Archive for the ‘Misconceptions’ Category

Christmas is all about family. About celebrating together, about eating as much as will fit inside, about drinking a lot and about having fun together. Silly games are optional. You hear the stories of the harassed mother who has to cook for thirty on Christmas Day and then another twenty on Boxing Day, but the dishwasher is on the blink. You hear people complaining that they are just so busy as they travel around from pillar to post. But quite frankly, sometimes I just get a little jealous.

I love cooking and entertaining and having fun with friends, but Christmas is a family time. And so often it feels just like I don’t fit. Sometimes, even the events scream out “you need to have children” or those who have come by themselves have to move from the best seats with a view so that others who have come together can sit together. It’s fine. It’s a season for everyone, and yet, there is a lie right at the bottom of it. That lie says we are measured by who we’re with and what we can cook for them. That it isn’t Christmas if it isn’t fun.

Last night I watched a programme about Christmas No. 1 singles, and they started with a comment about Christmastime in post-war Britain. Apparently things were tough, and no one had any money, and it took music from the US to come and cheer things up a bit. That seems so distant now from the excesses we see all around us all the time today – even in times of great poverty and austerity.

Being with friends and family isn’t what makes Christmas. It is still Christmas when we’re lonely and on our own. When the family have fallen out and we’ve been dumped by another half. It’s still Christmas whether we’re rich or poor, young or old, ill or well, whoever and wherever we are.

Because Christmas is about God coming to earth, to live with his people and to be one of us. It’s about God taking a humungous risk in order to save us from the things we’ve done wrong. It’s about celebrating the incarnation of the Messiah, God’s special saving king, not about celebrating who we are and what we have and who we know.

That’s what’s going to keep me going through all the family services and the awkward dinner and the bad tv. That’s what I’m going to be celebrating this year.Ho Ho Ho

Over the summer, some big news hit the Christian world. Vicky Beeching announced that she is gay. She is a broadcaster, commentator, singer-songwriter who spent many years living and working in the US, and her music is sung all over. Shock waves reverberated all over Twitter and the trolls came out for breakfast.

The first comment I want to make is that in no way am I anti-gay. I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that it is only in that context that sex should take place but I believe that God loves everyone gay, straight and all variations in between. And for those who have missed the mark there, there can be complete forgiveness, because God loves us and wipes the slate clean. Cleaner than Daz.

But at the same time, when I heard the news, something inside me was really disappointed. Disappointed because Vicky is a good looking young woman who had as yet remained unmarried. Disappointed, because someone else in a similar situation had been outed “accidentally” on TV by a careless interviewer. Because these two had been some sort of proof that normal people didn’t have to marry young.

Because, as I’ve been getting older, gradually, the single friends have been getting fewer. Now it seems that everyone has somewhere to go, someone else to share with, and a new set of concerns and cares. Families are started, new lives begin.

And when you’re in that situation, it becomes easy to question whether there is something wrong. Whether there is a reason that no eligible bachelor has shown up in my life and whether that means that I’m just not particularly fanciable, or lovable, or even especially likeable. Or whether people might be looking at me, asking the question, “is she gay?”

But I had been at peace with my own singleness. People in my church are keen to match me with someone, seeing it as a waste that I am not married. I had rejected that, and tried to model attractive singleness. That I don’t need to be paired with someone else to be a complete human. That life has not passed me by simply because I don’t have kids by the time I’m 30.

It seems that gradually just as one by one friends have started to meet the love of the life, those role models for being single and living and enjoying life have also gradually started to be picked off, one by one. It feels as if I might be soon the only one left.

I refuse to believe that it is only through relationship with other humans that we are made complete – actually, it is only through being in relationship with God that we can be whole and healed and free. I dream of the day when I might have a husband and a family, but I know then that life will never be perfect and I’ll probably want the single dream after the 4am sick episodes and the smelly nappies and the unwashed socks.

Right now, I can go where I like when I like (as long as my job allows). I can stay up late or go to bed early and it is only me who has to deal with it. I can even use all the hot water. It is great being single. And it is also fairly normal – we no longer live in the world where unmarried women of twenty would be declared spinsters. But we need not to be a church which rejects those who are single and tells them that they are incomplete or unfulfilled. We need not to concentrate on families at the expense of single people.

Together, we can be God’s family on earth. Young and old, single, married, male, female, and everyone. Sexual relationships are not the be all and end all of life, even if they can be rather nice. And most of all, my identity is that of a child of God, not in my gender, sexual orientation or my marital status.hearts

The other day I went to a different church for a change. Also, partly because I didn’t get out of bed early enough to go the other one. Anyway, I went somewhere different.

It seemed a fairly normal service. Then the sermon started. And things got a little messy. Somehow, the preacher managed to link what he was saying to contemporary culture via the link of Jimmy Saville. As far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty bad news.

Yes, the news about Jimmy Saville broke a while ago. And yes, the abuse that happened to me was years and years ago. And through many a counselling session and many a good chat with a friend, it has been dealt with. With a few wounds along the way.

But I used to spend hours with my brother watching Jim’ll Fix It. We loved it. Jim even wrote a letter of support to my school choir once upon a time. He was a charismatic figure we all loved.

And he came crashing down from his pedestal when the news broke last year – I don’t even remember when. But then it was like someone turning the knife in the wound as day after day, I woke up to hear the headlines reporting even more allegations about him. Newspapers splashed his picture all over their front pages. He was everywhere. Truly, it was horrible.

Yes, what he did was completely wrong and he should have been brought to justice, a LONG time ago. But surely now that’s old news? The media got it very wrong, by making it be so present each day. And Fragmentz wrote a fantastic blog entry about it at the time and about being a survivor. Fragmentz – Some thoughts on being a survivor and Jimmy Saville

So when the preacher mentioned Jimmy Saville, I was angry. I didn’t need to go there again. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one there to have found it hard.

But then it got worse. Society can condemn Jimmy Saville because they consider what he did to have been morally wrong. But it considers sex outside of marriage as ok when it is between two consenting adults; something which the Bible tells us is wrong. Yes, I can see that point of view, in fact, I do believe that any sex outside marriage is not part of God’s plan for us. Yes, just because there are two consenting adults it doesn’t make it right.

However, by this time, something inside me was screaming You can’t liken sex outside of marriage to child abuse and paedophilia!!! I’m not even sure I heard the rest of what the guy said, as I was so angry. Abuse is morally wrong, and it has to remain separate from other sexual sins, simply because it is that. That doesn’t mean it cannot be forgiven, but it seemed to me like comparing the stealing of a penny sweet to murder.

After the service, I calmed down a bit. Spotting the preacher by the door, I decided to talk to him about what he said, and tell him that it had been totally unreasonable. That abuse affects something like 1 in 5 people (maybe even more) and that what he said would have been very difficult for many people to hear.

As I talked to him though, it turned out that he had no intention whatsoever of likening sex outside of marriage to child abuse. He hadn’t quite thought through what he had said enough to make the link – it had been a total accident. He accepted my criticism, said he would write it down for the future. And Jimmy Saville had also been one of his childhood heroes.

Instead of me seething throughout the rest of the day, and possibly descending into a place which I might have regretted, I felt alive. I had a life-giving conversation with someone who treated me as a valid conversation partner. And I’m hoping it made a difference for the future.

And whatever, it was another battle won for me. Another time when I didn’t descend into the dark and lonely place from where it seems impossible to escape. And I only hope that when someone gives me friendly criticism, I will be as ready to listen.

“If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” Matt 18:15

Preachers – just don’t go there with Jimmy Saville. It’s not cool, nor is it helpful. And please, read through what you have written before you proclaim it to a congregation…just in case. These things do happen.

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So I have a lot of stuff. I have decided. I’m currently living it up in the South of France (as you do) and, for essentially a three week holiday, I needed 23 kilos in my suitcase and a heavy rucksack besides. Good job I came by train.

Somehow, packing is something which fills me with horror. And even more horror. I simply cannot decide what to bring. Do I really like that t-shirt enough – doesn’t it make me look like I’m jaundiced? Or what about those trousers? Does anything else even match them?

I discovered that I own somewhere in the region of 25 vest tops. Only about 5 are decent enough to wear in public. The others are all vests , and some cannot even be said to be that as they are WAY too small, and therefore very uncomfortable indeed.

Do I keep believing the myth that one day, I will fit into it all again? Or should I cut my losses and bin the lot? How much do I want to be thin again – more than I desire Jesus to change my life?

How is it possible to pack for time away when the weather could do anything (and probably will) without creating a suitcase so heavy it is embarassing? Why does it feel like having things will make everything safe and ok? That I need all the things I own at all times, just in case?

“Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”

And I still failed to bring clothes that match. And my sunglasses. Tant pis.

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Where do we put our trust?

Someone reminded me recently that I am actually a relatively capable person and that there are a lot of things that other people find quite difficult that I seem just to be able to do somehow. Despite everything, I got good grades in school, played musical instruments to a high standard, passed my driving test first time, learned to bake and make nice food, did sport a bit… You name it, I was there.

When I met Jesus, I learned that the world no longer revolved around me and what I can do, but around him and what he has done for us on the Cross and in the Resurrection. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)

Jesus died on the cross for my sins. For every time that I fail to honour God in my thoughts, my words, or my actions. For every time I turn away from him. This changed things completely. Things were no longer about me.

But then every so often, I find the old patterns creeping back in. “I just need to do this, and then people will like me…” or “If I do really well in this course, then I will be really happy”… or “I will only be pleased if I get more than 90%”. Sometimes, I do achieve these seemingly impossible feats. Sometimes I don’t.

Every time that I do though, it is another reminder that I have a choice. I can either choose to rely on myself, my own strengths and abilities, or on God. And his are way better quite frankly.

It’s not about not doing well or not trying to glorify God through my actions, but rather things not being about me. Knowing that all that I can do is a gift from God. And that I need to trust him more and more. He has a plan for my life, so I need to stop getting in the way of that.

It starts being about the decisions I make. How will I spend my time? What about my money? Do these simple things reflect my trust in my loving Creator, or an attempt to glorify myself? Do I keep thinking about scissors and ways to hurt or ways I can know God more?

These are difficult questions. But I want to grow in my journey with Christ more and more each day, so I’m going to keep asking them of myself. Maybe you should think about it too, to keep me company, or because God is laying it on your heart too…

What do you see when you look in a mirror?

I know what I see. I see the many imperfections. My long nose. The spots I have littering my face and my chest. The wide shoulders that seem to stick out. The tummy that looked on sideways makes me look pregnant. The bum that seems three sizes larger than the rest of me. The short stubby legs that would be a supermodel’s nemesis.

What I see when I look in the mirror is so much focussed on my appearence. If I’m lucky, I might spot the bright blue eyes or the thick eyebrows around them, but more often than not, I don’t. And they are still what I look like.

Now, the Bible tells us that that is not what God sees. The Bible tells us that we are precious and loved. That we can be so much more than simply what we look like and that life is about so much more than that anyway. In fact, the Bible tells us that God loves us so much that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on our behalf.

So we see a distorted image of ourselves, and we get gnarled up in the twisted thinking which spirals down into self abuse and for me, at any rate, self harm or endless diets. I try to make the imperfections perfect in my own way, and it always fails.

But there is hope if we move towards the things that God considers important. If let our lives be shaped by Jesus, and let ourselves be transformed bit by bit, surely things have to get better, don’t they?

Sometimes, I think the problem can be bigger than that though. If we have such a distorted image of ourselves, what is our view of God like? If that is as distorted as the one we have of ourselves is, then we really have an issue.

It sort of all goes back to the Bible really, doesn’t it? And not, (well, hopefully) in a cheesy “we must read our Bibles more then get healed” but more of the dwelling in the truth within its pages. One of the old prayer books in the Church of England uses the phrase “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” about the Holy Scriptures. That expresses how we need to let the truth of the Bible be ingested by our system. A bit like when you have have too much garlic, the next day you can feel it oozing out though all your pores. Or alcohol, but let’s not go there, shall we?

When we concentrate on the greater truth of the Bible, suddenly, my stubby legs seem far less important in the grand scheme of things. And if they don’t, then they really should. But at any rate, we need to get a right image of God, away from all the twisted distortions of our minds and the limits of our imagination. And then, hopefully, the healing can begin.

 

A lament

Posted: March 11, 2012 in Misconceptions
Tags: , , , , , ,

 1 I am one who has seen affliction
   by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
6 He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

 7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
   he has weighed me down with chains.
8 Even when I call out or cry for help,
   he shuts out my prayer.
9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
   he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
12 He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.

 13 He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
and sated me with gall.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for people to bear the yoke
while they are young.

28 Let them sit alone in silence,
for the LORD has laid it on them.
29 Let them bury their faces in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let them offer their cheeks to one who would strike them,
and let them be filled with disgrace.

31 For people are not cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
   or grief to any human being.

34 To crush underfoot
all prisoners in the land,
35 to deny people their rights
before the Most High,
36 to deprive them of justice—
would not the Lord see such things?

Lamentations 3

A few weeks ago, I heard this passage read in a sermon and I found it really difficult. Somehow the idea of God causing suffering didn’t really appeal to me. I know it says later on that the Lord does not willingly bring affliction on to anyone, but that seems to be contradicted earlier on. Life in exile was bad for the Israelites. People were killed and raped and starved and kept as captives… but God brought this on them? What sort of God would that be?

Yes, I know they had sinned. But what sin is bad enough to cause that sort of punishment? As someone who has been abused, I would not wish it on anyone.

And then at that moment, life just seemed to be very unfair. I mean, why me? What had I done? I was a child when it had happened. Maybe I hadn’t always behaved myself like I ought to have done, but this?

So I had a chat with someone wise who pointed out the difference between sinning and being sinned against. So, my abuse was a result of sin. But not mine.

And somehow, that changes everything. I can understand that that is not God’s desire. At all. In fact, He must have been having a pretty bad and sad day when it happened too. But He did not cause it to be.

And He knows that it hurts. But it doesn’t have to any more.