Walking the tightrope

At 9am each morning I attend a Zoom prayer meeting. They are often built around a very short word brought by whoever is leading, inspired by an event or a scripture or something else that has spoken to them.

This morning’s was very thought provoking. The lady leading had been talking about the busy weekend she had had doing stuff with church and how she was hoping for a quieter couple of days. The friend she was talking to asked if she was becoming one of those lukewarm Christians who tick a box and then want time off.

This got me thinking about St Paul and running the race. First off the lukewarm comment was incredibly unfair to the lady in question who, out of necessity, had just finished, metaphorically, running a marathon at a sprint over the weekend just in terms of church work. Those are the two options in running the race for most Christians though, do you run a series of sprints hoping for a rest in between? Or do you approach it like a marathon? Do you pace yourself throughout your Christian life (the race) so that you can be a constant worker.

The general consensus when you read Christian thought on this matter is that you treat it like a marathon, with a target of finishing the race. You don’t over-extend yourself and hopefully everything gets done. I think this one size fits all approach is a mistake though. I think there are other, valid approaches that are equally necessary. Approaches that allow for peoples giftings and personalities.

The marathon Runner is slow and steady and dependable. If everything worked like clockwork marathon runners would be all we need. But it doesn’t.

There are times when there’s a lot going on, often at short notice or needed in a short window of time. Case in point. At my home church this weekend there was a 30ft Christmas tree to be erected outside, complex tableaux to be set up in 4 windows showing elements of the Nativity story, all of which had to be lit, the church was also involved in distributing Fareshare food in the local community. All of this had to be co-ordinated so that it was done by small family groups to stay within regulations. It needed sprinters. It needed people who would go in and create what was needed in a relatively short space of intense work time and then collapse. It needed people working swiftly, within pastoral and creative giftings to get the job done and then take a breath until the next thing that calling on their gifts happened. Sprinters work well with spontaneity.

There’s a third kind of person in the race that often gets forgotten too. The head in the clouds wanderer. The head in the clouds wanderer often is the one who brings the creative ideas that the sprinters make happen. The wanderer says “Ooh. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a tree outside for the community to decorate.” The sprinters then dash off, get a tree and figure out someway to secure it outside the church building. The marathon runners meanwhile have been quietly working behind the scenes to make sure there is a church building to be a home to the tree.

We are running a race as Christians but in a way we are all running our own race and we need to make allowances for the differences in those races.

You could view Jesus’s ministry as a three year marathon but he took breaks to pray and recharge his batteries so you could also view it as a series of sprints. He also spent large periods of time wandering from place to place just thinking and praying. If Jesus can be more than one thing I’m sure it is okay for us to be different types of racers as well.

Blessings

Pioneer Pete

Dangerous Church

A friend’s photo of church in a cage

Should church be dangerous or should it be comforting? Can it be both? And what is “dangerous” when talking about church?

These were questions that came to my mind when I was at a prayer meeting several weeks ago, on Zoom, where this photo was shared and the focus of prayer was on a more dangerous church.

What makes a church dangerous?

A church is dangerous when it takes a moral stand and that moral stand can be political. When Jesus chose to eat with tax collectors and prostitutes he was making a political point. Don’t confuse political with party political. My dictionary defines politics like this “the principles relating to or inherent in a sphere or activity, especially when concerned with power and status.” It is not about parties. When Jesus ate with Zacchaeus he was making a political point. This man matters too. This man has value and deserves to be treated like everyone else. That is a political statement because it flies in the face of the principles of social status. When Church denominations issue statements condemning government policies or actions because of the harm they do that is the church being like Jesus. When churches run food banks while condemning the need for foodbanks they are following Jesus’s instruction to give while following his example in being political. A dangerous church stands against the status quo.

Whether we like to acknowledge it or not there is a systemic, ingrained racism and sexism and ageism in all our institutions in this country which works to the benefit of people like me, a middle aged white male, at the expense of many others. When the church stands up, acknowledges that and looks to change, it is not being “woke”, it is not “jumping on a band wagon”. It is being politically dangerous because it is opposing a world many of us are very comfortable in. It is opposing the power that rules our earthly realm. Archbishops have automatically been given a place in the House of Lords when they have retired. John Sentamu, retiring Archbishop of York, was the first not to be given this honour. He is black and an outspoken opponent of many government policies. Regardless of how you view the House of Lords it is difficult not to see a racist or party political motive to that decision when you look at who has been made a lord recently. The church stood against this decision, calling it out as racially motivated. As the state church the Anglicans risk a lot of power and influence every time they stand up to the government yet they continue to do so.

Cross-denominational opposition to the sex trade, sweatshops and other forms of modern slavery are examples of the church being dangerous, because it is opposing established systems of power in many parts of the world.

But what about on a local basis. How is and can the church be dangerous on a local level?

At it’s heart Christianity is a radical faith. Think about Jesus for a minute. Muhammad died of poisoning at age 62, Buddha and Confucius died of old age as did Zoroaster, Abraham died of old age too. Jesus died age 33,nailed to a cross, murdered for politics and he knew it was coming. Each of these other religions, in my limited understanding, considers our actions, our good or bad deeds, to be key to our connection with God. Most religions consider acts of charity to be of vital importance in showing how Holy you are. Christianity on the other hand promotes the idea we are saved through Grace. That is a powerful and dangerous concept instantly because it frees us from the chains that bind when you have boxes to tick. There is no expectation of a Christian beyond accepting Christ as their saviour, which will lead to a heart change which will make you more Jesus-like. Jesus didn’t lay down strict rules about giving to charity or doing good deeds but he didn’t say don’t do them. He left it to us to figure out what was right and to do it in the right heart. Christianity believes, if you accept Jesus, you will want to do good deeds and give charitably. it asserts free will.

Be dangerous

Bar the kicking and screaming

So it’s over. The long season of the US Presidential election is finally done bar the kicking and screaming of the current resident of the White House.

There is a part of me that wants to hate him, all he’s done and all he has said and all he stands for. It is hard to deny that Trump represents the dark underbelly of the American dream. Nothing succeeds like success except perhaps the illusion of success. If half of the what is printed about him by those who dislike him is even close to true, then he is a fairly despicable human being but he is not Hitler, he is not Pol Pot. And he did not set out to be despicable and probably does not view himself as anything other than the hero of his own story.

No man is truly self made. They are the sum of many experiences and influences and how they reacted to those is what makes them who they are. Reading about his father and his upbringing you get an understanding of what made him what he is. He was the victim of an emotionally abusive father who allegedly drove one of his sons to suicide with his demands. Trump learned to cope with this by emulating it. This does not excuse his actions or his words. Supporting racist extremists, promoting violence by refusing to condemn it, his treatment of women, the armed forces, the poor, ethnic minorities and even his own supporters if they slip in his expectations is sociopathic and his lack of empathy made him ill suited to the role of President and those should be villified. But the man? I believe the man should be an object of pity. He has been made a monster by accident of birth and by upbringing. So I try hard not to hate him. I fail more times then I succeed. Every time he opens his mouth my first instinct is to feel hatred for the lies and evil that issues forth. I know he has done real harm to people. The children caged and separated from the parents (and now some 500 apparently lost) first and foremost among them. Does it make a difference that his evil is on a much lesser scale than Hitler or Pol Pot? I don’t know but i continue to view him with pity, like the guy with mental health issues and alcohol addiction ranting at passers-by in the park. Although he’s got some 70 days left in office and can still throw dangerous tantrums, I find I no longer fear him and that seems to make pitying him easier.

There is also the issue of the 47% who voted for him. If you make him into a monster to be hated what do you make of those who followed him and do still with a cult like fervor. Unlike the Guilianis and Bannons of this world who hitched themselves to his wagon for power or money or influence, many Americans followed him because they believed his rhetoric and they are not evil. But if you make their leader out to be evil where does that leave them? If the aim is to heal the American rift you have to address Trump as a key part of that. The other part of that healing is recognising that the Democratic party played a part in creating Trump. When, like New Labour, they deserted the working man in favour of the new middle class, Mondeo man, they helped create the business environment that enabled Trump to thrive. Not only that but they left a disenfranchised working class who were desperate for support and attention that Trump gave them. And it wasn’t only in the States. We saw it here as the working class, left behind by New Labour were engaged by the likes of Farage and Johnson.

I cannot hate the majority of Trump supporters, starved of affection they gave themselves to the first person to offer them a bone. The out and out racist groups then went along for the ride because he made them feel legitimate. How do you heal the rift with them?

these are questions worth asking because we have a situation ourselves that is a warped reflection of the US situation. Brexit drove a wedge through this country that demonised both sides and the constant unravelling of the Brexit promises makes reasonable response harder by the day.

I shall be watching the healing process closely in the months to come in the hope we can learn a lesson from it for our own country. And in the meantime I continue to try to rise above hate for Trump, Johnson and all those who do our human psyche such harm.

What are we becoming?

I have a comfort zone and I’m in it right now. I’m sat in front of a screen, writing, in an empty house. This is comfortable for me, I am alone with my own thoughts. Paradoxically, I actually prefer to spend a lot of time outside my comfort zone. I actually get a little bored being comfortable, a little complacent and no more so than when in comes to church.

Before Lockdown started I used to joke with my wife, Karen, about Sunday worship meetings being like a club meeting. We all turned up, watched the show, said our piece, chatted with fellow club members and went home until the following week. People got upset if there was a change to the schedule, it interfered with their comfort. I include myself in this. I had my “traditions” for a Sunday morning. I liked to get there early and speck to everyone. I didn’t enjoy sung worship so instead I would stand in the foyer, greeting late comers and making sure no children escaped. Then I’d return for the notices and sit quietly, half listening to the sermon and then escape quickly afterwards. I was a part of all the outreach, I love talking to people but Sunday morning was about greeting people and the sermon (if it connected with me).

Then Covid 19 hit and we went into lockdown. I found myself leading one of the daily morning prayer meetings, week in, week out. Now prayer, I would have told you if you asked, is not my thing. I feel uncomfortable with many people’s prayer styles and I struggle to find words in public prayer meetings. I have complicated feelings about asking for things in prayer, healing particularly and I would have been my last choice to lead a regular prayer meeting.

For the last thirty weeks I have spent time in prayer and contemplation before hand and have brought something different to each week as a way of focussing prayer. I have prayed for people, for healing (in my own odd way), for jobs, for peace, for my community and peoples’ mental health as we struggled through this odd world. This is not where I saw myself this time last year.

I was asked to do some of the family and children’s talks for the on-line Sunday service. I’ve always avoided children’s work because it felt uncomfortable, that comfort zone again, but it needed doing so I stepped out of my comfort zone and did it. I sat down with Cornelius, my parrot puppet, and we talked together about various Bible stories, this last week we discussed together the story of Martha and Mary and the importance of the Marthas of this world who got on and did the practical stuff that we all need. Again I’ve tried new things, in my own way, to keep it interesting and engaging and stretching beyond that black and white reading of a story.

Me and Cornelius discussing the finer points of the story of Martha and Mary.

We are becoming a new thing but that new thing looks back to an old thing in many ways. Reading Acts and Letters we see that Church was the people and Temple or each others homes was where they met. I have been much reminded over the last few months that when the word Church is used in the New Testament it is often a translation of the Greek word “Ekklesia” which simply means gathering. It is a word very dependent on the context within which it is used. So we can be ekklesia on-line, we can be ekklesia in a coffee shop or a field, we can be ekklesia in our living rooms, we can be ekklesia anywhere two or more of us gather together with purpose. “The New Monasticism” seems to be a key phrase doing the rounds in a lot of places and it’s not about becoming monks and having funny haircuts. It’s reflecting on the way the place of prayer and worship fed into it’s community

So we have to ask ourselves, whatever we do, is it God’s will or ours? Is God using our current situation to adjust our understanding? God loves us to gather together and to worship, He loves a joyful noise, but we were called for more than that. It says in 1Peter 2 that we were called to be a priestly people. It says time and again in the New Testament that we are called to be one people, brothers and sisters and we are called to preach and share the Gospel. Our Sunday services, in whatever form they take, have two purposes beyond worshipping God. One is to remind us that we are all connected as part of the body of Christ. The other is to build us up to answer the calling God has placed on our life.

Church is not the building we meet in. That is a blessing that enables us to meet with ease and should be a tool that enables us to answer our calling but it shouldn’t dominate our thinking. If a group want to meet in a local pub for a Bible study or discussion group or a parent and baby group want to meet in Costa for prayer and a chat or a group want to meet and dance in the local park, that is church.

I hope the new thing we are becoming will be able to encompass all these things and more, Zoom prayer groups and book groups, on-line choirs, socially distanced meditative prayer, worship through art. There is space for all this and more, wherever two or three gather together, when God is at the centre. We don’t have to go back to the way we did things before. It worked for a season but now we are into a new season and we need to make space for change.

I pray God’s blessing on you all as we struggle through these odd times.

Pete

The write stuff

Just as we were getting used to the idea of possibly meeting together again, infection tates increase and tougher lockdown measures are coming back into place. Some among us may not feel comfortable with the idea of meeting together because of underlying health issues of our own or someone we live with. Maintaining connection is about to become harder again.

Many years ago I worked in a call centre. They are soulless places and leave most people who work in them with an intense dislike of phones. Phones, for many people, are a great way to stay in touch but, to be honest, I don’t like phones. My hearing isn’t the best and I struggle to hear people, I can’t see their faces so I’m missing so much of what is being said, conversation is stilted because there are no visual clues to pick up on. I struggle with phones.

With that in mind I was praying and reading the Bible looking for some insight, some word from God and I opened my Bible to this from Jeremiah 6:16

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

And I focussed and meditated on that scripture for a time.

Yesterday was my day off and, as often happens, I found myself in a bookshop where I came across a book called “Letters of Note” and I felt God nudge me. “Letters of Note” is a book of letters, written by scientists and artists and politicians and all sorts of people, often imparting some wisdom or insight into a specific area. I make it sound dry but it is a fabulous book. Flicking through it I was struck by what a wonderful form of communication the letter is. It is wonderfully personal. Handwriting has such personality and can tell you so much. It is a slow and thoughtful way of communicating, time is taken putting a letter together. Emails are fired off in an instance, a snap reply to a single instance. A letter travels by snail mail and holds so much more thought and intention that it seems to me to be far more personal. It can include sketches and diagrams and pressed flowers and glitter. It can feature prayers and song lyrics and lines from poems and recipes and book recommendations and shared photos and memories and all in a physical, tactile form that can be held in the hand and connect you with the sender.

This was a favourite, a letter from Raymond Chandler, writer of hard-boiled detective fiction, about his cat

So I’ve been thinking.

Wesley’s letter to William Wilberforce

Maybe we need to get back to letter writing, particularly to connect with those for whom leaving the house is going to become even more of a problem. If you are or you know someone in the church who is housebound, write a letter to someone else, start up a pen pal relationship with someone, even if they live at the end of your road. If you would like to receive letters then let me know. I will write to you or connect with someone who will write letters. Let’s take this opportunity to connect with people in a way that is deeper and more meaningful. Let’s put or thoughts into words on paper. Maybe even go crazy and by a nice fountain pen and writing paper.

A letter from Bob Dylan supporting John Lennon and Yoko Ono

So I’m off now to write to a couple of people I have addresses for and know would appreciate a letter. If you want to write to me I will write back but let’s make this a meaningful way we stay in touch.

Blessings

Pete Bangs

The Tree of Mental Health

So I’ve just attended the first of a series of three webinars on Mental Health and Ministry. There was a lot to it that was excellent but my major takeaway from the morning is this. We are all trees.

Metaphorically speaking of course. The point was that we all lay down roots and if those roots are deep enough and properly cared for they will support us through life’s storms. And that seems obvious enough. But the point was made that we need to care for our roots during summer sunshine because if we don’t they get weak and dried out and they shrivel and don’t hold the ground so tightly, and then come a storm we end up like this…

Blown over and uprooted.

Now obviously we are not trees but we do have things that keep us rooted, grounded, in touch with our best selves, so that when storms come we have something to hold to.

we treat mental health support like a bandage, we put it on an injury. We provide CBT to someone after they have a massive anxiety attack or provide anti-depressants to someone with extreme depression.

I had a bit of a breakdown at the end of last year. According to the doctor it was a combination of anxiety and depression but there were days when I could not get out of bed, there were days when if the phone rang or there was a knock at the door I would literally hide behind the sofa until whoever it was went away, there were days when I struggled to string enough words together to say “good night”. to an extent I saw it coming. It was like being on a runaway bus, I could see what was happening but was too far down the road to affect it. I couldn’t stop it. To go back to the tree metaphor, the storm had hit and my roots weren’t deep enough to hold me upright.

So what are our roots? It can be hard to tell. Many people will tell you their family keep them rooted and make them happy, but family can be a major cause of stress too, something we often consciously deny. That’s not to say that family cannot root us, it’s just that if we want to be grounded by our family then we need to make sure we cultivate our family so that they have the strength to hold us in place when the storm hits.

Easier roots are all the things recommended in general information about self care. Quiet time reading or having a relaxing bath, countryside walks scented candles, curling up on the sofa with a cat and some relaxing music. All of these can help keep you are mentally healthy track if they become part of a regular part of your daily life. Going one step further, and making bigger, stronger roots, you can do things like make art, journaling, wood working, communing with friends, volunteering for charities, things that put you in touch with the best you. The third level of self care centres around spirituality and beliefs. everyone has some sort of belief system. It may be a spiritual one or a humanist or philosophical one but it is a belief system. Your beliefs and spirituality have the potential for the deepest roots. They go to the core of what makes you the best version of you. I think the key to any belief system as self care is that it makes you part of something bigger than just you. The weight of the world no longer rests on your shoulders alone. Whether you are Buddhist, Humanist, Christian or whatever you are part of a community looking to make the world your version of better. Connection is key to self care. Whether it is a connection to other people, the land or God, connection takes some of the pressure off of you and that attachment to community and whatever your belief is built around gives you strong roots.

My roots are built around many things. For a quick fix then forest bathing is the way to go. A walk in the woods will sooth my troubled mind fairly quickly and it’s something I try to do at least once a week. for a stronger remedy there’s art. Creating something raises my spirits, even if it’s rubbish, and It’s something I try to do regularly, whether drawing, painting, writing or some other form of craft. Thirdly and most deeply I try to stay rooted in my faith. My belief that God loves me, that something infinitely bigger than me sees value in me is something that keeps me rooted and, to swap metaphors for a moment, is a lifeline when I slip to far down the dark road and into the pit.

It is important to talk about mental health and my own issues, though mild by comparison to many others, give me a way to illustrate what I’m talking about. It’s also a way of showing anyone reading this who is struggling that they are not alone.

Looking after yourself may not stop you having mental health issues but hopefully it might lessen them or lessen the frequency of problems. ANd always remember “it’s good to talk”.

Prayer. What is it all about.

Prayer is a concept common to all religions. At it’s most basic level it is simply communication with a higher power.

DIctionary.com offers this definition

noun

a devout petition to God or an object of worship.

a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.

the act or practice of praying to God or an object of worship.

a formula or sequence of words used in or appointed for praying: the Lord’s Prayer.

So in most religions it is a way of petitioning the higher power for support in some way and in Christianity that has often been the case. Beyond that though, in Christianity at least, it is a way of having a conversation with God.

The strange thing about Christianity is that, unlike many religions, God did not choose to position himself at the top of a hierarchy but instead looked to human beings as companions. He created people to be in relationship with them and the Bible can be read as having an over arching story about God trying to rebuild that relationship he had with us at the start. There are lots of sub plots but the main story is about God wanting a relationship with us, up to and including sacrificing his own son to free us from Sin.

If that is the case then it has to affect how we pray. We can follow formulas if we want to request God to intervene in a matter. Structure can help make those requests clear in our own mind and have enormous value for us in those circumstances. However, in the same way that you wouldn’t only talk to your best friend when you want something, you can turn to God for other things, to share worries or good news or just talk about your day in a time of isolation. In those circumstances your way of talking, of praying can change. It can become more informal, more conversational.

My favourite prayer goes like this

Dear God

Amen

If God knows what is in your heart (and he does) then the words that you say may be more about you than him. When I first became a Christian and prayed publicly my prayers were short and to the point. Sometimes they were as simple as “what are we doing today?” Other times they were a verbal equivalent of the scribble as frustration robbed me of coherence. As I prayed publicly I began to consider the needs of others too. Some people appreciated structure and frequently invoking the Lord’s name was part of how they had learned to pray. Others required a time of silence, to listen for God. And some were new to prayer and God and Church and were feeling their way and one day their prayer could sound like the curses of an Old Testament Prophet and the next show the simplicity of a child.

As time went on I met people who prayed through dance, through painting, through doodling and in so many other ways. Prayer doesn’t have to be about words any more than worship needs to be about song (but that’s another story).

Jesus said we should shut ourselves alone in a room to pray but prayer fulfils another function too. It let’s us know we are not alone. We have faith that God is there and listening even when we cannot discern him but when a brother or sister prays with us or for us we know we are not alone. That is the value of corporate prayer. We know someone stands with us. In unity.

Prayer is a conversation of words, images or movements. However we feel best able to communicate, God understands our meaning.

Peace be with You

Pete

The Elemental Tent Consultancy

Part of my role as Missioner is to promote the Elemental Tent as a way of doing mission and evangelism. Promoting something that is essentially a fluid idea is difficult to say the least. The Elemental Tent is about a handful of core concepts that can be dressed to match the environment in which you are using it. But people want to see the dressing.

God provides though. This August’s outing for the tent and its volunteers was cancelled because of Covid 19 health concerns and shortly after the festival at Wickham was cancelled too.

It occurred to me that we could take certain elements on line to share them with a much wider audience of people who might be able to make use of it in their own locales. I needed straight forward and easy but adult friendly crafts to video and mix in with a raft of Celtic Christianity and open spirituality to give a feel for the core of the tent.

The tent is built around 4 pillars, hospitality, delivered through free drinks and cakes and sofas and conversation, crafts, craft sessions offering a variety of family friendly but not kiddy things to do, Open spirituality, demonstrated through a willingness to find a connexion with everyone and the use of Celtic Christianity and Ignation meditation techniques and acceptance that we are all created in God’s image, no matter what we may believe.

Beyond that, the tent is dressed in a manner appropriate to where it is. It’s at a music festival so the tent is decorated with wall hangings with Celtic crosses, labyrinths, and images reflecting the elements. If you were to take it to a library festival you would dress the tent differently. If you took it out to a car festival or a steam rally you would dress the tent appropriately.

The tent works best as almost guerilla evangelism. People can’t tell what you are but are drawn in by the offer of free crafts or sofas or a cup of coffee and then in conversation you learn more about each other. Where those conversations lead can be a wild journey, a heart breaking story or a restoration of faith

Visit the tent on Facebook, just search for @ElementalTent.

Please check out the 40 or so posts and videos that make up 4 days of living on-line in a virtual tent. If you think it is something your church might be able to take to a big event near you and you want to chat, I’m here and available.

The responsibility of being part of the priesthood to all believers.

When lockdown was seen to be inevitable back in March the pastors at the church I regularly attend met together to figure out how we stayed in touch with each other as a church. There was a recognition among the leadership team that the Head pastors would have a lot on their plate with the difficulties and changes that lockdown would undoubtedly bring.

It was, however, viewed as vital that the community of the church be maintained even though meeting together was impossible. Somewhere in the discussion someone realised tha virtually everyone in the congregation had a good connection with someone else. The church body had fulfilled that part of its role. Everyone was connected somewhere. Not everyone was connected directly to the leadership but they knew, if the need was great, that the leadership were aware of them and would contact them if necessary.

Mostly though we had our little groups and huddles, checking on each other, making sure people were staying safe, providing a safety line for those with health and mental health concerns. We pulled together like the early church. We recognised that, as a priesthood of all believers we had a responsibility to each other. To be honest, I valued more a check-in text from another member of the congregation who had similar depression and anxiety issues to me than a call from the lead pastor.

We were learning what “priesthood of all believers” meant in a practical way. A text or a call from the guy who sat at the back of services and struggled with much of what he heard, had no more and no less value than the same from the pastor. In the body of the church we were all equal in the eyes of the Lord.

Not everyone was happy. Some put a greater value on contact from “leadership” but in doing so they missed out on what was key to the early church. The community, the realisation that we’re all in this boat together and we can’t look to one human being, we must work together.

Last week I had a meeting with our pastor. I learned just how busy they have been over the last four months. I discovered that leadership is like an iceberg. There is so much that happens that you don’t see and would likely never know about unless it didn’t happen. I also learnt how valuable to them it is that they have a congregation that looks after each other.

It is a real blessing to be part of a priesthood of all believers. It keeps you connected to the reality of the church and stops it being something you just do on a Sunday.

Be blessed as you go about your day.

Be blessed for all you do as the body of the church.

Be blessed for all you do as part of the priesthood of all believers.

A difference of opinion

One thing you learn early on in this business is that Christians disagree about a lot of things. Life, however, is too short to list them all so I’m going to focus on one that has come to the fore for me this week. Healing.

There are many differences of opinion over the idea of God answering prayer and healing people. There are those who believe things like healing don’t happen anymore. They were just for Bible times. And there are those who believe God can and does cause miraculous healing to happen.

Its that last group I’m interested in today. Now the thing with healing is that there is no empirical proof that it happens. I believe it does but I could not prove it to someone who disagrees. There is much anecdotal evidence from eye witnesses but that can always be argued with. There is occasional scientific evidence of cancers disappearing after prayer and things like that, but that is only proof that it happened, not that God made it happen. Healing is a matter of faith. And that is good. How a cancer is healed is the province of science as far as I am concerned. The why is more important from a faith perspective. You were healed because God loves you.

And that is where the problem can set in. It is very easy for someone who has prayed and been prayed for extensively and not been healed to take away from that situation the idea their faith wasn’t strong enough. Its like a video game, you have to level up a certain number of times before you have enough faith power to get God to defeat your illness.

So what if it’s a difference of opinion between us and God. We live in a world where celebrities and sports people are looked on as the physical peak to aspire to and that cannot help but permeate into our church culture. We see something that doesn’t fit that “norm” and we can want to pray the heck out of it. But what if, at the end of all that prayer, you still have lupus, you are still a wheelchair user, you still have chronic depression or you still… Well you get the picture. What then? Why hasn’t God healed you?

Could it be that our idea of a whole person is different to God’s idea? Could it be that a person’s spiritual wholeness is more important to God than their physical wellness (I’m not saying God doesn’t care about physical wellbeing by the way). Physical healing is wonderful and inspirational when it occurs. It is a demonstration, a manifestation of God’s great power. But when he focuses on healing or growing someone spiritually, that can change worlds. If our focus is too much on healing of physical issues, we risk making those who have long term physical or mental or emotional disabilities feel like second class citizens. That is not our intention but that is an inevitable result of an ablist approach to healing.

If God’s çoncern is spiritual health however. I was listening to an old friend, Amy, speaking on a podcast. Amy was diagnosed with lupus when she was 18, it’s a chronic and debilitating illness that seeks to rule your world. She is a Christian and the daughter of church leaders and she received shed loads of prayer for her healing. Now married with two children she still has lupus but the things God has wrought in her spiritual life are incredible. I cannot do her story justice so I’ll link to the podcast at the end. God made her what she is, a powerful advocate for God’s grace and love, from a position of weakness. Because of her illness she is able to speak into the lives of others living with chronic illness and tell them God loves them how they are.

If you are spiritually and emotionally whole, if you recognise that God loves you exactly how you are then surely that is good. If Christianity is a journey of becoming more like God until we meet with God, maybe we need to let go of our anthropomorphic images of God, stop looking on him as a white, bearded old man in a long robe and take an alternative scriptural view and see Him as the pillar of cloud or the pillar of fire, and consider that the healing God wants most to bring about is spiritual because God is spirit.

Thank you for listening to the ramblings of an old man. All views expressed are entirely my own.

Interview with Amy