Tag Archives: Faith

RC Part 62 – The Shack by William P. Young

I have just finished reading The Shack by William P. Young. In fact I read it straight through twice to try and understand some of what it was saying. I put off reading it for ages because there seemed to be loads of hype around it, and it even made it to the New York Times Bestseller list, but I found it really interesting.

Anyway, this novel is about a guy called Mack whose 4-year-old daughter is kidnapped and murdered whilst they are camping. Four years after her death Mack receives a note from “Papa” (which is what his wife calls God) inviting him to come back to the shack where his little girl Missy was murdered. The story is about his encounter with God (who reveals himself to Mack as a black woman) and the healing that went on during the experiences he had at the shack.

I have to admit that whilst I don’t quite agree with all the theology in the book, there was also something terribly appealing. I loved the idea of God revealing herself in such that she challenged Mack’s stereotypes about who God is and the way he should look. I loved the way the Trinity related to each other and I found parts of the book quite moving and also challenging. It was an intersting book, packed full of theology and in my opinion did a relatively good job of explaining quite tricky concepts.

Definitely an interesting book to read if you can get hold of a copy.

Purity balls?

Tonight on Channel 4 there was a programme called The Virgin Daughters. The programme was about the purity movement in America and focused on something called purity balls or father-daughter purity balls. Basically it was all these scary fundamentalist Christian fathers taking their daughters who are all dressed up like it is prom night to a ball where they dances around a cross and then sign a pledge to remain pure until their wedding night. Whilst I don’t think that sex is something to be taken for granted, the sheer pressure that these young girls appeared to be under was frightening. The programme interviewed one girl who had taken the purity pledge, then met a boy and got pregnant. She talked about how her parents, in particular her mother, have held her past behaviours over her head and treated her like “a lesser person”.

There were other things that scared me. For example, 11-year-olds talking about their fathers approving their clothing, the expectation that their fathers will “inspect” their potential boyfriends before they are even allowed to date their daughters. It was all scary and controlling behaviour and I wonder how any of these young women will ever be able to make valid, sensible and reasoned decisions for themselves. The other thing that really struck me was the absolute focus on heterosexual relationships. I mean I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for a young person who is gay to be involved in a family like that.

An article in a 2007 edition of Glamour magazine nailed it for me…

But the real challenge, in my mind, is for a father to remain loving toward his daughter and at the same time nurture her autonomy. The purity movement is, in essence, about refusing to let girls grow up: Daddy's girls never have to be adults. “The balls are saying, I want you to be 11 forever,” says Kindlon. These are girls who may never find out what it means to make decisions without a man involved, to stand up for themselves, to own their sexuality.

18I don’t know. Maybe it is just me that found the whole thing quite creepy. Whilst I think getting the chance to spend time with your Dad is an amazing thing I found the whole purity ball event a bit weird. I mean I love my Dad, but I have no doubt that he wouldn’t have wanted me to remain 11-years old forever, mainly because I was a pain in the ass. Isn’t the reality that we all make mistakes and hopefully learn from them as we go along? I worry that the girls involved in this sort of movement grow up with an unrealistic view of love, life and marriage. Yes, women are sexual beings, but that isn’t all there is to them. The idea that their chastity is something to be given over by their father to another is pretty archaic. I wonder how many of them will grow up to be doormats… ruled over by their husbands in the same way that their fathers ruled over them.

Perspective

86I have just realised that it was three years ago yesterday that I left the Newfrontiers achurch I had been part of for over five years. Back then I felt very damaged and broken, still hurt and tender from the things that had (and had not in some cases) been said. I wondered then how I could move on and whether I would regain any sense of joy that I had previously.

But things change over time. The process has been a learning experience both for me and my family and I am quite sure that if I hadn’t gone through that valley experience then I would be a different person today. I am more tolerant, more cynical (or realistic depending on how you look at it!) and I am much less conservative than I was. The questioning had started a long time before I left, but it hasn’t really stopped. I am still full of questions, but these days I am far more content to live with not having any answers, and just to experience the process, however uncomfortable it might be. Things are good.

I still marvel at the fact that my life looks different now, but I wouldn’t change it. Thank you to all who have shared in this journey… your support, love and friendship certainly makes it all worthwhile 🙂

The retreat

DSCN5225Well now I have finally had time to catch up with myself I can think a little bit about the weekend. As usual it was fab to spend some time with the boys and girls of Courage in the beautiful Charney Manor. The company was fabulous, the surroundings wonderful and the food spectacular.

DSCN5222The subject matter for this years retreat was ”From Certainty to Serenity” and it was mainly about the the questions we ask ourselves and others. Questions about God, the church, life, relationships, where we’re going, why we are here. Any and every question possible. Instead of shying away from those questions the retreat encouraged us to keep asking and keep searching, and more importantly to enjoy the journey even if we didn’t get the answers we wanted or expected. The last session we had was communion. There is something particularly wonderful about sharing communion with such a diverse group of people. The singing, as always, was divine, harmonies all over the place. The weaving together of the voices seemed to reflect the fact that the differences we all had didn’t matter too much when we all came together for a common reason.

DSCN5230This retreat wasn’t quite what I expected but during the middle of it I realised just how far I have come since I first started attending Courage retreats about 8 years ago. Back then I was just a sobbing mess in the corner with someone supplying me with a constant stream of tissues. I was insecure and naive and whilst I still have moments when I feel like that the majority of the time I am more confident about who I am, and more importantly who God has called me to be.

Courage has done me good. It has given me the space to find out who the real me is, and the safe space to explore what that really means. The retreat gave me space to reflect and consider what was in the past, to look at the present and to wonder what the future might be like. I also laughed my socks off and drank plenty of wine… but that was an added bonus 🙂

Retreat

Today I am off on a retreat with Courage. I am really looking forward to it, not least because I have had such a tiring week and I am looking forward to not having to look after myself this weekend. All my meals are provided, I have a bed to sleep in and I can spend time with people who I love and who are such fun. Not least I get to have some time with God in a totally different environment.

One of the best things about Courage is the singing! It is totally heavenly; mainly men, often singing in harmony and I adore it. The subject is “From Certainty to Serenity” and it seems to be mainly about the questions we ask. Lord knows I have asked so many questions over the last few years, and whilst I have had answers to some of them, it is the ones that haven’t been answered that I am more interested in.

Sufficiency

Finally Peterson has posted his his musings on the Feeding of the Five Thousand. It is something we talked about several times whilst we were in Guernsey and rather than paraphrase his comments I intend to take the lazy option and cut and paste!

“The disciples and the crowd are out in the countryside for three days. This is before the days of Subway Sandwich shops and Red Lobster restaurants or well-catered retreats. This is a people used to carrying food around when they travel. Jesus rightly discerns that some folks don’t have any food left and will need nourishment to get home. Wow, how thoughtful, how sweet, how unbelievably practical. I love this Jesus.

So he turns to his team, “What you got?” I love how even in the English you can hear the sarcasm and exasperation in the disciples’ response. But Jesus had a plan, a radical one that did not require any magic tricks, one that I believe serves as an even more impressive miracle.

Jesus sat everyone down. Then taking the scant offerings the disciples rustled up, he begins to serve the people. Now I don’t for a minute believe the disciples gave up all they had to Jesus. If they were like most of us, they probably squirreled away a secret stash for themselves for later in the day. In fact, in the John 6 version of the same or similar story, the disciples offer nothing of their own but instead take five loaves and two fish from a little boy (giving an entirely different meaning to “out of the mouth of babes.”)

Jesus provocatively begins to distribute the little he has to give. I imagine Jesus doing this very slowly, dramatically, taking his time with it. The disciples see the basket rapidly emptying. They dig into their hoards and pass some more food forward. The news spreads quickly and quietly through the crowd, first to those closest to the disciples then radiating out. A supply line forms as each one who has food passes it along through many hands to the disciples then to Jesus and then back to the people.

In the end EVERYONE eats, including those who had no longer had food as well as those who carried more than enough. The crowd had such vast resources of food among them that stacks of leftovers remain.

A “magic trick” Jesus is cool and convenient to have on hand. One that calls on me to contribute from my own stockpile so that another’s needs can be met, challenges me and the society in which I live.”

I absolutely love this revisiting of the story. The “magic-trick” Jesus definitely appealed to me when I was a child but it would seem that this compassionate Jesus is one that I want to identify with much more strongly.

The idea that Jesus calls us to bring our into the open our “secret stashes” and the things that we hide away and keep for ourselves is extremely appealing. The idea of sharing out our resources so that as a community we can be sustained, both physically, emotionally and spiritually, for me captures the true power of the Gospel as epitomised in the life of Jesus.

CoboI know I have plenty of resources, both in the things I own and in the emotional strength that I have. Somehow though it never seems to be enough. The world encourage us to acquire more and more and yet the Gospels clearly show that by giving away the things that we have then we will have sufficient for our needs. The idea of having sufficient, rather than excess, is one that I have been musing on for a while. A while ago I was talking to someone about the fact that they want to build an extension on their house. I don’t get it. Only two of them live there at the moment and they already have three bedrooms. Why do you need more when you have enough for your needs? Why add more to an already large mortgage when you don’t really need it? I fully acknowledge that I would like to have a slightly bigger house (with a garden – but that’s a dream!) with another bedroom so that I could more easily have people to stay. The reality though is that for most of the time I don’t really need it.

I am so fortunate. I have somewhere to call home, a job, a wonderful family and friends who sustain me through the good and bad things of life. Truly I have sufficient and yet the struggle to maintain some sort of balance in my life goes on. This version story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand encourages me to redress this balance. To give up my resources and share my wealth with those around me, whether that be in physical or less tangible terms.

RC Part 53 – The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen

I have just finished re-reading one of my favourite books (I have been multi-tasking and reading several at the same time!) The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen..

The book initially focuses on the picture by RembrandtThe Return of the Prodigal Son. When Nouwen first saw this picture he was absolutely captivated by it and the early stages of the book document how he spend hours and hours looking at the picture at The Hermitage. His reflections initially were on the prodigal son, then the older son and finally the father and one of his friends said to him

”Whether you are the younger son or the elder son, you have to realise that you are called to become the father. You have been looking for friends all your life; you have been craving for attention as long as I’ve known you; you have been begging for attention, appreciation, and affirmation left and right. The time has come to claim your true vocation – to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking them any questions and without wanting anything from them in return.”

I love this book because it affected me so deeply the first time I read it and having re-read it several times it continues to speak to me on different levels. I clearly identified with the elder son, and yet as I read this book it kind of knocked off some of those sharp edges… edges that I know come back time and time again. Edges that I need to deal with on a regular basis. I am getting there but it is one of those things that takes a long time.

RC Part 52 – Exchanging the Truth of God for a Lie by Jeremy Marks

I have just finished reading Exhanging the Truth of God for a Lie by Jeremy Marks.

This is Jeremy’s story of how he founded Courage and how over the years the focus of Courage has changed and transformed into something very different from that which he expected. In the early years Courage encouraged gay men and women to pursue celibacy and whilst (I don’t believe) they encouraged people to change from being gay to being straight, they did advise and counsel people that they would have to suppress their same-sex attractions in order to live a Godly life. Over time Jeremy became increasingly uncomfortable with this position and in 2001 they changed their pastoral approach to one which fully supports same-sex partnerships. As a result they lost many supporters, had to leave Exodus International and the Evangelical Alliance.

I have had the privilege of being involved with Courage for about 12 years, so have been with them both as an ex-gay ministry and an affirming ministry. This book charts that progress and the difficulties that have been faced along the way. Jeremy does look at Scripture on the way through the book, but what struck me again and again was what enormous integrity Jeremy Marks has show through the process. I have always known that he is a gentle, kind and Godly man but his strength is something that I have often overlooked.

This is a great read, especially if you are unsure as to how to respond to the issues and, in my opinion, should be a compulsory read for everyone who is in the church!

The unravelling

Several bloggers have picked up on the fact that Todd Bentley, he of the alleged Lakeland Revival has separated from his wife.

I have to admit to being a huge sceptic of this revival, and I have been pretty horrified to hear some of the stories that have been reported of the way Todd Bentley has treated people and prayed for people. If this story is true it is unbelievably sad. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a very public figure who is being held up as being a Godly man when your personal life is crumbling around you. I am so sad for his wife and his two daughters who must be devastated by the whole thing. And yet, I am not terribly surprised by the story.

TV-evangelists scare me. I generally feel disturbed by their preaching and I hate the fact that so many of them seem to be involved in money-making prosperity-gospel scams. I loathe the name-it-and-claim-it and-it-will-be-yours style of faith. In my experience that rarely happens and then where are we left when all we have is disappointment? I feel that fear, hopelessness, lack of faith and questions (oh! so many questions) are all part of the journey of faith. What these ‘evangelists’ seem to do is invalidate this individual journey, it becomes a one-size-fits-all faith, instead of this gentle unravelling of hope and faith.

Also, it seems to me that when people become the leading figures of ‘revivals’ then there is often tragedy just around the corner. This is a sad story, whatever you think of Todd Bentley. Sad for him, his family, his church and sad for the genuine, gentle work of God.

Courage

I have had a very moving day, in so many ways. Today was the 20th anniversary celebration for Courage. Courage is a Christian organisation which works with lesbian, gay and bisexual men women, as well as being a safe and open place for their friends and families.

I have been involved with Courage since about 1996 when my friend Simon (who obviously at one point I thought I was going to marry because he is lovely!) came out to me. As a very naive 20 year old I didn’t really know how to deal with it, despite wanting to support him and gain some understanding into what he was going through. I was trying to reconcile my faith and beliefs with what Simon was experiencing and my brain was a bit fried really. Simon got involved with Courage and he introduced me to Jeremy Marks, the founder of Courage who offered me an amazing amount of support, helping me to try and understand what Simon was going through. At this time Courage was an ex-gay ministry; they believed that it was possible for gay men and women to change, either to become heterosexual, or to live a life of celibacy but not necessarily changing their sexual orientation.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, due to personal circumstances I stopped going to Courage for a while and when I went back in 2000-and-something I found that they had changed significantly. Instead of being an ex-gay movement Courage had transformed into this wonderful ministry; affirming gay men and women and encouraging them to be real and honest about their personal journies.

Today’s celebration was a very moving and emotional experience. I saw friends I haven’t seen for years and years (including the lovely Maris who still gives the best cuddles ever) and as part of the service we heard testimonies from several people who shared their stories of faith, recovery and hope and the ways in which Courage and Jeremy had helped them. I unashamedly wept throughout some of these stories as the individuals shared about their brokenness.

Having had a train trip home to reflect on today, and the last 12 years, and once again I realised that it is such an awesome privilege to have shared the journey with these men and women. During the service I stood alongside my friend Simon and some of my other close friends, and as we worshipped I know that I have such a depth of connection with them. Despite the fact that I am a straight woman, my journey with these guys has run a parallel course with their journies, intersecting at various points along the way. The pain of their brokenness and the ways in which their churches have treated them have increased my passion for those who are disaffected by our religious institutions and leaders. My desire to stand up for their rights as individuals who are loved by God, to be a straight ally, is undiminished. This role has been costly, being seen as an outsider is difficult, no matter the reason you feel excluded. Indeed being seen as an ally has put me at odds with church groups and leaders, and at times even my family, and yet, I hold onto the belief that this is a place that God has called me to be.

Would I have chosen a different journey if I had known that it would be painful along the way? I doubt it somehow. Their experiences, and mine, have brought such a richness to my life. They have challenged me out of my middle-class, self-righteous, charismatic, straight, evangelical, know-it-all roots.

These days I am happy to live with the not-knowing, with not being able to make things OK for them. I am happy to not have all the answers. I am content to be a safe place for them to come home to. I delight in being a refuge for them when everything is confusing and difficult and I am grateful that they have shared their lives and struggles with me. The extremes of emotions that we have shared is extraordinary and I laugh and cry more with these people than almost anyone else.

These people have made me who I am today.

Thank you.

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