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.

Breathing on Job

Who reading this has gone through something big, so traumatic that it shook everything in their very core? A type of pain that has never been experienced before, so visceral that words can’t even muster anything close to describing it. Time may heal but right now, time is stuck.

Most of us have, or know someone who has. An unexpected death, a loss, a well laid out plan with months of preparation that was suddenly swept away from you.

As Christians we use our faith in those moments to remind people that God is bigger than our pain. That He has a plan for everything that happens. We may not understand it now, we may never understand it until “Heaven” but we can be sure that God is good and even this will be redeemed.

“God works in unexpected ways we tell each other. God’s ways are not our ways.”

Some of you reading this may be familiar with the ancient mystic tradition of Apophatic belief. I’m sure many of us wouldn’t disagree with the idea that God is love. That God is kind, gracious, peaceful, full of joy and we can experience Him intimately through our own experiences of those things.

The Apophatic Christian then says that God is not love. A contradiction? No. But rather the assertion that God can not be contained in a single adjective. God is love of course, but as sure as He is love he is so much more.

Then, and to really confuse us, the Apophatic Christian will turn around and say that “God is not, not love”. Wait, what?!

I am learning to feel more comfortable with this position not despite but exactly because of it’s confusion. This is the place that we can truly come to an understanding of our inability to understand God. He can’t be pinned down to certain beliefs or doctrines. He is not just a He. She is not simply spirit. There are many moments of grace where God does reveal himself to us but most of the time, God is simply, I am.

The Jewish people were onto something when they realized that it was actually impossible to say His name. That God is actually to be found in our breath. We’re all saying the name of God constantly.

The contradictions we often find in our faith don’t actually come from traditions such as the Apophatic tradition. Nor, does it even come from those parts of the Bible that say one thing then seemingly say something completely different later.

Our contradictions are usually far more subtle and more difficult to detect. Take our earlier example of comforting those in times of deep loss or suffering. When we insist that God is in control and that He will sort this all out, we’re often (not always, but more commonly than we think) using it as a comfort blanket of sorts. Where we don’t have to face up to the possibility ourselves, that God is not in control and perhaps this will never be healed.

It’s not in fact the other person we’re trying to comfort, it’s ourselves.

So we use cliches and phrases that may indeed be true but they aren’t healing. They just encourage everyone to avoid really shining a light on their doubts.

In fact, healing may not even be the point. We demand and desire some sort of lesson in this mess, when making sense is actually just our way of not wanting to experience pain.

Reading Job recently I noticed that initially his friends aren’t blaming him for all the shit that’s happening to him, but reminding him that it’s all going to be ok. He can trust God. But Job doesn’t buy it. So Job’s friend’s get frustrated and then Job gets frustrated and the whole thing goes back and forth for 42 chapters! job-bonnat

I believe Job’s friends had good intentions but Job’s suffering reminded them of their own doubts. They weren’t trying to convince Job, they were trying to convince themselves.

An alternative then is to help each other be ok with pain and doubt and questions and not be so quick to respond. Like the Jewish people, perhaps the best way to bring God into our doubt is not through saying His name out loud but allowing our breath and silence be places where God can break through in a far more intimate way.

Easier said that done. But perhaps that’s part of our problem. We’re far too quick to speak.

For Job, God was silent. And maybe that’s what we all should be listening for.

Learning how to write again (Or why I couldn’t be arsed writing for a year)

It’s been exactly one year and one month since I wrote on my blog. This may not shock you as much as it shocked me but after spending a good 10 minutes trying to remember my log in info for my site, I’m not really surprised.

I am hoping this is a lot like riding a bike but just to be safe, I have my stabilizers firmly fitted to my wheels.

Ok, so now I have a crappy analogy out of the way, why have I not been writing for the past year?

For many of you who have been following my blog or presence online for a while you will know that porn has been a pretty big part of my life, for better or worse. I’ll not rehash my story here but you can check up some of my journey and evolution here.

Backing up just a little, I’ve been involved with the ministry xxxchurch for about 5 years as a blogger, small group leader, coach and teacher. Then a couple of years ago I was introduced to Seth Taylor and later his brother David. With them I found kindred spirits in how I thought about porn, addiction and spirituality.

Hearing Seth and David’s story and their journey finding freedom from addiction, anxiety and depression was something that blew apart how I approached God. Seth and David wrote a book called Feels Like Redemption, and once I started reading the first few pages of an early draft, I knew I needed to get to know these guys more.

I had grown tired of the usual, “3 simple steps to defeating porn”. I was tired of the cliches and solutions that were based around controlling behavior. There had to be something better to dealing with this, I told myself.

Seth and I began to dialogue over email.

Simultaneously at this point I had begun practicing meditation, processing (a type of visual emotional healing) and allowing myself to be ok with doubt and the mystery of God. Over the last few years I’ve started to become interested in the more mystic side of Christianity. I started to question why Christians hardly ever experience the healing we claim to believe in, dealing with the fact that it was kind of arrogant of me to believe I could understand how God operates.

Was a filter for our computers the best we could come up with?

Seth and David have helped me as much as anyone in shaping not so much what I believe, but how I believe.

A mini personal reformation if you will.

They developed a new program called My Pilgrimage. More the framework for a new type of spiritual journey than a “program” to “defeat” porn.

Then, last February, I had the privilege to begin leading 20 small groups each week; guiding guys through this pretty radical idea of healing and transformation.

This has been my job. This has been what I’ve devoted pretty much every waking minute to for 10 months.

And let me tell you, it’s been one hell of a year. It’s been exhausting. It’s been frustrating. It’s been maddening, exciting and did I say exhausting. I’ve seen guys go from being held down and clinging to a god that has simply just not been working for them, to finding a freedom from addiction that they never imagined was possible.

Many have joined the groups and many have stopped, not experiencing anything substantial.

I don’t blame them. If we decide to partake in such a journey we are going to asked to bring up our pain and wounds and face it and deal with it. It asks us to put aside our identities for a moment or two, so that we can deconstruct the beliefs that need to be reconstructed.

There have been times where I’ve just wanted to ignore my email reminder to start a group at 730am in the morning or 930pm in the evening.

There are the groups I thought were going to be difficult and stressful but which have pushed me more than any other.

Others have joined and formed bonds and relationships with each other that will live on.

These guys I’ve met are not just clients or participants in a group; but people who I now call friends. They have taught me so much.

Then there is Brittany who has been unbelievable in encouraging me and picking me up off the floor, sacrificing her evenings with me so I could lead small groups 3 evenings out of the week.

Those 10 months were the most professionally, personally, emotionally and spiritually fulfilling and draining, I’ve ever had.

So the last thing I’ve usually felt like doing was to sit down and write.

And just before Christmas it came to an end. 800 small group meetings later and I’m at peace. I’m ready for the next thing. But first I need to breathe and take stock. I’m excited for what’s coming and I want to keep moving but it’s time to have a Sabbath.

I’ll post more soon about how this year has changed me and expect much more writing from me than this year. Shouldn’t be hard.

Until then, Peace and Grace my friends.

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.

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.

I’m a Christian and I don’t like church.

I’m a Christian and I’m not a big fan of church.

There I said it.

Now I know what you may be thinking. Here comes another Christian blog where the writer says something kind of shocking but when you read the article it turns out they were being clever or were kind of lying to you.

But no, I don’t really like church. I don’t really like worship music, I don’t want to recite the Lord’s prayer one more time in my life, and most Pastors say the same things you’ve heard a million times. Well at least I think they do; I’m usually about to fall asleep by the time most sermons come around.

I want to like church, I really do but I don’t. church

I haven’t given up on church. I have my frustrations but I’m not willing to let those stand in the way of being part of church, it’s just right now my idea of church has changed drastically than it was a few years ago.

Growing up, I loved my church. I still do even though I live in another country and haven’t attended my home church for years. I have so many happy memories of growing up in church. My mum still goes there and her family there is made up of some of the most Godly and loving people I know.

So my suspicion of church doesn’t come from there.

Going off to uni and having the freedom to do what I wanted, I took full advantage of not going to church and I loved it. And actually think it was good for me. It allowed me to spend some time out of that culture, to not be shaped by cliches and if it wasn’t for that period of time I was churchless I’m not sure I would be a Christian today.

By the end of my time at uni I was beginning to delve into my faith again for the first time really in years. People like Rob Bell and Don Miller were hugely influential for me and I started to see that there was a different type of Christianity that I had never heard of or experienced before.

Fast forward a few years and now married and trying to figure out this church stuff with Brittany we were led to Village church in Belfast. Without a doubt, this was the richest experience I have ever had of church in my life.

And this brings me where I am today. Detroit. 2015. Without a church. At least not a church building with sermons or a kids program or cool teaching series. But I have church. I have people who I spend time with talking about important things that matter.

You see, when I’ve belonged to a church the temptation has always been there to slip into the background. To make it out every Sunday and tick it off. But is that church? Is that all that church is for to hear one person give their interpretation of an ancient book every week.

“He brought the word.” “He really preached this morning.” That’s great. But I’m just going to go home now and look at porn.

When you’re told every week that Christianity is about every moment of every day not just one hour each Sunday, yet that hour on Sunday has little effect on you the rest of the week it’s hard to see the point of church.

Now, I know this is on me. I’m not shifting the blame of my life onto others. If I’m a dick to my best friend during the week that’s not the fault of the Pastor just because he didn’t preach a sermon called “Don’t be a dick to your best friend, asshole”.

But increasingly I wondered what influence belief, or faith, or church had on my behavior. I developed a porn addiction, I didn’t become more generous to the poor and I started to question everything I believed. All while being part of a church in one way or another.

And herein lies my problem. My problem is not you, it’s me. Church and faith became about what I can get out of it. Did I enjoy the sermon? Did the worship music fit my taste? It became about the brand, the name, reputation. Not just of the church but of myself.

I wasn’t really worried about whether I was addicted to porn. I was worried what people would think. I wasn’t really worried about challenged or moved by the sermon or worship. I was worried about being entertained and having my own beliefs validated.

And all those things distanced me from others because I didn’t care about them as much as myself. This too feels like a dangerous place to be because I am so aware of how important it is to take care of yourself, to love yourself, to not be afraid to be yourself. But that wasn’t my particular problem here (although it still is argggh). My particular problem was being selfish to the extent that I didn’t care about others as much as what I got out of church.

This is why the question “Where do you worship” is much less of an important question than “who do you worship with?”

I’ve had the privilege of working with xxxchurch for the past number of years. Part of that is sitting with a group of guys who over the past 3 years have gone from strangers to people I consider family. These guys listen to each other share their experiences of struggling with addiction. Honest, often brutal conversations about life sucking and being hard and we don’t always have the answers for each other. And in amongst those difficult conversations are glimmers of joy that continually shine.

That to me is church. It’s removing the barriers that exist to being honest with each other when all we’re used to is nice graphics and a worship band who are “rockin” for Jesus.

A few years ago when Brittany’s best friend died in the States, friends from our community in Belfast got together and helped pay for both our flights back to Detroit, the very next morning.

There wasn’t one sermon preached or one badly covered Hillsong United song sung to, yet there was no doubt that we had experienced church.

Feeling loved, loving others, generosity, being allowed to be angry or doubt, not giving up on someone, not trying to control, not having to have all your community believe in a set of doctrine to be part of that community.

These are things that make up a church, not how good it looks.

And honestly, I’m not sure that you always need a church building or a structure to experience that. Sure it can help facilitate it and I will always love going to church and experiencing liturgy and being around other people.

But I’m just not sure we’ve understood church correctly if we feel we need to be part of a “proper” church to experience church.

I’m not saying I will never be part of a church ever again. I’m saying that maybe I need this time outside a church to truly learn what church is.

And that may be the one thing that really challenges me more than any sermon I could hear.