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I’m having a bit of a lazy morning, drinking coffee, having a cigarette and I happen to have the TV on which is very unusual. Half an hour later and I am thoroughly hacked off, heart pumping and I find myself  emailing This Morning defending the name of Christ.

What happened there, you may well ask.

Well in case you havent heard about it, in September 2008 in Cornwall, two Christian B & B owners refused to let a room to a gay couple (who, incidentally were married in the eyes of the law). The case has now been heard in court and the couple  have been fined £3,600. you can see the story here.

I have no doubt that this has been very stressful and traumatic for all concerned and everyone is entitled to their beliefs. However, when running any kind of commercial enterprise, those beliefs can’t be imposed on others.

This lack of hospitality and blatant discrimination shown by so-called Christians does yet more damage to the name of Christ and makes me ashamed to call myself a Christian.

B & B owners Mr and Mrs Bull say they feel Christianity is being sidelined. While high-profile cases like this plaster the UK press and go against equality laws and human rights it will be. As followers of Christ, we will continue to be seen as judgemental, bigoted hypocrites. Again the message of God’s all-inclusive love and Grace gets drowned out by legalistic moralism. Christ continues to be misrepresented.

“You can’t turn away people from a hotel because they’re black or Jewish and in 2011 you shouldn’t be able to demean them by turning them away because they’re gay either,” Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said. “Religious freedom shouldn’t be used as a cloak for prejudice.”

Jesus had very little to say about purity, if anything. In fact what he did say was “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He  violated and subverted all the Jewish purity codes and laws and his message was of God’s love and Grace. For all. No exceptions. The only people who hacked him off were the religious ones.

Discrimination on the grounds of how people choose to live divides and excludes. Compassion unites people and includes. The old purity politics were replaced with Jesus’s radical compassion politics.

Jesus knew God as the compassionate one, not the God of requirements and judgements.

 

For related posts, see A Rainbow Warrior.

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Severe flooding in Australia and Sri Lanka displace thousands. Mudslides cause devastation in Brazil.

The year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake and Haiti remains a broken place with over a million homeless. My heart broke this week hearing of  rape victims who have already lost everything in the earthquake and are now at the mercy of the lawlessness within the tent camps.

A shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona injured 14 and left 6 dead.

A state of emergency is declared in Tunis as long-term political unrest leads to violent chaos breaking out.

Closer to home we have the yet unsolved murder of Jo Yeates.

This is a week in our world’s news and these are just the things which me, in my tiny cosseted world have got to hear about. I’ve felt overwhelmed by world tragedies this week. And powerless.

We live in a fallen world. It’s not as God wants it. The environment and its people are broken. I can not even fathom how people cope with devastating loss of family members, housing and livelihood (and that’s  the ones who had it in the first place). Sometimes it can feel as if my relatively healthy, comfortable and blessed life has a slide show backdrop of  images of human agony on the TV screen and in the newspapers. I am an, albeit uncomfortable, armchair observer.

Sometimes I have like a weird survivors guilt type feeling. Life feels unfair. Some of us have so much (yet we moan!). Others are born into nothing and remain that way, and this is aside from natural disasters. Sometimes it seems Creation is groaning under the weight of both greed and grief.

Is it true that all we can do is do our bit with what we have? Reach out to the nearest to us. Make a difference in our own communities. Listen to those who need listening to. Comfort those who need comforting. Feed those that need feeding. Signpost those who need signposting. Go the extra mile for our brothers and sisters.

And..count our blessings, every minute of every hour.

My daughter who is 19 has recently began to lend a hand at a homeless drop in. She was telling one of her employers about this work and how it had made her feel, when the employer said to her ” You don’t need to be seeing all that misery now, enjoy your life while you’re young”

Aaaargh! I strongly disagree (That’s me being polite ok). Said employer has now earned the name “Ivory Tower”.

There is a tendency with a blog post to want to tie it all up in a pretty package and put on a bow on it in the form of a Bible verse of hope and Gods promises. Instead I am moved to share the healing words of President Obama, earlier this week at the memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shootings.

‎”We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.”

Amen


I’ve been thinking a lot about the Christian roots of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I’ve seen literally 100’s of people’s lives transformed over the years by God’s grace and healing power in AA.

“I’ll do anything! Anything at all! If there be a God, let Him show Himself!”  Said AA founder member Bill Wilson.

 I’ve seen communities built and sustained, people turning from the old (repenting), admitting they need spiritual help, surveying their pasts,  making amends for harm caused and rebuilding damaged relationships. I’ve seen them living in the present, sharing their own experience, strength and hope and going the extra mile for others. AA’s fundamental foundations were built on Jesus’s transforming messages of love, forgiveness and service from The Sermon on the Mount and the Book of James.

But mention Jesus in an AA meeting and people think you’ve lost the plot.

 The beauty of AA is that people are smashed to bits (rock bottom) and come to believe that they need a spiritual way of life..thats big in itself, hurrah! I get it, the idea of a ‘Higher Power’ or  ‘The God Of Your Understanding’ being more palatable to those on the first rung of the spiritual ladder. It’s so much more trendy, cool and sexy to be part of some new-agey, undefinable movement but I do wonder how AA’s Christian roots have been buried/lost/forgotten  (at least over here in the UK anyway) to the point that the name of Jesus has become a dirty word in an AA meeting.

Maybe it goes back to the fact that Christ’s message and reputation has been tarnished. Over the years his recurrent themes of forgiveness and love have been obscured by the  larger than life billboards of  fundamentalist Conservative preachers.  Highly public religious scandals have become somewhere else for militant atheists to hang their hats and say ‘I told you so’. Christianity has become something to laugh at or be repelled by and Christians are lumped together by non believers as anti-intellectual, anti-gay, Bible believing literalists who all believe the world was created in 6 days.

“Spiritual not religious” has become the battle cry. Christians are seen by society as hypocritical, judgemental and religious and some are. Most of us know it was the ‘religious’ folks that Jesus had the most criticism for.

Its time to change the face of Christianity. If it’s offensive to say the name of Christ in an AA meeting which has such Christian roots then something has gone horribly wrong.


                                                           

I can do everything through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

 This time last year I was excitedly planning a trip to South Africa. The trip was  sponsored  by about 15 amazing friends and blessed by God from the outset. On Jan 9th 2010 I landed in Cape Town. I left freezing ice and jammed up transport systems in the UK and landed in the blistering heat of Cape Town in the midst of  summer. I stayed with Mama Zulu and her family in Kayamandi township and worked with women and children for a month. It’s impossible to describe the paradoxes of SA. Stunning beauty and magnificent landscapes. A country of obscene wealth, literally over the wall from people living in abject poverty. The month I was there opened my eyes like nothing ever had before. I can honestly say I’ve not been the same since.

In March, I went back on the payroll again after time off licking my wounds (God and burn out). I began working with disadvantaged teens.

Later in March, a few of us headed up to the challenging and creative Rob Bell’s “Drops Like stars” tour in London.

Delighted to get the chance to hear activist Shane Claiborne speak in London in May. Now there’s someone who walks the walk.

July included The Hop farm festival in Kent with the unbelievable Mumford and Sons, Foy Vance, Ray Davies and Bob Dylan on the bill. It was so hot we had to wear head coverings.

I lost my Greenbelt virginity in August. Highlight was Fr Richard Rohr‘s teaching on dualistic thinking. He also said he believes the future of Christianity is ecumenical , ‘how healthy’ I thought. Waking up with ice on the outside of the tent in August was weird.

As I look back over my calendar from this year, I’ve had more NHS dental appointments than one person should be entitled to, and a lot of accompanying dental anxiety. I’ve also been prescribed reading glasses and developed a hiatus hernia. I’m meant to watch my diet but I don’t. All of a sudden it seems age is upon me.

I lost the 2 stone I had gained when stopping smoking by starting again (Don’t try this at home children).

I’ve (wrongly) kept Amazon in business with my one – click Christian book ordering. I’ve questioned things deeply and through slowly deconstructing ‘Religion’ and observing culture wars, I’m truly starting to love Jesus. I would be considered a Liberal by many folks standards and that’s cool with me. I think Jesus was pretty Liberal.

In October, Sarah and I flew off for an exciting weekend in New York city. Another place that must be experienced to be believed. We visited Revolution NYC in Brooklyn and heard from Jay Bakker and Rev Vince Anderson about the wonderful work they are doing spreading the pure message of Grace. We then sailed back for 7 days across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 and got off that ship heavier than when we got on.  

God has a sense of humour in my dating life, I’ve come across everything from bigoted and weird fundie Christians to a non-Christian guy I went out with out of a mix of curiosity and rebellion who got completely drunk very quickly and said  ‘Christ’ as a swear word every five minutes.

In November I turned 3 years sober. I am no longer a regular attendee of AA meetings although I do pop in occasionally. I am honoured to co-facilitate a Recovery course through the church and its a joy to see people getting some hope back in their lives. I’ve also known a few less fortunate who have died this year.

This may not sound like much of a year to many reading this but for someone who needed some kind of chemical enhancement to do life and spent a lot of time navel gazing, 2010 has been a big, amazing year of Faith and growth.

Thank you Lord and Happy Christmas all.

Doubts and absolutes


 

Dear Lord, You are the light of the world. That’s about all I know just now. These first couple of years of following you have been confusing at times. Continue to reveal yourself Jesus. Amen

Today a friend and I were talking, he said he finds it hard to believe in the angry, violent and jealous God portrayed in the Old Testament. I don’t spend much time dwelling on that to be honest. I see the Bible as a narrative. Stories inspired by God, told by man, which tell of his relationships with his people and their quest to seek him. In fact, thanks to a very helpful comment on my blog I’ve just ordered “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally” by M. J. Borg

However, I do know there are almost 3,000 passages in the Bible which mention poverty and justice.

I don’t spend much time thinking about heaven or what will happen when I die. I don’t like the ”us and them” stuff, the ”who’s in? who’s out?” mentality and I don’t spend time looking for souls to save. I do believe that I’m here to do my bit in bringing the Kingdom to the here and now.

I have to admit to not even liking the word ‘saved’ and sometimes not understanding the term  ‘salvation’.

I can’t get my head around the fact that there are people who go to some sort of fiery pit after death and are burned and tortured for eternity. I believe that idea directly contradicts a God of love and compassion.

It’s quite nerve-wracking voicing my doubts like this but certainty scares me also. Absolutes scare me. I admire people with unwavering faith who appear to hear from God in all sorts of areas of their life, I just don’t have that. I do, however, think God is bigger than our tiny minds can ever comprehend and I seek to commune with him. The sooner I try to define him by my beliefs haven’t I then made him in my image?

 So..if I can’t get my head around these doctrines and beliefs that are banded about so much, am I even a Christian? Sadly, some would say no.

About a year after I began to follow Jesus, someone in the Church said to me, ‘”You are in danger of becoming too liberal and works based”…I didn’t understand what this meant  at the time, but it hurt a bit. 

A year on, that sentence has stayed with me (the church hasn’t). The thing is, I wasn’t ‘becoming’ anything..that is me..that is who I am, always have been, and probably always will be. I try to have a heart for social justice, work with and get alongside the marginalised and from what I see in the accounts of Jesus’s life, that’s what he did too.

In  Matthew 5:14-15: “You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” 

Hopefully, with Christ’s light inside me, i can help bring forth his comfort on earth regardless of my ”dodgy” theology. 🙂

Unequally yoked. What?


 

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and unrighteousness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness.”

2 Cor 6;14

Unequally yoked? Man, this passage carries some weight, generates much discussion and impacts many Christian’s  lives.

What IS she on about?! I hear some of you asking.  (It’s nothing to do with eggs, ok)

Some who read this will have no question as to their interpretation of this passage. For those that don’t I’ll explain what I understand.

A  yoke is a wooden beam which is used between a pair of oxen to allow them to pull a load when plowing a field. It allows equal weight to be distributed to both animals so that they will  bear the burden evenly. In the above passage Paul was speaking to the Corinthians. Some people think that this passage was referring to Christians having relationships with, or marrying non believers. People take this very seriously indeed and inevitably it has huge implications.

I sometimes wonder if it’s another one of those passages that has been taken completely out of cultural context, used as Biblical instruction with too much focus being placed on it. Some people love to have rules.

 The theory is that  a Christian and an ‘unbeliever’, (or person of another Faith) who are ‘yoked together’ by marriage, or relationship, will undoubtedly face  difficulties..their priorities in life will not match, and pain and discomfort will more than likely be the result.

Someone gave me the stool analogy. If you, (The Christian) are standing on a stool, it is much easier to be pulled off it than to pull the other person up on to it with you.

 There are many exceptions to this, I’ve met them. I’ve heard wonderful stories of Interfaith relationships.

All I know is-I became a believer, errr, only God knows how or why..

The, (already rocky) road of relationships became narrow..

It was ‘suggested’ it would probably be a good idea to look for a partner who is also a believer..

So..the road became narrower..

A little way down the road, it turns out not all of us Christians share similar views on major issues and some can actually be quite weird..

And narrower..

 I don’t believe Jesus wants us to withdraw into a Christian subculture. Paul wasn’t telling the Corinthians to break ties with the world, but to put their relationship with God above all else.

Have we demoted Jesus and promoted Paul? A Clegg and Cameron style coalition where Paul has become PM and Jesus the deputy? 

Jesus said ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27). That’s all.


This morning, our Vicar encouraged us to pray for an area either close to home, or in the wider world where we long for God to shine his light.

The last few days, I’ve been following Christians Tired Of Being Misrepresented’s coverage of yet more bigotry in Gods’ name. I’ve swung between disbelief,confusion and anger as I’ve followed the case of Elizabeth Edward’s funeral in the US and the planned protests by Westboro Baptist Church to protest at this event. I’m hesitant to give them too much coverage as I write this, this..so..called…”church” is not a Church. They no doubt think they are. That’s the problem with certainty. They are a hate group, similar to the NF or the EDL over here in the UK, except they claim to know God..thats the big difference.

And why are they protesting at the funeral of someone who has just died from cancer you may ask? So did I..hard to fathom hey? It boils down to the fact that Elizabeth was an activist. An amazing campaigner for health care. She was an active anti-war campaigner and an advocate for gay rights.

So these freaky folk at WBC think that God hates all that stuff and decide to voice their hatred at her funeral.

Hate breeds hate and all that and I could feel it bubbling inside me over the last few days towards them. Their hatred and wackiness poisoning me right over the other side of the Atlantic. The good news is that only 5 or 6 of their ‘group’ showed up after all. The bad news is that they had children present. Children growing up in a family which indoctrinates them into hatred of their fellow-man.

To have written this yesterday would have perpetuated the hatred, I’m glad I didn’t. Thanks to the time difference between us and our American cousins, I woke this morning to reports and blog posts written about counter-protests of LOVE at the funeral. The Bible is full of stories of people breaking into song. That’s what the brave folk from The God Article plus others did, who went along to balance out this hatred in Gods name. They simply drowned out the hate with love. I needed that lesson.

God parachuted in to that environment in the form of Love. The Prince of Peace was present.

So..back to Brighton, this morning, my vicar and my prayers. 

 Isaiah 9 :2

 The people walking in darkness
   have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
   a light has dawned.

I pray that those in WBC will come to know the real Jesus and that the scales of their own certainty and hatred will fall from their eyes. I pray they will come to know the light who is a Prince of Peace and who came into the world not to condemn it but to show Gods love for it.

Amen


 

Not long ago I went to Worth Abbey for a breather from the rat race and an (almost) silent 30 hour retreat. Worth Abbey is a Benedictine monastery and the setting of the hit BBC TV show The Monastery (completely recommend it for anyone who hasn’t seen it by the way. All episodes available on YouTube.) Anyway, so many hours in my own company with little or no distractions was plenty for a beginner! There was no contact with friends, texting or compulsive checking of my Facebook feed.

It is said that when we are alone with ourselves and in the silence that’s where God is to be found (Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10).

Whether atheist, agnostic or believer, take away life’s distractions and we find out what we worship. What tends to fill our minds at those times tends to be our master or golden calf.

No man can serve two masters. Over the years I have served many masters, from alcohol and drugs to needing to be needed. Thanks to Gods grace many of the unhealthiest ones are gone but I still kneel at the throne of a double latte and a few roll ups to help me through the day.

And sometimes I forget God.

Recently our pastor was discussing Sunday worship within the church setting. I must admit that I do get confused as to what is a ’emotional high’, similar to what people experience at football matches and what is truly experiencing God’s presence. We were asked to think about what distracts us and how hard it can be to focus solely on God for that short time each week. Although Sunday worship is only a small part of worshipping God, I have to admit that singing anything with the word ‘Awesome’ in it has me off and running stuck in my little critical, oh so human self.

Back to the monastery, it wasn’t all the noise of my head contents swirling round like a washing machine on spin. Benedictine monks practice the liturgy of the Hours. Seven times a day, prayers, hymns, scriptures and Psalms are recited and sung. It was a privilege to be able to join in with some of these (I skipped Lauds,the 5 30am one!). It really was the most beautiful thing, the rhythmic praising and acknowledgment of the presence of God throughout the day.

Of course I came back from my retreat enthused and determined. I was straight on to Amazon ordering my own copy of Phyllis Tickle‘s “The Divine Liturgy Of The Hours”. I was spiritually recharged and ready to embark on acknowledging God at marked intervals throughout the day like so many who have gone before me.

So how am I doing with my monastic inspired living?  Well, when I’m not consumed with self, obsessing about blog material or just generally living with free-floating anxiety, I’m learning to see God at work in my life. Slowly but surely and I guess that’s all I could ask for really.

One of the monastery guests asked Abbot Christopher Jamison, ” Can you smoke while you pray?”. “No”, he replied “but you can pray while you smoke.”


 

I am a proud member of Christians tired of being misrepresented, The Christian Left and The Progressive Christian Alliance. Online groups set up to counteract some of  the bigotry and lies that are perpetuated in the name of God.

I find my self fascinated by America’s Religious Right and the lack of separation of church and state over there. It’s just not like that here with the public manipulation and power games, I assume that a lot of our party leaders here in the UK have been much more ‘reserved’ in their faith. I know we have bishops in the house of Lords who  advise the government on stuff but my thoughts are that Christians really are in a minority here and have much less of a voice in mainstream policy. Britain on the whole is much more governed by political correctness. In fact there is a whole ‘I’m not ashamed’ campaign going on at the moment http://www.notashamed.org.uk/leaflet.php, where people feel they are being discriminated against as Christians and are called to stand up and be counted. I ask myself if this discrimination of Christians is as a result of  society being sick and tired of told how to live by often misguided but well-meaning fundamentalists.

 Still, Christians ARE misrepresented here and often find ourselves having to undo damage done by others.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a work colleague who knows I am a Christian. We’ve never really chatted about matters of faith. She said she finds Christians ‘hypocritical’ and while she admires people who have a strong faith, it’s not for her. Turns out her brother became a ‘Born again believer‘ a few years ago. Over the years he has consistently quoted scriptures at her and told her she is going to hell for her lifestyle choices and continuing to refuse to accept Jesus. At a family event recently, he even refused to acknowledge her new partner. She also told me that he has continued to behave in some very dark ways and is an angry bully to the female members of her family. We sat in a coffee shop, my toes were curling as I tried to grasp for something to say. I think I mumbled something like ‘before the reformation, folk were worried about putting Bible in the hands of the common man for exactly these reasons.’ It is a dangerous book in the hands of the ignorant. People will  interpret it themselves and come up with all kinds of crazy ideas and judgements, alienating the majority in the process. All of this sadly, so far removed from our saviour and the things he said and did.

Lord, I’m sorry for some of these people misrepresenting you on this earth.

Friends, I’m sorry for the self righteous, judgemental lunatics that we, as Christians can be.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)


Occasionally on a Saturday night I have the privilege of helping out at a meal held for Brighton’s street community. Most of these men and women are vulnerably housed in hostels and nightshelters. I would guess about 10% are actual rough sleepers who sleep in doorways, stairwells and car parks.

In order to reduce the numbers of rough sleepers, Brighton council introduced a strict local connection policy in approx 2001. This policy states that no one is entitled to help with housing here unless they work in Brighton or have lived here previously. This means people from out of area can’t just turn up and make use of the city’s nightshelters and hostels. People are assessed and if not seemed ‘suitable’ a train ticket is purchased and they are sent back to where they are from( regardless of the issues they may be fleeing). Nice hey?

Each saturday night, our church run project serves hot meals to 63 men and women. Last night, we also gave out Christmas stockings. Handing those stockings over and wishing  all our guests Happy Christmas individually, brought up mixed emotions in me. They were so grateful and as each one looked me directly in the eye to say thank you, I was near to tears at times. Would this be the only gift they received? Probably.Where were they going to sleep?  As they walked out into the cold rainy night clutching these stockings, I felt a bit broken to be honest. And completely powerless. Giving out the stockings felt a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

I thought about this when I got home. I have been working in this field on and off for years before becoming a Christian. I should be used to this! Where was the disturbance coming from? I realised that attempting  to hold the tension between doing our little bit as Christians, and dealing with a system which completely discriminates against the poor, needy and marginalised is a tough one at the best of times and even more so at Christmas, a time for joy for some and such pain for others.

I often think about St Pat’s nightshelter in Hove. Fr Alan was part of a monastic community in the mid 80’s who allowed a couple of homeless folk to sleep in his doorway.  Over the years it developed into an emergency nightshelter and hostel, sleeping 20-25 homeless people. Sadly Fr Alan was forced to resign a couple of years ago after giving money to a drug user. I have no doubt that he was operating  from a  pure Christian heart which was always to care for the poor and the vulnerable. Again, this seems It seems this was a classic case of struggling to hold the balance between adhering to strict council and worldly policies and what Christ calls us to do.

I don’t have any answers to this post. There is no neat little  paragraph at the end to tie it all together other than these words of wisdom by Shane Claibourne.

“So if the world hates us, we take courage that it hated Jesus first. If you’re wondering whether you’ll be safe, just look at what they did to Jesus and those who followed him. There are safer ways to live than by being a Christian.”
Shane Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical)

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