Tag Archive: God



I’m now three weeks into being tobacco free. After all the procrastination, fear and cognitive dissonance which has gone on for a good couple of years it was actually NOT THAT BAD!! There were only a couple of days where I thought I may have to stay away from humans for fear of being a risk to myself and/or others.

But far more exciting is that I now consider myself to be a sort of unofficial lay member of the Benedictine community. Some of you who know me will know I have a sort of (some would say weird) fascination with all things monastic. I have recently returned from a trip to a beautiful Abbey in Kent which has been inhabited by a Benedictine order of nuns for 75 years. I went originally in the interests of my work. This place was recommended to me as they have a heart for addiction there. I wanted to experience this place myself with the idea of possibly referring people I may come across in my work who need some respite and peace.

As usual when the times of these retreats come round in my life, im usually pretty frazzled and in need of a breather.  It is hard to describe the experience of going somewhere like this. To start with the ground is holy and sacred , the place smacks of peace and purity. The Benedictine gift of hospitality surprised me (I had of course gone with a large bag of Waitrose luxuries as only a recent non smoker needs – in preparation for solitude and starvation) The guest house was gorgeous and served home-grown food 3 times a day. As usual the Divine Office punctuates the day with the reciting of the Psalms  5/6 times, from Vigils to Compline. The beauty, rhythm and mysticism of 1400 years of spiritual practice has a depth which is difficult to describe and comprehend.

Some people are under the illusion that monastic living is easy and escapism from life in the fast lane. In a way it is a more peaceful way of life, but of course it comes with different challenges to those we face out here, living in close proximity to 12/13 others and  there being absolutely no distractions from ourselves and each other. Benedict’s Rule was designed to make living in community work as well as it can, with the emphasis on the rhythm of  contemplative prayer, work, relationship and spiritual growth.

I want to try to live this way as much as possible in my own life. I need this rhythm.

Today my Esther de Waal commentary to The Rule arrived. (I’ve been trying to muddle through with no commentary.) Like the Gospel, The Rule is a living thing as relevant today as when it was written 1500 years ago and has been a successful tool for business management as well as community living ever since. Benedict saying he wanted to prescribe ” nothing harsh or burdensome ” for his followers.

My initial revelations are how much I need this stuff as I’m self-centred to the core. I am so easily distracted from my prayer life that the routine, discipline and repetitive nature of the Liturgy of The Hours helps me stay focused on God not reliant on how I FEEL.  I need the structure of more silent time with God and in his Word. I’ve also become aware of how much excess stuff  I own. Not in some weird ‘hair-shirt’ kind of way, I’ve never been particularly materialistic, most of my clothes are bought in charity shops but there lots of them and when I want something I buy it. Full stop. Oh, and I am addicted to buying books. One click ordering – currently books about monastic living. The irony.

This is just the beginning of going a bit deeper with God. I’m a bit scared but very excited! Watch this space.


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.


Some readers of this blog won’t share the same experiences or beliefs as me but I’m going to talk about healing. I’ve always possessed a vague cynicism and never really been convinced by miraculous and instant supernatural healings. (Oh me of little faith) I’m always far too concerned for the people who do have tremendous faith and don’t get healed. I do, however believe in a God that can do anything and that things may not always be in ‘our’ time, but in his.

I have had chronic pain in my neck/shoulder-blade area for about 20 years.

Some sort of repetitive strain injury began when I was breastfeeding my little one and carrying her in one of those front baby carriers. I also broke my collar-bone when I was younger so this may have had an impact on my posture. Anyway, for 20 years I have had a 50 pence sized area of pain which flares up when am stressed, cold, tired, typing, walking, carrying a handbag, sitting down, standing up (see what I’m doing here?) basically constant and enduring pain, at all times, except for when I’m asleep. It feels as though I have the tip of a red-hot knife stuck into that area and affects my concentration, stamina, mood, ability to listen to others…basically my all round quality of life! With the exception of my poor mother, I don’t even bother talking about it to anyone for fear of being seen as a complainer.

I’ve tried anti-inflammatory sprays, creams and pills, heat pads, ice packs, GP’s, physiotherapy, sports massage and have had people lay hands on and pray for me.

Recently this exhausting situation reached a climax. Having walked round West London all day window shopping I was honoured to get to hear the rescued Chilean miner Jose Henriquez speak. Obviously Jose’s powerful testimony of how his faith sustained him through such an ordeal and at times a seemingly hopeless situation was mind-blowing to listen to and extremely emotional and powerful.

There were about a 1000 people crammed into Holy Trinity Brompton to listen to this man’s incredible story and there was hardly a dry eye in the church.

And me..I was in pain..finding it hard to concentrate, let alone see the bigger picture.

In prayer time at the end as a couple of tears rolled down my face, I silently said something like, ‘Ok Lord, this pain is totally doing my nut in now,  it’s ridiculous, help me’.  I felt bad that I was stuck in ‘self’ while listening to someone who has endured much bigger struggles than me but, to be honest, I couldn’t wait to get home.

Fast forward…back in Brighton, that night.

So fed up, I decided to google some diagrams of that area of the body and located the area and muscle group which for half my adult life has caused me so much grief. (Trapezius (Traps) and Rhomboid for anyone who’s interested.)

Once I had located the exact area and the things which cause RSI to this muscle group, I  found some stretching exercises and posture tips. Completely broken and fed up with feeling like an 80-year-old woman I was willing to try anything at this point.

Two weeks later, with a bit of exercise, practice and mindfulness. The pain has subsided.

My point? For me, God may not always work with supernatural blinding flashes of light, legs growing longer, gold teeth appearing and instant cures. Whether freeing the Israelites from Egypt, the Chileans from the depths of the mine or people from drug addiction, he sends rescue through people, places and things (including Google). Gloria a Dios.

God will rescue you from your own mine whatever that may be.” (Jose Henriquez)


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.


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

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


 

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)

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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