That time I got jealous of the “other” women’s ministry

I haven’t written a blog post for a long time. It’s partly because I had a lot going on. I started up a ministry, and so much of my written output was dedicated to it. I also began a non-profit, and once again, writing and editing and blog writing time was prioritized to that space. I finished my degree and have now started a PhD, the beginning of which made me feel so dense and ignorant of the world; and made me doubt my writing ability to such a degree that I simply no longer wanted to write. In fact, today’s blog topic is something that has been circling my head for a while but I just didn’t feel like I could express myself adequately. Additionally, It is something I am still currently coming to terms with, and wondered if it would not have been better for me to write about it after coming out of the fire, so to speak.

But I’m going to be honest: I’ve been suffering from spiritual jealousy for a few months. Usually, when Christians are jealous or envious of another Christian it’s normally because of a testimony: as in, church folk love to sensationalise life stories, and so people who weren’t gang leaders, bank robbers, queen of the prostitutes or world-wide drug smugglers still on the FBI Most Wanted List feel that their ordinary-joe, born-and-raised-in-the-church stories are not needed as sharing material. However, the jealousy I’ve been suffering from is more subtle, and also more harmful, because at its core is selfishness.

As I said in the opening, I started a ministry: Esther Magazine, in September 2014. It was actually a desire of mine to combine my passion for women’s rights/feminism and writing, since 2011, but chronic procrastination, team restructures, personal discouragement and mild suspicion from other church people delayed the process. We launched humbly, went viral in March 2015, and have since  enjoyed a supportive WordPress and social media following. It’s the support–or lack thereof–from church members that has blighted this success. I’ll stress again the selfishness of my position, because it is important for me to bear this in mind as I explain: the attitude we’ve received from church folk has been subtly negative: I have received no poison pen letters or Facebook private messages denouncing the magazine, on the contrary; I have had messages from people saying that they are encouraged by what I am doing for God. However, there is a pattern I’ve noticed via social media that has made me realise that we are mainly supported in private, but people in general are not wholly accepting of our method.

The Adventist Church has understandably been socialised by a spirit of suspicion. In the aftermath of Waco, anyone who decides to establish a self-supporting ministry are interrogated: “why don’t you want to do a ministry within your church?” “why do you have to be independent?” “why not get clearing from the church board first and let everyone get involved?” This is testament of a people who have had their lives ripped apart by fringe groups and independents, but also speaks volumes of the administrative and bureaucratic  nature of church these days: people no longer believe you can do anything for God without first going through official church protocol, which is sad and puts God in a box. Coupled with our “feminist” slant, it’s unsurprising if people don’t trust us. I can only draw conclusions to how I feel when I compare Esther’s social media response to other women’s ministries, of which there are many. They all serve different purposes and are geared towards different needs, however.

A few months before Esther went live, another women’s ministry also set up by young women was launched. It’s a great one, and they use Wordpress too. Often, I have seen church men—my friends both on and off Facebook—re-post the articles from this ministry and comment enthusiastically. We at Esther re-post our own things constantly, but the same men appear not to notice. When I see that one of the articles on Esther has been re-posted, I know that one of my personal friends have done so. Esther was launched to raise awareness of women’s rights issues and begin a dialogue with men and women in our churches to engage with issues that are often side-lined but reinforced within church culture. So far, this engagement has been minimal at best and non-existent at worst. Particular people who I have hoped would read the material don’t, or they don’t show it publicly if they do.  One of these men, who I know holds some extremely problematic views of women, has told me that he read an article and was touched by it, but he never shared it. The people who don’t engage with the Esther articles will share the material from the other ministry. I feel as though people agree with some of our output, but they are apprehensive to be seen showing support. You see what I mean when I said my feelings were entirely selfish? I really am displaying the worst symptoms of social media illnesses: basing my worth and my talents off of shares and likes

Obviously, some mention of what makes a respectable woman is necessary here. There is a social script that a woman is supposed to perform in church, and banging on about women’s rights goes against it. The only thing, though, is that the jealousy I have felt has made me direct my negative energies towards the other ministry in question. They produce great articles and do great things, but for a while I told myself I would no longer look at their site. I did not want to read their articles. I didn’t even want to like their Page. Suddenly, I had made our ministries into rivals, battling it out for male support. How silly  is that? Not wanting to make men into the enemy, but a lot of the time women are made to feel validated, their actions justified, by the male support and favour they receive. The angry churn I get in the pit of stomach is never directed towards the women on my Facebook ; it only makes itself known whenever I see a church brother share the articles from the other ministry; when I see the words of support the other ministry appears to be over-ladled with. I read a blog written by a friend in which she quoted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s  comments on women and competition. I think it’s relevant to this, so I’ll quote it too:

We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.

I wonder if I have been a victim of this practice? Of course, how I feel is very self-centered, but church men will heap a lot of praise on the women they feel are adhering to the feminine role they are supposed to play. It seems as if a woman who talks too much is dangerous.

I don’t think I describe an isolated experience. There may be many people who have gone into ministries and wondered why they are never part of the popular number; or why people don’t seem as overjoyed by what they are doing in comparison to someone else. The important thing to remember is that we are all in the same boat; we’re playing for the same team. If we all fully understood that we have an individual task, which is to share the Good News, let people know that they have a Saviour who loves them and his coming again, there would be no time or need for rivalry. Church folk wouldn’t make celebrities out of singers and preachers; they wouldn’t engage in church politics with individuals because they “speak too much truth” or whatever else is annoying them for that season. They would concentrate on their relationships with Christ.

Through writing this, I feel I have begun a healing process, to see this other ministry as what it is: a ministry that is drawing others to Christ. Ministries are not there for support and approval, otherwise they would just be side-projects and businesses. Those of us in ministry should always bear in mind that we are doing spiritual work, to serve others and spread the gospel. I am so grateful for all God has done for me in my personal life and in Esther—even allowing me to engage with others from different denominations and religions. Last month we had a Back to Basics theme and it really improved my personal study, devotional and prayer life. I’ve never felt closer to God than when I began Esther.

It’s time to stop focusing on me, me, me and start looking at God’s children out there in the world that are hurting and need to hear a positive message. It’s time to stop seeing myself as others see me (unless it is for positive growth), and start being confident in the person God is making me to be.

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Understanding the Three Angels’ Messages

So, I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. I haven’t been in the church for ages, but a good few years have passed, through which I’ve experienced personal spiritual changes. I’d like to think that I’ve endured the winter of ignorance, bereft of knowledge; enjoyed hopeful spring and the budding excitement that a joy of true Bible study brings; then summer, and that strange overabundance of everything: witnessing zeal, criticising everyone else for not behaving how I behave–and now I’m comfortably in autumn: calm, not too much of anything, mellow and happy enough that major trials don’t keep me down for too long. Pretty much just drifting along with the wind now, like leaves…

Speaking of leaves… If I remember correctly, Ellen White said that she wanted her book, The Great Controversy, to fall like ‘autumn leaves’ across the nations. The Great Controversy is about a lot of things: sin, prophecy, papal corruption; the Protestant Reformation and Jesus’ soon coming. As Adventists, we pride ourselves in knowledge (or assumed knowledge) of Bible prophecy, Biblical numbers and times; interpretation and most importantly– the Three Angels’ Messages from Revelation 14. As a church, we believe that we should be giving this message to the world and to warn others about the enormity of sin, and the return of Jesus. All this is great, but for a while now I’ve become disconcerted with this whole ‘mission’ of our church. I’m not saying I don’t believe in it, but I think at times, we as individuals fall out of place with the rest of humanity in regards to it.

I am all aware that the Glory Days of the church were pretty much in the late 1800s: it was when everyone studied their Bibles, knew the doctrines back-to-back and prayed with faith and fervor. Now, we’re lazy and slack: I’m seeing grown adults who’ve been in the church for over 40 years making childish mistakes: I’ve witnessed people who should know better display worrying signs of never having known God at all. I’ve seen it and I get it and I hate it too, but I fear the response to this slumber has propelled some people into the other extreme. Spending hours in the Word; pouring over prophecies so that they know and can do a Bible study on them; preparing presentation after presentation. They know everything. They know the Message and the Mission off by heart, even.

But do they understand it? What happens when you read Revelation 14 with Revelation 18: 4 and then Ezekiel 33?
You get a cry and a plea for people to hear the truth. You understand that being a Seventh-day Adventist is more than the prophecies and the knowledge of the Bible, it’s about what you do with it. I’m honestly fed up with Bible scholars complaining about how little everyone knows about the Word, how terrible we all are as a church, but they can’t hold a conversation with anyone–and no one would ever approach them for solace during personal turmoil because they’re not compassionate. Some people in church have a lot of knowledge, but very few true friends: people in their congregation have been hurting through the week and there’s a reason why they haven’t opened their Bible in several months. They know they have a problem and they need you to pray for them, not lament about how little everyone knows compared to you.

I’ve spent this Sabbath evening watching interviews of B-Slade (Tonex); services recorded from Rainbow Churches and trailers for the reality show Preachers of LA. I could have cried. The world is dying and in need of true, Bible-believing Christians to give them a message of hope, to let them know that there is corruption and there are problems and they’re being deceived by a false message. These people are sincere and earnest in their worship to God, and seeing the above videos and how confused these congregations/preachers/gospel artists were made me so sad. This isn’t the time to just acquire knowledge so you can show it off to everyone–it’s time to ask God for wisdom! We need to pray for love and compassion; understanding, patience and tact: we need to understand that not everyone is the same and that we all have our own problems. We have to see sin and the world as God sees it: a planet in trouble, with hurting people who have been waiting their entire lives to hear from him. It’s this that will spur us on to commit to our duty of sharing the Three Angels’ Messages: not End Time videos and scare-sermons.

To me, that’s a true understanding of the Three Angels’ Messages. God is telling the world to come out of Babylon. He calls them “his people”. Being Adventist doesn’t make you better than them: being transformed by God makes you better than what you were before.

Happy Sabbath.

 

So, the Piggy Bank is Empty.

“All the youth are leaving the church.”

And all it’s variations are common in most churches. It’s not something unique to my local church, but I think at times, mine is one of the worst churches for finding solutions to this problem….

Every now and then, the members have a discussion that we youth have entitiled: “What is wrong with our church?” When the afternoon programme has failed to materialise, we usually end up having a discussion about the problems we have in our church: all the issues and concerns, and what we would like to see done differently. When I was a newbie I actually believed the concerns would be taken to the church board and dealt with, but year after unfruitful year passed and I learned that my fellow members in reality used these meetings to get anger off their chests; say things that everyone’s been thinking for ages in order to get a hearty ‘Amen!’ and slag off the leaders that they have a problem with. Then there are those within these meetings that feign authenticity: they establish themselves as the One Sane Voice: the rationalist, who has loads of amazing ideas, only to end their speech with ‘well, this church hates change, so there’s no point in doing any of these things!’ Basically, what they mean is that they can’t be bothered to sacrifice the effort and time it would take to implement all these great ideas, so they’d rather blame their lethargy on the rest of the congregation.

To be honest, I’m tired of talking too. At the moment, my church has a good amount of youth but a huge group of teenagers—a group that is almost entirely disenchanted with church. The older members weep and wail over this disinterest and I think a lot of us who are older than them fluctuate between showing them sympathy and tough love. As I’ve observed the workings of my church, I too have lost respect for the older generation and I also feel disenchanted with the way things are going. Like the congregation that was too caught up in the spirit to see tired ol’ Eutychus on the windowsill in the Upper Room; the adults of my church, and many churches I know, are too caught up in themselves to see the problem.

If you want youth to stay in church, get them involved. Treat them like the fellow humans they are and give them greater responsibility. The church I attended in Jamaica was in the midst of a two-week campaign run by the children: everything, from the Bible working, Prayer Ministries, Music Department and lay preaching, was all handled by the children, and the church supported and encouraged them. Such a thing could never happen at my church! From when these teens (and some of the older youth) have been born, they’ve had to sit on a chair and get things told to them. They don’t get a chance to do much. Then their parents and the other adults expect that at 15 and 16 they would have developed their own relationship with Christ. Why is it that we only see children taking part in the main service when it’s 13th Sabbath School? Why must it be a youth day before the platform party is made up of youth? Why must it be Teens Day to see a teen giving a sermon, or doing special items in the main service?

The older generation has failed to invest in the young people. The youth have low confidence in their abilities and lack the will to do things because they’ve never been given a chance. Money goes on stupid things instead of securing the future of the church.

Why do we spend thousands of pounds on new PA systems and speakers and projectors? Why was money used to get new mics at £600 each?

Why were thousands of pounds spent on a community day, a project that was supposed to build rapport with the community and educate them about the church, when since that time last year there have been no followups with the community members who attended? None of those people have come into the church. What was the point of spending all that money, getting the most expensive option of everything, if the remainder of the evangelising was going to be abandoned?

Why is so much money spent on lunch?

Why are thousands of pounds wasted on flying international speakers over to do a campaign when only a quarter of the church can be bothered to turn up anyway?

Why is it that young people are having to do fundraisers and rely on people from outside the church to give money in order for them to go to evangelism and preaching schools? Why doesn’t the church use those thousands for the international speakers to give to their own youth and start bringing up confident speakers and evangelists from their own congregations?

Why are students having to suffer and struggle financially through their studies, and when they go to the church for help they have to involuntarily donate 20% of their funds to the church—because it’s just so broke it now needs the money from poor students.

Why does the community services department have to rely on donations in order for their soup kitchen to run smoothly? Why hasn’t there been money put in place so that they can buy materials to give to homeless people?

Why does the church now have no money?

Because it’s all been spent on the wrong things. We’ve lost focus. We’re more interested in entertaining ourselves than thinking about the future, about people out in the world, about the youth and teens who want to get involved but aren’t able to; who need to find their own relationship with God.

Stop praying. Stop groaning. Stop spending. And invest in us.

Fighting Fear and Being Encouraged.

It can be a frustrating experience to get into an argument with another Christian on any topic that involves God or spirituality. I’ve felt the frustration whilst trying to explain the Sabbath to someone a few years ago who was Pentecostal and I’ve seen the near-anger of two people arguing over the use of tongues in church. I remember a scenario being described to me about an Adventist, a Jehovah’s Witness and a Pentecostal (what joke is this?) pretty much bickering over a homeless man sat before them at a bus stop. Homeless man had been spotted: three religious people arrived at the bus stop around the same time; clocked each other, and after that it was all or nothing. Level-playing field, cups on, helmets ready–who’ll win his soul first? But they got into a bicker: the Adventist thought the best way to help the man was to get him a hot drink and some food, to help him at his needs; the Jehovah’s Witness suggested a copy of the Watchtower would be better; the Pentecostal urged them all to pray over him. They argued so much that by the time they had settled on a compromise, the homeless man had run away somewhere, and a person in need had run from the people who should have given it!

Sometimes, discussions can be helpful, especially if two people are coming from polar opposite views. In my opinion, a Christian should view such discussions as healthy: it can show you who you really are; how did you go about it? Could it have been better? What did you learn? What arguments from the other side did you agree with, but hadn’t thought about before, and will you take these views into consideration next time, to allow for empathy with others? A Christian who feels as though there is nothing to learn from others is one who thinks they are perfect already, and need a bit of a reality check. I try to keep this in mind when engaging in discussion.

Sometimes, however, discussions are next to pointless. I feel this way when debating with my dad sometimes: he’s very stubborn so if he’s found a text that makes sense to his viewpoint, nothing I say will change it. After a while we just keep saying the same things over and over and no one learns anything. There are others who are so enclosed within their Scripture that they don’t actually know how to discuss things coherently. You want an answer from them, but it sounds imposing and irrational; random Bible texts spew from nowhere; tenuous links from Old Testament stories about people who didn’t listen to others and all the curses that came upon them arrive in abundance; dubious exclamations of how much prayer you need and disingenuous offers to pray for you, because you’re going down a destructive path that can only lead to one place…

I got a lot of that stuff for a while. When I was younger, I was told my lifestyle was a dark one and I’d have demons around me; I was pretty much told to stop thinking and just obey what the elders around me called ‘God’, otherwise nothing good would follow me. At the time, it was a frightening thing to hear: years of trying to get over an actual phobia of God, and trying to reeducate myself about a God of love rather than one who watches my every moment to slip up so he can banish me from heaven, made me–and still makes me–sensitive to any allusions to threats like that. Very recently I got into a discussion with a church brother about feminism and some of the things he said ignited those fears and insecurities again and after that discussion, there was nothing I could do but pray. I prayed for God to remove those thoughts from my mind, because that isn’t of Him at all. I knew the brother didn’t actually intend to rouse those thoughts within me, but I’m too heightened to subtle threats and forebodings to not think negatively about myself and to worry and to fear about things I have no need to worry about.

Sometimes, the people who bring us down the most are our own church brethren.

But it’s also important to remember that there is always more than one party in an argument, and that if you felt offended, then it’s likely the other person felt offended also. What more can be done but to pray for insight and to step away from it all? If it’s causing problems, it’s not worth your time. If needs be, don’t talk to that person about that topic again. If it won’t lead anywhere, what is the point?

Life is too hard. You gotta pick which obstacles are really worth fighting for.

When Human Suffering Becomes a Spectator Sport

I wasn’t brought up a Seventh-day Adventist, nor a Christian of any denomination. As I grew up, I gained a yearning for church and at first attended the local Anglican down the road (when I was eight); then a Pentecostal church before my dad and I were invited to an SDA congregation. I knew this was the path for me: it was the only church that had consistent Biblical doctrine and I learnt a lot from it. There were many things I found strange about the church at first: the women didn’t wear jewellery or trousers; no one stood during song service; there weren’t any crosses or ornaments around the sanctuary. Doctrinally, there were many things different–and it was the first time I had joined a millenarian movement.

Of course, as an Adventist I look forward to the Second Coming and all that, but I’ve found that as the years go on, I’m left feeling greatly disappointed with the overall tone of church members regarding the ‘signs of the times’. We all know that the world has gone crazy: war after war; unprecedented murder; child abuse in every dark corner; women getting abused; gangs everywhere, coldness and bitterness and sadness and anger at every turn. But at what point of one’s Spiritual Walk do such phenomena become yet another ‘sign’ to cross-out on a Revelation checklist? In general, whenever something terrible happens in the world to make it into the papers, it’s all the biggest news at church the following week–not because everyone wants to set up a donation pool or a campaign to help, but because everyone’s excited about the Good Lord giving us all signs towards the end. They treat these events as if it’s all part of an action film.

There are people suffering out there. Children are getting killed and maimed in Syria; women in Afghanistan are self-immolating to get away from their abusive lives; Female Genital Mutilation is still a major problem in many countries all over the world; people in the UK–a developed country–are dying in this recent cold snap because they have no money to pay the heating bill, all due to monetary corruption and selfish governments; entire families were wiped out during the Japan earthquake; the earthquake in Haiti and the 2004 Tsunami. And all people can say is ‘these are signs of the times’??

Where is your heart? Has Christ not had any impact on your life that these events don’t cause you to cry out and try to do something to help them?

I’m reminded of a well-known text that pretty much all Sign Watchers recite whenever these things come on the television, as their way of warning their friends (who are totally on their way to H.E.L.L. by the way–shhhh!) just how close Jesus is:

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

Matthew 24:12

Have we as a church become so desensitised to human suffering that we no longer have any feelings of compassion towards our fellow humans? Our eyes glued to the televisions screens, verging on voyeuristic as we watch childless mothers wail to the cameras…

Here’s another one that I thought about this week, one that had a whole new meaning for me whilst pondering this subject (which also happens to be the number one text people use to signal the End):

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

–2 Timothy 3:1-5

Such people who spend all their time sensationalising human suffering all for the sake of preparing for the Great Return are certainly only ‘lovers of their own selves’. They’ve completely missed the point of what Christ did whilst he was on this earth. These people are in danger of salivating at all the signs so much that they never get right with God and miss the opportunity to actually make it to Heaven. Being aware of the signs is all well and good, but so long as you don’t get a bad attitude whilst doing it.

I had a long chat with two of my closest friends the other day and we realised just what a sorry state we’re in, as a church.

  • The members of the Salvation Army are known world-wide for aiding the suffering and those in-need.
  • The Red Cross was formed by Christians of other denominations.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are known for their evangelism and missionary work.
  • Pentecostals are known for their fiery conviction; their willingness to pray for anyone and their unwavering belief in the power of prayer.

What are Adventists known for? That we used to be people of the Book.

Sad, sad, sad!

It’s my earnest prayer that I use my life to help others. I don’t witness or door-knock or share my faith because it’s ‘my duty’, but because there are people out their hurting and they need to hear peace and hope and comfort! The majority of the world is sitting on the train tracks with a freight train headed right towards them, and I have the means to divert that train. Even if they reject God, at least I can say that I did all I could for them. We need to have the love for humanity that Christ did, that deep love that allowed him to hang on the Cross whilst being spat and jeered at, knowing all along that he was dying for those exact people.

We can’t treat the world like cardboard pieces, as if other people’s lives mean nothing, and then wonder why they don’t want to come to our church.

‘Feed my sheep’ says the Lord.

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.

“Show them Love… And they won’t Forget You”.

The above is a quote that concluded a testimony in such a succinct and stark way that it stayed with me for a long time after the telling. It made me think about the small things we do as Christians, the little acts of kindness that allow people to see Jesus in us.

It was my boyfriend who told me the story; of his friend who was in prison and had been left alone. I currently have a family member in prison and it’s only now that I realise just how lonely the experience is. Those who receive regular family visits are the lucky ones: for a lot of inmates, the only visitor to pass by their door is the police guard; the only time they talk to people is when they’re in their cells, whether it be an argument or an impassioned wail: if there’s no one outside kind enough to wire money to their prison account, they’re poor. The only way to make money is to do jobs inside the prison (with salaries starting from around £1). These are needed to purchase the most under-appreciated necessities: toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap….

Then there’s the lack of ‘outside’ time; in the ‘harsher’ prisons, the weather is a myth. You’re unaware of the rain; you’ll be released having missed blizzards, tropical storms, monsoons and biting chills; heatwaves…. the draft from the window and the tiny swirls of dilapidation left by dust motes in the sun are the only traces of natural life you get. Imagine being in a place like this, against your own will, and no one you knew on the ‘outside’ could be bothered to give you a call?

It’s a well known adage that one only knows their true friends when they’re going through a struggle. I suppose that, whilst the prisoner stares at the cell walls, their eyes tracing the assaulted escape attempts of prisoners past, they’re able to reflect in their loneliness and desperation; of all those friends they had way back when who were always there for a laugh, but the moment a member of their arsenal was gone, they quickly found a replacement at the artillery store.

Like my family member, my boyfriend had an acquaintance who had been in a similar situation. In prison and alone. His ‘boys’ were no longer there. The person who sent him money and letters was simply an ‘acquaintance’: my boyfriend. When this man was released, he simply said:

“You were the only one who was there for me. Even though I don’t believe in your God, if you ever tell me something I’ll listen to you before anyone else”.

The only reason why this guy was able to say such a thing was because he saw something different; a trait of Christ. It’s a powerful testament for any Christian, anyone who loves God, to look into their everyday actions and see if the people around them would be able to identify the Christ in them. We can’t all be in a position to rescue a baby from a burning building, or be stoned in the Middle East for our faith, or make it into the public domain and publish books about our life in Christ, but we can help a struggling person with their shopping; spot a lonely person at the bus stop on a chilling winter’s day and offer them a lift home; say “good morning”, volunteer, become a mentor to younger people we know; simply tell people we know to be struggling with life that we’re there to hear their vent. And smile. A genuine smile given to a person who never receives them is like ambrosia: something heavenly. The best stuff. It’ll keep them going.

When people see the genuine care you have for humanity, they’re more likely to inquire about the One who placed that care in your heart.

xXx

I Like Naked Women

This is my first post of September. My posts have been irregular of late. Forgive me, I’d like to change that.

Last post I spoke about lust and beaches. I put a note at the end that the discussion would be continued because I have a lot to say on the matter—I reckon I could do three more posts on it, actually. Maybe in the future, when the time is right. For now, I want to address something that followed on from the discussion I had with my friend about swimming costumes…

I have very interesting friends. One of my other friends (male) has a problem with me reblogging photos of naked women on my Tumblr page. In another conversation I had, one of my male friends told me that it’s inappropriate. It led on to a discussion with the first friend about why he thought the way he  did about my blog having naked women on it. I won’t go into details because it was long and we went around in circles quite a bit, but I find it interesting that Christian men (in general) find issue with such photos.

For me at least, to be naked is to be in your natural state. We weren’t born with clothes on. So if I wanted to have a picture of a naked woman on my blog it shouldn’t (in theory) be any different from having a picture of a bare tree in winter. What it boils down to in essence is the sexual response one would experience from looking at one and not the other. Even though this shouldn’t be the case, a lot of people—in church and out of it—see a naked body as something sexual first, before they see it is something natural. Forget pornographic pictures, because I’m against pornography anyway, but to me nakedness in photography can provide a very bold statement about vulnerability, boldness and inhibitions. It can make us question our own responses to certain images and perhaps challenge them.

People aren’t as repulsed or shocked or uncomfortable at naked photos of children because it’s children, and only a very small group of people in the world would be sexually aroused by such images. It’s the photo of a fully grown woman, round breasts, wide hips and all, that seems to be  a bigger problem for some. Interesting to note: the same people aren’t as appalled to step inside the National Gallery, where there are hundreds of oil paintings from way-back-when of naked women. For some reason, that is art, but a real-life image is too much.

I speak not from a corner of condemnation, but from my own experiences. You see, Tumblr is a very free social network. It doesn’t have the same restrictions as Facebook and Twitter, therefore people go wild and it’s likely that you’ll stumble across blogs dedicated to naked people and, in some cases, porn clips. As a heterosexual woman, I have no problem seeing naked women on my Tumblr Newsfeed, because I’m able to rationally separate the photos that are supposed to be there for titillation and those that are there to make a point (or are just very, very pretty and empowering). I mean, breasts don’t phase me because I have a pair of my own! And I can look at them whenever I want to. However, when a photo of a naked man comes along my Newsfeed, I get all uncomfortable (“scroll quick! Before my eyes are burned.“) This isn’t because I actively objectify men, but because a naked man will—most times—strike me as an image of sex, before something more artistic. And, as someone who’s had problems with lust in the past and still struggles from time to time, I’m not too keen on having photos of penises in my face. I’m not completely unable to separate porn from art, but I find it much harder than if I was looking at a photo of a woman.

But this means that it’s my problem. I can’t look down my nose at the men posing, as if they’re doing something morally wrong, because they may not have taken the photo to arouse anyone, so if I am aroused, it’s something I need to deal with and the logical step would be to avoid certain users on Tumblr who I know like to post those things (no, I wouldn’t close down my Tumblr account because that’s a bit extreme in my eyes. There are harmfully unedifying videos on Youtube, but I still have an account there and the same can be said for the things you find on Facebook.)

What I was able to get from the discussion I had with both of my friends is a mutual understanding. I appreciate the male body, same way how my male friends appreciate the female body, so if they don’t think photos of the female body is appropriate, that’s their view.

As for me, I love women’s bodies. God is surely an artist ; ) . So yeah, I don’t have a problem with those photos, as long as the women in them aren’t being exploited.

Happy Sabbath.
(Gosh, sunset was at 7:16 today. Summer is over…)

xXx

Lust

For a while I’ve been at a loss for what to say on this matter because I’m still formulating my ideas about it. My feelings are subject to change, anyhow.

I had a discussion with a friend about Christians going to the beach a few days ago. I never thought that the beach would ever be a non-Christian venue, but people in general will find the worst in a lot of things. The problem arose when we went onto swimming attire. If I’m honest, even if I wasn’t a Christian I wouldn’t wear a bikini because to me it’s just underwear and I’m a self-conscious person. I thought that swimming costumes would be fine, not just for me but also for any of my Christian male companions that I am with. I said Christian because men in the world don’t worry about this problem as much as church men do (I really do believe we need to reassess how we talk about sex and purity in church. There’s something oppressive about it. People shouldn’t be agonizing or lamenting to themselves whenever they see a woman in short skirt, but anyway…).

My friend (a man) asked me if a swimming costume is a suitable outfit for a Christian woman to wear. I was shocked. I didn’t lose my temper as I would have in the past, but I thought the question was bizarre. One of the main things people like to do at the beach is splash about in the water, but in my friend’s world, the water would be off limits. I respected the fact that he made it clear that men also shouldn’t be in the water, seeing as though swimming trunks are made from even less material than a bathing suit, but I still found it hard to see his angle. Should Christians not go to the swimming pool, then? Because it’ll be hard to find a male only/women only public bath.

This is why I’m becoming increasingly paranoid about males. How lustful are they that they can’t bear to see a woman in a swimming costume? I just don’t know what is inappropriate for me to wear anymore and it’s tiring, because every man likes something different. I may wear something that fits one man’s “standards” but it will induce lusting in another man. What would I do then? What’s the point of dressing for male tastes? And why should I feel the need to?

It’s frustrating because I feel as though men get pampered a lot with this issue. There’s so much pressure for women to dress modestly or “virtuously” and it can be suffocating at times. Sadly, its not just a church issue. In the world, a woman will be called a slut if she dresses a certain way, and people are of the assumption that if you want to be respected as a woman you mustn’t dress like a “hoe” (ugh). How laughable is that? Sorry, hun, but if you can only respect a woman because she dresses in the way that YOU want then you didn’t respect women in the first place. Having respect for women shouldn’t come with a condition. A lot of church men have the same opinion, they simply pretty it up in Holy Jargon. But really, if God doesn’t have a condition for valuing women, then why should mortal men?

I suppose I’m just tired of people judging women by how they dress. You do know that it’s possible to do the same for men? Trousers swinging by their knees, flashy watches and low baseball caps are usually indicators of a particular nasty stereotype of men that I don’t actually think is fair, but it exists and for some reason people don’t give it as much attention as all these women dressing “slutty”.

There needs to be a better dialogue on this matter. Because I struggle with lust sometimes. Loads of women struggle with lust, but when are these issues addressed? Most people think that lusting is only a man’s problem. How wrong they are.

(To be Continued….)

Facebook Object Lessons

I have suffered from a particular problem as I’ve limped along the cracked path of my spiritual walk for a long time. It’s something that has hindered me from progressing and getting closer to God. I speak of my habit of comparing myself to other Christians. I do this a lot. I’m a self-depreciating person; in most things I do, whether in regards to my writing, or singing or just overall “personality”, I can’t see the good in them. I’m well aware that there are better people than me and a lot of the time I wonder if I’m good enough to even bother pursuing the these things that I enjoy. When it comes to Christianity, where my salvation is at stake, this habit of mine is multiplied. It’s just so easy to look at someone and say “yes, she’s made it. She’ll definitely be in Heaven”, and then look at my life and feel completely wretched.

I didn’t realise how bad I was at this until I went to a prayer and fasting day at the Barnett church with some people from my church a few years ago. My prayer ministries leader gave a testimony and in this testimony she told everyone that every morning at 4 a.m. she gets up and prays for hours. I looked around the room and everyone just seemed to be of one accord, as if they all did similar things at home. I didn’t stay for the rest of the testimony; I went into a back room and started to cry (I was also in a very bad place mentally and such a testimony was the last thing I wanted to hear).

I prayed about this problem and asked others to pray for me as well. Funnily enough, the medium that has assuaged some of my hard feelings has been Facebook. It wasn’t this way at first, but after a nice discussion with two of my friends on Twitter (for shame; I’m on almost every social network), I realised something about Christians, especially young Christians.

I wrote a blog post ages ago about Facebook Preachers, but this was manly in regards to men who use Facebook as a way to draw in Christian women. But now, as I befriend more and more Christians on Facebook, I see this mentality of “preaching” on a wider scale. I’ve started to realise how superficial we all are, how we as Christians wear a mask of piety to show other Christians how well we’re doing. Facebook has become the biggest channel to do such a thing. A person could be listening to Lady Gaga all throughout the week and still post Youtube videos of Give me Jesus, giving everyone the impression that hymns are all they listen to. Shock photos of animal mutilation and corrupt abattoir footage is a way some Adventists “preach” to their church mates whilst simultaneously showing everyone what a great vegan they are and statuses broadcast how many prayers/devotions one gets through in a 24 hour period.

I know people who mainly use their Facebook for religious and witnessing purposes, so it’s understandable if their main output is religious material, but the majority of people don’t do this, yet they will throw religious matter at everyone and claim that it’s for religious purposes, even though all their Facebook friends are in the church anyway.

So who are these activities prepared for? Who are they trying to impress?

I’ve learned to be discerning. It’s actually quite easy to separate the statues/videos/messages that are there for encouragement and those whose sole purpose is to perpetuate an image of Godliness (even if the person responsible is unaware of what their inner motives are. The subconscious is a terrifying thing).  For example, this:

GUYS I’VE JUST HAD AN AMAZING DEVOTION THIS MORNING. 2 HOURS YES! MERCY! THIS DEVOTION TOPS THE ONE I HAD YESTERDAY WHICH WAS ONLY 1 HOUR!!!!!!!!!!

Compared to this:

Wow! In my devotion this morning, I was able to see Proverbs chapter 31 in a whole new light. Have any of you ever considered that this chapter is also speaking about a church? The woman of virtue is also a church that obeys God’s commandments, as we’ve seen that a “woman” in prophecy usually refers to churches. Thoughts?

There’s just a difference. The first one isn’t encouraging at all! What was this fictitious person hoping that others would say to their caps-lock? What more is there for anyone to add or discuss? It may help some people, but to me such things add nothing to my life and I just scroll past them.

I’ve started to understand now, that I really can’t pay too much attention to the outward displays of piety that others project. It’s just too easy to be spiritual online, when no one knows what you’re doing when you log off (or switch windows); I’m beginning to realise now that I’m not the only worrier; I’ve decided to take the above displays of Christendom as a sign of insecurity: the longing to show the truly spiritual ones that they can reserve another seat on the glory train for someone else.

It took my dad years to shake me out of this negative mindset, but it was something as trivial as Facebook that helped me make the first steps towards the door.