The Joy of faithfully being pissed off.

Being raised in church in Northern Ireland is a fairly unique experience that sometimes feels like a million miles away from the ideas around faith that I hold now.
 
The Bible belt of the UK, Northern Ireland has always had religion running through public life. I once heard a statistic that sounds just likely enough to be true, that it’s believable  but still insane enough to still be dubious about. That there are more Christians in a 50 miles radius from Belfast per capita than anywhere in the world.
 
How true this is I’m not entirely sure but it’s believable enough that I couldn’t say it was ridiculous altogether.
 
Either way, religion permeates everything. Politics, schooling, laws. You name it, religion probably has a part to play.
 
There does however seem to be a shift occurring in the public life in Northern Ireland where religion is concerned.

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How Trump’s America Demonstrates Christianity’s Unconscious Pain.

They say the greatest gift of all is Love. Whitney sang it, Jesus said it. The Beatles thought you didn’t need anything else.

But I don’t agree. At least not entirely. What I think is the greatest gift of all can actually be the greatest act of Love that you can give anyone.

What is that gift? Continue reading

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

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. 

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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.

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

PM

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.”

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The Prodigal Son. A story of just one brother.

Yesterday I listened to Rob Bell’s podcast on the Prodigal Son. It’s a story that continues to make sense on so many levels. A story that we spend time trying to figure out whether its true or not that we miss the real truth in it.

That everything I can have from God is already mine is a truth that I will never need to stop hearing. I read and remember. I work, I go to the gym, I eat dinner with my wife, we go for a walk, we talk. I experience it fully, life that is, then I go to sleep.

And in that hazy awakening the next morning, I have all but forgotten. I forgot the gifts that I had bestowed on me and need another reminder to get me through the day.

I don’t need to be told to change. I don’t need to be made to feel guilty about my actions. I know. I know.

But I do need to be reminded of who I am. Loved, accepted, redeemed, chosen. That can not be taken from me. I am the prodigal son returning home knowing I’ll be lucky to even get close to the door. Then I am surprised that the door was already wide open with a banner bestowing my name hung since the day I left.

Later today, I will be the older brother.

Because you see, this story is not about two different brothers. One, a prideful brother who destroys his family out of greed and selfishness only to regret his actions and come back with his tail between his legs. The other, the real villain of the piece. Someone who is quick to judge and can’t forgive.

He stayed after all, he was loyal, so why do we hate him so much?

The truth is much closer than we think.

No, this is not a story about two brothers but a story about one brother. Because let’s face it, who among us has regretted their actions, made amends, seeked reconciliation, received forgiveness and then immediately gone back to repeat the same cycle again and again.

By separating the two brothers into separate identities is to miss an important part of the story. Both brothers lie deep within us.

We often make the older brother out to be the bad guy but the younger brother had exactly the same belief about his father as the older brother. For both, they thought that the harder they worked or the more loyal they were, would decide their sonship. That’s why the younger brother felt so guilty coming home after all; he knew he hadn’t lived up to his side of the bargain.

But both would be shocked. Both would have to think again what it meant to be a son. They were sons because they just were.

Sometimes when I think about what it means to be a Christian I get it completely. I feel at peace and I’m not trying to posture myself to others or God through this blog, through what I say, do or think. My actions don’t come from a feeling of obligation but out of this sense that I am all I am created to be.

There is no greater peace than this.

Other times though, I think I need to believe a certain way or belong to an established church or just lump it and enjoy worship music or not think differently or have a very clear set of disciplines that I never sway from. These are the times when I am most anxious. These are the times when I query whether I am doing enough, loving enough, important enough, doing the “right” things.

My actions are rarely of someone at peace when this happens.

The church has a great reputation for making things black and white. We act sometimes as if we have it all figured out and there are those who are very much wrong and dangerous but if you think the way we do, then you’re ok. Otherwise, best prepare yourself for a hot vacation which never ends.

But this is the older brother part of us vying for attention. He thought he knew how his Father operated until something happened which shocked him to his core and challenged every belief about himself he had ever held.

We do the same. We think we know how God works, what kinds of people God wants us to be, what kinds of people we are supposed to associate with, what kind of movies or music we should engage with. We don’t want to challenge the status quo because we think God is the status quo.

But God is anything but. God doesn’t adhere to our beliefs about Him. We should shape our beliefs to who He is. (Share This)

The calling we have is to find a sense of peace in the Love that is ours simply because God loves us. Then out of this we are more capable to invite people into that life, that justice, that peace, that truly being alive feeling when we stop trying to fight for our faith.

We don’t work now to get to Heaven. We recognize that Heaven is already here. (Share this)

And that’s when we begin to take our first steps home.