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I had a conversation recently with a friend, and we talked at length about the fact that the nature of religion , especially Christianity, appears to be rapidly changing in our post-modern world. It’s no longer ‘cool’ to have a very definite set of beliefs that suggest that you have a monopoly on truth. Young people of our generation are becoming increasingly disenchanted with dogma, meaningless tradition, and religion that focuses more on prohibition rather than liberation. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Within my particular denomination there seems to be a shift in certain quarters from focusing on the beliefs that make us different from other branches of Christianity, some of which are seen redundant, irrelevant and even downright wrong, to a seemingly more inclusive approach. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get bogged down  in conversations about religion, politics and society with labels such as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ which often serve little purpose outside of allowing us to keep our ears closed to  the other side. So instead of defending a ‘side’or writing a list of criticisms of complaints, which, let’s face it we’re all good at doing, especially me – I wanted to write about some of the unique things I love about my church. They aren’t in order of importance, they’re just random snapshots of what I love about my faith:

1) Our focus on the Bible

I’m pretty sure I learnt a knock off version of Harvard referencing  system age 5, just from growing up Adventist. It was never enough for me to believe something just because I felt like it was true or it sounded like it was good.  It was never enough for my parents or a pastor to tell me something was wrong or right based on their childhood or a tradition that had been passed down to them. I would ask “Is it in the Bible? Where? Is that in the right historical context?”. And as I got older, that led to me questioning some of the traditions inside my own church and really digging deep to make sure that when I did make a decision in my late teens to actually join the church, that I believed in all the doctrines. Growing up Adventist taught me to take theology seriously and believe that God wasn’t content to just give me a rule book and leave me to it. He wanted me to engage, to ask questions, to understand the history and sociology, but most of all, to come to know and love Him through its study.

2)The health message

If you’re not Adventist, you’ll be wondering what that is – if you’re Adventist you’ve heard the phrase a million times. Adventists are known for their focus on health and a happy lifestyle, and many of us follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. I’ve recently made a commitment to stick 100% to a full plant based diet and I feel great for it. Not only has it given me a sense of achievement,  the discipline required to stay away from my occasional halloumi binges has extended to other areas of life – spiritually, physically and mentally. I love the fact that our ‘health message’ isn’t just about food, but encompasses a total state of well being. Taking time out each week to observe a day of rest, being physically active, getting enough sleep and most importantly, having trust in a power greater than myself give me a sense of well being that I’m incredibly grateful for.

I wish that more of us who are Adventists would try and experience the benefits that come from our health message especially as everyone else now seems to get that eating clean isn’t a chore when it’s done right!

3) Our commitment to social justice

I’ve never been someone who is content to believe that God wanted us to be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. In fact, I tend to believe that the more heavenly minded you are, the mor earthly good you will be. One of things I love about being Adventist is that we’re often encouraged to believe that as individuals we can bring a small taste the kingdom of God to earth in the way we live our lives.The network of charities, hospitals and educational institutions run by the church always remind me that I’m not here to live for myself. My talents and my gifts are given to me to share with humanity and to offer whatever portion of peace and joy that I can to the people I interact with. Fighting against injustice, poverty, ignorance, and suffering are not jobs that I can leave to God – he’s given me my own job to do no matter how small, in reflecting his fight against these things.

4) The emphasis on lifestyle standards.

Being a teenager and an Adventist wasn’t the easiest thing. Before I developed a genuine relationship with God for myself, there was often a feeling of irritation. Why did I have to dress differently from other people? Why were my parents so strict about the things I could and couldn’t watch on TV? Why was it so bad to listen to 50 Cent? (I’m revealing my age aren’t I?) Why did I have to be so…different from everyone else? I was fed up of saying no to going certain places. I was fed up of being out the loop of everyone else’s favourite TV show or music video. I was fed up of not having sex.I just wanted to be normal.

As I grew to actually value my relationship with God I understood more and more why what I watched, what I read, where I went, who I slept or didn’t sleep with shaped the kind of person I became. And at times when I struggled a lot with these standards, I saw how I changed into a person that I didn’t particularly like and that my relationship with a God I had come to love and trust, suffered. I know now more than ever that my standards aren’t about arbitrary rules to control how I live but rather daily decisions about how I want the trajectory of my life to go. I realise that in order to be truly happy I have to be consistent in what I do publicly and behind closed doors and that that only comes from consistency in the outwardly little things I do every day.

I am glad that the youth of my church are not content to be stagnant in doing things the way they were done before for the sake of it. I want us though, to ensure that we are not afraid to be different. That our change isn’t powered by being molded by the unrelenting pressure of a secular postmodern world that paints Biblical faith as primitive, restrictive and embarrassing or a modern Christianity that is offended by any denomination that does not subscribe to a one size ecumenicalism. Now is not the time for cowardice or shrinking. We have a faith that can bring light and love and hope to so many. Find out who and whose you are, and live it!

What do you love about your faith?

 

 

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There’s nothing superficially controversial or disagreeable about the sixth commandment. Thou shalt not kill. Pretty self explanatory, right? And pretty much everyone – Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, humanist,  or atheist would say that on a day to day basis this commandment not only makes perfect sense, but is easily kept by all of us who haven’t been arrested for manslaughter recently.

It’s never that simple though, is it?

In fact, for a commandment that on the surface would appear to be one of the most unifying across faith or non-faith practices, it’s perhaps the most divisive.

I’ve never really given much thought to whether this is a commandment I keep or not. It’s one that I tend to think I can comfortably tick off my “generally good human being by other human being standards” list, and concentrate on the more tricky ones like not coveting my neighbours stuff.

For some reason , when I thought about this post though, the phrase that came to me was ‘self harm’. Not self harm in the literal physical sense, which is generally precipitated by psychiatric illness and is tremendously distressing both for both those who self harm and their loved ones, but self harm in a a completely different sense. I thought about all the times that I’ve quieted the voice inside of me that knows the right thing to do. The times when God, my conscience, and all the warnings of my those who are maybe a little wiser and older than me sound in my head, but I quickly push them into that dark space that quietly lingers when you’re in the middle of some mess you know you shouldn’t be in the middle of. Because those are the times when little pieces of you die. Those are the times when in some form, you allow that self destructive side of you to win.

And it dawned on me that a simplistic understanding of ‘thou shalt not kill’ only focuses on abortion clinics and serial killers whilst completely missing the point.

I don’t want to think about this commandment only in the negative. I want to ask myself, how do I aid in the Divine willing to affirm life in every human being, including myself?

If I care about aborted fetuses but I am unmoved by police brutality or Syrian refugees, and have no compassion for a single mother on benefits, have I understood this commandment? If I care about Syrian refugees, but I find it easy to destroy someone’s reputation with gossip, have I understood? And if I appear saintly to others but secretly allow habits and behaviours to creep into my life that are destroying me from the inside out, have I understood this commandment?

I so wholeheartedly believe that God wants us to see more than murder in this. That more than the command to not kill (the most accurate translation is actually “thou shalt not commit unlawful murder” – there are far too many grisly bits in the Bible for it to mean anything else), is the command to seek the source of life and love, and then share that with those around us in the way that we live.

“Whoever drinks from the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst again. But the water that I shall give him shall be a well springing up into everlasting life” ~ John 4:14

How are you affirming life today?

Copyright creative commons

Copyright creative commons

I posted this last night on Facebook...”Let me get deep for a minute…someone on my Instagram said something similar: People sometimes take ages posing for the perfect selfie…It’s not an accurate depiction of how they look from every angle. Likewise, what you see of someone else’s life is only one angle.

It’s easy to envy because you can’t see from the back or the side.

You’re single, they’re engaged – you don’t know their relationship issues. They have a great job, you can’t seem to get a foot up – you don’t know that they’re lonely and cry at night. They’re pretty, you might not be as conventionally good looking – they might be racked with poor self esteem.

Trust what God has for you. Trust the process. Trust that everything is not always as it seems. Don’t trust Facebook lives. Be happy for others, be content with what you have.”

I didn’t post it as a type of agony aunt to the masses type thing. Actually, it was more of a reminder to myself.

You see, I had spent a substantial part of the hour or so before I wrote that status wallowing in a rather large, depressing vat of my own self-pity. Inside the vat was a large glass of mango juice and a packet of salted peanuts to aid me in quest for pessimism and discontentment. There were also a few tears. And a couple of “it’s not fair and I’m not talking to you..” moans to God.

Life isn’t always a bed of roses. Sometimes, it can feel like a series of very unfortunate events, while everyone else’s life appears to be a series of extremely pleasant coincidences.

Fear, worry and anxiety are generally rooted in things that haven’t happened yet. It’s true, there are things that happen to us that are awful, that stretch and pull at us until we feel like we’ve reached our limitations and won’t ever be able to bounce back, but often a lot of our anxiety is rooted in what hasn’t happened yet. Either things that we want to happen but we’re scared won’t happen, or things that we don’t want to happen and are scared will happen. The truth is that a lot of the things we fear will happen probably won’t. A lot of the things that we fear won’t happen probably will. And even if things do or don’t happen, we often get through them a lot better than we thought we would.

It doesn’t help that a lot of our fears are informed by ideas about what we ‘should’ be doing, or what ‘should’ be happening to us, based on the people around us. One of the curses of social media is that we can easily access snapshots of peoples lives. Instead of seeing these snapshots as exactly what they are – snapshots, we often subconsciously choose to see them as live movie reel of someone’s life.

I’ll be honest – there are things I’m scared won’t happen. I’m scared I’ll never figure out an exact career path. People around me seem to be settled and convinced about what they want to do, and I still don’t know whether I want to be a GP, a surgeon or neither. I’m scared that I’m not using my skills enough, that I’ll look back in 10 years and not have achieved the things I want to. I’m scared I won’t ever get married and have a family but everyone around me seems to be getting married at the moment.  I’m scared that I won’t ever become the type of person I want to become – that all the character flaws I’m trying to overcome will just stick with me forever.

There are things I’m scared will happen. I’m scared that my loved ones will get ill. I’m scared that I’ll lose people that are important to me. I’m scared that I’ll make a wrong decision about something important and ruin my life. I’m scared that I’ll say something incredibly stupid at the wrong time to the wrong person and get myself in a whole heap of trouble I can’t get out of.

I’m sure you have your own set of fears, and I’m sure some of my fears might seem  a bit silly to you…I would probably agree with you, and there are a couple of simple solutions I use to try and let go of my fears and practice being content:

1) Truth

I sometimes have to remind myself of the truth, even speak it out loud to myself… No, so and so’s life is not perfect because no one’s life is, despite her Instagram page being perfect. Yes, you haven’t figured out your entire life yet, but you’re only 25, that’s an unrealistic expectation. No, you are not an unattractive person – you have enough friends and people that care about you to know that that’s not the case. Nope, God doesn’t only care about perfect people, so quit running away from Him. Truth challenges the false ideas we often have about our present situation.

2) Counting the good things.

Occasionally when I’m feeling absolutely rotten, I take out my hands and stick them in front of me just like we did when we were kids, and count things I’m grateful for. If it’s a really bad day, I start with the basic things – I’m alive, I have food, I have clothes. I always run out of fingers. I always realise that I have far more to be grateful for that I realise.

3)Faith.

Personally, I believe that no matter how many bad things happen in one day, and no matter how rubbish my life may appear, God can use these situations for my good. The good might be a stronger character. The good might be a lesson that can translate into a new career path. The good might be a better relationship than the one I left. The good might even be the ability to offer comfort to someone else going throughout same thing in the future.

So Facebook friends, Instagram buddies, and Twitter comrades – don’t look at my life and think it’s perfect, and don’t look at anyone else’s life and think it is either. And when you’re tempted to compare and be despondent, remember, count the good things, have some faith and add a big dollop of the truth.

What are some of your fears? What are some of the ways you try to stay content?

sabbath

Today is Friday, Normally, Friday is also relief-day. I wait for Fridays like a schoolchild waits for the Christmas holidays, bubbly and a bit jittery, nicer to everyone and enthusiastically distracted from my work. I am relieved that tomorrow I can rest. Despite the twists and turns my Christian path has taken me on, Sabbath has always been a constant. I have never revised for an exam, or finished a piece of coursework, or gone to a birthday party, or found myself working in the basic human conception of it, till August this year, when I started working as doctor.  And so today is strange for me. I find myself anticipating a state of unrest – tomorrow I will be working in a busy Accident and Emergency department, and how do I find the rest that I am commanded to find?

Sabbath is something normally associated with the Jews. You might picture synagogues with David’s star signalling from the top, or Orthodox  women in long skirts clutched by little boys with their heads covered in little yarmulkes, but the commandment takes us back to before there was ever a Jewish people. It is the only commandment that tells us to remember. It then goes on to tell us why we should remember it.

This week, my Facebook timeline had the recurring story of Pope Francis’s comments on evolution and the Big Bang. I haven’t actually read the articles properly, but from what I skimmed it was something along the lines of evolution and the big bang theory not being incompatible with a belief in God. And I agree with him. I do think the Big Bang theory and a belief in God are possible – God could have caused the Big Bang. I respect those who choose to believe that.  But a belief in the Big bang theory is not compatible with the God of the fourth commandment. We are commanded to rest in order to remember. We are commanded to remember God, not as a vague spiritual life force, or something inside each of us we can access in times of need, not as Mother Earth or the universe itself, but as Creator of the universe. In 2014 it is unpopular and it is backwards and it is ridiculed. And it is why God told us to remember it.

Some read the creation story as symbolic, and I like that. There is a lot of symbolism in God taking dirt and making man. There is something very beautiful about God speaking things into existence – skies, and seas, and galaxies, but there is something even more poignant about the image of an infinite, supernatural being scooping into dirt to make a human. It seems fantastical and naïve and precious all at the same time. I think God did that on purpose. He could have spoken Adam. He could have thought of humanity and instantly populated the globe with families and nations and peoples. But the creation story tells of Jehovah God who comes into the mud to make one individual, and then breathes life into that individual. That is Sabbath. That is rest.

It is God taking time out each week to re-breathe into you. It is remembering that if he can put his hand into dirt and make life, he can put his hand into the muck of your situation and make something meaningful out of it. It is remembering the intensely personal relationship God has with humanity -that there is a universe that is vast and full of wonder,  that there is you, small and from the earth, but God knows you. It is taking time out to think about the dirt in your life that you hide and are scared of and that nobody knows about. Apart from you. Apart from the God who likes making things out of dirt.

So tomorrow as I work on the wards, I am remembering God in the Hebrew name, Jehovah Rapha – God who heals. I am resting in the remembrance of the ‘into the dirt God’, who heals and recreates. Who asked the disabled man at the side of the pool on the Sabbath, “wilt thou be made whole?”. And I am saying yes with him. 

christianculturefunny

I’ve realised that I pretty much only blog when I’m criticising or complaining. It gives a pretty skewed view of my personality (although I am a self confessed cynic), as well as my experiences. Yup, I do have some critiques of the church, but actually ….I love church folk. So in honour of all the good eggs out there, here are some things about church folk that I love.

1) They will feed you.

Maybe it’s all the biblical references to Jesus being the bread of life, but even the most twisted, grumpy church person will probably be willing to give you some food. It might be 5 moldy loaves and 2 tins of tuna, but rarely will I leave the presence of my fellow Christians hungry. Although there have been times I’ve narrowly escaped food poisoning from dodgy looking potlucks, as the word says, man looks at the outward appearance, but to God, it’s the thought that counts.

Oh, who am I kidding? I find it so hard not to throw in a little bit of snark. Ok, let’s pray for the next 4 things.

2) One of them will be there for you when you need it most.

I remember a time a couple of years ago where I was going through a very dark place. I felt pretty hopeless, and pretty alone. I was lying on my bed crying, asking God to send someone to help me, and at that very moment, a older lady from church called and asked me how I was. I burst into tears on the phone, she instantly came and picked me up and took me out for the whole day. Oh, and by the way, she was white. I say that, because despite my rantings about race, I sincerely believe the gospel has the power to transcend racial boundaries and create authentic, caring communities IF we let it.

3) They remind me of my imperfections.

Sometimes, we can spend a of time focusing on the imperfections of people around us. The community of the church offers so many opportunities for people to literally irritate the hell out of me. Did you get that? When people irritate you, when you get into conflict, the way you respond is often God’s way of showing you the parts of you that are still hellish. When you see those parts, it’s the perfect chance to work on getting rid of them. It’s good thing.

4) Random sing-a-long sessions.

Black church folk in particular, just love to break out in song at any given point. Train stations, the middle of Topshop, in parks, in airports, on planes- in places where it’s distinctly inappropriate to be anything but silent. I love it. sometimes your heart is so heavy that other people’s songs are your prayers. Sometimes, you might sit in church and not engage with the sermon or even believe, but an old hymn will be the one thing you can give your assent to. Long live random (and planned) sing-a-longs!

5) The cringeworthy inside jokes.

I don’t appreciate when we do this in front of other people and alienate them. But amongst ourselves, I can dig a good Christian joke. Good Christian jokes are often made in ‘relationship seminars’ and involve very benign references to Songs of Solomon.  I can dig a good Adventist joke even better. Then it gets extra exclusive, extra cringe worthy, and extra weird and crazy sounding. Even better are the inside jokes about things that happened at church like, 6 years ago when you were a teenager and they still remain AS funny as they were when you were 14. That’s a sign of true maturity – that you can be as juvenile as your 14 year old self without shame.

It’s easy for us, me in particular, to separate myself from ‘the church’, without remembering that the church is very simply me, my family, the person who took my parking space before church, the guy behind me who sings in D no matter the actual key of the song, the pervy Deacon, the sullen teenager playing Temple run. We are ALL the church. The best way to change the church is to allow God to change you. That’s a lesson that I’m still struggling to learn..

Have a great weekend, and enjoy a plate of burnt potluck on my behalf.

What do you love about church folk? You can answer even if you’re not one of them 🙂