Rob Bell’s new book about the Bible: A review. Or, don’t worry, you’re not a Heretic if you like this book.

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I know that right off the bat, I’ll have lost some of you. Even reading the name Rob Bell can cause a mild panic in many and if you are that person, I suggest you stop reading now because this short review of Rob’s new book is only going to get more positive.

Rob’s ability to convey deep Biblical truths in ways that seem to be radical and actually relevant has always been one of his greatest gifts.

His writing style.

irritates.

many.

people. Continue reading

Christians And Our Eternal Subconscious Fear of Hell (and why it matters)

Having been born and brought up in a Western, pretty traditional church experience in Northern Ireland (the Bible Belt of the UK) I know the extreme importance of being born again. As a kid, going to Christian Summer camps or being part of Christian organizations, hearing messages and going to Church every Sunday, was ultimately geared up to one thing. Continue reading

Crucifying god this Easter.

It’s Easter and if you’re not already stuffed on chocolate I suggest you stop reading and get to it. What other time in the year will you be able to indulge, guilt free.

It’s an interesting idea isn’t it? At Christmas and Halloween we know we’re going to eat a lot of candy but it’s not until after when we hit the scales and the self disgust kicks in. But at Easter, a time when we are supposed to remember the ridiculous, non sensical gift of Grace, we give ourselves permission to indulge.  Continue reading

A short reflection on the Christian Holiday you’ve never heard of.

It is now my favorite date on the Christian calendar yet I had never heard of it two years ago. Of course I’d heard the story of the Passover meal shared by Jesus and his disciples, the night where he predicted his own betrayal, only to be met with confusion and sleepy pals. But I had never really listened.

Maundy Thursday is new to me.

Easter is the time we celebrate Jesus resurrection but seldom do we take the time to focus on the dark part of Easter. And it is dark. We want to skip ahead to Sunday, but by doing so we miss out on something truly significant.

It makes sense that we want to pass this over. It’s not comfortable. You won’t find many churches hosting a Maundy Thursday service but it is a wonderfully solemn and deep experience.

I am writing this having just returned from one. The “Service of Shadows” (if there is ever a better name for a Church service I am yet to here it) leads us through six readings from the Gospels reflecting on the night where Jesus was betrayed and his eventual crucifixtion. The Shadow of Betrayal, The Shadow of Agony, of Arrest, of Denial, of Trial and of Suffering. Each reading accompanied with the extinguishing of a candle, slowly leading us further into darkness. Maundy Thursday

This is no coincidence.

There is no celebration here. There is no risen Christ. There is no awe or excitement. No victory. No defeated sin. No anxious rushing back to tell the others who you just bumped into.

It’s hard to see Jesus as a normal person but as much as He was God, He was a real Human being. On the night when He needed them most his friends fell asleep on Him. His frustration and anger can be felt. As much as Jesus was prepared to die, He wanted desperately to avoid what was coming.

We’re meant to see Jesus as fully human because it allows us to see ourselves as fully human. Maundy Thursday encourages us that there is something in the darkness that can be a gift. We don’t need to avoid it. We avoid it because we don’t want to face up to pain or suffering. That makes sense and that makes us human. It makes us Christlike.

But the message here is that whatever you are experiencing is alright. It doesn’t make you less human, it makes you fully human and ironically fully alive.

But today it is a distant Hope. We need to learn that it’s ok to feel this way. I don’t have good news for you but I do have this. We’re not alone. You’re not alone. We’re with you. This pain is what is going to make you stronger but that is for another day.

Resurrection will come. Freedom will come.

Soon, but not yet.

The Grace of Martin McGuinness.

It’s not going to come as much surprise to anyone that the passing of Martin McGuinness has divided opinion. One of the highest ranking members of the IRA during the height of the troubles but equally  as instrumental as anyone of bringing it to an end.

Had you asked anyone at that time, whether Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness would be sitting beside each other, laughing and working together just a few decades later you would be considered insane at best.

Sworn enemies, completely at odds with the values of the other. Yet here was one of the greatest examples of Grace and reconciliation in the Western world, written into our history books.

These days following the passing of Marin McGuinness will be a difficult time for many. For some his death will bring no joy but perhaps a type of closure. For others it will be considered great news.

Grace is a word that everyone struggles with. It makes us feel uncomfortable and angry. Confused and frustrated. It is completely illogical. And there in lies it’s strength. That’s why it works.

The fear of Grace is that people will get away with whatever they want and in that tension most of us err on the side of caution and refuse to offer it. (Or for that matter, accept it). Many will have been skeptical that Martin McGuinness ever truly changed and are convinced he turned to political means when it became clear that violence wasn’t going to work. It’s little wonder that we cling to this cautious approach when we view the person we hate as someone still deserving of hate.

What do we do with our enemy who has turned around and changed their ways especially when we are still struggling to forgive?

There are no easy answers to this and we can not wrap this up in a way that everyone can feel comfortable with. I’m fortunate to have grown up during the end of the troubles and beginning of the peace process in Northern Ireland and I am even more fortunate to have grown up without losing someone close to me through the actions of any of the terrorist organizations that existed.

But if I had, could I still believe so deeply in the power of Grace? I’m not confident I would.

When the first images emerged of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sitting together at two tables in Stormont, strategically placed so not to look like either were too comfortable with the other; it was a moment of great significance. I remember watching the news that day and being excited and amazed that something was about to happen. As the years passed and the two grew from cautious colleagues to good friends who genuinely got on well with each other it was a great example of the power of Grace.

A shared anger turned into a shared joke.

It gave us hope that no situation is too far gone to be saved.

Grace takes a leap of faith. Both men took that leap in those days. Having seen the other as an enemy it must have taken great courage fully knowing the backlash they would inevitable experience from their prospective communities.

The leap is even greater for those who have suffered at the hands of violence. It’s an abyss too wide for many.

Healing takes time and maybe it will never come and as much as I believe in the power of Grace, many will not be able to give their enemy the benefit of the doubt. They should never be judged for that but rather given examples of Grace that in time could provide enough light for them to step forward.

Grace doesn’t wait until everyone is ready. It doesn’t wait for an apology or for justice. The time for Grace is now not tomorrow. You can’t justify Grace. You can’t make it fit your agenda. It doesn’t work because you feel good about the situation, it just works. It’s the only things that truly changes you.

The alternative then is to grow weary and for hate to become the undercurrent under which everything else shakily stands. It may feel comforting for a while but it never leads to healing, just bitterness. This is why Grace is not just for the one receiving forgiveness but for she who delivers it.

For millions the Lord’s prayer has become a familiar liturgy, the power of its words having been somewhat lost over time. “Forgive us, as we forgive those who trespass against us” is not simply a nice rhetoric to monotonously recite during school assemblies or Sunday morning church services, but a  challenging call to live differently. It’s a reminder that there is no “us” and “them” but just “we”.  Lord, offer my enemy, the one who has murdered and stolen from me, as much Grace as you are willing to offer me.

Nothing less will do.

That takes courage and a prophetic vision into what is possible when everything inside you or everyone around you tells you to run. Only a few will ever fully experience Grace but those that do will change the world. I believe that is the cornerstone of which the work of Martin McGuinness will be remembered.

A couple of years ago Martin McGuinness appeared on a stage as hundreds of young people prayed for him. Thousands of teenagers, many who were not old enough to remember the worst of the troubles praying for a man who was responsible for much of it.

What a young, fiery and angry Martin McGuinness would have made of this idea is one that only a few people are privy too. But I will take a guess that he could never have even begun to imagine such a scene.

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This is a stark image and one that I believe we must return to over and over and over. It’s a vision for what can happen when we take a risk. When we invite into our home, the one who broke up our home. When we offer security and Love to those who seek to bring us harm. When we decide that our anger and hatred is not allowing us to experience life and Love and Hope then it is time to allow Grace to do it’s work.

Grace has nothing to do with what is fair. It is bigger than any of us and can’t be easily argued against or understood. But it can most definitely be felt. That is the only way we will know it is real. Not when we try and understand it.

So may Martin McGuinness’s legacy be one of what can happen when we take risks and let Grace do it’s work.

Because tonight Big Ian and Marty will be hoping we follow their example.

It’s up to us now, to not let them down.

Why Christianity didn’t work for me.

 

It’s fair to say that in the past few years I’ve gone on somewhat of  a pilgrimage with my faith. I’m a Christian and remain one and I believe in Jesus and I believe there is power for good in the world. I believe the church can be a wonderful mix of people who can Love and accept everyone regardless of anything intrinsic about them. I believe in this crazy story of a Carpenter from Nazareth who completely upended (sometimes literally) the way people viewed God.

But I’ve not always found that those things have impacted my life. Continue reading

Why I’m not giving up Social Media this Lent.

So we’re a good two months into the New Year and we’ve been working hard at our New Years Resolutions. Most of us have been eating healthy, hitting the gym every morning at 5am and reading our Bible everyday, right?!

Of course not. New Years resolutions hardly ever work. They’re just not sustainable. If you are waiting for an arbitrary date to start to change, you’re not really going to change.

Maybe then, the approach we should take is not to start doing something but to stop doing something. That’s where Lent comes in. Continue reading

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.

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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.

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

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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.