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.

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

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

Continue reading

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

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

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

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

Why I Gave Up on Quiet Times

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

You don’t have to have a quiet time.

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

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

1. Compartmentalizing God is kind of missing the point.

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

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

2. The Bible is not a self help book.

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

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

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

3. The more the merrier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why you need to invite your enemies to a Sufjan Stevens concert.

I need to journal today more than ever. I am a mixed bag of anger, joy, peace and angst rolled into one. One minute I want to punch my enemy in the face and then I want to pray for them. I want to grab some people by the scruff of their neck and throw them against a wall. I want to sit down with the same people and listen to why they are so angry, so against others being at peace, so bitter.

I feel pity for them. I feel fury at them. I am a mixed bag and it’s about to burst at the seems. Continue reading

Why as a Christian I disagree with the Conscience Clause.

I am no legal expert. I mean I enjoy watching Law and Order and heck, is there a better court room scene than Jack Nicholson yelling at Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men? So I am very under qualified to comment on the legal ramifications of the Conscience Clause that the DUP have brought forward in light of the Asher’s Bakery case. Continue reading

Should Women Be Leaders in Church (A totally ironic blogpost)

As I write this I am listening to a debate on the radio show about the issue of creating babies using the DNA from three parents. The debate is between two women, one who thinks it can be a good thing and one who doesn’t. Both coming from very different sides of the argument. As I listen I am struck by the tone of their voices. It sounds really weird and I don’t really understand what is happening.

Both women are speaking calmly, clearly and this is the part I don’t get, aren’t speaking over each other. They clearly haven’t been schooled properly on the art of debating. One of the women even had the audacity to highlight parts of the issue where they agreed with each other. Is she crazy?! If she doesn’t tread carefully then this could quickly digress into a civilized, informed and graceful conversation on a delicate topic.

They should have been listening to a debate I heard yesterday when two men were on discussing another topical news story. If the women had tuned in then they could have saved themselves the horrible outcome of really listening and learning something from someone who holds a different viewpoint to theirs.

That was a proper debate because I didn’t really understand where both sides stood because they were shouting over each other so much which was good because as a man the noise allowed me to sit confidently in the my own smugness.

And besides everyone knows that whoever shouts louder is right.

Or take last week when at the Consecration of the Rev. Libby Lane, as the first female Bishop in the Church of England, some bloke who reads the Bible, because he said he did, shouted his objection to what was happening. Then from what I can tell happened, realized that this wasn’t the “Biblical mandate for the requirement of Pastors to preach while jumping up and down on a bouncy castle blindfolded” meeting that he assumed it was, leaving his “not in the Bible” heckle slightly awkward as he shuttled off. index
And I’m sure that even that’s got to be in Leviticus somewhere.

But at least he made a scene of himself, unlike the Rev. Libby Lane who just stood there, all dignified and deferential. How dare she? Didn’t she know that the whole world was watching? How could any of us take her seriously as a Bishop if she didn’t at least yell back to the man, “I know I am, but what are you?!’

Which wouldn’t have made any sense whatsoever, and so would have been a perfect start.

But even if there are some logical reasons why women should be allowed to be the main Pastor or Bishops in the church, those aren’t important because even though us men are clearly more logical, the Bible says you can’t do it which means that you don’t need to think logically anymore. Which if you think logically enough, is so illogical that it becomes logical again.

And yeah I mean sure, the Old Testament says we should keep slaves and stone women, things  that we have clearly moved on from in the church; but you know we need to read the Bible in context and we have the New Testament now. Instead of women trying to get into positions of leadership within the church they should just be grateful we aren’t stoning them every five minutes. Where’s the gratitude eh?

Now I know that there are a lot of men Pastors who have failed on a huge public platform, but that’s only because you can’t sympathize with someone unless you go where they go. One reason for why women can’t be leaders in the church is because they get far too emotional and wouldn’t be well suited to the high pressure situations that many male Pastors face, like how much to tip a prostitute or how to keep someone who was spiritually abused by men in the church quiet.

But finally,

If you think women should lead in the church you may well point me to examples of men who couldn’t be trusted to be Christian leaders, like some of the really Holy Biblical men in the Bible who God chose to lead. Men like King David, who was so Holy and kind that He had his pal Uriah murdered, but even that was only because he wanted to save Him the embarrassment of finding out that he had been sleeping with his wife. That’s compassion.

Or the fact that the first person to proclaim the Gospel was not a man, but actually a woman.

But when you think about it clearly and logically like a man would, that was only because Mary Magdelene was going to the tomb to give it a good clean.

No, if you ask me, women should know where their roles are in the church and let us men do what we do best and lead.

After all, we’ve made such a fine job of it so far.

Why I’m not Making any New Years Resolutions and Neither Should You

Each and every year we all convince ourselves that this year will be the year when everything comes together and this time I will achieve those far fetched goals that I’ve never been able to achieve before.

I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions mostly because I don’t like the inevitable failure and hopelessness caused by burdening myself with expecting huge immediate changes. And I know you don’t either. Because I’m can’t be the only one. Continue reading