Living With Trolls As A Codependant Addict.

I remember the first time I had my writing published online. It was for my favorite website and I couldn’t be more excited. I had dreamed about the moment for days as I spent far too much time analyzing each word and sentence to make sure I had the best piece of work I could possibly produce.

Finally it was ready and I sent it in excited to receive all the congratulatory comments. I refreshed the page over and over on the day it was going live, excited to see my face and words online somewhere other than my own blog.

It went up and I waited for the first comments to come in. It was going to be flooded with admirers and the site was probably going to crash, so incredibly fresh and innovative were my ideas.

Then the first comment finally arrived. Here it was. My life was going to change forever.

“This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read”

Obviously I must have clicked on the wrong post. But no, that was definitely my picture in the top corner and those were definitely my words in the post.

This was not the initial reaction I had anticipated or indeed hoped for. But there it was.

Looking back, I am incredibly grateful that this was my first comment. Who wants people to like what you do anyway right?….RIGHT?! I have written many more blog posts since then and I’ve received probably a 50/50 split between positive and negative comments.

I’ve been called arrogant, dumb, a heretic and many other names.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how often you receive criticism, it’s difficult to not let it stick. I can receive ten positive comments and one negative and it’s that one negative that sticks with you.

It hits you in the gut. It doesn’t matter if it comes from someone completely anonymous; you know, those Twitter egg people. It still gets me every time. I overthink it and spend far too much time mentally getting back at them and putting them down with a quick witted response that there will be no coming back from.

It consumes me.

Slowly though, I’ve been learning there is a better way to react to criticism. First it’s important for me to sit with whatever it is I experience when I’m criticized. You see I’ve started to see that facing criticism is actually a healthy endeavor. That ultimately there is no positive or negative criticism, just transformative.

What would happen if instead of seeing praise as positive and criticism as negative we see it all as an opportunity to learn something? When I say this, I don’t simply mean that criticism keeps us humble. I mean that criticism gives us a chance of responding with Grace to the critic.

Because for anyone who has ever worked in customer service will attest, the customer is not always right.

For me at least, criticism doesn’t exist in a vacuum but amongst an experience of addiction, co dependency and fear.

Here’s what I mean by that.

As a former addict, an addict who is a Christian at that, anytime my addiction took a hold of me it evoked strong feelings of shame and guilt. These feelings similarly didn’t exist in a vacuum but in the middle of relationships and how I responded to everyday life. So you know, everything. It produced a strong co dependency in me where I needed others to be cool with me, since I was definitely not cool with myself.

Which means criticism took on extra power. Even if I knew deep down that the criticism I received wasn’t true or that the critic didn’t really know me and my intentions; my co dependency wouldn’t allow me to truly believe that. Furthermore, I wasn’t even able to split the honest concern from the trolls. All I knew was that I was being “attacked” and because I was an addict and carried huge amounts of shame with me everywhere, it was probably justified.

troll-thumb

Yes, this is the creepiest image I could find.

They were probably right.

This occurred in every single sphere of my life.

Our ego kicks in heavily when we’re criticized. Now, I’m not simply talking about the typical idea of ego in terms of thinking “I’m great” or “I deserve to be respected because of how awesome I am”. Those are simply symptoms of the larger psychological idea of our ego’s job as a protection from pain.

We don’t like criticism because it threatens our very understanding of the world and our place in it.

Take for instance, how anytime a traditional Christian belief is questioned and the reaction that provokes. It’s ultimately a reaction of fear. What if my understanding of God and the world around me is a little shaky? It doesn’t help that this often occurs in a sub conscious way. If we’re so sure that our beliefs are correct there is no need to react with fear. It doesn’t have to hit us.

But it does. Every time. Right in the gut.

And if you’re an addict also, that punch in the gut is also a line of people taking their turn slapping you in the face.

So everything suffered. My relationships, my creativity, my self esteem. The criticism of my beliefs or words even when they were supplied from people who I know love me and care for me, were taken as a damnation on my very existence. Under everything was a deeply engrained belief that I am a bad person, so any criticism was just a timely reminder of this ‘truth’.

Even praise or affirmation didn’t help, not only because shame was so deeply engrained but also because when shame is a constant voice whispering into your ear, praise is seen as misguided or uninformed.

Criticism stifled my creativity because it reminded me of how much of a horrible person I was.

Praise and encouragement stifled it because shame knew better than the person offering encouragement. Like searching for an exit from a maze, only to find yourself back in the same spot 20 minutes later.

Now I allow myself to enjoy praise and criticism. They don’t have to be my enemies. I can dance with them.

Inevitably, as the shame and co dependency from my addictions began to heal so did my creativity. It came from a purer place. I was able to be proud of my work even if some didn’t agree with it. I didn’t and don’t have to be correct all the time.

We don’t need to be afraid anymore. We can develop a greater capacity for Love.

Many Christians misconstrue the idea that we need to be humble as meaning not being proud of our work or being excited that others are benefiting from it.

And for a long time that was how my belief functioned.

Yet my beliefs about the world instructed me to react with my back up anytime some one disagreed with me too. Whether that was my theology, views on justice, politics or anything else. If one part was wrong, then everything must have been wrong so I carried a huge pile of guilt and a deep feeling in the pit of my stomach full of anxiety and worry. Instead of trusting my gut, I assumed that it was lying to my face.

The secrets of addiction, compounded with any inkling of criticism led to me shutting down. I stopped enjoying music, art, relationships, life. The real me, the one I recognized from a distant past became ever more a blip on the horizon. It dawned on me that there are groups of people in my life who don’t know me at all. On one hand that makes me sad but honestly, mostly excited for what will come from this day forward.

Now, things are different. As I’ve healed from addiction I am learning to accept that being wrong does not require me to give up on my journey. I am beginning to view Grace in a new light too. It’s not about saving me to go to Heaven, rather it’s a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors that allows me to interact with everyone, no matter who you are or where you’ve been.

Regardless of your political or theological views.

It even makes room for Arsenal supporters.

I don’t need you to like me or like my work anymore. I’m ok with you calling me a heretic. I’m ok with you not getting it. I don’t need to persuade you. It may just not be for you right now.

If my work helps or encourages you I am thankful and grateful and I would love to continue that with you. I want to help you explore your own journey and discover your own creativity.

Because I don’t think I’m an asshole anymore, it means I don’t have to think you are either.

I am ready to move forward.

My gut was once my enemy.

Now it’s my best friend.

Advertisements

Learning to read the Bible differently. (Or how we can find Jesus by give up the need to be correct)

old-holy-bible-olivier-le-queinec

The Bible is probably one of the most misunderstood collection of writings that exists. Personally, I really struggle with it and I’m a Christian. (Yes, despite what you might think I am).

It’s been misconstrued as everything from a manual for Christians to follow (good luck following Leviticus to the t) to an outdated book that has no relevance to anyone anymore.

Everyone is striving to find the correct way to read it.

But there is no one correct way to read the Bible. How can there be with a collection of writings that consist of poetry, apocalyptic metaphors, genealities, parables, pages and pages of obscure rules about the correct way to test if your wife was unfaithful (this is literally the most mental thing I’ve read). 

To stories about a carpenter who claimed to be God’s son.

That’s even before we remember that it was written over thousands of years to completely different people by many different writers who understood the world drastically different than those who came before them.

Imagine how different we read writings from today compared to writings from relatively recently like 50 years ago.

When it comes to reading the Bible, as I said, I struggle. After a while and you’ve heard similar messages over and over for most of your life, you start to desire something deeper. You become thirsty for something new.

Some people call the Bible, “The Living word of God”.

I really like this description because for something to be living it has to be breathing and changing and  parts of it need to die so that they can regrow. You can obviously be alive but just sit at home all day. However to be fully alive you need to walk about and experience the world and suffer and find joy and hurt and cry and laugh and get lost and find a way out.

Luther understood this dramatically as he led the Reformation.

It’s when I don’t view the Bible as alive that I find it the hardest to engage with. Because as I grew and changed and understood the world differently my reading of the Bible didn’t. I continued to see it as a rule book that really had no reference to my life today.

It wasn’t however until I started to hear about practices such as Lectio Divina and read people like Rob Bell, Peter Enns and Brian McLaren that I started to see that this is much more than I could have hoped for.

It became less about something that I needed to read everyday to maintain my Christian membership but rather something that I was able to breathe.

It became a mystical collection of writings.

We start to read the stories about Jesus, less about how we are supposed to behave morally and more about how His life was so weird and countercultural and as way of opening ourselves to the world.

We start to read the Old Testament less as an illustration of a violent, angry God and more of a God who is patient and actually light years ahead of how people viewed gods.

We start to see instructions about giving away 10% of our income less as a rule and more about our faith that we are going to be ok and allowing this to change us into people characterized by generosity.

We start to read the “myths” of things that happened less as factual textbook examples and more as metaphorical descriptions of deep truths.

As Rob Bell put it in Velvet Elvis, and I’m slightly paraphrasing here, perhaps the greatest truth about Adam and Eve, is not that it happened, but that it is happening.

Now, this idea of reading the Bible this way will be majorly troubling for some. Which is ok. For others, it will be freeing and will reveal a God who is nothing like they thought.

But I have in no way nailed this thing.

I began to work through a year in the Bible reading plan in January. Sometime around the beginning of February I stopped. Why? Because I had fallen into the trap of “needing” to read it. I felt a duty to; I felt that I needed to read the whole Bible in a year to unlock the next level of being a Christian.

I was listening to those voices that told me that I was on the wrong path with my faith instead of allowing myself to try and fail. I thought I needed a map, when really all I needed was to learn to get lost a little.

But it’s for those exact reasons that I stopped. It was actually better for me to stop reading the Bible if I was just attempting to hit some standard of Holiness. If I want to start again, I need to refocus on why I am doing it. I’ll probably have to do this everyday. I’m not expecting to come away with all the answers and knowledge. If I’m being honest, I’m tired of striving for that.

I don’t need or want to be correct about what the Bible says. We all have a history and experiences in life that shape how we read the Bible. Instead of denying those things, it’s time I start embracing their impact on how I read. In some ways many of us in the Western Christian culture can never understand it since we aren’t first century Jews.

Ultimately, I don’t want to be sure I know exactly what I believe if ‘believing’ makes no difference to my experience of Jesus, Love and Hope. Especially in relation to others. I wonder if actually our striving to be completely sure what certain passages mean, prevents us from seeing something new and truly life changing. I get that. We need certainty. It’s comfortable. But comfortable doesn’t usually lead to growth.

So as I continue to try and read the Scriptures, I’m going to be wrong sometimes and I’m going to contradict myself a lot.

But you know what, that’s ok. Because I’m breathing, I’m alive and I’m still on the journey.

Just like the Bible.

Why it’s ok for Christians to watch Fifty Shades Darker and The Shack (and probably the Batman Lego movie too).

I wrote a post recently about my love of Horror movies and how they connect deeply with my faith. There aren’t too many other movies that we Christians lose our shit over, more than Horror movies.

Except movies with a bunch of sex. Or violence. Or anything that makes us laugh or cry. Even cartoons aren’t always safe.

This leaves us with slim pickings. Superhero movies are the exception because they save Pastors time and energy having to think of sermons. Why spend time exegetically deciphering Leviticus 28 when you can compare Iron Man to Jesus?

So with the recent release of the movie, Fifty Shades Darker and the upcoming movie depiction of The Shack, I’m sure there won’t be a lot to comment on.

As if.

Our instant reaction to anything be it movies, books or music that we’re cautious of, tends to be to criticize it without actually having experienced it ourselves. Famously, many denounced Rob Bell’s Love Wins without reading a single word. To be fair, many criticized it after reading it too but it’s still extremely common for us to close ourselves off to something without giving it a fair go.

This is why when Christians decide to review such things, they can come in for criticism for doing so. Recently both Martin Saunders, the film critic for ChristianToday and Craig Gross, of xxxchurch have both had to endure this for actually paying to see Fifty Shades Darker. Even though both generally came to the same conclusion that it depicted a relationship characterized by “abusive, controlling behavior”; this didn’t stop many having their say. Not so much about the movie itself, but about the fact two prominent Christians paid to see it.

Contrary to this, blogger Tim Challies recently wrote a post detailing why he believed even going to see The Shack would be sinful. shackGrowing up I was under the impression from various sources that we had to be afraid of the world. Anything “of the world” or “secular” was dangerous. Playing football on a Sunday was going to send me straight to Hell.

Thankfully, I had a mum who wasn’t afraid of the world and who encouraged us to explore it and be intrigued by it. There wasn’t a sense that going to a concert of my favorite band was going to turn me into a devil worshipper. I remember when she even tried her best to get my friends and I into the Empire to see Therapy? soundcheck since we were too young to actually go to the gig. Quick Mum brag.

We were too young, but we went anyway and it was awesome.

All that being said, I understood that the world was ok. There were experiences to be had, some that may be frightening, sad, discouraging but also ones which were hopeful, exciting and full of Love.

They’re all part of the deal.

The Bible itself is full of verses and stories about not being afraid.

Yet, fear is the most prominent emotion for many of us. It’s so engrained in our subconscious that we’re blissfully unaware of it.

Fear of the other is a regrettable characteristic  for many in the church today. Despite the examples that Jesus set where he constantly and frustratingly for the religious elite, spent time and energy with the very people who were believed to corrupt everything. The very people that were set on the destruction of His faith.

He spent time with Roman Tax collectors, he healed Roman soldiers kids, He rebuked the religious for attacking a prostitute. And, He never went to Church.

When our goal as Christians is to get to Heaven and to avoid anything, be it movies, music, tv etc that could get into our minds and corrupt us, our reactions should not be that surprising. But this is not a life of freedom and is simply another version of legalism.

That’s all very well you may be thinking, but what if this stuff does seep in and change us. This still doesn’t negate the question of why we’re afraid that will happen.

Things like meditation and yoga, which have been taken up by many in the church and have helped develop their spirituality and faith are seen as dangerous. The risk of becoming possessed by something dark is real, we’re told. Yet, what does this tell us about our belief in God and His power? That if we exercise or if we close our eyes and be still, He is powerless to the Devil?

I think most of us would consider this kind of ridiculous. But it’s a belief that is pervasive to many.

The purpose of being “set apart from the world” is not one where we try and shelter ourselves from anything that we decide is harmful. Being set apart means we have an alternative that is better.

If we don’t like the way relationships are portrayed in the Fifty Shades series, we can’t complain unless we’re offering a better way of discussing relationships and sex.

If we’re afraid of how God is depicted in the Shack, we need to ask ourselves why do so many resonate with the view it does portray, and why is the story we’re telling not helping more people find meaning in life, including all the joys and suffering it allows.

Christianity’s view of itself is often that we are on the winning side. But when you are the winner, you don’t need to constantly defend yourself. You don’t need to keep attacking. You don’t need to keep justifying. You’ve won.

If only there were some topical example I could use.

This is why we do not need to be afraid of movies or books or comedy or cartoons or music or anything else. Maybe these things are gifts that allow us to go deep and question the doubts we have about who God is to us. Is he a God that is afraid or one that doesn’t need to cower?

We attack because we feel threatened, not because we are strong. We attack because we doubt, not because we’re sure we’re right. We stop dead at criticizing without offering anything better because we’re not really sure there is anything better.

Only when we’re honest about this are we able to actively engage with the world from a place that desires to offer Hope and Love and something different. Because we’re actually experiencing it ourselves for once.

That is the true message of Christianity. A gift that is not ours to hold onto to solidify party lines or denominational differences or borders, or even to close ourselves off to that which frightens us.

A gift that is only useful when we engage with the world. Not because we want to save it, but because we are it.

So you’re safe. The devil won’t get you.

Until the Love Wins movie comes out that is.

The weirdest blog post I’ve ever written.

Weird. You are weird. This is weird. We are weird.

What is it about this notion that we find so compelling, uncomfortable or attractive?

“Say what weird?”

That was a weird question right? Yeah probably, unless you’re either weird or you’ve seen Hot Rod.

It’s weird that I’m typing this. That I’m sitting down and using my brain to connect memories of how language works and deriving opinions based on my life experiences and education and then using these 10 long spindly things that have grown out of the ends of my hands, themselves connected to two arms, to permanently store those thoughts on a computer.

A computer that I can carry around.

And it all happened fairly automatically.

Weird is all around us, ALL the time. That is weird.

But we rarely notice it do we?

Maybe it’s because we’re all trying our darnedest to not be weird. To not stand out.

Let me describe how I am at home. There are very few people that have seen the real weird me. My mum, sister, niece, a few select friends and family have seen glimpses. But Brit gets to see the really weird me. The one where I have no concern at all about what she will think of me. I’ve also seen her really weird side. This type of weird is more than simply in jokes. It’s the moments when we both act strange and don’t care.

It’s freedom.

Now, I’m Northern Irish. So weirdness is not something I’ve generally been encouraged to explore in my culture. We keep that shit down where I’m from. But here in America, weirdness is more widely accepted than most places. That can be a good thing. Or it can be a weird thing. For example, “isn’t it weird that we elected a reality TV star to be president”  levels of weirdness.

But I’m interested in why we don’t allow that weirdness to come out more often.

I’m convinced that everything that is creative and of worth comes out of a weird place. Think of all the TV shows or musicians you like. They’re all pretty weird.

Did you see Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl? That was weird. But it was also bloody brilliant.

Sometimes it’s good and sometime’s it’s bad.

Sometime’s it’s so bad that it’s good. Which is very weird.

I think then that the reason more of us don’t allow our weirdness to be seen (and make no mistake, it’s in all of us) is that we’re afraid.

We’re afraid of getting laughed at or ridiculed for being weird. But what if our weirdness is connected to something deeper?

I remember as a kid an incident (so you know already it was dramatic) when I was out shopping with my mum and sister. As we walked through Rushmere Shopping center we bumped into two of my older cousins on my Dad’s side. I was probably about 7, they were probably about 12 or 13 (which to a kid is like decades away). I was so excited to see them that I started jumping up and down and pulling at one of my cousins coats.

It was cute.

But I was so busy being cute that I failed to notice that this person who I was jostling and pulling at and making weird noises and faces was NOT my cousin but my other cousin’s friend.

Funnily enough, I did think it was weird she was reacting kind of frightened.

That was a moment I can pin point as where part of my weirdness started to become a little softer.

Or think of the moments we’ve all had when someone has told us to calm down when we’ve been excited or been told “we don’t do that here”. These chip away at our weirdness.

I’ve struggled with the idea of changing to measure up to people’s expectations for most of my life. If you read my last post, you’ll know what I mean. But I’m arguing that our job here in this weird existence called life, isn’t to change to make people happy, but to reclaim some of that lost weirdness that has always been there.

In Christianity, we may talk about this reclaiming our weirdness as reclaiming the true essence of who we are. Or as Danielle Shroyer puts it, remembering our original blessing.

If you’re part of a church, workplace or a community of some sort where you are not allowed to be weird, to ask questions, take risks, doubt; where there is only one way or the high way, then eventually you will learn to fit into place and not question where questions need to be asked and to not speak up when someone needs you to speak up.

Those places are usually the ones that never grow or learn to adapt. They don’t know how to be weird. For instance, as Christians, we’ve taken things like the Bible, which is probably the weirdest collection of writings that have ever existed and made them normal. Normal, is the last thing it is. But because we’re cautious of weirdness, we shut out different ideas and different ways of reading it. Which cuts off news ways of bringing life and Jesus back into our lives. 

miltonjones9_0

Comedian, Milton Jones asks, “Is Christianity Weird?”

The solution is to listen to the weirdness again.

We need you to be weird. It’s not something to be frightened of. It’s where growth and creativity can flourish. It’s where life springs forth. Remember, what you are thinking is probably not that weird since someone is likely already thinking the same thing.

So let your weird out. Don’t suppress it. Be like kids who have no awareness of weird or normal. Jesus had some thoughts about this. It’s just expression. It’s actually kind of normal.

Which when you think about it, is extremely weird.

God hates click bait (or how we don’t need to please God anymore….no really)

I’m tired of click bait. I get it of course. We want people to visit our sites and our blogs and if we simply offer them 5 easy steps to achieve their dreams or suggest we have video footage of the most amazing goal we’ve ever seen, it’s hard to resist.

But rarely do any of these things live up to the hype that they promise. (Scoring from before the half way line into an open net is not that difficult).

Those 5 easy steps you’ve been given are actually extremely difficult. Simple maybe, but extremely difficult. So after all that, I want to share the one piece of advice I heard this year that I’ve been thinking about ever since I heard it. I truly believe it could be life changing but remember, simple does not mean easy.

Now before I get to that one piece of advice, based on my previous paragraphs, I want to be completely forthright. This won’t be new to many of you. You’re going to be extremely disappointed actually. This is not going to turn your world upside down.

So I heard this piece of advice in a sermon given by Pete Rollins, a Philosopher from Northern Ireland but who lives in LA. He was speaking at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan and he said this right at the end.

“You don’t need to change, none of you need to change”

That’s it. Thank you and goodnight.

So, ok. There’s a lot more to this but actually, no there isn’t. You don’t need to change. You’re fine as you are. Stop trying to change anything. Stop trying to iron out the crinkles. They’re not part of you, they are you. It’s all going to be ok.

But in the words of Father Fitzgerald, the priest with the most monotonous voice in the world, “What’s the catch”?

77b3996c-26f6-4977-94cc-e5351c856527Well there isn’t one. At least there shouldn’t be one.

I’ve had enough experience being part of the Christian world and church to know that despite our message of acceptance and unconditional love we spend a lot of time and resources on showing people how to change. Heck, my job last year was leading groups full of men who desired to change.

But somehow I believe we’ve lost the true message that we don’t need to change.

What if we stopped there. “You don’t need to change”. Not, “You don’t need to change….but…”. Just.

You

don’t

need

to

change. (Damn it Rob Bell)

There is a reason obviously so many of us feel the need to change. Perhaps it’s because we’re stuck in an addiction of behaviors that are slowly ripping our soul apart. Or we think we need to look sexier, sound smarter or work out more.

But there is a huge difference between needing to change and wanting to change.

Take addiction for example. In fact, take a Christian who is addicted. It doesn’t matter what to. Does that person feel the need to change because they believe that somehow their addiction is jeopardizing their salvation or love? If that’s the case, which I believe for so many of us it is when we really start to be honest, then they don’t need to stop looking at porn, or overeating or drinking.

Remember? Unconditional love. There is no “but” to unconditional love. It’s either unconditional or it’s not. And we all know that. We all claim to believe in the inability to earn God’s love.

So why do we try?

Before we get there, try this for one day. Every time you think about that thing about yourself which you want to quit or change, tell yourself that you don’t have to. You can go crazy and do it all day if you want.

Look at porn. Overeat. Don’t workout. Don’t do your taxes.

Also, ask yourself why you want to change. Here are some answers which are not acceptable, if you truly believe in unconditional love like you say you do. God will be angry at me. Nope. God will be disappointed at me. Nope again. God will be frustrated….You get the idea.

The reason that none of those answers are helpful is because underneath them all is a belief that God needs us to change. But why would He? What effect would it have on God if we changed? Does He suddenly love us more if we change? Well if that’s true, then we don’t believe in unconditional love. Which is fine. But don’t pretend that unconditional love is any real force in your life if any of those beliefs about God are true for you.

If we spend our lives constantly trying to please a God who we claim loves us unconditionally we’ll end up going a little crazy. How will we know if we’ve ever achieved enough? What if we change that one massive thing that’s weighing on our shoulders but start doing something else that’s not quite as “bad?”

The God’s aren’t angry.

Of course change is an important and natural part of life. Change can be good. If I’m using a behavior that is causing me massive amounts of shame then that behavior is not healthy. But a more pertinent question, than how do I stop or start doing something is, Why do I feel shame?

Shame arises out of a deep belief that we are a bad person. A bad person because we’ve set ourselves up and consequently failed to live to a standard we were never supposed to achieve.

Perfection.

This is the question that God asked Adam and Eve. Who told you you were supposed to feel shame?

When I took the decision to stop viewing porn I set myself up for failure. Because I was doing it out of a false belief that God needed me to change. That was the operational belief in my life and so every decision, moment, success or failure had it’s value based solely on how it had lived up to that belief.

I believed God loved me more when I abstained from porn. I believed He wanted me to burn in Hell if I didn’t.

The problem is that for us mere humans, this all plays out subtly in our subconscious. I don’t really think God wants to send me to Hell but I do. I don’t really think that if I view porn today I’m a horrible person, but I do. I don’t really believe that God’s love is conditional on my obedience but I do.

This is why, when my friend Seth meets with guys who are dealing with addiction he tells them to go all out. Have at it.

When I took the decision to stop viewing porn because it was damaging my life and causing me to disconnect and feel like a shell of a human, things changed.

I was changing because the alternative was just so horrible, not because I needed to meet God’s standards. I felt Grace properly for the first time in my life.

Pete Rollins in a recent episode of The Deconstructionists podcast explained Grace wonderfully. Allow me to butcher it for you. (Or you should probably just listen to it yourself and save me any embarrassment)

We tell ourselves there is something we need to change. Another more subconscious part of us protests against that voice by pushing against the change. How Grace works then is to come in and dismantle that first voice telling us we need to change by reminding us that we don’t. With that, the protest voice inside us also falls away allowing us to truly change.

Not because we need to but because we’re free from having to.

I know this doesn’t make sense. It really doesn’t. Which is perfect for us because we need it to not make sense. Because for so long we’ve heard the messages of Grace from our pulpits but we’ve never truly experienced it. Which is why a daily routine of spiritual practice is so important for everyone.

If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of God, think of it as a Higher force. Something that desires us to move forward and live in peace with ourselves and others.

I would go as far as suggesting that for you right now, you don’t really believe in Grace. Not in a real way. I say that, knowing for me and countless others I’ve worked with, Grace was something we understood but never felt.

None of this matters unless we go through a new experience of course. “Understanding” this won’t change anything for you. You’ve understood it for your whole life, I’m guessing.

But now is the time to feel it.

Why Christians should embrace Horror movies.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of Horror movies.

I’m not sure where it originates from but I do remember seeing the trailer for Psycho 2 when I was 8 or 9 and being immediately intrigued and scared.

I remember coming out of the movie theater around the same age and seeing a poster for one of the Childs Play Movies.

I remember my friend Stephen’s friend Daniel, who told me both his parents gave him 5 quid for pocket money each week carrying a Freddie poster around to my house for some strange reason.

Or going shopping in Stewarts with my gran on Friday mornings during the Summer Holidays and exploring all the video covers while she paid for her groceries. Picking up titles like Maniac Cop and Phantasm, seduced by their covers and intently reading their descriptions knowing there was not a chance in Hell my mum would let me watch them.

I remember the most scared I had been as a kid watching Ghostwatch on BBC 1 one Halloween night; the 11 year old me convinced by familiar Children’s TV personality Sarah Greene, that I was watching something real and live.

I remember all of this and more and I loved how it felt.

I also remember as long as I’ve been remembering things, going to Church.

It was just a part of our lives that was always there and I’m so grateful my mum instilled this openness to God and Jesus in our lives. I know that at times it felt like the biggest pain but as I’ve grown up and explored what my Christian faith looks like and how it has transformed, I know that it was because of this foundation that was set for me.

Perhaps because both Church and Horror have seemingly been a major part of my life since I was a kid; I’ve never seen either as being incompatible.

Reading through the Bible it is very apparent that darkness and evil are everywhere. Even stories that as kids we sang songs about like Noah and the Ark, are inherently Horrific tales.

If the traditional Evangelical Hellraiser-esque depictions of Hell aren’t the very essence of horror, I’m not sure what is.

Even as I’ve grown up and explored more mystic versions of Christianity and embraced practices such as meditation, people have warned me about letting something demonic in.

So fear is deeply rooted in much of today’s Christianity. We’re afraid of Hell, demons and we’re afraid of what (and who) we don’t understand. We’re afraid of what will happen if the Democrats or Republicans get into power. We’re afraid that if we accept God’s grace too much, we will abuse it. We’re afraid that our theology is a little too dangerous.

Fear is far more common than we think.

So there is no better genre to help us as Christians explore our faith honestly and openly than Horror.

It’s not just movies like the Exorcist or the Omen which have explored the relationship between good and evil, God and the Devil, but more recent movies have explored issues that everyone struggles to deal with. thewitch_feature

Movies like It Follows delve into the struggles between sex and growing up or the Australian Horror, The Babadook which explores what happens when we don’t express our grief and pain in a real way. Or my favorite movie of the last couple of years, The Witch. A movie that has much to speak into  how Fundamentalism, the dangers of arrogance in belief, and how life without a community to explore our faith, can result in bad things happening.

Or if that is too much for you, how goats don’t make suitable pets.

These are intelligent movies that don’t rely on cheap scares to simply entertain but rather are clever and stylish pieces of art that help us find something bigger than ourselves in their portrayals of issues that Christians have struggled to grapple with.

Movie makers like Scott Derrickson, a Christian, have used Horror to explore the dark recesses of our minds in movies like “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, “Sinister” and “Hellraiser: Inferno”.

So why do Christians have such a hard time embracing the horror genre?

I think one reason is that good horror is honest. It doesn’t pretend that everything is alright and it doesn’t just give us easy answers to life’s deepest questions. Derrickson himself put it astutely when he said,

“Christ, in His moment on the cross where He endured the ultimate horror, gives us God’s mindset. He is not detached from suffering.”

Somehow though, we’ve become detached from suffering and don’t know how to face up to our fears, doubts and questions. We gloss over them until they are unrecognizable; but they still exist, controlling us without us even noticing.

Our greatest fear maybe, is that if we go too far down the rabbit hole of where our pain resides we’ll never come back. Carl Jung the Philosopher and all round smart guy talks about the Shadow. The Shadow is the part of us whose existence we don’t like to acknowledge but in which resides healing and ultimately the light. Turning towards our Shadow as described by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels in their great book “The Tools” ultimately allows us to reconnect with our pain and suffering, bringing us back into the light.

If we can embrace that evil is real, not to justify it, but to heal it, we’ll find new types of freedom.

This is why Horror is so crucial to Christians. It gives us permission to face our fears.

We talk a lot about unconditional love in Christian circles but we don’t really believe it. It sounds nice and it gives us a get out of Hell free ticket but day to day we work tirelessly to suppress everything about ourselves that we feel people will reject. Ultimately, what we reject in others is what we’re too afraid to see in ourselves.

I used to be a small groups Pastor, helping men addicted to porn find healing. Most of the time the healing required was not some comforting words but using the light to go deep into their doubts and fears. One guy, experienced a deep transformation but it was painful and it was horrific at times. But he embraced his pain and by facing his Shadow, he was healed.

Others were so afraid of their beliefs crumbling before them that they would rather have continued as an addict than finding beliefs that actually worked.

What causes us to stay in these places? What makes someone desire the prison they are in more than having their beliefs challenged?

I believe it is fear. Fear of death. But if we’re not free, we’re already dead.

Darkness is essentially the absence of light. The existence of darkness is wholly dependent on the light. It bows down to the light. But for the light to have any authority we need to acknowledge that there is darkness.

A healthy spirituality and faith is one that points to something bigger than itself. Good horror too, isn’t about the imagery or the story so much as what it says about our deepest fears and where the light can shine in.

Horror and faith it seems then, have more in common than we would like to admit.

When will Jesus show up In Trump’s America?

I remember on November 8th when Brit and I sat and watched the results come in, we were expecting like everyone for a completely different outcome. Slowly though, we realized that was not going to happen and what we had hoped wouldn’t happen, was happening.

We were genuinely scared and frightened. How would this impact us and the people we loved. We all heard the rhetoric coming from the new President elect but didn’t quite believe it would be as bad as was being made out.

The first week and a half of his term has shown that maybe it could be as bad. Worse even.  Continue reading