Fellowship

Our relationships with other believers can be tragically shallow. Even small groups… can be more like superficial social clubs… Our fast-paced modern world makes it hard to slow down and invest in each other… Socialization and fellowship are [often] confused. They are not the same thing.

from Positively Powerless: How a Forgotten Movement Undermined Christianity by L.L. Martin (who blogs here)

This paragraph, from the final chapter of Laura’s excellent book, struck me as an incredibly powerful statement, and one that I know to be true. The vast majority of Christian encounters fall very much into the shallower end of fellowship, at best. The truest fellowship that I have ever experienced was that shared within Celebrate Recovery, where for a short space of time each week we could take off the ‘mask’ of everyday life and become our true, measly, weak selves. We could remove the Christian smile and the ‘hallelujah!’ attitude that pervades many churches here in the UK. Those things are not wrong, but they are wrong when they are constant and never tempered with the reality of sin and struggle.

Something miraculous happened at Celebrate Recovery. Every week, Jesus sat in that room alongside us as we confessed, and shared, and prayed, and wept. We grew to know one another at a deep level, we grew taller in our spiritual and emotional stature, we experienced profound and deep healing, and we experienced a true, spiritual fellowship. I pray God will bring Celebrate Recovery to our town, in His time. I know our town could use it! I pray that I will meet the right people, God-willing, to take on this none-too-small adventure.

Jesus… looked up to heaven and said… “I ask… on behalf of those who will believe in me through [my disciples’] word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

John 17:1,20-23 (NRSVA)

Learning to Breathe

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Deep communion and dear compassion is formed much more by shared pain than by shared pleasure… We are not saved by any formulas or theologies or any priesthood extraneous to the human journey itself. “Peter, you must be ground like wheat, and once you have recovered, then you can help the brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

from Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr

I went through a ‘Peter’ experience a few years ago. I promised to love God, to be His child, to follow Jesus with all of my heart – and then I went and did something I was immediately ashamed of. I didn’t just do it once, either. It was a very messed-up time. I think I wanted to show God how unworthy I was of His love. I had been on the receiving end of so much hurt that I truly believed, deep, deep down, that no one, not even God, could love me, and that my behaviour would prove it. What did God do in response to this display of weakness and pain? He brought me, within months, to baptism by immersion (an amazing experience) and a few weeks later to the man who seemed to see the ‘me’ underneath all the hurt and loved me in a way that I never knew was possible (of course, I came to love him too, but Frank loved me first, in so many ways that I could never even have imagined). It was truly a match made in heaven.

When I read the words above by Richard Rohr this morning, I recognised their import and impact on my life. Suffering – for reasons I don’t claim to understand – and shared suffering, are essential for growth in Christ. Maybe we human beings can only truly appreciate (and participate in) the Light when we have experienced darkness.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.

Matthew 5:14 (NRSVA)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

The Economics of God

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As the daughter of an economics professor and as a student of statistics/maths, I like metaphors that relate. The following is from the book ‘Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps’ by Richard Rohr:

The revelation from the cross and the twelve steps [as used in Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery]… believes that sin and failure are… the setting and opportunity for the transformation and enlightenment of the offender… It is a mystery that makes sense to the soul , and is entirely an ‘economy of grace’, which makes sense only to those who have experienced it.

Richard Rohr continually astonishes me with his words! He is so very astute. He makes me go back to the bible time and time again to reread passages I thought I already knew, and ‘opens the eyes of my heart’ to yet more wonder and yet more awe at the humble majesty of God. The ‘humble majesty’ about sums it up! There seem to be so many contradictions within the nature of God, yet Rohr points out that they aren’t contradictions at all – merely the workings of grace, which are above and beyond human understanding.

The economy of grace was exemplified in Desmond Tutu’s ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ in South Africa after the fall of apartheid, where all had to take proper and public responsibility for their mistakes, not for the sake of any punishment but for the sake of truth and healing. In fact the healing was the baring – and the bearing- of the truth publicly. This is… unheard of in human history but is actually totally biblical, starting with the prophet Ezekiel… and dramatically lived out by Jesus.

Brought Low

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In the parable of the prodigal son, the black sheep of the family, having squandered every last penny and lived the reckless high life (crime? exploitation? addiction?) until he had nothing left and no roof over his head, comes home to his father to say sorry and beg for forgiveness. He thinks maybe he can do some kind of low-status, menial labour for his father. Besides, he has nowhere else to go.

Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, writes: ‘The emphasis of Christ’s story is not on the sinfulness of the son but on the generosity of the father. We ought to re-read this parable periodically if only to catch the delicate nuance of the first meeting between the two. The son had his speech carefully rehearsed… but the old man didn’t let him finish… [the son] doesn’t even have a chance to say to his father “I’m sorry”.

How  many times have we judged those, both inside and outside the Church, as ‘less-than’ or not worthy enough? How many times have we ourselves been brought to the place where we recognise that we are utterly broken, sinful beyond repair? Because it’s only when you’re in the broken state, fully aware of your lowliness, that you can begin to appreciate how great is the love of God. He can’t begin to occupy your soul unless you give it up to Him. It’s not something we can achieve on our own. This I learned at Celebrate Recovery and in some ways I think I will always be learning this truth, but that’s ok.

I like to think of it as a vase, oh so very pretty on the outside – a rare and delicate Ming vase, say, but inside dark and empty. One day the vase is smashed to smithereens*. The Maker carefully glues it back together, paying little attention to the outward appearance, and then sets a lamp inside. Suddenly the jumbled-up pieces and the cracks reveal the bright, glorious light of the Creator. This is grace.

 

*It is of no consequence whether we are brought low because of our own sin and destructive nature, or from the sin and destructive nature of others (for example with abuse), or even from illness. God redeems all and treats all the same – and who are we to say that it should be done differently? As soon as I think I know better, I make myself equal to God. And that’s just daft. No, instead we rejoice because we were lost and now we are found.

Choices

One of the first things I learned at Celebrate Recovery is that I can make choices. I also learned that my choices affect my life and the lives of those around me. Childhood abuse robs the victim of the awareness of being able to make choices, and as an adult I am still learning this. On the other hand, it has given me a keen insight into how and where we make choices and how seemingly innocuous acts can be part of something that helps another human being, or something that actively harms them, even though we’re not actively aware of it at the time. I think we who call ourselves followers of Christ must take stock of our choices, particularly in our consumer-driven culture.

…the endless debates about the rights and wrongs of aid often obscure what really matters, not so much where the money comes from but where it goes…

No one in the aid debate really disagrees with the basic premise that we should help the poor when we can… The philosopher Peter Singer has written about the moral imperative to save the lives of those we don’t know. He observes that most people would willingly sacrifice a US$1,000 suit to rescue a child seen drowning in a pond, and argues that there should be no difference between that drowning child and the nine million children who, every year, die before their fifth birthday. 

~ from Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty

by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo

For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish…

Mark 14:7 (NRSVA)

For the first time in history it is possible to eradicate extreme poverty (defined as those living on less than US$1.25 a day). One thing we can do, as ordinary people who are not managers of NGOs or politicians or Bill Gates, is to make ethical choices in various aspects of our lives. I can choose to buy food that has been produced by someone who received a fair wage, I can choose to buy clothing not produced in a sweatshop, I can choose to be a good steward of the resources I have been granted. I can choose not to buy or use the services of companies that are known to exploit people or resources.

Part of this choice for our family has been to sponsor a child through Compassion UK. Compassion work with and through local churches in more than 30 of the world’s poorest countries and, because of this, people’s needs can be met more accurately. They are child-focussed, Christ-centred and compassion-based. Theirs is the only child sponsorship programme that has been proven to work and Compassion always publish their yearly accounts for the public to view. Click the link on the right hand side of this page to find out more. You may need to scroll down to see it.

This Life

The difference between the things you do without any need to push yourself, or make any kind of effort of will, and the things you wish you could get round to but somehow never manage, is just the way you represent them in your mind.

~ Julie-Ann Amos, ‘Install Self Discipline’

Self discipline is an important part of a healthy adult life. When you have been abused you can grow up with problems with self discipline. The negative beliefs about yourself can overflow into every aspect of your life. Self discipline is a means of self control, and if you have had your boundaries removed by years of abuse, it can be extremely difficult to recognise that you can do things on your own, that you are competent and able to make decisions.

When I was first a single mother, although it was hugely cathartic to be ‘set free’, all the responsibility seemed overwhelming. I was slowly drowning. God reached into the miry pit and rescued me. He brought me to Celebrate Recovery and to church. He brought my dear husband to me, and me to him. Through the six years of our marriage, He has continued this (necessarily slow) healing with gentleness and compassion. All I have had to do is be willing. This is the working of grace.

Now He is preparing me for the next part, whatever that may be, by helping me see my flaws with clarity, and the ways in which I need to change. Change continues, by grace, and I grow more and more in love  with my Saviour. I could not even stand without Him. I marvel at what He has done! This life is a miracle.

How is God working in your life? Do let me know in the comments.

Reblog: Autism Parents and the Church: Sabbath

 

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My own health is the reason we’re not going to church today, although the girls will later take part in the St. George’s Day parade at the local C. of E. I understand the importance of Sabbath rest. Rest is, in fact, integral to my own recovery. When I was a single mother of three, my son’s autism meant I rarely rested, and church was definitely not restful or restorative! But I had such a yearning for God that I couldn’t not go. The friends I made through Celebrate Recovery, the Jesus-focussed programme and the beautiful fellowship all changed my life.

This is an excellent post from The Left Hand of Ehud blog (very good blog, do pop over there and have a read).

The Left Hand of Ehud: Matt's Bible Blog

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Sometimes, things get too much.

You’ve run out of tolerance for being yelled at or hit. Or you’re fed up of arguing with doctors, with schools, with random passers-by. Or you’re sick of the staring and the tutting and the whispered comments. Or you’re tired of the guilt and the stress and the routine, you’re tired of being tired.

There are so many autism parents who, for a thousand and one reasons, don’t get to go to church. And that can mean that each day becomes just like the last; seven days you labour with no end in sight. You don’t get to stop, to reflect, to press pause and breathe. You don’t get to rest your soul, to feed your spirit, to lie down in those symbolic green pastures, to drink from those metaphorical still waters.

You don’t get to Sabbath.

(Sometimes you don’t get to Sabbath…

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Reblog: Mental Illness doesn’t define me (or anyone else), with a TED talk by Elyn Saks

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My son hates to be defined by his disability. He has autism and learning disabilities, so he spends a lot of time trying to convince me that he’s ‘clever’, bless him. He is clever, just in a different way to other people. I bet none of my readers could spend hours talking about the different phases of twilight and the movements of the sun and how the times of the sunrise and sunset change over the course of a year! He’s not like other people and he never will be, but he’s Prince, not ‘autism’.

For the same reason I rejected the term ‘survivor’ to describe me, because I am recovering from abuse as a child and during my first marriage. I finally realised that I was not a survivor – because that still allowed the abuse to define me. Only God defines me. He calls me blessed!

I realised recently that by His grace I managed to move from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This amazes me! By the time I had sought treatment I’d already begun to heal, and that was only by grace! Celebrate Recovery changed my life. PTSD hasn’t gone away. I still struggle with some things and I have learned I have to be ‘kind’ to myself, but I am a lot better post-EMDR than I was before. I’m not scared any more. I find myself doing things and then only afterwards do I realise that at one point I’d either have avoided it completely, or been incredibly anxious when doing it (whatever ‘it’ may be). I would have been irritable and tearful… and now I don’t even notice.

Excellent post from Laura Droege; I had to share it:

Lent Begins: Footsteps to the Cross

One step at a time. One day at a time. This is good advice, which I learned at Celebrate Recovery. It seems fitting for the beginning of Lent, as we journey to the cross over the next six weeks. Day one of The Gospel in the Willows: Forty Meditations for the Days of Lent speaks of ‘The Call’.

Walking along the beach… Jesus saw two brothers: Simon… and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.

Matthew 4:18-20 (The Message)

“Come with me.” He still says, holding out his hand. Are you willing?

Reblog: Do we need trigger warnings on classic literature?

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Very interesting post from Laura Droege raising some thought-provoking points.

From my personal experience, when I was at college studying for my Access to Higher Education Diploma (way back in 2010) we had to split into groups and do a presentation on various issues. We were assigned the groups and the subject matter. My group was assigned sexually transmitted diseases. I volunteered to do the historical research, thinking that that was something I could handle. The others in the group wanted to use pornographic photographs as part of the presentation to shock people and provoke a response. While I could see why they wanted to do that, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I spoke to the tutor and explained a little of my history and why I just couldn’t do the presentation, though I would do the write-up. It was tough but it gave me the confidence (for the first time!) to not feel like I have to be ok with the same things as other people. It took me many years to learn that it’s ok to say no!

These days I avoid ‘triggers’ as far as possible and am waiting (still…) for EMDR therapy. Like Laura says, I know all too well the horribleness of life and need to be reminded, again and again, of the goodness, of the beauty, of the joy. This is why ‘one day at a time’ works so well for me; each day I can begin again, thankful for what is, practicing staying in God’s presence, and knowing that whatever happens, God is good (this helps because it takes the emphasis off me, off my family, off humanity even).

As for trigger warnings on books: it would help if there were warnings about certain more extreme things, but on the other hand some people have triggers that aren’t generally considered extreme, so they have to work out their own strategies, I guess. It should be made clearer to young people that it’s ok to say ‘no’. Also, what about books with ‘adult’ content that can be accessed by all ages? I think there should be at least some age restrictions. On the other hand some say that that comes down to parenting. On the other hand not everyone has good parents… If I have any more hands I’ll be an octopus. I don’t know. We have restricted access to television in our house and I monitor my children’s reading material. I think this has benefited everyone, not just the children. But most importantly we talk. I have wandered off topic but I do think these things are related.