I’ve been thinking a lot recently about where we find God. Growing up I thought He was in church on Sunday mornings. I believed we went through the week trying to hold on for the ride until we could find safety and refuge in church on Sunday. I suppose that’s why we are supposed to dress up nicely and behave because that’s our one interaction with Him every week and we need to make it count. Continue reading
The thing about those we label Heretics is that we’re all the same. We all believe in God. The only difference is that I say my God is right and you say yours is. But actually anyone who claims that their understanding of God is the right one and isn’t prepared to listen to someone else is saying that there is nothing to be known of God outside of their own experiences and understanding. Which actually makes you a much bigger heretic than anyone. Continue reading
How we treat porn stars or page 3 models is a question that is often absent in any discussion on the exploitation of women and to some extent men, in the mammoth porn industry that is in our faces more often than not.
Most people don’t like sexism, most people believe that male or female bodies should not be used for the sexual pleasure of a 14 year old cracking open the pages of Zoo in his bedroom. And an end to publications that promote these thoughts and ideas would benefit a lot of people.
Yet, I see a problem with the promotion simply of boycotts or protests of magazines like Zoo or “newspapers” like the Sun. Continue reading
This weekend on twitter in a conversation with someone I didn’t know, I made a statement that was pretty ignorant, lazy and simply untrue on my part. To the person I was talking to’s credit they continued to engage with me and we had an open and respectful dialogue about the Asher’s case which was at the forefront of religious news in Northern Ireland last week.
But when they made it clear that what I had written was untrue, I apologized.
And I’m going to be honest, it felt amazing to say sorry. It got me wondering though why so many of us have a difficult time apologizing to each other. And when I say ‘us’, I mean Christians. Specifically online.
When much of Christianity today especially online, centers around debates on theological positions about things that really don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things, it’s not much of a surprise that we can’t bring ourselves to say sorry.
Christians online, perhaps more than most groups of people love to be right. Our identities are so cemented in what we believe that when someone comes along with an opinion that differs from our own, instead of engaging with them respectfully and listening, our posture is one of defensiveness.
Our chests get tight, our heart rates increase and we attack our families (because that is what we are) in ways that will make our next family reunion slightly awkward.
But there has to be a better way.
I’m not saying we always have to agree. How boring would that be? But the way we engage has to be so open that we all feel free and safe to know we won’t get lambasted for our opinions.
It’s actually surprising how little Jesus is mentioned when online discussions involving Christians are concerned. The next time that friend that loves causing debate for the sake of controversy on Facebook starts a post, have a quick search for Jesus. He’ll probably be hiding somewhere embarrassed.
Nevertheless, I think in our approach to how we engage with people that disagree with us, Jesus is our best bet to look to for guidance.
What we often forget is that when Jesus did debate it was with the religious folk who were more concerned with power and maintaining the status quo than love. When it came to the people who the religious leaders said were dirty, wrong, worthless and sinners; people like the poor, the sexually immoral, the homeless and the people from other faiths entirely, He entertained them, He sat with them, He listened to and He cared for them.
Jesus did not call us to be right, but even if we are, our highest calling is always love. (Tweet This)
If He had wanted us to take correct theological positions He wouldn’t have had his best friends be a bunch of people from different belief systems, often doubtful, always confused, screw ups. He wouldn’t have spent so much time railing against the religious leaders of his day. He wouldn’t have spoken using stories that made very little sense a lot of the time. He wouldn’t have talked most highly about the people that everyone else had written off as being essentially wrong by religious standards of the day.
Even, on the evening of his arrest, when he was about to face the biggest injustice anyone has ever faced and had more of a right to stick up for being correct about something than anyone since; He healed one of his captors after they were wounded by Peter.
But…when someone disagrees with our view on homosexuality, or predestination, or money, or church, or swearing, or the use of violence, we quickly reach for our swords. To make matters worse, most of the time, it isn’t even our enemies (who we are called to love relentlessly anyway, sorry) we are attacking, but our family.
It’s almost as if Jesus first reaction to someone who was actually wrong to attack Him was to heal them. To borrow a turn of phrase from Jesus Himself, how much more then should we love those who just think differently than us and not feel the need to defend ourselves?
Do we believe that it’s up to us to save Christianity, or do we believe that it’s already been accomplished 2000 years ago?
Something to ponder.
Then, next time we decide to knock down and attack someone because we feel our belief system is being threatened it might be worth asking, was it ever that strong to be begin with?
And if that makes you uncomfortable well,
A lot has changed for Britt and I during the last year. We have left our community and family in Belfast to move to Detroit. We have deepened already existing friendships here and made new ones. We haven’t found a church in a traditional sense that most people mean but we have found church in people and places that encourage us (and hopefully vice versa) everyday.
We’ve also made extremely good use of Skype.
But perhaps on a more personal level a lot has changed about what I believe about God. Continue reading
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.
God’s grace is something that all of us struggle with sooner or later. Either we can’t fully believe that God has forgiven us for that porn binge we had last night, every night of the week or we struggle with the idea that God loves people who carry out some of the worst atrocities in the world….and Arsenal supporters. Continue reading
….If it is it’s not a very good one. Sure we have the 10 commandments, but then we have King David, a relative of Jesus who cheats, lies, kills people to get to their wives, causes wars and altogether gets up to no good.
And God considers David a man “after his own heart”? Continue reading
It’s funny how we use the phrase “God’s ways or understanding is bigger than our ways or understanding” when we try and pigeonhole God. It’s mostly used when people don’t know how to creatively answer questions about predestination or when it feels like God lets evil run rampant so much.
It’s also used when people question some of the parts of God that we find tricky to digest.
Yet the very people that use it the most when coming up against views of God can’t seem to let go of their own ideas of who God is and why He does or does not do things. After all, an understanding of God which states that some people were born just to go to Hell with no choice in the matter, because God has already decided, can’t see that perhaps this too is a human understanding of God. Continue reading