Understanding God

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

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

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

Love.

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

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

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

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

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

1 John 4:8

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

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

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When You are Overwhelmed by your Self-Importance

I mean ‘overwhelmed’ in the ironic sense…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fearful

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

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

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

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

The God Standard

Happy New Year….

This is my first post of the year. There was a long list of things I wanted to start off with: about my new goals as a Christian, about all the things I did wrong last year that I want to rectify for 2013; a prophecy post based on Daniel and Revelation and how the 21st December apocalypse scare was a bunch of hodge-podge.

And then something developed in the last weeks of November, leading to an event on the 2nd of December that has changed many things in my life, but in a good way: I’ve embarked upon a relationship with someone who has been in my life for five years. This means I can no longer read my posts of months ago, where I chastised the men in my church for leading me on, mainly because it reminds me of a bitterness I didn’t realise I had. I still stand by my arguments: trifling with a woman’s heart is ungodly, and a man of God should let his yeas be yeas and his nays be nays. However, the motive behind the writing of those posts came from a place of misguidance. I’ll say it plainly:

the person I am with now is someone I’ve cared about for a very long time. And even though what I had felt for him had abated somewhat when a ‘new man’ came onto the scene, I believe my underlying feelings for him manifested themselves to others, which may be a contributing factor of as to why I found my myself in those ‘false start’ relationships.

Being with my ‘someone’, has made me think about the list I had made about my ‘dream man’ years and years ago. When I was much younger, the list was very superficial:

Must be Six Foot something
Must have dark, rich skin
Must have locs, so we can have loc babies….
…And something about loving God.

As I began to give my desires to God and think seriously about it, the list changed to things that were practical and had a focus for spiritual things:

Must have the same view of God as I do
Must be someone who is trying to be a better person
Must be a reader
Must be intellectual and intelligent
Must appreciate my writing
Must respect me as a woman
…Must be someone I would have no problem submitting to, in the way God intended.

Fortunately, a sister has started up a series of Dating, Courtship and Marriage Bible studies at my church and last week a couple from our congregation, married for 19 years, spoke about how  God had put them together. The husband said that he had made a list of things he wanted and knew God would have wanted for him, and he found all these things in his wife. He asked God to help him make a choice.

It gave me hope for my relationship, as I was never a person who believed in the ‘God has one person for me’ (there are 7 billion people in the world. How will you possibly start searching for that predestined one?), and this husband and I had approached things in a similar way.

The last item on my personal list was a very recent addition (probably only a few months). It dawned on me just how important that factor is, because even if he’s intelligent, or he reads, doesn’t mean he is a good man, a man who respects a woman and understands what’s required of him as a man in a relationship. I began to read Ephesians 5: 22 in a whole new light. Literally, it only dawned on me what God is actually saying to women here:

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

Even in this verse, though directed at the women, has a rebuke for men all over it. What Paul is saying here is ‘women, God has such a high standard for you of as to what husband you should choose, He’s literally reserving a man that is only like Christ to be your husbands. Don’t settle for anything less’. 

This was huge for me to see. The fact that Paul immediately says that men have to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave His life for it (verses 25 onwards), there is no mistaking just what kind of men women are supposed to marry. The fact that God wants you to have a marriage that immediately reflects the relationship between Christ and the church, says a lot about the standard of man that God has reserved for his daughters. Now I know why we are described as ‘far above rubies’ (Proverbs 31:10).

This was just the kind of revelation that I needed for the new year. 

Also, the person I’m with is someone I have complete trust in to respect me. I’m always amazed at his reaction to Ephesians 5: awe and caution and self-reflection. He always asks himself ‘how can I be that man’? when he reads it, rather than ‘look, you’re gonna have to submit to me, woman!’

Very encouraging, indeed.

Have a good week.

xXx

That Night…

I did something wrong.
Tied together with someone else
the rope forming complex knots,
knots strong enough to caress a carcass
and rock it back and forth
over a cliff.

That night
I did something wrong
and it was so wrong that I couldn’t talk to You about it
pacing my room muttering
sonnets of sorrys in my head
the words dissolved on the edge of my tongue
I rebuked the walls
lest they heard my of my sin.

I didn’t want the air around me to be polluted with it
so I sat up all night
staring at the ceiling
and hoping to see Your face.

And now, all I ask
is Your forgiveness
and a way to feel Your grace.

When Life Gets Hard, Get on Your Knees.

I think this is the first post of November, which is really awful. University work has come back with a vengeance, but I’m grateful that God has really helped me reach my personal word-count goals. He’s really been giving me the strength to get things done.

In addition, there has been a lot of problems at home recently. It’s nothing that I can go into detail about, but I’ve felt drained and frustrated and hurt and confused and angry all at once and in quick succession. Every now and then the world reminds me how powerless  I am against the grand scheme of things and God shows me that I can do nothing on my own. A couple weeks ago I got into probably the most bizarre and pointless argument of my life: it had no meaning; it was ignited by a ludicrous stimulus and both of our arguments were incoherent. Halfway through the argument I gave up and began mocking and trivialising the thing, which didn’t help, but I only did this because for the first time, a Bible text that is quoted so often on the pulpit actually had practical relevance to me. My eyes were opened as I saw the strange movements of dark forces before my eyes.

And to top it all off, I walked into church and they were discussing the very same text for Sabbath School. It was comforting.

Here it is…

11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Ephesians 6:11-13

I know now that I can do nothing. And I’m glad I know this, because it has made me pray more and surrender to God in a way I hadn’t before. I’ve been praying for my family more than I ever have and it makes me feel good.

God’s got it in control.

 

Knotholes

We said we would wait for God
before we did anything.
We ate our meals with a third seat between us
vacant, so He could sit and observe
our pure conversations
stilted devotional rhetoric
church banter
musings of creation;
amongst the blades of glass on the table
filled with apple juice
that cast chlorophyllic shadows
across the white table cloth
and reflected on the silvery pools of knives and forks
which glimmered in blank response.

You used to telephone me in the morning
so we could pray together;
at night for Bible study.
Visits round mine consisted of sitting by the coffee table
Bible open,
and our bottomless eyes staring at newsprint
becoming entranced in the thees the thys the thous the therefores
It seeped through in your prayers, this language
to take me back to a buried age–
your words fell upon me till I was foetal and surrounded
hands tied together, noose around my neck, shackles on.
Men calling–

WITCH

–to my face.

Our Bible was imperative to our meetings,
the paper thin, like the skin of a cocoon
fragile, wings of a moth
pure, like doilies on wedding tables
family, friends and anonymouses crowding around us
as we dance, Bible confetti snowing down on our heads
Bible petals falling on a consummation bed
dotted red with consummation blood
red turning to auburn, auburn to chestnut
the wild of me as we interlock, hidden in knotholes in the forest
and back again, to meet the disappointment
of cyclical blood: burnt umber,
the ashes of my hope swirls like dust unearthed
from a rug.

Trivial things of married couples
arguments, torn wedding dresses
reconciliations in bathtubs
counting down menstrual days like prophecy
until you can try again.

You and I failed to get there.
I remember staring at the ceiling
as it swam in my wetted eyes
and feeling forbidden blood oozing down my legs.
We were still young
and illegitimate.
Our Bible open above us but cold and foreboding
every swirl of the letter was like a dismayed Eye.
We were on the floor, by the coffee table. Behind us,
was the vacant chair
where God should have been.

Grey Areas and the Christian

One of the things I really dislike about Christianity … or Christians (I’m not sure which at this point), is that the over-simplification of life tends to be part of the “territory”. The Bible does say that you are either for God or against Him, there’s no denying that, but there are things that I feel need debate because they’re not explicitly addressed in the Bible.

The Novel, is the main one that comes to mind. I love reading–absolutely adore it. I thank my mum who, even though we had little money growing up, made sure to take my sister and I to the library every Saturday so we could pick up books. My mum really inspired me to read and there were books everywhere in the house. She’s not a Christian and back then she had no interest in Christianity either, so there was no religious material. Lots of horror stuff, actually. Gore. Crime thrillers. I know she read loads of Stephen King, Shaun Hutson, Tom Clancy, Deen Koontz, Lee Child and John Grisham. There were loads of Pattersons too, and Ruth Rendells and Danielle Steels… I was attracted to horror when I was young (I think most children are. Who didn’t love telling scary stories to their mates during sleepovers?) and I read a lot of mum’s tomes even if I didn’t understand all the words. I think I read Deathday when I was about 7. ‘Twas fun.

As I got older, tastes changed, but I never stopped reading. Sadly, though, the main feeling I get, since coming into the church, is that reading anything other than Ellen White or the Bible is wrong. I find that really worrying.

Because what is the argument here? That anything secular is wrong? So does that mean that auto/biographies are wrong? Or history books? Or science books? Or poetry anthologies?

Or are novels the problem? Things that are fictional. Why so? Fiction is fiction is fiction. Events that happen in most novels are actually more believable than the Bible, in fact. No author tries to manipulate their readership into believing something that is never going to happen.

I wonder if it’s the popularity of novels? The Harry Potters and Similar Tales. The things that draw people away from what’s “really important”? What I’ve realised about the people who are anti Harry Potter, His Dark Materials and other popular fantasy stories is their over-zealous, almost obsessive hatred for these stories because it’s easy. In the same way it’s easy to be against certain strains of rock music (Black/Death metal in particular), because of all the black, the upside down crosses, the explicit lyrics; but get annoyed whenever someone speaks against acoustic music, or jazz. All of those genres are secular, but only with music do people intelligently discern between the “good” and the “bad”.

When it comes to novels, though, something just doesn’t compute with people. It’s all a bit higgledy-piggledy, because I know people who say that novels are wrong (whilst quoting E.G. White’s comments on the dangers of novels), and yet they’ll read 1984—A novel. Or they’ll read Austen, or Dickens. Or Shakespeare plays. These are all fiction, can they not see how confused they are?

And why, pray tell, do none of these people have a problem with The Pilgrim’s Progress? A book cherished by Christians. Or similarly, Paradise Lost? Allegories are literary devices used in fiction all the time.

I know how to be discerning. I know that there are some novels that are just unedifying. Twilight is unedifying (even if it was written by a Mormon), 50 Shades is unedifying, anything by Dan Brown is unedifying (haha, I kid), but for me, as an aspiring writer, the first criteria I give for a novel being unedifying is: will it make me a better writer? Will I learn anything from it? Will it teach me how to write well? Then I think about the sort of responses it’ll induce in me; the thoughts it’ll put into my head; if the novel is glorifying  violence and crime? (note: describing is not glorifying, otherwise we shouldn’t be reading the Old Testament).

Those sort of things.

If I ever have children, I want to give them the passion of reading. Especially as Black children, children who society has already called “second-class, unintelligent” (“What’s the best way to hide something from a Black man? Put it in a book”). I don’t think that just because you’re a Christian then you should never read anything fictional. What’s wrong with imagination? (Cue Spongebob)

I also say this because I write fiction… and I’m currently writing a novel (haha), so I’ve always wondered if I’d be dis-fellowshipped from the church for being such HEATHEN? ; )

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

The Scar

You held me like I was fragile
close to your chest, a pulsing heart
black raiment hugged my body
my prison and my shield

Would you still want me
if you saw the scars
like leeches patched to my arms
the rippled tiger-stripes
on my legs
seemingly drawn on with a blade
and insanity.

I know you love that Other Person
with the holes in His hands
and the crescent of broken skin in His side;
I know these markings remind you
of love and sacrifice and good things

but is my body good enough?
Will you love me,
knowing these things that I have done
where I have come from
and who I want to be?

Can I come as I am?
Or is my world
too dark and too deep
for you to tread?