Holding space

Me at my desk!

Sometimes things occur in such a sequence or a timing that I’m almost converted to hyper-Calvinism! ALMOST, but not quite!

One early morning recently I was flicking through my Facebook feed. I came across three posts from entirely different sources, in this sequence;

First, one of the many posts I have read from my friend Patrick. We were friends before Facebook, even though I’ve never met him. He lives in the US, and we were members of a Yahoo writing group, spread across the UK, Ireland, Norway, Brazil, Canada and the US. Now most of us have become Facebook friends and the group on Yahoo is hardly used. Many like to belittle ‘Facebook friendship’ and while I agree it is no substitute for ‘real friends’ whom we meet in person, I know that I have been able to experience empathic emotions of joy and sorrow for many through social media that I have not physically met. The people at the other keyboard thousands of miles away are still people!

Patrick shared a beautiful piece about love. I thought it was his own words since he is a great wordsmith, but he assured me the bulk of it was a well-known and oft-quoted piece. His addition were his words to his late husband, Thom. You see, they were together for about 13 years, but took up the chance to marry when it was legalised. Shortly after that, Thom died from a heart attack, in Patrick’s arms. His grief was tangible. I shed tears for him, real tears – they’re even returning right now; damn empathy! I know he loved Thom, and counted him as his soulmate. He is still grieving over him, after many months. Who knows how long his healing will take?

The second post I read was this truly beautiful blog. It’s short, give it a read:

PEOPLE WHO HOLD SPACE WILL HEAL THE CHURCH

The third one, which must have been posted by one of my atheist friends (yes, I do have friends of many persuasions!), was a humanist blog having a go at a Christian Facebook page (it’s short too):

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2017/06/christian-facebook-page-fights-rainbow-flag-emojis-loses/

Here was my original thought which I planned to posit as an answer to the ‘Warriors for Christ’:

Yeah, if you’re preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, you need to point out all the ramifications of it. That includes listing sins as Jesus himself warned us about, so start proclaiming warnings to the very rich; the millionaires who might wish to come and join the church. You might not be thinking about what I mean since it’s not something that is prevalent (or even counts as extant) in our peculiar wee subculture, but it was the clear warning that Jesus gave to his disciples after the ‘rich young man’ left him, unable to give up his wealth;

Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:23,24)

I’ve said this a lot in previous blogs, simply because I read it in scripture. Jesus said it. Greedy people are condemned right alongside the ‘sexually immoral’ and Paul even commands the Corinthian church to not have anything to do with them, and not even eat with them! (1Cor. 5:11). Yeah, I can hear all your excuses now before you even comment, so please don’t bother. If you’re adamant about following the Bible and doing what Jesus did, you’d simply want to warn rich people, because ‘in love’ you’d want to make sure they would know if they continue in their sin, Jesus has given them the sternest warning!

So before I posted this, I had to ask myself if I wanted ‘The Warriors’ to start shouting to the world about the sin of greed and excess wealth? Actually, no!

I’ve known people who have faced the gauntlet of the screaming faces as they approach an abortion clinic/ advice centre, all telling them they’re murderers. I’ve known people who have entered churches to be told by a red-faced preacher what awful sin their sexual orientation causes them to do. However, I do not know of anybody who has wealth to be challenged so openly by any church! I’m always calling for preachers to list all of the sins they can find in our holy book, cause I’m sure there are a few we all need to be told about ourselves; nobody’s perfect. In light of of all this, I have no desire for anyone, rich or poor, straight or gay, Christian, Jew, Muslim or atheist, to face a blanket condemnation as they visit any church, or encounter a Christian organisation on the internet. While I often place blame for the world’s woes on the super-rich, the real blame lies not in those people, but in the sin of greed that is prevalent in them.

So I decided not to reply to the Warriors.

One of our church leaders came across a homeless man outside the building, who was thrown out of his parents’ house when he ‘came out’ – I’ve often heard of ‘come out and get thrown out’ but here was a real example! He was gay before he came out, now he’s gay and homeless! Kudos to the parents and a high five!

Whatever problem there is in my life, Jesus is working on it, through his Spirit in me. He can do the same with every other follower who goes after him. I just want to be the one who heals the church from this abject hatred of certain people/ things (that is what it is, face it!), by holding space, as Kaitlin so succinctly blogged it.

Grace be with you.

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It’s an offence!

not-religiousOne of the most influential books I read as a young Christian trying to find the path that Jesus asked us to follow was “How to be a Christian without being Religious” by Fritz Ridenour. It was a fairly simple book that expounded Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Well, it was as simple as any exposition of that letter can be! Needless to say, the main point the author was trying to get across was that religion is not what following Jesus is about, and that, in essence, is one of the main themes Paul stresses in his epistles, which was exactly why the book had that title. So it has shaped me ever since, to be someone who wishes to express my love for Jesus and my desire to follow him without falling into the same trap that all other religion (including ‘Christian religion’) falls into. That is the trap of sameness, ritual and blind devotion to a code and to a way that others have followed without much thought.

One of the ways we see this expressed is when an offence is caused against a religion. The murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris is an extreme example; that magazine made the offence of religions across the world its mission, and they did create a long string of articles and cartoons that enraged religious adherents of many faiths. However, they did not deserve to die for such transgressions. When I do see and hear fellow believers become almost1489207_10205194809768149_7591136757420390852_n as ‘offended’ at such publications as those Muslim extremists, I fear that it might be possible they could descend into the same madness (some Christians have been so offended by abortions being performed that they have resorted to murder!). On a more standard level, though, short of taking someone’s life, I do wonder if we are only having the same attitude as those jihadists, and becoming ‘religious’ about it. Should we be any different in our demeanour? Can we?

When questions like this arise in my head, I turn to other things I know I can apply. Linguistically, an ‘offence’ (in English at least) can be taken, but never given! I cannot give you offence, but I can cause you offence. ‘Cause’ is one of those words that carries specific semantic properties – in layman’s terms, it means it is fairly easy to grasp what it means. Were you to hit someone with your car while driving and they died, you would have caused their death. You would not be performing the active verb ‘to kill’, unless you drove at them with the intention of killing them. So ’cause’ has a limited usage: it is indicative of an action that created a situation not intended or beyond the control of the performer. Note that you can use the active verb form: “You offended me!”, whether the person who offended you intended to or not; it can be used in both cases.

So if you have a case where someone says or does something with the intent to offend you, that is very deliberate. However, for someone to cause you offence, you have to take it. If I were to attempt to give you a gift, but you did not take it, then I did not give it, I only intended to. The transaction did not take place. Similarly, in order for an offence to occur, it has to be taken by the intended recipient. Otherwise, no offence passed from intender to intendee! Put it another way; if the offender has the intention, and wishes to offend you, they will be thwarted if you don’t take it. Yes? Their fiery dart will have missed its intended target. If, however, they had no intention of causing offence, and did so in ignorance or innocence, then why should you take the offence anyway? In both cases, choosing not to take offence is the best option! No?

So while this might all sound fine and dandy as my own philosophising, does it ‘square up with scripture’?

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Matt. 5:39

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’[Deut. 32:35] says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’[Prov. 25:21,22]

Rom. 12: 18-20

In other words, the person who intends to cause offence against us as believers must be offered ‘the other cheek’ i.e. we show that they did not smite us or knock us down, but we are willing to let them continue to try to insult us. The person who intends to offend God is in God’s hands, and it is not for us to jump to his defence. As I have quoted the lyrics of Bono before: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady!” We are to stand up for the little guy who needs defending, but not the creator of the universe! We not only insult him in his majesty, we also disobey his direct commands!

Also, imagine having burning coals heaped on your head! Would you not be dancing in pain, howling and swiping your head to get the coals off? Pretty funny for others to watch who had that sort of sense of humour, but almost certainly you’d be looking like a fool. So in order to disarm these intentional offenders, our reaction should be not to react! If we take no offence, they will be seen as base, boorish or just plain annoying. The unintentional offenders who might do so just for the sake of comedy would not fulfil this maxim if they had no intent i.e. they are not our enemy. We might just be able to laugh along with them, if they were really being funny.

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for whoever is not against us is for us.

Mark 9:40

Yeah, maybe I’ve taken that verse well out of context, but let us not make more enemies for ourselves! Just because Jesus told us “Everyone will hate you because of me” (Mark 13:13 – which could also be said to be out of context since Jesus was talking about the persecution by the first-century Jews) does not mean we must go around giving people reason to hate us! Such attitude and/or behaviour flies in the face of all the commands to love and do good to others!

Grace be with you.

It’s political correctness gone mad, I tell you!

In my humble opinion, Stewart Lee is one of the funniest men on television right now. Yeah, his humour is highbrow, satirical, deadpan, left-wing [oh, the horror!]… but he still manages to have me in painful fits at times, even to the point that my wife is woken from her bed late at night to come in and ask me what’s so funny.

He did a piece recently on political correctness, which is actually not one of his funniest routines, to be honest, but he made a great satirical point. Here it is if you’re curious (note that the F-word appears once, and another swear word appears at the end, which I shall not allude to as it would spoil a great punchline):

I highlight this to make a point that is, sadly, very poignant and relevant this week. We have learned of an appalling situation that arose in Rotherham. It would appear that ‘political correctness’ has now actually led to a truly mad situation. I am in favour of being PC, since it serves a great purpose, as Lee pointed out in his comedy; in that there was a time that all niggers were viewed in the same way, just as all Jews were viewed in the same way in Germany in the 1930s, just as (dare I say it) all Muslims are viewed in the same way now in the 21st century?

I should know, I’m Irish. Well, I’m a protestant from Northern Ireland, but what does that matter to many English people! When my father went to an army training camp in England, they all just called him Paddy. Fine, it was (for most of them at least) just friendly ‘banter’ but a misunderstanding of the complexities of Irish politics and culture was certainly present. Many of us faced such misapprehension and even hostility during those bad times. I had a police officer at a Welsh port look at the address on my driving licence and ask, without any smile or hint of jocularity, “do you know any terrorists?” yet that was mild in comparison to some stories I heard! Was it mild since the officer was Welsh (a fellow Celt) and not a dirty Sassenach? Would that attitude from me be called for, even though I can truly say that my experience of the Welsh and Scots to be better on the whole than of the English? Of course not! Does my experience make me hate or dislike all English people? Of course not!

The same propaganda that was waged against the Jews in Germany by the Nazis can be repeated anywhere by anyone against anyone else. And it is, believe me! I know whom I blame for the recent credit crunch – the bankers! We all know they’re to blame, so all bankers are greedy pigs who are not to be trusted, right? Right!? Right away, I realise that while their profession has been given too free a leash by our recent politicians and they have allowed greed to take them (and us!) down a slippery slope, they are not all evil, or selfish, or psychopathic (even though their profession contains more psychopaths than any other – fact). It’s the same principle for a simple thing like car insurance – for decades, we men were subjected to higher premiums due to our gender, since we were a ‘higher risk’ according to the stats. Women joined in the chorus of ‘that’s right!’ while I witnessed slow, careful men with no worrying driving issues being forced to pay higher insurance than women who scared the life out of me with their demonic driving! Now that has changed, for fairness’ sake. Were an insurer to say “stats show us that blacks are more likely to cause accidents than whites…” we would be boycotting them in a flash! Thank you, political correctness!

Tarring an entire race, or gender, or nationality, or even sexual orientation, with the same wide brush is the reason for ‘political correctness’ – it’s not just a trendy, liberal thingy that effeminates like to wave about when they’re criticised! It’s addressing the need in us to pigeonhole people just because it helps us decide who we like and don’t like without the worry of having to make the effort to get to know them and their background a bit better i.e. we need to get informed!

However, this case in Rotherham is mad, in the highest degree possible. The fact that most of the perpetrators (not all!) were of a Pakistani background, highlighting and addressing this crime was feared by some to be seen as racist. That in itself is politically incorrect, since it presupposes that the entire Pakistani community in Rotherham would be offended by such an investigation; as if they’d cry something similar to “it’s ’cause I’s black, innit?” when the truth is that the majority of that community would be as appalled at the crimes as much as any of us – they should be given the chance to condemn it and deal with it and not have it swept under the rug for their ‘benefit’. The fact that some of the white guys in authority treated some of the girls reporting the crimes as ‘sluts’ who sort of ‘asked for it’ tells me a lot about their attitude. The crimes and the politically incorrect attitudes that allowed the abuse to go on both need to be addressed and dealt with, and if there is a fear that you’ll be viewed as racist for addressing crime, then that is ‘political correctness gone mad’!

Members of the English Defence League cornered a LibDem councillor and asked him if he would not condemn ‘the Pakistani gangs abusing these girls’ – he answered “No! I will condemn all abuse perpetrated by anyone!” Correct answer, since the dismissal of these crimes also allowed non-Pakistani child abusers to get away with it!

Grace be with you.

P.S. If that was a bit too heavy for you after the good laugh Lee gave us, here he is making fun of Islam! (YAY!):

We need to unite with Muslims.

[14th August, 2014 – this blog was written before the most recent news came out of Iraq (in the Islamic State) of the fleeing Yazidis and Christians on Mount Sinjar. I still stand by my blog since there will still be victims of different religions in the IS, including innocent Muslims, and I am noticing a lot of Christian media seemingly ignoring the Yazidis and reporting this as ‘persecution of Christians’]…

 

I’ve noticed two things occurring a lot on the internet recently: First, different sites and sources stating that Christians are being persecuted, tortured and executed in places like the ISIS-controlled parts of Syria. Second, different sites and sources pinning blame on all Muslims, or just Islam, for all this trouble. Some even making claims like ‘99% of religious persecution is perpetrated by Muslims’. For me, it’s just ‘the new anti-Semitism’ and is almost ‘in vogue’ in some quarters.

At the outset, let me state where I stand; as a Christian, I see salvation only in one name; no other name has the power or is the medium by which we shall see God. Unlike deceivers like John Hagee, who could deceive ‘even the elect’ into a sort of syncretistic ‘super-religion’ of what I call Judaeo-Christianity, I stand by the very clear words of my own Lord:

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6)

NO EXCEPTIONS!

However, this does not mean that I can find no ground on which I can live with anyone of any other faith, or no faith. In fact, I am commanded to not only live peaceably with everyone (Romans 12:18), but to even love my enemies, and pray for my persecutors (Matthew 5:44). Jesus also gave us a caveat to warn us against stupidity:

‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’ (Matt. 10:16)

With this in mind, I must then seek to establish truth about any claims that I hear, to enable myself and others to discern just who are really perpetrators of wrong, and who are not, whom I can trust, and whom not, and to know how to deal with them. However, this in no way overthrows or supersedes his command to love.

I am also commanded to not let the world shape or infect my mind (Romans 12:2). In our modern world, we can fall into two opposing traps with politics and apply modern attitudes to Biblical truths: At one extreme, we must never let a blind devotion to any ideology to allow us to end up dismissing these truths if they don’t fit into that ideology. At the other end of the scale, indifference or cynicism with politics can lead us to treat anything we hear with a dismissive wave of the hand. Let us get this clear: Jesus did not say ‘love your enemies’ just for a quotable soundbite.

Now dealing with persecution of Christians; yes, there is a lot of it, and it is largely going unreported. For a very good explanation of possible reasons for this, here’s an excellent article. The problem I have with much of what is coming out of Iraq/Syria is that it is largely unverifiable, and much is subject to sensationalism and twisting for various political purposes. In one case I have discussed at length in many places, some have reported that Christians were crucified, yet all news sources that could be found reported that they were Muslims accused of apostasy i.e. they did not hold to the narrow interpretation of Islam that ISIS and their leader, Al Baghdadi, maintain is the only true Islam. More importantly, they were not crucified, but executed, then their bodies hung up on public display – WHY does this even need any misreporting to make it more brutally sensational than it already is?

Misreporting this does various things:

1. We set ourselves up to be knocked down. Once anyone can point out that we have misrepresented something, they become entitled to accuse us of doing it deliberately (whether their accusation is correct or not); deliberate misrepresentation is a fancy term for lying.

2. We distract attention from the real persecution of fellow believers that is going on, and possibly make others think we are crying ‘wolf’ when it needs to be highlighted.

3. We may be seen as partisan in that we only wish to highlight wrongs done ‘to us’ when we should really be defending all victims of persecution. We must learn that most politicians see politics as a game, and they play the ‘them and us’ card all the time. Those of us in Northern Ireland in particular should be wise to this! Let us rise above such pettiness. On the idea (or the prevalent trend) that it’s all coming from Islam, here’s just a few examples to bust that myth:

Atheistshttp://tinyurl.com/NorthKoreaPersecution

Jewshttp://tinyurl.com/JewsPersecuteChristians

Hindushttp://tinyurl.com/HindusPersecuteChristians

Christians – http://tinyurl.com/ChristiansPersecuteMuslims

Even ‘pacifist’ Buddhists!http://tinyurl.com/BuddhistsPersecutingMuslims

This was just a few short Googles worth! Now just think that right away, you could say “those so-called Christians don’t act or speak for me!” then surely you must allow Muslims the same chance to say that about ISIS, Hamas and Al-Qaeda!

Happily, though, it’s not all bad:

http://tinyurl.com/JewRescuesChristians

And even some Muslims are already standing up to ISIS:

http://tinyurl.com/BraveMuslims

These last examples serve to show the good people on all sides of religious and political divides, who will stand up for truth, peace and justice, for anyone. Shame on us if we do not do the same!

We need to defend those Muslims who are also suffering at the hands of extremists like ISIS, along with Christians and other religious groups, for ‘apostasy’ from the narrow ideology they adhere to. There are many other jihadists, like ISIS, who actually believe that their tiny group are the only true Muslims on Earth (sounds like some Christian denominations I know!), and even fight with other jihad groups within their own country! Adopting this way of acknowledgement and solidarity, we recruit many more to assist in the true fight against terrorism and jihadism, not the political ‘War on Terror’ that our leaders keep banging on about! And by following the command of our Lord Jesus to love them, we reach them with the true gospel in ways far beyond anything we could expect.

Grace be with you.

Standing for our faith?

Probably my last blog until I finish my Masters. The birth of the royal baby last night has brought out the British republican in me! All my friends know my anti-royalist feelings, but I have to be careful to state ‘British republican’ since the very word ‘republican’ invokes loathing and fear among many Ulster Protestants. I’m NOT an Irish republican!

Or am I? Hmmmm, when I look around the world and see the church in countries where it is in a minority, or worse, facing genuine persecution (even to death!), I see a strong, vital core of true believers who put us to shame for their dedication and commitment. Contrast that with here, where evangelicals are a very large, vocal group, and the Protestants are a clear majority; are we not guilty of being a little too proud of who we are?

Surely ‘Christian pride’ is an oxymoron!? It’s the very ‘Protestant Pride’ thing that repels me from the 12th July. Ask yourself this: had the border never been drawn across Ireland, how would evangelical Protestants be faring now? What would we be like? Politically weaker? Spiritually stronger? Is our strength not to be found in our faith and his grace, rather than our representatives at Stormont?

Just something to mull over.

Grace be with you.

God forgive me!

Sitting up late here reading up on the new Archbishop of Canterbury (who seems to be a good evangelical and a good man, so far), I rediscovered my post here from MORE THAN 5 WEEKS AGO, where I called for support for the defence lawyer who managed to get Pastor Nadarkhani released (Mohammad Ali Dadkhah). I said I would lobby Iran as I did over the Christian Pastor, but so far, I have allowed other things to distract me. May God forgive me for my hypocrisy and neglectfulness in NOT acting so swiftly on something I said I would, and for a man who deserves as much support as our persecuted brethren. He may not be a fellow Christian, but he is still a great man and a hero. I WILL write to the Iranian embassy tomorrow (it IS late). Please do the same, readers.

http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/iran-must-release-human-rights-defender-mohammad-ali-dadkhah-2012-10-01

Grace be with you.

Another cause for another person of another faith.

After sharing the great news about Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s release from Iranian prison, after many of us had lobbied, voiced his plight, and prayed, we now have another cause to pursue. His defence lawyer has now been jailed, on what can only be agreed by any right-thinking person as trumped-up charges. This man is an Iranian Muslim, but a man dedicated to the defence of human rights for all in his country. His crime is standing up to his government. Let us not forget his courage and example, and lobby like we did for Nadarkhani. His name is Mohammad Ali Dadkhah.
Grace be with you.