‘A Guest,’ I Answered, ‘Worthy to be Here’

 

‘Miserere mei, Deus’ is based on Psalm 51. It was composed by Gregorio Allegri, transcribed by a young Mozart and sung here by the incomparable Tenebrae Choir.

 

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

 For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
    and blameless when you pass judgement.
 Indeed, I was born guilty,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

 You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
 Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
 Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit.

 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
    if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
 then you will delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

                                                                ~ Psalm 51 NRSVA
   

 

The first step in becoming a follower of Christ is recognising my own depthless misery – my sin. I can’t turn back time. I can’t undo any of what I have done. I made the chasm between myself and God. Me. Why? Because I do stupid, hurtful things, selfish things. Christ alone was perfect, and He alone took the stain of sin upon Himself, so that I might not have to be separated from God. I deserve none of what He gave, yet because my Creator knows me, and loves me, He brings Himself to me. What love is this?

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:

Love said, “You shall be he.”

“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.”

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.”

“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”

“My dear, then I will serve.”

“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”

So I did sit and eat.

~ Love by George Herbert, circa 1633

 

Reblog: Christian…what will you read?

There’s a really good book called ‘Positively Powerless: How a Forgotten Movement Undermined Christianity’ by L.L. Martin which I can highly recommend.
Other books I can recommend: ‘God’s Smuggler’ by Brother Andrew, ‘A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power’ by Jimmy Carter, ‘Kisses from Katie’ and ‘Daring to Hope’ by Katie Davis Majors, ‘The Choice’ by Edith Eger (not a Christian book per se but one I would highly recommend), ‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood’ by Rachel Held Evans, ‘Streams of Living Water’ by Richard Foster, ‘William Wilberforce’ by William Hague (a secular biography of the devout abolitionist in which God’s presence shines through), ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’ by Brother Lawrence, ‘Mama Maggie: The Untold Story of One Woman’s Mission to Love the Forgotten’ by Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn, ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ by Brennan Manning, ‘The Blue Parakeet’ by Scot McKnight, ‘A Life for Christ’ by Dwight L. Moody, ‘Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality’ by Richard Rohr, ‘One Thousand Gifts’ by Ann Voskamp and ‘Gospel Childhood’ by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard.

On my (Christian) to-read list: ‘The Autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola’, ‘Searching for Sunday’ by Rachel Held Evans, ‘The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul’ by Philip Doddridge, ‘Humility: the Beauty of Holiness’ by Andrew Murray, ‘The Bruised Reed’ by Richard Sibbes, ‘Man, the Dwelling Place of God’ by Tozer, ‘Sins of Omission: A Primer on Moral Indifference’ by S. Dennis Ford, ‘Eager to Love’ by Richard Rohr and ‘Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices’ by Thomas Brooks.

Enough Light

Will you read a book by an individual who had some type of near death experience and claims to have experienced heaven – But not a book that thoughtfully and carefully considers what the Bible says about heaven, such as this one: Heaven by Randy Alcorn?

Will you read a book by someone who dreamed they spent 23 minutes in hell and then wrote about it — But not a book that thoughtfully and carefully considers what the Bible says about hell, such as this one: Erasing Hell by Chan and Sprinkle?

Will you read a creative fiction book like The Shack –But not books that thoughtfully consider the biblical view of the Trinity or why bad things happen in life, such as these: Making Sense of the Trinity by Millard Erickson (only 108 pages!!) and If God is Good,Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil

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Made in God’s Image?

Even without overt sexual abuse, all young women are known to experience a descent into low self-esteem at puberty, probably as they realize their role as sexual objects.

Aron, Elaine N.. The Highly Sensitive Person (Kindle Locations 1732-1733). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Are you the parent of an adolescent – past, present or future? If not, I imagine you were one yourself, once! Do Dr. Aron’s words shock you? I hope so. I hope that they shake the core of any decent human being. If you are a mother or a father, how can we best instil into our adolescent sons the non-objectification of women and girls, given that it is e.v.e.r.y.where? Do you recognise where you yourself have objectified women, however unintentionally? This is just as much a question to women – women’s magazines, etc., attest to the fact that women buy into this objectification of one another. How can we best teach our daughters that they are worth so much more than just their physicality?

If you are a follower of Christ: Jesus is recorded on many, many occasions taking care to give particular respect and esteem to the women that He encountered, who were at the time generally treated as ‘less-than’ the men. It is clear from the New Testament that the early Christian church – the living expression of the New Covenant – was a place where women were included and valued. Jesus in fact told men, in no uncertain terms, not to objectify women. So why is this rarely addressed in churches? Why is a structure in which men’s voices are always the loudest (reflecting the world – not Christ) still the status quo? I ask this of Christian men and women, not just men. Men have to recognise their privilege and women have to recognise where they are reinforcing stereotypes against one another (which is also a reflection of the world, not Christ). We need to stop these generational inflictions on our young people. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – and all, by grace, are lifted up and made beautiful. A healthy self-esteem is a recognition that we are bound, in this earthly body, to fall and to fail, but that we have a dignity bestowed by a loving Creator, who made us in His image.

There are words of hope for those for whom this is a daily struggle, for whatever reason, and they come from the same chapter; Jesus was on a roll that day 😉 Can you imagine what it would have been like to actually hear Him speak, to be there in His presence? Amazing!

Jesus said:

Blessed [spiritually prosperous, happy, to be admired] are the poor in spirit [those devoid of spiritual arrogance, those who regard themselves as insignificant], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [both now and forever].

Matthew 5:3, Amplified

Sometimes blessings come from the places we least expect, eh?

What are your thoughts on the prevalence of the objectification of women in Western culture and on the subsequent effects on young people? Is it something you have given any thought to? How do you think men and women within the church can respond?

 

Exclusion

I had to fill in a form for my new doctor. I have finally been given an appointment to see a CFS/ME specialist. It included questions that asked me to compare my current state with my ‘normal’ state. I am flummoxed by questions like these. I was diagnosed with this condition when I was 14. I have never lived a ‘normal’ adult life. Then there was the question of employment. I never chose to be a housewife, although I’m trying to do the job well. Coerced away from education and into my first marriage and immediate motherhood at the age of 21 I never had an occupation, as such, so it’s no good asking me about this. I never chose to be a mother (yes, you did read that right and yes it probably does mean what you think it means…) and I never chose to be a housewife, just as I never chose to have this condition or to be abused or to end up with PTSD.

In that moment I understood what it is to be excluded from general society, to be treated as less than human. There was no box for me to tick. The assumptions were already made. Perhaps that is why my response to those whom society has excluded is so strong. I get it. It sucks. It’s wrong. They and I are no better than anyone else, but equally no worse. They and I, like every human being, are made in the image of God. We are all God-breathed.

This morning God spoke to me through His Word and it directly relates. You may find it useful, too, so I share it here:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (NRSVA)

So the people that seem small and insignificant are deemed ‘indispensable’? That’s good. I’m ok then. How about you? And how does this change the way we view our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world? How does this change the way we view our potential brothers and sisters in Christ around the world? Why do Christians follow worldly ideals and create ‘celebrity’ Christians?

 

Book Review: Secret Keeper

This is a replica of what I posted over on Goodreads. It is not a favourable review (and is rather brief), but nonetheless I thought its content worth sharing on my blog:

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Modesty exists for women and girls only…? Men lust after women but women never lust after men? Bathsheba was the *cause* of King David’s lust and subsequent murder of her husband because she was beautiful so she must have done something to provoke him? A naked 19th century statue is evidence of what ‘true modesty’ looks like? Bizarre. Just bizarre.

Modesty is a frame of mind, not just for women and girls but for men and boys, too. It is not just the way I dress but my entire attitude to life. THIS is what a decent book on modesty would say. This book is not going anywhere near my daughters. A book addressing modesty should be about boys and girls, men and women, respecting one another and respecting themselves and their physical bodies.

Thoughts of God

Fresh from the journey of Lent I am not in any hurry to start blogging again, as such, but I will begin to share some good quotes that I have come across.

canonyeo1

“Then exactly what are good thoughts concerning God?” Ignorance wanted to know.

Christian said, “…When our thoughts of God agree with what the Word says aboiut Him, then they are good thoughts. That means when we think of His character and attributes as the Word teaches.

“However, to speak of Him concerning ourselves, when we understad that He knows us better than we know ourselves, and that He can see sin in us when and where we can see none in ourselves; and when we understand that He knows our inmost thoughts, and that He at all times sees into the depths of our heart; and when we think that all our righteousness stinks in His nostrils, and that for this reason even with our best performance we still cannot stand before Him with any confidence, then our thoughts are good…”

Pilgrim’s Progress, Updated, Modern English by John Bunyan

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)

Reblog: When I Say I Am a Christian

Amen.

A Pastor's Thoughts

 This is a poem I shared in a recent sermon. I share it with you

“When I say, ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not shouting, ‘I’ve been saved!’

I’m whispering, ‘I get lost!’ That’s why I chose this way.

 

When I say ‘I am a Christian,’ I don’t speak with human pride.

I’m confessing that I stumble – needing God to be my guide.

 

When I say ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not trying to be strong.

I’m professing that I’m weak and pray for strength to carry on.

 

When I say ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not bragging of success.

I’m admitting that I’ve failed and cannot ever pay the debt.

 

When I say, ‘I am a Christian,’ I don’t think I know it all.

I submit to my confusion asking humbly to be taught.

 

When I say ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m…

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Big Head

“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing to the icon.

“It says who it is across the top.” said Frank, pointing to the Greek letters. He spelt out the name. I knew part of what he said meant ‘John’. It sounded like yo-annis.

“John the Baptist?”

“No, John the Theologian; the one who wrote Revelation.”

“Ohh.” I nodded. “But why does he have such a big head? He looks like an alien.”

Frank raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “There’s no mystery with you, is there?” His eyes crinkled. He smiled one of his rare smiles, one that is just for me. I thought how much I love this man.

He picked up the icon. “Oh, look. It has writing on the back. Let me see…”

He began reading the Greek and translating, “I think that means ‘Byzantine’…”

“I bet I know what it says,” I said and took it calmly into my hands, “This… icon is… a replica of…”

“How are you reading that?” Frank said, puzzled.

“Er… It’s got the English translation directly underneath…”

Frank chuckled as he said, “I honestly didn’t see that!” And he gave me the same look the girls gave me when I solved their wooden puzzle in a couple of minutes the other day. As if I needed to let them in on the secret. Only there wasn’t a secret; I just figured it out.

I think the bible can be a bit like that. We expect things to be somehow holy and mystical and somewhat obscure, but when you take it for what it is, and you don’t take random bits and bobs all out of context, there are a lot of things that are very clear, and very direct (and that all hang together, with a common theme), yet are still often ignored, even by those who claim to take the bible literally. I almost want to say ‘those who take the bible literally literally’ because there are some of us who, although we take the bible at face value, don’t take it absolutely literally and don’t believe it takes itself absolutely literally. There are those of us who think that to try to take the scriptures literally literally is to do the bible, and our Creator, a grave disservice.

So what I’m getting at is this: if Jesus says it, maybe we should do it, don’t you think? You know, all the ‘love one another’ and ‘forgive’ and ‘don’t hate because that’s as bad as murder – even if you don’t think it is, I (Jesus) say it is – because hatred in your heart kills you‘. And other stuff like that. Let’s cut the cr@p and get down to business. Jesus says His ‘yoke is easy’ (Matt 11:30). So why do we make it so difficult? In the words of – um – someone: take a chill pill, Bill. And don’t cry over spilt milk.

St John005

Also, these icons really do show saints with enormous heads (this is not the exact same icon*, but is very similar).

 

*NB Icons are not intended to be objects of worship so much as expressions of prayer, and if words can be prayer, why not art? I love art history, it’s like the world expressing the essence of humanity generation after generation. I love architectural and engineering history for the same reason. Christian imagery can be incredibly beautiful and it is arrogant to think that because some of us, e.g. Baptists, choose not to have it in our churches it is somehow worthless (or worse). The desecration of the Reformation did nothing to change hearts and minds. I think that the Roman Catholic desire for imagery and the Protestant desire for lack of imagery arose from the same motives – a yearning for purity, for beauty, for purpose, for prayer and, most of all, for communion with the Divine: a genuine and honest expression of God. Here endeth today’s sermon(!). 😮

A Good Yarn…

“It’s a bit like that Fifty Shades of Red thing, isn’t it? I mean, Fifty Shades of Blue, er – black? Fifty Shades of um…” The young woman frowned as she gestured to her neighbour’s knitting.

“Grey.” The neighbour, a woman who looked as if she was in her mid-forties but was actually a good decade older, lifted the blanket proudly so we could all see the colours as they blended in gentle waves. Murmurs of approval wafted around the room.

The first speaker laughed, “I knew it was a colour!”

“I like using this wool because it makes patterns all on its own. I don’t have to follow any instructions! Have any of you read Fifty Shades of Grey?” The older woman looked around conspiratorially.

“Ooh, yes!” The large lady to my left said with glee.

“I found it in an airport and I thought I’d give it a go, see what the fuss was all about, but I put it down after three pages; it was so poorly written.” A lady with a mop of grey hair and a kindly face interjected.

I tried not to squirm and stayed focused on my yarn. This was, after all, an afternoon knitting group. I hoped someone would change the subject. I had not been along on a Tuesday afternoon before. The Thursday morning ladies were full of banter but not quite like this. I told myself ‘this is my reward for getting through all my tasks this morning.’ Still…

“I don’t care how it’s written!” The large lady bellowed. “A few commas and full stops aren’t going to put me off!”

“Me neither! I’m no prude! Hey, Liz, have you seen that new show on the BBC – The Guardroom?” The large lady’s other neighbour smirked. “Oh, damn, I’ve dropped a stitch.”

“Oh yes, I really like that. It’s got that Desmond feller in it.” Liz replied.

“I know. The arse on that one, eh? He turned around and I thought, ‘Ooh, just a bit higher, Des!”

“Have you seen The Guardroom, Maggie?” A*se Lady turned to the lady who runs the wool-craft sessions (I don’t know her real name – not that I ever use real names on my blog – but in my mind she is now indelibly the A*se Lady).

“I haven’t, no…” Maggie gave a short giggle, as if unsure what to say.

“You should!” A*se Lady said.

“Perhaps I’ll take a look.” Maggie agreed, pleasantly, her eyes fixed firmly on her yarn.

I offered up a silent prayer. This was not an enjoyable experience… I found myself longing for the conversation of Christian ladies and simultaneously reminding myself that one has to accept people as they are and how do you ‘do Jesus’ if you don’t interact? I briefly wondered if I should make a comment on the portrayal of women as passive victims of sexual violence but decided it probably wouldn’t go down too well. I admit these kinds of things spark off bad memories in me, so I’m never sure if my reaction is justified or not. I concentrated on my task, as if those rows of double crochet were in need of my hard-focused attention.

The conversation turned to the merits of cigarettes versus roll-ups, why rottweilers are such nice dogs and the best way to drink rum. Not having much to say on any of these subjects either, I kept mum (I don’t drink because I hate the taste, I’ve never smoked and I was too unsettled to offer my opinion on dogs). I learned that A*se Lady smokes but doesn’t drink, and that Liz had a very nice rottweiler, but he died after being bitten by a Jack Russell. There’s an irony in there somewhere.

The only thing I actually said throughout the session were words admiring one lady’s baby blanket and a ‘yes, please’ to Maggie’s offering of a cup of tea. I admit I breathed a sigh of relief when I came to the end of my cushion cover and genuinely couldn’t continue. I gathered my wool and hook into my bag and stood to leave.

As I smiled and said goodbye, Maggie got up to follow me. I opened the door and stepped out into the bitter air. Maggie closed the door behind her.

“It’s usually a bit quieter on a Tuesday.” she said, almost apologetically. “The Monday session didn’t happen so lots of them came today instead. It’s not usually as racy on a Tuesday. These lot are a bit too racy, even for me!” Maggie smiled.

“I’ll come again.” I said. “Thanks, Maggie. See you!”

********

Once, when studying the patterns of conversation in English Language A-Level (my first love was linguistics), my tutor said he’d be fascinated to know what a conversation was like when it was just women. I recalled this today because the way the women were talking actually reminded me of the way that (some) men talk. Usually there’s a very female-group-thing going on. We discuss our children and our families and the weather and, well, various things, but it’s always cosy and warm, slightly gossipy but not ill-natured. Just not today.