Tag Archive: Christianity



I couldn’t help but hold my breath in anticipation at the ensuing fallout of the BBC 2 documentary earlier this week. Louis Theroux visited America’s ‘Most hated family’, the Westboro Baptist ‘Church’ for the second time.

For anyone who isn’t in the know, the WBC are a family with unconventional beliefs and actions who keep themselves busy picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, other human rights activists and basically have something to say about anyone or anything that contradicts their extremely narrow perception of how people should be living their lives.

They state that their beliefs are based on the Bible. I have also mentioned them here.

Louis Theroux is no stranger to unusual people and  he said that the Phelps family are some of the most extreme people he has ever met.

This caricature of Christianity has come about from the cherry picking of Bible verses to justify cruelty, extremism and  homophobia. The rest of us are called to pick up the pieces, answer the resulting questions and bear witness to a loving God. This has been my experience this week.

Maybe this is how God works. Maybe he uses Louis Theroux and his predictable atheist bias to visit one of the most extreme groups in the world and deliberately opens the dialogue to give the rest of us the chance to declare that the message of Christ wasn’t full of fear and judgement, fire and brimstone, but was one of love.

We have an enemy that will use any tactics, including Bible believing Christians/hate groups  to detract from us carrying out the mission of God on this earth.

Perhaps God opens doors through programmes like these and any kind of religious extremism and gives us the opportunity to refocus ourselves on the real teachings of the Gospel such as looking out for the marginalised, feeding the hungry, healing the broken and bringing peace.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.Ye shall know them by their fruits. (Matt 7 15:16)


Isaiah 58:12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Catapulted into a hyper vigilant state from my early teens I am about as worldly as it gets. I’ve never had time for the supernatural, fairy tales or sci-fi. It’s the gritty, real and often dark that has always drawn me and still does. Add to the mix a couple of ‘unavailable’ male role models in my life and I have an ‘unavailable’ God, right, get me? Yes of course I talk to God but I have to admit to often not expecting him to speak to my heart. That’s why i choose to be  part of a community of believers who build and strengthen my faith.

Then I have weeks like this week, where lots of things speak to me and I hear God. I’m not talking about receiving materialistic answers to prayer/prosperity gospel stuff, getting what I want and things working in my favour. I mean I am learning to see God’s hand in my life and things working together for his purposes and for the higher good.

A few days ago,  I was with someone who was incredibly grateful for me spending a couple of hours with them. ME?! It was a humbling and slightly uncomfortable experience where someone seriously thought that I had more important things to be doing. It took me back to those feelings of unworthiness, the belief that another human being wouldn’t really want to spend  time with me. Being so aware of the time and believing that they really couldn’t wait to leave and had much better things to be doing. I can take for granted how  those feelings are not there today. The changes in my life have been so gradual and subtle to the point that I fail to see them until others point them out. It’s called restoration.

In Narcotics Anonymous they say ‘the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel

This week I was able to clearly see God purposes for my life. I don’t mean that all of a sudden I heard an audible voice calling me to be a missionary overseas or become a nun. I did see how all our past experiences can be used to give hope to others, bring light to the dark, rebuild and restore. God accepts us exactly as we are, we can do nothing to please him. He sees our hearts, our wounds, our destructive behaviours and he accepts and loves us. We are called by him to bring that exact same patient, accepting and forgiving heart to others. God uses us in ways we can’t ever foresee or imagine.

Our past hurts and stories become gifts in his plan to repair all things broken.

Valentines and singles


Today Im prompted to write after a particularly exciting and valuable talk I heard this morning.

The bulk of today’s talk was on the benefits of the different stages of our lives whether married, dating or single. The main message I heard was that it’s actually rather cool to be single and that there can be more time, energy and inclination to focus on God and Kingdom work, our prayer and spiritual life, our friends, work and interests. (Unless you are a Christian reading this, you will not understand that this is not something  heard very often in the Christian church!) Jonny talked of the great things that single people can do to serve and glorify God as well as the blessings that married couples can bring to the church and others.

Personally, I (and I know I’m not alone in this) can feel on the margins within ”the Church” being a single woman. I do not necessarily mean my church but ‘THE Church, the Body Of Christ’ as a whole. It can sometimes seem as though the majority are married and that they are in a kind of exclusive Business class Christianity while the rest of us remain in Economy looking in.

I know I often find myself saying, “Some of us are called to be single!”  about my own situation to justify  the fact that I am rapidly becoming quite set in my ways to the point that there would hardly be any room for another human being! It took me years (and lots of making mistakes) to learn to enjoy my own company and the peace that can come with that. The other side of that is that I remain extremely cynical and God has much work to do there!

I am truly blessed that I had my one and only child when I was 23 and no longer have that body clock ticking thing going on.

But I am aware that some people find being single extremely painful, are searching for ‘the one’ or are fragile and broken from past hurts. Sometimes asking folk to trust God in this area is tricky and almost downright impossible for them to do.

And Valentines Day celebrations and commercialisation appear to stretch over a cheesy 4 day period and chocolates, hearts and love imagery is everywhere highlighting singledom.

Of course love and intimacy can be experienced with friends, families and God and does not necessarily have to be a romantic thing. Today I am fortunate to have been able to spend the day with my daughter which included, going to church, having lunch and then going to the cinema. Relationship with her is where I learn about unconditional love, letting go, forgiveness, acceptance and sacrifice.

Jesus was single, Paul was single, John the Baptist was single, many of the disciples and early church were presumably single.

At the end of the day, God uses our current circumstances whatever they may be to glorify him.

And remember, the grass is always greener on the other side.


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.


                                                           

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.


 

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 was recently inspired by this picture of Jesus which I saw on The Christian Left‘s FB page.

An insubordinate rebel..yeah, I can relate to that.

This is the Jesus I love. Sadly, I’m not sure he’s always the same one associated with mainstream Christianity. The one that turned the tables in the temple, furious that people were turning the house of God into a moneymaking extravaganza.

 This is the guy that went out of his way to hang with the outcasts of his day, we would call it Assertive outreach. He ate and drank with tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers. He didn’t judge, just gently pointed people to a better way. This was grace, in action.

 He offended the religious types so much that they killed him. He refused to perpetuate the barriers they had created which stopped the average person from knowing God. The rules and regulations, the ways to behave which they thought earned them favour.

Sorry but as soon as the man-made rules and judgements kick in, I’m off. Tell me not to do something I do it, tell me to do something, I generally don’t do it. I seem to be wired that way. Insubordinate.

One of the common mistakes I make is to think that if I’m not thinking along the same lines as others, God doesn’t love me. I believe grace in theory but sometimes don’t always apply it to my life. I can get caught up in religiosity.

Yes, God is holy. Jesus came to bring us into relationship with him. I struggle with the word ‘Sin’ and the negative connotations it has. Fire and brimstone preaching has alienated the average Joe from even wanting to seek God by using such fear-based, negative language which is full of condemnation. I try to understand  ‘Sin’ as simply as  ‘missing the mark’, ‘falling short’..or anything which stands in the way of us and God. separation from the Divine. Whatever we may think, we all do it but the truth is God loves sinners!

That’s why the message of Grace is so important. God so loved the world that he gave his only son (John 3:16). He loves us as we are. We can’t do anything more or less to earn his love. We have it. We are created in his image. It’s almost too incredible to accept, I know.

The sooner we realise that its God who has to work in people’s hearts, not us. The more able we are to meet people where they are at and really show them the Grace and love of God.

We are all ragamuffins, each of us comes beat-up, burnt-out, ragged and dirty to sit at our Father’s feet” Brennan Manning -‘The Ragamuffin Gospel

God and burn out


A few years ago, I experienced burn out. Personal and professional. A combination of highly stressed working in some of the most deprived areas of the UK as well as personal circumstances, contributed to a bit of a meltdown. It wasn’t an overnight thing and had been happening (unknowingly to me) over a long period of time.

In hindsight when I look back at that dark place, it scares me.

It wasn’t really a ‘can’t get out of bed’ thing, but it was a ‘watch Jeremy Kyle all day thing.’  I needed the background noise. I’m not one of those people who can sleep their days away, I’ve often wished I was. In fact I’m the opposite,  I marched around Edinburgh parks and streets to keep myself moving and occupied, usually fuelled by large amounts of caffeine and clutching a self-help book. I’ve always been a bit of a put a smile on and get over it kinda girl. That can be half of my problem sometimes.

One of the biggest and, in my opinion long-term effects of burn out is an inability to tolerate stress. (Something to do with spending too much time in ‘fight or flight’ mode and adrenalin turning into cortisol if i remember rightly). Other effects can be hopelessness, exhaustion, irritability..the list goes on. Anyway, another consequence is ‘compassion fatigue’. Realising I was completely ‘compassioned out’, overwhelmed by meeting others’ needs as well as my own, led me to call out to God for help.

I was in an AA meeting with my friend John in 2008. I remember thinking there was something missing from my spiritual life. ”  I felt  irritated by everyone in the meeting as usual ” I need more compassion John”, I said ” I think I want to try out a church”

A week later, John and I went to a Brighton church. I heard the story of the Prodigal son (Luke 15,11-32). I think I’d heard the title before, but never really understood it or what it meant. For those who haven’t read the parable, it’s the story of a guy who goes off and hammers it, partying like mad. He reaches rock bottom and decided he wants to return to his Father. He’s scared as he doesn’t know how he will be received. His Father is joyous at his return. The parable is the story of our Father’s love  for his children. It tells us that no matter what we have done, or are doing, he’s there waiting for us with open arms. He rejoices when we come home, in fact he celebrates, holds a party.

I left that place feeling different, something had happened. I’m not sure I knew what it was straight away. Something happened in my heart. That’s all I can say.

Fast forward two years..

Do I have more compassion than I did? Most of the time, yes.  At least I’m tempted to spend less time navel gazing and more time looking outward these days.

Do I believe God restores and heals the broken? Yes, that’s his speciality!

Am I learning to trust God and get out of the driving seat more often? Yes, slowly.

Do I believe social justice is at the heart of the Gospel and that God wants us to reach out to the needy and less fortunate? Too right.

2 Corinthians 1:2-4

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Amen

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