The God Bit: Sunday 21st July

Blue SkyIt’s been months since I’ve written a Sunday morning blog; a combination of being very busy and not really knowing what to say, because I’ve been in a spiritual slump. Should Christians admit to that?  Absolutely, because it happens to many of us and the reality of a life-long walk with God is that it’s not going to be spirit-filled wonderfulness all the time.  There are days, weeks, months even when it’s tough, when you feel as spiritually dry as the desert and all the happy-clappy stuff going on around you can jar and you struggle to be around it.  When I feel like this my attendance at church becomes sporadic, my daily Bible reading falls by the wayside and I start to drift away from my anchor point.  It’s happened before and I’ve come through it so I’ve not been worried. It’s never a case of not believing, it’s a bit like catching a virus, one that doesn’t affect you in any major way, but just makes you feel under the weather for a while.

In March I was supposed to have surgery and it was postponed.  I’d got myself keyed up for it to happen and to have it pulled with a week to go felt as it I’d had the batteries pulled out of me.  There was a seemingly long wait until a new date was scheduled and finally, my surgery happened at the start of May.  Since then, it’s taken longer than I was expecting to get back to ‘normal’ and there have been a few post-surgery issues that I’ve had to work through.  Not only did my spiritual life go to pot, but my eating, my sleeping and everything else around me took a ‘hit’ over the last few months.  However, I feel like I’ve finally turned the corner and green shoots are starting to bloom in the desert once more.

In all this God never moved, I was the one that moved, although I would be hard-pressed to say what precisely happened other than I think I could have taken my eyes of Jesus. Just like Peter, seeing Jesus walking on the water towards him, Peter got out and tried to walk over to Jesus as well, but found himself sinking because Peter was looking at what was going on around him, not keeping his eyes on Jesus (Matthew 14:22-32).

Jesus is coming back into focus for me and it’s nice to feel those springs of living water again instead of parched earth.  It’s not instantly all wonderful again, but it’s better. I know from speaking to people with longer Christian walks than me that times like this are nothing to be afraid of, it’s part of the Christian experience.  All we can do when these times appear is to trust that we will come through them, perhaps having learned something in the process.

What did I learn? That large section of the Old Testament worry me. That bodies need to be cared for and will not instantly do everything again if you find yourself with 73cms of scar to heal.  And that even when you do find yourself disconnected from your church congregation, that they still love and care for you and given half a chance, will overfeed you big time.

Posted in Christian Living, Difficulties, Spiritual Journey, The God Bit | Tagged | Leave a comment

The God Bit: Sunday 24th March

Blue SkyI’ve had a very contrasting week in what I’ve been reading.  This month, my book group book is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.  It’s one of the very best books I have ever read.  One of the reasons for that is its subject matter; which tells the story of Mariam, a young girl from Herat in Afghanistan.  The story may be fictionalised, but I think we all know, from those who have been brave enough to speak out, that Mariam’s experiences are the truth in some quarters and it’s shocking.  Of course, you could point out that that’s just way Muslims do things, that it’s the cultural norm and none of our business.  But also this week I’ve been reading Danielle Strickland’s book The Liberating Truth, which asks the question when do you stop explaining things away as the cultural norm and start to come to the realisation that the abuse and marginalisation of women and girls in any culture is just plain wrong? While barbaric practices like genital mutilation, forced marriage may not be part of everyday life in the UK and the US (and let’s not pretend that they’re not happening somewhere), what about the cultural abuse of women and young girls that goes on right under the noses of us all, in the church?  Yes, the jolly old church.  That nice place down the road.  Many denominations give women and girls the idea that their only role in life is to look beautiful, provide children and keep a lovely home.  While working may not be outlawed, it will be culturally rammed down their throats that any economic benefit they bring to the family is secondary compared to the all-conquering casserole!

We may not force our women to marry, but what’s with all this ‘giving away’ in a wedding ceremony, when a father gives his daughter to her husband?  That’s not just a nice quaint thing, that’s rooted in a time when women were the property of their fathers and when they married they became the property of their husbands. It’s still right there in a Church of England wedding service and we let it perpetuate!  And what about the systematic subjugation of women that persists in many denominations (including my own!), that tells women that just because they are women, they are excluded from serving fully in God’s Kingdom?  You wouldn’t call up an Army and then tell half of them they couldn’t fight because they had brown hair.  The fact is, is that God created men and women to be equal, to have equal standing before him and to be equal in value and use. Any hierarchical bias has come from cultural hermeneutics and has been used for centuries to essentially keep half of God’s army on the sidelines.  While the nineteenth century in the church was all about freeing slaves, the twenty-first will, I’m sure, be about freeing women.

So while we might get rightly outraged about the blatant abuses of women like Mariam and Laila in A Thousand Splendid Suns, we must not forget that right here on the very streets of Britain, we insist on pedalling myths that women are inferior to men, sometimes very blatantly and at other times more insidiously.  We do it a thousand different ways, from Page Three to the ‘giving away’ in a marriage service; but it’s there, running like the roots of a tree the length and breadth of our country.

That’s what I have been challenged about by God about this week.  OK, so I can’t tackle the plight of Afghanistan women other than through prayer and petition, but I can make a practical difference to the lives of women and girls in the UK.

It’s time those roots came up.

Posted in Comment, The God Bit | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The God Bit: Sunday 10th March

Blue SkyToday is Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday in the UK.  I’m not going to write about that subject today, but if you’d like to read a related piece that I wrote for the Baptist Times this week, you can see it HERE.

Perhaps one of the most irritating phrases in common usage is ‘like, you know.’ From nowhere it has in less than a handful of years, morphed into the universal filler phrase and is, you know, like, turning up in every sentence uttered by half the the planet.  Some people -especially the young but also those who should know better – appear to be incapable of speaking a sentence without it. Once you’re attuned to its presence it’s very hard not to do two things:
1) count the number of times it’s used in the course of your conversation (I’ve counted it 14 times in less than 10 minutes); or 2) scream and send Stephen Fry round to sort it out.  Whilst I appreciate that language has to evolve, I don’t believe including it four times in every sentence is something to be proud of.  To the rest of us you simply sound – like, you know – a twerp.

Whilst I may not be guilty of liberally sprinkling my conversation with filler, I am very guilty of the overuse of another maddening word, and so is half of Britain:

Fine.

‘I’m fine!’ We cheerily proclaim at all who ask. Of course, you may well be fine but I’m guessing that you’re really not because few people truly are.  We use ‘fine’ as such a catch-all word don’t we? We use it to mean ‘I’m not explaining it now, I haven’t the time,’ or  ‘I’m not telling you anything, because you’re the biggest gossip this side of Saturn.’ Or ‘I’m not telling you because I don’t want to look vulnerable.’ Or perhaps the worst thing: ‘If I tell you how it really is, it’ll take all day, I’ll keep you in gossip for the rest of your natural life and my cheery use of ‘fine’ is all that stands between me and a meltdown.’  Believe me, I’ve been there on the last one.   I’ve pretty much been there this week.

But it’s not me that’s been throwing it about.  Someone else is batting back ‘I’m fine’ to every enquiry whilst over their shoulder I can quite clearly see that an atomic bomb just dropped on their life.  I want to help, but I’m stymied at every turn by the mother of all frustrations:  ‘I’m fine’.  No you’re flipping well not!  I feel like smashing my head repeatedly against a brick wall and writing to David Cameron to ban the use of the phrase forthwith.  Mind you, with the bloody-minded nature of British people we’d probably use a banned word all the more. So, to save my own skull, my sanity and the cost of a postage stamp, I decided to go for advice in how to overcome fortress ‘I’m Fine.’  Because when the perimeter wall is 50ft high, the barbed wire on top goes all the way to the sky, they’ve dug a moat and pulled up the drawbridge, there’s only one person who’s getting in there…

God.

My prayer life isn’t very good so this week I took it to a ‘prayer clinic’, got a check-up and took advice on how to pray. It’s clear that pleading, remonstrating and plain old shouting at the situation won’t break this particular stronghold. But God’s very good with impossible cases – he’s got me on his books – so I’m now praying strategically; for him to get in the middle of that situation, parachute right in there – all, you know SAS-like (careful now :)) – and do his stuff.  As I understand it, my bit is to stand ready for the catch when the walls come down. And they will.

We have many reasons for batting back an “I’m fine” and mostly they’re for quite the most innocent reasons.  But there is nothing to be gained by putting on a front when the rest of us can quite clearly see it all going nuclear behind you.  And from now on if you’re not coming out, then I’m sending someone in to get you.  So, to save the Almighty getting all in your face, perhaps it would be better to speak another word:

“Help.”

God doesn’t have an app for that, he has something much better. A Jesus.

Posted in The God Bit | Leave a comment

The God Bit: Sunday 3rd March

Blue SkySlowing Down for Snowdrops

Last week I wrote a piece for the Baptist Times where I mentioned the growing clamour in me to slow down. The other day in just a small way, I saw that action of slowing reap a great reward.

I needed to walk into town before work to get some milk.  I was walking at a brisk pace with my head down, focussed on the pavement ahead making sure that I wasn’t going to step in anything I’d rather not. Ahead of me were a couple in perhaps their 70s, walking hand in hand at a much slower pace. I could have said ‘excuse me’ and squeezed by, but I didn’t. I deliberately chose to slow down and walk behind them at a respectful distance.

Walking at speed meant that I needed to keep my eyes on where I was going.  Walking more leisurely meant that I could also take note of what was around me.  Had I squeezed by and carried on with my head down into the town centre, I’d have missed them.  But by slowing down my eyes chanced on the beautiful display of snowdrops in the hedgerow.  It’s been a few weeks since I’d walked this way and these were the first snowdrops I’d seen this year.

In rushing about we miss so much of what’s going on around us and little glimpses like this are reminders that not only is there calm and serenity in a slower pace of life, but there’s also beauty and wonder.

As our American friends are fond of saying; “what’s not to like?”

Snowdrops

Snowdrops: But not the ones I saw!

Posted in The God Bit | Leave a comment

About that Prayer Thing Again…

Blue ButterflyI’m rubbish at praying. No, that’s not the right word. Abysmal, that’s the right word.  If God were writing a prayer report on me he’d say, “Who?” I just can’t get it together. Every attempt to make it a regular part of my life fails and I end up retreating back into the infinitely more fascinating world of Bible study.  I’ve been wondering why that is.  Prayer is the most basic (and technically easy?!) of the spiritual disciplines; after asking forgiveness from your sins and asking Jesus into your life, it’s the number one thing you must, must do as a Christian. And yet I struggle to progress much beyond the awkward conversation you’d have with someone you admired very much but didn’t know very well.  I always feel self-conscious doing it.  I feel like my words come out as burble and that God’s sat there picking the gunk out from under his nails, listening to me and looking over at Jesus, saying “wake me up when she stops dancing about with this.” Worse, inappropriate stuff pops into my head and I mean very inappropriate. That, or boring stuff, such as what I need to get from the supermarket this week.

I was listening to my friend Karen talk about her prayer life this afternoon. She gets up every morning and prays. Moreover, she stays in the attitude of prayer all day long regardless of what she’s doing. Karen prays like other people breathe.  I get up and plunge headlong into my Bible.  Prayer gets bolted on as an afterthought, if I’ve got any time left between the section I’m working on and 7.00am, which is when I have to stop and go hoick my teenage daughter out of bed.

It grieves me that no matter how hard I try I still struggle at this.  I searched my heart the other day and asked myself why I’m not praying.

  • I don’t think I’m doing it correctly.  I don’t know what ‘correctly’ is for a kick off. For example; is a prayer null and void if it doesn’t finish with Amen? Do I pray to God or to Jesus?  Is it also null and void if it doesn’t finish with the phrase ‘I ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ?’  These are questions I’ve never dared ask. It sounds a bit daft doesn’t it, that I’m a Christian and I don’t know if there’s a correct form of address to the Almighty. So I’m asking you, ’cause you lot know everything. :)
  • Prayer can be deeply intimate and I’m beginning to see that I hold a lot of myself back, unwilling to let God see the ‘real me’ and unwilling to let him have control.  If I pray, I’d have to let God in, properly in.  If I don’t pray, then I can keep him at arms length. I can wave at him from time to time and remind him that I’m still here.
  •  This is probably the clincher – Because if I let him in he’ll want to make changes and I’m fearful of what those might be.  OK, I can deal with a few doctrinal challenges, but I know that any changes will be going all the way to the core and that scares me.  Who will I be at the end of the process?  Will I like the changed me?  Will other people like the changed me?  Not many of them like me now and if I’m all changed for God I might not have any friends left.  I’m not good with rejection, he knows this.

So my prayer difficulties might be less about form and content and more about being scared of what might happen if I did open up and pray.  Do I know how to really open up?  My blogs are ‘honest’ but you really don’t know the half of it.   If I pray, then things I can’t control might happen.  I am a girl who thrives on order and routine, so letting God Almighty loose in my life is probably going to disrupt proceedings somewhat and I’m going to struggle. Does anyone else feel this way?

I’m not all useless. I ruminate on scripture a lot.  I read and study the Bible endlessly and I see the value of getting the word of God into my life. I want to pray with as much ease as I study. I know that just doing it is the only way forward but I don’t know how to do it ‘right.’ I want to get it right, I don’t want to fail at this because I fail at so much.

Matthew 6:6 says: “But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door and pray to your Father in private.  Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”  I had that scripture twice from two different sources.  Either it’s instruction or encouragement I don’t know.  I already have a room where I can shut the door on the world so perhaps it’s a case of God saying ‘you have all you need, now just talk to me.’ Perhaps I’m simply over thinking it. But I worry that if I just ‘burble on’ in my own voice that it’s wrong and not respectful to the Creator of the Universe. Should I arrange it in nice sentences with form, content and punctuation?  I don’t know!

When are they doing the prayer session on the Alpha Course?  It looks like I could do with dropping in.

Posted in Prayer | Tagged | 3 Comments

The God Bit: Sunday 24th February

Blue Sky“Never give up until your heart stops beating.”
Shellshock, New Order

Quoting New Order lyrics is not something I ever thought I’d do in a faith-based blog; but there again, there was a time when I never thought I’d keep a blog.  Things change…

Now excuse me for coming over all ranty this morning (no surprise there then), but if we believe that we operate as a whole, that everything that needs to be done in life is covered by everyone working together – i.e. that nobody can do everything – then it must follow that each one of us is a piece of the jigsaw of life.  We each hold our individual little bit of the picture and when we join our bit to everyone else’s bits something rather wonderful emerges.  Unless it’s one of those baked bean jigsaws, which seem just to exist to bring on migraines.

Also, at what point in the Bible do we ever hear the words ‘I’m too old for that, I’ve done my bit?’  We don’t.  We get close to it when Moses starts having a whinge at God, saying he’s not good enough for the task God wants him to do, but the Almighty gives him short shrift on that (Exodus 4: 1-17).  But in every case people are out there serving God for life.  The government may determine that your usefulness to society expires at (currently) 65, but God doesn’t set a retirement age.  There is no age past which you give up, sit on the back row of the church and expect it all to be done for you.  Everyone; from Abraham to Samuel, Daniel, Jesus, Paul, Mary, Martha and Deborah served God until the end of their lives.  So I want to say two things this morning:

1) You are never too old to contribute to society, to a church, to a whatever you’re interested in. OK, so you might not be able to do exactly what you used to be able to do BUT there are things you can do. You are never too old to study, never too old to start a new business and never ever too old to have some fun along the way.
2) You are never too old to set another goal or dream another dream.  I may have just nicked that one from C S Lewis, but hey, it’s true. :)

The media likes to peddle the notion that if we don’t have life all sorted out by our early twenties then we might as well give up now (read the lyrics to Lily Allen’s song “22”, she echoes it).  But if we hold on to our bit of the unique jigsaw of life under some mistaken assumption that we’re too old, then the whole picture will be all the poorer.  There’s nothing worse than doing a jigsaw only to find there’s a bit missing. It may be just one bit, your bit, but it’s vital.  Without your bit the whole picture is spoiled.

So don’t write yourself off whatever age you are.  You have gifts and talents and burdens on your heart that you want to share.  Get out there and use them whether you’re 30, 60 or 90 years old because it’s only working together that we build up that wonderful jigsaw of life. 😀

 

Posted in Comment, Daily Life, Gifts and Talents, The God Bit | Leave a comment

The God Bit: Sunday 17th February

Blue SkyLife in the Extreme…

This week I’ve been noticing certain extremes in my life. Not bad extremes, but how much  certain things in my life are at opposite ends of the spectrum, from each other and in some cases, from other people. For example; I can’t get enough of mountain scenery.  To be amongst the mountains and valleys of almost anywhere (I’m not fussy), is to feel almost physically connected to God. Bizarrely, I got the same feeling last night, walking across the Millennium Bridge in central London and seeing the skyline of the city lit up all around me.  That to me was as beautiful as it was seeing the Aguille du Midi in France. It feels odd that I should feel as awed by a cityscape as I do by a landscape and perhaps ‘wrong’ to some, but I can’t explain it, I just do, it’s one of the peculiar quirks of me.  Given a choice between seeing Everest and Hong Kong lit up at night I would genuinely not know which to choose.

LondonSkyline

Yuk photo of me, but that’s the Shard in the background. Simon commented that in order to get a new building in London, you need to choose a really silly name. e.g. The Gherkin, the Cheese Grater, the Walkie Talkie, the Strewth, Who Said Yes to That

There are other extremes, such as, in common with all women on the planet, I’m able to mentally multi-task and think for three people and two cats at once 😉 but yet I can’t read a book, or write a blog post or work on my novel unless there is an absence of talking. Not noise, I can tune out road or rail noise, but noise of people talking cuts entirely through the bit of my brain that deals with reading and writing, blocking whatever synaptic pathway that is.  This means that they both have to be very solitary pursuits for me and why you will often find me writing in the early hours of the morning when nobody else is up.  I can’t sit and read in the same room as other people are watching TV and I can’t read or write with the radio on. My daughter can apparently study while watching You Tube and listening to an audiobook.  Perhaps this is evidence of a more highly evolved brain (all of 27 years younger than mine), or not entirely grasping the concept of the word study

Those are small things, but it’s there on a large scale too. As western culture appears to move at a faster and faster pace, I’m finding that I want to go slower.  This isn’t a desire to up sticks, move to mid-Wales and raise chickens, but almost a deep inner burden to live a much simpler, slower life.  Over the last year or so I have been greatly challenged by Penelope Wilcock’s book In Celebration of Simplicity and also Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline. While western culture is becoming more and more tied up with frivolity and triviality, my soul wants to root itself in the deep things of life.  This isn’t about decluttering a few rooms in my house, this is a wholesale root and branch re-alignment.

Richard Foster’s book in particular is one that you could quite easily spend an entire year working your way through and never really scratch the surface of. He lists twelve spiritual disciplines that are deeply challenging to a Christian like me who is largely ignorant of anything pre-Nicky Gumbel, John Ortberg and Rick Warren.  They’re nice guys, don’t get me wrong and they write some good stuff, but I’m beyond that now and needing more. Simplicity, living lightly, living a disciplined life calls me, almost pulls me, while all around the culture that I live in runs off even faster in the other direction.

As I was exploring these thoughts this morning, I was reminded of the Star Trek film Insurrection, where the crew of the Enterprise discover a plot to oust a colony of people, the Ba’ku, from a planet where they’ve made a home, in order to harvest the material in the planetary rings that appears to prolong life.  What I was particularly struck by was a scene, where one character appeared to slow down time and showed Jean Luc Picard how to live in the moment. I love that image.  It’s only the slowing down of film footage to show the flap of hummingbird wings, but oh that we could do that!

But it’s pertinent. Living in the moment is something we’re increasingly forgetting to do as the pace of life urges us onwards at a faster rate.  The Psychiatrist Carl Jung said ” Hurry is not of the devil; it is the Devil.” How much are we missing?  Who is being left behind?

I might very well spend a year digesting each of the twelve disciplines outlined in Richard Foster’s book; a month each on meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance and celebration.  I won’t have bottomed any of them out in that time, but the call to go deeper and go slower is possibly a call that none of us should ignore.  Who knows what good would happen if we gently applied the brakes on our lives and came to a dignified stop.

Posted in Daily Life, Spiritual Journey, The God Bit | Leave a comment

The God Bit: Sunday 10th February

Blue ButterflyIt’s been a momentous old week hasn’t it? There are not many times in your life where you witness the approval of a landmark piece of legislation.  I’m very happy that homosexual men and women will be able to marry because I believe that equality is something that transcends any faith. It wasn’t right that their relationships were viewed as inferior to those of heterosexual couples, especially when several notable people have long viewed marriage as something that you do repeatedly for the publicity (we can all think of at least one). Heterosexuals have no right to withhold marriage from gay couples who are more than likely going to make a better job of it.   Theirs is a hard-won victory and I applaud them.

But not everybody is happy and I know that many people of faith are going through a tough time as they seek to live in a world that seems to hold different values to their own.  They should not be disheartened.  Christians are not called to pass judgement on others and certainly not those who don’t share their faith. Paul, writing to the Corinthians asks; “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (1 Corinthians 5:12). I think a lot of people forget that Paul said this, although they’re frequently quick to remind people of other things Paul said. Paul asks only that we keep accountable those who call themselves Christians, not judging them, but reminding them of the way that we’re called to live.  There are few better verses to illustrate this, than Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

This week we acted justly.

But giving people the right to live in stable, faithful, legally-binding relationships is a minor matter compared to the massive festering issue of world poverty that still remains unsolved.  If you want to jump up and down and wave placards at Parliament then do it to get David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband wholly behind the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign.

We’ve been horrified this week that beef doesn’t necessarily mean beef in lasagnes and burgers, as horsemeat has found its way into our ready meals. OK, it’s not a pleasant thought but it’s largely a cultural one; as horses are something British people ride, win medals on and back in the 3.20 at Newmarket.  We don’t eat them, but they do in other bits of Europe. Again, it’s ‘horrific’ to us, but yet (perplexingly), we’re seemingly OK that people in other parts of the world starve?  OK, so we can’t all record a charity single to enable the shipment of shed-loads of grain to these parts of the world, but we can exert pressure on our leaders because they’re the ones who can.  The IF campaign is focusing on four key things:

Aid
Enough Food For Everyone IF we give enough aid to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families feed themselves.
Tax
Enough Food For Everyone IF governments stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries.
Land
Enough Food For Everyone IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land and grow crops to feed people, not fuel cars.
Transparency
Enough Food For Everyone IF governments and big companies are honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food.

This week we’ve made Britain a fairer place, now let’s take those same values of justice and equality and apply it to the slightly more crucial topic of food.

Posted in News, The God Bit | 2 Comments

The God Bit: Sunday 27th January

Blue ButterflyI’ve been sat here for a while wondering what on earth to write this morning.  This bit is supposed to just be a simple, short piece about something that’s struck me about faith or belief this week. And I’m struggling, because there hasn’t been. Well, nothing on the face of it.  Nothing that’s ‘worth writing about.’ There’s been no big old finger point from God on a subject. If I’m honest, things have been a little flat this week.

Of course, that’s not to say that things haven’t happened.  I could point you in the direction of the piece I wrote earlier this week about Christians and gay people, in response to a house-group session that I led; but that would be too weighty.  I could mention the post-Service of Thanksgiving pint in the pub. Where, in possibly a move seen as distasteful to some, we sat around discussing with our friend, what creativity could be had with his coffin – him being a member of Britain’s elite Magic Circle.  He came to conclusion that he liked the idea of a coffin with a saw wedged half way through the middle of it. You can weigh up for yourself the ethics of a bunch of Christians wandering five doors down from a church into the pub; but in my world it’s part and parcel of our life.  Sometimes you need to adjourn to the pub to cogitate on what’s been going on the church.  When I was growing up I could never understand why our family’s church effectively had a pub, or a ‘church club’ around the back of it.  Now I totally see the use for it!

Elsewhere, I’m currently reading through the book of Job and, to be honest, it really isn’t material to write light, witty pieces about; although it does lend itself well to discussions about why people suffer. Is that big old God really picking on you? Are you being punished for crimes that you’ve no idea you’ve committed? Or is suffering as senseless and as random as a lightning strike?  As I was saying, they’re hardly topics for a light piece on a cheery Sunday morning.

And it’s not even a cheery Sunday morning, either.  It’s pitch dark and it’s lashing it down, after a week where the ground has been covered in 4″ of snow.  Now that’s an odd thing.  I’m a child of the metric system, it was the only thing I was taught in school; but I would never ask a hairdresser to cut two and a half centimetres off my hair and I never measure my snow depth in anything less than inches.  Saying “we got 10cms” just doesn’t sound right.

But that’s one of the things about life, isn’t it? Inconsistency. Sometimes you have weeks where you’re constantly tripping over revelations and then some weeks it’s all a big old ‘meh and nothing’s going on.  Well, nothing that you can see anyway. In the film of your life, this would be one of the bits that ends up on the cutting room floor. Because, let’s face it we all have times where we fail to set the world alight with our brilliance.

Shifting my gaze a little and focusing on other things from another angle; I could tell you about the wonderful sense of family that there was as we stood in that Service of Thanksgiving for Susan’s life. Susan died very suddenly over Christmas and her death is one of those times when reading the book of Job seems wholly appropriate, because you can’t make head or tail of the shock that such a death is. I could also tell you about some of the very interesting conversations I’ve had as a result of writing the piece about Christians and gay people. I could even mention the very nice thing that happened at the end of the week which bodes exciting things for the future; but can’t really be talked about much yet, because that’s like tempting fate 😀

We all self-edit to some extent.  We all give people the view of ourselves we want to present, or select those bits we want to include on the Facebook timeline of our lives; leaving the boring or unflattering bits out (lest anyone find out what we’re really like).  Because if they see those bits then they won’t like us, right?

But you are no surprise to God.  He knows exactly what you’re like; good bits, bad bits and all the meh bits.  One of the phrases I adore most from Joyce Meyer is her saying ‘God knows what dumb thing’s going to come out of your mouth next.’ It makes me laugh, but it’s true.  I am no surprise to God, even if in my prayers I mention some thing and leave out all the uncomfortable, or frankly plain embarrassing bits.  He knows it all and he’s patiently sat there just waiting for the time when I stop self-editing and give him all of it. Even the bits I don’t think are worth writing about because they’re too inconsequential to note.

Nothing is inconsequential to God and neither are you.

Posted in The God Bit | 2 Comments

What’s the big fuss over gay people?

Blue Butterfly

This is long, get a coffee.

This piece does not seek to add to the debate about the Christian view of homosexuality, it merely seeks to explain why many Christians struggle to accept gay relationships.  Christianity is a catch-all term that embraces many believers on a spectrum between deeply conservative and extremely liberal in their view and interpretation of the Bible.  In this piece, I don’t claim to speak on behalf of any particular denomination or group, other than trying to explain the standard evangelical view and the current debate in the Christian community.  This is my blog, this is my piece of work and any failings within it are my own. I am not here to pass judgement, I merely want to explain the Christian situation to those who might not know what it is.

Why am I writing this piece?
Because I, along with many other Christians in the UK are seeking to find a way forward in the whole debate surrounding “gay marriage.” But in searching for a way forward you have to start by educating yourself.  It’s of absolutely no value to start spouting off on a given subject if you haven’t had the common decency to read up on it first.  Many people are aware that ‘the Bible is against homosexuality,’ but most people don’t know exactly what it says.  That’s what this blog piece is about.  What exactly does the Bible say about homosexuality?

Evangelical Christians are those who assert the truth of Scripture and who also believe that you don’t just drift into being a Christian. That is, it’s a conscious decision that you make, you are not automatically a Christian if your Mum was one, etc.  In making that decision, it usually follows that you start to take what Jesus says very seriously.  So you take God’s word (the Bible) off your shelf, dust it off and start reading and applying it to your life.

There will be massive great chunks of the Bible that you will have no problem applying to your life.  Everyone agrees that becoming a less self-centred, kinder, more socially aware person is a good thing and a blessing to society.  You will have nose-wrinkle moments, reading books like Kings and Chronicles, where kings just seem to spend their lives killing thousands of people, for no apparent reason other than it’s go-to-war time (“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…” 1 Chronicles 20:1).  You’ll have theological tussles with subjects such as creation, the role of women and why the Bible has a lot to say about keeping slaves.  In all these things there is some sort of progression.  Most people are aware of the Creation versus evolution debate. Evolution does not deny that God’s behind it all, it just gives a mechanism for how it might have happened. But evolution can’t explain why we’re here and I believe God is the reason we’re here.  The fact that I can’t believe in a literal six-day creation, is not because I am denying God’s authority.  It’s because I’ve spend too long grubbing about on my backside on Geology fieldwork, picking stuff out of the ground and knowing that it took millions of years to get like that.  I do not believe that God is involved in some giant con-job, making out that the earth is much older than it actually is.  It’s also because I believe God is not bound by time and space (“for a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by…” Psalm 90:4).  Days are irrelevant to God but he used the concept of days to explain to people the order that things happened in, using terms that they could understand.  Jesus does the same thing in the parables, conveying teaching using terms the people would be familiar with – the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 would be one famous example.

But there is possibly one subject, that is at the heart of current topical debate, that Christians are struggling with.  The government wants to change the law so that gay people can get married in the way that we would traditionally understand what marriage means.  Not a halfway house – a Civil Partnership, but a Marriage.  There are few Christians who can wholeheartedly say ‘fine, go ahead’ to that, because of what the Bible says about the subject.

There are 12 references to homosexuality in the Bible.  I have put in bold the ones I particularly want to mention: (Genesis 19:5, Leviticus 18:21-22, Leviticus 20:13, Deuteronomy 23: 17-18, Judges 19:22, 1 Kings 14: 23-24, 1 Kings 15:12-15, 1 Kings 22:46, 2 Kings 23: 6-8, Romans 1: 26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 8-10).  The references that are not in bold, mention homosexuality in terms of cult prostitution and that isn’t the type of relationship that we’re talking about.

Genesis 19:5 is Sodom and Gomorrah and we’ve all heard of that. A lovely tale of a Dad’s very interesting attitude to his daughters in the face of the men of the town wanting to have sex with Lot’s visitors (a couple of angels). (“Please, my brothers,” he begged, “don’t do such a wicked thing. Look, I have two virgin daughters. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do with them as you wish.”)  Great parenting there, Lot!  Because of Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins (which were numerous and not just to do with sex); God rained down fire and brimstone and obliterated both places from the face of the earth.   As for what happened to his daughters, it just got a whole heap worse; with a realisation that Dad’s the only bloke for miles and a plotline that even Virginia Andrews would’ve struggled to come up with.  As we say these days… just don’t go there. We’re only nineteen chapters into the Bible and hopefully everyone’s lost the impression that the Bible’s full of butterflies, roses and perfect people. Judges 19:22 is almost the same tale again but in the town of Gibeah.  Worse, this time a woman is raped and dies as a result.  It’s a completely hideous thing to read.  It serves as a clarion call for the Israelites to wake up to what is going on in their midst.  Ironically delivered by the man who sent his concubine out to be brutally raped.  We never know his name.

Then we move into Leviticus, which is where the laws for the Jewish people are mostly concentrated.  They cover their rituals and their morals. While the laws on rituals have been abolished in Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, the moral laws are still in place, those have not been repealed.  Therefore, in Leviticus we find the two passages that speak explicitly of forbidding homosexual practice:
22 “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin. (Leviticus 18.  This is in amongst all the other laws about who and what you can’t have sex with).
It’s reiterated in Leviticus 20 (  13 “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.)

That’s it for the Old Testament, apart from the other situations I mentioned earlier, which I don’t think are relevant to the picture.  On to the New Testament.  As this is the life and outworking of Jesus’ ministry, this is the section of the Bible that most Christians will pay particular attention to.  Whilst the Old Testament has much from which we can learn, it’s the NT that we turn to for examples of how to live out the Christian life.

It is true that Jesus did not mention homosexuals. However, Paul, charged with taking the gospel out to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people), did in three places. Firstly in Romans Chapter 1, where we see the only instance of this relating to lesbianism:  26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.

It’s mentioned again in 1 Corinthians: Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

And finally, in 1 Timothy: We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. 10 The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders,[c] liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching…

So that is what the Bible says about Homosexuality. What is under fire is not same-sex attraction, but acting on that.  Therefore, it has traditionally been seen by Christians that the only biblically based way of “managing” yourself if you are attracted to members of the same sex, is to practice celibacy.

I’ve spent the last week reading various debates within the Christian community about the way forward on this issue.  Secular people may take one look at these passages and conclude, that as they were written in the first century and earlier, they have nothing to say about life in the twenty-first century.  Nor do these people have any knowledge of modern, monogamous gay relationships. Therefore, Christians should just ignore it and move on.  It has no relevance to today.

But for many Christians just ignoring it is not an option.  As I’ve already said, celibacy is seen by many as the only biblical option, but that is a high calling indeed. For other Christians, they can see how Civil Partnerships can work and some clergy themselves are in Civil Partnerships of their own. Some Christians have absolutely no experience of friendships with gay people and therefore do not struggle with the concept of being ‘against’ something they have no experience of. Whilst others battle between loving friends and family members who are gay, but find it hard to condone what they do because they know what the Bible says and want to remain true to that.

In the last week the debate has moved on apace with Steve Chalke putting forward his view – essentially setting the same standards for homosexual couples as the Bible gives for heterosexual couples. That is; no sex before marriage and marriage is for life. Steve has received a lot of criticism for his use of what some people are calling hermaneutical gymnastics (basically, using the same principles of progression that are used in the consideration of slavery and of women’s roles and applying it to the issue of homosexuality).  Traditionalists argue that you can’t do this as, unlike the former issues, there is no progression (change in) what is said between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians warns against this very thing; “Do not go beyond what is written…” (1 Corinthians 4: 6). Similarly in Revelation, there is the warning not to add things or take them away (Revelation 22: 18). Steve Chalke does not say these things lightly, but the mere presence of the whirlwind now surrounding him is evidence of the strength of feeling on all sides of this debate.   For all those who are pointing out where he is wrong, there are similar numbers shrugging their shoulders and saying “sounds sensible to me.” What is true is that we HAVE to talk about it and Steve Chalke just provided a welcome catalyst for that, whatever side we find ourselves on.

Having spent the week up to my eyes in homosexuality 😀 I can now see why any movement forward is going to have to be as a result of a gargantuan amount of prayer, contemplation, theological wrestling and talking to each other until we’re blue in the face.  This is not going to be an easy situation for Christians to move forward on, but don’t think that we don’t want to try.

The church has been guilty of some of the most appalling treatment of homosexual people over the years and in many cases this is too little, too late. Still, we’re addressing the issue now. I’ll be honest.  I look at the advice to ‘love the person and hate the sin,’ and find it the most useless piece of advice because  I have no clue where the boundary is.  Should I stop going to my friend’s houses? Should I stop sharing food with them?  Therefore, I’m sure my flagrant associations with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Asexual people (I know at least one of each), aren’t going down too well in more conservative quarters.  If homosexuality is the sin the Bible says it is, then why am I, with raging food abuse issues, more acceptable in church than a gay couple living in a stable, faithful relationship? Why am I not politely shunned? Is Compulsive Overeating a more acceptable sin than homosexuality?  But surely sin is sin and we’re applying double standards?  This is the debate we find ourselves in today and I fervently hope we can find a way forward.

At the heart of everything, we have to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for EVERYONE and the church is not a club for the exclusive use of a bunch of white, middle-aged, middle class – to borrow from Bridget Jones – “smug marrieds”.  Jesus was none of those things and he was also rather insistent that we let him do the judging.

It is never my intention to cause offence with my writing, but if I have done so in this piece I hope you will forgive me.  Like many I am searching and seeking a way forward.  It’s a bit like groping in the dark at times, but I’m working hard to listen and consider what everyone has to say and hopefully, one day, there will be a way forward on which we can agree.

Posted in Comment, Daily Life, Difficulties | 6 Comments