Buttons Guy, Mental Illness and The Church. Part 2.

So back to Belgium. And Dis and his wallpaper lions who jump out and attack him. Why does Arthur, the father of the house that Dis stays in chase them away rather than try and convince him that they’re not real? That’s a great question. One I think that can be answered in how it affects Dis. Continue reading

The Grace of Martin McGuinness.

It’s not going to come as much surprise to anyone that the passing of Martin McGuinness has divided opinion. One of the highest ranking members of the IRA during the height of the troubles but equally  as instrumental as anyone of bringing it to an end.

Had you asked anyone at that time, whether Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness would be sitting beside each other, laughing and working together just a few decades later you would be considered insane at best.

Sworn enemies, completely at odds with the values of the other. Yet here was one of the greatest examples of Grace and reconciliation in the Western world, written into our history books.

These days following the passing of Marin McGuinness will be a difficult time for many. For some his death will bring no joy but perhaps a type of closure. For others it will be considered great news.

Grace is a word that everyone struggles with. It makes us feel uncomfortable and angry. Confused and frustrated. It is completely illogical. And there in lies it’s strength. That’s why it works.

The fear of Grace is that people will get away with whatever they want and in that tension most of us err on the side of caution and refuse to offer it. (Or for that matter, accept it). Many will have been skeptical that Martin McGuinness ever truly changed and are convinced he turned to political means when it became clear that violence wasn’t going to work. It’s little wonder that we cling to this cautious approach when we view the person we hate as someone still deserving of hate.

What do we do with our enemy who has turned around and changed their ways especially when we are still struggling to forgive?

There are no easy answers to this and we can not wrap this up in a way that everyone can feel comfortable with. I’m fortunate to have grown up during the end of the troubles and beginning of the peace process in Northern Ireland and I am even more fortunate to have grown up without losing someone close to me through the actions of any of the terrorist organizations that existed.

But if I had, could I still believe so deeply in the power of Grace? I’m not confident I would.

When the first images emerged of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sitting together at two tables in Stormont, strategically placed so not to look like either were too comfortable with the other; it was a moment of great significance. I remember watching the news that day and being excited and amazed that something was about to happen. As the years passed and the two grew from cautious colleagues to good friends who genuinely got on well with each other it was a great example of the power of Grace.

A shared anger turned into a shared joke.

It gave us hope that no situation is too far gone to be saved.

Grace takes a leap of faith. Both men took that leap in those days. Having seen the other as an enemy it must have taken great courage fully knowing the backlash they would inevitable experience from their prospective communities.

The leap is even greater for those who have suffered at the hands of violence. It’s an abyss too wide for many.

Healing takes time and maybe it will never come and as much as I believe in the power of Grace, many will not be able to give their enemy the benefit of the doubt. They should never be judged for that but rather given examples of Grace that in time could provide enough light for them to step forward.

Grace doesn’t wait until everyone is ready. It doesn’t wait for an apology or for justice. The time for Grace is now not tomorrow. You can’t justify Grace. You can’t make it fit your agenda. It doesn’t work because you feel good about the situation, it just works. It’s the only things that truly changes you.

The alternative then is to grow weary and for hate to become the undercurrent under which everything else shakily stands. It may feel comforting for a while but it never leads to healing, just bitterness. This is why Grace is not just for the one receiving forgiveness but for she who delivers it.

For millions the Lord’s prayer has become a familiar liturgy, the power of its words having been somewhat lost over time. “Forgive us, as we forgive those who trespass against us” is not simply a nice rhetoric to monotonously recite during school assemblies or Sunday morning church services, but a  challenging call to live differently. It’s a reminder that there is no “us” and “them” but just “we”.  Lord, offer my enemy, the one who has murdered and stolen from me, as much Grace as you are willing to offer me.

Nothing less will do.

That takes courage and a prophetic vision into what is possible when everything inside you or everyone around you tells you to run. Only a few will ever fully experience Grace but those that do will change the world. I believe that is the cornerstone of which the work of Martin McGuinness will be remembered.

A couple of years ago Martin McGuinness appeared on a stage as hundreds of young people prayed for him. Thousands of teenagers, many who were not old enough to remember the worst of the troubles praying for a man who was responsible for much of it.

What a young, fiery and angry Martin McGuinness would have made of this idea is one that only a few people are privy too. But I will take a guess that he could never have even begun to imagine such a scene.

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This is a stark image and one that I believe we must return to over and over and over. It’s a vision for what can happen when we take a risk. When we invite into our home, the one who broke up our home. When we offer security and Love to those who seek to bring us harm. When we decide that our anger and hatred is not allowing us to experience life and Love and Hope then it is time to allow Grace to do it’s work.

Grace has nothing to do with what is fair. It is bigger than any of us and can’t be easily argued against or understood. But it can most definitely be felt. That is the only way we will know it is real. Not when we try and understand it.

So may Martin McGuinness’s legacy be one of what can happen when we take risks and let Grace do it’s work.

Because tonight Big Ian and Marty will be hoping we follow their example.

It’s up to us now, to not let them down.

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.

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.

A Confession for Easter.

Today is a day just like any other. I mess up. I screw my best friend over. I cheat. I lie. I put someone else down to try and build myself up. I can’t stop doing that one thing.

Yet, painfully and slowly I am learning that my sins are not an accurate indicator for who I am. I want to be known and I can’t be known unless I am fully honest. If I hide the true part of me that I am ashamed of then I know that the me that people love is not fully or truly me.

Their love is to me at least, fake.  Continue reading