Thursday, December 23, 2010

The one where it all gets a bit weird

As this blog develops I have noticed that there has been a gradual shift from the observed to the personal. In the older posts I shared other people's thoughts and opinions whereas now it's getting personal and that makes it harder for me to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard.

"He put on righteousness as a breastplate,

 and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak"

That's a quote from Isaiah chapter 59 verse 17. Interestingly he describes the armour of a Roman soldier hundreds of years before the Roman republic and its famous army.

The reason I mention this is that I want to discuss spiritual warfare. This is where it all gets a bit weird. I invited some friends to the Gospel Choir Concert last night and they came! This in itself may not sound particularly surprising to you but during the concert I felt a headache clamp down on the left side of my head. I am not a headache type person so it was a mystery. I took two strong pills and they did not touch the sides of the pain. I was wondering how I was going to get home I felt so bad.

Then Martyn and Liz prayed over me and that brought enough respite for me to be able to drive home. I staggered into bed. Martyn had prayed that I would be well by morning and when I woke up I was much better. This incident got me thinking about spiritual warfare. Check it out on wikipedia or google it if you want to find out more.The theory is that I had taken a spiritual risk in bringing my friends to church and the devil does not want that so will do anything to stop them - make them ill, make me ill. So it is important to cast out that demon and to pray for protection. Simply you can say "Be gone in the name of Jesus".

I don't know what to make of all of this. I don't know where to start or where to finish but this is what happened so it's in the blog.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Religious tolerance

OK this is going to be a difficult post. One of my major stumbling blocks in fully committing to christianity is the church's treatment of homosexuals. When I started this blog a year ago this was uppermost in my mind. I had been going to St. Matthew's Church and spent an hour and a half discussing this issue with the vicar. I remember saying "It's easy to tell a church full of people that those who have homosexual sex will go to hell but try sitting in the sauna at the gym with me and try out your argument". I never went back to that church. I just could not believe that God would make a group of people and then say "Ooh, yes I know I've made you with all the normal drives - to want a sexual relationship etc but you know what - if you want to get into heaven - you can't have sex". A christian friend said to me "God didn't make homosexuals, the devil did". So...where do I start?

I get the feeling this could be a lot more than one post - such a big topic. I am going to start with a couple of links to various sites on both sides of this argument.

If you read Nicky Gumbel from Holy Trinity Brompton - founder of the Alpha course - then you'll know that he believes that someone can pray not to be gay and then get married and live happily ever after. You can even find websites with testimonies.

Or for an alternative point of view you could have a look at;

It's all so confusing and it's making my head hurt.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How to design a perfect building?

So the idea is that God’s most perfect bit of design was man’s body and the way for man to design a perfect building is to use the proportions found in the human body that are God-designed.

Da Vinci was the first person to attempt to diagram God's perfect design.

What a wonderful example of God / science / maths combination in Vitruvian man.

I'm bowled over by the fact that there will be avowed atheist architects out there who will build beautiful buildings based on God's ratio and yet not see or know the link.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Staying in love

Regular readers, of which I now know there are a few, will know that I have a daily battle with faith. The people I admire and am attracted to intellectually are Ben Goldacre, Brian Cox etc and Marcus Brigstocke for humour. What they all have in common is - they are atheists.  I love "Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People" - Google Nerdstock and you will see where I am coming from. I've attached the video from youtube for part one from last year and hopefully you will find your way to the next parts.

There are Christians I am admire such as Desmond Tutu. However, when I watched Nine Lessons last year I recognised a group of people that I felt familiar with, if that makes sense. 

However, I am trying to be a person of faith. I wonder where all this fits in? My recent reading of "The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman has helped. Did I think that faith was going to be a bit like falling in love? Have I had unrealistic expectations of faith that somehow the high octane head rush of falling in love was faith and if I wasn't feeling anything then there was no faith.

Perhaps faith is a love relationship with Jesus and like any relationship it has to be worked at, sometimes it can feel mundane and sometimes it can feel transcendent. People truly committed to a marriage learn to understand that they will feel different things at different times and those feelings are valid and perfectly OK. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Falling in Love

Ferdi (miniature dachsund) and Poppy (retriever) - an unlikely love combination

I'm thinking that perhaps, just maybe a light has gone on in my brain - albeit a a low wattage one. OK so here goes - when you meet someone and fall in love you take a chance with them. You might try to gain as many facts as you can...."Is he a sociopath?' "Is his OCD bearable?" and various other personal and social tests. You may spend hours discussing with your friends "What was he like at school?", "Do I like his friends?" "Do we share interests?" "Will he put up with me?" but ultimately there comes a point where you know there is chemistry and you just take a leap of faith and maybe that's all I need to do with Jesus - I've read and discussed and analysed and perhaps now it is time to take a leap of faith - the chemistry's there, a significant number of my friends whose opinion I value are there, our lifestyles are compatible - I've been going to Church for over a year. So maybe it's time to stop asking questions and make that commitment to the man - Jesus.

Getting closer- Lean not on your own understanding

Yesterday it was my son's school nativity. He was a Roman guard. I wasn't looking forward to going a) he hates people looking at him b) he hates singing c) all the Dads are there and I feel really alone. Max's one line was great but I could see that the singing and standing on stage was torment and he looked like he wished to be anywhere but there. Afterwards, I confided in a fellow Mum, my feelings of inadequacy, I didn't quite verbalise my inner feeling of failure that Pete had left me and it was all my fault. I shared that I found it hard with all the Dads there. She surprised me in her response. She said "Do you get to make all the decisions about your children?". I said "Yes, absolutely, but I always consult/ inform out of courtesy". She said "Now imagine every decision begins with a discussion and ends with a compromise at best. Maybe your life isn't so bad". Well, that was a wake up call. I could choose to be grateful for how easy I have it and how blessed I am that I get to make the decisions for my children.

This morning I was walking on the beach with one of my dogs as the sun was rising. It was a spectacular show. To the South - bright pink and to the North - bright orange with a cool blue in the middle. I returned to that "Poor me" scenario, thinking "I wish I had someone to walk with on the beach, someone to talk to". Suddenly my footsteps in the sand reminded me of that famous poem and a thought occurred - "I do have someone to walk with me and talk to me - Jesus".

Footprints in the Sand

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed
that during the low periods of my life,
when I was suffering from
anguish, sorrow or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord,
"You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during
the most trying periods of my life
there have only been one
set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most,
you have not been there for me?"
The Lord replied,
"The times when you have
seen only one set of footprints,
is when I carried you."

Mary Stevenson
Copyright © 1984 Mary Stevenson, from original 1936 text, All rights reserved

In a journey into faith I suppose there has to be a time when things get personal. I can quote the bible, I can quote believers, non-believers but ultimately I have to open up my emotions and make an emotional or rather - a spiritual - decision about belief.

Now that I attend an Anglican Church, despite being  Roman Catholic, I am learning about some evangelistic ways. One thing I had never heard of before was the "Testimony Dinner" where, basically, once someone has given their life to the Lord they then share their faith story. You can google "Christian testimonies" and read some inspiring stories although none of them speak to me but perhaps that is because each person's journey into faith is as unique as the person themselves.

A few months ago, I started to wonder, if ever I got to that stage, what would my testimony be? What would I look back upon and consider to be relevant? How far am I along that journey now? How much if any of this blog will feature in my faith journey? I still don't know the answer. I feel I may be 10% of the way there - some days more and some days less.

This is hard and very personal. I don't know who is reading this - hopefully no one - but I've come to realise that perhaps this blog is the story of my journey. I have learnt a very simple fact - for all the arguments about faith - Dawkins / Hitchens etc Versus The Bible writers et al - there is a very simple truth. The people I know who are believers seem to live happier and more fulfilled lives. Even when bad things happen they deal with them so much better. Are they deluded? Some say "Yes" and some say "No" but ultimately they lead better lives.

Rather conveniently there is a Bible quotation to fit at this point. It is one I struggle with - it feels like a cop out.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3 - verses 5 & 6)

When I'm feeling particularly atheistic it says to me "Look, I know some of this is a bit muddled and in fact some bits are just wrong and I know if you attack this logically you aren't going to get very far - so don't try to use your brain, don't try to think or you'll end up like Dawkins".

When I'm feeling more like taking that leap of faith it says to me "Stop stressing, God is much cleverer than you - there is no way you will ever figure this out - so just take it easy and relax into God's love. He knows how it all works - all you need to do is believe and good things will happen."

I'm constantly looking for evidence - but isn't the evidence right in front of me as shown in the lives of my Christian friends. The Christian life shows us a good set of rules - back to the Ten Commandments (see previous post 17 January 2010) which, if followed, enables us to lead a happy and healthy life.

I think of friends who are proudly, adamantly atheist but struggle with failed or unhappy relationships, struggle with alcohol, cigarette or even computer porn addiction and I think it's a high price to pay for non-belief when life in a moment could be so much better.

Again I have to go back to a previous post where I spoke about how effortlessly I gave up smoking after years of addiction. I really enjoyed smoking but one day I asked Jesus to take away my addiction and it was gone - in an instant my life was better. I started taking the dogs for long walks, my outlook on life improved. What was amazing was I could still hang around with smokers and not have the slightest inclination to want a puff - it was like the slate was literally wiped clean.

I wonder whether that is why we find the snow so beautiful. Is it God giving us a glimpse of a life "wiped clean". I woke up last Thursday to this wonderful sight - there is even snow on the beach.

Immediately, on writing that, the logical atheist inside me said "Yeah but when it melted the dog s**t was still there". 

But maybe it is as I said - just a glimpse, a taster, an amuse bouche, a metaphor of a life wiped clean.

Often I feel anxious about my faith situation. As I have said before, I am stuck in a horrible limbo - not a true member of either group and perhaps viewed with distrust by both sides? However, the great thing about the bible is that there is a quote for every situation. Check out Philippians 4 verses 4 to 7.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I love the line about a peace "transcends all understanding" as I certainly can't figure this out.

Even when things aren't going well, or I'm having doubts about whether I'm heading in the right direction another well thumbed verse found at Jeremiah 29 verse 11, is relevant.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Of course, as soon as I write this the doubting Thomas in me speaks up and says "Pretty convenient to pick and choose suitable verses - it's a big book and there's a lot of stuff that is irrelevant".

But then my "faith" side of my brain fights back and reminds me of John 16 verse 33.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

And so it goes on - this endless battle within.

Ultimately, we all have to make up our own minds and take the consequences.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14 verse 27)

I'll end today with a final quotation and a photo. When the snow started to melt and the children were back to school I took a detour on the way home and stopped on the North Coast of Jersey for a bacon roll and a cup of tea. How many times had I looked out to sea from that vantage point? Wow - suddenly Sark, a neighbouring Island, looked so close and so different. In a way, finding a faith is a bit like that morning,being led down a different path (or road) and seeing everything in a new light. Ezekiel 36 verse 26 seems a good place to end.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

Actually, perhaps this is the crux - thanks to Nelson Mandela - "Madiba" - who could not have put this better - 

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be fabulous, brilliant, talented and gorgeous? Actually, who are you not to be, you are a child of God and your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that others won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, like children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in every one of us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give people permission to do the same. As we are liberated by our fears, our presence automatically liberates others." 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reveal Yourself

If you've read previous posts you will know that a friend suggested that I ask God to reveal Himself to me in a way that I cannot rationalise myself out of. Quite often I find myself asking Him to reveal himself when I am on the school run. Today I said "Please can you just reveal yourself to me so that I can KNOW". Promptly a car pulled out of a side road and it was as if I was invisible. The car pulled in behind me and missed my car by millimetres. 300 yards later a cat randomly jumped out of a hedge into my path. I jammed on the brakes and he escaped unharmed.

I had a passing thought - "God - you're having a laugh!" If I believed - then yes it was very impressive - two random events within minutes of each other. A millisecond either way and a whole different result would have ensued. 

Am I any nearer? No.

Random acts? No idea.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My favourite joke - and why it doesn't really work

This is my favourite joke. I am going to tell you why it isn't funny and what is wrong with it. I like this joke because there was a split second before I worked it out that I thought it was really funny.

So here goes;

"A middle aged woman had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. While on the operating table, she had a near death experience. Seeing God, she asked Him if this was "it". God said, "No, I am sending you back. You have another 40 years, 2 months and 8 days to live."

Upon recovery, the woman decided to stay in the hospital and have a facelift, liposuction, breast augmentation, and a tummy tuck. She even had her hairdresser come to the hospital to change her hair colour before she was released to go home. She figured that since she had such a long life ahead of her, she had better make the most of it.

After all the operations, she left the hospital and while crossing the street she was hit by an ambulance and was immediately killed. Coming face to face with God, the woman demanded, "I thought you said I had another forty years left to live. What happened?"

God replied: "I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you." 

What's right with this joke? The message is that God loves you for who you are and you do not need to change. So what's wrong with this joke?

1. There is NO WAY that God would not recognise you. I can do no better than quote Psalm 139 which sums up God's intimate knowledge of each of us. (Scroll down to find the whole of the psalm).

2. The second thing that is wrong with this joke is the implausibility of the woman's reaction. She MET God. Let me say that again - She MET God! She gained the proof that doubting Thomas' such as myself crave. She did not need to believe or have faith - she KNEW God and he knew her. She spoke to him and he gave her another 40 years of life.

In return, when she woke up did she say to the doctors and nurses "Praise the Lord!"? No, instead we are faced with a completely prosaic response, "Get my hairstylist on the phone".

Perhaps this isn't as surprising as it may seem. After all, the Disciples knew Jesus and yet despite hanging around with him, seeing him calm the storm, heal people, speak with authority, cast out demons etc they still didn't get it. Time after time Jesus had patiently to re-explain who he was and why he was here on earth.

3. The third thing that is profoundly wrong with this - is that to quote Psalm 139 - Knowing God - would she not know that she was "fearfully and wonderfully made"? and therefore have no need of surgery.

4.This joke shows a profound misunderstanding of who God is and what he wants to do for each one of us in our lives. 

There is a chasm between the God that Christians know and the God portrayed here. So maybe it is a good joke after all - seeking to hold a mirror up to each of us - and showing up the casual, cavalier attitude of so many of us towards God.

As someone recently said to me "You can live without God but you can't die without him".

Psalm 139 (New International Version)

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

 1 You have searched me, LORD,
   and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
   you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
   you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
   you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
   and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
   too lofty for me to attain.
 7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.
 13 For you created my inmost being;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
   when I was made in the secret place,
   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
   all the days ordained for me were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
   they would outnumber the grains of sand—
   when I awake, I am still with you.
 19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
   Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
   your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
   and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
   I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Two Steps forward - one step back

I've been wrestling for days about what to say. Two steps forward - one step back - sums it up really. I've been re-reading "The Unauthorised Version" by Robin Lane Fox, this time concentrating on the inaccuracies in Mark's Gospel. . Evangelist friends talk about the Bible being "the word of God breathed" and get very defensive / aggressive when I point out some basic inaccuracies. The usual line is that these were probably written about by atheists.

Here's just a couple I can think of off the top of my head - There was no decree from Caesar Augustus to the whole world.  A Roman census would not have taken Joseph to Bethlehem where he owed nothing. The census was used so they knew who to charge poll tax and property tax. As this was his ancestral home and not his home town there was no relevance to going there other than for the Gospel writers it fulfilled scripture.

Even if Joseph had to go to his own home town, he could represent his family so didn't need to take Mary.

Further, at that time Galilee, unlike Judea, was under independent rule so was not bound by a Roman census or taxing. As to proof of this - well, you can turn to Josephus - someone who is frequently turned to to justify and give credence to the Gospels' veracity. You can also look at coins of that period.

I just feel so tired of it all.

At Christianity Explored this week - we studied and discussed the Resurrection. I could see the frustration in the eyes of the "believer" on our table. Each table is given a leader who is a believer. They are not identified as such and don't make themselves known as such. Everyone turns up and sits down in groups of six and then it soon becomes apparent. On our table I am the only doubting Thomas. 

The "Believer" challenged me, "Where do you think you will end up if you don't believe?" If I follow the logic of the course so far I would have to say "Hell". "And do you really want to go there?". I rejoindered "No, but I can't make myself believe something I don't". I was starting to feel a little aggression and judgmentalism, on her part. I pointed out that all I could do was keep reading the Bible and going to church etc and hope/pray for a good outcome - relying on God's Grace - and that perhaps as many people believe - he will come to me in my last gasp. I think she thought this was a bit of a smart ass remark. She replied "So you're willing to wait that long are you?". 

I told her that only 7% of academics are religious  - and I imagine a few of those must work in the Theology department. So why is it easier to have faith when you are not in academia?

I explained that I felt that if I was a bit more stupid I might believe or if I was more clever it might help but instead I was stuck in a limbo of unknowing. She countered that I didn't have to understand to believe.....doubting Thomas etc.

That is indeed true - but not helpful to my state of limbo.

I've been reading a great book by Dr. Nick Edwards (a pseudonym) all about life working for the NHS. 

For some reason I feel particularly atheist today.

They are praying for me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Faith as small as a mustard seed

I've been fasting for five days now. Superficially for the very selfish reason of wanting to lose weight but also because Jesus fasted and I wanted to try to understand more about it through experiencing the ups and downs of a fast. Secondly, my fast coincidentally started at the same time as Murray Norton commenced his five day 500 mile charity bike ride. I decide I would fast and I would then give him £100 sponsorship being a notional equivalent of money saved (not going out to dinner, not spending on takeaways or spending on alcohol). Thirdly, I was just intrigued to see what would happen. There have been highs and lows - I was on such a high on Monday night. I went to my favourite restaurant (Pizza Express). I watched everyone else eat my favourite (!) pizza. I drank water and I feasted on God's word. It was Christianity Explored night so it was a great opportunity to find out more about Jesus whilst fasting.

Mustard seed
I've also googled fasting and there is a huge amount of information to process, which hopefully in due course will find its way onto this blog.

Mostly I have so far described myself as a non-believer who sometimes has faith the size of a mustard seed. Perhaps you are noticing a change in me as this blog progresses. All I can say is, I don't feel my "faith" has grown but I feel my non-belief is fading. I have stopped fighting and now ask myself that HUGE question - "What if it is true?". Think about it - "What if what Mark says in his gospel is true?". The implications for the whole world are awesome.

I've copied the first chapter from Mark's Gospel below. I've chosen to use a version from a particular translation of the bible called "The Message". I have done this as I feel that for many people like myself we have heard the words so many times, our senses are dulled. I keep reading this and asking myself the question "What if it's true?".

Mark Chapter One -   

The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here, following to the letter the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

Watch closely: I'm sending my preacher ahead of you;    He'll make the road smooth for you.    Thunder in the desert!    Prepare for God's arrival!    Make the road smooth and straight!

4-6John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.

7-8As he preached he said, "The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I'm a mere stagehand, will change your life. I'm baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out."

9-11At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God's Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: "You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life."

Thursday, October 7, 2010


"A" said to me that she thought Christians were arrogant to think that God made people in his image. Well, I suppose Christians are only repeating what is in the bible. 

Is there an arrogance to atheism? Is the belief that there is nothing out there and that "I'm the boss" also a bit arrogant? and maybe a bit naive, when we consider how tiny earth is, compared to the Cosmos?

Can you learn to be lovely?

A friend of mine said he needed to "work on being lovely" before finding a girlfriend so I googled "Can you learn to be lovely?". The secular answer according to google is "no". But of course "Ask and ye shall receive" springs to mind. Maybe all he needs to do is ask to be lovely, it certainly beats google's response - which I have turned into a poem of sorts.

Learning to be lovely (google style)
You can learn Bulgarian
You can learn to take lovely
Cityscape photographs
You can learn to clean
Granite countertops
You can learn to read
“The Lovely Bones”
You can learn the care
Of lovely pets
You can learn to sing
“Gonna be a lovely day”
But you can't learn to be lovely
Nice gadgets help you learn Chinese
Nice girls help you finish first
But best of all
You can
Learn to be nice
Just read this
And meditate for 10,000 hours
Lutz, A., Brefczynski-Lewis, J., Johnstone, T., Davidson, R.J., Baune, B. (2008). Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise. PLoS ONE, 3(3), e1897. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001897