have since had conversations with Baptist, Church of Christ, Uniting Church and Catholic communicants all of whom have a different reflection on why they observe lent. Yes that's right a Baptist observing lent! The author of the blog I read said that Baptist don't need lent because they repent 365 1/4 days a year (that's the bit I found arrogant) accusing all others of only repenting on the first day. My Catholic friend told me that she has spiritual practises 365 1/4 days a year and lent enables a heightened sense of the awareness of God and the journey towards Easter. I take offense at the implication that those who observe certain seasons of the church calender are merely drones who don't lead spiritual lives but hang out for ritual so they can finally receive absolution for their sinful lives.

I have also been criticized for giving something up for lent. Lent is traditionally a time of fasting. The 40 days of lent identifies with Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness. It is a time of humbling one self and a time of discernment. I have chosen to give up coffee and alcohol for lent. For those who don't know me, no I don't have a drinking problem with alcohol, however I do enjoy a beer or a glass of wine with friends once or twice a week. I was put to the test when I attended a concert with my brother, brother-in-law and a friend and they offered to buy beers for me at the bar before we went in. I kindly declined and it created an interesting conversation around the table as they drank their beer and I went without.

Many of my friends were in shock when I told them what I was giving up. It's bound to come up in conversation because drinking caffeine and alcohol is a social thing. This has no impaired my socializing but my point in doing this has nothing to do with anyone except me and God and my own spiritual development. In case people didn't realize this, both coffee and alcohol contain addictive drugs, I hear friends joke about how they 'need' a coffee or hanging out for a drink. It made me think - can I do without it and not replace it with something else? Sometimes I think i enjoy these indulgences too much so it was the obvious choice for me to set myself the challenge. At the end of the second day of having no coffee I had an amazing headache. My mum (who works in a pharmacy) told me I was having caffeine withdrawals! Now that's got to tell you something about the substances we pump into our body! After all isn't our body a temple within which the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell? My spiritual discipline for this season is to cleanse and look after my 'temple' so it may be fit for God's service. I hope that after Easter I will be able to maintain some discipline around drinking (caffeine in particular) in moderation because after all do I really need it?

So I've gone without caffeine and alcohol for 16 days now and I feel so much better for it. I feel like my body is being cleansed and my focus is renewed. I told my congregation what I was doing and how the idea of lent was to give up something we think we needed (traditionally food). Rather than replacing it with something else we repeat the words in our head, 'God is enough'. It becomes a chant that helps us identify with Jesus' 40 days of discernment in the wilderness - God is enough. It works for me because at least 3 or 4 times a day a little voice in my head says 'I need a coffee' and the voice that replies says, 'God is enough'.

In addition to giving up something I have taken up a spiritual discipline which I plan to continue in some shape or form beyond lent. I have increased the regularity of spiritual direction and have locked in weekly retreat time at a local Christian spirituality centre. My wife and i are attending a whole day spiritual Lenten retreat in a couple of weeks. I will blog about these experiences later.

I think it's arrogant and naive to be quick to criticize an old Christian ritual simply because it's old (a hangover from the middle ages is what one colleague called it) or you think it bears no relevance. For many Christians, many of whom have much more specific spiritual disciplines than me 365 1/4 days of the year, find lent a very helpful discipline to heighten their sense of connection with God. Don't disrespect the ritual just because you don't practise it or understand it.

More to come...


A Glimmer of Hope

A chaplain I connected really well with while I was visiting the bushfire zone in Victoria contacted me today via email with the following comments:

We had more rain this morning, which'll help to ease some of the anxiety in the areas we were in recently. Mary and I walked up near Kinglake on Tuesday - the area is one of our favourite bushwalking haunts... and amongst the black and devastation, there are blades of grass emerging... and tiny bush violets that somehow survived... and wattles that are beginning to sprout from seed... what an amazing capacity the creation has for regeneration!!

Thanks Randall.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Churches of Christ 200 years on

This year marks 200 years since the birth and shaping of our movement, Churches of Christ as it is known in Australia otherwise known as the Disciples of Christ or the Christian Churches elsewhere around the world. 200 years ago one of our founders Thomas Campbell gave a declaration and address stating what is distinctive to our movement and the essentials for being true to the Christian faith.

I won't get into it to much now and I may come back and post a few more times on this topic throughout the year. I have mainly posted this blog to direct you to another blog I have created specifically for the purpose of celebrating this 200th year and to create dialogue and discussion around the topics that define us as a movement of Christian churches.

Please visit and participate in the discussion. Once a month a different Churches of Christ minister from South Australia will post an article for discussion. The article for May was written by retired minister, Richard Lawton on 'Unity'. I've got the April gig so stay tuned.

Churches from our movement around the world and gathering for celebrations on October 4th at an event called the Great Communion. Check the ';Shaping our Identity' site for more information.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Photos from the edge

I hadn't downloaded my photo's from my phone when I posted my last few blogs so I thought I'd share some with you. Obviously I don't have a whole lot of photos from the heart of the bushfire zone because taking snaps up there would have been nothing short of insensitive. However I have some photos from 'the edge' attached with stories you might find interesting.

The above photos were taken from teh cellar door of De Bortoli Winery. Verity and I used to enjoy visiting here when we lived in Melbourne. You find it on the left of the Melba Highway as you drive out of Yara Glen. i thought I'd drop in on my way up to the relief centre on the second day I was there just to see how they dealt with that horrific Saturday. As i drove towards the cellar door i could see the smoke haze hovering over the fire burnt vineyards off in the distance. Up on the hill from the cellar door lookout you can see the entire scrub on the hill blackened. What wasn't burned in the fire was scorched by the sun on that Saturday. Staff told me they spent late afternoon dousing spot fires while a wedding reception was being held in their function room.

We drove past this old pub on the Tuesday night and I thought I'd take a quick pic as I drove back past the next day. It's on the corner of the Melba Highway/Flowerdale turnoff (Just past Kinglake). The pub was flattened by the fire, it was an icon and popular local hangout. On Tuesday night locals gathered in the carpark with beers in each hand. It was a necassary ritual for them to reclaim community and some of the normalities of life amongst so much that had been taken away.

On the Sunday before we left Melborune Verity and I visited one of her favorite spots just up the road from where we used to live, Sassafrass. We walked down one of the bushwalk paths and I was astounded at how think the growth was. It kind of set you on edge a bit knowing how quickly the fire ripped through scrub on the next range across the Yara Valley.

The next day Verity dropped me off in Upper Ferntree Gully to have coffee with a friend. Afterwards i walked down to Burwood Hwy to meet her in the car and as i walked I found myself walking the path through the Ferntree Gully fire zone that very nearly ripped through the Dandenongs on that 'Black Saturday'. It's amazing how close it got to the National park and the houses.

'One last look' says Verity as I indicated I'd like to get back down on the flats because this fire danger day was making me nervous. Verity looks out from the lookout in Olinda in disbelief at the hills across the Yara Valley still burning 16 days later. Half an hour later we were at the bottom of the Dandenongs in Ferntree Gully among the wailing CFA sirens and seeing the smoke fo the new Upwey fire in our rearvision mirrors.