Tag Archive: Jesus


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.

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 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)


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

Writing in the sand


In John Chapter 8, the Pharisees bring a woman to Jesus who has been caught in bed with a guy that’s not her husband.

They want to know what he has to say to her and refer back to the Law of Moses which says she should be stoned to death. They’re trying to get a rise out of him so they can accuse him of something and they kept on and on at him as well as condemning her.

Meanwhile Jesus just looks down and writes in the sand with his finger. Basically, he blanks them.

He says to them ” If any of you have never sinned, go ahead and throw the first stone ”

He looks down and writes on the ground again. One by one, they all leave. No one throws anything.

I’m going to try to look down and write in the sand more.

I can easily spend time becoming irate with things outside my control. I burn at bureaucracy. I rage at discrimination. I hate the worsening gaps between rich and poor. I see and hear things which really hack me off sometimes, often within the ‘Church’.

In my teens my mum called me ‘an inverted snob’, alas this is still true at times. I generally identify with the underdog.

Still, in the words of Paul  “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).

So I will attempt to look down and write in the sand more.

A rainbow warrior


This week I signed for membership of Accepting Evangelicals. A group in the UK who feel its time to move towards acceptance of faithful loving relationships of same-sex couples.

The site asked if I wanted to be ‘open’ or ‘confidential’ about my support. I had no problem  checking the ‘open’ box. I’m not going to buy into that nonsense. How can I consider myself a straight ally and be ‘in the closet’ with my support?!

But it made me think..Am I an evangelical?Well I assume I am. (at least one with a small ‘e’ anyway..) If that means I share my faith openly which is what I’m doing here, right?

God came to me, I recognised him and chose to follow.

 I’ve never been able to get my head or heart round the whole anti-Gay thing. In fact I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with some of the things I hear and read which do so much damage to individuals, the church and the mission of the Gospel. It doesn’t appear to be as prevalent here in the UK, we don’t seem to have the whole ‘God hates fags’ thing going on-more of a polite ‘silence’ on the issue.

On October 20th, I wore purple for ‘Spirit Day’ a day held in support of GLBT youth. My heart broke to hear about a spate of teenage suicides in the US as a result of bullying. I spoke to a pastor from Revolution NYC who spends his weeks counselling teens via Skype. Kids who are isolated and voiceless, living in rural and isolated communities in the Bible belt. Kids who grow up with the very loud message that they are not okay exactly as they are. I’ve not been able to stop thinking about this.

I thought about my daughter and how terrifying it would be if she wasnt able to talk to me openly and honestly because of my belief system.

I was horrified to hear that Bishop Gene Robinson constantly receives death threats and had to wear a bullet proof vest under his robes at his consecration.

This has led me, with the help of learned friends to do scripture studys myself on these selected 6/7 verses from which so much hatred, confusion and condemnation come. The same condemnation that contributed to slavery, apartheid and subjugation of women.

Result, and point of this post? Its time to move on Christian brothers and sisters. Lets get a dialogue going.

The Bible is a story of God’s radical love and grace for his people surely? I’m not sure it was meant to be a sex manual.

“This is my commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another, as I have loved you.”

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