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 as 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.

 

Judging Leaders Part 2

I put a link to the earlier post on facebook and ended up with quite a lot of comments – exceeded only by the number I got when I said my son was my new favourite child. Most of them were, rightly, expressing shock and dismay (at Piper, not my parenting) but one brought up an extra question.

My friend wrote:

Good to think through the dilemma though. I have followed Piper on twitter and been uplifted by much. But I can’t ignore that thinking. . And where do I draw my line – if it were something unacceptable in my view but less maddening would I let it go! What are my absolutes?!

Indeed.

I’ve worked happily alongside many Christians over the years who don’t share all my theology, politics, taste in music/fashion/food, morals even. There are Godly people I love dearly with whom I simply will not engage in certain conversations – especially older people who have generously loved me but who come from very different Christian cultures. I don’t expect them to think as I do.

However, when it comes to leadership rather than friendship, I’m happy to draw lines.

Here are my deal breakers for Evangelical leaders:

  • Anyone who suggests one’s politics are in any way linked to one’s chances of getting to heaven.
  • Anyone who puts evangelizing the hungry ahead of feeding them.

I was going to say something about attitudes to women but I think it’s a much broader issue so I’ll say:

  •  Anyone who fails to acknowledge that their interpretation of scripture is coloured by both history and culture. If church leadership genuinely believed the Bible informs womanly behaviour today exactly as it did in the 1st century, the consequences would be unthinkable. See here for an example.

Which is related to:

  • Anyone who believes that there is one clear and unquestionable interpretation of scripture. I have no desire for woolly uncertainty, (another kind of deal breaker), but I respect a leader who has the intellectual integrity to acknowledge that not all is black and white in the Bible – and who sees that it’s possible to examine the difficult bits honestly without fear of endangering anyone’s salvation.

And finally:

  • Anyone who would think, “She’s a liberal”, after reading the above. Big Big Deal Breaker.

And now it’s time to move on. Bless you, John Piper. (I leave those words in even though my husband told me to take them out.) I pray that you will one day explain how much you did not mean what you said in that video.

Judging Leaders ~ by whom I mean John Piper

I have genuinely been trying to avoid car-crash-Christianity on blogs – by which I mean posts about the likes of John Piper and Mark Driscoll. They fascinate me and, sadly, entertain me, but they do equally little for either my blood pressure or my faith.

But today I decided to have a glimpse at what John Stackhouse had to say about the latest in the John Piper “masculine Christianity” brouhaha. I had already read about it over on Jesus Creed and was willing to consign it to the “what else is new?” file.

Instead, thanks to the video below, buried in the post’s comments, I found myself welling up in fury over the words of a man who is widely respected in some Christian circles- and whose influence extends into my own church here in England as well as Vancouver churches that might be attended by my adult children and their friends.

I knew my morning wasn’t going to go well when I heard the words, “It depends on what kind of abuse.”  Apparently we need to differentiate between abuse that would cause the woman to sin (ie engaging in group sex) and abuse that “simply hurts her”.

Listen for yourself, blood pressure allowing.

John Stackhouse suggests that we “keep hearing John Piper on the good things he has to say. And let’s just set aside those things he says…that really aren’t so good.”

I would suggest  -at the insistence of my husband- irony not lost – that we completely and utterly reject John Piper as a church leader until he repents of this attitude and comes to understand that to “endure being smacked for a night” might just lead to the death of a vulnerable woman or at very least affect her children for a lifetime.

I have searched the internet for evidence of that repentance but can’t find anything. If you know of such a wonderful occurrence, please let me know and I will repent in turn. Until then, I will question anyone who excuses John Piper on the basis that he also says a lot of good things.

And just a quick heads up to any man who might think JP has a valid point: the first word from a woman being asked against her will to engage in group sex is not going to be a wistful “Honey”.

 

Listening Before Judging

My getting ready for 50 project involved letting my hair go grey. Tick.

And reading the bible cover to cover. Tick for the OT and the Gospels but got stuck in Romans, limped to Corinthians and am trying to get started again.

But this isn’t failure confession time. What I want to say is that, now that I’m properly on the other side of that hill, I’ve decided to, as far as middle-agedly possible, eradicate dismissiveness from my life.

When I told my 22 year old daughter that I was going to listen carefully to people rather than just assuming that I disagreed for whatever reason, she asked, “Does this include conservatives?”

Me: “Theologically or politically?”

Her: “Theologically – you never have to listen to right wing politicians.” (Nice touch,  I thought.)

Funnily, I’ve been trying to listen to the more liberal brothers and sisters out there but, having felt burned by some wacky far right theology, didn’t feel like I had to extend this listening before judging thing to my “enemies”. Yes, I do see how that bible-reading exercise might have influenced me a little more, especially seeing as I did get through the gospels.

So how’s it going?

It’s hard – first because I’m particularily gifted at judgementalism and this new way requires that I breathe (think, even) before I come to a conclusion.

Also- it’s hard because dimissive jugementalism is rampant amongst my peers. Left, right, liberal, conservative, believing, non-believing – it doesn’t matter – everyone seems so set in their middle-aged ways and not just their politics and theology, but their taste in just about everything.

It’s not that I want to like things that I find unlikeable. Not at all. But I want to be able to explain clearly why I’m bored to tears by Ricky Gervais when he airs his humourless atheism, as popular as he is, on a light entertainment programme. I want to be able to talk to an atheist about that and have them see my point of view. In other words, I don’t want to be dismissed either. (See? I didn’t miss all the Gospel wisdom.)

I especially don’t want to dismiss something because it’s new and different. I’ve never believed in the good old days. Rather, at every point in history, I’m pretty sure you could point out something cultural that’s better and something that’s worse than it was 30 years before. I don’t want to miss out on the stuff that’s better than it was when I became an adult almost that long ago.

So that’s the plan and the new spiritual work in progress.  Look for an update in about six months. It may be to say that I have no more friends. Must remember not to dismiss those who are stuck in their ways.

My Father’s War

My Father’s War

Mrs. McLeod is proud, it says,
of her three boys serving overseas.
And the uniformed brothers
smile from grainy newsprint.
They’re happy; she’s proud;
Canada’s at war.

The youngest follows muddy tracks,
practices hostility with other lads
under drizzling Scottish grey until,
fortified by cigarettes and warm beer,
they voyage south in thundering armour
to deliver their portion of war.

Grammichele
should be a generous, smiling woman
who pours out wine and offers exotic food
under cerulean sky.
But instead of her warm embrace,
they roll into another’s open arms.

Shells penetrate the impenetrable
and fragments ricochet
with malicious inaccuracy.
Metal embeds itself
in the smiling Canadian teenager.
The others leave him as certainly dead,
but with agonizing clarity
he knows he lives
and he climbs out slowly into the storm.
He sits and watches, a bleeding spectator.

Lifetimes later, in days of black depression,
he’ll say he’s had the dream again,
about the tank.

Angels deliver him to another kind of Hell,
a sweltering infirmary
where the wounds knit but the body unravels
month after month after month.
He is simply declared too stubborn to die.

One year on the newsprint crows:
First Wounded to Return.
In celebratory mood
they assemble at the station,
brass band and dignitaries
to salute the brave young man.
But it’s been a thousand years for him.
Bugger them, he says
getting off one stop too soon.
And he walks home alone.
At least, that’s what he wishes he’d done.

A Reply to John Stackhouse

I don’t think I’ve ever been in serious disagreement with John Stackhouse but his dismissive post about the protest at St Paul’s Cathedral has been taking up way too much of my thought life today. It also caused me to come up with a response that was far too long to post as a comment so I’ll post it here instead.

Hi John,

I don’t know if we’ve been shown this through the eyes of completely different media outlets, but I’m not seeing what you’re seeing! So here are four brief comments on your four points and a final thought (exhortation even) from me.

First, unlike the rest of London, the City of London doesn’t have a whole lot of open space. The occupiers were welcomed when they camped in front of St Paul’s and the cathedral wouldn’t have had to close if they had just re-jigged the tents a little sooner.  It was a case of indecision trumping practicality and it caused a mess. But it also brought public attention to the important questions being asked.

Second, British people may not feel that their daily lives are influenced by the church; however, even in the 21st century, C of E bishops get a surprising amount of media coverage. Every major paper is talking about Rowan Williams’ article in the Financial Times. Here’s the Guardian coverage.

Third, I have no idea what the protesters expected, but what they got was a public debate about the church, wealth and poverty.  Ken Costa, high profile financier, Chairman of Alpha International and many other things, has been asked to “lead a new initiative reconnecting the financial with the ethical.”

Here’s what the Bishop of London had to say: ‘The alarm bells are ringing all over the world. St Paul’s has now heard that call. Today’s decision means that the doors are most emphatically open to engage with matters concerning not only those encamped around the cathedral but millions of others in this country and around the globe. I am delighted that Ken Costa has agreed to spearhead this new initiative which has the opportunity to make a profound difference.’

It’s a start.

Fourth, I don’t think you’ve grasped the depth of anger in the UK over the banking crisis.  The government has injected almost £124 billion in cash and pledged another £332 billion in guarantees.  And yet, bankers in these bailed out banks, which are still making a loss, are being paid millions of pounds in annual bonuses. We are furious that our money, and it IS our money, is going to people who have not earned it especially when it’s so hard to get a mortgage or money for a small business. THAT is why people are protesting and protesting in the banks’ back yard. (Yes, I did get a bit shouty there. It matters.)

So thank God the church leadership, despite being inconvenienced and challenged, have listened and decided to allow the camp to stay and the dialogue to continue.

Final thought (exhortation even):

I’m one of those “advocates for social change” and I’m too busy getting on with trying to sort out illiteracy amongst teenagers to pitch a tent in London. However, I’m not too busy to be listening out for a prophetic voice in our greedy selfish world.

Although they lack the specific vocabulary, I think what we’re hearing isn’t really a call to end capitalism; it’s a call to repentance within the financial world – to a change of heart about what they’re making money for.

We can stand around say “pack up your tents; nothing’s going to change” or we can echo their call and keep it echoing until someone hears it.

Come on bankers! Change your hearts and help us to change the world with all that dosh that you will inevitably keep on making.

It’s Arrogant to Call Bono Arrogant

I seem to have lost the ability to write in paragraphs so welcome to Blog by Bullet Point. It kind of reflects how my brain works when I think deeply while trying not to trip over curbs/tree roots/small dogs or get hit by traffic.

Running this morning with iPod when Vertigo comes on. (You know, U2: Uno, dos, tres, catorce..)

And the line, “Your love is teaching me how to kneel.”

And I get thinking about humility because that’s what Bono’s describing.

Your love is teaching me how to kneel.

And then I think of what I’ve heard people (Christians in particular) saying about Bono.

Arrogant

Pompous

Egotistical

And this takes me to the parable of the talents.

A wealthy master entrusts portions of his wealth to various servants each according to their ability.  The person who’s given the most money goes out and doubles it.

When he gives the great wealth back to the master, the master is very pleased indeed.

“Well done good and faithful servant.”

I wonder if that servant was an unassuming fellow who sat at the back of the temple and spent his days quietly going about doubling his master’s money by studying business and accounting.

Or, I wonder if he had a great big personality, enjoyed a party and told stories about what a wonderful master he worked for – who doubled his master’s money by using the huge network of contacts he’d developed thanks to his gregariousness.

Does it matter?

Does the bible say anywhere that anyone other than “the master” was pleased with this person?

So why are Christians so happy to despise Bono?

Arrogant? Is it possible that people are mistaking true humility for over-confidence?

True humility is having an accurate understanding of everything you’ve been given by God and using it for the sake of the master, according to your ability.

And what if, by doing that, you end up getting a lot of attention and (cringe) wealth?  Is that something to despise in a man who unceasingly talks about his master in the most public of forums.

Would Bono be a better servant if he was a never-swearing, teetotal volunteer worship leader in a little Dublin church?

Or does he serve his master better by being a rock star on the world stage, unabashedly talking about

justice for the poor

grace

the cross

reading the bible

looking for God in a messy world

If we despise brothers and sisters in Christ because they don’t fit our expectations of what a Good Christian should look like, then we need to do a little

Pharisee Check:

Question: Is Bono the perfect follower of Christ?

Answer: Am I?

Put down the stones people

and enjoy my favourite Bono interview ever.

Amen.

 

Church Welcome – Or Not

Because of my unusual life of living in three towns in two countries and being without a home church anywhere,  I find that I’m becoming a bit of an expert at being a “just visiting” church attender.  And the biggest conclusion I’ve come to is that no one has a training programme for “greeters”

Not to sound cranky or anything, but when a person is actually wearing a largish tag with the word “GREETER” on it, you might think they’d do more than hand out a leaflet while continuing to chat with someone wearing the same signage.

Even though I’ve come to expect this, for some reason it got to me this past Sunday. As a woman who can strike up a conversation with just about anyone anywhere and who has been affirmed in her general social skills, I have to ask – why is it so difficult to get a little welcoming small talk at church?

In a grocery store, when strangers are deciding between organic potatoes which have been air-freighted and regular ones grown locally, the words just flow.  When a stranger pauses at the information table after a church service and peruses the literature, surely there should be something to chat about.

So here’s what I’m proposing.  I know that people are worried about not recognising someone they’ve met before.  Or asking, “Are you new here?” and finding that the person is actually a founding elder.

I say:  make it church policy that anyone and everyone has permission to be wrong without embarrassment.  Better not to recognise a regular than not to welcome a stranger. Shout it from the front at every service.

Here’s the script:  “How long have you been coming to……….?”

If the answer is, “Twenty-five years”, then have a chuckle and ask if they’ve found a place to fit yet.

If the answer is, “I’m just visiting”, engage in small talk.  Ask if there’s anything they need. Ask now they enjoyed the service.  Just ask where they’re visiting from!

I’m sounding a bit cranky again and I don’t want to be.  But I have to confess that after making myself as available to conversation as I possibly could and getting nothing, I drove out of the parking lot and got a whole block away before I pulled over and had a good cry.

Maybe that says more about me after a stressful week than about the church which was otherwise quite wonderful, but my experience of the past couple of years suggests there’s room for Welcome Training in 21st century churches.  Maybe I should put together a Welcome Audit + Training package. I’m going to have a small google around that very subject with my second cup of coffee.