When beauty and ugliness walk in company with one another. And some stuff about worms.

I recently returned to work after a couple week’s leave, and several of my colleagues asked the inevitable question, “Did you have a nice holiday?” Much as I’d love to respond to these friendly enquiries with a simple “Oh why yes, thank you, it was just lovely!” and move on to the next subject, life, for me, rarely seems to be that joyously simple.

left right brainIt was a week of contrasts; times of beautiful crystal clear waters of stillness and healing with God, alongside the perpetual, tumultuous wranglings of my inner world. And some leftfield ‘outer’ circumstances thrown in for good measure.

Allow me to explain….

I spent a few sunshiny days in beautiful Shropshire with dear friends. Amongst the relaxing, chatter, news-sharing, good food, crafting and laughing, we also shared our sadness and confusion around being estranged from another mutual friend; a sorrow that’s been exaggerated recently by the discovery that the ‘friend’ in question has been diagnosed with breast cancer. How is it possible to extend the hand of love and sisterhood when it’s not wanted? If we don’t have the opportunity or permission to do it in person, then we must respect that and simply, quietly, powerfully stand with her in prayer.

A few days later, I had the joy and privilege of being invited to join in a conversation at Malmesbury Abbey where they are reviving their Benedictine roots through setting up a dispersed monastic community inspired by old-school Abbot of Malmesbury, St Aldhelm. I’m always rather stunned and humbled that my opinion and input may be sought let, alone valued, but there we were talking and creating insight together, connecting our modern with the ancient and growing in love and grace.

Against this backdrop of relative spiritual bliss, it was, therefore all the more rude an awakening to collide sharply and loudly with another car on the return journey.

My dear little car limped home and has now been retired from service…..

The third contrast on my ‘holiday’ revolved around my birthday. My dismissive nonchalance of yet another year past and my reluctance to bow to social expectation to ‘celebrate’ in some way, was blown out of the water by the breath-taking beauty of my brother’s birthday present. Not a gift-wrapped trinket in sight, though. No, it was a video of him giving his whole birthday gift budget to a Big Issue seller on Park Street in Bristol and saying, “Here you go, mate, my sister would want you to have this.”

Yes. Yes I would.

I could have died of crying and sisterly pride. I’ve been praying that my dear little brother will catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, and there he was unwittingly bringing it about in a simple, small way that was deeply moving and hugely humbling.

It all made me appreciate something afresh: that rather than following separate tracks, where you are either on one track or the other, life’s beauty and ugliness so often walk in each other’s company.

In a slightly less turbulent moment on holiday, I was doing some charity research, and stumbled across a charity called ‘Wormfree World International’.

worms may chase youI thought, “Wow that’s pretty specific!” And then, on reflection, thought again, “Actually, it’s not specific enough!” Surely not all worms? There is much that can be learned from the humble earthworm in relation to the above bumpy-road scenarios we so often travel in life.

And yes, believe it or not, someone has blogged: ‘Life lessons learned from an earthworm’.

I’ll save sharing the whole thing (you can follow the link), but one ‘lesson’ stood out in the light of my recent so-called ‘holiday’:

Find your anchor, and don’t wander…. The easiest worms to catch are those that are far away from their holes. This isn’t suggesting we should all become homebound and avoid the outside world, but instead to search and latch onto a higher purpose. … to find the security of something more divine. The more we anchor ourselves in the safety of truth, the better our chances of surviving the rough patches in life.

“The more we anchor ourselves in the safety of truth….” What? Wait. Post-modern culture would have us believe that there is no such thing as objective truth; it’s ‘whatever is true for you’, or the more touchy-feely version (which does rather induce my gag reflex, I’m sorry to admit) ‘whatever resonates with you’.

Nope. I don’t buy that. ‘Whatever’s true for you,’ just leaves me unsatisfied; emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Like a glazed donut, it looks nice, it even has has the potential to make you ‘feel full’, but soon enough, when the sugar drop kicks in, you are hungrier than ever.

My ‘holiday’ had the potential to tell me all sorts of ‘truths’ that could have ‘resonated’ with me in any given moment:

  • I’m a bad friend – v – I’m a great friend
  • Some people hate my guts – v – I’m deeply loved and treasured
  • I’m entirely inadequate and should stop pretending – v – I’m gifted, talented and capable of offering something of value to others, including, on occasion, love

If we let circumstances and feelings persuade us what is ‘real’, where does that leave us?

Cue, the little earth worm: we need to anchor ourselves. What do you anchor yourself to?  Money? Family? Status? Image? Your iPhone? What other people think of you?

The bible says we can anchor our souls on the promises of God, and that all of God’s promises have their ‘yes’ in Jesus. hope anchorWow. Love this big time.

Jesus is my hope, my anchor. Nothing else even comes close. Who he is, what he did, and why it matters are the fundamental questions that drive me to explore and discover his rich spiritual landscape; to keep me digging deeper into holiness.

When the world around me gets noisy and demanding, when it invites me into chaos or tries to grab my heart and mind, I don’t want to be swayed by ‘whatever resonates’ in the moment, I want to be lifted up and embraced fully and powerfully by a greater and surer promise and hope: the ‘yes’ I have in Jesus.


Tolerance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

My recent experience with a few people has led me to consider that there is an alarming amount of intolerance among those who purport to be tolerant. I’m not going to divulge the details of the events I’m talking about as it would be disloyal and frankly a bit rude. But anyone who uses social media will have experienced something of this phenomenon – people being ‘de-friended’ for sharing or expressing political or spiritual opinions that differ from their own.

Rather than taking the expression of a differing view as an opportunity to enquire, “Why do you think that?” – to connect and discover an understanding about why we hold the views we do, people are being summarily dismissed. The de-friender ascribes themselves the role of judge and executioner and their peace is restored by tuning out the other view.

It strikes me as not only ironic but rather hypocritical behaviour. The very people who promote tolerance and free speech have an expectation that their voice will be heard amongst the masses; yet think nothing of stone-walling or silencing others. That is not tolerance it’s censorship; it’s intolerance.

Of course, I’m not in any way suggesting we engage with hate-fuelled and extreme political views and without challenging them. We are surely meant to ask ‘wtf?!’  No, what I’m talking about here is differences that are not hated-filled, just different.

I have been shut out by people because I disagree with them, and yet I have been branded the intolerant one. You cannot ask me on the one hand to tolerate your difference, to listen and hear your voice if you deny me the same opportunity. In doing so you don’t just deny me a voice but, far more importantly, you deprive us both of an opportunity to connect; to form a bond of community between two fellow human beings, to begin a dialogue which could diminish the barrier between you and me. You deny us both our humanity. You prevent a relational landscape from being developed where common ground and same-ness is more nurtured and valued than difference. I’m not your enemy, but you won’t even allow us to start being friends. And you call me intolerant?

As a Christian, my choices should depend on whether or not I believe those choices would bring me closer to, or further away from, my commitment to follow Jesus. I don’t deny that difference is difficult and challenging. And, yes, sometimes really fricking painful. But here’s the truth – Jesus doesn’t call us to tolerate one another, He calls us to love one another.

In pursuing the tolerance agenda, I wonder if Christians aren’t selling themselves short. Tolerance is a human construct; fleshy and susceptible to being very broken. It has monopolised the debate about human relationships and difference and has mutated into a weapon of pride to be wielded against those who don’t agree with or conform to a prevailing cultural norm. On the surface, ‘tolerance’ appears to include but it’s become misappropriated; more and more it seems to take the form a polarizing dynamic which excludes and pushes ‘the other’ away. Surely love is our higher call?

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

But how can I love you my brother or my sister if you exclude me because we disagree? How can we take the more worthy road – shoulder-to-shoulder – and work out love, grace, mercy and understanding between us if you refuse to connect with me? How can we seek to speak about and pursue the truth together if you silence my voice because the challenge of dialogue is too great for you?

1 Corinthians 13:4-8Tolerance carries with it a veiled sense of pride (and possibly fear) that places us at the centre of our own universes which, for our comfort and convenience, we desire to be occupied only with those who are the same as us. It is a self-reflecting universe that actively holds at bay those who are different. In doing so this form of ‘tolerance’ denies us all the opportunity to fulfil our basic human need to relate and belong.

This form of ‘tolerance’ is a fake and cheap alternative to love. Love is an infinitely better way. Love sees the inherent value in every person. Love folds people in; it includes them even in spite of difference.

This form of ‘tolerance’ sticks its fingers in its ears and says, “I don’t want to hear you.” Love reaches out a hand and says, “Let’s talk.”

The Bible – historically accurate or big old fairytale?

It’s not hard to discover so many, many books and blogs on the subject of biblical accuracy, several of which I’ve read, others I’ve skimmed and no doubt there are many more I’m totally unaware of (or were a bit boring, so I skipped over them). I couldn’t hope to add anything new to the debates, or to do them all justice in one single post; someone could spend a lifetime just reading it all, let alone coming to any firm conclusions! I’ve simply tried to look at as much as I can  and reach an answer for the purposes of linking to my Easter reflections posts.

It would seem that if I’m going to rely on the opinions of others about the historical accuracy of the Bible, then I’ll get nowhere pretty darn fast – the question ‘Is the Bible historically accurate?’ on debate.org shows that 50% of people say ‘yes‘ and 50% say ‘no‘. Well, 100% of me says ‘thanks guys,  but that’s not exactly helpful’ 😉

So what do I think? I guess it’s up to me, as it is with anyone, to weigh the evidence and draw what could be a ‘reasonable’ conclusion. I appreciate someone may go through the same process and draw a different conclusion, and of course your starting perspective and interests may influence the outcome you reach. But after my extensive trawl of the world wide web and various books, here’s the four things that persuade me most:

  1. It’s not one book, but a collection of books, written over thousands of years by many authors from a range of geographies and cultural backgrounds, and yet it has a very high degree of internal consistency. How’s that? Even if you asked five people who all witnessed the same football match to recall it a month later you would have different perspectives and details brought to mind. To me, it carries a lot of weight that something like the collection of books in the Bible can be so consistent in and of itself.  But if you then compare it to the reliability of other ancient writings, it becomes even more striking – factors such as the short time gap between events and when they were recorded, the number of original copies, the accuracy of translations and scribing over time all point to the conclusion that the Bible is basically the most reliable historical document ever.
  2. There are numerous and increasing numbers of archaeological finds that confirm the events depicted in the Bible. So much so that it’s used by archaeologists at the Smithsonian Institution (and other significant non-religious organisations) as a reference book to support their studies of the ancient world. The reputation of the Institution would surely influence their choice of source material, wouldn’t it? This quote from the Department of Anthropology is pretty unequivocal: “Much of the Bible, in particular the historical books of the old testament, are as accurate historical documents as any that we have from antiquity and are in fact more accurate than many of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Greek histories. These Biblical records can be and are used as are other ancient documents in archaeological work. For the most part, historical events described took place and the people’s cited really existed.”  OK, so some people might come back at me on that one and say, “They didn’t say ‘all of the Bible‘ is accurate.” Correct – they said “most” – and the general understanding of that word is ‘the greater part’ of or ‘the majority of’.  Apparently, the Institution were asked the same question about another ‘religious book’ (which I won’t name, but a Google search will find it for you), and they gave a very different answer, saying there is ”no direct connection between the archaeology of the world and the subject matter of the book.'”  A very different conclusion, I think you’ll agree! Unless they had a bunch of work-shy temping archaeologists on a shift for their analysis of the second book, I’m assuming they applied the same rules of intellectual rigour to both? So, the same archaeologists that use the Bible as a historical reference book, have never located the cities, people, names, or places mentioned in this other book, but they have in the Bible. Interesting.
  3. Following on from the above point, there are also many finds that refute the criticisms levelled at the bible years ago – to quote ICR, “critics have long been silenced by the archaeologist’s spade, and few critics dare to question the geographical and ethnological reliability of the Bible. Nothing exists in ancient literature that has been even remotely as well-confirmed in accuracy as has the Bible.” In my meanderings online to research this post, I found lots of stories about academics who had started out to unravel the Bible’s credibility as a history book, and ended up concluding the opposite! Sir William Ramsay and Josh McDowell to name two better-known examples.  Josh McDowell makes a the point in his book ‘The New Evidence‘, that there is a “desire on the part of many to apply one standard or test to secular literature and another to the Bible. One must apply the same test, whether the literature under investigation is secular or religious. Having done this, I believe … the Bible is trustworthy and historically reliable”.
  4. The last point is more personal; being a detail-geek, the presence of fine detail in some of the Bible’s stories fascinates me. I don’t see how they would be necessary if the writers didn’t intend for it be a historical record.  I think, ‘why bother to add that snippet if it didn’t happen?’ You can find lots of examples of this – some here – but one of my favourites is in Luke’s account of Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law.  Three of the gospels tell this story: Matthew. Mark and Luke. Here’s what they each say.

Mark – Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever

Matthew – he (Jesus) saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever

Luke – Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever

Why did Luke say it was a ‘high’ fever? Maybe because he was a doctor he knew the difference between different types of fever; it was a subtlety that passed the other two medically untrained writers by. A little thing, I know, but it strikes me as pretty neat 🙂

There is of course, so much more that could be said on this subject, but for now, those are my reflections.  I hope I started with an open mind, or at least a willingness to be convinced either way, and I’d say what I’ve looked at strongly convinces me that the balance of favour lies significantly more on the side of the Bible being accurate than not.

If you fancy some further reading, I found quite a thorough review of this question at www.everystudent.com.

Easter reflections #3 – A grave affair?

This post took a loooong time to work out because I dug deep (yes, pun intended) to ask the question ‘Was Jesus buried?’ OK so it might might seem an odd question following my last post – if he was dead, then of course he was buried.

But wait. I don’t want to assume anything, here. Could Jesus not have been buried? Why is it important whether or not he was buried? Can’t we just skip to the next bit?

I think it is important to answer this question for two reasons:

  1. It would add weight to the conclusion that Jesus was definitely dead.
  2. It would locate the body of Jesus of Nazareth in a specific and known place, which is important as the rest of the story unfolds….

OK so first let’s look at what the options were for the disposal of a crucified body. A delightful subject, as I’m sure you’ll agree.  Apparently a body could be:

  • Left on the cross and eaten by crows (bits might fall off and get eaten by dogs)

    When puppies attack. There may be no hope for this man.

    When puppies attack – there may be no hope for this man.

  • Taken from the cross and put in a common grave (again, there could have been an element of ‘getting eaten by dogs’ in this scenario too)
  • Taken down and dragged outside the city walls and left to rot (my guess is the dogs were right on the case with this option)
  • Taken from the cross after being displayed for 6 days and burned (unsure what the dogs would make of this one)
  • Stolen by family members in the night when the Roman guards were inattentive (possibly they were playing ‘fetch’ with the dogs?)
  • Taken down and handed over to relatives for burial (unlikely to be any dogs involved)

From what I’ve read, it seems to be assumed that of these options, the last one would be the exception, rather than the rule. So can we claim it as an exception for Jesus? What evidence do we have to go on?

It shouldn’t be all that surprising that there are virtually no known human remains from crucifixions, given that the bodies were either left to decompose, burned or eaten by aforementioned dogs. Also, iron would have been expensive, so the nails were likely removed from bodies to be melted down and remade for the next hapless victim – so even if a body had been buried, any tell-tale evidence of crucifixion could be easily overlooked.

But…… I like a good ‘but’. There is, now a well-known piece of archaeological evidence;  a heel bone(s) and nail found in an ossuary inscribed with the name Yehohanan, a 1st century Jew. These remains have led to a better understanding of the ‘mechanics’ of crucifixion, and its physiological impact on the crucified body, but they tell us practically nothing about who Yehohanan was as a person.

What does this have to do with Jesus? A couple of things, I think.

Continue reading

Easter reflections # 2 – What have the Romans ever done for us?

What have the Romans ever done for us?

What have the Romans ever done for us?

OK, so this is the second in a series of posts sharing some of my reflections in response to the question, “Did Jesus of Nazareth rise from the dead?

It’s quite a long post already, so first up, I’m not going to get into debates here about the historicity of Jesus – ie did he actually exist in the first place – this is not only well debated in other places, but it’s established opinion among scholars that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed exist. He was a real person in history. Given the weight of opinion on this, I’d say it’s only fair that people who hold the minority view (that Jesus didn’t exist), need to bring some convincing and as-yet-unknown evidence to the table.

So we start with the premise that Jesus lived. For the purposes of these blogs I’m fast-forwarding rather unceremoniously through his whole life to the next critical point in the question – his death. Did Jesus die?

Well, of course if he was a real person, then he must have died. Did he die of old age, disease or some other way? Christianity teaches that Jesus was crucified.

What’s crucifixion? Wikipedia is helpful here if you want the full details of the practise and common causes of death associated with it. Needless to say it was brutal, painful and effective in bringing people’s lives to an end.

Was Jesus crucified? All four accounts of Jesus’ life in the bible (the Gospels), tell that Jesus was crucified. You can find them online easy enough or look them up in Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23 and John 11-19. But what if you don’t believe the bible is telling the truth? What other evidence is there?

Actually there is other non-bible sources of historical evidence. In the Talmud, for example, it says Jesus was crucified on the night before the Jewish festival of Passover. And in Roman historical documents there is evidence too. The most famous (and I’d say pretty indisputable) was written by Cornelius Tacitus in his Annals, he wrote “Christus … was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate.” Well, I’d say that’s pretty clear!

Bear in mind that the Talmud writers were heavyweights at recording events, and the Annals are considered to be the “pinnacle of Roman historical writing”. These aren’t whimsical ramblings, these are carefully researched and constructed documents that are considered historically reliable. Put this into the context that neither the Jews nor the Romans were on the side of Jesus or his disciples – they were simply recording historic events – and there’s no reason to believe that they simply ‘made it up’. So, for my money, I reckon it’s fair to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed crucified.

So going back to the question, “Did Jesus die?”, and accepting that he was crucified, it is very unlikely that he would have survived. Could he?

Well, yes, it was possible to survive crucifixion and in fact there is an account of three people who survived from the historian Josephus, who’s considered to be the best documentary source for the practice of crucifixion in Roman-era Palestine.

Josephus was a general who had command of Jewish forces at the time, and he personally pleaded directly to Titus, a Roman general, for a reprieve for three of his friends who’d been crucified. Apparently, Titus granted his request and ordered that Josephus’ friends be taken down and cared for by a doctor until they recovered. How nice of him. Two of these friends subsequently died, but the third did indeed recover, although it’s not known how long they had been crucified before they were let down.

The reason I mention this – and it’s the critical thing in this account – is that Josephus pleaded directly to Titus. I don’t reckon he could’ve done that if he was just some ordinary Joe. He could only do it, surely, because of his standing as a general. It would seem that someone’s only hope of surviving crucifixion was to be taken down early (ie before it finished you off) on the basis of someone important or influential making a case for your reprieve. Otherwise you were left to die. This is important, for me, in picking apart this question, because going back to the Talmud writings they say “And do you suppose that for (Yeshu of Nazareth – Jesus) there was any right of appeal?” If anyone could have spoken on Jesus’ behalf, surely they would have done?

Here’s another thing: yes Romans ‘gave us’ all the stuff in the famous scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian – sanitation, roads, irrigation and fresh water etc – but one thing that mustn’t be forgotten is that Roman ‘civilisation’ came to prominence on the back of an awful lot of bloodshed. They really knew how to kill people. It wasn’t just something unsavoury that a civilised majority kept at arm’s length on the edges of society for the reluctant or specialised minority. No. Death was an integral part of Roman life. Soldiers were trained in it, civilians were entertained by it. Romans were brutal, determined, merciless. A great blog giving some delightful examples of this particular characteristic of Roman life is here. It ain’t pretty reading.

I recently visited Rome and came away profoundly disturbed by the stark contrast between the outward appearance of civilisation in the form exquisite art and impressive architecture, and the backdrop, or rather the foundation of murder, slavery, greed and savagery on which that ‘civilisation’ was built. Frankly, it not only surprised me, it disgusted me. One example, was on my visit to the Colosseum. Amongst other things, in its early days, the Colosseum had been used for re-enactments of sea battles, and was filled with water to enable this to happen. The tour guide explained to us that the arena came later, and was constructed over a network of tunnels, rooms and machinery that allowed different people, animals and scenery to be hoisted through the floor for the games. The word ‘arena’ is derived from the Latin word ‘harena’ – a type of fine sand. Why? The reason for this change, according to our archaeologist guide, was that the sand was the perfect solution to absorb all the blood. Nice.

What’s my point? Basically that Romans were serious experts at death. Crucifixion was an effective method among many they had of getting the job done. Without someone to make a case for Jesus’ reprieve, he would have died, I’m sure of it.

The bible gives extra details about what Jesus endured before he even got to be crucified, which is examined here – OK so it’s a Christian website, so there a lot of references to the ‘meaning’ of Jesus death, but if you’re a sceptic and want to strip that out, go ahead, I’m linking to it because I reckon it adds weight to the case that crucifixion was an effective method of killing (not terribly efficient, it has to be said, but I gather the torture of it was part of the punishment) – its gives the views of physiologists about what would’ve been going on with someone’s body during crucifixion, and how they would have died. The practises of the torture meted out to Jesus, as described in the bible, are backed up by historical records about how Romans treated criminals, and I’ve found a good summary here.

So, I think I’m done on this post for now. Did Jesus die? Of course. Did he die by crucifixion? I’m convinced that weight of evidence suggests that he did.

What’s next? Was he buried? …….(coming soon!)

Easter reflections # 1 – ‘The World According to Google Images’

OK, so, Easter. Is it just about chocolate eggs and bunnies? In ‘The World According to Google Images’, the answer to that question appears to be a resounding ‘yes’. Woohoo!

Oh! Apparently even before 'The World According to Google Images'  was formed, the Easter Bunny ruled.

Oh! Apparently even before ‘The World According to Google Images’ was formed, the Easter Bunny ruled.

It takes a strong person to accept the painful reality that we don’t live in ‘The World According to Google Images’ (sad face). So what is Easter really about? We all know there are a myriad of symbols and customs surrounding this festival – both religious and non-religious – and there are plenty of sites that quite adequately explain how they’ve developed and blended into the Easter we know and love in British culture today (I refer in the main, of course, to the aforementioned chocolate eggs and bunnies).

So what do I expect to add to this plentiful exposition?

Well, it strikes me that the central ‘message’ of Easter is new life. And in terms of the Christian faith, that certainly bears true. At the centre of Christianity is a message of new life – but for that message to mean anything, it literally lives or dies on the answer to one single question: “Did Jesus of Nazareth rise from the dead?”

Anyone that knows me, understands I have a tendency to over-think things. I say ‘tendency’, it’s more a modus operandi. So, in line with my natural ‘tendency’ I’ve given this question a lot of thought too, and it strikes me that this might be one of those rare occasions it might be appropriate to share the contents of my mind on a subject.

So, this is the first of a series of posts coming at this question from different angles, seeking the answer to the best of my ability. I’m not an historian or a theologian, so it’s not going to be a terribly sophisticated analysis, and I’m certainly not going to try to ‘prove’ anything or convince anyone else. It’s just my own reflections and observations since that question has stood before me asking for my answer.

Whether you believe in Jesus of Nazareth or not, please feel free to join me on this journey. It may get weird, it may get funny, it may get brutal. But that’s likely to be more a reflection of me, than of the subject matter.

Peace 🙂

Hello? Why does it always have to be about the ‘waiting debate’? – When True Love Keeps Waiting | Her.meneutics | Christianitytoday.com

When True Love Keeps Waiting | Her.meneutics | Christianitytoday.com.

An interesting article posted yesterday on Her.meneutics. Whilst it’s good to see the realities of celibacy debated out in the open (and offer a balance to our ‘couple culture’), yet again celibacy is framed in terms of ‘waiting’.

Well, I’d like to add another seemingly always overlooked angle – and that is this – for some of us celibacy is a pro-active choice. We are waiting for nothing, we’re already here.

Singleness and celibacy may not be:

a) a response to the circumstances we find ourselves in (ie “divorced, so I’ve got to put up with the bloody awful state of being single when I want to be in a couple”) or

b) a thing to endure whilst we are waiting for a husband (“I’ll keep myself pure until Mr.Right comes along and then everything will be perfect”) – by the way, I read a great article on this subject here http://intentionaltoday.com/purity-before-marriage-does-not-guarantee-perfect-sex-life-in-marriage/

Newsflash – some of us don’t desire to get married – either ‘now’, ‘later’ or ‘never’. OK so I appreciated that sometimes people say this kind of thing because they’re reeling in heartbroken agony from the breakup of a previous relationship and in that ‘never again’ headspace (I know that feeling well). Or maybe it’s because that person has no ‘biological’ desire (I’m talking the desires for either or ‘babies’ or ‘practising making babies’, which is essentially what couples can do that singles can’t) – but hey, you know what, that’s not always the case.

Sometimes I think God does really does call people into lifelong singleness/celibacy, and they know it up-front and are glad of it. Perhaps it’s better to describe it as an enabling to live that life one-day-at-a-time (heaven knows I need the enabling!), rather than a calling. Yeah, it’s not easy, but it can be a choice.

If debates about celibacy and singleness are always couched in terms of ‘keeping pure whilst waiting’ then I fear we’re missing a trick; it problemetises celibacy into something that needs to be (or eventually will be) ‘fixed’ by becoming a couple, and potentially misses out a wider and richer wealth of experience in terms of what celibacy is and the rewards it has to offer.

Great article, as I say, but yet again it’s all about the ‘wait’ – and that’s not the whole story.

Magaluf mania. What about the planks?

There’s been so much huff and puff today about a viral video of a young British woman giving blow jobs to 24 men at a club in Magaluf.  Doubtless somewhere the video is still available, but it’s the discussion around it that’s fascinated me.

The debate, perhaps inevitably, seeks to point the finger of blame; was the young woman an ‘innocent’ victim or simply a dirty hoe? And of course was it ‘wrong’ or was it something we should accept as ‘just a game’ played by consenting adults? My summary of the arguments is:

  • Of course there are obvious comments centred on the girl being a low-down slut who had engaged in deeply humiliating behaviour the impact of which would be a ‘hangover that she’ll never recover from’. But contrasted with those focusing their comments on her alone, were others claiming ‘hey, there were guys involved too!’ The fact it happened in a public place, implicates the bar owners, the DJ and onlookers as well. Everyone in the video is culpable, not just her.
  • Then there was the debate about whether she knowingly did it for a free drink, or whether she was short-changed because she was led to believe she’d get a free ‘holiday’ (which apparently is a cocktail). The implication is that there actually might be a reasonable or justifiable incentive for taking part; a threshold of acceptability dependent on the participants’ personal motivation.
  • Some defend her by saying she was drunk, and possibly on drugs (not specified) and so she didn’t really know what she was doing and she was egged on. Others claim she was sober and knew exactly what she was doing. In fact, according to one commentator who’d watched all 2 ½ minutes of the video, she ‘seemed to enjoy it’.
  • There was outraged scare-mongering around the need for police intervention into this so-called growing ‘trend’ in Magaluf, which is being outed as a deliberate tactic to attract more ‘sexy’ tourists. But one blogger calmly noted that if this is such a common occurrence, given the millennial tendency to ‘post’ every mentionable occurrence (and many unmentionable ones), why is it only now we have evidence of this allegedly rampant mamading scene?
  • One blogger speculated that this one-off event was likely to be a hooker hired by the club specifically for that evening, and not as most people have assumed a student on her first holiday away without her parents.

What actually is going on here? Is anyone to blame?

Only the woman herself knows why she did it. But the fact remains that whatever those reasons were she (and the men involved) made a conscious and intentional choice to take part.

  • Conscious because presumably none of them had been rohypnoled. The guys particularity might’ve had a hard time keeping up their side of the ‘arrangement’ had that been the case. (No puns intended. Well, maybe just a bit).
  • And intentional because they had multiple other choices available to them and they chose this one. As one article put it ‘no-one had a gun at her head’. (A rather unfortunate expression given the nature of the video, but nonetheless we take the point. Oops there we go again.)

In all the range of reactions from caustic slut-shaming to laddish would-be comics asking ‘when can I get my tickets’, the bottom line is: she thought it was an OK thing to do.

She thought it was OK. They all thought it was OK.

And that’s why I can’t help feeling sad. Partly for her, but more so because it says something about us. Rather than standing in judgement over her, let’s be brave and recognise that in many ways it simply reflects what we think is OK.

We’ve become so detached from authentic intimacy that we are OK with sex being a commodity. We are so arrogant in our individualised consumerism that we are OK with humiliation as a form of entertainment. We are so conditioned by reductionist popular media that we’re OK with women being portrayed and ‘valued’ simply for their ability and availability to present themselves as variably-fake arrangements of holes to be filled.

For the record I ain’t OK with any of that.

Are you? Ignoring our culture’s obsession with sexual commodification because it’s not our personal experience, or because it’s easier to just write people off as ‘sluts’, is like turning on our judgemental heels and retreating into a fraudulent bubble of self-concocted superior morality. We might be comfortable there, but our eyes are full of planks. We are all culpable.

Several concerned commentators argue that one day the young woman in the video will deeply regret her actions. They wistfully speculate that maybe she’ll never be able look honestly into her husband’s eyes, or that her kids will find out and get mercilessly ridiculed at school. They conclude that this momentary ‘seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time’ event ultimately will cast a deep and lasting shadow over her life as a woman.

Two things to consider in response to that assertion.

Firstly, it’s possible she might not ever regret it. She (and the guys) might actually retain the belief that it was an OK thing to do. And secondly, why should our sense of regret only come in response to other people? Are our consciences or objective moral values so utterly corroded that they are impotent until someone we love is implicated?

And maybe that’s it. If we fail to love ourselves well (as opposed to superficially) then how will we hear, much less pay attention, to our inner moral voice; the voice of Him that speaks to us all softly in the storm?

Ephesians 2: 4-6


How to look good naked. If you can’t change your body, change your mind.

if women loved their bodiesAt an ‘Identity’ seminar at the Bristol Women’s Conference last weekend we were asked to think about how often we might stand in front of the mirror in the morning and declare with enthusiasm, “I am just SO beautiful!”

I admit to being just a tad disappointed that right from this introduction, the premise of the whole session was an expectation that women universally experience low self esteem, stemming mainly it seemed from comparing ourselves to glossy-mag celebrities. Yeh, I’m not getting that, I have to be honest. 

But even so, declaring the wonders of my beauty in the mirror first thing in the morning? Not generally a part of my every day wakey-wakey routine, I admit.

However, it struck me this morning – perhaps for the first time – that I can thank God I’m now in a place where I actually like my own naked body! Fear not friends, this new-found fervour for my form is not about to spur me to run out into the street starkers.  But, for me, coming to a kindly and knowing acceptance of what gazes back at me in the mirror is no small achievement after a lifetime of ‘body issues’ which had crippled and distorted not only my view of my body but also ‘who’ and ‘what’ it was to be used for.   

My body is a dynamic tapestry that reveals the narrative of my life; the body I was designed to have shares its space and form with the impacts of my human will and mind and soul upon it. For good and for ill.

Now I look in the mirror and I see something functional and strong. I see muscles and bones defining my silhouette alongside curves. My pretty brown eyes that at various time reveal or hide my inner world.  Then there’s my chipped tooth (should’ve used scissors). The kink in my lip carved out from years of nervous biting.

My stretch marks and sagging wrinkled skin: a legacy from abusive and addictive overeating stripe me like battle scars.

My tattoos documenting life’s path; my people, my loves and the meanderings of my once-was-wayward heart. My scarred and pitted skin on arms, legs, face, back and chest; wrought from over-zealous hormones, too-harsh self harm, childhood infections that were too-tempting-not-to-scratch or accidents of (mis)adventure.

My funny feet with toes-too-long. My bony hands with scuffed and keloid knuckles. My laughter and age lines. My silvering hair. My stubborn subcutaneous fat and lack of defined waist. My bingo wings.

All me.

I own and embrace every brush stroke that ever has been or will be drawn on my body’s canvas.  And I choose to love, appreciate and nurture this amazingly complex and expressive vessel that’s been given to carry my soul through this life.

This body, my body, declares my biography as much if not more than words can sometimes tell.

God is not a teddy bear

heb-12.7My bible study passage today was from Jeremiah 8 and it started with verse 18, “You who are my Comforter in sorrow.” 

It made me so thankful again that God loves me so much and is with me through everything.

People have and will always let me down, and I have let them down; not necessarily deliberately, just because we are all weak and imperfect humans. So I’ve learned to be in constant cycle of “I’m sorry”  and“I forgive you”.

But God is perfect love! He’s always faithful and never leaves me. He is my comforter. I love that God’s comfort is not a wimpy ‘awww there, there’  kind of comfort, offering me some temporary patchwork quilt of pacification, but it’s a deep comfort that reaches to the dark corners of my hardened heart; strong and strengthening and transformational.

It has struck me many times that in Psalm 23 it says “Your rod and staff comfort me”, and not “your teddy bear comforts me”.  Why is it that comfort comes in the form of something potentially quite hard and disciplinary? A rod is a tool of a shepherd “by which He leads His elect sheep to the green pastures and still waters” (I’ve nicked that quote from here).  But it occurs to me that the touch of the rod allowed the sheep to know exactly where the shepherd was as he guided them to keep them safe from harm and protect their value. I love this analogy!

At times God’s discipline (rod) has been very hard for me to bear; especially over the last few years as I’ve come out of addiction. Oh baby has it been hard! But alongside that I’ve become acutely aware of ‘where God is’ in my life, and how far away from Him I had wandered off! So yes it’s been discipline, but within that discipline has been immense comfort and peace, because I now know He does it all because of His immeasurable love and mercy for me; because He wants me for a purpose. Me! Actual me.

I’m reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis; “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”

Yup, sure do 🙂