When we turn the lights on…

Greetings blog readers! (anyone…?)

First, to apologise for my lack of posts. I don’t really have a good excuse; I have probably just not been thinking enough. But I’m writing one now, so I hope that helps. Anyway, this blog isn’t exactly a ‘motorway’ of online ‘traffic’, more a pot-hole covered country road which, occasionally sees a tractor or two, so I’m sure there’s no harm done ūüėČ

I thought I would blog about (as per) something which I’ve recently ‘noticed’, it’l be full of ‘christianese’ unfortunately, but, by definition, I think my topic requires fluency in it.

I have grown up in the kind of church which did away with pews in the 90’s, being non-conformist, would never even dream of using liturgy, and has a band at the front who play contemporary worship music. We call this ‘being relevant’. To whom? maybe post-modernists? Squishy beanbags are subjective – you can be mildly uncomfortable but not distressed as you sit trapped on a particularly cavernous one – pews, on the other hand, they are absolutely uncomfortable – one can be convinced of the existence of a universally true experience when you grimace at your neighbour after an especially long prayer, your behind no longer sensing anything.

Our church wasn’t original, it was changed in the tide of the contemporary worship movement; something which I am passionate about and grateful for. Yet it is out of this serious engagement with ensuring our worship is reverent and relevant, that, today, I find myself wondering about the ‘direction’ the modern church worship ‘style’ has traveled.

When I attempt to cook for my household, as well as saying my final farewells to the ¬†family I am about to poison, I generally pop on some worship music; Hillsong, Bethel, Soul Survivor, etc. I had a video of a time of sung worship at a conference playing in the background as I torched my lasagne recently and what startled me was that, a midst my futile rushing around to try and cook the food so that it was edible rather than carcinogenic, when I had the chance to watch the video, what it reminded me of was a major gig on a Coldplay international tour. Caught ‘off guard’, without my ‘worship mode’ hat on, I was admiring the flashing lights, amazing guitar riffs and trendy lead-singers (so many checked shirts and nerd glasses!) and then felt guilty – this whole conference, and the songs I was bopping along to, were about God. They were singing about all He has done for us and were words which talked about the cross being at the centre of everything. I’ve no doubt that the worship team at the conference was incredibly excited about and determined and anointed to lead others in that message and to proclaim that alone. But that’s not where I was ‘led’ to – I didn’t end up at that place. Possibly, I’m just too ‘worldly’, and need to get my focus right. But I wonder, when we turn down the lights and crank up the amps to create a ‘relevant’ place for people to worship, do we succeed in always ensuring the foot of the cross is where people end up? I like how contemporary music understands times of sung worship to be a ‘journey’ of kinds, where we, once again, explore who God is, what He has done, and our response. But sometimes, it seems that, if we use big songs and ‘special effects’ to help build a ‘wave’ of worship to be part of, Jesus, on the shore, our destination, can be hidden from view; all we see is the ‘blue’ water of the church experience.

Let me repeat, I definitely don’t for a moment think that sung worship led in the context of a conference/big church is done in the same spirit as the average international tour is; I believe the worship leaders are anointed by the Holy Spirit with the responsibility to lead the Church collectively gathered into worship of Him.

But I do think that sometimes, we need to step back, even if something seems to be going ‘well’ and examine what we are doing and why we are doing it. With the contemporary worship style, this is applicable.

It is something that I believe God has challenged me with recently. I am part of the worship team at my church and was, a few weeks back, praying about songs to choose which we would use to lead the congregation in praise at that Sunday’s morning meeting. I felt conflict – on the one hand I believe The Spirit was moving me towards something different after I had selected a couple which would be sung before communion. Yet on the other, I feared what would happen if I didn’t stick to the ‘opening song, fast one, reflective hymn, closing/sending out song (pref. with catchy chorus)’ paradigm – the tried and tested ‘hymn sandwich’. I realised that I was putting a popular model and safety net for a self conscious worship leader, over what God was saying to me, and yet, if we long to hear God’s voice when we praise Him corporately, we should probably listen when He speaks!

This too, is nothing new. Contemporary worship emerged when people sought a corporate style in which they would focus on directly praising God, for traditional styles failed to suit everyone and some found a ritualistic approach to worship did not point them towards Jesus. It is a movement that brought the everyday tools of a layperson – musical instruments, voices and modern styles of singing and music, to the hands of the congregation. It was a reformation of worship music.

Yet just as all movements can become distracted and preoccupied, I believe that contemporary worship has done. It seeks to be relevant in style and an aid in helping people encounter God, yet sometimes, we who are part of it fail to see the ‘wood’ for the ‘trees’. When, like I did whilst cooking my dinner, we ‘watch’ it, it can become a performance, one which, when we turn the lights back on, bears more resemblance to a rock concert than emulating the early church worship that we all seek to model.

Perhaps, if we did turn them back on for just a moment, as well as letting the musicians see each other (!), we might see what Jesus has for us, too. It might look very different than in the darkness of a loud, expensive youth-filled auditorium.

 

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I hope I don’t come across as too cynical – that was not my intention. What I pray for is that we will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and live, and so worship, with everything we have in a way that allows us an un-breaking gaze.

Here is a video which succinctly says everything I wanted to in considerably less words than 1140! ūüėČ

“They will know you by your love…”

Contemplating the recent ‘World vision’ fiasco, John 13:35 has been in my head. I expect anyone involved in the ‘Christian blogosphere’ is likely to have heard of the response to World Vision’s announcement to employ gay married people from the conservative evangelical wing of the Church. But, if you haven’t, know that it didn’t go down well, with child-sponsorships being pulled left, right and centre, Christians claimed that world vision’s “compromising” the “truth of the gospel” rendering them no option but to stop paying for the better life of their sponsored child.

In this post I will echo what many other Christians have been screaming at their computer monitors..

This is a disgrace.

And what I mean is a disgrace is that there are¬†people who claim to follow Christ and imitate his lifestyle of selflessness, humbleness and love using their particular target of hatred and placing it as more urgent for the ‘religious police’ to address than the suffering children that world vision provides them a link to. What, I think, disgusts me most about all this is that people who had an active sponsorship – a long-distance yet intimate relationship with a child who depended on them for their brighter future – have actually stopped supporting that child¬†because they don’t approve of the relationships of those which world vision proposed to include. Has legalism really rooted itself so surely into our dogmas that we prioritise condemnation over feeding the hungry? Is the means by which the food and your letters gets to your child enough to make you not want their relationship anymore? if it is, you ought to re-open your bible and read it a few times through – you obviously missed quite a lot the first time.

Love is patient and kind, it transcends prejudice and involves and includes everybody. At the moment, the world sees irate and hateful new-age Pharisees. Lets try and be more like Jesus.

Walking in a wilderness of things unseen

*Here goes my slightly strange, cryptic thoughts¬†displayed for no-one to read #unpopularblogger ūüėČ

 

The confidence of either person aside of the ‘faltline’ of faith is subjective and dependant. One morning one wakes up¬†feeling in¬†harmony with the somewhat abstract intellectual values they have chosen to adopt, the next¬†we can¬†feel completely alone and disenfranchised. Labels and titles demand full adherence¬†and commitment; to be conscientiously¬†able to say ‘I do!’ again and again to a question which¬†is rapidly¬†altering in meaning; morphing so often and to such an extent that what we originally¬†said ‘Yes’ to is but a faint, indiscernible¬†echo – what once sounded so comfortingly loud is now a ringing¬†barely traceable, and we scrabble in desperation to hear something of it again. We crave the comfort of confidence and we wonder why it cannot be constant. We ‘feel’ best when all the juggling balls are in our hands, not out of sight and control.

But it might be worth remembering that no one has¬†made it be ‘forgotten’ but us – we have the ‘ears’ so we ‘hear’. It is our job to ‘store’ this, to treasure and pursue¬†it, or to devour it and move on to whatever next will satisfy our ‘craving’. We are consumers of ideas, we expect¬†them to continually fulfill and keep us, rendering ourselves free from the responsibility of seeking and finding. We are not followers of truth, then, but lovers of normality and easiness. We have sold-out of the¬†utter joy we found at the point of understanding, and have traded its value for a ticking along kind of living; requiring no thoughtfulness at all.

What I long for in my head is the satisfaction of a discovery, not resting on what once sounded appealing but pursuing the truth of things unseen. It is uncomfortable exploring that ‘wilderness’, it can be lonely too, when fellow travellers tell you to stay at¬†a safe house¬†of comfortable assumption, it might appear that, emotionally, such would be the best option. But, if we are concerned with finding out what is real, right, just, true, then we have to keep wondering. Whether this ‘desert’ is for you faith or non-faith, ideology or culture, be encouraged to keep walking. Don’t forget that first note which started the song of your journey, but base your whole walk around it. For me, it has been a struggle to wipe-away the ‘mess’ of ‘noise’ which has accumulated around this, somewhat drowning out that beautiful moment, almost, from my memory. But if I keep on chipping away at the¬†build up¬†of falsehood, I can better cleanse the canvas to begin my very own painting of the invisible. Once this is being done, I might wake up feeling better in the morning.

Why I don’t like Valentine’s day

In 8 days from now, it will be February the 14th – Valentines day.

In all honesty, it’s not something I look forward to.

Why?

Because it, like every other holiday across the Western world, has become just another commercialised occasion for excessive money spending.

and, it’s the one glorified day of the year when singletons across the world can be legitimately made to feel 2nd rate and unfulfilled, not that we don’t get enough of that for the other days of the year (was going to write how many in hundreds but I can’t remember how many days there are in a year :S )

I can’t figure out how religious people, in particular, have got drawn in to the material splendour of it all. Especially when we think upon what Valentine got his saintliness for…

………. The 3rd century Valentine was a Christian martyr. Other than this, we don’t really know anything about him. There have since been several other ‘Valentines’, some of which the Church has made saints. One myth says that he was a man who preformed marriages for roman soldiers who were not supposed to get married. Another one says that a Valentine healed his jailer’s daughter (after being locked away for marrying soldiers) and then wrote her a nice letter before he was killed. After this, we don’t really hear much about romance untill Chaucer’s 14th century poetry about ‘Valentinus’ love, which was popularised by the 18thc, when lovers began swapping gifts for one-another on Valentine’s feast day. It’ celebrated by both the Roman and the Anglican churches on February 14th, and in July by the¬†Eastern Orthodox Church.

Bearing all of this in mind, one wonders how we have moved from remembering the faithful witness of those who were persecuted for their faith back in C.E 400, and, later, remembering the community love of families and relationships with handmade cards and flowers of the 18thc¬†to mass-produced, highly expensive tack¬†that we feel inclined to give our ‘other halfs’ on one day of the year? Bizarre…

What frustrates me about how narrowly we celebrate St Valentine’s day is how we forget how wonderfully big love is. Ask any person how does one show ‘love’ on Valentine’s day, and they will most likely make the assumption that you are meaning romantic love, as shared by couples/spouses; in the Greek, ‘eros’. This is what we see on the TV when Chocolatiers and confectionaries advertise their products. They market them towards couples, mums, dads, those engaged in romantic relationships, completely hijacking the huge word Love, and using it for their shallow based promotionalism.

When I consider the semi-mythical ideas surrounding the REAL St Valentine, I can observe ‘Love’ in all its fullness, shown not by one person to their partner on one day a year, but as a God, using a man to show his love, and a man showing his love to those in need because he loves his God. What seems to come¬† most strongly for me as the message from St Valentine, is one of readiness to be selfless – to show ‘agape’ love – in response to how Christ has loved us. Early Christian martyrs died out of love for the One who had first loved them, and St Valentine died because, legend has it, he was selflessly helping those who needed him.

Maybe what we should ponder on February 14th this year is not how to artificially accentuate romanticism for our beloved – those we should love¬†and show love to every day of the year, without the aid of expensive truffles, extortinately¬†priced wilting roses or helium heart balloons which are contributing to climate change, but how we can be better people, to those in close connection to us, such as our family, friends and colleagues, and to those who are less fortunate than us. We should use Feb. 14th as a day when we make an extra special effort, as ‘little Christs’ to act like him, loving everyone as He called us to.

Also, we should stop using it as a day to patronise single people! Being single on Valentine’s day allows one not to obsess materially over a romantic partner and what ‘gifts’ (rubbish) to spend your collective hard-earned pennies on, but to socialise with loved ones, show the other kinds of love, and fully appreciate the love that has and is continuously shown to us. Also, the day after = lots of cut-price chocolate =] ūüėÄ

So, Children, give your parents choc for loving you, parents, don’t ignore your children (we can feel awfully left out on V. day when your off being all grossly romantic together) give them chocolate too! And everyone, singletons, couples, old and young, think of ‘V’. day as a chance to celebrate and act out love in all its fullness.

5 Reasons why you SHOULD vote.

Following from my recent ‘political’ post, and due to it being national voter registration day in the UK yesterday, I want to show you just 5 of the many reasons why you really SHOULD get registered and vote…

1- You are VERY lucky to have a vote…

¬†Up until the ‘Representation for the people Act’ in 1928 in the UK which extended voting rights to women over the age of 21, the vote was restricted to a small minority of the population; traditionally (and unsurprisingly!) to the rich male part. The fight for universal suffrage was a long and hard one, which saw martyrs fall and high prices paid. As a female, I am particularly thankful for the tireless work of the Suffragettes, blazing a trial for feminism to explode in several powerful ‘waves’, a movement we are still feeling the shockwaves of, I think, and hope we will continue to! Thankfully, now in the UK, unless you find yourself in a prison cell on ballot box day, you can skip down to your local polling station, and add your voice to the melody made by the ‘demos’ using their ‘kratia’.

However, in many parts of the world ‘democracy’ is a foreign concept. The people don’t get to choose who decides things for them and, especially for women, no provision have ever been made for them to have a legal right to a ‘say’. Often, these people suffer in the worst way under cruel regimes, think of North Korea/Syria etc. People across the world are extremely limited in what they can ‘say’ or express about the system they live under and so, in solidarity and recognition of their plight, I believe we should use our privilege to A) vote and B) make a ‘noise’ for those who cannot.

2- By not voting, you allow a tyranny of the minority…

Ever wondered how UKIP got seats¬†as European Parliamentary representatives? It’s because people with more moderate ideology didn’t turn up for the European elections (May the 22nd this year, just to let you know).¬† So now we have the ‘extreme few’ who want out of the EU, having a major influence over what the UK says in it!! Creepy, huh?!

(A note especially for young people/students like myself) – If we continue in our apathy and don’t use our collective voice because we are sulky about the Lib Dems forgetting their promises on tuition fees, we will end up with another government that enjoys seeing us squirm, making further cuts and causing tuition fee’s/cost of housing/cost of staying alive to further rocket – then we will REALLY have something to feel sad about.

3- It is SO fun!!!

ESPECIALLY on GENERAL election days ūüėČ The whole country seems to hold its breath and all you hear people talking about in Tesco’s is ‘That Mr Cameron’, ‘economic strategy’ or (at college) ‘tuition fees *followed by various swear words* – which is kind of weird considering we have decline in voter turnout?!

You get lots of random flyers through your letterbox which all claim to do the same thing and you can enjoy disputing everything that canvassers say on your very own doorstep.

Then, you can pop along to your polling station and put your ‘X’ where you think it will mean the¬†most – so simple!

The TV coverage is always great also, I, who am no appreciator of late nights, am quite able to stay up to watch the results roll in with a tub of ice cream and some popcorn – its so good ūüôā

4- You WILL be affected by the policies of whatever party gets into power…

We have all heard that excuse that ‘all the parties are the same, they won’t change anything’.

Well the coalition government certainly have. Blair’s New Labour spent 10 years doing it, and ask anyone about Thatcher’s government, and thy will tell you how great/horrendous her governments policies were. Politics is what changes things – it’s what kicked the crown to the side in the 17th Century to (theoretically) give the people the power. And the parties which have the potential to be our new directors in 2015 WILL make changes that WILL affect EVERYONE – for the good or bad.

5- You have NO RIGHT to complain if you don’t – you tacitly consent to whatever they do…

Socrates spoke about this indirectly when he gave the reasons of his acceptance of Athens judgement on him to his crying friends. If one has lived in a place since birth, benefitting from it and abiding by its rules, one cannot, when a rule is exacted against them, contradict one’s previous devotion by arguing ‘that’s not fair’ – even if you live in an unfair system.

You have to either change things in a law-abiding way (i.e using your democratic voice through voting/getting involved in local politics/ campaigning etc….

Or leave ūüôā

To say, ‘I’m not going to vote because all the parties are the same and they won’t do any good’ is like saying, ‘I’m not going to make a sound because, legally, I am accepting whatever is delivered by the next government, and consent to its influence over me.’ They are synonymous and require¬†an indifference to everything, your leaving the country, or using your voice and PARTICIPATING in the most simple way possible!!

 

There are SO many more reasons why voting¬†is important –¬†the Russell Brand’s of this world might proclaim that¬†apathy is ‘cool’ but, actually, it is¬†limiting to individuals¬†– a double-dose of passivity which will take power from where it should be, and place it where it is best separated from.

Should the very religious be very political?

As a person who’s engagement in studying religion as well as being of faith has developed alongside a growing interest in studying and observing politics, this is a topic which pops up quite consistently for me and for the trends which I’m interested in observing. What seems quite clear is that there is not a shared consensus among faith streams or denominational groups over political leaning, how political members ‘should’ vote/not vote or of the role of politics in relation to the religious community.

Obviously as a christian I can only speak in a personal way about the particular religious community that I’m a part of, however, I have tried to look outside of my own ‘denominational box’ to see what the ideas of others are.

Whether or not the faithful ‘should be’ or are political is answered in varying ways, but there does seem to be obvious political movements within these religious sections.

In the U.S, and perhaps something developing in the UK, is the Religious Right, a section of the more conservative parties (in the US –¬†Republicans, in the UK this might be UKIP or the Right of the Tories) which tend to have a more conservative outlook both fiscally and socially. In the UK, with the recent Equal marriage bill we saw a revolt by almost half of backbench Tory MPs and they were joined by a number of socially conservative MP’s from Labour; the majority of whom were religious.

In the U.S there is the obvious religious politicism which makes it an unlikely prospect for a non-Christian president to hold office any time soon, and the well-debated issues of potential legalisation of abortion and advancing gay rights which separates moderate conservatives from their socially conservative fellows.

In Muslim communities in the U.K, it seems that there is a division between the majority of issue-voting members who are more personal regarding their religious values so that voting direction doesn’t necessarily depend on the moral issues involved in a parties’ manifesto, but on trends of voting behaviour; in urban areas Labour have long had the support of ethnic minorities.

Possibly, the economic ideology of the left is more appealling to Muslims and Christians who understand both the Q’uran and the Old and New Testaments to have an emphasise on the poor and God’s concern and attention for them. In Islam, the charging of interest which is, in most cases understood to be excessive, is forbidden – so the ideals of fully capitalistic banking principles might be at odds with these ideas.

Similarly, in the Old Testament, God calls for a seven year debt ‘jubilee’ for those who owe, and we see this idea of ‘forgetting’ what should be repaid continued in the New Testament, with the parable told by Jesus in Matthew 18:21 – 35 called ‘The Parable of the unmerciful servant” (NIV). God’s heart seems to be one of mercy towards those who the world says should be shown none.

The ancient texts of these religions have much more to say on every area covered by politicians. Christians will look to the Bible for guidance from God’s inspired word for how to care for the environment – seeing their duty as Stewards and, hopefully, taking this onboard when choosing which constituency representative from one of the parties to vote for and how they propose to implement any environmental policy. Muslims can look to the sayings of the Prophet in the Hadith to find what he was caused to say on different social issues, such as the care for those who are vulnerable in communities which could influence attitudes to modern day Welfare, or to the Q’uran for guidence on justice and law-making.
Yet also, fiscal policy might come into serious consideration for a religious person. I know a number of Christians who are planning to vote conservative on the next election because they believe their economic plan is allowing for the proponent of individuality and freedom to succeed in the craft that God has given them. To a smaller extent in the UK, yet still observably, moral issues might also play their part, with the conservatives being traditionally associated with the Church of England, many believe that it has more sympathy with the ideals of the established Church. From this angle, it would seem that religiosity could shape political outlook because politics and religion concerned with social justice, morality and lifestyle share many of the same concerns.

However, the choosing of an individual party to allign oneself to is rather more difficult. In the UK atleast, the major political parties are (thankfully, in my opinion) not religious groups. There is facillity made inside them for factions of religious people, but the parties themselves run under a secular, non/multi-faith banner.

For some religious people, to join with a party that opperates in this way is equvilent to dropping one’s faith! I have heard it preached from a pulpit that Christians (in particular) should have nothing to do with the ‘world’ of politics and its ‘secular’ ethos. On the other hand, various groups make their own specifically religious party so that they can bring their theology to the political table of a multi-faith Britain.

There is no mention of socialism, conservativism, liberalism or so on in the holy books which we religious folks follow, but it would be condescending, in my opinion, to therefore call them unpolitical and seperated.

Personally, I find the Q’uran and the Bible, especially the gospels, to ring in a deeply political way. I don’t think that religious people should seperate themselves in a cult-like manner from the running of their country, but neither should they seek to forcefully implement their own theology on the government of a wonderfully diverse nation. For me, we should vote in the way that sees the issues we are interested in and passionate about being addressed – whatever political ‘wing’ that takes you on is something that you need to discern from your honest heartfeelings for today.

What I don’t think any of us should do, religious or not, greatly interested in politics or not, is to not vote. I want to write more about this later, so will leave it there….

P.S. I realise I have failed to veil my true politics in this post, I did come to write it with the intention of being a ‘neutral’ observer, however, I will just admit that, as you have probably guessed, I am a religious ‘lefty’. However, I totally see how other religious people interpret scripture differently, and come to equally as sincere conclusions. I applaud any participation in moderate political conversations ūüôā

P.P.S (!!) I also realise I have only briefly generalised in everything I have said in this post – its badly written but I was feeling guilty for not posting anything :/ Hope it doesn’t offend too sorely!! I also was unable to spell check it ….

 

Do let me know what you think!! Do you agree, or do you think politics and religion should not intertwine in the UK???

God and suffering – how can the two co-exist?

Recently I have been considering this question much. For obvious reasons, firstly, in that I am studying the ‘impossible triad’s logical problem of evil in relation to a loving, powerful God and Rowe’s ‘evidential problem of evil’ in my 2nd year of religious studies at college.

Yet, for me, this question is also very personally relevant at the moment.

 

And so, I decided to consider all the ideas put forward, from every angle.

I read Dostoyevsky’s ‘Brothers Karamazov’ and resonated with the feeling of dissolution and disconnect that he feels when he considers why God would even bother creating a world where the possibilities of evil are so great.

I read, in response to this¬†I suppose, Swinburne’s ideas on ‘Free Will’ –¬†suggestions that call us to recognise the importance of free will for true love to be shown – one can cite Kierkegaard’s ‘King and the peasant girl’ analogy to illustrate this. And these ideas played parts in my reaching of a final conclusion.

But I’ve found others along the way – the idea of a punishing God, and a¬†Karmic God who is petty, hateful, vengeful – I am, being wholly honest, quite put off from the idea of following a God who is like this – hearing these ‘justifications’ for that God come from the mouths of religious believers who claim to also follow an ‘all-merciful God makes one wonder how they can ever reconcile the two seeming opposites.

After pursuing the theory, the intellectual suppositions, I went to a Church, an ornate one, and there I saw a crucifix. This image of the God of the bible, and of classical theism, who is all powerful, loving, mighty, who becomes human and suffers – he doesn’t preside over suffering, or use it to punish or correct but actually takes it onto himself. And here I found, once again, the wonder of the cross; and the reason why I believe. I don’t ‘get’ any of the ‘theories’ or theodicies suggested to account for suffering, I cannot. But I have concluded along the lines of Phillip Clayton, that God must have “pushed the ‘creation button’ knowing we will suffer, but also planning something that was so much better than that”.

I was reminded of the Psalm which says “Your love is better than life” – and the song by Jesus Culture ‘Your love never fails’.

 

We do suffer, and it hurts. One need only read the Bible to find a huge record of human suffering, lament and pursuit of its meaning. Yet in that same book, we find a God that responds in such a loving way. We don’t have, and cannot have, all the answers, but, I believe, we have been given a resolution.