More Mercy in Christ

‘…there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us… It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell.’

~ Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed

“Let’s not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here’s what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.”

~ Jesus, as recorded in the book of Matthew, verses 29-30, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message

Shout it from the rooftops! Sing it in the streets! It’s ok to be broken.

It’s not ok to sin. That’s never ‘ok’ because it draws us away from God and causes pain. But it’s ok to admit to being a sin addict and to walk each day one step at a time, by grace. Christ has more mercy than I have sin. Always has. Always will. 

I’m a sinner. I find it really hard to let it go because sin disguises itself so well as not sin. I bring it to the Lord every day, and I struggle with it every day. One day maybe I won’t, but for now this ‘thorn in the flesh'(?) keeps me weak and my weakness keeps me on my metaphorical knees. And that’s the only place I am required to be. So, maimed I am and maimed I will be – one way or t’other – and THAT’S OK.

Let’s make churches what they were always intended to be – a place for sinners. Jesus didn’t come for the healthy but for the sick. If you’re not a sinner, maybe you don’t need church? Churches are supposed to be a place where we can support one another, love one another and build one another up. There is absolutely no place for tearing other people down – and yet that is what we see. Sometimes it is so subtle that it can be missed, but the subtle art of tearing down is often the most deadly. I’m talking when people are shamed. Even a look can shame someone. 

I’ve been shamed, and not so subtly either. So has my husband (including in the form of public ‘prayer’, of all things). My dear friend was shamed, too, under the mask of ‘concern’. It hurt. It really hurt. If we didn’t each already have a deep faith it might even have turned us away from Christ altogether. Not one of these times was this shaming recognised for what it was. And actually neither I, nor my husband or friend, had sinned on these occasions when we were shamed. Shaming of sin should never happen, but the sin on these occasions was certainly not ours.

Why can’t people be their normal, screwed up, sinful selves in church? Why do we have to plaster on the fake ‘Christian smile’? You know the one I mean… Life is hard and the Church makes it harder. Why?

I have worn my shame like a badge – the shame from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Guilt and shame and shame and guilt and on and on it goes. No longer. Today I will wear Christ’s mercy. Love will be my badge.

 

Free

orange and yellow petaled flowers

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

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

 

 

‘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: 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.

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?

 

The Antithesis of Anamnesis

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I learned a new word this week: anamnesis. If you’re a medical person it means taking a patient history, but in a theological context it means a remembering – the act of remembering the last supper and the crucifixion in the re-enactment that is the eucharist.

Jesus gave us this one thing to remember Him by. Only one. And when we do it we are bringing to mind the night that He sat with His friends, knowing He was about to be betrayed, tortured and killed – and told them to love one another and to remember, always remember, this meal that they had shared. When we take communion we share again with the disciples, all unknowing, the mystery of the sacrifice.

‘For though we are many, we are one body’ says the Anglican prayer. Are we broken enough for Him? Are we welcoming of brokenness, for His sake? Do we allow ourselves to be broken in the breaking and the making of His Kingdom?

This is my body, broken for you.

When Jesus spoke these words He gave us something to replace the remembering that took place every year at Passover. The seder meal was (and is) a remembering of the slavery of the Israelites, and a symbolic re-enactment of their redemption, by grace. Our 21st century eucharist is a remembering, a symbolic re-enactment of our redemption, by grace, through Christ.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the opposite of this. PTSD is a remembering and an unwitting re-enactment of something awful that won’t let go. It is a suspension of time and space and a re-living, a re-experiencing, of the awfulness that caused it to be labelled a ‘trauma’ in the first place. Trauma is the Greek word for wound. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a wound that won’t heal, a festering, gangreous wound. Just for extra fun, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is when you experience so many wounds and so many un-forgettings that it screws you up even more.

But maybe – maybe we have to be broken?

By His wounds we are healed.

Do the healthy need a doctor?

All I know is that I am broken. A million pieces broken. Yet I have a feeling that there is something very special in this brokenness. I have a feeling that PTSD, and its unwilling anamnesis, is a direct, if unconscious echo of the extraordinary beauty of the eucharist. Time heals all wounds, they say (it doesn’t) but I don’t want it to heal this one. Maybe this PTSD is the 21st century equivalent of stigmata? It makes no sense. It makes perfect sense.

Lord, I have cried ‘take this cup away from me’ and I have meant it. And yet I would not want You to take Your cup away – because that would take You with it. I am so sorry for my unfaithfulness, for my pathetic attempts at loving You. I have nothing and I can give nothing. Fill me with You till I am overflowing with Your grace. Amen

 

Putting on Imperishability

“What do you hope to get out of this?” She asked gently. I was sitting in the office of the new specialist. She had been explaining how the treatment worked, explaining how it’s a combination of a neurological approach and a psychological approach. “What did you come here today expecting would happen?”

“I – uh – I’m not sure.”

“What would you like to be able to do, once you have completed the treatment?”

I paused. “I don’t know because I kind of stopped hoping for things a long time ago. I have been let down too many times.”

This was the most truthful answer I could give, but I don’t think the lady understood. She still looked at me expectantly and gave an encouraging smile. “I’m sure you can think of something.”

“I guess… I’d like to be able to exercise.” I said, somewhat lamely.

“Good, good. Ok. And what about your daily life? Do you want to return to studying or to get a job?”

“Yes. Yes. I would like to study again and get a job. That would be wonderful.”

What I didn’t say was ‘that would be wonderful and so would a myriad other possibilities but I daren’t put any stock in them because it hurts too much to keep hoping and then to be let down. Again.’

It’s common sense to not have ‘goals’ as such, beyond today and tomorrow, isn’t it? How can I make plans when none of us know the future? How can I do anything except survive today, be thankful and prepare for tomorrow? Is this biblical? Or is this an un-dreaming, un-hoping, un-inspiring and un-inspired way to live? I don’t have dreams. But is that because it’s sensible or because if you get knocked down enough you learn to crawl and stay out of the way of the punches?

These were my thoughts this morning. I have been earnestly taking a good, hard, prayerful look at myself. And then I read this, from Richard Rohr’s daily meditations:

The Risen Christ is a great big yes to everything… even early, incomplete stages. The Risen Christ is still and forever the wounded Jesus—and yet now so much more. Your ordinary life and temperament are not destroyed or rejected, but instead, “This perishable nature will put on imperishability, and this mortal body will put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15: 52-54)—one including the other, not one in place of the other.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ… was not ‘Yes and No’; but in him it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ ~ from 2 Corinthians 1:19,20 (NRSVA)

I think I have a tendency to say ‘no’ to things. I pray for the grace and strength to say ‘yes’. What about you?

********

I am writing this to the chorus of guinea pigs. It happens every morning. Our piggies are now six months old and two months old. The mother and daughter are being very quarrelsome today, but even in their squabbling they are so very cute. And so funny! I think on the day God made guinea pigs He thought, “Now what can I make that is just the perfect little bundle of cuteness, always friendly, a bit shy but loves snuggles and is very talkative?” And thus was created the cavy. Proof that God has a sense of humour, imo. I might not know which way is up some days, but these little ones always make me smile:

COOKIE MONSTER

This is Cookie, aka Cookie Monster – though there never was such a misnomer (he is such a little scaredy cat) or Flufflebum. He likes to hide and to snuggle and to eat. When he is cuddled he chatters away in his own cute little guinea-pigese. Guinea Pig Therapy really should be a Thing.

King of Kings

It was a relaxed Sunday evening and after we shared a chapter from A Young Person’s Guide to Knowing God by Patricia St. John (which I think is an excellent resource for young people – honest, earnest and never patronising) the girls and I wanted to have a bit of a sing song.

“To be honest,” said Fluff, “the singing is my favourite part of going to church and I miss it when we don’t go.”

Aside – I was actually well enough to go this morning but wanted to finish off inventorying the kitchen with Chip so we didn’t go because it takes an hour to drive there and back and then the service is about two hours, plus chatting to people afterwards – it basically means a whole morning and mornings are when I have the most energy. Our family is currently doing the 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero challenge and the first big task is to inventory the contents of your kitchen or pantry. I needed a lot of help because my energy levels were never going to last me through that one and Chip was a little trouper.

Into my mind popped this old favourite. I learned it about 30 years ago at Warrior Camp and lo and behold my girls loved it as much as we did back then. They are old enough now to appreciate the harmonies so we had great fun.

My small, but heartfelt, prayer lately has been along the lines of “God, I’m so broken and small, I manage so little. How can I possibly do anything for Your glory?”

Seems like God has answered in the smallness of a smile, in the glimpse of the sun in a bright spring sky, in the soft touch of a guinea pig snuggling into my shoulder, even in the voices of two adolescent girls roaring out, “Jesus, Prince of Peace, glory hal-le-lujah!” In contrast to all that the world has to say, God says that small and insignificant is ok. Indispensable, even. Because He is strong when I am weak. I really don’t get it. But that’s ok. As long as it is all for His glory.

What you do for the least of these you do for Me…

But Lord, I am ‘the least of these’.

So be ‘the least of these’ for Me.