Is Free Speech Worth It? The interesting case of Pastor McConnell.

PM

By the time you read this, the trial of Pastor McConnell in Northern Ireland will be over. Pastor McConnell, a Pastor from Belfast was charged with “improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network.”

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Why the ban on the Lord’s Prayer may be a good thing.

I learned the Lord’s Prayer from before I think I learned to speak.

We recited it every Sunday in church and in school at least once a week. I became so familiar with it, that it lost the power to move me in any real way. Hearing the Lord’s prayer every Sunday spoken in unison by a couple hundred people, in a dull monotone manner was hardly the most inspiring way to encourage anyone to pray.

But at it’s essence it is a powerful prayer. Continue reading

I’m an immigrant (but it’s ok I’m the good kind)

I’m an immigrant.

But hold up. Before you leave this post disgusted, I’m the good type.

I’m not one of those immigrants in Calais who are trying to selfishly move to the UK so they can suck the life out of the country bringing their different skin colors and weird smells to our pale and floral smelling cities like London or Glasgow.

I moved to the USA a couple of years because I was able to and I had family and friends who helped us. I mean, we needed help because otherwise I would have had to probably limit my lukewarm chai tea latte from Starbucks to twice or heaven forfend, once a week.

Sure I moved from Belfast, where I had a great community of people around me, a job, a family who loved me, Boojum and a sense of belonging. But ever since they took Chilis away a few years ago I’ve had to wait once, (maybe twice if lucky) a year, until I visited to have a proper hot meal from a US chain restaurant.

And now Songs of Praise, a long running religious show on the BBC are offensively spending money to reporting from a migrant camp in Calais for this weekends episode. That is money that could have been much better spent on bringing back bastions of British broadcasting like Pets Win Prizes or Eldorado.

What does Christianity even have to do with people leaving oppressive living situations and traveling long distances in unbearable conditions to seek a better life anyway?

Jesus would have been ashamed to see the religion he so carefully structured around the rich, privileged and powerful reduced to reporting from this squaller. At least He had strict conditions for entry to the Kingdom of Heaven, like owning a camel. I haven’t seen one camel in the news reports from Calais and that is worrying.

And of course there will be those who claim Britain is anti immigrant and anti Christian because of all of this and especially after recent cuts to asylum support for parents with two children were announced. But we’re actually doing the Christian thing by forcing those people, oops I mean migrants, to live in even more poverty and so receive blessing from God, just like Jesus said.

Look, I’m all for helping people out a little but Jesus always made sure he kept his distance from those in need. That’s why he climbed a mountain to deliver his political manifesto the Beatitudes and another time got in a boat to preach, probably to demonstrate how cool boats were for any immigrants present who had any ideas about over staying their welcome.

And anyway, Britain has worked far too hard to make itself the country it is ever since our forefathers thousands of years before us just woke up magically one day with “British” virtues flowing through their red and blue blood. Although that’s because it’s always so bloody cold but still.

Britain is a country based on minding our own business and not getting involved in other countries affairs and now people from some of those countries, countries most of us have never been on holiday to and whom we most certainly did not have any negative influence on politically, have the cheek to take advantage of our good nature and Greggs.

Coming over here, taking our jobs that none of us really want.

How rude.

Jesus must be turning in his tomb.

Why I Gave Up on Quiet Times

I want you to know you don’t have to feel guilty anymore.

You don’t have to have a quiet time.

You aren’t a bad person for not having one or even not wanting to have one. Let’s look at why quiet times are a waste of time. You take a few minutes first thing in the morning (has to be as early as possible) and pray (but mostly just fall asleep) and read a passage out of the Bible. You then will probably forget half way through brushing your teeth what you had read earlier; really regretting not taking that extra half hour in bed. Does God want you to spend time with Him first thing in the morning if it’s going to make you grouchy all day?

Leaving out the lack of sleep for now, I’m not a fan of quiet times for a few reasons and here are 3 of them.

1. Compartmentalizing God is kind of missing the point.

If God is omnipresent and an all knowing being, why on earth do we think the best time to speak or hear him is at an ungodly hour. It’s called ungodly because even God is asleep. He’s tired enough trying to keep up with our prayers to convert our friends or for the LGBT community to repent. Give Him/Her a break. What would help would be if we stopped thinking about God in ways that limit him. This isn’t just about quiet times. It’s about realizing we don’t need to go to church on a Sunday or a Wednesday night, “expectant” for God to show up as if there’s a very specific window in which God can fit us in. It’s about being ready during all those moments we aren’t ready to experience His spirit because we thought we missed our chance for the day when we slept in like a Heathen.

He’s already showing up. We just don’t know how to shut up for long enough to hear Him.

2. The Bible is not a self help book.

Most of the time we read the Bible as if it is a guide on how to not swear, lie, murder (ok not everyone struggles with that one) or look at naked pictures. But if we’re really going to treat the Bible like a how to for not sinning let’s look at some of the people in the Bible who we hold up as the epitome of Holiness. King David, a man who sent his best friend off to the frontline to die, just so he could get cozy with his bf’s wife. Or Judas one of Jesus closest friends, who sold him out for 30 gold coins which come on, even taking inflation into account can’t be worth much. Then of course Moses, who got so pissed he couldn’t remember who he was and even fell for the riddle about how many of each animal Moses put into the ark.

The Bible is really just like an episode of Coronation Street or Eastenders but probably with a lot sexier characters.

We need to read the Bible for what it is. A vast library of books written over thousands of years by different people in different styles, who all flawed just like us, but in no ways examples for how to live healthy lives. It seems to me the main reason we have to read the Bible then is to see ourselves in these stories, learning about hope, grace and love. To put ourselves into these stories of redemption with the sole purpose not to make sure we don’t screw up majorly today but can bring light to the world.

3. The more the merrier.

One of the reasons we like the Bible as Christians is because it hasn’t changed in thousands of years. The words are still the same and so we don’t feel like we need to face that most uncomfortable reality of change. We don’t like it. We don’t like when someone comes along and suggests a new reading or understanding of a passage or that we maybe stop singing “Blessed be Your Name” for just one week in church (seriously, we’re still singing that?!) But change is good, it’s healthy and it creates life.

It’s kind of ironic because the Bible is full of people who changed their views on God and who decided to try it a different way.

Once we get into a groove with quiet times, we like to stick with what we know. Maybe we don’t like to be challenged or even worse, believe that “this way” is the only way that God can speak to us. When God created the world he said it was good but he didn’t say it was finished….that came in the sequel.

The point being that creativity is in the essence of all humans and the times we seek to interact with God shouldn’t be exempt from that creative spark we are all born with.

Life comes from change, from creativity, from a new freshness. It’s not that the old ways are always inherently bad. They may just be past their sell by date. Then other times we realize that it’s actually us who have changed the way things are done. I mean, this idea of reading the Bible on our own is a pretty new and novel way to read. It’s not actually that Biblical. Reading and interpreting with other people on the other hand.. What would happen if we began to read the Bible with others? Praying the words over and over, letting the Spirit guide us into a meaning and to find a truth much deeper and richer than just the literal?

Of course there is a place and an important one at that, for us to carve out time to allow that part of us that wants to be involved in something bigger than ourselves, speak to us. Just sometimes the manner we go about it gets stale, and needs something new and fresh injected into it.

Coming up in my next post, a couple of things I have been trying that have changed how I view connecting with God.

Strawberries and Clooney and Vietnam

Rob Bell gets accused of not mentioning Jesus enough but there is a moment about 15 minutes into his “don’t call it a comeback” Grand Rapids show as part of his new Everything Is Spiritual tour where he mentions Jesus.

But you may have missed it. In a seemingly throw away statement it’s almost as if He didn’t want everyone to hear it. That this Jesus is somehow so much more unique, exciting and imaginative that you could even handle.

Which is one of the criticisms that Rob Bell has faced countless times. He talks about spirituality and Jesus and God and Love in ways that we don’t like. Ambiguous, mysterious but intriguing.

Where on earth could he have got such an idea for talking about spiritual matters like this?

For the rest of us, Rob Bell gets it.

In what I think is over two hours (I never once felt like checking my watch) which seems like both a long time, whilst never being boring and yet nowhere near long enough; he describes the trajectory of the world from the big bang to particles to atoms to Molecules to cells to you and me, human life.

I don’t remember science, last period on a Friday ever being so thrilling.

Even his fiercest critics have conceded that Rob Bell is a wonderful communicator and by keeping us engaged for so long on what is essentially a very basic science lesson, it’s almost as if he’s showing off.

But you’re maybe not interested in the science stuff. You want to know how he weaved Jesus, God, and the Gospel message into all of this.

He begins by linking the ever forward trajectory of existence from the big bang to the tiniest particles to complex human beings to itself. We’re all connected. In every progressive step there are characteristics of before to be found in it’s make up. The potential for all the joy, pain, awkward conversations, Taylor Swift, first time you tasted Chocolate, thrill and every other experience under the sun was present there in the beginning.

In one important analogy so desperately and currently needed, he showed us that racism is the inability to connect with someone of similar substance.

Loneliness is going in the wrong direction because it’s the antithesis of all of us being connected.

Cells, sub atomic particles, racism, loneliness. It’s all the same. We need to connect to move forward.

You want a message about the need for church to be real and authentic with the world and itself? You got it.

You want a repent message? You got it. If you’re not moving with others in the direction we need you to, you better rethink what you’re doing.

When you provide evidence from English researchers Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson from their book “The Spirit Level” that the larger the gaps between the rich and poor in countries, the lower the literary rates, more serious mental health and the lower life expectancy not simply for the poor, but for the rich, it’s hard to not see Jesus in all of this.

Maybe Jesus isn’t explicitly mentioned as much as some of us would like, but He is there in everything tonight.

We need to be generous, peaceful, hopeful and graceful to each other. Getting more stuff, finding that individual inner peace for yourself is not enough. Connection with others is where its at.

Finally, Rob Bell takes some time to connect what all of this means practically in three areas of our lives. Our past, present and future.

There were many collective mmmm’s throughout this evening. Not the “that’s an interesting thing to know” type but that “deeply felt, everyone knows it, even if we never explicitly knew how to express it”, type of knowing. These all happened during this last phase of the night.

A beautiful example of all of this at play between hundreds of complete strangers.

This part of the evening was for me the most meaningful.

Through stories of people who experienced deep suffering finding each other by simply saying “Me Too” to hilarious stories of dealing with the fallout of his book “Love Wins” (which he describes tongue firmly in cheek as being unique in the history of published literacy since everyone loved it, even the people who didn’t read it) a few years ago, Rob Bell showed us that even when the very thing that our ego fears most happens, shame, we’re still standing.

“You’re fine, you’re good. In fact you’re great!”

This isn’t a wishy washy new age message, the Universe loves you dude message, like so many of Rob Bell’s critics have accused him of delivering before, but a hopeful, Jesus filled, Spirit filled, Gospel good news filled message that we all need to hear.

You get the feeling that through all of everything that Rob Bell is excited as ever about sharing this with people. I for one am grateful for someone who is able to communicate all of this in new, fresh ways which sends you out with a new found peace and vigor for discovering the mysterious wonder and Love of God. Rob Bell, as he reminds us tonight about human beings, is just getting started.

Farewell no more.

Rather

Welcome, Rob Bell.

Shame, Sin and The Adam and Eve Effect

There aren’t many more powerful forces in society than shame.

Shame is killing us and we don’t even realize it. Sometimes we mistake shame for guilt. We mistake the idea that doing something bad is that same as ‘being’ something bad. (Thanks Brene Brown)

Which of course is rubbish. We all do things that are bad everyday. But are we all bad deep down?

If you’re brought up with a certain faith you probably think yeah actually, we are all evil underneath and sooner or later it will show itself. The Adam and Eve effect. A mistake made a long time ago that has had devastating implications for humankind ever since. We’re all affected by it apparently. But their problem wasn’t guilt but shame. For the first time they were acutely aware of what it felt like and it sucked.

It’s a funny relationship we have with shame and sin.

We’re all sinners and have acknowledged this with a pretty amazing ease. But the minute that someone screws up we pile on a huge helping of shame. But aren’t we simply exhibiting the traits you say we have? Why make us feel ashamed for something that you continually tell us we are?

Now the traditional Christian message has a solution, as do other religions but even with this solution in action right now, we still mess up.

We’re still addicted. We’re still liars. We still kill and get greedy and you know the rest.

But maybe the solution is continually working to cure shame, not just sin. What if we let go of shame and just said no more.

Think about it. How often after you did something you didn’t really want someone like you to do did you just stop and think about what you were really thinking.

Was it guilt or was it shame?

Because if it was shame it has no use and you should let it go immediately. You’re not a bad person and I’m sorry to inform you, not all that unique. You’re not the first person to do that thing. You won’t be the last.

Sure, the religious part of you will step up and say you are just trying to get out of trouble. To skirt your responsibility. But is this really about you or about others perception of you? Do you want to look like you are sorry because you are or because this is what you think others need?

But maybe it’s time to stop worrying what others need you to show. To let go of shame. To remember who you are truly in Jesus.

And remember that if you really want to stress about whether others really think you or sorry or not, go right ahead.

Just don’t lie to yourself that they’re really any better.