Understanding God

It dawned on me the other day that I don’t actually know what love is. What does it mean to ‘love’ someone, what do you do when you ‘love’ someone? How would they know that you love them?

A baby latches onto the first source of food and comfort they find. They understand that the fragrant, warm, secure blobby thing above them from which milk is secreted can bring them happiness. A little child knows that this blobby thing is their mother, eventually their father too, and they build a relationship with their parents. They don’t fully realise that the reason why they burst into tears at the school gates, watching the red lights of the family car vanishing far into the distance, is because they love their parents and don’t want to see them go.

Love gets more complicated when you’re older. Suddenly, it’s not just your parents that you love, but your friends. Sometimes teachers, eventually you’ll grow in love with someone who isn’t related to you. All different feelings, manifestations, decisions and contexts, with one word to describe them all.

Love.

A word used too freely. I have members of my extended family that I am not close to; some I’ve only met a couple times. Sometimes I don’t get on well with them at all. But then, I’m expected to say that I ‘love’ them, immediately, on the first meeting. People generally say that they ‘love’ their siblings, but they don’t ‘like’ them. What does this mean? It’s a cliche that people use on the assumption that everyone knows what they’re talking about. Another one is ‘loving someone is not the same as being in love with someone’. Words and adages and riddles; they mean nothing to me.

I spoke to my dad about it yesterday. My dad and I talk a lot about these things. I’ve told him when I’ve fancied someone, or had relationship drama, and vented to him about the odd ways of men and women in the church. I asked him how he knew he had been in love with my mum. He was honest: “it’s indescribable”, he said “but there’s a difference when you love someone as a Christian. It’s no longer ‘I fancy him, I fancy her’; emotions can’t be the main part of it. You learn to love Christ first; you experience His love for you; then you learn to love other people”.

I think it’s the best explanation I’ve heard about ‘love’. It cannot be explained in a few words or actions. It’s a verb and a noun and an adjective; it’s a decision you make–you decide to love someone and stay with them and accept them for their faults and their good sides–and yet it’s a word that rouses emotion: anger, joy, arousal, desire. It can trigger hate; people kill others over their love for someone else; people kill themselves because they love someone else…

Christ killed Himself, didn’t he? He sacrificed himself, lived a life of persecution and completed his task on the cross out of love for people who to this day give him nothing in return. That’s why love is so hard to understand; because to love someone means to make sacrifices.  It means you put yourself on the line: you give up your time, defer your personal happiness to make someone else happy and safe. You compromise and give without expecting anything else in return.

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

1 John 4:8

I’ve been praying for God to teach me how to love truly and earnestly; to be willing to make sacrifices and care for people as I should, not just as a Christian, but as someone who has morals. I know from the text above that love comes from God first, and more importantly that ‘love’ is something I’ll never fully understand…

…because to understand ‘love’ is to understand ‘God’.

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When You are Overwhelmed by your Self-Importance

I mean ‘overwhelmed’ in the ironic sense…

There’s an odd culture in church, a dangerous attitude where certain members who are perceived as holy become icons amongst their contemporaries. This turns into a ‘hype’ of sorts, and before long the person has acquired celebrity status; they will be found at every church event, their picture is in every album; people from North London to South Manchester know who they are. They have thousands of friends on Facebook; some so popular they have to rotate people, deleting some to add others, because they’ve reached the friend count limit. To be a part of this person’s true friendship circle, you have to be a very special person, and this automatically makes you important, just for being seen as important by the celebrity.

This behaviour is displayed more explicitly among the youth. My friends and I call these celebrities the “A-Listers”. Normally, the A-List is filled with singers and musicians, but there are also preachers on there, their girlfriends; socialites; people from old Adventist families; Bible workers and missionaries, and those who have set up their own ministries which have gained a following. It’s an interesting phenomenon to witness, but the sycophants that follow the A-Listers are what worry me. Even if they think they’re being sincere in their attempts to approach this special group, to find role models in church, their actions can be the downfall of others.

I bear no grudges against these popular people, for of course, they didn’t nominate themselves to this position, but even in a place like church a culture of celebrity exists and sometimes, even the most unsociable introverts are thrust into the limelight. But that meekness and humility of character can very easily warp into something ugly when you’re forever followed, praised by others, complimented on your talents, told how amazing you just are as a person; and everything you say is taken so seriously and dwelt upon. It’s almost as if your words become a gospel of their own… And then you start to believe you really are important. You are no longer a vessel surrendering to God to be filled, but you have filled yourself with the compliments of others. Your words are ambrosia: people taste them and receive strength.

It comes to the point when you feel the need to admonish for the sake of admonishing; filled with a zeal given to you by your peers, it is now your duty to show everyone where they’ve gone wrong. You could actually go onto Facebook or Twitter, write something as mundane as “Baa Baa black sheep”, and your followers would believe it has some esoteric meaning; they’ll just assume you’re so deep that they need to decipher the meaning of your sentence. Why is the sheep black? Is that a symbol for sin? Are we the sheep, like in the parable of the lost sheep, instead we’re not lost, we’re saturated in sin, but completely oblivious so we only talk in babble, which is what our sinful words sound like to God…. (???)

You get where I’m going? I’ve seen this attitude. It’s very unattractive for a person to believe that they are so important that everything they say must be from God, even when it truly isn’t. I’ve read some ludicrous statuses on Facebook where I’m literally peering deep into the screen, utterly perplexed, and all I see are commenters praising a statement that is quite spiritually questionable. This person, this A-Lister, has only reached this level of pride because they were thrust onto a golden stage and made into an idol. And because no one has challenged them, they have stopped listening to the Holy Spirit, to the point where their very sermons are an abomination, because the words came from a selfish place.

To conclude: there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people you can see are doing well, but it’s always important to know when to give God credit when it’s due. If someone is clearly walking on the right path, it’s because of the Holy Spirit, not because of anything they have done within themselves. Once you realise that, you will stop looking to others to start changing your own attitude about things, and start looking to God.

Because these church celebrities are as fragile and as prone to sinful ways as you are.

Fearful

Silence.
.
.
.
.
A noise to rattle the catacombs in my head
make me dizzy with fear.
The kind of feeling that weighs the body down
black treacle. Thick and imposing
too heavy to control
to move beneath.

Silence.
.
.
.
The one word to scare me
enough that I’d shun everything
crowds were my enemy for fear of that moment
when there’s now’t to say
but they all look at you as if you’re supposed to know
To be witty and articulate and make people laugh
they look at you because they think you know
what they think; what they like
you’re supposed to know
how to salvage their conversation
before the pulpy shreds of it
stick and merge with the floor

Silence.
.
.
My crutch and my crucifix.
Bullied by it
Taunted by those who said my mouth was too slow
because I was cursed with bullets in my speech
and my tongue was useless
a-a-and it w-w-was d-d-difficult to f-f-fight ag-g-g-gainst those
thick words; plosives and sentence starters.

Silence.
Became my favourite way of speaking
when I found the comfort of your eyes
and how soothing a sound it is
when your silence meets mine
Listen to me breathe
So I can feel your heart on my spine
as we sit
in
silence.