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.

 

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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Maybe

Many years ago a little girl planted a seed. Buried in the damp dark the little girl forgot about it. When she did occasionally remember a fleeting sense of a – something – she assumed she must have been mistaken. That cold nubbin must simply have been a tiny, impermeable pebble. So what? That’s life. Hardly even life because it never lived in the first place; it just existed. And it was just a stone.

I’ve always had the odd habit of attaching a song to whatever I’m doing at a particular time. I know it’s odd because when I asked my husband whether it ever happened to him, he just looked at me with that patient look, the one that says okaaaaayyy… Yeah, he plays role playing games and gets all Big Bang Theory geeky over the difference between a troll and an elf. He can look at me all he likes. We’re a good match 😉

I wonder if the song thing’s related to synaesthesia? Anyway, sometimes it’s a hymn, sometimes a rock or pop song, occasionally an aria. Sometimes it’s just a phrase of music, minus words, especially jazz or big band. The overall effect is a bit like the dreaded earworm, only this thing comes and goes, and does not linger beyond its wantedness. It is a useful reflection of my unfiltered subconscious reaction to whatever is going on: my very own mental musical score. Woohoo.

As I lay down to sleep yesterday it was this:

Last night I went along for the first time to a local mental health theatre group. I told them I didn’t want to act – at least, not at first – and they were fine with that. I was astonished by what I found. Not ‘astonished’. That’s too forceful. No, it was a beautiful surprise, like realising that what you thought was just a plain old lump is actually an egg, and that the cracking, the apparent breaking, is what’s supposed to happen. That keen-edged shard is just the first, hesitant glimpse of a little chicky beak.
I am equally astonished – and there I use the word advisedly – by my own response to this blossoming. I could have been triggered by some of the subject matter. A few things were rather close to home and I have an overactive sense of empathy. Ouch. But the simplicity of the delivery, the raw honesty, the writing, the direction, even the screw-ups (the group is, after all, still in rehearsal) were a call to something that I had almost forgotten existed.

Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
All your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
Psalm 42:7 (NIV)

And the ‘trigger’ didn’t happen. The expected ‘ALERT! ALERT! DEFCON 1! IMMINENT ATTACK!’ PTSD response just didn’t occur. I wasn’t overwhelmed. I didn’t want to hide under the table, or run away vowing never to return. I didn’t look at any of the group and ‘see’ someone else, someone threatening and crazy and powerful. Instead, I was touched by the enthusiasm and talent of the actors and felt genuinely inspired, something I barely recognised.

Maybe last night that little girl’s seed began its first, tentative creep towards the surface of the soil. The tiny, tender sprout is still in the dark, but the seed’s no longer dead. Maybe.

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

 

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?

 

Plans

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Image from The Study Gurus

 

Men are accustomed to form plans and then afflict themselves when these fail…

from Flowers from the Garden of St. Francis

This would very aptly read ‘Sandy is accustomed to form plans and then afflict herself when these fail’. Funny how God speaks to us so succinctly sometimes. But then He reminds me, because He has given me grace through reading His Word, and through the words of those that love Him:

 

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.

Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
But the Lord weighs the hearts.

Proverbs 21:2

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

from the hymn The Heavenly Vision, Helen Howarth Lemmel

And b r e a t h e …

On Autism, Family, Grief and Kindness

During the funeral for my mother-in-law last week, I made sure Prince stayed with me. I carefully explained exactly what would happen beforehand and although the girls went with my parents, Prince stayed by my side the whole time.

Prince is 17 years old and has autism. He goes to special school. He struggles with anxiety so was, of course, very worried about what the funeral would be like. I think he thought we’d all be wailing and moaning and falling over one another or something, because beforehand he was constantly asking me if it was ok that he was sad, but not very, very sad, and he was glad Grandma was not suffering any more (he didn’t word it like that but I think that’s what he meant). He also said, quite bluntly, that although he liked Grandma, he didn’t know her very well, so he wasn’t as sad as he would be if it was his other grandmother, whom he knows very well. Which is fair enough. I told him not to say that to anyone else, though!

To be honest, when we would take Grandma out (she lived in a lovely care home for the three years prior to her death) I was mostly thinking about how to manage her with her frailty and dementia (make sure she is not distressed or too tired, keep her upbeat and happy by talking to her and constantly reassuring her, even if I’ve already done exactly the same thing a dozen times or more), Prince and his autism (minimise anxiety, keep him passive), boisterous or bickering girls (make sure they’re not forgotten in the need to put Grandma and Prince’s needs first) and a husband who gets easily distracted and might not notice if his mum is about to topple over or something (keep an eye on him). This family time was lovely – my MIL was lovely – but could also be quite stressful, so encouraging anything other than quiet, non-anxious, absorbed-in-his-radios behaviour from Prince was never really the priority. I don’t mean to sound mean towards my husband. He had all the same things to deal with, along with my PTSD and CFS, so we have always had to look out for one another. My point is that I didn’t seek to encourage interaction between Prince and his grandma.

On the day of the funeral I made sure Prince was with me, to make sure he was ok. I didn’t want to risk my parents saying the wrong thing to him, however well-intentioned they may be. I sat in the pew first, followed by my son and then my husband. During his sister’s beautiful eulogy, Frank began to tear up and I saw him wiping his eyes and nose. I felt bad that I hadn’t sat in between them both, but I couldn’t move as that would distract from the eulogy. Then came my turn. I stood and walked to the front of the church and read a poem I had originally written after the death of Frank’s dad. As I came to sit back down, I deliberately sat in between Frank and Prince. I took Frank’s hand. He squeezed mine. The tears began to flow. I reached for the tissues and thanked God that I had kept it together until after my poem. Then, to my surprise, Prince took my hand in his. He didn’t say anything, but this little gesture from a young man for whom touch is anathema made me realise what a wonderful boy I have. That simple act of taking my hand meant so much to me that I can’t really describe it. You won’t know what that’s like unless you’re a parent of a child with autism yourself. Prince saw that mummy was sad and he wanted to make me feel better.

I love my boy. I love his innocence. You can take your neurotypical sons. I’m glad they have parents who love them. I’m glad they will have the chance to ‘succeed’ in life, to go to work and have a family of their own. But I wouldn’t change a hair on my boy’s head.

This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. 

Matthew 10:42, The Message

I think my boy is a true apprentice, even if he doesn’t know it.

Salvation in No One Else

When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power, or by what name, did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is

‘The stone that was rejected by you, the builders;

it has become the cornerstone.’

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:7-12 (NRSVA)

Cutting to the Essentials

‘St. Francis cut to the essentials and avoided what had been, and continues to be, a preoccupation with nonessentials… separation from the world is the monastic temptation, asceticism is the temptation of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, moralism or celibacy is the Catholic temptation, intellectualising is the seminary temptation, privatised Gospel and inerrant ‘belief’ is the Protestant temptation, and the most common temptation for all of us is to use belonging to the right group and practicing its proper rituals as a substitute for any personal or life-changing encounter with the Divine.’

~ Richard Rohr

Ouch. That last sentence in particular. We, as individual followers of Christ and as collective groups of believers, must always question (and be aware of) our motives. God looks at the heart, the inside, not the outside.

Weak, Strong; Broken, Whole

“What is my strength that I should wait?

And what is my end, that I should be patient?

Is my strength the strength of stones,

or is my flesh bronze?

In truth I have no help in me,

and any resource is driven from me.”

Job cries out to God, Job 6:11-13 (NRSVA)

Three times I appealed to the Lord about [my suffering], that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me… for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

My dear mother-in-law is very poorly. She had a stroke at the weekend. It’s touch and go, as they say. When my sister-in-law visited yesterday my MIL was extremely distressed and crying out to God. Praise God she is a woman of faith! But dementia can be very cruel. It steals everything you have. When I read the words from Job this morning as part of my daily Bible time, I was immediately struck by how apt they were. Despite the extreme distress of my MIL (which is heart-wrenching because there is no way to offer consolation when a person has no memory, no way to comfort, no way to reassure) it is an honour to know a woman who, when all else is gone, has a faith that cries out to her Redeemer. God help us all.

In my distress I called upon the LORD,

to my God I cried for help.

From his temple he heard my voice,

and my cry to him reached his ears.

Psalm 18:6

 

God is good. God is always good.