Joyful Blues

One of my favourite songs is The Proclaimers’ Joyful Kilmarnock Blues which includes the line:

“When I started walking at Wishaw, my eyes obscured my vision…”

Thanks to a hole in my left retina, I now have major spots in front of my eye. Not spots really, more like large grey clouds of hairy debris that pass with alarming regularity across my field of vision. And now the same thing has started in my right eye, so it can all feel a bit much.

But sometimes inconvenient physical glitches lead me to interesting/prophetic moments.

It constantly surprises me that my vision isn’t impaired. I can see through these things even as they waft around distracting me from appreciating what’s beyond.

There is also nothing I can do to make them go away; they are permanent flaws. However, when I’m relaxed and just getting on with life, my brain can sometimes even forget they’re there.

You see? It’s a good reminder to me that being fixated on what’s wrong -
worries
theological conundrums
imperfection – mine and others’
perceived wrongs
real wrongs
wants and desires
- will all stop me from seeing and appreciating the beauty of the big picture.

Focusing on the floaters in my eyes makes me feel tired and cranky and anxious.

And so it is with my inner sight. I need to work harder at cultivating God-Vision, by which I mean seeing the biggest picture I’m capable of seeing and not worrying about the things that irk, irritate and distract me from loving. I need to practice taking deep breaths so that my brain (heart) can learn to ignore the flaws and be filled with wonder and gratitude.

Which takes me to another favourite song, this one by the Rend Collective with the brilliant prayer of a chorus:

“You’re not finished with me yet
You’re not finished with me yet.
By your power I can change I can change
Cause you’re not finished with me yet.”

Amen?

Beyond the Makeover ~ Part 2

BeyondtheMakeover   I have written and re-written this second reflection on Beyond the Makeover. I wanted to talk about selfie culture and how we help girls decide not to subject themselves – particularly their bodies, clothed & semi-clothed -  to the intense scrutiny of both “friends” and strangers on the internet.

But my mind kept bouncing back to something we heard right at the beginning of the day and I can’t shake the idea that our first duty to girls is to tell them the truth about sex.

Here’s a quote from Everyday Sexism (follow them on twitter) or buy the book.

I am 13 and I am so scared to have sex it makes me cry nearly every day. We had sex education in Year 6 and I felt fine about it, but now some of the boys at school keep sending us these videos of sex which are much worse than what we learned about and it looks so horrible and like it hurts, and at night I get really scared that one day I will have to do it.

This child believes that she has now seen “real sex” and that it’s bad for a woman. It’s something that will be done to her and it will hurt her.

But what if, from an even earlier age, the following was the main thing she believed about women and sex?

The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife…he does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.

Yes, they are carefully chosen verses out of context, (the community of believers has a long history of doing that), and the main gist is that a husband shouldn’t refuse his wife if she wants sex. But it also implies the truth I want that 13 year old girl to know: she has the same rights as a man regarding sex.

Everything else we say about girls and sex and boys and porn needs to come  from the truth that healthy sex is about mutuality and mutuality is the  basis of all good committed relationships.

And uncommitted relationships? That’s another conversation worth having, but I wouldn’t hesitate to tell a young woman to hold herself and her body in the highest regard and to expect the same from any partner.

What starts as a feminist issue becomes a relationship/community/humanity issue.

And some more out of context quotes from the same letter – wise foundational principles to live by – in all relationships:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.

…honour God with your bodies.

…knowledge puffs up while love builds up.

Be careful that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.

 

Beyond the Makeover – Part 1

Yesterday I attended a conference for youth workers working with teenage girls and thought I’d be there with my literacy hat on. Instead, I found myself listening and questioning and thinking simply as a woman – though one with various qualifying subtitles:  mum, educator, “woman of the village”. I think I even described myself as a “child of Germaine Greer”.

I came away with more questions than answers but two main streams of thought have stuck with me. The first is that sexualisation, sexuality, sexual behaviour, gender (in)equality and everyday sexism each exist on a continuum, and everyone has to choose where they place themselves on those lines that stretch from relatively harmless to outrageously harmful.

I think there are some points on the continuums that are no-brainer-absolutes (“equal pay for equal work” and “no means no” spring to mind), but there are other points that are more nuanced and will garner a variety of opinions even amongst my own friends and family.

Where do you draw the line on a girl looking sexy? Is it ok for a 9 year old to dress like a 19 year old? Or a 14 year old to dress like a 19 year old? Who decides what “sexy” looks like? Is it showing an ankle? a thigh? a face?

What’s the connection between what a women wears and what a man thinks? Where on the “who’s responsible” continuum do you put yourself?  If women cover themselves completely, they are doing men a big favour but, well, exactly….. you see why we need to have this discussion before the 17 year old is running out the door to meet her friends in town.

Where’s the line on comments from men to women? Is it before or after flirty banter? Is it ever ok to make a comment to a stranger about her appearance even if you think it’s a compliment? Does it matter what the woman thinks? How are we raising our boys? (If you want to be enlightened, go to twitter and follow @everydaysexism. If you want to be dismayed search #grabbed.)

Do we raise both girls and boys to simply not tolerate sexism at all ever, or do we raise girls to tough it out because that’s just the way the world is?

Some Christians will allow things that other Christians absolutely forbid. Yeah, I know, don’t go there just for the moment…but,

how do we in the church teach our daughters to be comfortable with their sexuality? How do we crush the myth of “Jezebel the whore” while maintaining the truth of Jezebel the powerful woman who, while faithful to her husband, was unfaithful to God? She’s a bad woman, but not because of her strength or her eye shadow!

In the end, most parents just muddle through their children’s transitions from innocence to sexually aware to sexually active. It’s not something – especially in the Christian community – that we’re helped to think through. But – and this is the focus of part 2 – we can’t ignore the fact that the combination of technology and social media have hijacked the timing of those transitions. “Lock up your daughters” is not a good strategy at the best of times  – but utterly useless in the presence of a smartphone.

I’m very aware that I’m speaking as someone who’s pretty much finished with parental muddling but I still want to think these things through – and pray for and support those who are in the middle of it or can see it peeking over the horizon. Thanks to marketers, you don’t get much time to breathe between toddler and tween.

Part 2: The differences between “In the Light” & “Public” and “In the Dark” and “Intimate”.

God & Heroes

Niagara Falls Wounded Trooper McLeod Badly Wounded

My dad told me there were two things absent from war:

Heroes and God.

In a time when everyone in uniform is a “hero” that must sound shocking, but it was his unwavering opinion.

We all knew the basics of his war story. Lied about age to join up. As a scrawny teenager he was made a radio operator in a tank. Shipped out to Sicily. Rolled into an ambush and was left for dead after a shelling. When he came to, he realised he wanted to live and got himself out of the tank and watched the battle rage around him until he was dragged to safety.

From a tiny child I tried to picture what it must have looked like. Him sitting there while shells and bullets flew through the air over his head.

Then one day, just a few years before he died, he added something to his story.

After he climbed out of the tank, he collapsed again and was unconcious. When he woke up an Italian soldier was removing Dad’s boot. Dad remembered him tipping the boot and pouring out blood.

Then someone shot the soldier dead. Dead. Just like that. When he used the word bastard in the telling of that story, it was not describing the boot thief.

And I don’t think Dad ever recovered from the horror of that moment – a  moment devoid of Heroes and God.

I tend to agree with him about the heroes, but I wished I’d said to him the thing I only just figured out today:

If God was on that battlefield, He was in the heart of the scrawny kid from Niagara Falls who was so horrified by the death of his enemy. That’s where God was.

 

 

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time I was a Poet

November Churchyard

A lament of naked chestnuts stands
watching over leafbound graves.

In the midst of life we are in death.

The book falls open to corrugated liturgy,
its own leaves sodden by November tears.

How blessed are those who mourn.

From damp dust we were fashioned;
now mud to mud returns.

God of great mercy, receive.

As torrents pour off a gutterless roof,
Autumn’s grip on life goes slack.

Yet though he dies he shall live.

While Winter’s spirit waits
in the shadow of the lychgate.

And we live on in sure and certain hope.

TM

FYI – I’m still an Evangelical

I don’t self-describe as an evangelical very often but I think it may be time – if just for a moment.

I grew up in a church that changed its theology and worship tradition every time a new man in a collar walked through the door.

We were, intermittently,

Moderate Liberal Low Church,

Moderate Evangelical Low Church and

Very Liberal High Church (bells & smells and everything.)

Then I fell in with the Moderate to Conservative Evangelicals and there I stayed my adult life until I decided to drop the “conservative” in light of the damaging attitudes of the Mark Driscolls and John Pipers out there. (Click on his name to discover why.)

So what? Well, I’ve been inundated lately, mostly on social media but also to my face, with negativity from fellow believers about evangelicals and evangelicalism. I’m very well aware of its short-comings but I’m equally well aware of its treasures.

Every Christian theology and tradition of worship on earth has its treasures, baggage and garbage.*

  • The greatest treasure of evangelicalism is its reverence for the Bible – though some would challenge my commitment to that given my last post. But they would be challenging in vain because, without the Bible, I don’t see a difference between church and an ancient social club. It’s hard work but worth having as a foundational and guiding document.

The garbage side of this is believing that there is only one way to interpret scripture.

Or believing that it’s possible to live the Bible one verse at a time or without reference to the context of the original readers.

Or proclaiming that you believe every verse of scripture while having no concern for the poor.

So much garbage around this wonderful, holy and life-changing collection of complex, ancient and often mysterious documents.

  • Another great treasure of evangelicalism is its breadth of theology – something I experienced for years and years in different churches. I’m may not be happy with Driscoll, Piper et al but I quite like the company of Scot McKnight and Rachel Held Evans.

The garbage comes in when one particular brand of evangelicalism suggests that it’s their way or get out of town – and making the litmus test what one believes about certain difficult passages of the Bible.

Equally garbage is the idea that your political persuassion is somehow linked to your permission to enter the Evangelical camp.

  • Another treasure is that, historically, evangelicals have been immersed in social justice – the belief that a Christian is to be salt in a world prone to rot and light in a world that prefers dark.

The garbage is a tendency in some areas to focus on “personal salvation” over right living – that the goal of the Christian is to get people to confess that Jesus is Lord – then move on.

  • And the baggage? Oh there’s so much baggage – the language of evangelical prayer, the “Like if you love Jesus” facebook memes, (though the “proud to be Christian” meme is utter garbage – seriously – think about it), the lack of robes and candles, the music. These things really don’t matter – they’re about culture and tradition and preference. If they feel like treasures then maybe they’re actually becoming garbage.

So here’s what I want to say to those who dismiss evangelicalism for not embracing things fast enough. Be patient. Making angry or dismissive comments might actually stop someone who was beginning to see the world more your way. It takes time to change. And things are only obvious once they’re obvious – and not before.

From The Message: “Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.”

So back to self-describing as a believer without any particular brand attached.

*Don Posterski, Reinventing Evangelism, IVP 1989.

 

A Few Things I Know & Where They Take Me

I’ve always been interested by people who don’t get tied in knots over issues because my second most frequent place of residence is A Quandary. When I’m feeling stuck there, often in a never ending circle of argument with myself, all I can do is think of the things I know for sure and put away the bits that confuse me till they come clear – and they often do.

So here’s what I know. (If you’re not an overthinker, chances are you won’t get to end of this post, but you’re welcome to try.)

  • That all people fall short of God’s glory. Every single one of us. And don’t you dare add the word But to that.
  • That the Bible says what it’s always said but the cultural lenses through which we translate and interpret are always changing – even for those who would describe themselves as “Bible Believing”.
  • That there are many many things in my everyday life that were not forseen during biblical times and yet, people themselves, their temperaments, humours, and gifts, their tendancy to be selfish and seduced by wealth and power, haven’t changed.
  • That social mores are constantly changing – evolving or disolving depending on your perspective – and one generation or another is always going to be part of that change. My grandmother didn’t have the right to vote until she was 28 years old. James Hood, only 17 years older than me, was rejected from attending an American university because he was black.
  • That “Bible believing” evangelicals fought for and against slavery, for and against the right of women to vote and for and against the end of segregation. I can’t help but pray that I would have been on the right side of those issues and I use the word “right” with confidence.
  • That the two hottest topics in the church right now are the acceptance of women in church leadership and the acceptance of same sex couples in church at all.
  • That there are ultimate logical conclusions to our religious beliefs.
  • That there is not so much a slippery slope as a continuum from condemnation to grace and the darkest edge of condemnation is supported by people whose views are considered religiously correct. Just for example: Uganda and India.
  • That I decided a long time ago which direction on that continuum I want to be walking – and am willing to risk being “unbiblical” in the process. I’m going to be face down to the floor when I meet God anyway so I might as well add this to the list of reasons to be eating holy dust.
  • That I will welcome gay people into my life and my fellowship and encourage them in their Christian faith and their relationships.
  • That I will “sit under” the leadership of women who are gifted and called to be leaders.

Discussion of “yes, buts” welcome but a spirit of grace is mandatory.

2013 – The Year of Sanity

I have long given up counting unhatched chickens but am not averse to looking forward with hope and longing. And I love that we have a do-over every three hundred and sixty-some-odd days.

This year, I’m hoping and longing for spiritual and physical sanity.

By middle age, we seem to be stuck in some patterns and fully comfortable with things that do us no good whatsoever. Two things are grating on me just now.

First, I’ve got caught up, both spiritually and physically, in the peripheral stuff – the issues and arguments and theories and research. That’s all fine except that I can let a good bout of “car crash christianity” (see previous post), or a few articles about intermittent fasting distract me from the things that will actually make a difference to my life.

Second, this lack of doing almost always leads to the guilt that goes nowhere. You’d think I’d have learned by now that feeling guilty about how much I weigh or how little I pray or read the bible makes me neither lighter nor closer to God. In fact, it makes me more likely to head for the wine bottle (literally) or the wishing well (metaphorically).

With all that in mind, I’ve come to the mature conclusion that it’s better to embark on something new and different and risk failure than to keep doing what I always do and guarantee failure. So – in that spirit and for the rest of 2013:

  • I’m going to listen to the bible this year and not even think about reading it. I’m starting with Romans because I want to know what stands out when I hear rather than read those texts. I want to get even a tiny inkling of what it was like to be with those early believers hearing the wisdom of their elders read aloud from a letter. I’m going to let the difficult bits wash over me and through me and listen for what matters.
  • If you’re already embracing physical sanity then you won’t understand the following but here goes: I’m going to be happy with my physical self. Period. I’m going to stand way back from the mirror, buy clothes that I love, move and eat because I like to move and eat – not because I’m trying to meet some unrealistic expectation set by myself or anyone else. I’m going to remove myself as far as possible from the diet and exercise industries and use my hard-earned wisdom to stay fit and healthy.

So here’s to risking failure, making mistakes and seeking God. Happy 2013.

 

Reaping the Harvest of Violence

I just yelled at my husband because I am filled with rage at James Dobson. So I’m going to give the poor man (husband, not Dobson) a break and get this out here.

Galatians 6
7Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Some loud Christians seem to believe that the United States has sown sexual immorality and that has led to the deaths of twenty little children and their teachers.

How bloomin difficult is it to see that what has been sown in the United States is not immorality linked to sex but immorality linked to violence – and particularily to guns? Seriously. How can the spiritual leaders of that nation not be falling on their faces in repentence for guns?

Do they think their addiction to guns is actually of the spirit rather than the flesh?

How can they not fall on their faces in repentence for vulnerable men and women unjustly put on death row?

How can they not fall on their faces in repentence for the deaths of Afghan children by American weaponry?

These days post the Newtown murders should be a time of sackcloth and ashes for anyone who thinks that violence curbs violence. It’s already a time of sackcloth and ashes for those of us who don’t.

Proverbs 22:8
Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.

Seeds of Social Conscience

It was not always obvious that I was one day going to be the kind of person who cared about what was going on in the world and felt moved to make a difference in some way.  I was a tricky selfish teenager who refused to feel guilty about the state of the poor in the world. I can remember saying as much to my Socials 11 teacher. Not one of my better moments but I think I took that stand because the problem just seemed so big and I really did care but couldn’t see how I could possibly change anything.

When I talk about “making a difference” now, I mean just the bits I feel I can take on, realizing that I can’t fix everything but I can fix some things and, what I can’t do as one, I can maybe do and one of many. Even then, I’m painfully aware of my frequent hypocrisy and ineffectuality. But doing something is better than doing nothing so I chug along.

I suppose it all started with Mom and Trevor Hudddleston. When we were very tiny, she used to walk us from Woodwards department store down Hastings Street to show us Skid Row well before it was called the Downtown Eastside. She wanted us to know that this was where she had spent her preschool years hanging out in cafes with her beloved grandfather and his cronies during the depression. Poor people were just people.

Then came Trevor Huddleston and the oranges.  After reading Naught for your Comfort,

if my mother saw Outspan oranges in our local Safeway or Red & White, she would summon the manager and tell him take them off the shelves and didn’t he know what was going on in South Africa! It was some years before I could pass a display of oranges without a feeling that something unpleasant was about to happen.

And it didn’t stop at oranges. I wasn’t allowed Barbie clothes because they also came from South Africa. Amusingly, I was allowed Barbies – so the feminism hadn’t kicked in yet – but all their clothes were ugly and handmade and I will never forget the teeny teeny tini bikini that my aunt somehow managed to knit. A hand stitched ball gown just couldn’t compete with whatever those wonderful South African seamstresses were producing, but, “because the black people do all the work and the white people get all the money” was the final answer to any plea for Barbie finery. My Barbie wore a sack to the ball.

Funny how the seeds get planted. I guess it also helped that my mother was the kind of person who would pick up litter and hand it back to whoever dropped it. She would stop for anyone and everyone in need. She would happily (much to my cringeing embarrassment) yell at other peoples’ children if they were misbehaving.

She was a community minded fair trade social activist in her own way -and she planted the seeds of my own stubborn belief that change is possible and worth pursuing.