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.

Vision? What do you see?

I’ve got an eye test at the end of this week. Oh goody. At my age, it’s yet another eagerly anticipated opportunity for me to develop ever-more elaborate ways to say ‘no’ to the question of, “Would you like to try bifocals?” Despite my staunch resistance to yield to this suggestion, I cannot deny that my vision is not as good as it used to be. I may give in one day when I find myself walking into door frames too often.

This morning’s news was that ahead of the election, a ‘Bishop’s letter’ is going to be published calling for “a fresh moral vision for the country’s future.” And it got me to thinking about vision more generally. We talk about ‘vision’ a lot, especially in business or churchy circles. There’s always some kind of visioning exercise* going on somewhere or another. Having a ‘vision’ is clearly important. But how are we different and better with a vision? And are we always poorer for the lack of one?

(*The phrase ‘visioning exercise’ causes me to slightly shudder.  I imagine it may involve being forced to watch severely uncomfortable and out-of-breath people doing some kind of ghastly over-energetic physical activity whilst trying to reassure me it’s ‘fun’ and I should join in. I think not. I’m afraid I would have to politely decline.)

My current daily devotional is the simple but delightful ‘Love Out Loud’ by Joyce Meyer, and yesterday’s offering was called ‘What do you see?’ (in my case not too much without the right glasses!) Anyway…. Joyce quotes Habakkuk 2:2:

“Write the vision and make it plain.”

Joyce goes on to say,

“Writing down your vision brings it into the real world and makes it solid.”

I like that. We can so easily tune into a lot of sobering and potentially depressing stuff within and around us – crises, ill health, financial insecurity, threats to our safety, social and cultural fragmentation – whether you’re of faith or not, these things are real and pressing. It strikes me that how we respond to them will be defined in part by our vision (or lack of) for our future. If we rehearse these fears in our minds and in our conversations with friends we end up ‘writing them plainly’; they become real and solid and unavoidable to us. On a personal level, for example, I could choose to have a quite depressing and hopeless vision for my future; an ageing divorcee with no kids and huge debts. Oh, how terribly lonely and sad I will be, rattling around in my baggy old pyjamas with no friends, occasionally bumping into door frames because I can’t see properly. 

So, what do we see? A future vision where we simply ‘duck and cover’? Where we retreat from the threats until there’s simply nothing left of us? I hope not. Thankfully, as a Christian, my vision isn’t just about the here and now; it extends beyond this realm of existence into something far more glorious and hopeful than I can ever imagine.

Richard Ostling says in ‘Kingdoms to Come’:

“A futurist speculating about what things would be like from the perspective of a scientist in the year 2090 wrote: It seems amazing now that there was ever a time when science was supposedly the enemy of faith, and religion was deemed hostile to technological investigation. The end of atheism and agnosticism became inevitable as soon as computer calculations made improbable the odds that random natural selection could be the sole explanation for the ever increasing intricacies found in biology. Equally influential was the discovery of multiple universes, which astronomers found at the macrocosmic level and physicists found in the microcosmic. Science thus established the current Age of Faith, re-creating the Creator. Nowadays only the fool says in his heart, “There is no God”.

Reflecting on this, along with Joyce Meyer’s question of ‘what do we see?’ I’m challenged to write plainly of a vision for my life that is based around such an awesome God that has built himself intricately into his creation at every turn, and of which I am an intimate part. You can’t get that vision down the opticians!

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 🙂

Seek his face

I was reading Psalm 105 this morning.

Verse 4 says: “Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.” Wow. Always?

seek_his_face_alwaysI reflected on what this means, and realise in any given set of circumstances, so often I tend to seek his hand; what he can give, what I think I ‘need’ to live in, succeed or overcome those circumstances.

This is OK, God loves us and wants us to ask Him for things; but primarily I should be seeking his face.

What is his face? I think it’s his character, his will, his identity, his values, his righteousness, his glory in any given situation.

So, if I find myself in a sticky one, instead of asking for prayers to get out of it, or for the circumstances to change, my first port of call should be to “look to the Lord for strength and seek his face” in the situation. Ask myself: “What is God’s will here? How can I seek His righteousness? Where can I see His character? How can I live according to His values (love, kindness etc)? How might His glory be shown?”

I’m reminded of what Paul says in Philippians 4:11, that he’d been able “to be content whatever the circumstances”; our goal is to be at peace in whatever our ‘now’ might turn out to be because we purposefully seek God in it. And if we seek, we will find Him.

Therein lies the challenge; to seek!

The Thrill of the Chaste: my review on Goodreads

The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes OnThe Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On by Dawn Eden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I gave it 3 out of 5, but hovered over 4! I so very nearly ‘really liked it’.

From the get-go, I loved Eden’s style and humour and passion and earthiness as she writes about her experiences of breaking away from the shallowness of the ‘Sex and the City’ culture.

What a relief to me on my own similar journey to find an author I can really connect with on the basis that they write from the position of someone who, like me, has actually experienced that lifestyle and it left them wanting. Not some fuddy-duddy pure and innocent who’s never known what it’s like to be with a guy.

So from that standpoint, I think it’s a wonderfully brave, warming and encouraging book for people (Christian women especially) who are trying to recover and restore themselves sexually after life on the other side of the fence.

My main (probably only) issue with the book was that singleness and celibacy is portrayed as a state of waiting for a husband, not of value in and of itself. I appreciate that’s Eden’s journey and destination, and I suspect many women would relate to her in that respect. However that’s where she and I part ways.

For many people, including myself, celibacy is is not about ‘hanging on until….’ it’s a spiritual discipline to be learned with its own inherent value and blessings. Whether or not I end up in a relationship or married is not within my search beam, however for Eden it seems the sole focus of her journey.

Overall, I’d recommend the book; simply for it’s honesty and warmth in dealing with a subject that is generally considered taboo in church!

View all my reviews

Gotta get me out of the valley of bones

I’ve just started a course of Spiritual Direction, which is a very exciting (and challenging) process for me! Timing-wise it’s perfect as I’ve started this year expecting and hoping to make some solid progress in the area of ‘using the gift of music God’s given me’. Feeling rather like I’ve been walking through treacle the last year on this…..

So I’ve been ‘directed’ to do an exercise looking at areas of my life where I haven’t forgiven myself.  At first I was like, “What are you on about? I’m fine!” But then I prayed and ooh blige, whaddya know a lot has started bubbling up to the surface….

The question is how do I respond to all this? It’s the realisation of essentially what I stand accused of to myself, and what this leads me to believe I’m potentially ‘guilty’ of in the light of my relationship with God.

Big gulp.

I was reminded in Seeds of the Kingdom today that even the mighty ‘men of God’ David and Abraham fell oh-deary-me such a long way away from God’s expressed plan for their lives. It says,

“Abraham … believed God (that he would have a son), but in the process, he got worried and tried to solve the matter himself, and bore a son by Sarah’s maidservant.          

….King David…committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband murdered to try and cover it up.”

Oops. Bit more than just a tad naughty.

OK so I haven’t committed adultery and murdered anyone, but if I’m brutally honest with myself, my heart was in the same place as theirs when they went their own way and decided to be ruled by their own ‘solutions’ instead of holding on to what God had promised them. Guilty as charged.

But (and this is the amazing bit) – God still loved them! He called them back, restored them. He even called Abraham ‘friend’ and David ‘a man after the heart of God’. Not ‘associate’ or ‘man who sort-of gets it right sometimes.’

This is a total encouragement for me at this point on my journey. I think I’ve rested (and even nurtured) a mindset like “I’ve been so bad, I’ve fallen so far and I’ve let God down,” for too flippin long. I’ve identified too much with my ‘slimy pit’ and my ‘valley of bones’ and not the fact that I’ve been rescued from it (let alone what for!).

valley of dry bones

It’s been like PTSD, blocking progress towards my calling; inhibiting relationships; giving me fear and crippling sense of caution about my future. But the biggest impact has been in the narrative I’ve developed about myself. The “Oh how rubbish am I?” self-talk and the resigned sadness about how I could ever hope to regain the lost ground and time I’ve wasted.

I’m encouraged in reading this today; whatever we go through, there’s always a way out with God. His love is amazing, and He’s always ready to give us limitless freedom and grace to get it right because, as the ‘Seeds’ says: “God’s heart is for relationship, and God’s heart is love towards us.”

Fully ace.

 

Put your labels on the table

Someone called me a ‘psychiatrist’s dream’ the other day. I think it was meant as a friendly little joke. I didn’t laugh. But even so it got me thinking about all the labels people have so creatively and persistently tried to stick on me over the years.

There’s quite a volume when I think about it.

First there’s the frankly rather unsporting ones about my appearance:

  • You’ve got an interesting jaw line
  • You’re ‘quite’ attractive
  • Lip up fatty, fatty reggae

Hmm. Let’s move on shall we.

It’s the ones that go beyond the outer appearance that intrigue me. Here are some of the best ones:

  • You’re loud, opinionated and brash
  • You’ve got all the mothering instinct of a turd
  • You’re not a team player, you’re Little Miss Independiente
  • Uh oh here comes Asperger’s Woman
  • Brutal
  • Blunt
  • Freak
  • Weirdo
  • Robot woman
  • Jesus freak
  • Uh oh here comes ‘the alternative’
  • You asked for it
  • You deserved it

Oh and then there’s the raft ‘Why Do You Have To’ questions: Why do you have to:

  • think about things so deeply?
  • analyse things so much?
  • take everything I say literally?
  • be so serious all the time?
  • be so intense?
  • be so emotional?
  • be so unemotional?

Yeh. I know. The last two contradict. Both made by exes, so go figure.

Seriously, how easy is it to just wholesale take on board all this? Very, I’d say. Despite their amusingly insulting nature, they could all genuinely describe me at the touch points of my life in which they were said. So the question is not so much ‘are they true’, but ‘how much longer after those touch points do I let them linger?’ How much do I let them take root, and grow and fester and become toxic, defining realities for me for the rest of my life?

W.C Fields apparently said “It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to that counts.” I like this a lot.

it ain't what they call you

A lot.

Loads of people have already written on the subject of not listening to the condemning and negative things others say about you, but instead speaking out life-affirming and positive things instead. Look at yourself in the mirror and say “I am beautiful” every morning type of thing,

Yeh. Nice idea, but that just ain’t me. I wasn’t born in a tepee and I need something a little more robust to fend off the onslaught.

OK so what does a hardened cynical old mare like me do in an attempt to find an ‘antidote’ to all the labels that have been proffered me over the years? Here’s what. I’ve taken a look at what the bible says God calls me. And in my own fragile and piecemeal way I’m learning to trust and (astonishingly) receive those things more and more as wholly true and loving and good.

Here are some of my faves.

He rescued me because he delighted in me. – 2 Samuel 22:20

I am already clean – John 15:3

Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

My name is permanently engraved in the palms of (His) hands and no man shall pluck (me) out – Isaiah 49:16

God knows me completely. – 1 Corinthians 13:12

He hears me – 1 John 5:14