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Sunday is Remembrance Day here in the UK. At school, tomorrow would have been the day we were all shipped off to the local war memorial to sing O God Our Help In Ages Past and I, as the token Christian, was asked to read the lesson from Romans. This Sunday,  I will be singing in a performance of Howells’ Requiem and listening to readings from the Bible at the church where I worked and worship. But this year is also the year that I find myself working for a peacemaking charity, campaigning for an end to war and the adoption of a philosophy of non-violence. I still think a “day to remember” is a good thing, but I worry that we’re remembering the wrong things.

War isn’t glamorous and it isn’t noble. We dress it up in uniform and ceremony but we can’t hide from reality. War is destruction, slaughter and death. Soldiers don’t do drills on the front line, they shoot people. They don’t troop the colour or form the neat solemn lines we see in Remembrance Day parades, they kill. Don’t mistake me, I think the British army is full of brave and honourable men and women, who demonstrate huge amounts of courage in the face of adversity. But that doesn’t let us escape the fact that armed conflict is a bloody and chaotic business. We must remember that.

We are also stuck in a place, sold to us in no small part by the media, that tells us that our forces are somehow different to the forces we fight. We’re asked to remember the sacrifice of our soldiers as if they were a different substance to the men and women they confront. This is untrue and unjust. We fight other humans. An anti-war poster in the 1930’s read “Mothers, don’t let your sons kills other mother’s sons”. There are people in this world perpetuating great evil, and one of those evils is war, we must always remember that whether or not we believe we have right on our side, when we participate in war we participate in that evil. We are no different to the other side. Their fighting is no more horrific than ours, and ours no more clean. The death of their soldiers is as keen a loss as the death of ours, and as many weep for them as weep for us. Their lives are worth as much. We have to remember this as well, the lives of all those whom war has stolen.

It is not only our soldiers who die, who are repatriated with ceremony and grief, who are brought back heroes, but the soldiers of those we fight too, who lie shot and dismembered, as dead as those in a coffin in England, honoured with hymns and silence.

And we must  never forget those whom war sweeps along, unasked, unwanted and unwelcome. Those children and civilians who are killed asleep in their beds, running down the street or those who are burnt, raped and mutilated. Those who never asked to be at war, who never asked for fighting and who never wanted to witness the pain and destruction of violent conflict.

And mostly we must never forget that the violence of war grows ever more terrifying and ever more sinister. Gone are the days when soldiers fought face to face, each equal in pain and misery. Those days were truly awful. But now, we are content to confine that experience to the enemy alone, launching drones safe from our army bases at home and killing civilians and militants alike, reduced to dots of thermo-recognition on a screen.

Remember, the enemy is human. The enemy are no different to us.

**
Please check out my current work project that petitions the government for an end to the use of armed drones- dronesquilt.wordpress.com

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We believe everyone is created equal in worth and dignity in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We also believe that everyone has a calling and purpose to fulfil that will raise up God’s kingdom and the life of the Church (Jeremiah 29:11). However, although  we believe everyone is created equally and that God loves both men and women with equal compassion they are intrinsically different and there are some limitations on who can take on which roles in the church. We believe this to be what Scripture shows forth. Because the Church is the Bride of Christ (Song of Songs) we believe that the office of leading that Church is only for women. Men may act in an advisory role but women are to be the place of final authority, making doctrinal and infrastructural decisions, just as the Biblical example of Deborah and Barak (Judges 4-5), Esther and Haman (Esther), and the personification of wisdom as woman consistently in the Old Testament. We also believe that since Jesus chose to reveal Himself first to Mary and Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:8-10) and since this revelation was initially rejected by His male disciples (Luke 24:11) it is to be solely the responsibility of women to hear God’s saving revelation and communicate it to the congregation.

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All Christian blogs are required BY LAW to post about Lent. Yus.

I’m naturally drawn to the dramatic so I love the seasons of Lent and Advent with all their symbolism and powerful narrative. The stripping of the altars, the ripping of the curtain on Maundy Thursday, the Stations of the Cross (I’m curating some travelling stations at work at them moment and am A BIG FAN), dawn communion on Easter Sunday, purple as a colour of mourning and rich language in ancient prayers. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m celebrating sin. I don’t think it does. I think tradition and ceremony resonate strongly for me at these times of year. I love the extravagance of our ceremony, it doesn’t seem to be empty ritual to me; it is an exciting and mysterious preparation for the glory of Easter day. It is weighty and serious. This is perhaps out-of-sync for someone who feels called to Methodism as I do, with its simplicity of architecture and service style but I think that my flair for drama and my love of symbolic action can be best expressed (for me) in relative austerity of style.

The Stations of the Cross have been inspiring. I’ve done lots of research to write the guide for our congregation and found the idea of devotion using them as aids incredibly helpful and challenging. The Stations are 14 images (usually but not always- see here http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15569a.htm) detailing Christ’s journey to the Cross. They are a Catholic observance initially but have transcended denomination and can be found in Anglican and Methodist churches as well as non-denominational institutions. Usually they end in the entombment so Easter Sunday becomes like a climax to the Lenten contemplation of them by celebrating the Resurrection. They are often positioned around the sanctuary of a Church so that you can perform a physical pilgrimage between them. The Passion is an incredible story and the chance to reflect on it as a chronological narrative, stopping to meditate on each stage is an immensely powerful experience. It gives you a sense of spiritual and physical journey and the reality of what happened on Good Friday. It focuses forward to the Resurrection, every station points to the glory of God and the glory of new life, we move closer to the mystery of salvation when we reflect on the mystery of sacrifice. When we contemplate on Christ’s sorrow that defeated death we can look upwards to the life that that buys us. If you are able, find some Stations in a church near you and go and sit in their presence for a while. Immerse yourself in the great love that is manifest in those images. Remind yourself of death so that we can celebrate life! If you fancy something more challenging, see if you can find images of Cazalet’s Stations (they’re on display at the New Room in Bristol if you can get there). The stations are the traditional sequence but set in West London- Christ’s crucifixion for example is His body strung up on a lamppost and His scourging is a beating from a football hooligan.

When we reflect on how far we have walked from God we can be reminded of how far He went to get us back.

Some Lent resources I like/think are useful:

http://www.christianaid.org.uk/getinvolved/lent-2012/download-resources.aspx

http://www.biblesociety.org.uk/support-us/ygtt-2010/

http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/

http://methodist.org.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=opentogod.bibleStudy

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There’s plenty of stuff out there about Driscoll and I’m sure you don’t need any more! But, one of the reasons I write this blog is to get out some of the pent up feelings, passions and reactions I have and make them coherent-ish and so, since I care deeply about the damage I see him doing, I guess maybe I’ll blog about it.

Let me go on record as saying all that needs to be said is said here- http://cognitivediscopants.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/driscoll-brierley-on-women-in-leadership/.

I just want to pick out a couple of things from this interview that Driscoll did with a British journalist, Justin Brierley. Firstly, Driscoll asks Brierley how many young men attend his church (which is pastored by a woman, his wife in fact). When Brierley replies that probably not as many as Driscoll would like, Driscoll says  “are you okay with that? Do you think that’s the best way to go?” later asking Brierley whether any of the men who are in attendance are “strong men”. Driscoll then goes on to say that the reason for this “failure” is the gender of the pastor. Since when did Church success depend on the number of young and masculine men in attendance? Sure, we need to be engaging men who are often a neglected demographic but this isn’t the arbiter of spiritual success! Is a church full of young men intrinsically better than a loving, Christ-centred, spirit-filled community, whose demographic balance may not reflect fashionable target groups, despite potential spiritual abuses, scaremongering and misogyny.  A pastor hasn’t failed or otherwise purely based on the percentage of men in their congregation and indeed Brierley says “Since she’s (my wife’s) come, lots of new families, lots of younger people, both men and women, have come… it’s certainly a lot better than it ever was. And so I don’t necessarily see quite the same situation that you paint there in terms of men not relating. I see more men in the church since she’s been there than before she was there”. I often wonder if Driscoll considers the message he sends out to young women with his constant ridicule of feminization and the inherently negative image he paints of “female” characteristics in relation to the Church. Its not easy to hear that the Church needs to stop being like you and start being like me. you’re kind makes the Church weak and limp, mine makes it strong and Godly. What is he sacrificing at the altar of male relevance?

Driscoll then asks who counsels men with issues related to sex in the church in question. Brierley counters that by asking who counsels women in Driscoll’s church. Apparently Brierley’s answer “male elders” is somehow totally inferior to Driscoll’s “female elders”. Am I missing something???? For serious???? I have always been uncomfortable with Driscoll’s obsession with sex and his need to relate everything to his idea of paradigmatic masculine/feminine roles. Its tiresome from a pastoral point of view and it’s distracting. Even if this were not so, it disturbs me greatly that handing men over to subservient men for counselling is not ok but handing women over to subservient women for counselling is. Its double standards, it has nothing to do with gender-specific leadership.  He “justifies” this by saying “It does. It depends on your view of God. Is God like a mom who just embraces everyone? Or is he like a father who also protects, and defends, and disciplines?” This kind of caricaturing is super helpful. If by super helpful you mean TERRIBLE!

Surely now is the time to stand up and say that this man is preaching a dangerous and harmful doctrine that has no place in the Church and the family of believers. A good friend of mine on facebook summed it up thus: heresy. I agree.

Rant over. Sorry.

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Today, I want to mention some of the female characters in the Bible. Far from being shy, retiring, distant or acting as accessories, they play a vital and vibrant role in God’s plan. They defy, they fight and they don’t accept the status quo. In cultures that limited women, they hear God’s call and respond, breaking barriers, claiming their rights and freedoms and serving Him.

Rahab (Joshua 2)- Rahab is a prostitute who is the only righteous person in Jericho deemed wise and trustworthy enough to protect Joshua’s men. She alone is spared when the city is razed, protected for her loyalty and her faith. Without her, the city would have been lost.

Deborah (Judges 4/5)- “She used to sit under Deborah’s Palm between Ramah and Bethel in the highlands of Ephraim, and the Israelites would come to her for justice.” Spiritual leader of all Israel and dispenser of justice to both men and women. Military leader.

Ruth (Ruth)- “But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you and to stop going with you, for wherever you go, I shall go, wherever you live, I shall live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth is one of the most faithful figures in Scripture, both in the goodness of God but also to her family who she provides for and cares for in disastrous circumstances.

Hannah (1 Samuel 1)- “Hannah then prayed as follows: My heart exults in The LORD, in my God is my strength lifted up, my mouth derides my foes, for I rejoice in your deliverance.”  Those around her mock and fall  short, Hannah remains steadfast and faithful, dedicating her life to the Lord.

Abigail (1 Samuel 25)- “she was a woman of intelligence and beauty, but the man (her husband) was miserly and churlish”– recognising her husband as unworthy of her, she leaves him and serves David, taking him vital information in the heat of battle at great personal risk to herself and her land. She is richly rewarded.

Mary, Mother of God (The Gospels)- she was chosen, before others, to bear God’s son. She was full of faith, trusting and trustworthy, determined and pure of heart. She stayed with Christ to the very end when nearly all of those who had followed him had left.

Mary Magdalene (The Gospels) – Like Mary, Mother of God, Mary Magdalene remains constant to the end when most of the men have fled. It’s not a dig at men, but it’s a worthwhile observation that those who stayed faithful to Christ where predominantly female are the ones excluded from areas of spiritual authority.

The Samaritan Women (John 4) – Despite her past, she is met with compassion by Christ and is sent out by Him to spread word of his salvation. Through her, many are led to Jesus. an early evangelist?

Lydia (Acts 8)-  “Lydia, a woman from the town of Thyatira who was in the purple-dye trade, and who revered God.” An independent woman of means, engaged in commerce. She encourages and welcomes visiting apostles.

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The Church does not always do well by women. And sometimes it does REALLY REALLY REALLY BADLY. From refusing to let them preach or lead Bible Studies in the Conservative movement, thus denying them a voice, to the vocal condemnations of “chick-ifying” the Church as if to be female was to be innately bad and completely ignoring the fact that Biblically, the Church is the bride of Christ. At the very far end of the spectrum is what is quite frankly abuse; believing women shouldn’t vote, spousal rape and a sustained programme of spiritual attacks on female self-worth.

This isn’t what the Bible says about women. Not even a little bit. Each day (ish) for the next week I want to write down all the positive, affirming and strengthening things the Bible tells us is the ideal for womankind. That reinforces our worth, that talks about us as humans not as an inferior species.

1. The Bible is full of women working, inside and outside the home…

She sets her mind on a field, then she buys it; with what her hands have earned she plants a vineyard Proverbs 31:16

She weaves materials and sells them, she supplies the merchant with sashes. Proverbs 31:24

She (Deborah) used to sit under Deborah’s Palm between Ramah and Bethal  in the highlands of Ephraim, and the Israelites would come to her for justice. Judges 4:5

 One of these women was called Lydia, a woman from the town of Thyatira who was in the purple-dye trade, and who revered God. Acts 16:14

Take no notice of my dark colouring, it is the sun that has burnt me. My mother’s sons turned their anger on me, they made me look after the vineyards. My own vineyard I had not looked after! Song of Songs 1: 6 (note: it is not a punishment to have to work in the vineyard but that she is taken away from tending her own)

These women have businesses and endeavours. They use their talents to engage in commerce and trade. They are respected because of it- look at Proverbs 31, the woman’s husband sings her praises because of her work. Books 4 and 5 of Judges detail Deborah’s reign as Judge of all Israel- spiritual leader under God, anointed by the Father. Not only is she in charge of Israel’s spirituality, resolving disputes and administering justice but she leads a hugely successful  military campaign that her (male) General refuses to fight. Deborah is a women in spiritual leadership, she is a pastor, a minister, a woman with a calling to lead. More on that later…

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Let me start by saying I really like Donald Miller. His book “Blue Like Jazz” was very important to me in my late teens, I lent it to everyone I knew and I still think everyone should read it. However, last week he published two posts; one for women, one for men, on how to “live a great love story” and they made me very uneasy. You can read them here:

http://donmilleris.com/2011/08/03/how-to-live-a-great-love-story-vol-ii-for-the-guys/

http://donmilleris.com/2011/08/02/how-to-live-a-great-love-story/

And you can read my thoughts here!:

1. “Guys don’t hook up with girls they would marry.” I know hook up can mean a few different things but I assume in this situation it means having sex prior to commitment and outside of a relationship. This is a big statement. A really big statement. This is kind of my whole issue with the piece, it’s generalizations GALORE, Miller is making a mistake in saying love stories are always fleshed out on the same skeleton plot. My friend Lena (not her real name) has the most brilliant parents of all time, her mum got pregnant 3 months into a  pretty casual relationship with Lena’s dad and they are still together, married, 22 years later. Ace. Lots of guys sleep with girls who they might go out with. Lots of guys don’t. I’m not condoning casual sex, I’m simply saying that hooking up doesn’t mean being used.

2. “… when your husband finds out you were the “hook up” girl he’s going to have to have a lot of grace, which is fine, it just puts you in the category of “charity” in his mind and not “equal” or “partner.” He may still love you…” “…he will and honestly should lose respect for you…” NO! If your husband does any of these things, he’s not a great husband, he’s not even a good husband! I was once told that if you had sex before you were married your husband would turn round on your wedding day and see spoilt goods. That thought haunted me until someone said “Jessica, if your husband turns round and sees anything other than what God sees, he shouldn’t be your husband”. Same applies here. You don’t become charity because you had consensual sex with a casual partner earlier in your life, not unless your husband has serious issues he should work through with a relationships counsellor.

3. “Make him work for it: When a guy is made to fight for a girl, he esteems her much more highly.” Playing hard to get is not good relationship advice and I’m pretty sure its not Biblical. Being a prick-tease is not an attractive trait in anyone. BE HONEST. That’s the way to build respect and keep it. If you’ve had sex say so. If you don’t regret it say so. If you’re not interested in sex right now say so. It’s not rocket science.

4. “… There are fewer girls with the strength to not have one night stands…” This is really neither here nor there and is kind of offensive since worded another way it could be written “lots of girls are worthless because they want sex without commitment”. I’m not a big fan of sex without commitment personally but I respect the sexuality of my peers and I recognise that, historically, women have been denied a lot of sexual freedom and one way we can express ourselves and feel liberated from the all too apparent yoke of male oppression is through liberal sexual ethics.

5. “…If you went through a slutty season, don’t act like you were a helpless victim…” “A victim is great material for a counselor, but not for a husband.” “…You know what you’re doing, drunk or not, so cut it out.”  Some women are victims. Some aren’t. Sometimes alcohol means you don’t know what you’re doing, not cool but still true. I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff under the influence, chief of which involved shouting to my church youth group that I’d had sex despite their abstinence policy, I shouldn’t have got that drunk but I didn’t know what I was doing, I woke up very unhappy the next morning. I got drunk because I was so miserable because I felt so judged by the youth group’s gossip. I was a victim. I’m getting married. It’s worked out fine. Also, the word ‘slut’ is not a nice word so don’t use it, even to talk about women whose sexual ethics you despise.

6. “The book of Proverbs was primarily written to men, and while there is a great deal of advice in the book about work ethic and finances, a significant percentage of the book is spent warning men to stay away from certain women. Is she seductive? Stay away. Is she nagging? Stay away. Is she sexually promiscuous?” A very wise person once said ‘Proverbs 31: trust the evangelicals to turn a poem into an instruction manual’, I’m being tongue in cheek but you get the point.

7. “God designed it so a man felt his most powerful while guiding a woman through an amazing love story.” Power is a word that should NEVER EVER be used in reference to a healthy relationship. NEVER EVER EVER.

8. In conclusion, stop making hideous sweeping statements about relationships- we can only ever talk in the abstracts Scripture gives us. Love. Redemption. Grace. Friendship. Forgiveness. Kindness. Respect. Mutuality. It’s kind of harder but more realistic.

p.s. I’m a woman NOT A GIRL. I know it’s petty but its patronising and I don’t like it!

p.p.s I still think Donald Miller is great and I still super love his books- buy Blue Like Jazz and read it cos it is super.

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