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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?

 

 

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 🙂

Copyright: www.vickybeeching.com

Copyright: www.vickybeeching.com

If you’d asked me 5 years ago whether you could be a Christian feminist, I would have categorically said no. Nope. Cannot be done. Oxymoron. Now, I’m not so sure. You see, my idea of feminism age 19 was a mish mash of some brief, albeit well taught history lessons at GCSE level, various rants on feminism from conservative Christian pundits, coupled with a few more balanced talks from some other conservative Christians. So basically a smidgen of truth mixed in with misinformation. Which is unsurprising – ‘opposing’ sides are often pretty uninformed about what the other side thinks. Atheists often have weird misconceptions about what people of faith believe, some of us who believe in capitalism don’t really understand what socialism is, and conservative christians very often don’t understand feminism.  In fact, let me not only point the finger at my own people – a lot of people regardless of faith don’t understand what feminism is.

The problem with feminism is that it’s a pretty broad church (I used that phrase intentionally, did you see that?) but it comes with a pretty narrow set of stereotypes. When people think of feminists they think of:

1) Burning bras

2) Anger

3) Unattractive women

4 )Lesbians

5) More anger

6) Hair. Hair everywhere.

7) Hatred of men.

8) Destruction of family structure.

9) More anger.

10) Hair. Hair everywhere.

None of these things are necessarily false. There were some bra burning incidents. Some feminists are understandably angry. Some leading feminists were/are lesbians.  Some feminists don’t shave as a part of their feminism. Some of them do sound like they hate men. And some more radical feminists have made statements that point to the fact that they want to destroy traditional family structures. However…..

A lot of feminists shave, wax, epilate and thread their life away. Many of them are married to men, and love the men they’re married to. Most feminists are straight – because most people on this planet are straight and half the people on this planet are women. There are pretty feminists and ones that aren’t conventionally attractive. Furthermore, let’s not put on rose tinted glasses and act like the 1950’s housewife gig was a perfect era for family structure. It wasn’t – and a lot of good things have come out of the feminist movement although there are admittedly a some negative outcomes. In fact, a significant number of Christian women who berate feminism wouldn’t be able to articulate their views with such poise had it not been for a feminist movement that campaigned for women to be allowed to attend university. Slightly ironic right?

Not only that, but there are so many different types of feminism. There are the more radical streams of feminism, which frankly I find a little bit crazy, but to each her own – there is Islamic feminism, there is choice feminism, there is womanism (which is arguably a distinct belief system in itself), there is anti-porn feminism and pro-porn feminism, there are second wave and first wave feminists, and there are some self described Christian feminists. There are also feminists who actively reject the idea that anyone who subscribes to the biblical views of gender can be a feminist. And there are arguments within Christianity about what the bible actually says about gender. Basically, there are so many different belief systems within the broad label of feminism, that it’s a bit irresponsible to blanketly term the whole thing ‘anti-Christian’. It’s not like Christianity – there isn’t a book that believers can refer back to as a final point of reference with which to argue out their creed.

I think the Bible is pretty clear on some things. God is anti-oppression, God loves men and women equally, God uses people regardless of their gender, God created men and women differently and God values men and women equally, but obviously we’re the ones (well men are the ones), who’ve screwed things up in regards to how women are treated. Because I believe this, it means my future little girl will be told that she is just a capable of being CEO of a top company as her brother, that she won’t be made to feel that her value to a man is in her virginity or lack of virginity, that she will get told that her sexuality is something God created for her to enjoy just as much as men do, that her intelligence will be celebrated as much as her beauty, and that she probably won’t be playing with stick thin, ginormous breasted Barbies. My beliefs might also mean though that within my Christian home, the roles of the husband and wife are different. Because I believe that spiritual leadership within a home is completely different to secular leadership in a workplace. And I think that that’s the point where other feminists would kick me out of the club. That’s fine because I don’t actually need that label, but I hate the fact that other Christian women who do choose to label themselves as feminist automatically get  raised eyebrows. 

Dictionary definitions can be flawed, but the simple definition of feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. What’s so un-Christian about that? 

 

What do you think? What do you believe feminism is?