Sunday, 13 July 2014

How many lives ?

I sit here in my beautiful garden the sun is shining down and life feels good.

But reading and hearing the news that is unfolding in the Middle East where yet again the conflict that simmers quietly all the time as erupted again to be in the national news. This commenced after the death of 3 young Israeli boys tragically kidnapped and murdered supposedly by the Palestinian group Hamas.

The tragedy of such loss cannot be underplayed, but now we see the increasing tragedy is that of increased retaliation by Israel.

So the question is How many dead Palestinians will make up for the loss of 3 teenagers?

I don't fully understand the complexities of the Middle East ( brief history here) to hopefully help. I have just had a discussion on social media with a friend from my youth who is staunchly pro-Israel and then continued on with some of his friends who live there.

They speak of the fear of listening to the incoming rockets and fleeing into bomb shelters, I can't even imagine this sat where I am today the only sound is that of the wind in the trees and the occasionally car passing by.

They speak with a bias we all have when we defend our own truth, or tell our own story. They are living it what do I know ?

But this war this conflict started many years ago with 2 peoples claiming ownership of a piece of land not much bigger than the country of Wales here in UK. ( to note here most living there were Palestinians the land was known as Palestine) there was also some Jews still living in the land.

It is extremely hard to unravel the truth of this the propaganda machine is high on both sides, just google the conflict.

What I do know for sure is that if you check this map, Palestine only a few decades ago was the nation who held most of the territory although like all colonialism was ruled by Great Britain who in 1948 in discussion with other nations, gave the territory to the decimated and cruelly treated Jewish people, many who were recovering from their time under Nazi rule in concentration camps.

This people group so sorely treated by many nations before, during and after World War Two had seen great atrocities and were recognised as a nation for the first time in many years in fact 100's of years.

And so the conflict began and we now sit here in the West in 2014 and our news tells us that the Israeli army have now gone in to Gaza a strip of land 139 miles wide to subdue the firing of rockets into Israel, which I must stress again I do not condone.

Here though is what I do know

As it stands 159 Palestinians are dead 23 children possibly more in this number.

Over 1000 casualties

Israel 3 (the teenagers that inflamed the latest conflict) and 0 casualties

So I ask again how many Palestinians dead will be enough pay back for the murdered 3 Israeli teenagers?

So I sit here today pro- peace this situation needs to be resolved but tanks and planes and rockets only decimate and destroy.

As this conflict reaches it 60th decade here is a prayer I found today on the internet.

God of all the centuries

We long to see an end to the lines that divide:

The lines that scar families,

The line that deface religions,

The lines that embattle nations.

May you, O God,

Who crossed the line between heaven and earth,

Work a miracle in the hearts of humans and in the destinies of our countries enduring war.

Amen


 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Noblesse oblige

I would recommend reading this passage through a few times it takes some working through, I have just tried to share a few of my thoughts culminating with the main theme of this blog post.

Luke 12:34-48 .Watchfulness "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." Peter asked, "Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?" The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. "The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. …I have been thinking about this verse in Luke's gospel for the past few years in the context of my faith journey: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

I then heard the phrase 'Noblesse oblige', and I was not fully sure what it meant, the definition is; it's a French phrase literally meaning "nobility obliges". It is the concept that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements and requires the person with such status to fulfil social responsibilities, particularly in leadership roles.

I feel that I am someone who has been given much, not because I am anyone special in anyway or in anything I have done. But I was privileged to be born into a loving home, loved and cared for growing up, by an attentive mother and father. Never ever knowing what hunger is, protected from any kind of abuse either physical, mental or sexual. Educated to a good standard, enough to be blessed to qualify as a nurse and midwife. Marrying a loving man, raising a family. Yes I have known ups and downs and felt the pain of loss, but privileged I surely am.This passage in Luke's gospel has the theme of being 'watchful', ready, with our lamps burning, dressed ready to serve the master has he returns from a wedding. The master/Lord then dresses himself to serve, which is a twist in this story paralleled in the passage in John' gospel 13:11-17

'When Jesus had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."The story continues, the master could come at any hour and if they knew when a thief was coming to steal, they would not have allowed their homes to be broken into. Reminding them again - this must be important to note, the Son of man could come again at the most unexpected time.Peter asks Jesus is this for us personally or for everyone? No answer is given but a statement about the faithful and wise manager who is charged with making sure his servants have sufficient food. The wise manager is then referred to as the servant who when his master finds him doing this will be put in charge of all of the masters possessions. But if this servant stops being watchful for the masters return and he beats his male and female servants and practices gluttony he will be cut to pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers.It seems the master/servant who knows what he is doing but is not caring and careful will be beaten with many blows. Those who equally do these wicked things but do not know to be watchful will equally receive punishment but it will be less than those who know.

So we are then led to this key thought everyone given much- much is required.So this brings me to 'Noblesse oblige' privilege entails responsibility.

"Privilege as defined by the Oxford dictionary is ' A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group

How do I check my privilege and become aware of my responsibility to others?

Short answer I think is to learn treat others well, we are told clearly the way to serve others is to pick up a towel and if not literally ( thank goodness) it is figuratively to wash their feet.

This very action places you in the role of one who is serving without judgement. It is the action of love poured out on the 'other' with the intention of giving and not receiving.

One of my favourite books and thought comes from ― Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'."You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

We need to recognise our privilege and our advantages and then realise this places upon us a responsibility to serve others appropriately.Bill Gates: founder of Microsoft said "My mother, who was filled with pride the day I was admitted here-never stopped pressing me to do more for others. A few days before my wedding, she hosted a bridal event, at which she read aloud a letter about marriage that she had written to Melinda. My mother was very ill with cancer at the time, but she saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and at the close of the letter she said: From those to whom much is given, much is expected. - Harvard University, 2007

Recognising privilege is vitally important, just this week I encountered a young man extolling his view of complementarianism at a university conference Missio Dei. I commented firstly on my sadness that this hierarchical view is still a preferences in some churches. When you reach the age of 53 in the year 2014 you really hope and have prayed a lot that equality of men and women would be the order of the day in church. I pointed out his 'white male privilege' to which he mentioned some areas he felt were a disadvantage to him. I raise this here to clarify why we need to see 'our much', it's different for all of us. But it really is essential to know what your advantages are. Being male and white is a clear privilege that holds many advantages. This can be seen in the views held about women and their sexuality by prominent press reporters. Recently in the Washington Post, columnist George Will, wrote about campus rape, claiming that being a victim in college has become "a coveted status that confers privileges", and that "victims proliferate" because of all these so-called benefits. A rebuttal of this from Jessica Valentine who wrote in the Guardian states

"Rape victims get called a lot of things. Sometimes it's "slut". For the 11-year-old gang rape victim in Texas, it was that she was a "spider" luring men into her web. It's not all bad, though - thanks to anti-violence activists, those who have been attacked also get called "survivors" and "brave". The last word I ever expected to hear to describe a rape victim is "privileged".

Another recent piece I read by Princeton University freshman Tal Fortgang has been told repeatedly to "check his privilege" - to be aware of how his socio-economic and cultural background shapes his views - and he was not happy about it. "The phrase," he writes, "handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung."(Weltanschauung means "worldview".

Anthony Zurcher states 'I had to look it up. But then, I didn't go to Princeton') Fortgang in the Time magazine, condemns those who paint him with the "privileged" label for "diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive".

This is an object lesson in really not being aware of privilege. This as the above examples show is clearly not like Harper Lee suggests 'climbing into someone's skin'. I cannot separate privilege from the 'much we have been given'. Our starting point should be to know ourselves to acknowledge, count our blessings. We should then address areas we can find to serve others in from the advantages we have been given. I cannot answer for you what that will look like but certainly writing this bog has challenged me to realise there is so much I need to address in my own life.If we need any other indicators that we may be privileged with much, these 2 links show some shocking statistics in poverty and domestic violence.

Here are some shocking statistics about those who obviously lack privilege

Poverty

  1. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they "die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.
  2. Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  3. Based on enrolment data, about 72 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not in school in 2005; 57 per cent of them were girls. And these are regarded as optimistic numbers
  4. Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
  5. Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
  6. Infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.
  7. Water problems affect half of humanity: Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation

Violence against women

  1. On average, two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner.This constitutes nearly 40% of all female murder victims.
  2. An analysis of 10 separate domestic violence prevalence studies found consistent findings: 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence over their lifetimes and between 6-10% of women suffer domestic violence in a given year

Check out these very funny photos displaying male privilege not many years ago.

White privilege

Another privilege we see is that of 'White privilege' it is defined by a set of 'societal privileges that white people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of colour.The term denotes obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages the white person may not know/ recognise they have.'I was born in 1960 and I find it shocking that the 'Jim Crow laws' on racial segregation lasted from 1876-1965, 5 years after my birth it's premise was 'separate but equal for African Americans'.

When my eldest daughter took Psychology for her A levels she came home and we discussed the incredible "blue-eyes/brown-eyes" lesson in discrimination by a teacher Jane Ellison to her class of third graders.On any normal weekday morning, She looked forward to getting to her classroom at the Riceville, Iowa, Community Elementary School and to the teaching job she loved. It was 'National brotherhood week and she asked her class what this meant? She received replies like 'be kind to your brothers', 'treat others like you would like to be treated'.

She then asks the children is there anyone they do not treat that way, the reply - 'black people,Indians'.There response to seeing them was to think they were dumb and their treatment was to make them feel not part of this world- to make them 'other'.

She then asks, "Do you think you would know how it would feel to be judged by the colour of your skin?"

Children - yes, I don't think you so she replies.She then asks, " Would you like to see how it feels?"

Children - yes, Sounds like fun doesn't it ?

Blue eyes on top first.

Quickly into this - she states blue eyed people are smarter than brown eyed in this room. She starts by challenging Brian who wants to say this isn't true. She mentions the story he had told of his father kicking him- his dad has brown eyes. All the blue eyed dads wouldn't do that.

She then gives the blue eyes treats, extra recess time, but the brown eyes can't use the drinking fountain and she places a blue collar on them to mark them out as 'other, less than'.

The children quickly use 'brown eyes' as a put down, these 2 words as speaking to an inferior person.

Jane Elliot says"I watched what had been marvellous cooperative wonderful thoughtful children turn into nasty vicious discriminating people in the space of 15 minutes.

When the experiment was completed and she asked the children how they felt their response was to explain the 'collars' had labelled them and they Knew they couldn't function under the conditions laid down by the experiment.

So it got me thinking maybe our job is to help remove the marks of slavery- the virtual collars ?

The sometimes very real 'Star of David' placed upon someone marking them out.

This tribalism and the way it leads us to think and act is what we need to learn to overcome in ourselves and then for 'others'. We have no excuse - the passage tells us when we know these things, recognise our 'much' we are accountable for our actions.

The Gospel suggests we are not only to love but called to clothe ourselves with actions.

In John 13:34 Jesus states "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

And in. Matthew 5::9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God"

At the root of the word peacemaker is the verb 'to practice' I would like to suggest that it could be a good thing to go out and do some of that with those we meet.

Our privilege or 'Noblesse oblige', requires that fulfil our social responsibilities, to those we meet, possibly more so to those who are not as privileged.

Just some final thoughts on privilege.

  • You cannot apologise for your privilege or change it but you can and should be aware of it.


  • With this in mind we should be ready to help out of our identified 'much'.


  • The most important thing to note is 'You are not special' there is a price to this much you have received. The parable clearly illustrates this point


From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

'Like a girl'

This morning just before my long awaited holiday to Nice in France I watched a great advert that showed how the term 'like a girl' had had such a negative affect on most females. I had to quickly write my thoughts I felt so angry with how this had impacted so many. Will update with links later.

'Like a girl' when did this become such a negative term?
I am a girl, well now a middle aged one but still I once was a 'girl'. I had no choice about my sex I was born into this body. It's served me well thank goodness. But my abilities and strengths like a man are based upon my ability, not comparing myself to another person of my gender and certainly not comparing myself to a 'male counterpart'.
My very 'meness' (I don't care if this is made up) is bound up with my sex.

Now this is not to negate the battle those people who are transgendered and have to fight to be who they feel they are. But this is to ask seriously why is 'like a girl' such a derogatory term?

I have probably heard it used this way most of my earlier life but I remember the first significant use in the context of a fundamentalist church from Australia in a preach that fuelled me with immense anger.
The preacher scolded the males in the congregation for thinking and acting 'like a girl', the derogatory terms were also used for 'Gay people', we were 'lumped together' under this umbrella of 'not quite good enough' in fact for some, being female/Gay was to be despised by these 'men'.

Fast forward 20 years and approximately 2 years ago I hear a teaching from pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Seattle ( I was hoping to hear Rob Bell, but downloaded wrong Mars Hill) and guess what?
Yep Pastor Mark had a whole bunch of expletives and vitriol for his male counterparts and a number were using 'like a girl' or female imagery to display his disgust at those he felt were getting it wrong. Yep we females are just Wrong!!

Never mind the fact that it's the female who gave birth to every male that has ever taken a breath.

So I would ask everyone both male and female to think before you use this sentence.
Everyone to not label yourself with limits that are defined by your sex. You are you, your strengths and weaknesses are no one else's business.

Let's abandon this negative term for the sake of all future generations of  girls/women, for the sake of my amazing granddaughter Chloe.

For my wonderful grandsons Malakai and Jack, who will learn why this term is not acceptable and hopefully by their example teach others this also.

Love Bev

Friday, 30 May 2014

Evangelical or progressive Christian ? That is the question

I recently read a blog from Emily Wierenga-  'Why this Former Progressive is Returning to Evangelicalism', and what she wrote got me thinking?
She has bravely battled anorexia and she has faced death twice from this terrible disease, I commend her bravery and fortitude in writing about her battles I am sure she has helped many others caught up in this turmoil.

I think If we met I would like Emily, she is very sincere and has a beautiful way with words, one of my favourite thoughts from the blog is when she speaks about God
'And every time it rains it smells like Him. But you can’t find Him.'
And when she finds her way, she says,
'And you sit up in bed and realise you can still smell the rain.'
What a beautiful way to speak about finding God in the ordinary.

In a three part blog she unpacks her journey from Progressive Christianity back to her evangelical roots.
She found writers that I admire and also have found pivotal in my journey, Brian Mclaren. Rob Bell, Anne Lamott, Madeleine L’Engle and Nadia Boltz-Weber.
She credits them with helping her find Jesus again and be herself, so many live their lives behind a facade showing others the polished front they believe is what people really want to see.

This can be especially problematic for those who grow up in a fundamentalist home. It is clear this was her experience, in her own words.
'I was raised in a good Christian home. I was a polite pastor’s kid. We had the right Serenity Prayer wall hangings. We said grace at every meal and went to church every Sunday and we flossed and said Please and Thank You and never were even given a chance to think a sinful thought for all of the worship music on the radio and all of the Christian books on our bookshelves. I wasn’t allowed to play with Barbie dolls or look at fashion magazines for fear that I’d get an eating disorder, and we were given purity rings and books to read by Dr. James Dobson. There wasn’t a lot of room for error. But this was the problem. Because all we do when we keep our children in bubbles is we raise very nice little heathens.'

Emily says 'But when you’re taught your whole life that your worth is constituted by your morality, you tend to veer far left when you find your way back to the cross.'

She says that with Progressive Christianity she felt:
'I didn’t have to be good. I didn’t have to be nice. I just had to love Jesus.'
And for a while this thinking saved her, this relationship with Jesus with in her words - no strings attached.
She continues 'There is no guilt and it’s truly freeing, this walk with Jesus and I wished I’d known it sooner.'

For Emily no strings attached led to her becoming greedy
'Because I didn’t owe God anything, I suddenly began to feel entitled.
I began to think God owed me all sorts of stuff, especially when I did things for him like taking care of my Mum for three years, or take in two foster boys for 11 months in addition to my own two, and when he didn’t? When God didn’t give me what I wanted, when he didn’t prosper me? I gave up on him.
Because I wasn’t really serving him in the first place. No, God was serving me.'

This was the second part of her series and so ending there so abruptly I was hoping part 3 would unpack the reasons progressive Christianity made her feel God owed her something.

She writes a very moving account of a counselling session she goes to here she realises,
'I don’t need to do anything. I don’t need to prove anything.
I don’t need to hear that I am beautiful or smart or powerful, because Abba’s very presence says I am perfect, accepted, loved, redeemed, cherished, delighted in, and sung over.
The God of the Universe wants to spend time with me. That is enough.'

Now this sentence was very similar to what she said in part 2 relating that to her newly found progressive understanding of faith:
'I didn’t have to be good. I didn’t have to be nice. I just had to love Jesus

So clearly there must be a reason for the journey back to her evangelical roots?
She explains that she was raised to view life through the glasses of missiology (how we live), which informs ecclesiology (how we do church) which then finally informs Christology (how we view the life of Jesus). Instead of interpreting the world and church through the life of Christ–instead of starting with Christology–I’d been taught to view the church, and world, through my behaviour.

That's what evangelicalism taught her and she goes on to say,
 'And my behaviour was either wrong or right, and there was no middle-ground, there was no grace, because I didn’t start with Christ.' And so we understand, 'It’s not bad to have rules. In fact, it’s good, and sin is something we battle from day one, and we need saving from it. We need to overcome it, and live in the fullness of the resurrection. We need sanctification, justification, and one day–glorification.
And to end 'And this, where I find myself resonating more with Evangelicalism because no longer do I desire to make Scripture suit my needs, but rather, my life meet the requirements of Scripture.'

For me being a progressive Christian is certainly is not about making Scripture suit my needs but I refuse now to read it in the way I was originally taught in my youth in the local Pentecostal church. I have a high view of Scripture as the inspired word of God, but I also recognise it was written 2,000 plus years ago, translated from other languages into English. I want to know what's been lost or added in translation? I think God is big enough for me to ask these questions. I can look at it from a wider perspective not just words on a page but what is the theme, the trajectory? What pattern emerges from the whole reading?
It's not a flat book but a library, written by many authors with many styles.

I think like Emily I never set out to be progressive, honestly I had never heard the term. I am just another pilgrim walking this narrow path the best way I know how too.
I have been fortunate to have those in my world who have stretched my faith and helped shape my belief. Good pastors and teachers, a great husband and soul mate with whom I share my faith.  I have been involved in leadership for many years. This really helps hone your thoughts, after all you have to share and teach others.

In the film the Matrix there is a scene where Neo the hero has to choose between the red or blue pill. If he chooses the blue is eyes will be opened and there will be no way back to his current life. Fortunately and for the sake of the matrix trilogy he chooses the blue pill- so did I. I am not even sure when this pill was metaphorically swallowed but over last few years my eyes I feel have been opened to a new way of seeing my faith. Rob Bell says it well:

 “The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.” -Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith.

I look back and see that I had a faith where belief in God was well defined, we had
teaching/preaching twice on Sunday that taught me what I was to believe.
But then the years passed and terrible and tragic things happened to myself, others I loved and across our world and somehow these beliefs did not 'wholly satisfy'. I was an avid reader of all things 'Left Behind' and like all my fellow Christians was just waiting for that unknown moment when all the 'saved' would be whisked away leaving utter chaos here on earth.

But that darned blue pill came my way, it started with Donald Millers 'Blue like Jazz', apt colour for my pill popping. Then Rob Bell, Brian McLaren. Social networking and blogs from across the world. Tom Wright New Testament theologian whose book 'Surprised by hope' turned my views on heaven and escape from here on its head.

These books written by men and women on the same journey both Emily and I are on, are not competing with Scripture they are trying to make the best sense of what it is saying today. The Bible and it's 66 books written over many hundreds of years  by several authors, to an ancient people is open to interpretation and has been throughout history.
It is not enough for me to to say that my life must meet the requirements of Scripture after all those requirements are up for personal interpretation. I know we would disagree on women in ministry but we both claim a high view of scripture so 'who is right'?

My lovely husband Alan says the Bible gives us 'an anchor for our soul, not certainty for our mind'. I have a feeling Emily is happier with a more certain way of reading Scripture and everything therefore has it's place. I suspect although I can never fully know without speaking to Emily that for her this was what made her feel uncomfortable with the progressive view of Christianity all those questions, leaving room for doubt and possible alternative views.

I would like to bring this blog to an end with Emily's own words on finding her way back to wholeness after her early life which was extremely troubled if you read her own accounts.

On encountering progressive Christianity this revealed a Jesus who she could truly walk free with.

I would therefore like to suggest it was not her Evangelical faith with all it's rules and definite ways of reading Scripture that helped her see this, but the journey to being a Progressive Christian.










Monday, 16 September 2013

Prayer in dark places- Let nothing startle you

The past few months have been trying for both Al and myself. But like most of life it's been filled with some incredible highs. We are now proud grandparents of a gorgeous little girl and baby boy and oh my do they tug at our hearts strings. We are both besotted.

During this time, Alan has had some worrying health problems culminating in a pacemaker fitted just over a year ago. We hoped that was the answer but quickly realised that his problem with his memory and moments of confusion had not stopped.

A few more months and return trips to GP and Hospital and we are given a diagnosis of Epilepsy.

This happened on the afternoon that I had been to my own appointment with the gastric team to find out what was wrong with me. I had worrying symptoms for approximately 3 months and when they persisted I finally took myself to see the GP.

The reason I hesitated was, 1. I am stupid  and 2. I lost my sister to bowel cancer.
So this day was not one of our favourite as you can well imagine.

Al and I lead a lovely church here in West Yorkshire and we are privileged to share life with a group of folks who like us have their share of highs and lows. You realise very quickly that you cannot be blasé with people's lives and their stories.

I have been a pilgrim on my faith journey for many years, every part of the process has equipped me for where I have found myself these last few months. There are times of sheer terror in life when your fears overwhelm you, maybe like me you find this is usually at 2am in the morning. This is when you try to put into practice the faith you have told people about, this God who is omnipresent and close to you at these times, this God who is omnipotent and can heal and change all your circumstances instantly.

What you realise is more often than not this is not what happens, the reality is you find yourself alone and praying with prayers you struggle to articulate.

Lord please heal me/heal them
Lord take away this pain
Lord hear my prayer

The Internet has opened a whole world to me I have learned so much that had stretched me and grown me on my faith walk. But it has also shown me my privilege.

I hesitate now to use the words,
Blessed
Favoured
Adored
Even 'Child of God'

How can I when I read about and see those held currently in slavery, those sex trafficked across our world, child labourers, child soldiers. The wars in Syria, Iran and Iraq and the Congo to name a few.

So over this past year when pressing needs and real health issues and various other concerns have come up; and when I have been asked to pray for difficult and what would seem impossible needs I have had to find new ways to engage in this process.
Not flippantly or with the hyperbole of faith that I grew up with and still see on my Facebook and twitter news feed. That God 'always heals' when that's clearly not true. That everything turns out for good, again clearly not always what happens for many folks. That God is always on our side, when sometimes we surely do not feel this in our circumstances.

For me my journey my faith walk has had times when I have not known how or what to pray. Then I discovered prayers and writing that began to give words to my lack, to restore passion and faith to my walk. That spoke of the reality I have found in life and led me back to the God of my youth who truly is my 'strong tower'.

This beautiful prayer came into my world after reading it in the brilliant book 'A year of Biblical womanhood' by Rachel Held Evans

Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing;
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who possesses God lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.
St. Teresa of Avila

Let nothing trouble or startle you, God alone is enough came to my mind when troubles caught up with me. These are not glib words or hyper faith statements but carry weight and meaning at moments of crisis.

I read about 'thin places' a term used in Celtic Christianity. I loved this, I loved that I could find a connection with the divine in the most dark and lonely times. Also in the most ordinary and mundane places like cooking a meal, taking a walk etc.

One of these long nights when sleep eluded me yet again I read on a wonderful blog by Micha Boyett About a site called 'Pray as you go', I clicked onto the site and found a 10 minute song, prayer and bible reading for each day.

I then heard this beautiful song from Psalm 57

'Have mercy on me Oh Lord
Have mercy on me
My soul has trusted in you

And I'll wait in the shade of your wing, until the terror has passed
And I'll wait in the shade of your wing, until the terror has passed

Have mercy on me
Have mercy on me
My soul has trusted
Has trusted in you'.

Steven Faux
 
This became my prayer in the dark of night I would run into the 'shade/shelter of Gods wing Until the terror passed.
The word mercy in Hebrew translates, 'lean towards me oh God' and terror/calamity translates to 'rushing', so my prayer became, Draw near me Lord until I find a place of stillness/calm in You.

I cannot pray the triumphalist prayers anymore, but I can anchor my thoughts in a God who the Psalmist tells us is a 'strong tower'. I cannot pray with the same certainty but I do believe in a God who walks with you in the dark places.
I know that there are breakthrough moments where I have found heaven has touched earth with an answer or word that reminds me 'God is near'.

Wherever you find yourself today I leave you with this prayer

Take, Lord
Take, Lord, all my liberty.
Receive my memory, my understanding, and my whole will.
Whatever I have and possess,
you have given to me; to you I will restore it wholly, and to your will I utterly surrender it for my direction.
Give me the love of you only, with your grace, and I shall be rich enough; nor do I ask anything besides

St Ignatius Of Loyola

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Star Trek 'Into the darkness' and the Bechdel test

I went to watch the new Star Trek film today with my husband Al we had both enjoyed the last film and we were looking forward to watching this new release. I recently watched a great TED talk where I was introduced to the Bechdel Test, if you’re not familiar with it, is a benchmark for movies developed by Alison Bechdel in 1985.


1. It has to have at least two women in it,

2.Who talk to each other,

3. About something besides a man.
Anything, even if it’s something stereotypically feminine, like shopping or shoes. Sounds simple, right? Then it might be shocking to find out that out of 2,500 movies, only about half pass the test. And to be clear, passing doesn’t mean the movie’s good or bad.
Failing the test doesn’t mean the movie’s evil or anti-woman, or that passing makes it some sort of strongly feminist movie. It’s just to get people thinking about gender and how it’s presented in film. In fact, the example Bechdel gave as a film that passed the test was Alien, simply because Ripley and Lambert have a brief conversation about the alien.

Colin Stokes in his TED talk, ‘ How movies teach manhood’ expresses his very real concern for his young daughter and son and what they learn about life from the films they watch. He noticed that the ‘two women who talk to each other about stuff’, does happen, but very rarely in films he goes to see at the movies’.He tells the audience the shocking statistic that 1:5 women will be sexually assaulted in their lives in USA, this rises to 1:3 worldwide.
He is not blaming popular entertainment or kids movies, but points out that something is going wrong and that is a lot of ‘sexual assailants’
Asking who are these guys? What are they learning? What are they failing to learn? Are they absorbing that they are to defeat the villain and collect their reward? The reward is seen to be the female who never speaks and does not have any friends.
He raises the view that we need a new definition of manhood where a real man will be someone who trusts his sisters and respects, who they are, ready to not just go out and conquer alone but go out and join a team, one that may even be lead by a woman.
I like what Colin has to say about the choice of heroine for his daughter as a mum of girls and a beautiful granddaughter I have a vested interest in how women are portrayed in the media and was sad to see that this latest film did not pass this very simple test.
It seems to me very clear that we have to educate our sons to respect and treat the women in their world not just as extras but also as main characters in their lives. Sadly Star Trek sinks even further with the most gratuitous ‘bra and knickers’ scene played out between Kirk and Carol, ‘don’t turn round’ she says to Kirk who promptly turns round just at the right moment to see her posed like a supermodel for him and the viewers to ogle.

I pointed out to Al that in 5 years or so we will be watching these films with our grandchildren Chloe and Malakai and like Colin I have to ask myself what image of women and men do these films bring to our children? What heroes and heroines will they choose to have as their role models?

Actress Thandie Newton speaks here about an act of abuse that she suffered whilst a very young actress on an audition, this really is too upsetting.

I then read Jennifer Kesler  speaking about women having conversations in screen plays that she had written and this is what she has to say on the subject. “At first I got several tentative murmurings about how it distracted from the flow or point of the story. I went through this with more than one professor, more than one industry professional. Finally, I got one blessedly telling explanation from an industry pro: “The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.”

So viewers (male) want to look at, ogle, talk too, but not ‘listen to women’. Does anyone else not feel outraged at this state of affairs? I know I do, and this leads me again to what Colin said 1:5 women sexually abused ‘that’s a lot of assailants’. Are we not joining the dots here, keep a woman quiet, give her no personhood then the abuse, physical or sexual becomes so much easier against the 'voiceless reward' that is the reward after the man has conquered the universe. The gift of the bikini clad woman, waiting for him when he turns around.

I want more for Malakai, I demand more for Chloe in her future. I want to see this industry held accountable for their part in the problem. We must make a stand tell the producers, directors, screen writers give women personality, a voice, make them real people with depth and real personhood. Make men own their response to women

We all need to review future films and raise our disquiet if those in power do not insist on reaching this very simple standard.  We need to speak out and insist that these changes are implemented, it really does not seem a lot to ask.

By Beverley Molineaux

 

 

 


Monday, 29 April 2013

My problem with the word Contemporary

Our church here in the Aire Valley is now 5 years old with approximately 60 people in our congregation; it is in a small town in the heart of West Yorkshire. On our church website we like many churches today have used the word ‘Contemporary’. The use of contemporary is usually associated with a certain style of leadership, worship and teaching that want to express their relevance to today’s culture. This was why I began to have misgivings over the use of it on our website.

There is a great video clip (contemprovant) and I think you can see if you have watched it my misgiving with this word (It’s not really about the word it’s just a word like any other but words can take on a life of their own.) 

In a book recommended by my son-in-law Simon by Henri Nouwen ‘Reflections on Christian leadership’ chapter one is headed ‘The temptation to be relevant’, I was hooked, what was he going to tell us about this need we see present in most churches today.

Nouwen speaks of his journey from 20 years in upfront teaching and leadership to becoming a part of the L’abri community caring for profoundly handicapped people. In this community he was forced to discover his ‘true identity’. This was where he had to let go of those things that had previously defined him and learn to become truly vulnerable.

He says ‘I am telling you all this because I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love’.

I struggle to imagine many of todays ‘contemporary’ church leaders paying much heed to what Nouwen has to say on being ‘irrelevant’ being the way to build their churches.

I recently went to watch Rob Bell on his ‘What we talk about when we talk about God’ tour. The church that hosted the event was ‘big’ and definitely came into the category of a ‘contemporary’ church by today standards. To keep this structure and venue running takes an army of willing (and maybe on some days not so willing) volunteers

I have attended a mega church, I have served on the welcome team and I have watched these leaders preach and lead and work very hard, but irrelevant they ain’t! The leaders find themselves under immense pressure to have all the right things in place to attract and grow their churches.

The ‘in’ words you will hear from these platforms are ‘off the charts’, awesome, ‘best ever’, ‘epic’.  All the hype is about the extraordinary there seems to be no place for the ordinary or mundane or any sense of vulnerability that Nouwen suggests is a required to lead well.

We live in a society driven by the cult of celebrity and I feel that this has seeped into some churches today. These leaders often drive great cars; wear great clothes, at one ladies conference I was at the female leader spoke of having the hairdresser on site to do her hair and that of the visiting speakers. Now please hear me I have no problems with those who drive great cars, wear great clothes, and we all need to have our hair done, but what does this look like to those serving this church?

I know it is attractive to some witness the congregation sizes and I know leading our small congregation could look like ‘sour grapes’ but seriously it’s not. When we were at the mega church we served and gave and led a small group, we were all in, invested in growing this church. But we found it was not enough, behind the large the loud and the passionate the lack came in the form of disconnection with those who led their celebrity life’s overseeing their congregations from the position of their platforms.

You see we could not find the leaders ‘vulnerable self’ we were given the clean-cut, sharp designer image that we were meant to aspire to. You too could be like this if you attend, serve and of course give your tithe. The problem is it isn’t true, that place is not for most people it is for the few the key leaders and those seen to have usable talent. The rest of the congregation is there to serve the machine that has become large and the corporate.

This I feel does come at cost for these leaders, the pressure to produce the high powered, high impact services week in week out and then to also motivate their team and from there the church volunteers cannot be easy. I know from experience it leads to people not treated well, many leave these churches emotionally damaged.

I feel saddened by this I do not believe that is the aim of the leaders, their desire I am sure is to see people come to faith. But I ask again at what cost does that come at when the real cry of our hearts is to be known, wouldn’t it seem sensible for these leaders to choose to show their true selves to the congregation they are leading.

There is so much more to be said and I will address this in another blog but I want to finish this with a quote that I heard from the Bishop of Bradford Nick Baines, ‘The job of the church is to create the space where people can discover that they have been found by God’.
I believe for this to happen we as leaders needs to present more and more our ‘vulnerable self’ to have any hope to truly reveal the love of Jesus to those we serve.