When Jesus is found in all the “wrong” places

There is a worship song that used to be pretty popular called, “One Way Jesus” which went “One Way. Je-sus”, funnily enough.

It’s got a pretty catchy hook and I remember hearing it for the first time many years ago and quite liking the tune. I didn’t really take too much notice of the words though.

Many popular worship songs have this same message of Jesus being the only thing we really need. He’s all we’ll ever need. And there is no way to get to God, than through Jesus.

Or is there?

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Crucifying god this Easter.

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

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

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.

What’s the Point of Easter Sunday?

What does Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus mean?

Well it means a lot. We don’t all agree exactly what it means. But it means something.

Whatever it means though, it won’t matter unless it’s something that draws us into a deeper and more meaningful life that creates room for the darkest and brightest parts of our lives to live side by side.

What matters is that something that changed the world forever occurred. Something that is opening up the world to a way where our pain doesn’t have to have the final say anymore.

Easter Sunday is the day we learn to accept our forgiveness.

In order that we can learn to forgive our enemies. (Tweet this)

Easter Sunday is the day we learn to pray like Jesus did, for the people that have wronged us. Where the people and the groups and the enemies that seek to destroy us can not, because Jesus took them on and came out on top.

But not through violence or a desire to even the score, but through a simple plea for forgiveness. The “them” Jesus calls for God to forgive is not one specific group of people (sorry) but all people (sorry). (Tweet this)

It’s me.
It’s the bullying boss who makes your life a living nightmare.
It’s Isis.
It’s Protestants and Catholics.
It’s Child Abusers.
It’s Republicans and Democrats.
It’s Muslims, Jews and Buddhists and every person who sees the world different than me.
It’s the LGBT community.
It’s the heterosexual community.
It’s the groups that want to reject someone for their skin color, political ideology or sexual orientation.
It’s Barack Obama.
It’s the terrorists who murdered journalists in Paris.
It’s the high jackers from 9/11.
It’s you.
It’s Nigel Farage.
It’s David Cameron.
It’s Sinn Fein.
It’s the DUP.
It’s Boko Haram.
It’s Joseph Kony.
It’s “them”.

It’s the destruction of the curtain that separates the worthy and unworthy to create reconciliations that will surprise and shock us all.

It’s the great reconciliation between God and every man, woman and child.

This is where we find Hope. This is where we find Peace. This is where we find Forgiveness.

This is not just good news.

This, is the the best news.

Why Christians should be a lot more like Stephen Fry

By now I am sure you have seen the Stephen Fry video where we was interviewed on Irish tv by Gay Byrne. In particular, the segment where we was asked about God and he revealed his deep hatred for a god who could let such horrible things as bone cancer in children or worms that eat through eyes, exist in the world.

I read a lot of responses to the video from Christians and there are a few things that stood out for me. In some cases, how alarmingly little grace there was shown towards Stephen Fry and in some really encouraging responses of understanding and thoughtfulness. Continue reading

Talking asses, bombs and why God is not who you think He is.

A couple of weeks ago, just before the Scottish referendum I read an interesting tweet from someone which basically said that since God was on the side of those campaigning for No vote, they were going to win.

It was a pretty bold statement to make but immediately got me thinking.

If God was on the side of everyone on the No campaign does that mean he was against everyone on the Yes side?

Does that mean everyone on the side of No understands what God wants but everyone on the Yes side is deluded or at best mistaken?

What about those on the side of No who don’t even believe in God, is it possible that they could be doing His work without even realizing it?

What about those who on the Yes side believe that actually it was they who were doing God’s will? Were they wrong and did the end result where No eventually won show that indeed God was on the side of No all along?

Or what about all the political powers and corporations that win every single day at the expense of the poor and vulnerable? Does that mean God has no desire to see the poor freed and the weak given strength?

And what exactly was the meaning of the ending of Lost? (No I still don’t know either).

There is a big problem when we state categorically that God is on one side over another in that it actually raises so many questions about who God is; which happens to be the exact opposite of what those sure they are correct believe. We argue whose version of God is more real and because we’re dealing with God, if someone disagrees with us it’s not something we can let go of easily.

But perhaps most damaging is that it creates a huge gulf between the group who believe they are right and the group who they believe are wrong. A short look through history will quickly reveal countries, Governments and individuals who have taken this route with devastating consequences.

Take my home of Northern Ireland for instance.

From the early 1960’s where people like the Reverend Ian Paisley were at the core of movements that coined phrases like “For God and Ulster” it’s obvious the damage that can be caused when the belief that we are doing God’s will results in the idea that the other side are the anti Christ. Violence, bombs, hatred and thousands of losses of life. All because one side thinks they are right about God.

Until it becomes nothing to do with God or even beliefs and all about fearful, unwarranted attitudes about those with a different “label” to you. Eventually, until the point when there is not a lot to distinguish between the two sides, except a common hate for ‘them’.

Sooner or later, one side’s belief that they are completely right about God will often lead to a violent and angry reaction towards those who they disagree with.

So how ultimately do we decide what God is like?

One obvious way is to go to the Bible.

That rich library of books consisting of many different genres, written by a lot of different writers, who each have often very conflicting ideas of God. Middle Eastern writers from incredibly diverse backgrounds with different aims, writing for different groups of people, each with their own unique traditions and beliefs. Words and poetry and stories and long lists of names which describe the journey of a diverse group of people, with vastly different ideas about God which pull and push in a millions different ways, stretched out over thousands of years. People struggling and messing up as they try to make sense of life and their faith in God. Confusing imagery and perplexing stories of fish swallowing men and people prepared to murder their own sons and talking donkeys.

That last one is not made up I promise.

Yep, the Bible is a perfect place to start and make sense of God.

Of course the best way we can understand what God is like is to look at the Gospels and to the words and actions of Jesus. Here we find a very clear and easy to follow set of rules for how to be a good Christian and understand what God is like. (Ok I’m sure by now you know where this is heading but just go with it).

Things like giving all your wealth away. Or loving those whose main goal in life is to destroy you. Or taking off all your clothes and giving them to someone who is also trying to take your money. Or letting someone hit you twice. Or ideas about being poor and actually being wealthy in ways you won’t necessarily understand at the time and may never fully get.

Or how about stories Jesus told about women turning their homes upside down for one solitary coin they lost and farmers leaving 99 of their sheep unguarded, open to attack from predators just so he could find the one who went missing (Some interesting economic applications in there for sure).

Parables which sound like riddles and stories that are just plain mental.

Then there was the way that Jesus upset the establishment which held ideas about God they had worked hard to cement. Upsetting groups like the Pharisees who tried their best to silence and control this rogue Jewish rabbi who called himself the Son of God.

(This is also what the Roman Emperor called himself so you can imagine the kind of stir when Jesus, a poor Jewish carpenter took the name for himself. Also, even our commonly held understanding that all Pharisees were against Jesus shows just how much we get it wrong sometimes. There were some like Nicodemus who stood up for Jesus.)

Then there’s the controversial Jesus who did radically shocking things like talking to a Samaritan woman (mortal enemies of Jews) at a well about her sex life. The simple fact that it was not a man who first proclaimed that Jesus had risen but actually a woman. (And to this day we many churches tell women they can’t preach). Then when even some of Jesus best friends, the people who knew Him best didn’t believe that Jesus was alive and kicking. And we wonder why we struggle to make sense of all that Jesus said and did.

Constantly, Jesus demonstrated a complete disregard for how everyone thought the savior of the world should act. He turned everything upside down forever. He made a fool of those who though they knew what was happening and delighting the very people that were considered the worst people on the planet.

So when it’s pretty clear from the scriptures that Jesus ended up doing the exact thing that was not expected of Him, always keeping his followers on their toes and using weird stories that usually made as much sense as a David Lynch movie, why do we believe that we are so often correct about God?

Time and time again Jesus commands us to do things that just do not make any sense. Ideas so out there that even today with years and years of Biblical scholarship we still don’t know what a lot of it means.

A God who is so difficult to pinpoint to a certain ideal that He is still revealing Himself in new and wonderfully exciting ways through the very people we think we think don’t deserve a second chance.

It seems that the very moment we assume we hold the most correct ideas of God and faith and life that we are missing the point. We can find so many enriching and truths about God in the Bible but over and over it becomes apparent that sometimes the best that Jesus can even come up with is vague ideas about what God or Heaven is ‘like’ rather than concrete truths.

Which when you think about it is beautiful and allows us to flourish in our full creativity and explore God in new ways that could give us new meaning and a new hopefulness.

And then it could bring us to a place where instead of holding tightly to what we think is correct about God we are open to the possibility that in the person who we think is wrong, a truth that causes us to love each other is brought into the light.

This is what real truth looks like. This is what true love looks like.

And something tells me this is what God looks like too.