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When [the mind] is so full of thoughts and ideas about the way things are and the way things should be, the mind lacks the flexibility and openness to see the world in a new way. Perhaps it lacks the capacity to see the world at all, since its view is filtered through a rigid mass of beliefs and concepts.

~ from Insight: Clearing the Mind by Mark W. Muesse

(from The Great Courses lectures, this one included free for Audible members)

 

Life is filled with ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ – and you know what? I don’t think they come from God at all. Jesus never said ‘you ought to…’ Jesus said ‘do’. He warned against doing things for the wrong reasons and He didn’t trip people up with guilt. Ever.

C-PTSD thrives on guilt and shame and I’m not playing that game any longer. It’s never-ending, it’s pointless and it sucks the life out of you. Jesus said:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest(renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 Amplified

or, as Eugene Peterson put it:

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

Matthew 11:29 The Message

Speaking of which…

Does the wheel keep her going, or does she keep the wheel going? It’s like a dance between the moon and the tide. The perfect metaphor for the unforced rhythms of grace (because that’s the way my mind works. You’re welcome). 

 

Struggles… and Balm

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.

Psalm 42:5,6a NRSVA

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sucks. Its most insidious symptoms are toxic guilt and feelings of worthlessness. They are, in every sense of the word, crippling. Frankly it’s a miracle that I even get out of bed, if I’m really honest. Mindfulness meditation allows me to settle into the present, knowing my full humanity, my full made-in-the-likeness-of-God self.

I can b r e a t h e.

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:10 NRSVA

Self-compassion has allowed me to begin to love myself as a parent loves a child. I am able to see myself from a godly perspective – through the prism of Love. God has no desire to beat me up continually over my flaws – on the contrary, so why do I do it to myself? God loves me. I am redeemed. I am no more than anyone else, but I am certainly no less than anyone else. I don’t need to know any more than that. So I wrote the following, to remind myself – and maybe you – of what it really means to be a child of the Most High God:

You are a child of God, beloved and precious. Christ paid the price for you to not be shackled by sin. He loved YOU so much that He paid with His LIFE. This doesn’t mean that life is (ever) easy but it DOES mean you are no worse than anyone else – and if Jesus says you’re forgiven, what in heaven’s name are you beating yourself up for?

You’re ok. One step at a time. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. Jesus is right there with you as you go. So stop beating yourself up and get on with living.

Life is a gift. Every breath is a miracle.  What had to happen for the confluence of atoms to become molecules, for the molecules to become living cells, for the cells to form a hugely complex organism – for the universe to create YOU? You’re a miracle. You are God-breathed. This is cause for celebration.

 

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole

There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I get discouraged, or think my work’s in vain,

But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again...

~ traditional spiritual

 

So let’s stop chasing self-esteem and start being compassionate to everyone, including ourselves, as Kristin Neff so eloquently explains in this video.

The only negative thing about this video is that for the speaker one of the most difficult things in her life is the fact that her son has autism. For me, the fact that my son has autism is really the least of the horrible things that have happened in my life. In fact, I don’t consider it as ‘happening’ to me at all – he’s the one with autism, not me. I’m his mum. It’s my job to be there for him. Why on earth do we presume we have the right to a ‘perfect’ child? Our Westernised, consumerist mindset is beyond crazy, especially when it comes to our own children. Ugh. I am so glad it is not possible to diagnose autism antenatally, as is frequently done with Down’s Syndrome. Anyway, I digress… The video is in many other ways excellent (and I’m not criticising Kristin – just pointing out something about our culture) and Kristin Neff’s audiobook Self-Compassion Step-by-Step has been hugely beneficial for me and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling, whatever your reason. And perhaps I should recall the words of Edith Eger, Holocaust survivor and author of The Choice – there is no hierarchy of suffering.

See also Positively Powerless by LL Martin (blogger at Enough Light) for what the problems are with the self-esteem movement and an unhealthy emphasis on positivity and the consumerist mindset, particularly within Christianity. God is not a slot machine. The very notion is appalling… but that is a post for another day.

The featured image is from By Deror_avi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36512852

 

 

Reblog: The Spirit of Christ

‘Being Christ like is not a contest of holiness but a challenge to be the good news to those we encounter.’ Amen!

A Pastor's Thoughts

It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge.

—- C S Lewis

How many times have you been confronted with the question, are you a Christian? Our first response is obvious, yes! For some, that response requires a great many qualifiers. Have you had a dramatic “born again” experience or , like John Wesley, has your heart been strangely warmed ? C S Lewis in his writing warns us of such qualifiers. He asserts that the spirit of Christ is far more powerful than our words and expressions. Our place as Christians is to share the love and freedom that comes from knowing that spirit to all who come our way. Anything other than that would be judging, and we…

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Endings, Beginnings

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 

James 2:14-16 (NRSVA)

This was part of my bible reading for yesterday, 31st December 2018. It was particularly striking for me because it seems to be the summation of what God has been speaking into the lives of my family and I.

I’m beginning 2019 with Veganuary, for a combination of reasons. Going vegan is the single best action I can make for the environment. Countless studies have shown this. Here’s a recent one. I also wrote a blog post about climate change a few years back.

Climate change affects the poorest most, so addressing my contribution to this is something I can do that is concrete. I also don’t want to be party to the treatment of animals that takes place on farms and in abbatoirs. It’s violent whichever way you look at it and I can’t reconcile the compassion that I have learned through following Jesus with violence in whatever form. I also have health problems and veganism has been demonstrated time and again as the antidote to so many health problems that for someone like me, I can’t not do it.

We’re also developing a proper financial system for our family so that we can be more responsible and more accountable with our money. Not that we’re exactly irresponsible, but we’re not as mindful of all our assets as we could be. Our income has dropped rapidly in the past few years so it was necessary and long overdue. It’ll mean focusing on the important things.

So I prayed about what should be my phrase or word for 2019 and came up with this:

KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Seems obvious, but Complex PTSD can make things feel overwhelmingly complicated, so this is a real blessing just on its own. Be blessed, friends, in 2019. Lay down your life for Him so that He can pick it up. Shalom.

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?

 

Reblog: If you preach that wealth and health are a sign of God’s favor, what do you do when you begin to lose both?

Laura Martin’s book ‘Positively Powerless’ is an excellent book. It addresses the completely overlooked issue of the ‘positivity gospel’ – the subtle, yet pernicious, sibling of the prosperity gospel. Both reduce God and Jesus to little more than a vending machine. If you have not yet read this book, please do. It will change your thinking and may even change your life.

 

Enough Light

The theme of my book is about the perils of the “positive thinking” movement – how it overtly and subtly influenced Christianity – ultimately weakening our everyday lives of faith. My emphasis was primarily on the subtle. The overt, such as the development of the prosperity gospel, I only briefly touched upon. But my point is that I have 2 interesting links to share:

      • In February, CNN had this article about Pastor Eddie Long who died of cancer and his ministry fell apart: The Bishop Eddie Long I knew, 3 revelations from a megachurch pastor’s messy legacy. The article addresses, in part, how the prosperity gospel fails when it comes to dealing with adversity. “But there was something undeniably sad about Long not being able to level with those at New Birth who’d stuck by him when everyone else had fled. I suspect some of that inability comes from the…

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When to Judge

…what business is it of mine to judge outsiders (non-believers)?… God alone sits in judgement on those who are outside [the faith]. REMOVE THE WICKED ONE FROM AMONG YOU [expel him from your church].

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (AMP)

How often have those within the Church sought to impose their beliefs on those outside the Church? How often have those within the Church sought to cover up acts of pure wickedness in an attempt to keep up appearances, to save face or to maintain the impression of an impeccable leadership? I wish it were possible to say ‘never’.

Wounds

I break my Lenten blog silence today after learning of the terror attacks in London yesterday. There are no words to describe the wounds of terrorism. They last far longer than the act itself.

In the 1990s I was at a railway station near to London that was due to be blown up on the day that I was there. Fortunately for me, the bomb did not detonate. Similarly, my father’s offices were blown up in a terror attack that killed two people. The UK has a long, sad history of terrorism, dating all the way back to the 17th century when Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Will we make effigies of yesterday’s killer and burn them on 22nd March, as we do with Guy Fawkes every 5th November?

The difference, I suppose, is that (other than the terrorists who were brutally punished) no one died back in 1605. The difference too is that the plotters back then had genuine reason to display protest at parliament. They suffered extreme persecution as Catholics in a Protestant country. What persecution had the terrorist of yesterday suffered? I don’t know anything about him, but I would hazard a guess that the blood is on his hands and no one else’s. What twisted rhetoric made him think this was a ‘right’ thing to do?

My deepest thoughts and most heartfelt prayers are for the families and friends of those who died. May they know the love of the Comforter. May they know the peace that passes understanding. May they reach out for help and find Jesus there with His hands willing and His arms open.

Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who do us wrong. How do we show these extremists the radical nature of God’s love? How do we reach out to them in their darkness and show them the Light of the World? Before we rush to condemn, to avenge the wrongdoing and crush the endless, aching hurt – please remember these words:

God is love… There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…

and

We love because he first loved us.

extracts from 1 John 4:16-19 (NRSVA)