When the church hates “Immodest Women”

I’ve been thinking for a little while about this modesty thing, and this week in particular I’ve finally been able to pin-point the reasons why discussing it in church can be so tiresome and hurtful. In my eyes, the church has become a place in which anyone who dresses immodestly is separated as an evil entity worthy of scorn, shame and disrespect. Last week, I saw a presentation about modesty, during which several photos  of Meagan Good were shown for the church to gasp at and gossip about her marriage and character. I looked around the room and felt embarrassed for everyone. Since when was sharing photos of another woman a Christ-like way to discuss modesty, when the woman in question isn’t even there to defend herself? Back in school, misogynist boys used to do similar: they liked sharing photos and videos of women to each other via their phones, all the while crying “slut! Hoe!”. How was everyone’s behaviour that night much different?

I’m genuinely perplexed. If someone had an alcohol problem, the response would be different. When people speak about their lust/pornography/masturbation issues, there’s much sympathy and support (maybe because it’s normally men who speak out about these? People expect men to have such problems, after all…). I would never expect photos of drug addicts or porn addicts shared around the church for everyone’s enjoyment. It would be wrong. So why do we not give women (I’ll say women cause we’re always called out on this), who are struggling with dress reform the same the same care? It’s almost as if, by their attire, everyone else thinks they have a right to talk about them, to slander them and make judgments about their spiritual life….

The typical phrase that I always hear about the judgement thing is “well, by their fruits ye shall know them”, which is true. But people are still far too quick to come to a conclusion about someone’s character. If you are using something as superficial as an outfit to make conclusions about how someone must be, then by principal the only fruit you can confidently assess is their dress reform fruit. You can’t say anything about their personal prayer life; or how much they’re studying the Word; you can’t say what’s in their heart or if they’ve witnessed that week; you can’t see if they’re a nice person, or even their motives for dressing how they do. All you can say is that when it comes to dress reform, they’re ignorant.

Now, in regards to someone who has no second thoughts about publicly shaming a woman who has come to church dressed immodestly; who gets angry at the thought of having to be “politically correct” when approaching someone about their outfit; who doesn’t know or understand how to talk to someone about this issue with respect and understanding; who has forgotten where God has brought them from; who sees women who dress immodestly as “trying to tempt men”, or “trying to take men” (errm, maybe cut down on the Tyler Perry films?), and who gets annoyed when said person reacts emotively to their treatment—I’d say their actions speak volumes about their spiritual life. If behaviour like that is second-nature, then it says more about what’s in their heart, than the person dressing immodestly. I would even say that these are the fruits we should be focusing on more, since they verbally show what’s going through a person’s head. If a Christian habitually behaves in this way, they deserve prayers. Because in essence, they’re wasting time coming to church: they are a Christian who’s mean. What’s more, being told that the modesty issue requires “politically correct” speech annoys them. You’re going to be talking to someone about their appearance! Why would you not want to be kind to them? Have you ever heard of a Christian who gets offended at the thought of showing kindness? How bizarre.

It’s worrying because we have two classes of church-goers that emerge from this scenario. People who display fruit that don’t really look all that good. Like a persimmon, or a pineapple. Maybe their fruit is covered in dirt? But inside it’s all sweet and rich and all it will take is some gentle encouragement, study and aid to guide them to understand more what Christ wants for them. Just because they may not dress the part, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re rebellious, or that they have no care for God’s sanctuary; they want to take everyone’s husband, or they have a vendetta against all men and want them to sin. It means that God is bringing them on a journey. We all have to start from somewhere; everyone’s had their own struggles and problems throughout their Christian walk, through which we’ve all been met with discouragement and scorn and unfair judgement. Why should be pass on that same attitude to someone else who’s trying just as we are? Why not break the cycle and do the Christ-like thing for once?

The second person displays the fruit that looks amazing: a big Julie mango, ripe and fresh. But unbeknownst to everyone else (probably not even themselves, which is the scary part), the flesh is sour and rotten with mould. It’s no good, but because they wear a nice hat, and high-necked tops and long skirts, everyone assumes them to be virtuous, modest, vegan, natural; the perfect wife and all those idealised stereotypes of women we have in church. We tend to make archetypes out of women based on appearance—in the world as well as the church—and these affect the level of respect a woman is given; the confidence that church members put into her; and how she gets treated from day to day. Massive conclusions of character are made about a woman by how she looks. The person with the deceitful fruit also needs lots of prayer, that they may be kinder to those around them and not internalise the horrible way in which they were probably treated in the past about their dress.

Let’s try to remember that every speck or blemish in our characters is a sign of some sort of struggle with sin. It’s up to us to help each other not only take responsibility for our actions, but to empathise and encourage. The modesty issue is never really seen as someone “struggling” with a particular way of life: it’s much easier to paint the woman in question as some sort of Babylonian/Golden Calf-worshipping heathen, for which she should be as publicly and unsympathetically dealt with as possible. Not cool, guys.

Think before you speak, and ask God to make your thoughts as close to His as possible, so that your own faults have a higher priority in your mind than everyone else’s.

So… We can’t just be friends?

Ages ago, I watched a really silly interview with Steve Harvey, where he essentially reeled off all the generalised sayings about men and women that’s made him money over the years. There was one comment he said that made me laugh. How ludicrous! I thought. Why do people buy his relationship books? Surely he’s a man who’s become a parody of himself without even knowing it! In the interview, he’d said that men and women can never be “just friends” because the man is always thinking about sex; in his mind, as long as he’s close to her there will always be a chance for him. Obviously I’m uncomfortable with how similar this sentiment is to the “friendzone” mindset: when a man just doesn’t know his boundaries and decides that pushing himself onto a woman is the best way to ignore her stance that she really is just his friend, and in response to his rejection he hurls abuse at her for “friendzoning” him (or sometimes worse).

I shook my head at Steve Harvey, because I’ve never believed that to be true. It was just another stereotype based on pseudoscience and biological determinism about the crazed, feral, explodingly strong libido that heterosexual men have which means that if you’re not going to sleep with them, shut up and leave ’em alone.

Until now, I suppose…

Let me explain: I don’t believe the biological determinist lark, but recently I’ve been hurt by certain events that have left me disappointed in a few people—men—who I thought were my friends, but who now live a nonexistence in my life that I find quite worrying. They have both been alluded to in previous blog posts, and I would love to link to said posts, but it’s half-past ten in the evening; I start at 9am tomorrow and it just seems too long. I’m only writing at this time because I’ve had these thoughts in my head all day and I need to get them down.

Both of these guys were… not “love interests” by any means, but they were (in my mind) potentials. One of them used to message me often on Facebook and we used to chat and pray together on Skype or on the phone; he invited me to his church once, which was nice. Now, these things aren’t extraordinary, but he did this thing that I now know a lot of church guys do for a reason I still don’t understand. He had this habit of talking to me about marriage and kids and homelife. He even recommended that I read Adventist Home and used to always talk to me about relationships. In fact, he once asked me if I was seeing anyone. I took this to mean he was interested, but one day, he posted a picture online of his girlfriend (a woman who never came up in any of our conversations), and I withdrew a bit. I was shocked. This was my first experience of the “church way” and I didn’t like it. In my opinion, all the evidence showed that he had played about with me a bit. If he’d told me there was another woman from the start I would have known where I stood and continued correspondence as friends.

The friendship I shared with guy number two was too intense. As I think about it, I cringe. He told me very personal things about himself (that I still and will always keep to myself); I spoke to him about personal things; we spoke almost daily either on the phone or on Skype; he told me he was attracted to me and just when I thought things were going somewhere, he said I was more like a sister to him and that he didn’t mean to make me think we were going places. At this, I was angry. I felt as though he had called my heart out and I felt vulnerable because until then, I didn’t realise I was still trying to come to terms with a fairly recent instance of unrequited love. It made me really reassess myself; I put a lot of blame onto my actions and I was paranoid because I felt as though I would never get this relationship thing right. After a very tense and difficult and uncomfortable conversation with Guy Two, we almost stopped speaking.

Today, I can’t really say I’m friends with either of these men. With the first, we don’t even like each other’s statuses, let alone private message. With the second, he’s changed his number twice and has decided not to give me either of them—and I’ve been texting the wrong number for a long time. I don’t even know what he’s doing with his life or if he’s doing well, which is a shame. Now it’ll be awkward for us to talk again because it just won’t be the same.

Now, I wonder if the relationships I had with these guys were genuine, of if they were only used as tools to see my character and if I would be a good match for them. When it didn’t work out, they discarded me, which I don’t think is fair. Did I ever have a true connection with them, or what is all one-sided?

I realise now, that some guys really can’t be “just friends”. Of course, this is only my take on it and there could be a reason why we’ve all lost contact, but from where I’m standing, it looks as though they’ve both terminated whatever contribution I made to their lives.

Until next time…

xXx

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.

 

Falling

Once, I fell.

It wasn’t the frivolous fall
of times recklessly sleeping
only to stumble
–plummet
and wake in the
debris of bed sheets
and night time;
with the moon informing me
it was all a dream.

It was a fall totally different
from rolling in tarmac in playfields
or the psychedelic mess of ball pits
or the ethereal, almost spiritual
lolling between blades of glass
so that when you stand
daisies fall in your wake
as if your very shadow is
celebrating your existence
and you walk proud like a bride
and deliriously forget
that many years ago
you already divorced your life.

 

Once, I fell.
It was like an ill-fated plane that no one cared about
the signs of its doom clear,
like the bold steps of a crazy-paved floor.
The traitorous engine;
drunken pilot;
the scrap of metal on the runway;
all ignored
because sometimes, it feels good
to witness a downfall;
and wait in the wings of the airport,
binoculars ready
to capture the disaster
and replay it in your head.

So, I fell
and crashed and exploded in my mess;
carrying all the stories with me
that I wanted to keep secret,
but there is only so long you can run from God.
My heart was torn open
and the evidence littered the floor;
like a black box in the cockpit
my heart told the truth:
the safety checks that were vital to the survival of myself;
the junk that I carried around that made a puncture in my step
the careless people that watched as I began to limp
but did nothing to help.
The sin I carried like thunderclouds on my head
which pushed me
and spun me like the winds of turbulence
and I could do nothing
but stare
as the contents of my black box
was scattered before my eyes
and all those who had been fooled
by my pretence and lies.

 

So one day, I fell.
I was wreckage on the ground
the pictures had been taken
the revelations told with haste
the evidence laid bare in board meeting
of the drunken pilot that
destroyed a vessel supposedly going heavenward;
my presence was erased from
the departments I took part in
and my absence was felt
like a weight in the stomach.
I was left in this state
and almost washed away to shore…

 

But I noticed something.
A quiet rattling at first
the noise of childhood,
of beaded toys
and laughter
and the beginning of life
I found someone beside me,
knee-deep in my mess
welding the wings together
examining the engine to set it right;
windows were fixed
and tar mopped away;
This someone filled me with fuel again
worked all night
and didn’t go away
until I was better than before.
My someone, my Jesus,
filled me till I was running over
taking off,
and ready to fly again

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.

Going into Hiding

They say the the best way to witness is at home; living with a family that doesn’t share your faith. I know this, but it’s become an almost daily battle. Although my dad is a Christian, I don’t live with him, so the house I live in currently is not a ‘Christian’ one. Additionally, I have four brothers and sisters and a mother–none of them share my faith. It’s overwhelming a lot of the time and frustrating and annoying and all different things. For example, I don’t think any of them read this blog–maybe because of it’s religious focus, or maybe because they’re not interested. I’m not sure.

I’ve discovered a trait in myself that is beginning to scare me, but the more I age, the more it appears. I’ve begun to withdraw into myself: I’ve started retreating away from my family. I stay in my room all day or if not, I’m outside. Out with the boyfriend, out with friends, out at any church event I know of. I suppose I feel more ‘myself’ with people who understand me better and I know I won’t be the ‘odd one out’. Being an Adventist has caused problems between my family and I in the past: about two years ago I was called to choose between my sister and God: she was determined to have her wedding on the Sabbath and demanded that I make a decision. I chose God; I understand the importance of the Sabbath and the dangers of compromising my faith (it only takes the one time before everyone thinks they’re just as important for you to bend your faith like a straw). Since then, I never speak to her about church things. We still talk; the event is over, but the feelings were never resolved. She never trusted the Adventist church and she definitely doesn’t now, so I worry that most things I say to her will confirm some pre-conceived ideas. I don’t know.

That’s just one thing. There are others. I can’t really go to my family for advice, because the way how I would want to respond to it, as a Christian, might not concur with what they think I should do; I also feel strange telling most of them that I’ll pray for their problems, because I know only one of my siblings truly believes in it. When I went to Jamaica, I was the only Adventist there amongst my family. Not only was my vegetarian diet made into something dramatic, but my being a Sabbath keeper and not being able to join in certain activities on the Saturday left a taste of discomfort. I didn’t want to be a burden, I had to watch what I said in case I came across as ‘weird’.

I know that despite all this, I cannot allow myself to drift any further. It’s not Christ-like. As the Christian, I’m supposed to be there, to empathise and to help, not to separate myself as if I’m too holy for them or something. I suppose it’s more painful sometimes when I know there’s a barrier of confusion between us. I truly love my family, but for a long time I’ve felt low and heavy at home, like I’m surrounded by treacle. I don’t know what to do or how to pray about it.

And sometimes, parents don’t help. Since we were both very young, my closest sister and I have had a sibling rivalry: she feels as though I’ve been able to get things that she hasn’t. Sometimes I’ve seen it, other times I think her emotion has allowed her to see illusions rather than real favourtism. Either way, it’s been a point of contention that laid dormant for years. Now I’ve seen a resurfacing of it, and I believe some of that has come from comments one of my parents made: that the reason why I get things is because I’m on a ‘good path’. It surprised me to hear this and I’ve never wanted nor asked for special treatment just because I’m a Christian, but today this sister has bandied about the ‘you’re the golden child’ phrase and it’s left me sadder and lonelier. It’s hard to know what to do at times like these, it really is.

I’ve decided to begin studying the story of Joseph, in depth. The thought came into my mind this morning, following the argument. It seems to contain a lot of the problems I’m currently facing and I’m sure I can learn something from it.

The next post will be happier, I’m sure…

xXx

Grief makes you Think

So, on the 25th April my grandmother died.

The last post I did is the poem I read at her memorial; her funeral was to be held in her hometown in Jamaica. I’ve just returned from Jamaica: the plane landed in London at around 10:30am on Saturday 18th May. It was a lovely trip: I learned so much and was able to think about a lot of things, things that will inspire many posts on this blog.

For a while now I’ve procrastinated with a lot of things. I’m scared of failure, I suppose. Additionally, the magnitude of all the things I want to do in my life daunt me and I fall back, hoping to find something easier to do. I want to make an app and have my own business; I want to write a trilogy; I want to run an online magazine, I want to start up a women’s charity. So many things, just one person!

Not only has the past two months or so shown me that life is too short to just think about good ideas, but it’s also made me more confident in myself, strangely, because God put many things on my path which has opened doors. When I went to Jamaica I made a friend who has emailed me the details of an upcoming conference on how to make your own app; it was on the plane journey where I was struck with the idea of a business; the lives of my now late grandparents has shown me that you have to step outside your comfort zone to do things, and that doing things to help others is a wonderful thing.

So today, I resumed work on the trilogy. I started researching more regarding the app… and I’ve set up the writing project (well, the initial part). The project is for women who want to share stories about their lives. I’m creating an anthology of women’s experiences of their personal ‘rites of passages’! For more details about it, how to submit and all other things, head over to this website. Please pass on the message–I need your help! It’s a huge project, but I have faith that it will work. Please pray for me, as I will for you.

There are two more things I want to do that I definitely need to start this summer also: some friends and I have spoken about a prayer ministry that I really hope can start soon, as well as a small decorating business to make extra change through our studies.

Lots of things, lots of faith: one huge God who can make it possible!

xXx

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.

“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