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.