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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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.

Untitled

There is a bruise on my arm.
A round of purple petals
once small and unimportant
like abandoned buds in winter
that failed to bloom for their time,
or the discarded sunbeam
of a daffodil in the middle of
fresh auburn, lost in
the funeral confetti of summer;
or as useless as
a Christian woman
who wants to be loved in the midst
of red, empty aisles.

What started as something stupid–
a blight of health,
as if I were lounging in doctors’ parlours
given injections;
leaving behind the dot of scarlet
on blue veins,
the unwanted leakage; like an unsightly stain
on the seat of a pair of jeans–

Has now blossomed like an inferno.
Congealed, like molten flesh
turning wistfully over a fire.
I ignored the apostle’s plea:
St Paul suggested union
to prevent the explosion of my self
and yet I continued
watching the offspring of forbidden gardens
bloom angrily on my sleeve.

And every time I move
I feel the pull on my arm
where a bruise was made against my Spirit.
A shawl; a jumper or robe
to cover–
but at night, when I’m naked in my bed
I’ll see the brand and wince at the reminder
of how unbearable I am.

Pity

For the first time in my life
I felt the 
                 Pitter Patter
of tiny hopes
in the form 
of a smooth
brown hand

Soft.
Like a freshly baked scone
also warm to the touch.
I sat with the child
while he read to me
as he did, 
his stubby fingers brushed against mine
half-clenched over the jagged edges of
his faded purchase
half-holding onto me
for approval.

With that touch
arrived the
                     Pitter Patter
as I began to need
like the wanted monsoon
after an early hosepipe ban,
his hand felt welcome on mine:
a stigmata of friendship
a sign of my peace.

The want for me 
to love something bigger than myself
came in the form
of a stranger’s boy
watching me serenely in the library
as I listened
to hear him read.

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.

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.

Sometimes It Feels Like There’s a Bomb in My Head, Waiting to Explode…

I’ve always been a victim of my own destructive thoughts. I have a habit of day dreaming that I’ve cultivated, fertilized and tended to for years now; I’m pretty much standing in a tangled mesh of roses, thorns and bristles at this point. This all started a few years ago, when I began suffering from psychotic episodes. My concentration was awful; I’d practically sit in class staring at a wall, and only regain consciousness with ten or so minutes of the lesson to spare. It was during this time that I saw just how sinister and self-destructive my thoughts could be. My day dreaming often led to long moments, sometimes hours, of lying in bed with my eyes fixed on the ceiling. And I’d think, and think, about how awful I was, how much I was unloved; that I was ugly; that I should be dead. This usually resulted in physical self harm. One night, I boiled the kettle and poured the water on my arm.

Thankfully, God brought me out of that. But the vestiges of the past haunt me from time to time.

If I’m honest, my levels of lust within my relationship has been hard to cope with. Before I had ever been in a relationship, I naively thought that ‘lust’ wasn’t a huge issue for me; that I could always control myself. Well, now I’ve grown up. It’s been difficult, but I prayed; I set boundaries and curfews; I spent more time studying the Word, got involved with loads of church work to keep me occupied. Those things worked brilliantly, in fact, but every now and then I slip, and end up feeling really awful about myself afterwards…

Today has been a low day. I got home really late last night (fell asleep sometime after 1am), and ended up waking up at half six in the morning, only to find I couldn’t get back to sleep, despite my eyes stinging with fatigue. I rolled over and looked at my university email from my iPod and saw that I received my lowest score of the year so far. That already put me in a bad mood, but coupled with the tiredness, and the spiritual stumble that I took the night before (I broke the curfew) led me to think again. I was thinking, thinking, thinking, becoming more entangled in the thorns; cut and bruised, I emerged in a fit of literal tears. I cried for quite a while and the more I cried the worse I felt. I tried to get rid of this image I’d created of myself in my head, but I couldn’t. I kept thinking, ‘how far are you going to push yourself to the edge before you end up participating in something you’ll really, really regret? What are you really worth? Why are you making yourself so open? Since when were you a prostitute?’

I understand that a lot of the self-blame stems from the cultural belief that a woman needs to exercise more chastity than men, and in the church, a woman who is ‘hard-to-get’ and perches herself on that pedestal, away from all male hands until her wedding night, is a woman truly fit to be given the title of ‘Proverbs 31’. A virtuous woman, indeed. And my boyfriend holds nonof these views. Not even a little bit. I kept reminding myself of this fact, but I chose to listen to the voice that did not have my best interest at heart.

We spoke on the phone in the morning. When we ended the call, I burst into tears again, mainly because he sounded so sorrowful and I thought I’d caused him unnecessary upset. I felt as though I shouldn’t have said anything, but I wanted to be honest.

I’m yet to eat a meal today. I had my shower late; popped to the shops to get some water and household stuff; got back into my nightclothes retreated to my bed, eating chocolate and turning on the laptop to write this post. I felt sorry for myself, but I checked on Facebook before logging onto WordPress, and the statuses I saw almost took my breath away.

I have many Adventist/Christian friends on my Facebook, so I’m used to Bible texts on my Newsfeed, but this afternoon something else happened: all the passages that people were putting up were about sin, and the penalty that Jesus paid in order for us not to feel guilty and dejected and depressed when we do something wrong, but for us to give all our burdens and baggage to Him, at the foot of the Cross. I almost cried again, but for a different reason this time. So many people, so many texts and words of encouragement–I hadn’t told anyone about how I was feeling or what was going through my head, but it was as if the Spirit moved, so that they all wrote texts that corresponded with each other. The text that really stood out to me is taken from 1 John 2:1-2:

My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world…

I was also reminded of the lyrics to a hymn that has been in my head ever since I read the Bible text: Jesus Paid it All:

I hear the Saviour say
“Thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness, watch and pray
Find in me thine All in All”

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a Crimson stain
He washed it White as snow

Sometimes, God leaves me lost for words. Despite what has happened today, with my habit of self-destruction reaching such a high level, it’s finally taken a turn for the better…

…Because God has the power to save me from myself.

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’.