Tuesday, December 16, 2008

the Church

So the promised testimony is still coming... but here's something else in the meantime.

My favourite things about the practice of Christianity in the Church (in no particular order)

1. Christmas and Easter. The happiest times of the year.

2. Hymns. Not all of them. But the best of them are amazing. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed thee ... My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought - my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to his cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul! ... One with himself I cannot die, my soul is purchased with his blood, my life is hid with Christ on high ... Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone. Etc. I could go on and on.

3. Prayer groups. There's something about meeting with a group of people and all praying together about the world, your country, your city, your church and yourselves that goes so much deeper than ordinary friendship.

4. Charities and social work. Daily proof that Christianity is a real, living faith that propels people towards the good. This, to my mind, is more important than the strictly rational arguments for Christianity. It also is much more powerful than all the arguments combined of Richard Dawkins and his whole crew of Christianity-bashers.

5. Shared meals. :) Mmm, the taste of fellowship.

6. Grassroots Christlikeness. Even though the Church has officially not been especially praiseworthy in some eras of history (for example, Nazi Germany), even though our leaders have failed sometimes, the real Church, Christ's body, independent of its leaders, has risen up in support of the persecuted. Not everyone, sadly, but a significant number.

7. Acceptance no matter where you come from or what you look like. (see #7 in the next list also, though)

8. Awareness of all our needs. Spiritual, physical, monetary, rational, emotional, intellectual, musical! The list could go on.

9. Encouragement to continue. I find that even when I am having a really bad day, or just don't feel like paying much attention, even then I always hear something at church that buoys me up to keep going another week, challenges me, or makes me think.

My least favourite things about the practice of Christianity in the Church

1. Hypocrisy (me included). The obvious objection. To some extent we are all guilty of this, although most of us have never claimed to be perfect. I think the real harm comes when someone has been publicly outspoken about certain moral standards and then is discovered to be breaking them himself. And all of us feel the repercussions.

2. Televangelists. I guess I don't have a blanket dislike of them, but the ones I have seen seem always to be shouting at their congregations, preaching the Bible extremely questionably, preaching self-help while ignoring the Bible except for a pithy quote here or there twisted to suit their purposes, or asking for money.

3. Churches that are like a brandname. Naming no names, but I dislike corporate Christianity. I am not saying these churches do no good - I'm sure they do - but they're not my type of place.

4. Historically embarrassing and permanently damaging things like the Crusades.

5. Slipping standards. To some extent we live in a modern world and have to accomodate this, but we were never told by Christ to try and make everyone happy, to offend no one. Christ himself stepped on a lot of toes, and I don't see why we should alter our core beliefs just to suit the mood of the times.

6. Leaders who give us all a bad name. I guess this links up with #1 - hypocrisy.

7. Exclusion. Although in my experience I have been accepted by Christians wherever I go, I have seen or heard about many others being excluded - whether for their age, their skin colour, their class/socio-economic status, their opinions... Such exclusion makes me sad, angry and incredibly embarrassed.

8. The fact that it is possible to go to church and continue to delude yourself that living a decent life is all that matters. I'm horrified sometimes at how many people think this is okay theology, but it's even more horrifying when you realise that they are not receiving teaching at their churches that makes them rethink this.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Being someone who wants to be an author, and has always scribbled down stories, however terrible, I have a certain amount of skill in imagining what it's like to be other people. Maybe 'skill' is the wrong word but you will understand what I mean. I think a problem with this for me, though, is that I am so fixated on understanding how other people feel that I'm not always sure how I feel, or their feelings override mine.

Especially in terms of my faith. Although I don't feel this way at all, I can understand so easily why other people may blame God for suffering, or may dislike Christians, and so on and so on. I am so good at this that I am unable to articulate why I disagree, because their feelings are uppermost in my mind.

I've realised, though - to be a healthy Christian and a healthy person, I need to be able to say why these things are not insuperable problems for me. I need to express my feelings. So I'm going to write my testimony over the next couple of weeks, after which I will post it on here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

God is good

Well, if you've seen my other blog, you'll know that my family has had a scare with my wee nephew having heart surgery just over a week ago. He has recovered well so far and went home from the hospital today, hooray! In fact, everything pretty much went to plan.

I knew from the start it had been a close call, from several things my sister said, but I didn't want to ask for too many details, especially while the operation hadn't been done. It turns out, though, if the constriction of the aortic arch which caused this whole hoohaa had been discovered only a week later, he probably would not have survived. And discovering it in the first place was a giant stroke of luck - he had been taken to the GP because he wasn't putting on enough weight, who referred him to the paediatrician just in case, who noticed a heart murmur, who referred him to a cardiac specialist.

God is very, very good.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Firstly: church today. I'm afraid I have no bullet-pointed list of how I have resolved my tricky bit, Wednesday's blog post. Still, somehow I feel a lot lighter in spirit.

Secondly: part of the reason for this could be, well, it's spring! I'm not going to rhapsodise over daffodils and lambs here, because that's what I've just done over at U2 vs Jane Austen, but I will say - thank you, God, for giving us the seasons, and especially for giving us spring.

It doesn't explain away anything. It doesn't present some complex theological/philosophical argument. It doesn't let me forget that although it's lovely for me, there are people whom daffodils don't help.

But it does remind me of the dawn that follows the dark. It reminds me that if I hang in there, spring is coming, and with it daffodils and bluebells and sun. One day, all the things I don't understand now are simply going to evaporate into a deeper understanding, an understanding that comes from seeing. Seeing things I could not have imagined while I dwelt in the shadowlands of winter.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

a tricky bit

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.
Deuteronomy 20 vv 10-18

I'm not going to lie - this passage bothers me.

This week my European history lecturer who specialises in the Holocaust, among other things, was telling us about mass killings throughout history. He read this out as an example of genocide and instead of feeling like I had a legitimate case to feel offended or attacked, I couldn't help thinking - Wow. That's kind of a good point.

How does this passage connect with the Jesus of the gospels?

The standard explanations that people offer for this sort of passage seem to be:

(a) How dare you question God?

(b) If they didn't do that, those tribes would wipe them out later. There would be implacable enmity between these tribes and Israel.

(c) That's okay and unproblematic, because it's genocide for a good cause.

Well, in response to (a) - That's not good enough for me. I am aware of the principle behind it which is essentially good, I think, but in this case, it's not enough. I don't think God wants us simply to ignore bumps in the path. He wants us to climb over them, not around.

And (b) - isn't it possible that genocidal actions by the Israelites would help create this implacable enmity?

Finally (c) - NO. NO. No way! I have spent my entire year reading the writings of people who tried to make that same excuse for the brutal murder of millions in the Soviet Union and there is no way I'm ever going to raise that as a valid argument.

To be fair, my lecturer did not read out the last verse, about these tribes teaching them to fall away from God. Which is at least a reason I can understand.

Still, I don't feel entirely comfortable about it. Probably no one should. Don't worry - I'm not losing my faith or something. This is one of those Issues that comes up for me every now and then and takes a bit of thought and discussion and prayer. I'll keep you posted.

Any two cents to offer?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

does this make me a heretic?

Lately I've been enjoying poking fun at hymns. (Don't worry, the only reason I'm not poking fun at modern songs is because they can be so dire that I can't even laugh at them.)

A favourite of mine (and my Dad's) is one verse of "O God of matchless grace". It starts:
'Tis meet that Thy delight
Should centre in Thy Son...
Once you've got past the weird language - that's right! Well done, God! It's proper that you like your Son. You can rest assured that we approve.

One of my Mum's favourites was this:
I have heard of showers of blessings
Thou art scattering full and free
Showers the thirsty land refreshing
Let some droppings fall on me

Self-explanatory, I think.

She also said that when she was a kid she couldn't stand singing "O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise" - she couldn't help imagining a bunch of disembodied tongues singing by themselves.

I hate this particular one:
God holds the key of all unknown,
And I am glad;
If other hands should hold the key,
Or if He trusted it to me,
I might be sad (I might be sad).
That's right - God, you hold on to this key (whatever it is), because if you don't, (o horrors!) I might be sad. And you wouldn't like that.

Then there's the really old-timer songs, which my Dad recently found in his old boxes of stuff. The songs where everyone's happy.
On Monday I am happy
On Tuesday full of joy
Wednesday has a faith
The devil can't destroy.
On Thursday, and Friday
I'm walking in the light
Saturday's a victory
And Sunday a delight

Ain't that right, folks? Doesn't that reflect the Christian walk to a T?


I am a big fan of hymns, especially as they are being chucked out in favour of repetitive and unpoetic songs that will be out of fashion next year, except for a few token old songs that no one can possibly object to and which can be fiddled with and put in a modern format. But I can't agree with the purists who say that modern songs lack depth, and all old songs can give that to us.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think it helps anyone who's struggling or being attacked or dying or loves someone who's dying to have to stand in church on a Sunday and sing a song about how everything's a breeze when God is in our lives.

These are two verses of "Trust and Obey", which we coincidentally had to sing at church soon after my Mum died:
When we walk with the Lord
in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise,
not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear,
not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

I get it. I get that the point behind the song is that things are better when God is in our lives. I could see that at the time. But it didn't help to have such drivel pushed down my throat, without any recognition that what I was going through was difficult. I do not agree that this sort of song has depth.

What I ask for is thought going into the songs we are asked to sing. Both old and new, Christian songs should be songs that we can sing honestly. We tend to quote the psalms a lot in our music - but do we quote those unhappy psalms (quite a lot of them) which make it clear that life is not heaven? Even with God in it?

The really good hymns which in my opinion no modern song has yet come close to beating are those which reflect a cry from the human heart for God. A cry that loses none of its power over time. Such as this:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee
Let the water and the blood
From thy wounded side which flowed
Be for sin the double cure
Save from wrath and make me pure

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill thy law's demands
Could my zeal no respite know
Could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone
Thou must save and thou alone

Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to the cross I cling
Naked, come to Thee for dress
Helpless, look to Thee for grace
Foul, I to the fountain fly
Wash me, Savior, or I die

While I draw this fleeting breath
When mine eyes shall close in death
When I soar to worlds unknown
See Thee on Thy judgment throne
Rock of Ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

being convincing

Recently I've heard (or heard about) a few talks given by Christians trying to address questions or problems of non-believers. I want to say right from the start that I respect their effort very much indeed and I know those kind of talks can do a lot of good. They inevitably come up against a lot of criticism, some of which is very uninformed, and I think they are very brave, especially those who make an effort in an environment like my university, which seems to be just getting more and more anti-Christian.

I would like to respectfully suggest, however, a few things (for any of these speakers who may happen to read this blog which is unlikely):

For someone like myself, who has been trained to some extent in academic ways of thinking, I don't find these talks very helpful. Although I'm already on your side and agree in the end with the basis of what you're trying to say, it always seems to me like you're repeating arguments that have been used again and again ... and again. I'm not sure how many times now I've heard the analogy of the tornado causing a Boeing 747 to come together to discredit the "chance" theory of evolution, but it's a lot; likewise, asking me if I knew that only a few metres difference to the circumference of the Earth would make the planet unhabitable (or something like that) has been asked so very often that it loses its power as an example. It comes across quite clearly that these talks are standardized, and that Christians are encouraged to take these examples and repeat them - which seems a bit like spoonfeeding to me. Also, someone like myself doesn't just hear an argument like that and accept it as fact. I want to know where the footnotes are.

I really think the only way to approach debates like these is to focus on specific arguments. A recent series of talks at my university has been, ostensibly, on Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. However, according to at least one non-Christian observer, they really weren't so much about Dawkins' argument, focusing instead on the sort of argument given above. In my opinion, especially in a talk given to a university audience, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking Dawkins' thesis and refuting it, point by point. This may be more "intellectual" or "highbrow" but Dawkins did not write to a lowbrow audience, and his argument must be responded to from the same footing as he is on. Dumbing it down is not going to help our case.

It is also a very smart move to anticipate the objections of people to your talk. For example, in this particular series, apparently the speaker said that it's illogical to presume that life can come from no life. Yes. It is. However, the immediate reaction of the non-Christian observers in our university's magazine was to say, well, then: where did God come from? As far as they said, anyway, the speaker offered no explanation for this question which naturally follows his assertion.

Also, I'm not convinced that following the Creator argument is the best way to go. I think any defence of Christianity must begin with a defence of the Bible. Everything else is just unproven assertions, unless you can convincingly defend the Bible's historical accuracy and internal consistency (which I think can be done plausibly and compellingly). This is what seems to bother thinking non-Christians the most about Christianity, at least in my world. Yes, the world is an amazing place, yes, Jesus is an attractive figure who cannot be delegated away as just a prophet or a nice man - but can we believe what he has to say? This is crucial, and ignoring the historical evidence for Christianity just leaves you open to criticism. I really don't think non-Christians have a very good case at all for attacking the Bible's accuracy and consistency, but if we don't prove this, they will raise objections which sound plausible to those who know nothing about how the Bible was written.

Even if you disagree, and think that the Creator argument is the most important here, I really think we Christians need to be creative in our arguments. We need to show thinking people that we haven't simply swallowed what our preacher, or authors such as C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Tim Keller or Lee Strobel, have to say. (Although I find their books very helpful, simply quoting them is not enough.) We need to show that we can think for ourselves, and still find the gospel convincing.

Just a few ideas.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I went to see Batman: The Dark Knight on Monday, which was absolutely no disappointment. I had wondered if Heath Ledger's role was hyped up a bit given his sad death, but he really was as good as everyone had claimed in the role of the Joker. A scary, incredibly believable "motiveless malignity" as some have called Iago in Shakespeare's Othello. Now that I've puffed off my knowledge of Shakespeare :) I can continue.

The thought popped into my head during the movie at different times: if only the real world could be so black and white, good and evil. If only we could pick the villains out easily and the real problem was deciding how to respond to them. Of course, the real world is sometimes like that, and it's not exactly pleasant to be one of those people, deciding whether to court death or go along with evil. And it's probably a mark of my incredibly easy life (which I should be thankful for) that I sometimes wish life were more difficult. That evil was always tangible to other people, and that there was a clear process of picking sides.

But then I realised, evil does translate from a movie like Batman into this world. They say that the role of the Joker really messed up Heath Ledger, and caused his death. I have no idea how accurate that is, but if it is, there's a picture of the overwhelming darkness of evil that comes through into any life and can take it over. I feel so saddened for a really great actor that he couldn't find the resources to fight this evil but it makes me even more aware of how determinedly evil must be fought, in all our lives, day to day. Darkness is underneath the surface of even the Western, democratic, fairly non-repressive world, but sometimes tricks us into thinking it's not important, or not powerful. That delusion must be fought.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

am I indoctrinated?

Sometimes it's easy to worry that if you hadn't been brought up in a Christian family (which is the case for many Christians, especially in the West), the Christian message would have no appeal for you. Correct me if I'm wrong. Or replace the "you" in that first sentence with "I".

I'm sure there's an element of truth to the idea. It definitely makes it easier in some cases to become a Christian if you've grown up in a Christian family, if you've seen the fruits of a genuine Christian lifestyle, or even, sadly, if you feel pressured to do the same thing as your parents. Growing up hearing stories about Jesus or Bible characters makes it so much easier to understand what the Bible's about, later. Even if this does count to some extent as spoonfeeding, the opposite is true - it's easier to become a Christian when you haven't been spoonfed or indoctrinated in anti-Christian ideas as you grow up.

Besides that idea, though - that everyone is indoctrinated into certain ideas by their parents - it can still be worrying to think that you are perhaps trapped in your worldview, unable to think outside the Christian box.

I met a seven year old girl last night, the daughter of one of the pastors at the student church I attend. She is obviously a smart little kid, quite sensitive, and has grown up hearing Christianity all around her. She showed me her new Bible, which is pink, and the passages she had highlighted. I was especially amused when she told me this was one of her favourite passages:

Egypt shall become a desolation
and Edom a desolate wilderness,
for the violence done to the people of Judah,
because they have shed innocent blood in their land.
But Judah shall be inhabited forever,
and Jerusalem to all generations.
I will avenge their blood,
blood I have not avenged,
for the LORD dwells in Zion. Joel 3:19-21.

:) Rather sweet.

Then she told me she was going to ask her dad a question about something he had said in his sermon on guidance - what exactly was an apostle? She thought maybe it was a bit like in a flock of penguins, some of the strong older male penguins circle round and round the group, keeping the mothers and babies safe.

Well, I'm not sure how theologically correct that is, but this is what it said to me: If a child like this, who has spent her entire life absorbing Christianity, and still hasn't been exposed to much of the other stuff, can come up with an explanation as imaginative yet valid as that, it bodes well for her spiritual autonomy.

There is so much room for imagination within Christianity. One way this reveals itself is in the denominations, although this is often seen as a negative thing that holds us back from unity. But from what I've learnt in my study this year of Stalin's Russia, there's unity and then there's unity. Absolute, unflinching unity of thought and speech is never a good thing among humans, although we can still be the body of Christ, united in our love for him.

Besides that, the Bible is not like a textbook for mathematics; follow these steps and these rules and you will come out with the right interpretation. A single verse can be relevant (in context) to many differing things, without having to cut out all other methods or interpretations.

I would actually say, and I say this thoughtfully, that all my background of studying the Bible has made it a lot easier for me at university to be imaginative in my interpretation of events (History) or writings (English).

Anyway, here's what I think: I am not indoctrinated, although maybe in the past or even now there are things I believe without having thought much about the reasons why. I know my faith is my own. I have an imagination. I can think outside my Christian box. We should all try to get away from believing things "just because" we always have done so. But that doesn't mean our thought is limited any more than the average non-Christian, and perhaps our imagination is even opened up by the things we have been taught in youth.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


I've been reading a memoir lately for my historical research that was written in 1949 by an ex-Communist. Her name's Charlotte Haldane, and the book is called Truth Will Out. She was a rabid Communist in the British Communist Party up until 1941 when she was a war correspondent in Moscow, and figured out the reality of the Soviet situation. She doesn't say what her religious views at the time of writing were, but she includes this poem at the end. To me, it's so expressive of what it must have been like to escape from the ideological clutches of a worldview like Communism into independence of thought. I'm not sure who it's by; she doesn't say, so it could quite possibly be by her.


I have found no wisdom in middle-age,
Nor happiness in youth;
Only one kind of truth
Which is a madness to most men,

But which some have known and recalled
As the sound of music
From a world entered but forsaken

When the cruel hand of habit
Dragged them back
Into the fastnesses of duty.

Bound firmly there, enchained to prison walls
They lay, until they heard once more
The familiar trumpet-call;

And when again those dear, defiant, dangerous notes
Floated out to them from that remote
Wild, happy land --

Then, beating to blood their hands,
They broke chains, hearts, tore down
The pillars to which they were bound,
And leapt, to blessed freedom.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. ... I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8 vv 31-32, 34-36

I was flicking through the channels the other night in the ad breaks of one of my favourite TV shows. No, not a hard-hitting documentary series on climate change, unfortunately. Not a panel of intellectuals discussing world politics, either. Project Runway. :)

Anyway, I was unfortunate enough to run into a show called Moment of Truth on another channel. Has anyone else seen this ghastly attempt to entertain? Basically, the contestant is asked a series of questions in front of their closest friends and family, and if a lie detector confirms they have told the truth, they get closer and closer to winning half a million dollars. It starts off "small"; 'do you still fantasise about people other than your wife?' 'would you break up with your boyfriend if your ex wanted to get back with you?' 'have you ever embezzled money?' Then it gets bigger. 'do you secretly hate your father?' 'have you continued a sexual relationship with someone other than your husband during your marriage?'

Sadly, the answers are often what the show's producers are obviously looking for - shocking.

Aside from the obvious question of why people with big secrets would put themselves into a show like this in the first place, I found myself confused and horrified at the way this show messed with the truth. Yes, what these people were doing was technically being honest - but they were also shaming or breaking the hearts of their loved ones and ruining their own lives in front of millions of people, and then the audience would cheer because they've just won ten grand and their loved ones would hug them with stiff smiles, if things turned out dignified.

To be honest (no pun intended, seriously), I can see why such a show could take off. It's definitely got the voyeurism of successful reality TV, with a nice chunk of moral condemnation thrown in. "My, my," we can say from our living rooms as we salivate in excited horror over someone who has just confessed to some sordid history, "what a disgusting woman. Her poor husband. But at least she's won 100 grand."

Isn't it weird how truth is so unfashionable these days, unless it's in some context like this? And isn't it unavoidable how these "truths" on this TV show have absolutely no power to set a person free? What this show broadcasts as the truth is really a manipulation. There are some secrets that should not be told before an audience of millions, and which should definitely not be told for a nice pay-out of a few thousand dollars. I wonder if the girl who told her husband she would rather be married to her ex is happy now with her twenty-five grand.

People like to quote Jesus' words, "the truth will set you free", in many different contexts. Heck, one of my English lecturers last year wouldn't agree with me that that phrase actually came from the Bible, saying "I don't think Karl Marx would agree with you!" (That's another story, but that was one amusing class.) But at risk of sounding too postmodern, Jesus wasn't talking about just any truth. Yes, there are "truths" outside following Jesus. It's true that I am a sinner and will probably make a whole series of big mistakes throughout my life, most of which I don't want anyone to know about, even for thousands of dollars. However, the truths that are really worth knowing are not sordid confessions of hopeless people, but the truth that Jesus can rise above them, bringing us hope and love and redemption by his blood. That is freedom.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rand Abdel-Qader

This morning in the local newspaper there was a story about a seventeen-year-old Iraqi girl called Rand Abdel-Qader who was murdered a couple of weeks ago by her father and two brothers for the heinous crime of developing a crush on a British soldier. Apparently, "death was the least she deserved". Her father was arrested but released soon after by police who congratulated him on his actions. Here's the interview with her father that I read this morning.

I know honour killings aren't unusual. But something about this made me so angry. I voiced my opinions loudly to my father who reminded me that I should try to understand that other people have different beliefs. Which is probably a good principle normally...

...but I have absolutely no intention of respecting beliefs that would allow this. Have Rand's beliefs been respected, or her basic rights?

This is where I think postmodernism and relativism are just so useless. If Rand's father's beliefs are just as valuable as mine or hers, where does Rand stand now?

Okay, so if we want Rand's father and people like him to ever change their minds, we obviously can't browbeat them and say we're better than them and that they're just wrong. I know. But that doesn't mean I have to pay them lip service.

I can't help thinking how lucky I am to have grown up in a Christian home. How lucky I am to know Jesus. How superior the teaching of Jesus is to anything I've ever come across before. It sounds so... arrogant of me to say that but when I look at the world I can't help comparing it to Jesus. I'm no expert on ancient society but I would guess it's just as or more harsh on women in iffy situations as Rand's father was on her. And yet Jesus is seen throughout the gospels defending the defenceless, the women caught in adultery, the down-and-outers, the sinners, the victims of repressive societies, protecting them from men who would judge them, stone them, and belittle them. I love him for that and I don't ever want to stop being angry when women like Rand are tormented. But I also want to do something about it. God allows us anger - but he doesn't let us stew in it. How can I do something about the fate of women like Rand? I feel incredibly challenged.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

faith and rationality

I feel like all my recent God is Nice blog posts recently have been titled with word pairs - not opposites - but things that it's hard to figure out the relationship of. Science and Christianity. Foolishness and wisdom. Now, faith and rationality.

Somewhere in my list of Top Five Things I Love About Honours, there is a bullet point reading "New Friends". For the first time, I've made real friends at uni, in my classes. I see the others, and a few people in particular, so much that it would be hard not to. Before, you might sort of get to know people a little over a semester but when the semester finished, you'd go your separate ways quite happily.

Because I'm pretty open about saying things like "Going to church" when people ask me what I'm doing this Sunday, most of the people I see lots have figured out I'm a Christian ("Gary" of "foolishness and wisdom" fame has not yet!). And because the three people I get on best with are very very open people, respectful of my right to hold different beliefs and aware that I won't trash theirs, we've already had quite a few "talks" about God, life, the universe, everything. It's great and I love it!

In doing so, though, something has come up that I haven't had to consider so much in the past. As you'd expect, in an intellectual environment what is really important for my fellow Honourees is being able to explain why I believe what I do. And I agree; there is absolutely no point being a Christian if you can't say why.

However, I realised today - logic is just not enough. I can explain why I think the Bible is historically accurate and I can explain why I think the Christian belief system is reasonable and valid. I think I should do this - intelligent people need to hear it. I can rationalise to my heart's content. But that doesn't explain why I have faith.

I have faith for emotional and experiential reasons. I have faith because I am so, so grateful that Jesus died for me, miserable little scum that I am, because he loves me. I have faith because nothing philosophers could rationalise or scientists could prove has the emotional or imaginative power of the gospel. And (shock horror) I can't prove this.

[Imagine a lightbulb going on in my head] And I don't need to prove it! The power of the gospel is not in logical argument! The people in my class admit themselves that not everything can be explained or rationalised or put in our little boxes, so why must I try and do that? There is a point where rationality loses its power, beyond which it cannot go - does that mean we give up? No! We use imagination, we use emotion, we use experience, to go beyond it.

As always, realising the limit of my capabilities is a relief. The work is done by the Holy Spirit. I only have to testify what I know. And what I know is that Jesus loves me. Hooray!

Monday, April 14, 2008

science and Christianity

On Sunday at church (the one I go to on campus), I was chatting to an old woman who is just about the only non-student, non-young person to go there. She seems like a very interesting and sensible person, but then we had this weird conversation.

She found out I was living with my dad, and asked what his interests are.

I say, "Rocks and wood." [My father would hasten to say he has many other interests, but I would like to add that I have never seen him so animated as when he talks about rocks and wood.]

"What?!" she says.

"Well, geology," I explain.

"And he's a Christian?"


She looks very surprised. "And how does he reconcile geology with Christianity?"

I'm a little taken aback. "Er, God made rocks too."

How weird is that? I mean, I know a lot of people in the Church have a problem with the way science seems to be attacking them these days, but you'd think their point of view would be that science does not contradict faith. Whereas this woman seemed to think that if anyone was interested in rocks or wood they'd come across insurmountable obstacles to Christianity.

I like that in my family there are a lot of scientists, some of whom are very distinguished, who are also Christians, and that they don't feel their faith is fundamentally threatened by the things they study in the world around them. I am totally uninterested in science in general, but with all the Richard Dawkinses in the world it's nice to know that theirs are not the only qualified points of view to be had.

So why does the Church seem to shoot itself in the foot sometimes by suggesting that science and Christianity cannot go together?

Friday, April 04, 2008

foolishness and wisdom

This afternoon I was studying in the honours room when two of the other students came in, in the middle of a conversation. One of them, who majored in philosophy as well as history in his undergrad degree, was in the middle of saying how remarkably similar Judaism, Christianity and Islam are. I'm not sure if I can remember the flow of the conversation perfectly, but here are some of the other things he said. He thinks if following a religion makes someone feel better about life, well, that's nice and not a bad thing. He likes meeting a devout atheist just as much as a devout Christian so he can "rip their argument open". Then they left the room again.

I didn't jump in. I didn't tell him what I thought of his argument. I kept my head down and pretended to be busy highlighting, because I don't like it when people jump into my conversations. But I wanted to jump up and shout to the world what I thought!

I couldn't study for about half an hour afterwards because I just felt so tense. Here's what I did.

1) Formulated exactly what I would say to him. (Let's call him... Gary.)

a) Re Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Gary, I think most Christians would agree that there are some similarities. Especially given that Christianity was born out of Judaism. However, sharing a moral code and the idea of one God is not really the crucial factor. We believe that some things are right and wrong, yes, and we also believe that many of these things are natural or widely accepted laws that were written into Creation. If other religions recognise these natural laws, well, they're just recording the obvious truth that in general it is better to love than to hate, it is better to forgive than to murder, etc etc. However, the thing that Christianity is based around is not a moral code (although that's an important stepping stone to faith) but a historical event, a person whom we call God in the flesh. And that most crucial element of Christianity happens to be the part that Muslims and Jews just cannot accept. I, for one, did not accept Ethics or Monotheism as my Lord and Saviour. Get it?!

b) Following Christianity is not my little crutch I carry around with me to help me get over Life. Christianity makes life harder. I feel happier most of the time, but I also have to deal with people like you, Gary, psychoanalyzing me or making fun of me or, if I were in a different country, persecuting me or putting me in prison or torturing or killing me for my faith. Christianity gives me a permanent conscience that asks me to abstain from things that are difficult to abstain from, and to do things that are risky, embarrassing, selfless or downright dangerous to do. Doesn't make for an easy life! I will admit that Christianity is about the only thing I can have hope in. In that way, yes, Christianity improves my life. Is that too naive for you, Gary?

c) You say you enjoy meeting a devout Christian (or a devout atheist) so you can rip our arguments open, Gary. Little reminder: Having done three years of Philosophy courses at university doesn't make you omniscient, just arrogant. Just because you have acquired a knack of saying "but what do you mean by truth/fact/believe/insert word here" to everything anyone argues does not mean you have "ripped their argument to shreds". Just because you are quite happy taking the middle ground doesn't mean you haven't got your own position to defend.

2) I paced around for a little while.

3) I got out paper and a pen and wrote down my favourite Bible passage in phonetics. In this case the Bible passage is very very relevant. (And I did it in phonetics because I love writing things in phonetics. No relevance.) This is it:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
The intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18-24.

4) Made myself a cup of tea, then went home.

5) Played the piano and sung very loudly, then put my Jacques Loussier Trio CD into the stereo and turned it up loud. Blogged [current].

I can't wait till Gary figures out that I'm a Christian.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


As I said on my latest post on my other blog - "Voices" - things are going really well for me right now. I'm suddenly really happy and I've never worked harder, two things I didn't think could occur in conjunction. Maybe I'm not as lazy as I thought I was!

I guess there's something about being busy that makes sitting down to watch TV such a luxury, or going for a walk so refreshing, or playing a board game with some friends so much fun.

But it's not just that, I for some reason feel in such a good place with God. That doesn't mean I'm suddenly getting my a into g and reading my Bible every day or minding my temper every moment etc etc. But when I feel happy, I thank him for it, and when I think of someone who needs prayer, I actually pray. And suddenly he feels so much more constant in my life. I know he's been there all along and I've always known that, but he seems much more tangible.

And - sorry to keep harping on about this being postgraduate thing - I think realising now that I've made it through my undergrad degree has been a real boost. I've made it through the pressure that university can be on Christian faith, made it through the pressure English classes especially were, and have come out a stronger, more real Christian than I was before. I've made it through Mum's death and though I don't think that will ever get easier (I miss her every single day), I do know that it can't swallow me up now.

I know this won't last forever. I'm not the type of person who thinks being happy is being interesting. I'm afraid sometimes I engineer my own moods. Then there will be other times when stuff goes wrong in my life and it will be sad. That's inevitable. So I'm praying that I can hold onto the way I feel about God and the way I am turning to him now even when I can't hold onto the fleeting joy-of-living that has me in its grip right now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

across eras

I was driving out of town tonight after meeting some friends for coffee, and briefly along Manchester St which is the street every city has that is notorious for prostitutes. It's a Tuesday night but I saw a few women standing on corners, felt very grim, and said a prayer for them.

It made me think a bit. The other day I met one of the masters students in the history department, and of course, as we postgrad students do (note that oh-so-subtle pride), we asked each other what we were doing our research on. Bladebladeblah, said I. Male prostitution, said she. Apparently since the rise of feminism, prostitutes have been emancipated, while male prostitutes are still stigmatized. I realise that this could be an interesting and valuable contribution to human knowledge, but really! Emancipated?!

What is wrong with our world? Women are out there standing on a street corner in short skirts waiting for dodgy old men to drive past, pick them up, and purchase them. Probably the victims of about half the murders in our town are prostitutes. Oh yes, feminism is the salvation of those women. They can really respect themselves now. Why not call them public servants?

They call it the oldest profession, and this confirms two things I have decided:
1) There's no such thing as the "good old days". Things change, yes, but underneath whatever particular veneer society chooses to wear on the surface, underneath is the gutter. Things have always been like this and humans have always had a tendency to scumminess. We have not degenerated, we have only become more open about our general scumminess.
2) There's no such thing as historical progress either. The world has always been backward and stunted and no matter how many theories or technology or miracle cures we invent, utopia on our own steam is a fuzzy dream that can never become a reality. On a personal level we may learn from our mistakes, but on an all-humanity kind of level we just keep on keeping on. Screwing up. Exploiting, objectifying, and taking advantage of the dire need of another human being to gain a fleeting selfish pleasure.

A Salvation Army worker my mum once spoke to said a prostitute she had made friends with finally agreed to come to church with her one day. She took her to an inner-city "liberal" church where she thought the woman would feel more comfortable. Sitting in the pews with his wife and kids was one of the prostitute's regular customers.

The world doesn't change, people don't change, there is a blackness at the core of humanity that doesn't go away. It's pervasive, it's frightening, it's across all eras and across all the world. I can see it in myself, and I saw it there from a very young age. The world doesn't corrupt us, we corrupt the world.

A negative picture? Yes. But the sooner we realise this, the better. Screw this politically correct crap that there can be such a thing as an emancipated prostitute. Prostitution has nothing but darkness and imprisonment at its heart. It's a reflection of our world, our dark, evil world.

And yet, somehow, God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. (John 3:16-21)

What a God we have. What a love. He is the only hope we have. What is below is the only real emancipation we can ever experience.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion--
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
(Isaiah 61:1-3)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

God is nice but sometimes I am not

I just want to vent.

Why is it that:

a) there is this perpetual Christian need to show people that Christians can have fun too? It mostly manifests itself in forcing people to play games in which you have to imitate an egg, a chicken, a cow, a gorilla and a model. Or, hopping a short distance with a clothes-peg between your knees and trying to drop it into a milk carton. (Yes, this has happened to me in the last week.) It's not fun, unless you're maybe twelve or below! I resent being made to feel like a spoilsport who has no fun because I don't think going to a Bible study group means I have committed myself to stupid games I don't enjoy!

b) being a Christian means for some people that we have to be constantly crinkly-eyed (in Adrian Plass's words) and bushy tailed? And have to talk about how [insert study group name here] has changed our lives?

The Christian group of which I have been a member at university for three years is cranking up again for the year, and I have had enough already. I have tried and tried and tried to fit in, and I can't. I just don't think it's possible to make an effort to enjoy myself, or to become BFFs with people I can hardly speak to. The studies themselves have always been good but everything else has always been a constant struggle and I'm sick of it. I don't want to go on a camp people say is going to be so much fun because we have to take old clothes and get very messy.

It goes deeper for me. Something happened two years ago that almost destroyed my trust in the people there. Let's just say I am not interested in friendship that entails everyone having a jolly good time while things coast along smoothly, but as soon as something goes wrong in someone's life, well, silence and avoidance is the best option.

I'm not happy. I want to define that a little more, because I feel like I love God more than ever, and depend on him more than ever, and he gets me through every day. I say that without hesitation. But quite often I wish I could just skip all this annoying life stuff and go straight to heaven. There is a deeper joy, that God has accepted me despite all my shortcomings and that I am valuable to him as I am. But I don't sit comfortably among other people and I can't be a cheery bouncy happy-happy person. To be at this group means for me at least that I have to go hooray! life's a blast! all the time without any real meaning behind it. The group is not set up for unhappy people, and I think that what happened to me two years ago has really disabled me from settling in there. I have Issues (I hate that word but it's true) and I can't sort them out there.

There are a few people there I'd be really sorry to say goodbye to. But I don't think leaving would mean they're out of my life forever.

So. I have had enough of being negative. I am not going back to the group. It really is a wonderful group for a certain type of person. But it is pulling me down. I need a change. I want to start going to a Bible study with my new church, which is affiliated with a different Christian group and is full of people who made me feel welcome and a part of them as soon as I stepped in the door.

Monday, February 25, 2008

to be convinced

Sometimes in the past I have not felt very sure of myself as a Christian. I thought that I didn't understand enough yet about God's eternal forgiveness and love. Which is probably true. Can anyone really ever understand it entirely? But I had one of those lightning bolt moments last night when I suddenly realised that that's not really what I was worried about. I know that God will always be faithful, I know that he will always stick around, and I know that there's no need for me to worry about him abandoning me.

What I was worried about was myself. I am such a weak person. Now, most people I know may not realise this, because I don't let myself yield to temptation that people might find out about. On the other hand, if no one but God and I know or could know, I give in much more easily and quickly. And then feel terrible about it fifteen minutes later. Beyond the stuff I do, there's the stuff I think. Doubts (which I have talked about on here before), mean thoughts, unloving thoughts... I don't really have a beautiful mind. Some of this stuff might sound so mild to a lot of people, and I don't want to be one of those falsely humble people who confess their wickedness just to make everyone else feel bad about their own actions which are far worse. Like a song on my ipod, by Christian comedian Marcel Currin...

"I'm humble, and I love it,
It makes me feel so proud to know I'm humble,
When I do something good (which admittedly I do quite a lot)
I keep my head from swelling,
And make sure everybody knows I'm humble!

Take your eyes off my life,
It just reminds me of my excellence;
I'm sharing my ability ('showing off' is such an ugly phrase)
I'm nothing but a servant,
But to others I'm a good example, I'm humble!"

Okay, so that was a detour from the topic - but I love that song and just wanted to share it :)

Anyway: having spent all this time studying how people behave under totalitarian regimes, I keep thinking, how would I act? It really worries me when I see how easily I yield to anything in my ordinary easy cushy life in which I really should have no worries. I know now how unfair it is to judge the actions of normal people in terrible positions like Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, because I can see that so many of them were very much like myself. I don't expect to be in the same position as them at any time in my life, and I very much hope I will not be - but I think, God has given me such a cushy life, and what am I doing with it that is any more admirable than some of the people who failed to do the right thing during much tougher times?

So - I have felt for a long time very undeserving of God's grace and love. And I've seen other people falling away from him. And it was worrying.

But I feel like now I'm slowly coming to know, very firmly, that it is not MY strength that is important. I can't predict the future. But I know that God will always be in mine. I also know I will change my mind about a lot of things, doctrines, ideas. But God will always be my God. I know I mentioned this a few posts ago, but I love the song "In Christ Alone" by Stuart Townend, and especially these lines - "no power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand". The first time I sang those - wow. What an encouragement. It was sudden, a blinding vision. Despite all the stuff I'm not sure about, "I am his and he is mine", and he is never going to let me fall.

That gives me a lot of comfort as I go back to university this year. I meet weekly with other Christian students at church and at Navigators, but around uni and in my classes I am surrounded by people who think I'm indoctrinated or delusional or repressed, or, at best, idealistic. The things they say about the Church or the history of the Church or Christians might give me food for thought, but they can never separate me from the love of Christ. He's bigger than all of them.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

new for me

I have joined a new church. This is the website. It's on campus and is on Sunday evenings, so I can keep going to my family church in the mornings - which suits everyone. Yay! The first service was tonight, as it's an entirely new church, organised by the campus Christian Union, and I really enjoyed it. People were so friendly. Sermon good - even if I didn't agree with it all I like having to think about stuff, in this case, predestination. Music good. All good.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

songs for the moment

I must have written so many blog posts on my other blog about music by now, so it's time to do the same on here. For some reason, I've been getting quite a lot of hymns or Christian songs revolving round in my head the last little while. This is the main one so it comes first:

In Christ Alone, by Stuart Townend. I haven't known this for very long but I love everything about it:
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save
'Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
'Till he returns, or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

This song has got everything. A lovely and very singable tune. The full gospel message. When I sing it I feel like I am declaring my testimony, but at the same time I am being encouraged and reinforced in those beliefs, as if it were a two-way conversation. I especially love that line in the last verse - No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand. Exactly what I need to remember sometimes, and exactly what I want to declare to the world. I love love love it! I've been sitting at the piano all night singing it loudly, as well as another Stuart Townend song, How Deep the Father's Love for Us.

I've also been singing Once Again, by Matt Redman, quite a bit. I'm not sure why, but this song gave me a lot of comfort when my mum was dying, especially the second verse -
(v1) Jesus Christ, I think upon your sacrifice,
You became nothing, poured out to death.
Many times, I've wondered at Your gift of life,
And I'm in that place once again.

(c) Once again I look upon the cross where You died
I'm humbled by your mercy and I'm broken inside
Once again I thank you,
Once again I pour out my life.

(v2) Now You are exalted to the highest place,
King of the heavens, where one day I'll bow.
But for now, I marvel at this saving grace,
And I'm full of praise once again.

When I sing that now, sometimes I can't even bring myself to put voice to the second verse because I remember what it meant to me at the time - I suppose it was my refusal to allow the circumstances to stop me seeing how God dealt to death or to stop me thanking him - but I play the piano with all I've got. I'm even grateful, then, for this song showing me that music itself is praise. People say that the words are all that matter, and I understand the principle, but I think the music matters too. Why sing if we could just talk? Music is praise in action. Music goes where words can't go.

A hymn now, by Charles Wesley - And can it be. You may know this, as it's one of the more popular hymns, but you may not. I want to write the entire thing out but it's FIVE VERSES, so here are my favourites:
(v1) And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour's blood?
Died he for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

(v3) He left His Father's throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race;
'Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.

(v4) Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

The tune for this song is very BOLD, very climactic, perfect for a hymn like this. Unfortunately it's usually way too high for my alto voice but it's such an inspirational song to sing.

I also love When I Survey the Wondrous Cross and It is Well With my Soul, but the other song I especially want to mention here is Jesus, Lover of my Soul, also by Charles Wesley. (NB: I like this best with the Aberystwyth tune.)
Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah, leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenceless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.

So many songs that we sing these days and in the past are so relentlessly happy. My dad found a horror that went something like "Monday I am happy, Tuesday full of joy, Wednesday there are springs within the devil can't destroy, Thursday.... ETC ETC". You know the type. This song is very minor key, almost desperate in tone, and I love it. Sometimes I think songwriters forget the existence of the psalms, unless they're the uber-happy psalms. Sometimes we are given songs to sing in church that I don't feel like I can honestly sing. This song is a reminder that life is not a breeze but that is all the more reason to sing to God.

Here endeth the blog post.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

by any other name

This is a post on death - just for a novel change in Allie's preoccupation (not).

Basically I am just intending here to quote a few things I've read recently. The first was in chapter one of Philip Yancey's book Finding God in Unexpected Places.

One night Donna, a member of the Make Today Count group [for terminally ill patients], told about watching a television program on the public service station. In the program, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross discussed a boy in Switzerland who was dying of an inoperable brain tumor. Kübler-Ross asked him to draw a picture of how he felt.
He drew a large, ugly military tank, and behind the tank he drew a small house
with trees, grass, sunshine, and an open window. In front of the tank, just at
the end of the gun barrel, he drew a tiny figure with a red stop sign in his
hand. Himself.

Donna said that picture captured her feelings precisely. Kübler-Ross had
gone on to describe the five stages of grief, culminating in the stage of
acceptance. And Donna knew she was supposed to work toward acceptance. But she
could never get past the stage of fear. Like the little boy in front of the
tank, she saw death as an enemy.

Someone brought up religious faith and belief in an afterlife, but the
comment evoked the same response in Make Today Count as it had in Amnesty
International: a long silence, a cleared throat, a few rolled eyes. The rest of
the evening, the group focused on how Donna could overcome her fears and grow
toward the acceptance stage of grief.

I left that meeting with a heavy heart. Our materialistic, undogmatic
culture was asking its members to defy their deepest feelings. Donna and the
small Swiss boy with the brain tumor had, by sheer primal instinct, struck upon
a cornerstone of Christian theology. Death is an enemy, a grievous enemy, the
last enemy to be destroyed. How could members of a group that each month saw
families fall apart and bodies deteriorate before their eyes still wish for a
spirit of bland acceptance? I could think of only one appropriate response to
Donna’s impending death: Curse you, death!

This excerpt was (a) somewhat of a relief and (b) a breath of fresh air - for me. Hooray - at last someone is acknowledging that death is horrible and dark and ugly and those are not strong enough words. Death is not something that is designed to be "gotten over" or placated. It'll hit you hard between the eyes when you least expect it, whether it's your own or someone else's.

This is where the next piece of writing comes in - a poem by Adrian Plass in his novel An Alien at St Wilfred's, which I've also copied out on another blog of mine, Another Grief Observed.

What do we do about death?
We don't -
The monster is hidden away.
It's not in the zoo for the public to view
The look on its face would empty the place
We don't want to die, the people would cry
Death is the curse in the back of the hearse
We don't need to see it today.

What do we do about death?
We don't -
We shovel it under the ground
Under the sod and hope there's a God
Whose principles bend at the bitterest end
Or we burn it away, and whispering say
Death is the scream at the end of the dream
There isn't a lonelier sound.

What do we do about death?
We don't -
We don't even give it a name
He's gone before to a distant shore
She's passed away, we gloomily say,
He's fallen asleep in a terminal heap.
Death is the spear that is poisoned with fear
It pierces the heart of the game.

What do we do about death?
We don't -
But once in the angry sun
A winner was slain at the centre of pain
When a battle was fought at the final resort
But because of the cross it was fought without loss
And death is the knife that will free us for life
Because of what Jesus has done.

And I think everything I want to say is in that poem.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


So, the last little while I've been assailed by all these doubts. I don't think I need to go into them as they are only too unoriginal - but sometimes I feel like I am literally battling them, whenever I am alone. I've always been ashamed by doubt, like I can't speak about it, but as I get older they get more difficult to handle and I realise that a lot of other people are in the same boat. A little voice comes into my head - it speaks much more clearly than my normal thoughts do - suggesting that this is ridiculous and unlikely and then I get caught up in a brain storm of 'is that my own voice or the devil's?', 'do I really believe?', etc etc. Sometimes I wish I had to undergo a little persecution because it's much easier to identify evil to resist when it comes at you plainly; evil wears a subtle garment in our Western world.

I was sitting in church today thinking about how annoying I find myself. I have seen more than enough to decide for myself that God is there and that he revealed himself through Christ. But somehow it all comes to naught when doubts come into my mind. And I worry that I will spend my entire life fighting those doubts.

But then we read a few verses in the service that really encouraged me. (And that's what church is for, right?)

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. Ephesians 1vv15-19.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Romans 8vv31-33.

The remembrance of God's love for me is a powerful thing. The remembrance that Jesus is at God's side right now, fighting for me, is something a little more than encouragement. The remembrance that if I ask it of him, God will reward me with answers and wisdom and understanding, is hope. As I sat thinking about these verses, another little voice spoke in my mind, this time a different one: You are someone who has to fight for understanding, who will not be content with blindness - and that's a good thing.

Sure, in a few hours I will probably dismiss the voice as my own or a figment of my imagination - but I want to write it down now for me to remember. God gave me my personality, he gave me the people I grew up around and the things that have influenced me. He doesn't need me to be a clone of those amazing Christians who understand everything right away and stay steadfast every moment of their lives (if, in fact, they exist). I suspect that if I fight hard enough I will be a better witness for my Father than if I had never had to struggle at all.

So, on a different note, this is what I do when I start getting worried by it all:

1) I read the Bible. My favourite bits, bits I've never read before, bits I've never understood just to get my mind active - anything.

2) I read a few authors who form my unit of Surefire Protection from Idiocy. One is C. S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters is especially relevant when I start noticing the little voice. Mere Christianity is another good'un which I wish I could memorise and recall at opportune moments. And the Narnia Chronicles are old favourites. The other author I read is Adrian Plass. He's a British guy who writes books about Christians who are flawed, funny and REAL. Instant reality check, instant encouragement and inspiration. A favourite is The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, Aged 37 and 3/4, but just about any of his books will do.

3) I listen to, or play, music. Mendelssohn's Hear My Prayer or Handel's Messiah are my most common choices on the piano for this purpose. I like listening to Brooke Fraser or Jars of Clay a lot in these times, but my very favourite is my brother, Russell. He has made a few CDs over the year, as the muso of the family - he writes amazing Christian lyrics, plays and composes all the music, and sings too. He's really good. He gave me his most recent work when I visited him in Malaysia in November, and there is a song on that called "Every Living Thing", based on the words of Psalm 148. It is such a joyful song and every time I listen to it I can't help but be infected with the joy of the song and I want to jump around shouting - usually I don't but you get the idea. I wish I could share it with whoever reads this but I don't have Russell's permission. His other music too - maybe it's that we're in the same family but he writes about things that come up so often in my head that almost all his songs are miracle cures for me. And I'm just a little bit proud of him too. :)

4) I'm an amateur historian and so I start thinking about what happened around New Testament times. I try to think of Jesus not as some faraway concept but as a real man I could have touched or seen with my eyes if I lived then. I think of the disciples and try to imagine being in their place, and I look at how they behaved. To me, the transformation of the disciples after the resurrection of Christ is the most tangible proof I could offer as to the reality of the resurrection. Eleven woebegone, scared men who doubt Jesus and deny him, suddenly become men who proclaim what has happened from the rooftops and will do anything to pass on the message. Almost all of them die for their Saviour. I'm aware that some people who aren't as thrilled by history as I am won't find that a compelling argument - but I do.
I also read books like The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel during doubtful times.

5) I start praying in the way easiest to me - by writing. I get lost very quickly if I try to pray in my head and I stray into cliche very easily if I pray out loud in front of people.

How do you combat doubts?

Saturday, January 05, 2008


I blogged here a little while ago about how I was agonising over whether to move on from my childhood church or not when I got back to New Zealand. Now I'm back, I've been back to church a few times, and now I know - I have to move on.

It seemed when I was away that not all that much important stuff was happening to me, but now when I go to my church here, I feel so different. I hesitate to say that I've outgrown my church like I would an old jersey - but I think I can tentatively quote Stacy in saying that at RBC I feel like a mitten and everyone else is a glove, or was it the other way round? Or perhaps I could explain it someway else by stating the facts: I love the people at my church but they are at completely different stages of life to me. Coming back reinforces what I already knew, that while I can do basic things for them like play the piano, I am not getting the support that I need, and until I get that support, I can't do anything for The Church (by which I mean that thing that even the gates of Hell will not prevail against) which actually matters in the long run. I felt very unChristian admitting this before - shouldn't it be all about what I can give and not what I can receive? - but now it just seems so obvious to me that I have to leave that I am not going to apologise for it.

Phew. So now I just have to break it to them.