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.

When your will takes over your logic

It’s been ages. Last post was in February! But I was finishing my degree and for a little while I just lost the drive to meditate and think about blog posts, even though I have loads of drafts and ideas written on my phone. I completed my undergraduate degree in Sociology in May, and my graduation will be some time in September/October, so I have lots of time to think, read, write and catch up on various things that had to be put on hold. Today is also the last day of a  fast that I’ve been doing since Monday, so I can get some clarifications about my career and life goals. I’ll try to keep you all updated.

This week, I’ve been thinking about the will, and how closely it’s linked to pride. On Sunday, I went to my surrogate mother’s house for morning prayers, and we reflected on how God will go to any length—no matter how ridiculous to us—to save us from ourselves. He has a will for our lives, and we stray from it, and end up having to tread down dark, dangerous and miserable paths—which he allows—in order to finally see him and what he had tried to tell us from the beginning. We look over our shoulders at the adjacent road we could have gone down: bright, warm, and easy, and chide ourselves for being so foolish. This is why I’ve decided to wait patiently and pray about where I should go next in my life, because the initial experiences of sixth-form and university were riddled with doubt, loneliness and concern, that I’d made the wrong course choices; gone to the wrong institutions; started in the wrong year. For once, I want to walk down a path with confidence that it was the right decision.

As we spoke, some extra thoughts came to mind. There are a few ways to deal with wrong choices: some go into crippling self-pity and chastisement, resenting and hating themselves to the point of depression; others get annoyed because they saw where they went wrong, but pray for wisdom for the next time. Although some times, when their decisions lead to failure, some people project their frustrations on others. “It wasn’t me; the reason I did this was because; if only so-and-such had acted differently”. We’re all guilty of this at some point: deciding not to own up and admit to what we did wrong because it’s easier to blame someone else.

God’s will doesn’t just refer to our careers, but every choice we make. I thought about the blame game we tend to play with ourselves and each other, and for the first time, I could actually envision the wicked, who didn’t make it into the New Jerusalem in Revelation 20, charging towards the city to fight God. This passage always befuddled me because I thought “who could possibly do that, wouldn’t they just be really sad that they didn’t make it?” But if so often, when our bad choices and wrong doings are put in front of us in the calmest of ways, our first reaction is to lash out, give the silent treatment, and make excuses, then what hope would there be for someone being faced with all the wrong decisions they had made that led them to be standing on the outside of the Ultimate Gift? They’d no longer be able to see all the measures God had taken to save them, they’d just see everything that everyone else did, that caused them to miss out on heaven.

The will is a scary and great thing. If we let our pride and ego get in the way, we’ll only make decisions for ourselves; we’ll live solely for our own interests; which will inevitably not only hurt us, but someone else. Furthermore, when these decisions cause problems, and we’re confronted with this, we’ll never admit to it, deciding once again to put the blame on others. I had this experience this week and it’s honestly the most frustrating thing: when you tell someone they’ve hurt you and done something wrong, but they’ve decided to be upset with you for reasons they can’t properly vocalise. But after reading and studying this week, I think I know what the problem is.

If we stopped engaging in this battle of wills, of self interest, and instead surrendered our wills to God, we’d all be walking down that sweet, easy road happily. But until then, we struggle through the brambles.

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.

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.

 

Nothing else to be but You

Quietness has always been ‘me’. Always contemplative, I was never the person who owned the room and most of the time I hated being in new environments where  I would be forced to make friends, or where I was expected to be bubbly just for the sake of it. I’m not a showgirl by any means, but it was never something that really bothered me.

In year Eight I got into trouble with some of the girls at my school and fell into months of bullying, teasing and basically just a period of people taking advantage of my quietness. Because obviously, “quiet” means “pushover”; it also means “innocent”, “kind” and “peaceful”. It’s strange how often people make such bold statements about a person who hardly speaks and hasn’t had a chance to tell others who they are for themselves (how many times have I subsequently been accused of hiding my true self, when in fact I never told anyone that I was innocent and angelic–people chose to see me as such because I only talk when I have to). During that time I withdrew into myself a lot, and the one person I truly called a friend spent her time drilling into me, moaning every lunch time that I just kept quiet all the time. “Haven’t you got anything to say?” she would say, “why aren’t you talking?” It was months of variants of this dialogue that has today made me so paranoid whenever I’m with someone else and no one has spoken for a while. For some reason, regardless of whether we’re both silent, I’ll be singled out as the one that didn’t speak, making me a bore to be around.

I remember last year when I went to ARME camp. The friend who I went along with is very outgoing and makes friends very easily. I’ve always been comfortable being by myself; to think with myself and just observe others, but several times during our weekend together I felt as though I was dragging her back–and felt increasingly uncomfortable. To be honest, a lot of the time when I’m with a louder, more extrovert friend, I feel this way. I just assume that they feel they have to look after me…

So this year, I prayed for confidence and to be more outspoken. Basically, I asked God to turn me into someone else.

We quiet, shy people at church are always told that God will give us more boldness in the future; that we obviously don’t believe in the Word, or in God’s power, even, because we’re nervous to speak in front of others, or sing solos, or perform in any way–they tell us that they used to be like us before they let God lead in their lives—all of that nonsense. So they’re kind of saying that being quiet is sinful. It’s one thing to be scared to proclaim the gospel and to be ashamed of God, and it’s a completely different thing to just enjoy being quiet and meditative. Why would God want us all to be the same? One size cannot fit all.

It was only this week that I realised the only reason why I had prayed for boldness was because of other people’s problems. Other people favour loud extroverts, other people made assumptions about me; other people like to talk first and think later. The reason for my lack of confidence and low self-esteem was because I didn’t fit into a mould favoured by the mainstream, not because I had done something to bring myself down.

So, yesterday I prayed for self confidence. To be sure of my self. So that I would love myself, be happy with the person I’m becoming. I prayed that I wouldn’t let the negativity of others drive me to become someone else ever again. Sometimes we get too excited over the Elijah figures and the ferocious Peters, and brush over the thoughtfulness of our Moses’; people with the calmness of Daniel and our humble Esthers.  This is probably the reason why some preachers who say nothing of any weight and mar certain Biblical truths get the ‘Amens’ and appreciation they crave–because they shout and jump up and down. The ones who speak conversationally, presenting their message with calm rationality, are met with weariness.

I think it took me far too long to notice my qualities. I hope ignorance like that never drives me to pray in such a dangerous way again.

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

Ditches and Rollercoasters

It feels as though 2013 has been a whirlwind of a year and I’m looking forward to the end of it.

From the start of this year, till now:

My brothers suffered the deaths of their mother and aunt; their grandmother suffered a heart-attack some time after. My grandmother died in April and I had three assignments due in at university that week. As I was taking part in her funeral in Jamaica, I had to miss my exams. It was stressful getting all the evidence of her death together before I left England, especially because I had to finish off all my assignments at the same time, but I did do it and in June received a letter stating that my extenuating circumstances had been accepted. There were loads of other trials that took place during the interim: I missed the course options deadline even though I had made an attempt to choose them whilst overseas; when I returned home and tried to phone my university about it I was spoken to rudely and told it was all my fault. But I prayed—and God pulled through. My teachers fought to get me on the programmes I wanted for September and were very kind to me. I began July looking forward to my final year…

Today, though, has been insanity. Our house could have been repossessed, but we’ve been able to keep it, thanks to God speaking through the kind judge this morning. I went to Prayer Tower at Plaistow Church, but there was something on my mind: I didn’t feel all that well; the sun had made me sluggish and I felt a little annoyed at a comment that had been said during the meeting. I was looking forward to going home, but there was a strange entity between me and my ‘better half’. He seemed broodingly absent for a while, and his quietness soon turned to dark irritation—at what I don’t know; I didn’t know what to say to make things better. When we parted at my door, I wondered silently why I had bothered to embrace him. When I turned around at the door to wave, he was gone. We were supposed to have dinner at my house, but I suppose he’s not coming tonight. I think it’s for the best.

The final aggravation, though, was an infuriating letter from my university that I saw upon stepping through the door. I opened it expecting to get a summary of my grades, but the letter says that I have failed my 2nd year and I need to contact someone immediately to organise resits.

Ten Firsts

One 2:1

One 2:2

That’s what I received this year. The two exams I missed accounted for less than half the grades. I’ve calmed down a little now, and I know God has it in control, but every letter of correspondence I receive from this place makes me wish I never attended. I really hate it and I can’t wait to leave. And I’m so confused—They supposedly accepted my extenuating circumstances, so what does this letter mean? Earlier I began to feel as though I gave my testimony too early; there was still another threatening ditch around the corner.

I’ll close with a passage that was read today during Prayer Tower. I believe God orchestrated the meeting—that even though I was barely concentrating, the subject matter of complaining and murmuring to God, and the Bible texts that were read out, seemed to have been preordained for me to hear. This is one of my favourite texts, and it gives me hope:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Be Blessed.

xXx

 

Constrained By…?

I went to a prayer meeting last Monday afternoon at Plaistow Church at which I was given an experience that I’m really grateful for. These meetings are held every Monday and there has never been a time that I’ve visited and received no blessing. These people seriously believe in prayer; they treat it like medicine and if anyone steps through the doors in dire need of help, they prescribe the dosage with a faith that I really admire. Last Monday was the first time that I’d left the meeting with a page of notes; of thoughts, that I wanted to share on the blog and expand upon in my diary. We discussed a reading from Ephesians 3 from which Paul tells the church of Ephesus to not be discouraged over any trials that may come his way but to look to God instead. The discussion on this text eventually led onto the topic of God’s love and mercy.

Paul was an interesting person and he’s probably the best subject matter after my previous post. After years of torturing, killing and imprisoning countless Christians, he became one of the most well known Bible writers and an advocate of love and truth. There are times in the New Testament that you can see his patience has been tested by the churches, or times when his faith has taken a nosedive straight into the darkest depths of his mind—a friend once told me that he displays signs of depression in the book of Timothy; as he tells his fellow disciple about struggles he’s faced but the hope he still has in God. Because of these experiences Paul encountered, he more than anyone could testify about forgiveness, mercy and love—he wrote one of my favourite passages in the Bible, the ‘love chapter’, 1 Corinthians 13. He tells us that love is patient and kind; selfless and longsuffering. This is true love and it comes from God. Probably one of his greatest gifts to a fallen race.

But with true love comes false love. Infatuation; lust; exaggeration. People who were madly in love with each other on their wedding day are praying for the other’s death or downfall a few years’ later. Someone who spent decades with their spouse, producing an army of children and good memories, can engage in an extramarital affair with alarming ease. On the news recently the case of Jeremy Forrest has returned: a 30-year-old school teacher who fell in love with one of his students. She was 14 at the time their relationship started and he was married to a woman his own age. Despite being madly in love with his student (and she with him), he failed to see that a man with such responsibility should respect a girl enough to not accept her virginity when she is underage; his deep love for her was shallow enough that he could not patiently wait until she left school as a legal adult—even more, his love and his own heart was just so consumed with passion that he was unable to see that eloping with a now 15 year old girl to France would not end well, and that she would be missed by her family and would not be able to attend school. Love should be rational, surely? Which is why I don’t like the term ‘fall in love’. Falling isn’t a good thing; it denotes something that happened suddenly and unexpectedly; a fleeting feeling or passionate emotion. You fall and you hurt yourself; you could also say ‘plummeting in love’.

Christ’s love is supposed to ‘constrain us’. Not in a controlling way or forceful bondage, but to restrain the negative nature of ourselves: his love and sacrifice show us how to live for others, live for our faith and live selflessly. His love alone provides a blueprint of how to go about things. False love is a delusion. It comes from the enemy and can be hard to detect. Since my last post about love, I’ve really been meditating on it and thinking more about how I should act if I say I love someone. Well, for one, I wouldn’t be thinking about my own lusts and selfish desires, but about how the other person would feel—also a Christian and also in the same line of guilt. I would want to preserve their dignity and body, respect them as a fellow child of God and give them the boundaries they deserve. I would be patient and understanding towards them; mindful of their feelings. I would try to adopt the Christ-like character, rather than ‘my heart’.

If the love of Christ constrains me, I don’t want to be chained down to anything less.

Sinning so much that God Rejects You

It’s a strange concept to think about, but one that is dangerously common amongst Christians…

It’s easy to place Christianity on a spectrum of beliefs. There is always one extreme or the other: the Christians who are so ambivalent towards Christianity that the Bible for them is mostly a fictional account; allegories, stories, examples, parables—and nothing that we should take too seriously. Jesus was a guy who only spoke about love; the Old Testament is virtually irrelevant to life. On the other end are those who take everything militantly literal. Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed because of gay people—and not sin (which is what the Bible actually says); you have to do-do-do. It’s all about what you’ve done for God: how many tracts you’ve handed out; how many people you’ve made feel uncomfortable at your rambling criticisms of their fornicating ways… all of that stuff.

In my opinion, both of those attitudes are wrong. Together, they portray a warped view of God and of Christianity. They also distort the issue of ‘sin’.

One can talk for years about sin. It’s created all the problems in the world; we’re all sinners; we sin naturally because of our fallen nature, yadda yadda. But what does sin mean to you as a person? What does it mean to me?

For a little while, in my effort to understand it, I broke away from the militant crowd and started believing in the other extreme—after all, militancy usually makes me feel wretched about my state as a person. I believed that everything was about ‘love’ and I barely needed to ask for forgiveness because sin would sort itself out somewhere. This was years ago, but it did nothing to really console me. If it had I wouldn’t be agonising over it now.

I always pray for the forgiveness of my sins and I always believe that I’ve been forgiven, but some sins are culturally seen as more sinful than others, which eventually leads to a feeling verging on despair once they’ve been committed. I’m obviously talking about sexual sins: masturbation, pornography, pre-marital sex; lust. A lot of the time they’re hidden secrets, like sewage pipes beneath the city. People know they’re there and that many people in their congregation struggle, but it’s so shameful that no one listens—especially if it’s a woman who is going through these things. For women, we’re lucky if we can find a trustworthy friend to confide in.

Recently, my problems with lust made me feel very low. I’m eternally thankful that God has given me the power to not have sex outside of marriage, but at the same time I know that if I continue to entertain thoughts and be suggestive in my actions it will only be my fault if it actually does happen. A few weeks ago this problem really manifested itself and I didn’t want to pray about it. That militancy that had surrounded me after years in the church came back: that God is quick to anger and you mustn’t sin otherwise he’ll wipe your name out of the Book right away. I kept picturing Him just staring at me in admonition and I almost couldn’t open my mouth. How many times would I come to him with the same problem? How presumptuous can I be, to put myself in the same risk and then ask for forgiveness afterwards? How can that possibly work?

And that’s when I finally understood what sin does to the Christian—what it does to me. Sin separates us from God in all ways. For one, God is sinless and I am not. That gap in status is enough, but on a personal level, one that is based on a relationship with Him, it makes me ashamed of myself. It means that I think of myself as ‘too sinful’ for God to listen to; I’ve done too much. He’ll reject me.

What folly.

A belief like that is an indirect rejection of the Cross: Jesus’ sacrifice was made to free me from sin and give me the freedom to ask for forgiveness and the power to overcome it. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies…

I’m glad for these experiences, though. Sometimes you have to get knee-deep in your Christianity, with all its mud, sand and dirt, to find the little treasure shells beneath. It’s then that you grow to love God for who he is.

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