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Moments of redemption

21 Aug

This evening I experienced redemption. A moment of grace. Unseen scars, the sort that can reside for years within the heart, seemed to dissipate. And I am deeply grateful.

Four years ago, life became unrecognizable for me. Dreams shattered, hope destroyed. I had a vision, a dream, to work with street children and see their lives transformed. I wanted to create family for those without, a safe place for those always on the run. And somehow, in a few short months, it all fell apart. Somehow, despite many, many months of planning, praying and preparing, it went horribly wrong. And I was left bewildered, bemused, confused.

Somehow, by the grace of God, I find myself in a very different place four years later. The daily relentless struggle I used to experience – the conviction that I was a failure, the longing to hide away – did not remain forever (although, at times, it seemed like it might). Healing has been gradual, not immediate. A combination of faithful and faith-filled family and friends, an amazing husband, a made-to-talk-to-Becca counsellor, the wisdom of others, and many, many hours of processing on my own.  This journey has been shaped by occasionally progress and then seeming regression. The scars, once so bright, had – over time – faded. But they had not disappeared.

Today, right now, I feel pleased that I have these faded scars – the reminders that failure can be survived, that hope does emerge from the most hopeless places. I am at peace with these reminders, because tonight a few words were spoken that brought a deeper healing to the faded wounds. I am pleased because I have remembered that there is a plan and purpose bigger than myself. And, it would seem, I still have a part to play.

This time, however, it feels healthy and good and right. I have nothing to prove. I can risk again. I can give – not because I need to be liked or needed or a “success”, but simply because there is an opportunity to do so. I can dare to go to a place where I might meet “failure”, because I know such things can be survived.

And so, this evening, I feel grateful. Not only for this new opportunity, but also for the jagged, pain-to-hope story that has got me to this moment. I am grateful for my failure, for it has made me who I am today. It has brought me to a beautiful moment of deep redemption. And now, after all the struggles and doubts, I feel amazing. I feel free.


Not human enough?

11 May

This morning, I read these words  of Richard Rohr:

“We end up trying to be spiritual before we have learned how to be human”. It is not often that a sentence stops me in my tracks. This one did.

Why? Because it contains a truth so obvious, yet so rarely acknowledged.

In an increasingly secular culture, many people strive to become more spiritual: yoga, prayer, Ramadan, meditation, shopping. Each of these is an attempt to “escape” secularization and find a deeper meaning (and yes – it did mean to include shopping in that list!). Each is an attempt to rise above the mundanity of the every day and discover meaning, stumble over peace.

But what if we’ve got it the wrong way round? Richard Rohr seems to be saying that we need to start at the beginning – becoming more fully human before we can become more spiritual. If we cannot appreciate the beauty of the flowers around us – or a sunset, a rainbow – then how can we expect to grow in the unseen? If we cannot love that which is right before our eyes, how can we embrace that which we cannot see?

These words challenge me deeply.

Life in a hectic city is invariably  hectic – work is demanding, commuting is stressful, sleep can be hard to come by. Lack of time and lack of slumber rarely help in the quest to appreciate the mundane and cherish the obvious beauty in front of our eyes. Yet these are poor excuses. For all we really need to do is take a deep breath, open our eyes intentionally and taste the beauty of life. Is that really so hard?

I’ve made a decision. This weekend, I will choose to slow down. Slow down and look, listen, smell and taste life. And in so doing, I will, I hope, become just a little bit more human.

So, what about marriage?

30 Apr

I am going to begin this post with a caveat (that means I feel a bit nervous writing this one!) – I write this blog as honestly as I can. I don’t ever claim to be “right”. In fact, I could be “wrong”.

So, if you massively disagree with me on this post – that is ok. We don’t have to agree on everything. I don’t want to offend, but also I don’t want to say nothing – for fear of offence. So, here goes…

Gay marriage. What do you think? This issue seems incredibly divisive right now – with people passionately defending both sides of the debate. Some getting very angry about it. Others being more gracious.

What is it about sex that gets people so worked up? Particularly, it seems, those in the church. A friend of mine was told he couldn’t marry his fiancee in a church as she was divorced – so she would have to “repent publicly” before her wedding. They chose not to. For she had nothing to apologise for – young love had simply fizzled out. She wasn’t usually a church-goer but liked the idea of a church wedding. Is that really a crime?

Gay sex gets people even more worked up. Makes people angry. Livid. Moving beyond all the “is it natural?” debate, surely the more important question to ask the angry is: why are you so angry? Is it really moral piety? Are you really so blameless yourself? So happy (and qualified) to throw the first stone?

Why do same-sex relationships make some people so angry? An interesting article recently in the Times, by Matthew Parrish (himself a gay man) talked about a spectrum of sexuality. The polar opposites we use to box people in (“gay” or “straight”) are, he claims, a social construction. Humanity is far more messy. Which means the right/wrong dichotomy becomes harder to justify. Life is, after all, too messy to fit into neat boxes (we all know that by now, surely). Do people get angry because it touches on an insecurity or pain deep inside them – the issue maybe being in the eye of the beholder rather than the accused? Do people get angry because they are living along a “them” v. “us” divide? It is, after all, easier to dislike (or even hate) “them” if they remain “the other”. Once “they” are closer to “you” (as friend, colleague or relative) such black-and-white loathing is harder to sustain.

If gay marriage is only understood in terms of “them”, it remains an academic issue (even if it is dressed up in moral clothing). Once it is closer to home, it once again becomes messy/grey/harder to outright condemn.

So this is my question: is it really so bad if two people want to make a lifelong partnership official? If they want to publicly commit to each other, should they be excluded? Is it more “moral” to exclude or to embrace?

I write this as a Christian – who believes in the importance of marriage and tries to live my life in line with what I read in the Bible. I wouldn’t call myself a “liberal”, but neither am I a fundamentalist (sometimes it feels like life would be more straightforward if I was!). I often wrestle deeply with what it means to live a life of faith and hope in that I cannot see. I have doubts. And questions. And sometimes it seems there are no easy answers.

I find it hard to reconcile faith in a God of love and generosity with the attitude I see around me in many churches – a “morality” seemingly based on superiority and judgment. I find it hard to stomach some of the venom directed at those who are for gay marriage. It seems like hatred, not love. And that sits uncomfortably with me. For me, Jesus was a radical, an unconventional Messiah who shattered most expectations and frequently offended the “holy ones”. He didn’t like religious rules. He loved the unloved and embraced the broken and needy. He didn’t create petitions to “witness” to truth, instead he loved prostitutes, the mentally ill and the outcasts. And he often healed them in the process (but not always – another conundrum!).

Jesus seemed to accept people as they were. He didn’t bring easy answers. He seemed instead to generate more questions. And confusion.

And this is why I am a Christian – because faith is not about ticking boxes or living separate from the world. For Jesus did neither. I believe in a radical, loving, generous, outrageous, extravagant Messiah. One who embraced the misunderstood/the different/the outcast and asks me to do the same.

So I cannot, in integrity, sign any petition “against gay marriage”. Nor would I want to. I cannot stand on my moral perch and condemn. That would be ridiculous.

And I hope that, whatever the outcome, the church – this time – stops thinking in terms of “them” and “us”. And – this time – chooses love over hate.

The oxymoron of “Christian celebrity”

1 Apr

This is a timely, thought-provoking, full-of-truth post by Alan Hirsch. It uses some long words but it is worth wading through them, because he is challenging a taboo here, and it is a much-needed challenge:

“Christian celebrity, especially in that ideological, primadonna-ish, spin-loaded,  cult of self that it embodies, distorts what Jesus essentially stands for.” I love this sentence!

I have long felt uncomfortable with the disparity between the life Jesus lived (humble, anti-status) and the way some leaders in the church live (seemingly status-driven, more-special-than-everyone-else, “set-apart”-but-not-in-a-good-way). This is failure (and-not-in-a-good-way). A failure of priorities. A failure to remember that the Christian way is not about self but the transcendent, beautiful Other.

As Lent – a time of reflection, abstinence and grief – draws to a close, let those of us who call ourselves Christians be honest about our complicity in the creation and sustaining of “Christian celebrity”. Let us grieve our skewed priorities.

And let us do all we can to ensure that the two words – Christian and celebrity – never belong together again.

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