What the Church can learn from Pride

So three day days ago was Belfast Pride. By all accounts a wonderful, joyous celebration of Love and acceptance. I was sad I missed it because Belfast is a city in a country that often seems very divided and any opportunity to join thousands of other people from different faith or no faith backgrounds, variety of political persuasions, skin colors, Protestants and Catholics, should be grabbed with both hands.

It should be celebrated. Continue reading

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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 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.

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

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.