My Psalm Reality TV Program

This last week I’ve been running.  Not simply for exercise. For sanity and domestic necessity. I run because if I don’t sprint and sweat as my heart pumps and my limbs piston? Then instead it will all flow out my mouth. Every mother-trucking bit of it. Nasty.

There are days when GJ&HS are padding along with me on my runs. I share, they guide, I puff and pray, they smile serenely not having to worry about heart-rates and how sitting sedentary behind a desk all day is a silent killer.

But the days when I’m running on madness? Jesus isn’t with me at that point. Well, I don’t feel like he is, even though the SAP would assure me he is with me. At that point, as I’m breath-labouring, eyes burning, life-filled and furious, he, God and HS are jolted around my brain and heart. Makes me think about the health warning about carers who violently shake their babies. I imagine the trinity getting tossed and turned around my soul and spirit. This is no happy, martini-making cocktail jiggle.

It is throw the glass at the wall, vermouth-smearing, slash and slice and then let’s break the damn bottle on the table and brandish it by its broken neck.

So that’s why I run. The days when writing is not enough to process. When prayer and Psalms don’t match the boiling within. The days when it is only hard exercise – sprinting as fast away from those I love, hurling the grenaded mushroom cloud of my thoughts as far away from them as I can – that saves.

You see, how can I be like Jesus when all I want to do is fight? How can I walk saved when all I feel is a fierce, embittered joy about hurling words that wound? Bring on the fight, I yell, brandishing the broken-necked bottle of clever, incisive vocab…let me just stab at you and slice the arteries so you bleed out.

God and Jesus whisper to be patient and kind. The HS tries his best, but he’s been less in me than I’ve been in the world. So I rail back. “You know what? You’re not down here. You’re on some cruisy eternal clouded throne and I’m in the freaking thick of it. So I don’t want to be patient and kind. Not now. Let me just shake you for being so freaking perfect and right.”

I understand this is hardly godly and righteous. I grasp in my heart that Jesus did a great deal more for me and my brokenness to be deserving of such dysfunction in return. I get it. Whatever I’m going through cannot compare. But, right now? To borrow a U2 lyric, Calvary seems a million miles from where I am and where I need to be.

These are my eye-rolling obedience to God days. The days when I imagine the Holy Spirit getting squashed within by my violent thought earthquakes. It’s hardly a Christian outpouring of love and gratitude, is it?

Then I realise I’m living my own Psalm. Reality TV viewing of the worst order. You know when they’re all being skanky in the Big Brother house and you shrink and cringe, unable to imagine someone behaving like that? quote-Alexander-Ludwig-modern-reality-tv-sets-up-these-competitive-199350

The camera pans out and back and I cover my eyes in horror… “Oh, no. That’s… that’s…just revolting. And… Dear God, that’s me.”

There are days when we all give ourselves a pat on the back, I suspect. When we’re weren’t too bad. Behaved well. Didn’t swear. Gave up our seat on the train for the pregnant lady. Dropped off a cooked meal for the sick friend. Prayed. Read the Bible. It’s easy to be lulled into the routine of Christianity. “God, I know I’m broken, but, oh, look, I’m doing ok. Really.”

Ha. Psalm Reality TV tells me otherwise. The days when I’m boiling and sprinting and really wanting to explode with venom? Those are the days when I know just how wretched I am compared to the soul God breathed over fearfully and made wonderfully.

I can always change my reality TV channel. Well, actually, I can’t. Not on my own. When I try to sprint and offset my venom through mean exercise, that’s what I’m trying to do. Yet it never works sufficiently.

My insufficiency to go it alone leaves me like the disciple Peter, sinking into the sea rather than walking upon it. Trouble is – and isn’t that God’s largest irony, His blessing us with free will? –  I can spend time swallowing sea water, glaring at my Medusa reflection, whilst taking a perverse kind of angry joy in the storm.

I swam to the surface this morning from angry sleep ready for another sprint day. Prophetically, the alarm tone that awoke me was the song Oceans (Where Feet May Fail). 

And before the storm could swell, a small calm voice whispered: No matter how angry, no matter how broken, no matter how hideous your reality TV Psalm behaviour is…no matter.

Psalm 40 flowed into my head.

Be pleased to save me, Lord;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.

Those lines are not asked politely.  It’s a demand that speaks to the consistency of God’s character. I’ve been in the pit before, You drew me up before and I can trust you will do it again. In a ‘right now, I can’t get there fast enough to help you, and I’ll break every speed limit to reach you,’ sort of way.

I surfaced, spluttering metaphorical seawater. And there Jesus was, next to the bed, reaching out his hand and catching me up.

“You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”


My first flatmate when I moved to Australia gave me a mug with the letters FIGJAM on it. My English upbringing hadn’t come across the acronym before. “I actually prefer orange marmalade,” I told her. fig_jam_mug.jpg

“No, it stands for ‘F*&K I’m good, just ask me’, ” she replied, rolling her eyes. It was my first insight into the odd Australian character mix that embraces earthy joy in success (‘You little ripper! Go you good thing!’) with a taking of the urea (‘You’ve got tickets on yourself there, mate. Steady on’)

If you begin to actually believe the FIGJAM? Then, in Aussie-slang, you’re a bit of a tosser. You’ve drunk your own Kool-Aid and you need to get over yourself.

Makes me wonder with G&J though. God made us fearfully and wonderfully, knowing His works are wonderful, so perhaps it’s more JAG not JAM. God’s opinion of us (Just Ask God) rather than our own opinion that sometimes gets pompous with pride or devalued by doubt.

As Proverbs 11:2 tells us: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Or ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭26:12‬: “Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.”

In Christianity, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins the Roman Catholic Church will point to. When viewed as a virtue, pride in one’s appearance and abilities is known as virtuous pride, greatness of soul or magnanimity, but when viewed as a vice it is often termed vanity or vain glory.

The trick then is remembering – being wonderfully made, bestowed with His gifts – is that anything I do with such wonderfulness is in glory to God not glory to me.

Now this is all very well in thought, but what about application? There are times when something brilliant will happen in a work situation (let’s say a staggering response rate to a direct marketing campaign) and a client will express delight in my knowledge, skills and expertise that contributed to that.

Now, I can modestly and humbly say, “No, no, it’s all God,” and my client will think I’m full of it. Especially if they don’t believe in God.

“Umm, God didn’t come up with the creative, did He? Or what about that cracking headline? I’m sure God doesn’t use words like that, Phil. Actually, if you are a Christian should you be using words like that in a headline?”

Umm, no, Possibly not. But, well, grace. And, my, look at the response rate!

It’s a personal minefield. Christian humility in a body that God blessed with a million mile an hour brain that just likes to GET STUFF DONE. Which is interesting when trying to assimilate the ‘other-focused’ approach that Jesus taught.

I’ve sat in meetings with other Christians and observed no-one willing to take ownership of a quick decision for fear of offending someone else in the room. “I can do that. Oh, but does someone else want to? I won’t do it if you’d prefer to.” And that’s just deciding on who is making the coffee…

In my secular-drawn landscape there’s no time for false-modesty if a decision needs to be made. Got the skills to make it happen? Yep. Then, let’s rock and roll. Time’s a wastin’.

Speed to action doesn’t mean an over-inflated sense of self importance. It simply means having confidence in your gifts, having seen them work before and trusting them to work again.

The secret to keeping it FIGJAG not FIGJAM is never quite believing you are as good as people may tell you and choosing to improve each day.  Staying humble so you can see opportunities for growth. But not so humble that you sit there unwilling to pipe up and use those gifts He blessed you with. In secular speak, that’s called imposter syndrome: “Who am I to do that?” As Marianne Williamson would answer (below), “Who are you not… you are a child of God…”

But as soon as you drink the Kool-Aid, believe the FIGJAM, then you’re a goner. I love that. God wants us to use our gifts – fearfully and wonderfully just as He made – but to always remember who gave the gifts.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson – A Return To Love

Holy fixer-uperer

Sometimes I take a skim back through the first bogs I wrote about this journey to God through his son Jesus. It is a reminder of not how far I have come, but of how far they have brought me. Radical renovation. The fixer-uperer. I suspect God and Jesus look at all of us and spot potential.

By Matthew Christopher, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I came to a heart understanding of G&J long before my head caught up. It is my heart that keeps me in step, or reminds me when I’m out of sync. Whenever my God signal goes on the fritz it’s usually because I’ve been over-thinking.

Which makes it kind of hilarious that have I wound up in one of the most brain-dominant, intellectual denominations. I’ve written enough publicly now to receive some intellectual critiques. Suggestions how I could have better presented doctrine. While I graciously take it aboard, and enjoy the perspectives, I’m happy to say I don’t write in order to defend my head understanding of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I write to celebrate them. The way they touch my heart and make me cry over the gifts they send me, even when I’ve been spending too much time in my head.

2016 started up with a bang for our household. Challenges and sadness. Lies and egos. Death and more death. A time when the heart stutters and my head sought to butt its way through the obstacles, because if I plough through fast enough that hurt may just be outrun.

I have learnt a few lessons in the past 18 months or so. Rather than ploughing through, I now plough down with a Psalm or two. As I dragged myself out of my head and back into my heart a week ago, spitting plum stones and tears at a scripture passage, all I could say was, “I really need some encouragement right now.”

I know, this is hardly the ACTS approach to prayer (Adoration, Confession, give Thanks,  Supplication). But ACTS is head structure and I needed to take heart. Given my dialogues with G&J are typically like an ongoing conversation, it may feel to them that I have a ACTSTCASASTACTSAAASTT morse code kind of prayer stuttering and beeping away…or even SACT when I’m slanging…

The amazing thing about staying in my heart with God and Jesus is how quickly they respond. It’s almost like when I withdraw into my head they shake their own – not in a negative way, but in a ‘Really? Are you going to try that again? Ok, dear heart, we’ll be here when you’re ready’ and they wait kindly and patiently for me to sort it out.

Within ten minutes of my prayer, I took a call in my office sharing encouragement over some changes taking place on quite a broad level at the Christian charity I am involved with; the next day there was an engagement spike in a campaign we had been testing; and then small yellow post it notes of God’s love started appearing all around, day in, day out. Even just hours ago, battling with an emotional dragon, there popped a perfect article into my inbox. Today? Of all days? Really?

I can’t dismiss them as coincidence because they are too specific, too personal and too bespoke tailored to what my heart seeks when they happen. The lesson – as always – is staying out of my head and simply having faith in what I know in my heart.

God and Jesus don’t want our heads. They want all of us. But especially our hearts. Spitting plum stones and slanging Psalms. Shaking metaphorical fists and then being moved to weep because the amount of love they pour out is simply too overwhelming to pack into this broken human vessel.

Their radical renovation skills work best when I stop rationalising in my head and start allowing in my heart. When I throw everything wide and offer them holy squatters rights. Allow the HS building squad to move in and do the fixer-uppering.

Really? Ok, you asked for it… Testimony Take 2

image-2It has gob-smacked me, the requests I have received for the copy of my testimony. It’s hugely overwhelming and humbling. So as I stumbled around thinking, “Really? Should I?” I decided to ask my divine writing team for their opinion. Who sent me this:

Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. – Matthew 5:15

Which, if I’m following His gist, is Jesus’ way of saying to me, “I’ve helped you, haven’t I? And hearing your story helps others. So, get over yourself, and post it. NOW.”

Below is what I read out in church the other week, with links to past blog posts peppered throughout in case you fancy more background. If you’ve read the blog posts from earlier this year, then you’ll have the gist already and can go play Candy Crush or something instead… ‘

Testimony, 30/11/14

“So, about 35 years ago, my family had a bit of a bad day. In the morning my Dad announced he was leaving the family home. And in the afternoon my Mum overdosed on sleeping tablets. “I don’t share this for the ‘poor, damaged, child’ angle – Mum pulled through, my Dad remains happily married to the woman who went onto become my step-mum, and I therapied my wounds a LONG time ago.

“I share it because what happened next impacted incredibly on how I viewed God, Jesus and Christianity. “You see, so-called Christian friends turned up with judgement about adultery and the sin of suicide. The dogma obliterated the grace. And that skewed my viewpoint. Not helped by the bloke in the black dress at the front of the school chapel who failed to make Christianity relevant to me. Then, as a cadet journalist in Ireland, I saw too much fear and terror enacted out in the name of God to make it an appealing proposition.

“New age spiritualism and yogic non-attachment called me far more than Jesus did, and pretty much formed my agnostic life for the past 15 years…”

[At this point I unpacked some props – angel cards, crystals, self-development books – that I handed to my glamorous assistant on stage, the SAP – who opted not to wear a gold, shimmery off the shoulder number like most glamorous assistants. I did ask…]

“In New Age, God is there but in a distant, malleable way. An energy you can somehow harness through the power of correct thought. If your life isn’t going the way you hoped, then you’re not thinking the correct thoughts. So pay for another course! New age exhausted me. I was so tired of having to fix myself!

“Yoga and meditation gave peace but felt empty – I was dessicating my soul in my striving to non-attach. I kept forgetting we are relationship driven. We are not built for non-attachment!

“Deep down I wanted a relationship with God. I wanted that still, small voice of calm. But with all my childhood baggage from Church and religion, I couldn’t figure out the right path. I was also petrified of vulnerability. After a parent attempts suicide, there’s a lot you lock-off in self-preservation.

“So I am blessed that God hunted me down, put Jesus squarely in front of me, and made me listen.

“It started with a failed job interview. One of the job criteria was a practising Christian, active in church. No surprises, then, that I didn’t get the gig. And the interviewer was kind and graceful but pleasantly steadfast in telling me that my faith wasn’t there. And he said something about structure…

“Someone the other week said to me how God presses on us, this insistence that shoves at you. And Jesus and that phrase about structure kept pushing into my brain. I kept telling myself it was because my ego had been pricked.

“But the Easter weekend that followed:

  • The Bible falling off the shelf at my feet at a holiday house communal library – with no one nearby to cause it fall.
  • The yacht at Palm Beach, the sail unfurling, emblazoned with the words ‘Mister Christian’.
  • Awaking with Jennifer Warnes’s ‘Song of Bernadette’ playing over and over in my head around 3am each morning for four days in a row, when I had not heard her music in probably a decade.
  • 3am Conversation with God – sort out your baggage around Christianity. Get rid of your stereotypes about how ‘Christians’ should be.
  • My husband’s comment: Well, Phil, Jesus did have to ask Peter 3 times….

“I thought I’d just do some research. C of E stuck me as similar to Anglican. The kids attend school in the area so I found this church online, spotted that a Christianity Course (CE) was running and picked up the phone. I’d missed a couple of weeks, but I figured I could do some catch up — some solo, distant education.

“Again, God was having none of it. Instead of a quick video download in my own time, I ended up having theological emails with an associate pastor who was honest, and it turned out to be my first ‘adult’ conversation with a Christian who was happy to unpack his faith and really let me rummage around in it – and challenge me intellectually and spiritually.

“He obviously wasn’t going to let this seeking soul just do distant education. I found myself at a 10am service. Then another. Then an 8am. Then a 6pm.

“As my heart whispered to me how astounding this love, the cross, the resurrection was, my head was on the sidelines, arms folded. Could a man really have come back to life? Well, then, I got to do the CE course with others. Which helped my head catch up with my heart.

“I liken my new-age relationship with God before like some faulty light bulb. That flickered on and off. Jesus reached past me and screwed in the bulb.

“As soon as I accepted Jesus, it literally clicked into place. How liberating it was to go: I am more sinful and flawed than I could ever imagine, yet at the very same time I am more loved and accepted in Jesus than I could ever dare dream.

“And after all that new-age work? The ease of this astounds me every day. Just keep accepting the grace. And I pray that God just keeps me – all my flawed ego self – out the way.

“Being loved, NO MATTER WHAT, gives you an incredible blank canvas of trust and grace from which to create. Jesus died for me. How can I do anything BUT humbly accept .…

“That acceptance gave me a new freedom to embrace the joy. After trying to be all yogic, trying to non-attach, to NOT feel, all this… it’s like going from black and white to technicolour. All those numbed nerve endings just fizzed. And even if there are hurts – all that sensitivity I tried to hide, the vulnerability I was so fearful of – what are they compared to the pain Jesus’ took on for me? Vulnerability delivered me joy, faith and more.

“Six months ago I would have laughed at anyone who said I’d have a Bible app on my phone and be writing a blog about my Christian journey.

“Writing this testimony, the SAP asked me to share some examples of how my life has changed since I accepted God and Jesus. But I can’t give examples of incidents, because this isn’t incidental to my life.

“It is like breathing. The edges have been smoothed. I’m sure my husband would agree that the ‘point scoring’ of life has dropped away.

“I find myself in a range of places – the café, getting my back adjusted, a business networking event – and God insistently tells me to share the blog and my experience of returning to church. “God: ‘Tell them!” Me: “Really?” God: “Yes, now” – and so I do and every time, EVERY time, I end up in a conversation with someone who has been wondering about going back to church after having a poor experience…

“So now, whilst I do still question, I trust. And so, even when He’s telling me to step forward and I feel like it’s off a cliff, I trust and honour that He knows what He’s doing. So I step forward and the bridge – or path – appears.

“And getting baptised? You see in 1972 I was christened, so, in a way, I didn’t NEED to do it again. But my Christening was more like ‘pinning the name on the baby’. I didn’t grow up in a Christian household. There was no structure to it, no faith.

“Yet despite that, for the 42 intervening years, I know God and Jesus were always on the look out; they had my back. But I hadn’t got theirs. I needed to reciprocate. Choosing baptism was my testimony to them, saying: “I’m sorry it took me so long. Thanks for chasing me down. Here I am.”

“And finally, although I can stand up here and say God chased me down, and Jesus worked his grace – there is one more important thing to say.

“The past six months have clearly demonstrated that, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a supportive husband, an amazing ministry team AND an engaged congregation to raise a new Christian. So on the days that you wonder what exactly God & Jesus are up to in your life – and I’m pretty sure we all have them – please remember each time over the past six months I saw you here at church – even if we have never spoken – I saw you here. In worship. Treading the path. And it gave me joy and encouragement to keep stepping forward on mine. Thank you.”

The SAP Gets A Name Change For A Day

The SAP turned into a poker-face Larry Emdur. But kept his shirt on. Thank God.

I had to upgrade the SAP to a TBP the other week.  He did something that sent me veering straight back into limbic lunacy, the same day I’d shared my decision to be ‘Lipton’d’. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

You know those targets they use in fundraising? Large themometer-type displays that tally the amount of cash people have donated? Well, I wonder if churches have similar for souls saved. And if there’s a percentage conversion rate that they reverse-engineer a target out of, gauging how many they need in the soul-saving funnel (SSF) at any one time.

It’s obviously not quite as clinical as that. Love, empathy, compassion, the SAP patiently persists in reminding me, are all important strengths one has to display in the soul-saving business way of life. As my approach to compassion is quite often from the school of swallow some concrete and harden up, I’m amazed the SAP is not yet sick of sounding like a broken record. I’d have smacked me round the back of my head by now. Yet, I do notice some softening in my compassion bone. I receive small reminders to breathe into it: You who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Galatians 6:1.

Anyway, back to the SSF.  All the souls in it have to accept Jesus freely. No matter how much support and guidance you get on your way through the funnel, at some point you have to make a personal, final call.

Which is why, as soon as river baptism appeared on my horizon, the SAP went all Switzerland on me. Mr Neutral. If it were a game show, with the ultimate prize all stacked behind the one door, the SAP was a poker-face Larry Emdur. Getting to know the SAP as you have through these blogs (and perhaps social media if you are SA detectives), poker face and Switzerland are not qualities one would ascribe to this (scarily) forthright man of faith.

First, my flight reflex went: “Oh. Maybe I shouldn’t get baptised. He’s possibly being too polite to say how soooo not ready my soul is for this.” Swiftly followed by: “The SAP, polite? Heaven forbid.” Then comprehension: at this point before a baptism, it must be like getting ready for a public float (boom-tish) on the heavenly stock exchange. No insider-trading. Having read the prospectus and gained advice from your spiritual advisor to talk to God, any decision you then make must be of your own accord.

Once I’d reached my decision, the SAP returned to form. Switzerland was ditched in favour of a far more celebratory nation. Facebook Messenger crashed with all the emoticons of smiley faces, party poppers and those blasted things that unfurl when you blow into them.

“Absolutely fantastic,” he said. “It’ll be flippin’ awesome,” he added. “I just need your testimony, the before and after bit about how you got to here with Jesus and God. Then I’ll get you up on stage at church and you can share it. Ten minutes or so should do it.”

Hang on. What did he just say? On stage? Ten minutes?

So, just for a day, the SAP up-levelled to TBP. Had I spotted live, on-stage testimony required in the baptism prospectus it would have muddied my decision-making around being Lipton’d. Which had to be reached freely, without positive or negative influence.

Tricky bastard. But I have to hand it to him. Still smart.

Deciding to get ‘Lipton’d’

It struck me recently that God speaks to me at His strongest when I am in fear, flight and fight. When every sense of my reptilian brain is shrieking at me, it is those moments when His hand presses on me and firmly orders, “Observe.”

Not to do anything. Simply to observe. To watch, listen and see what unfolds. Trouble is, when I’m in ‘limbic lunacy’ that’s the last thing I want to do. Instead I long to operate at warp speed to push through what confronts me, or download (mainline) every article, book, and research paper I possibly can to seduce my rational frontal-lobe into taking over. I don’t have any objections to discovering a few remaining band-aids on my soul. It’s just that, done my way, I’d rip ’em off and move on. God’s way is more gentle. Requires my patience.  10117b9d-d35e-424f-8aba-89d57234ee71-vision

The SAP observed recently that my personality throws me into everything I do at a million miles an hour. He earns his SA stripes well, that pastor. As the Big T often reminds me, faith is not slam it down espresso.

No surprise then, that after my limbic lunacy around the SAP’s public proclaimation of an upcoming river baptism, I became sick. Temperature. Aches that pinned me to the bed. Eyeballs that refused to focus. Symptoms that made it very hard to operate at warp speed and read rational research.

So (possibly with a fair amount of eye-rolling at God) I observed. Watched, listened, stayed present. Prayed. Floated on the idea of river submersion. Faced up to the reality that, without it, I would always be able to say I was ‘Christian-ish.’ And the ‘-ish’ suffix would give me a huge amount of latitude. Wriggle-room.

Wriggle-room is seductive. Just enough to shimmy around those tight spots that pinch at me.

Which made me a coward. And, boy, that conclusion riled me. Well, f*&k that, God and Jesus. You want me to own this, do you? Well, let me just show you how I can step up and own this.

Ah. That’s the problem with a Lord who knows what’s in my heart before I unravel it. The steps He takes to guide me to an outcome are, well, smart-alecky. A clever prod at pride to switch off fight and flight.

Which means, in less than a week, I will be at the river. Getting Lipton’d.

How New Age Helped Me Grasp New Testament Quicker

It struck me the other day just how lucky I have been to have read runes, aligned chakras, meditated, theta-healed and visited psychics. I was certainly seeking something to put my faith in, but the biggest surprise has been how all my new age investigation prepared me perfectly for Jesus and the New Testament.

Crystal Crosses - Because every good SAP needs one.
Crystal Crosses – Because every good SAP needs one.

1) I was tired of it being all about me

I’ve blogged before about how exhausting new age ‘thought creates’ ended up being. I could repeat ‘I create with ease’ mantras until I was blue in the face, but it struck me as particularly hit and miss. Some days it would flow, other days ‘ease’ seemed as remote as the moon. I’d be stuck asking, ‘If God (Spirit/Universe) created us as such magnificent, perfect beings (for one thing New Age teaches, is we are all perfect) how come I’m not finding this a little easier?’ And then, just to confuse things, despite me being perfect just as I am, paying for another chakra clearing, or past-life regression, would help me be just that little bit more perfect.

I found aspiring to the new age ‘everything is awesome’ thought-creates vision tiring. Plus I’ve never been that good at naval-gazing for extended periods. I was sick of all this ‘self’ I was supposed to aspire to.

New Testament is fabulous because it’s not about me being anything other than flawed. How amazing. I get to happily hang out with all my failings and bless them. Jesus gets to be the sinless, perfect one. I get to be the lost soul who merely says, “Hey, here I am. I trust you to fix me up.” And He does. I’m still figuring out the nuts and bolts of the how (see justification and sanctification) but grace works in mysterious ways, I’ve decided. You just need to keep your eyes open for it. Which leads me to:

2) New age is all about signs. Which today makes my conversations with God & Jesus highly translatable

Read a pack of Angel cards, and one instruction tells you that if you spot a feather on the floor, that’s because your angels are nearby working their magic. Other New Age/ gnostic writings refer to three as a sacred number – so if you see/read/hear something three times, that’s God (Spirit/Universe) trying to get a message through. The SAP may only sneeze over spotting a feather, but there are plenty of other ‘God moments’ – as he calls them – that come through signs, dreams and repetition.

So new-age has prepared me for a very personable, relatable conversation with God and Jesus. I figure it’s meant to be personal or else that temple curtain wouldn’t have ripped during the crucifixion. The three of us go running each morning. I pay attention to what pops up after I’ve been praying for guidance. The answers come, without fail. The difference now, compared to my sign-seeking, new-age self, is both infinite and infinitesimal. Now I trust the answers, whilst before I wanted to, but my own self (doubt, ego) kept getting in the way.

3) Non-attachment helps with the right attachment

Prior to curing my Christian hangover, the closest I came to flow and true presence was on the yoga mat. I am lucky: I naturally do not tend towards a mind that is, as a monk once described to me, like ‘a mad monkey stung by a scorpion’. Yoga poses and striving towards non-attachment help keep that mad monkey sedated. Trouble is, we are born relational beings. We love, laugh, dance, dramatise, wound, weep and worry. A non-attached life gets a little devoid of colour. There’s a balance between non-attached emptiness, living in glorious Technicolour and not allowing yourself to be buffeted by any small scorpion sting.

Non-attachment does help quieten the ego. Which gave me a fairly good place to start from when it came to meeting Jesus and God again. Becoming humble is a sign of inner strength, not – as we are quick to mistake in our self-led life – weakness. Bowing my head to accept, quite humbly, that I am less, makes me more. It takes some serious strength to pack away your self and admit, “I am so utterly flawed, but, but, YOU, God, think I’m worth saving – and there’s nothing I can do to make myself worthy of that.” Yoga’s path of non-attachment helped me move more easily towards the empty-handed humbleness required of a relationship with God.

4) State of Grace

Christianity is the only religion that offers the ‘reward’ upfront. Grace. No boxes to tick, diets to follow, or self to flagellate. Jesus did all the hard yards. Our job is to get on with living gracefully. Yoga gave me glimpses of what I thought was ‘grace’ – the silenced mad monkey, a shining peacefulness – until a forthright Christian woman asked what I meant by glimpses. “But you’ve got it already,” she reminded me. There are no mere glimpses of grace on this Christian journey. It surrounds and astounds — you just need to keep accepting it. And one thing yoga is especially good at teaching is acceptance.

5) Comparative ease

Finally, at the risk of offending UHT Christians (those who have been working at this for a long, longer life than I), new age prepared me well because, once I got past hangovers and stereotypes, Christianity is far less difficult than new age. A bit like my slogan around Apple, ‘it just works.’  No gimmicks. No need to book in for a past-life regression and multiple ongoing appointments. Just accept you are more flawed than you can imagine, more loved than you can imagine, and get on with the business of grace. Plug and Play.

So if it’s so easy, how come it’s got such a poor reputation?

I’m cognisant that church and religion has sent many fleeing to the new-age hills. Been there, done that, bought the crystals myself. While pastors, vicars, minsters and priests play a key role in creating positive church experiences, I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s even simpler than that.

Christians need to create positive Christian experiences. Put away the sin and grace barometers. Be flawed. Be real. Live and breathe grace every day, not just Sunday within some ‘hallowed walls’. God shoved me to a church that suited me, gave me a SAP on the end of a phone, and surrounded me with plenty of ‘real’ Christians. He knew I’d never have listened any other way. Amazing grace, indeed.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water

So the SAP nailed a proclamation to the church doors today. Known in the trade as The Great Commission, it read: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Actually, no. This is 21st Century evangelism after all. No nails on wood here (well, unless, you know, we’re talking about those nails). It was more of a digital nail. Driven through a Facebook Group Post. The gist being: ‘Summer’s here. Daylight saving. And if you fancy the other sort of saving, get yourself to the Wonie River because the water’s warm and I’m going to host an outdoor baptism in a few weeks. Bit of preaching. BBQ. Music. BYO swimmers and sunscreen.’ 

I have to admit, it stopped me in my tracks. All important, deadline-driven work fled my mind. I think I pushed back my wheelie-chair so fast from the desk I burnt rubber on the carpet. And not in the rush to grab my swimmers and towel.

I always loved hearing about John the Baptist at school. Struck me as a cool job, hanging out in the water all day. Eating honey and locusts not as much. Yet something about submersion always fascinated me as a child, and not through any push from my parents. My father is a non-swimmer and my mum hated getting her face wet, even in the shower. So perhaps it was John in RE who sparked my gaining a BSAC Dive Leader qualification?

Yet today? Adult immersion baptism is a long way from the vicar dribbling water on my head during my May 1972 Christening. It had little relevance to me then because I can’t remember a thing about it, or even what it meant. Adult immersion means a conscious-choice. Matthew records the words above as the final explicit instructions of Jesus before he ascended to heaven. It’s part of the SAP’s ultimate job description:

  • Teach the gospel
  • Introduce people to Jesus (make disciples)
  • Baptise them
  • Help and teach them to follow the words of Jesus

So, if I look at this a bit like a sales funnel (sorry, SAP, old habits), then I’ve been introduced, taught some, and helped. One more step needed. Into a river.

Honestly, my limbic brain has been in fight and flight overdrive all afternoon. Prayers for guidance consisted of mainly, “Really?” and then, “Really, really?” as my brain and heart stuttered. One kind friend gently told me that the water would still be warm in six months, and this was not a race. Very true. But having been chased by the hound of heaven, there is an air of impatience when God talks to me. A strong sense of: He chased me down long enough, He loves me dearly, but there’s work to be done so, please hurry up and get with the program.

God still has a massive sense of humour though. Only yesterday I mentioned that perhaps inspiration was a bit dry when it came to these blog posts. Be careful what you wish for, Phil!

As has been the pattern on this journey, the Big T delivered his usual brand of evangelism. After reading the Facebook post I thrust at him, his initial response was, ‘Holy F*#^, Phil’. Then he commented I was wearing socks.

Socks? I’m asking for supportive husband advice and he refers to my socks? Then the light dawns. When we first met, I wore Reeboks. It became our relationship metaphor for my fear of emotional dependence. Fight or flight. Run away fast. Survival.

“This is your decision alone,” he tells me. “But you’ve thrown out those Reeboks. And I know this step for you is a big as the one you took when you chose to marry me. I think you know you’ll do it, deep down. Doesn’t matter how much research you do to figure it out. But, you being you, will need some time for it to settle in your heart.”

My Mom always described Big T as the perfect man for me. Tonight he gave another example of how perfect.

So too did God. In the middle of limbic lunacy, I sat on the bed, grabbed my Bible, closed my eyes and repeated that eloquent prayer: “Really? Really really?” And flung open the pages.

To Acts 22:16. The first seven words leapt out as if printed superbold and underlined: And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.

Of all the pages, of all the books in the world…. where are those runes and angel cards, eh?!

At least I could use one of the best songs by The Boss in illustration.



Hall Pass from the SAP?

The thinking lady’s crumpet, Kevin McCloud.

Chill, I’m not referring to a sexual hall pass (before the SAP chokes on his chai and starts spluttering about the sixth commandment). Following a discussion with hubby Big T about thinking lady’s crumpet (TLC) Kevin McCloud, it started me thinking about boundaries.

Faced with a Star Wars movie night with the kids, and the realisation that the TLC was in town, I did ponder on Facebook about whether I should stay home or go into the city to find Mr. McCloud. I used the hashtag ‘hall pass’. After some funny comments from my thinking lady friends, there was a short comment from the Big T: “No Hall Pass”

Which is the husbandly equivalent of ‘don’t push your luck.’ Whilst feminists may get upset about Biblical references to ‘obeying husbands’, I find great delight (as a somewhat feisty woman) in a husband who gives me immense amounts of lassitude but, on rare and specific occasions, says, “Nope. You, woman, are mine!” That’s when my ‘thinking lady crumpet’ side gets all overcome and fluttery and swoons in a far more ‘Georgette Heyer-type’ way.

Toddlers need boundaries. Me too. But I do have a hall pass. The best bit is, I’m married to him.

So, anyway, back to hall passes and the SAP. In regards to my getting rid of Christian and religious hangovers, he doesn’t give them out either.  Believe me, I tried. Certain teachings I have serious issues with. Tough. Deal. Grow. No hall passes.

Like the Kingdom of Heaven. 1 Corinthians 15: 51-53: But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Thing is, this immortal glory only comes if you’ve chosen Jesus and God. Bit of a slap on the face on this journey when your Mother has died and you know she certainly hadn’t made that choice whilst living.  So she is, umm, where? 4 letters. Rhymes with bell?

Really? In my utter teenage rebellion I may have told her to go there. Yet if you believe you choose the life you live (as I do), then my Mum chose a hard road. She may not have embraced the J-man, but, God, she did the best she could with the tools at her disposal. If you are never told the path you can choose, how can you be ‘punished’ for not choosing it? Where were those Christian evangelists as, alone and heart-broken, she reached for the Temazepam?

Keller writes that hell is the freely chosen, eternal skid row of the universe. If you read my earlier blogs, you will perhaps understand the eternal skid row my Mum had chosen in life. Denial. Marriage and relationship breakdowns that ‘came out the blue’ because confronting how you really felt (or feared) was not the ‘done thing’ back then. Today I wonder if my Mum had a SAP, would life have been different? I suspect so.

But you play the hands you are dealt. Whether she brought up a resilient child intentionally or as an accident of circumstance, who knows? But denial is how I see my Mum’s hell. And my mind warred with what she did not know. How could I dream of her resurrection body if denial was her modus operandi?

The SAP will teach that without acceptance of Jesus, then there is no resurrection in our lives. However, he allows it comes down to awareness: “An Afghani goat herder who’s never seen a Bible or heard about Jesus will be judged differently though – the way I understand it is that God judges people based on what they know.”

I know denial was my Mum’s crutch in life. Not necessarily healthy, but if you are never taught differently then you work with what you know.  As I grappled with the teachings of Jesus, of that image of my Mum on the eternal skid row of denial, I was visited by yet another lucid dream:

A cafeteria. Sitting opposite my Mum, surrounded by others drinking tea, eating scones and taking about everything but nothing. Empty conversation that has always frustrated the f–k out of me. ‘Please, please,’ I implore silently. ‘Say something that means something.’

I realised I sat in my Mum’s version of hell. Denial. The same banality over and over and over.

And in this lucid dream my heart wept a little because my past five months have shown what more there can be. That there is beauty beyond the eternal skid row we create.

I was reminded of Robin Williams in ‘What Dreams May Come‘, who descends into hell to rescue his wife. Unpacking Jesus in my life, I have prayed that the dead and dying who do not yet know Him may have some of my grace, freely given. My own version of a hall pass. If I have been wrapped in grace from accepting Jesus, then can I ‘pay it forward’ so less fortunate can take some of the same love and protection?

In this lucid dream, as I looked at my Mum across the table, the SAP appeared behind her. Given Mum died almost two years before I ever picked up the phone, this was out of kilter. What was the SAP doing here? “Why don’t we pray?” he asked. I remember looking at him, somewhat baffled. “Get up,” he urged me. “Come round here and put your hands on her shoulders.”

Wide awake I’ve been a bit bemused by the ‘laying hands on’ stuff – blame the British stiff upper lip. Laying on of hands is used in Christianity as both a symbolic and formal method of invoking the Holy Spirit. And now I was dreaming it. Lucidly.

Okaaay. So there, in this dream, up I get and wander around the long trestle table, in what can only be described as a retirement home cafeteria. Mum looks up. “Hello, Philly,” she says quite complacently. “I’m just having a cup of tea.” Then in this bizarre lucid dream I introduce her to the SAP. I place one hand upon my Mother’s shoulder. Now what?

I hear the SAP praying, but for the life of me I cannot recall the words now. His hand rises to touch my shoulder. And in that split-second before final contact I know. During the lucid dream, I remember tensing every fibre in my body.

Then the circuit connects. Have you ever seen the opening seconds of the X-Men movie credits, when the ‘mutation’ flies through an organ’s vessels, all its energy snapping and synapses firing? That. Firing through my body, out my hand and into the next circuit connection. Hi Mom.

Then the bit that astounds me. As the SAP prays in this lucid dream, as my hands touch my Mom’s shoulder, precisely in that moment of the SAP’s hand connecting with my shoulder, and the synapses firing, I fly awake. G-force shocked, my eyes fly open. Jolted, pushed, shaken and stirred out of lucid dreaming into the now. Present. A gift, even.

Hi Mom. There you are. Enjoy that resurrection body. I’m glad you made it off skid row.

This possibly doesn’t gel with the SAPs biblical teachings. But you know what? On this one, I’m grabbing the hall pass. With both hands. Because you seriously cannot dream this stuff up.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

Welcome to Bible Study with Bono

Until recently, I’d read very little of the most read, most influential book of all time. The Bible has affected the world for centuries in innumerable ways. Look in art, literature, philosophy, government, philanthropy, education, social justice and humanitarianism – seek and you will find its influence there.

Take these common phrases: “a drop in the bucket”, “the handwriting was on the wall’, the “straight and narrow”, even “out of the mouths of babes”.  Not Shakespeare. The Bible. Even though Shakespeare does have more than 1200 references to Scripture in his works.

Having tonight re-watched Star Wars, I was reminded of the biblical allegories around us. Without The Bible, there would be no Narnia or Lord of The Rings. Alcoholics Anonymous and Harvard University found their roots in The Bible – with Harvard (not AA, that I’m aware of) delivering notable alumni such as Bill Gates, Matt Damon, Mark Zuckerberg and Franklin D Roosevelt. All from Puritans settling Boston and making plans for the establishment of a college to train ministers of the gospel. I wonder how the Puritans are feeling about Facebook today?

And as for music? Well, I feel a bit sorry for Christian Rock Bands. Obviously lots of biblical references, but the whole attraction of rock is because it’s meant to be rebellious. Think of The Rolling Stone’s Sympathy For The Devil. Catchy.

Bono-time-2011Yet it can work. Look at Bono, who threads biblical references throughout U2 lyrics. And if he’s not taking inspiration from the written word, his faith weaves throughout their music.

U2 flowed into my consciousness in the 80s and never really left, accompanying me through teenage angst and out the other side. Live Aid. Camping (umm.. trespassing) in a farmer’s field in Cork, Ireland, before the ZooTV live show. Fuelled by the irish greats Guinness and Tullamore Dew. An accident waiting to happen.

Perhaps that’s why I’m finding their latest ‘Songs of Innocence‘ album especially poignant, given my recent wanderings back to faith. Such as this line, from ‘Song For Someone’: “I’m a long way from your hill of Calvary. And I’m long way from where I was and where I need to be.”

How about you? What song moves your soul? Which lyric makes you wonder, “Why am I really here?” And have you ever had a brush with the law to get into a concert?