WHAT IS FAITH?

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from idpinthat.com

…the Christian world must ever thank Martin Luther for his courage and persistence in recovering Paul and the Gospel for the Western ‘can do’ world.

The only problem is that it devolved into our modern private and personal ‘decision for Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour’ vocabulary, without any real transformation of consciousness or social critique on the part of too many Christians. Faith itself became a ‘good work’ that I could perform, and the ego was back in charge.

~ from Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps by Richard Rohr

In the above paragraph Rohr has summed up the largest elephant in the room of Evangelical Christianity. It’s about time we had a long, hard look at ourselves. And yes, I do consider myself Evangelical, partly because that is how I came to faith, mostly because I believe this is something so wonderful how can I not live it and breathe it (and thus share it)? That’s what loving Jesus looks like: loving my neighbour, seeing Jesus in the people I meet even if they have active antipathy towards Him themselves and, of course, sharing the Good News.

Courage isn’t courage unless you’re afraid

Courage is not courage unless you’re afraid. Courage is being afraid, but trying anyway. Have you ever been afraid? I have. A lot. It left me scarred.

Ann Voskamp has a post today entitled ‘When loving your enemies, the stranger & your neighbor feels way too risky‘ (it is an excellent post; please click to read it). What could be riskier, when you’ve been betrayed in the worst possible ways by those you loved? Never mind loving your enemies, what could be riskier than loving your friends? Especially when it was those who were supposed to love you, to protect you, who hurt you most. They took advantage of your vulnerability so that in every small thing your loss was their gain. If you can call it gain. In the end it’s torture for them, too. That I can see, now. Healing brings clarity. It doesn’t make it any better, though, and it doesn’t stop the past from jumping up and shouting ‘”BOO!” even though, praise God, EMDR lessens the intensity.

And yet, by grace, five years ago, pre-EMDR, I stood at the front of the church and said “I do” to this other man – this man who would be my rescuer, my lover, my surest friend. Friendships are risky, whatever form they take, especially if you’ve been hurt too often to count.

Count. I like counting. That’s why I love maths – because it has no emotions. It’s a relief. We played Countdown last night. I bought the DVD version from the charity shop and four of us, Frank, Fluff, Chip and I, we sat and we made words from letters and sums from numbers. It was good. We made sense out of nonsense, a workable whole from the fractured parts. Isn’t that what following Christ is all about?

 

‘Everything we do in life either brings us closer to God or takes us further away; there are no neutral activities.’

Longing for God, Richard Foster & Gayle Beebe

 

Relationships, friendships: what I most desire… in some ways. And what scares me, in many ways. How do you let someone in without letting too much of yourself out? How do you love without hurting?

I don’t suppose you do – seeing as they’re human. Seeing as I’m human. By grace, we do it anyway.

*’As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.’

John 15:9 (NRSVA)

*The above verse is also, incidentally, my baptismal verse. I get goosebumps thinking about it. There is not one other verse in the whole of God’s wonderful Word that is more ‘for me’ and my life. I remember looking at the pastor as he gave it to me. He seemed surprised. I wasn’t. It seemed perfectly right. The whole moment seemed ‘right’, as if we were fulfilling a beautiful, divinely conceived idea. Providence indeed. Thank you, Lord.

A Pure Love of God

‘…all of these experiences and insights lead us to a pure love of God… We are not to retreat from society… Our experience of love propels us into the world in order to accomplish God’s work. Every social engagement, therefore, is an expression of our Christian beliefs.’

~ Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe, ‘Longing for God’

 My daughter came home from school last week singing:

“When I needed a neighbour, were you there? Were you there?

When I needed a neighbour were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter

Were you there? Were you there?”

It’s been decades since I last heard that song. It made me think. For a long time, when I have asked God what He wants me to do, often the only response has been, “Be a good friend.” This I have found continually baffling. Is that it? That can’t be all of it, surely?

When I heard my daughter sing, I wondered what would happen if I swapped ‘neighbour’ for ‘friend’.

When I needed a friend, were you there?

And suddenly the penny dropped. It makes a whole lot of sense. ‘Neighbour’, in my mind, despite my knowledge of the biblical description, is a somewhat vague term. My neighbour is the person who lives next door, someone I smile at and say ‘good morning’ to. My neighbour is someone who puts out our dustbin when we’re away and with whom I share the occasional friendly chat on the driveway or over the garden fence (the neighbours on the other side pretend we don’t exist and never even acknowledge our presence, even though we have lived next door for over a year now!).

So ‘neighbour’ has certain cultural connotations, despite my intellectual understanding of its use in the bible. ‘Friend’, on the other hand, I can understand: I can be a friend and I’m doing the work of God. This doesn’t mean I can use this as an excuse to only spend time with people I really like and consider it a job done, but it makes the idea of ‘love thy neighbour’ a little more accessible.

So this is what happened over this past week: Jesus tapped me on the head. I wondered how I could have missed it for so long, given that Jesus’ entire ministry was spent with His friends. D’oh!

Love your neighbour. And this is how you do it: be a good friend.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.”

John 15:11-17 (The Message)

The Kingdom of God Expressed Through Community

As I was listening to Luke 14, I was thinking about the means by which the representation of love expresses itself. In other words how we, as followers of Jesus, manifest His presence to those around us. What does this look like? Then I came to this part:

‘When [Jesus] went into the house of one of the rulers… to eat bread, they were watching him… when he noticed how they chose the best seats, [he] said to them, “When you are invited by anyone… don’t sit in the best seat, since perhaps someone more honourable than you might be invited… and he who invited both of you would come and tell you [to move]… Then you would begin, with shame, to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes, he may tell you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ 

…He also said to the one who had invited him, “When you make a dinner or a supper, don’t call your friends, nor your brothers, nor your kinsmen, nor rich neighbours, or perhaps they might also return the favour, and pay you back. But when you make a feast, ask the poor, the maimed, the lame, or the blind; and you will be blessed, because they don’t have the resources to repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous.”

When one of those who sat at the table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is he who will feast in God’s Kingdom!”

extract from Luke 14:1-15 (WEB)

Blessed indeed. Aren’t we, as followers of Jesus, literally those who have ‘invited’ Jesus? Isn’t this what we profess as the root of our faith? How many times have you invited your friends round for dinner, or similar? How many times have you invited the poor, the maimed, the lame… or whatever might be the 21st century equivalent? I can’t think of a single time when I have done the latter. Can you? I bow my head knowing how far I fall short.

I am also struck by the idea of the concurrence of humility, kindness and generosity. One doesn’t stand on its own, not when we know Jesus. They are all part of the same, part of the great language of agape, as Brother Andrew puts it.

It seems to me that everything in the Kingdom of God is expressed through community, and that one of the greatest lies of our times is that the world revolves around ‘me’.

‘A Call to Action’

As everyone knows, young people are bombarded with normalised violence through highly realistic video games that take the player through many hours of simulated combat and criminal behaviour. In addition [the internet], movies, television, magazines and music videos are full of demeaning depictions of women. These games and media make us less sensitive to violence and the debasement of women, so we are more inclined to accommodate them in real life. 

Jimmy Carter, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power

This really is an excellent book. Carter expresses difficult concepts with ease and has a straightforwardness of manner that is actually quite rare. He writes with intelligence, depth of knowledge and integrity.

I don’t want my daughters growing up believing that their value lies in the way they look on the outside rather than what’s on the inside. I don’t want them to believe that their bodies are worth more than their spirit. I don’t want my son growing up believing that it doesn’t matter if he enjoys looking at a woman’s body as if she exists for his ‘enjoyment’. I want my children to know that their bodies are beautiful, but also that their bodies are a gift to be treasured and treated with respect and dignity. I want them to know that every person – mind, body and spirit – is made in the image of God, and it is for this reason that Jesus taught us to love one another, and to offer respect to every individual’s God-breathed humanity.

Far Away and Close at Hand

CHIBOK GIRLS MISSING FOR OVER A YEAR

The girls abducted from a school in Chibok have now been missing for one year and three days. For their parents who continue to hope and pray for their return, it feels like an eternity. Of the 252 girls that were taken, 16 jumped off the trucks, four escaped after arriving in the Sambisa forest, but 232 are still missing.

It seems likely that they have been moved to another country, possibly Niger. Muhammadu Buhari, the recently elected President of Nigeria, has said that his government will ‘do everything in its power to bring them home’ but that he ‘cannot promise that we can find them’.

PLEASE PRAY:

  • Continue to pray for the protection and safe return of the Chibok girls
  • For comfort for their parents. Twenty of them have died since the girls were taken, many because of stress-related illnesses.
  • For wisdom for those who are working to secure the safe release of the girls.

From an email from Open Doors, a charity serving persecuted Christians worldwide. I can only imagine what those parents are going through. My heart goes out to them. I can’t doing anything other than pray and show my support through agencies like Open Doors. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

What about closer to home? What can we do to love those who are distraught and in our midst? Too often the response is to avoid the person, because their grief or distress is so deep that it seems overwhelming and although we might like to help, we just don’t know how. Plus, it’s scary. We fear becoming entangled in their pain and distress. We know that, as followers of Jesus, we must be kind, we must show compassion, but what can we do? I’d like to share this, which happened when I was a teenager:

My grandparents were visiting us for Christmas. On the evening they arrived, my grandmother was taken ill. She was rushed to hospital and the next few weeks were a blur as she was admitted to hospital, sent home, admitted to hospital again, had surgery… and then she died. My grandfather, my father and his brother were overwhelmed. Their grief was palpable; it seemed to hang in the air.

My grandfather stayed with us for four months after her death. One morning, I heard him sobbing. The door was open so I went in the room. I put my arm on his shoulder and stayed with him until the sobs lessened. Later that day he said to me, “How did you know?”

“How did I know what?” I replied.

“How did you know to not say anything?”

I looked him in the eye and shook my head, “I just did.”

“Thank you.” He said.

Sometimes words are not enough. Sometimes words are too much. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Needed Time

I’m off to my EMDR session tomorrow, with the full intention of trying to ‘let go’. My friend is in labour with her first baby. My parents are flying back to Europe this week from America. The children are at school tomorrow. A friend mourns his wife.

In the Middle East, Christians are fleeing their homes, their livelihoods, running from everything they have ever known. Worse still, some of them stay, knowing the consequences but choosing to live as people of light in the land of darkness, God help them. God bless them. See how bright they blaze in the darkness?

Children the world over are abandoned, abused, neglected. Families starve in the basement while in the penthouse they party with champagne. One is born into poverty. One is born into privilege. The world groans under the weight of her own iniquities.

Now is the needed time. Lord. As much as ever, we need You. We need a Saviour. Help us to be thankful for ‘enough’ and when we have more than enough, help us to share. Help us to always be alert to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, and to help them in whatever small way we can. We know that with You, Lord, small becomes big, last becomes first, poor becomes rich. Thank you, Lord, for your Upside Down Kingdom. Help us in our weakness. We need You.

Amen

Reblog – Context swap: helping others to see how their attitude offends

Something Laura wrote in the post below niggled me and has stayed with me the past few days. It coincided with certain news articles, particularly surrounding the Rotherham abuse ‘scandal’ and the mention of former ‘national treasure’ convicted paedophile Rolf Harris. I finally put my finger on what it was:

When someone is convicted of a sexual offence, and then you casually or otherwise remark that you ‘don’t believe it’, you imply that victims are at fault. Even if this is not what you mean, if you insist that you can’t believe that a person could do such heinous acts, you disrespect – no, you dehumanise and degrade – victims and former victims like me. These crimes leave a legacy that lasts a lifetime. Anyone who would rather look the other way than look at the awful truth head on is, in essence, spitting in my face, and the faces of those like me. Spitting in the faces of those vulnerable young girls in Rotherham. They were children, for God’s sake. And that is the politest way of saying it.

We have an appallingly low conviction rate for sexual crime in the UK. An estimated 85% of sexual violence goes unreported. Of those that are reported to the police, only 7% result in conviction. That means that 1% of sexual crime results in conviction. I’d say it’s a pervert’s paradise, especially when police and social services look the other way (which is what happened to me, too).

Also, whenever anyone says that a rape or sexual assault victim ‘must be lying’, this is incredibly offensive. The reality is that very few people invent stories of sexual violence. On the contrary, ‘in March 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service published a survey confirming that false rape reports are ‘very rare’ and suggesting they could make up less than 1% of all reports.’ 

source Rape Crisis

Abusers abuse and rapists rape and molesters molest and all of them blame the victim. That’s how they get away with it! So many times I was made to feel as if everything I experienced, including sexual, emotional and physical abuse, were my fault, both overtly by the abuser, and less overtly by the fact that no one did anything (except my parents, who did all they could under the circumstances). The abuse tore our family to shreds. No bomb could have blown us apart any better. We are still picking up the pieces, all these years later. I thank God that we can. I thank God that it is indeed true what Paul writes in his letter to the church at Corinth (paraphrased rather movingly by Eugene Peterson):

…no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything [except abuse]
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies.

1 Corinthians 13:3-8

My thanks go to Laura, for prompting this. It’s been cathartic. Any thoughts from any of my readers?

Laura Droege's blog

Recently, controversial Christian preacher Douglas Wilson took issue with women who disagreed with him. (You can read a fuller version of the story on Tim Fall’s blog and several others.) He called them pushy broads, twinkies in tight tops, or waifs with manga eyes.

I’m not interested in discussing Wilson’s views; others do a much better job of pointing out what is wrong with his theology and attitudes. Nor do I feel the need to talk about what’s offensive about these particular terms; I’m assuming that my regular blog readers already agree that the terms are sexist and racist.

Here’s what interests me: If another person has a sexist attitude or uses a sexist term and doesn’t understand why it’s offensive, how do we help him (or her) understand?

(This isn’t limited to gender matters, of course. This applies to race and sexual orientation, too.)

For someone like…

View original post 1,060 more words

Lent: As the Father has Loved

‘1968. Jerusalem. Brother Andrew had spent a decade visiting the church in Communist lands. He had built a team to help him. But the success of God’s Smuggler meant he was now too well known and could not return to those countries. A visit to Israel brought him face to face with the conflict between Muslim, Jew and Christian in the Middle East. He read again Christ’s messages to the church in Revelation. ‘To him who overcomes…’ [Revelation 3:7-13]

“But most of the churches in that letter had not ‘overcome’. They no longer existed. Individual churches could die… I knew then that my mission was to seek out the living church in the Middle East, learn about her condition and needs, and do whatever I could do to strengthen her.”

The core of Brother Andrew’s message is love. “Here’s what we need to remember: I Sincerely Love All Muslims.” Or ISLAM for short.’

from Open Doors email

as part of the Step of Yes series

Amen. ‘I Sincerely Love All Muslims’ – ‘Islam’ for short.

*********

This morning I had a cup of tea brought to me by my wonderful husband. The mug containing the tea was printed with the words ‘Love was His meaning’ over and over. How amazing  – no, how beautiful – that I should be sipping my tea from that mug and reading the above from Open Doors. A gentle reminder that God is good when times are good and God is good when times are bad.

‘Would you know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Keep yourself therein and you shall know and understand more in the same. But you shall never know nor understand any other thing, forever.’

from Revelations of Divine Love

by Julian of Norwich

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.

John 15:9 (NRSVA)

Consider Yourself at Home

Jesus… looked at the people sitting around him and said, “Look! Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does what God wants is my brother, my sister, my mother.”

Mark 3:33-35 (GNT)

‘Consider yourself at home’ is how we should welcome people into our churches. This is how we should love one another within our churches. There should be no ‘insiders’, no ‘outsiders’. We should greet one another as if we are greeting Jesus, for we all belong to Him, we all live through Him, we all live in Him. We should value one another as we value Jesus, forgetting our differences, recalling our shared joy, our shared hope.

We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body. So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have; if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others should do it generously; whoever has authority should work hard; whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully.

Romans 12:4-8

Church should be the place where we model community, the community that our culture has so sadly lost. Church should be the place where outsiders can come and meet Christ in the warmth, in the generosity and in the loving wisdom of those who are already there. Together, Christ uses our fractured, broken, silly selves to make a glorious reflection of His face.