The SAP ain’t heavy. He’s my…oh, c’mon, really?

The Smart-Alec Pastor (SAP) has thrown a furfy into my creative mix. Remember the ‘Who shot JR?” cliff-hanger in Dallas? It’s kind of like that. I’m debating whether to write him out this blog script via some nefarious misdeed. Then I might have to deal with resurrecting the character, like Bobby Ewing stepping out the shower after it all being a dream.

LovepeopleWhat has he done to deserve such script-writing acrobatics? He and Mrs SAP have gone and prayed themselves into a new gig. Which is awesome and shows the brilliance of God at work. He will, I’m sure, based on my own brief experience, be an absolute blessing to his new congregation.

But, God, just to be a little bit selfish, I do have fun making up SAP adventures (or exaggerating them loosely on real-life examples). Whilst a part of me prays for ongoing SAP story lines, God’s bigger, insistent voice is saying, “Time to go it alone.”

Many times over the past nine months on my new Christian journey, I have asked: “God, Jesus, is this me? I am getting it? Or is the SAP just good at his job?” That’s the danger of new Christianity. You need to connect with God and Jesus and the Bible, not just the SAP delivering it. But you also need the training wheels that someone like the SAP provides to make sure you correctly connect with God, Jesus and the Bible.

Plus there’s the power of personality. The SAP is good at his job because of who he is: a supremely honest, Christian bloke who embraces the imperfection of life. I have wept at his kindness, laughed at his irreverence, and enjoyed a sense of humour that echoes my own.

How many pastors could you immortalise in a global blog under the nickname ‘smart alec’ and have him take it happily in his stride? Then somehow flipping it to laugh at me and teasing that it is my brand of evangelism? Or, better, dealing happily with my response when I told him to go himself and fornicate under carnal knowledge?

Based on all that, I figure he’ll be OK if I do decide to kill off the SAP. Just as he’s off on a new journey, I will be too. SAP training-wheel free. I have no idea what God has in store, but I do find it amazing that literally the week before the SAP made his new job announcement, God delivered two wise UHT Christians to me, both offering to be my mentors. Not one, but two.

I’ve also been introduced to a church looking to grow; the pastor is seeking help of a professional kind to market Christianity in this changing world. Plus, just quietly, I’ve had a hankering to do some distance education of the bible-study kind. But no rush. God’s got the reigns on this. I’ll just pray and step forward as He guides me.

So, in case I do decide to greatly exaggerate the rumours of the SAP’s demise, here’s my kind of epitaph to him:

Dear SAP,

Thank you. You, God and Jesus have all helped me become a better person. I know you will humbly respond that it is not necessarily in that order, but please accept the compliment gracefully.

Not only did you help me become a Christian, you also helped one of the most important people in my life join me along this road. Priceless.

Thank you for being there. For the random emails you would field as this writer processed whatever God and Jesus were pressing her to unpack. I am humbly cognisant that mine was not the only email, the only text message, the only Facebook message that your flock fired off. I only hope that my black humour kept you entertained rather than overwhelmed.

You have known when to push, when to shut up, when to compassionately hold the space, and when to congratulate me as I wobbled along on these Christian training wheels. You say that you always ask God to keep you out the way so He can do His work, but I suspect He tells you when to get in the way too. Thank you for listening to Him so well.

I pray your new congregation sees just how uniquely the spirit of God works in you. It’s not a typical brand of spirit. It’s rare, refined and aged nicely in whiskey barrels. Let’s hope there are not too many Puritans in your new parish.

Whilst writing this has required a tissue box, the awesomeness of what you and your family are about to do eclipses any tears of quiet sadness at your departure and turns them into joy.

There have been a few highpoints. Meeting G&J being major ones, obviously. Picking up the phone after Easter and being told you knew how this would end. Being hauled safely back up out the water during my Lipton-ing. And then, the other day, hearing you were grabbing this God-given opportunity to again lead a church.

But the biggest and best highpoint? Knowing that even if I do write the SAP out these blogs, I have the blessing of a SAF in real life. Stepping out from behind the keyboard now: I am honoured, blessed and grateful to have you as my smart-alec friend. I love how we can joke around, have fun and then have deep conversations without it getting weird at all.

So blessings on your new Godventure, SAF. You ain’t heavy, you’re my brother. And that’s about the shiniest Christian language you are ever going to see me use.

Grace Holds.

This post starts after the Lindt cafe Sydney siege and the breaking news today that eight children have been stabbed to death in Queensland. One as young as 18 months.

It starts less than 24 hours after our quiet, leafy suburb was teeming with police and their dogs, searching for the person who chose to hold up our local liquor store, threatening the young bloke behind the till with a needle injury.

Yesterday I suggested on social media that our local community buy a case from the local bottle shop today. Small scale #Illridewithyou. Today I went in and my heart was gladdened to hear the owner say how busy she was. Thank you community.

Today I sat in our local cafe next to our Como institution. Close to 90 years old, Mrs R lives independently – my family first got to know her almost ten years ago when I walked past her house with my newborn son. She had a quiet tear today thinking about how long she has lived in this peaceful suburb and how distressing it was to hear the news of yesterday’s robbery. After she left, the cafe regulars worked out how to make sure she was tended, to offer her love and comfort, without intruding on her independence. Thank you community.

It would be easy for me to say, after the events of the past week, that it appears God has turned his back and shut the door on our bewildering world. But then I see Jesus in each person who bought a case of wine or beer from our local bottle shop today. In the compassion that strews Martin Place with flowers. In the love that tends to a 90 year old woman to ensure she is held safely in our small community.

Grace holds.

Grace

Hospitals For The Broken: Four Blessings

broken heartWhat I have learnt in the past six months is that churches are not filled with shiny, perfect people. They are hospitals for the broken. Recently was a crap Sunday. A culmination of four days that had left my heart and soul fractured. Living on a fault line, as Katy Perry sings in ‘Grace of God’.

So the perfect day to go to church. Yet also the worst. When you are fragile, exposing your fragility publicly is terrifying. Yet I needed the comfort of faith more than I needed my mask of normality, which is what I had plastered over the fault line to get me through the four days prior. My strength tank was dangerously dry. The bowser of the Bible had nurtured me. Yet even though I was comforted by faith, I sought the magnification that regular attendance at church delivers.

My God it was tough. On my own on the drive over, I just cried. Not sure I can do this  today. Not sure I’m going to be anything but a saline snot heap. Not sure I’m ready to crack that fault line. I sat in the car, parked outside church, wiping away tears, slugging back caffeine and praying for the game face that would get me in the door. Knowing it is a safe place to turn up to in a mess is very different to actually doing it.

Deep breath. Dark glasses. Open car door. Then, blessing one. Someone who was leaving after the earlier service, whom I have never met, was parked close by. He buzzed down his car window. Sent me a gentle smile. Introduced himself and hoped I had a good day. Insignificant in content, but significant to me. God’s gentle reminder of the comfort of His community.

I confess it didn’t bolster me so much that I marched in revived. I sort of slunk in, avoiding eye contact, and immediately revolved straight back out before I even made it to the name badge table.

Deep breaths. Back in. To blessing 2 – a jovial older member who has been supportive of me on this road. He stood talking and introduced me to someone whom I had not yet met, who kindly mentioned how lovely he had found my recent testimony. Which had me hiccuping, excusing myself and diving for the nearest ladies room. Where I replaced the prescription lenses in my sunnies for tissues.

Deep breath again. Exit the ladies room. Make it to the reception table. Where, of course, the senior pastor and connections pastor are standing, right in front of my name badge. FFS God, I’m not getting in under the radar here am I?

“Phil, how are you?” they enquired. Don’t know about you, but when I’m on an emotional fault line and someone asks me that question there’s only one result. Saline and snot. Time to be honest, or at best take refuge in flippancy. “Umm, I’m wearing my game face today,” I admitted from behind dark glasses.

Blessing 3, as the connections pastor takes the conversation to more neutral, less emotive territory: the books for sale, what had I read and what he wanted to read – which just happened to be over in a quieter corner. It felt like a kindly boarder collie gently shepherding me along. And there, right there, he picks up a book on a topic that pretty much covers everything I’ve been recently fractured by. Tears turn to somewhat hysterical laughter at God’s prodding. Let it all out, let Me, let My people help.

Well, obviously, I chose the back row at church. Where a fantastic older lady, for whom I have huge respect and admiration, asked if she could join me. I admitted I was slinking in with my game face on. “Me too,” she replied, as we both pulled tissues out our respective bags. She made me laugh as the Children’s Minister stood on stage announcing that there would be a water theme – complete with a water-filled, bursting balloon fight – as they discussed the birth of Jesus. Exploding membranes. Fluid. We caught each other’s eye like children misbehaving at the back of the school bus. “Probabably not the best imagery, water and birth,” she whispered.

Then God’s humour, His way of showing me that I was noticed – that WE were noticed in the back row. Of all the Sunday’s for the big screen church projector to fail. So everyone in the congregation turned around to face the back of the church to sing hymns from the smaller screen that was positioned directly above our heads. Everyone. Facing the back row. Yes, you are seen, yes, you are noticed, yes, you are loved.

And the finale? Over the days prior I had prayed, wished for a mother figure. Someone wise and maternal from whom I could draw wisdom. That, I admit, is my major hole. I did not have a typical maternal relationship with my own mother. Our roles had been reversed since I was quite young. I have always noticed that gap in my emotional responses, typically tending towards a more masculine ‘deal with it’ over feminine compassion. Not that those feelings are gender-dependent. Simply that I have always ‘dealt with it’ and too often forget that others require more support.

Seeking maternal wisdom is different to paternal. Or even using male and female peers as sounding boards. Blessing four: the lady who joined me in the back row delivered me gold. Gentle, wise-woman strategies to help navigate my confusion in a more compassionate, Christian-way. Along with the women’s minster she prayed and cracked open that fault line with sensitivity. Let in light and grace.

I went in broken and weak. When I came out I wasn’t shiny. Or new. But I was comforted, supported and strengthened for the next steps on the path.

I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. 

Psalm 63:6-8

Testing, Testing…. testimony

Put me on a stage in front of 200+ business people and tell me to talk communications, PR and how best to boost your business with free publicity and I will rock your world. I will make you laugh, help you learn, and I will happily share my failures, my worst mistakes, my post-GFC business disaster because I know, by being authentic, I can help you take the next step on your business journey.

But ask me to stand in the front of a church, look each person in the eye, rip open my chest, pluck out my heart and hold it up for all to see? When I realised the fine print in the baptism prospectus, the only rocking I was doing was back and forth in my seat. Foetal-like. writer's block

I think my first response to the SAP was, “Can’t you just put a link to the blog up on screen?” Swiftly followed by, “I can come to the Saturday night church to do it. I know less people there…”

For all this blogging articulation, writing my testimony was the hardest thing I have ever done. Writer’s block descended like a cage. I knew what God and Jesus had delivered me on this journey, but attempting to capture it in order to read it aloud made me feel gauche. Worse, I feared being unable to do it justice. Given the pure joy of newly discovered Christianity has me leaking tears daily, I had horrible images of me standing up there hiccuping into the microphone with saline flooding my face. Testimony by tissues.

Two weeks out, the SAP would send nudging emails, asking how it was going. I would blithely reply that I worked on far tighter deadlines than two weeks – which is true. Then, possibly suspecting my evasive tone, the SAP offered to read the first draft. Ah. A staggered deadline.

The trick to beating writer’s block is to write. Even when the words that vomit from your imagination are leaden, weighing across the page like boulders blocking the path. It’s a bit like ordering that first alcoholic drink when you are hungover. It tastes like nails but the mist begins to lift.

I also had three more on the writing team with me. G, J & the Holy Ghost(writer). “Ok, gang,” I prayed (respectfully). “Show me.”

And then it struck.  I had allowed myself to be sidelined by stereotypes. On the one hand, the SAP was telling me to be myself. On the other, well-intentioned Christians were sharing testimony examples and seriously reminding me that this testimony was about glorifying God and Jesus and ‘What THEY Had Done In My Life.’

Just in case I’d forgotten those two who’d hunted me down and dragged me along this path for the past six months.

Problem was, the testimony examples all used what I term ‘Christian inaccessible language’ and smacked of shiny-suited evangelism. Unreachable, unattainable — all the things that had turned me away from church and contributed to my Christian hangover in the first place. Hadn’t God and Jesus called me just as I was? For me to stand up on stage and adopt a language that was not mine struck me as frankly ridiculous. I sat, stymied at the computer, feeling like I needed to defend my faith journey and style.

“Every hair on your head,” the divine writing team quietly whispered to me.

The hair that is an unnatural five-tone flame red. That is happy to stand up and be counted. That is confident, self-esteemed and humble, for the three are not mutually exclusive. That enjoys wine, martinis, chilli mud crab splatter and more. That drops f-bombs etc. Not for a need to shock, but because I am proud to be gifted by God with the knowledge that language can make a difference; and the right language (even when it is shocking) used well, with talent and timing and wit, creates attention. And with attention comes power. To change. To be heard. To remind. To prompt action. To believe. All of which God deserves a bit more of.

So my testimony offered rust over shine. Wit and irreverence over dulled seriousness.  Because that has been my journey with the Father and Son. They make me laugh at myself each day, whilst having me in tears over the simplicity of grace and in awe at how much more I can be, do and dream when they run my show.

Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble. But joyful? Let’s give it a go.

Is it me, or does Mac Davis remind you a little bit of Bobby Ewing from Dallas (the original series)? Whilst not a music style I usually gravitate to, the opportunity to put this song title and Kenny Rogers in a blog post was just too good to resist. Kenny Rogers. My primary-age soundtrack. My folks knew how to rock it.

This post I really want to get away from sinning, again and again and focus on the fun stuff. The joy.

The SAP would have you know that his Christian fun includes gun totin’, 4WDing, game hunting and head-banging at the front of U2 concerts. But who’s going to believe that of a man of the cloth? I reckon he just says that to see if he can shock people. I’d lay money on him instead being a chai-sipping quiet soul who pops along to the Symphony Orchestra and discusses ways to help the Green Party. Whilst wearing sandals.

What I realised about my exposure growing up was that ‘religion’ was painted as serious stuff. Which then slips into people taking themselves too seriously. Instead, I’ve learnt that it’s perfectly fine to not take yourself seriously at all (which is a big tick in the plus column) but instead take Jesus and God seriously. Meaning it’s OK to tumble into the 8am Sunday service with your netball training gear on, cap shoved over electric-shock therapy hairstyle, with a takeout coffee cup clutched firmly in your hand. I recall the pastor’s wife smiling in delight: “I wish I’d had time to grab one of those,” she told me. See, not serious. Not expecting me to be anything other than me. What a joy!

Worldly joy is an odd thing. Sometimes we think it’s found in the bright shiny car. Or the right postcode.  Credit card debt in society is mounting as we look externally to fill ourselves up with clothes, shoes (well, actually, shoes are a religion for me) and all this consumable stuff. Yet true joy is tied to our internal landscape, not what we have. And joy is intrinsically tied to gratitude. You can choose to be thankful and joyful or you can choose to be ungrateful and unhappy. Christian joy appears to take it one step further.

I wonder, is that why Australia is slipping down the happiest nation list? Why depression and anxiety is on the rise? Have we forgotten to be joyful for, and humbled by, all that we have?

Grab the joy

Since deciding I’d get stuck into Jesus research, I have been struck at how much joy I am able to acknowledge in my life. Music sounds better (even Kenny Rogers) and there are fewer internal ripples.

The SAP posed a challenge during a sermon recently, based on Jesus’ activities in the New Testament. To ask, “what would Jesus do?” (WWJD) before we reacted. Patience, humility, joy in God — all such qualities spring to mind. So, quietly, each time a curve ball of life zinged past my head, I’d ask ‘WWJD?’. An interrupting child when all I want to do is read my book? Marriage irritations over the way the cutlery has been put in the drawer? A client who just didn’t ‘get’ what I was trying to achieve? Stuck in traffic? Well, actually, on the last one I did wonder WWJD and hoped ascension. A neat bit of levitation to make it to the meeting on time…

Religion over the years has painted God as an Ogre and Christians have a reputation as the fun police. A few words from the SAP here: “But it’s almost the total opposite. He’s made all this great stuff for us to enjoy. He just doesn’t want us getting to the stage where we love the gift – but ignore the giver, because by then, the gift has become our god – and the joy the gift was meant to bring gets washed away.”

Christianity reminds us to be humble and gracious – and to follow the lead of someone else. To ask WWJD and adjust our nature accordingly. Have fun. Step into the joy. Love and cherish all the gifts. But don’t forget who gave them.

Yet humility doesn’t mean doormat. No need to lose the chutzpah. Seize life by both shoulders and give it the biggest, lip-smaking MWAH! you can imagine.  Suck the marrow out of it.

On that, I’m taking a break from the blog whilst I do some marrow sucking of my own. Technology free. Yes, I’m heading to a convent for a week, with a vow of silence. All in the name of research, dear readers 🙂

Joy & blessings, back soon!

Sinning, again. And again. And again.

One of the biggest issues I had with Christianity was the whole ‘confess your sins, and all is forgiven’ angle. After all, if all sin is forgiven, why bother not sinning? Why make any effort to live a life that is kind or good?

Problem is, that’s not what Jesus taught. Nowhere did he say, “You can murder, covet and steal, just come back to me each Sabbath (which is a day of rest, by the way, so please don’t murder, covet and steal that day, thanks) and ask for my forgiveness. Then you can start sinning all over again on Monday.”

That’s what has become twisted out of misunderstanding, poor communication and an unwillingness for people to let go of their belief systems about what they ‘think’ they know. It’s comforting to be able to slap at something you don’t truly understand – and worse, spend no time trying to. The danger is non-Christians (NCs) end up spouting ill-informed nonsense whilst feeling falsely superior to those ‘unthinking Christian masses’ in need of a bit of ‘crowd control’ (borrowing a few stereotypes here).

When I look at some of the bigotry NCs shovel (using the definition of bigot as someone who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion), I realise true Christians don’t need crowd control. They need a bloody medal. Turn the other cheek? Far out! The SAP amazes me with his generosity. I reckon I’d have punched a few people by now.

For the past five months I have had the privilege to sit with, question, observe and listen to an amazing cross-section of Christians on their journey. For them, this is a life choice not an event. You see, in The Bible, Christians are specifically commanded not to sin even though they have been saved by the death of Jesus and by his grace: Romans 6-v15: What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

Not to sin? Whoa. That’s clearly very different to “keep sinning, over and over, and I’ll keep forgiving you.”

This isn’t something true Christians put on each Sunday when seeking forgiveness. It’s a 24-hour, seven-day a week thing. Unknown-1

To live a life not sinning probably strikes you as nigh near impossible. It did to me. Which brings me round to Jesus again (he pops up a lot). My very basic grasp of it is:

If you accept the grace of Jesus, then not sinning gets easier and easier. Because by accepting that grace you become more Jesus-like. And by becoming more Jesus-like, you are then less likely to miss the mark.

Christians work at not sinning, not because they are ‘fearful of some unseen power’ (as suggested recently) but because of the sheer joy they receive. This has been the biggest stereotype-buster for me. The joy. I don’t think the term ‘happy clappy’ is actually an insult to a Christian. I think it means they’ve connected the dots:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Apostle Paul, Romans 8:38-39)

You don’t need to be Christian to choose to live a good life. You can be kind to others. Do the best that you can. It’s valid, it’s worthy, and, absolutely, far, far better than choosing to lie, kill, maim and steal.

Yet living that life doesn’t make you a Christian. Just like meditating every day, eating vegetarian, and not harming life doesn’t make you a Buddhist.  I slowly started to realise what the interviewer meant in that job interview about Christianity when he said, “But it’s the structure.” It takes some focus on the teachings of Jesus, prayer, a decent dig into The Bible, and getting out our own way.

We can be spectacularly bad at getting out of our own way. Change is often scary. But, mostly, I think too many of us are scared of the possibility of great joy. Which is what Christianity offers. Yet we are so trained for disappointment in this world, we shove it away. So it fascinated me, this joy. Because what I was observing was that Christian joy, unlike worldly happiness, flourished, even when the circumstances around it pointed to the contrary.

It’s a, it’s a, it’s a… it’s a sin

Disclaimer: This video was chosen ONLY because of the catchy tune and title for creative purposes. The use of this video and the subject of this blog should not be construed as any commentary on the sexual preferences of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Or monks in chains. So no-one get your knickers in a twist.

That I have to write the disclaimer above shows just how explosive this small, three letter word is. In a second disclaimer, I’m wandering around the reservation on my own here. Possibly going off-piste. This blog is what I’ve pieced together since this began. I didn’t ask the SAP to do a sense-edit before I published because I wanted it to be a bit raw and messy. And to be as close as possible to how I – as a newbie – have uncovered it. All the errors here are my own.

Sin.

Straight away, all those notions of heinous wrong doings. I think this is why Christianity is so confronting because no-one likes to be told they are sinful, which is essentially what Jesus is recorded as saying in The Bible. I remember hearing it in church and immediately my back went up. “Here we go again,” I thought.

Fire and brimstone preaching and bible thumping has caused the church a serious image problem when it comes to sin. It either offends the non-Christians (NCs) (“I’m no rapist/murderer/thief” – insert your preferred style of sinner here) or causes Christians all sorts of comparison problems (“Well, I’m not as bad as her!”). It also contributes to why so many NCs think they are going to be judged by Christians and be found lacking.

I think most of us have got the idea of sin all wrong. 

Sin, as defined in the original translations of the Bible, means “to miss the mark.” The mark, in this case, is the standard of perfection established by God and evidenced by Jesus.

So, based on that, the ‘equation’ I came up with is:

I’m not God or Jesus. The only way to NOT miss the mark is to BE God or Jesus. I am patently neither. Then I have to conclude: I’m a sinner.

Say that line a few times. It gets easier. Imagine it’s like an AA meeting.

(Sorry, SAP, if you are now pulling out your remaining grey hairs. I’ll give you a blog post to set the record straight if required. A really small one. Like one of those ‘notices of retraction’ that no-one ever spots in the newspaper).

Now, get ready for the next twist.

No matter what we do, we’re still sinners. Whether you give to charity and go to church each Sunday, or whether you go out on a megalomanic serial killer spree. There is no difference.

Now all the NCs (and possibly Cs) are up in arms. “How dare you compare me to a serial killer?” you yell. Build a bridge and get over it with me. Because much as I hate it (ego, ego, ego), God doesn’t have a sin barometer. Sin just is. There’s no measurement of it. 

If this was a poker game, it’d be feeling like a pretty crap hand, wouldn’t it? Which is why I need to get to the Christian equivalent of a Royal Flush.

Jesus. The lightening rod. The uber-blog post. The central tenet of Christianity.

Distilled down, if you trust in Jesus then all your sin is taken away, all thanks to his crucifixion, resurrection and grace.

Mind-blowing. Rather than try to rationalise it (nigh on impossible) I had to surrender, run with it,  and see where it led. Because of that commitment I made at 3am to God, to step up to the plate and sort out my ‘baggage’ around Christianity. Otherwise I’d still be stuck unhelpfully stereotyping ‘religion’, ‘church’, and ‘sin’.

Rather than being a struggle, accepting the gift of forgiveness and grace is meant to be easy. But I had to put all that ‘Christianity’ baggage down first, so I could free my hands to grasp it.

“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” – Timothy Keller.

Pride (In the name of love) of Lions

Another hangover from ‘church’ and ‘religion’ was my (limited) exposure to churchgoers who struck me as, how can I put this politely? Well, not quite ‘present’. I can’t lay that all at the feet of the church though, as I’ve had plenty of exposure to new-age spiritualists who would spend so much time looking at and chatting with angels and spirit guides to the left and right of my aura, I’d constantly look over my shoulder to see who else was behind me when we had a conversation.

While it seemed quite appropriate for spiritualists to have their ‘head in the clouds’, when it came to Christians it made me think about cults. Blame Karl Marx. All that opiate for the masses stuff. Think of the stereotypes: if you’re sitting in a pew each Sunday, you’ve left your brain out in the glovebox of your car. If you’re a Christian, it’s like you’re believing in Santa and the Tooth Fairy.  But if you’re a wiccan, or enamoured with Gaia, that’s perfectly acceptable.

Thrown to the lions

I’ve noticed on this journey than non-believers seem to think it’s perfectly OK to challenge Christians on their ‘magical thinking’, yet the same amount of bias rarely appears to be thrown at believers in other faiths, be they historical or new. rc-camera-buggy-meets-a-pride-of-lions-008

Since setting off on this pursuit, I’ve had both funny and hurtful conversations. Been on the receiving end of 2UE style rants. Jawdropping, goldfish gasping silence when I casually mention I’m off to church. Surprised friends giving me books such as Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion‘ – to try and balance my mind, perhaps? They would be apoplectic if I lent them The Bible. Why? Because if a Christian suggests someone read The Bible, the non-believer typically assumes the Christian sees them as somehow ‘less’. The immediate response is, “I don’t f-ing need saving.” I’ve done the same myself: “How dare you? I don’t need you to pray for me!” Yet meditating on and sending love & light to friends has been acceptable in the past. Figure that out…

Forget opiate for the masses. This is not a journey for the faint-hearted. Particularly at 40 (something) years of age! I’d quite enjoy a shot of something to take the edge off because, wow, Christianity digs into my pride. images-4Particularly given how much stock I have put into yoga and non-attachment over the years. I hadn’t packed that pride down quite as effectively as I liked to think! I know how things should be done, I can make my own decisions over what is right and wrong, and I can damn well do it on my own, thanks very much.

I did not want this. I did not seek it. Some of the time, I’ve been bloody annoyed about it. The SAP has been told to go himself and fornicate under carnal knowledge as I’ve pulled this apart. But I couldn’t ignore it.

I’d already read plenty of books against. But it makes me a pretty woeful journalist if I didn’t spend some time exploring the ‘for‘. I’d never bothered with the other side of the argument before, intellectually or emotionally. You reckon’ my aethist friends are surprised? How about me?! In the early weeks this agnostic veered between horrified and, well, more horrified.

As for pride? It came round and bit me. As one of the things I take the greatest pride in is being ruthlessly honest with myself. I have a near-sadistical bent for shining the light on my darkest corners.

Accepting does not mean abdication.

My brain is firmly engaged. Because to do this, really do this, means excavating pride. To turn the other cheek. To love. There are far, far easier choices I could make. Crucifixion, anybody?

So why keep going? Well, I like the person I’m evolving into. It may be mystical thinking to some. Yet I cannot deny the ease, joy and trust that has welled up. Do I find myself shaking my head? Each and every day. But more often now in amazement rather than disbelief. It’s precious and surprising.

For the lions, both gentle and rough, I’m not blogging to change minds. Nor am I blogging to convince anyone that this is a journey they ought to be on.

I started this because I communicate best when writing, and it gave me a spot to ponder and process. I share it publicly because if there’s one reader seeking something spiritual beyond Dan Murphy’s, and has failed to find solace in new age, I wanted to give an insight into a choice that, I now realise, has suffered from some woeful misconceptions.

Please notice the word choice. You may not seek solace, you may be just dandy with the selection at Dan’s. And that’s absolutely fine too.

Evangelical stereotyping is a blog post for another day 🙂

Seeking a cure for my religious hangover – Lesson One

Being told by a ‘psychic’ smart alec pastor (SAP) that he knew how this would end, firmly shoved a Christian stereotype of mine right back where the sun doesn’t shine. Over-confident, much?

So much for gently, gently, softly, softly. Yet it was just what I needed to hear, given my history of ‘insipid Christianity’. I suspect many of us have been treated to this ‘watered-down’ approach that treds carefully for fear of offending people. I was delighted to encounter someone who grabbed his Christianity by the throat and, instead of ramming it down mine, held it up and fearlessly examined it with me.

I’m writing some different posts on what I’ve learnt during the past months seeking a cure for my religious hangover, a big one being:

Stop confusing church and religion with God and Jesus.

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Martin Shaw (left) who, as Doyle from The Professionals, occupied my thoughts during chapel service at school.

Church for me, from school, was a staid, serious affair where we knelt on hard kneeling mats, bowed our heads and were told sternly to ‘keep quiet’. The vicar/pastor/father/priest was as far removed from me as I could ever imagine. What would he know of my teenage dreams? Ahem, in fact, I would have been mortified if he did know about them. Whilst he was quoting Psalms I was imagining myself with Martin Shaw in a souped-up Ford Capri. But I digress…

And religious people? I was either worried about offending them with my hard-living, foul-mouthed ways, or expecting to be judged. Like the fire & brimstone, “Oh, so you had sex before marriage, shame on you, harlot temptress” stuff. Or the more pious exhale from those who live a ‘Victorious Christian Life!’ (VCL, yes, exclaim!) who are so darned good I would never have a conversation with them for fear of saying something desperately uncharitable.

How could little ol’ me ever aspire to Christianity if that was the benchmark?

What I had to learn was that truly Christian people are just like little ol’ me, trying to be charitable, humble and caring, with zero desire to thump and wave Bibles at you. All they want to do is love us. Because that is what Jesus taught. Love. No matter what. No matter what car you drive, whether you are rich, poor, prostitute or podiatrist, truly Christian people want to offer kindness and compassion. Yes, they also want you to get to know Jesus – He’s another uber-blog post – but before you get freaked out about the J-man, just hold onto this spark: it all boils down to unconditional love.

Yet some religious people who call themselves Christians, don’t act especially Christian. A painful, personal example. When I was young, my Mum attempted to take her life. I remember so called Christian friends and a Catholic Priest muttering about sin. There’s a major chunk of my religious hangover, right there. The SAP responded:

“Sometimes people end up in dark places emotionally.  Sometimes depression can be so overwhelming that one attempts suicide.  The Catholic church teaches that this is a sin that is unforgivable.  The Bible doesn’t – Jesus doesn’t.  Sure it’s unwise – but God knows our pain and understands it.  Churches aren’t finishing schools for the nearly perfect – they are hospitals for the broken.  The ‘religious’ friends who castigated and judged your family have probably never understood Jesus – otherwise they would have responded with love, grace, compassion and a meal or four brought ‘round to help your family in one of its darkest weeks.  I’m sorry people who call themselves Christians don’t behave like it very often.”

In those few lines, with grace and compassion, a pastor I had yet to meet in person managed to sweep away a blot that ‘church’ and ‘religion’ had left on my soul. It moved me that he would apologise for the behaviour of certain Christians around such a significant moment in my life. It hadn’t been him, after all, standing there when I was six.