Sunday, 3 February 2013

The rollercoaster and the jug

Recently I have been reminded, by others and myself, that our Christian life is a journey. We journey with God, through life. But journeys aren't always simple and straight forward. There are times when we get complacent and forget to give, or look at the directions. We miss a turning, or go the wrong way. Maybe we forget something that is crucial to our journey, like bringing your passport with you. Then there are the things that really are not our fault; the weather, or your vehicle breaking down. And just as these things delay, postpone or cancel our physical journeys, things get in the way of our spiritual journey too.

A couple of Christian based training courses I have done have encouraged me to reflect on the journey that I've travelled so far. One way of doing this is to plot on a graph the high points and low points in our journey. Then you do a dot-to-dot and you have a graph of your life's journey. When you stand back and look at what you've created, you may be forgiven for thinking you've just created the next adrenaline inducing rollercoaster ride. Or that is certainly what I thought looking at mine.

Life isn't always easy, and just because I have actively decided to follow Christ doesn't mean that my life instantly gets easier. When I look at my life graph, it doesn't start to level out at the point I became a Christian - Wouldn't it be great if it did! In fact I think we are constantly reminded that Jesus never said life would be easy with him. Just that it would be worth it!

As you stand in the queue at a theme park to ride a rollercoaster, you experience all sorts of feelings and emotions. Fear, excitement, anticipation. But I know that afterwards I'll be filled with a rush of adrenaline. And that is what makes me queue for the next ride.

It takes a lot of trust to ride a rollercoaster. Particularly one that will put you upside down. You have to trust that you'll stay safely in your seat, and that the train will stay on the track as it hurtles round at breakneck speeds. You have to trust that you won't hit anything as you fly around the track.

Sometimes trust is something that is difficult. I'm often reminded by friends that I need to trust in God more. Accept that by putting my life in His hands will produce great results. But I confess that I find it difficult. Just recently I've felt myself drift away from God. If I were to plot this on my graph, it would definitely be the bottom of a trough. It is at these times that we should trust God the most, but I find myself withdrawing even more. I find myself trying to take back control of things.

It is at these times that I am so grateful for the Church community. When we are running on empty, have nothing more to give, the good news is never far away - God gives free refills! I was sharing this analogy with a friend just recently. We all have a jug within us, and as we travel our journey we are constantly pouring out the contents of that jug, because that is what God calls us to do. But when we run low, there is an everlasting tap to refill us - God.

I tried to write this blog a couple of times, but it is only now that I've been refilled that I have felt able to. The truth is, I've felt like I haven't had anything in my jug to pour out, I've not felt close enough to the tap to be refilled. And so it has been tough for me to truly live the life God wanted me to. And that isn't easy to realise.

Something that has kept me sane through my Christian journey has been the words from 'Footprints.' These are really what a large part of my faith hinges on.
 "When you see only one set of footprints, that was when I carried you"
(Footprints - Anon.)

I was reminded of this in the most visual way this morning at church. A small baby wasn't feeling too well, and just snuggled into his mum for cuddles. When we aren't feeling great, just like a small child, we snuggle into the protective arms of God. It is such an instinctive reaction, we don't always realise we are doing it. Even when we feeling like we are walking away from God, he is there holding us close.

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age"
Matthew 28:20

Loving Father,
Thank you for always walking with us, even when we think you aren't there.
Thank you for constantly refreshing us, and carrying us when we are too weak.
Help me to always trust you, and to strengthen our relationship.
Help me to know you more, share you more, and serve you.
Father God, you are the best, too awesome for words. You have an incomprehensible love for me, that I do not deserve.
When I fall, you pick me up.
When I demand too much, you sort something out.
I am thankful for your company on my journey, and the wonderful creations you have in store for me.
Thank you.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

What does Church look like?

I have to start this with an apology. This is one of my 'things'. It is something that constantly winds me up. I don't think I have blogged this, but I am sorry if I have.

If you were asked to draw a Christian, I wonder what you would draw. Would they be a man or a woman? Black or white? Would they have a beard? Would they wear socks and sandals? Would you draw them with a bible in hand, ready to start bashing people with it at the drop of a hat? Some of those options may seem a little weird, but with my perception of the stereotypical Christian, you'd need to seriously consider those options.

I am, however, almost certain that you wouldn't draw someone under the age of about 50. Why? Because when was the last time you saw in the media someone under the age of 50 openly talking about God and the Church as something they believed in?

Admittedly, I can remember the last time I saw this. It was on the BBC Songs of Praise first broadcast on 13th January 2013. But before then? I can't remember.

It seems to me, that Christians are portrayed in a certain way, and if you don't fit the media's perception of a Christian, they don't want to know. I sometimes feel that this is an attitude reflected in the Church as well, if you don't fit, then don't try because we won't change.

I'd like to share what I perceive to be those 'certain ways' held by the media. I think there are 3 stereotypes, and occasionally the lines between them are blurred to create 1 super Chrisian. So I guess that really makes 4, but who is counting?!

Number 1: An elderly (usually woman) who has always been a Christian, and the church is her life. She spends all her time doing flowers at the church, and whenever the vicar comes around always gets out the best china to serve tea and cake on. They will probably also think they are better than everyone else, and have a bible verse to quote for any situation that makes it clear that they are better off for knowing God. (Think Dot from Eastenders!)

Number 2: A very evangelical black gospel singer. They believe that if you don't believe in God, you will burn in hell, and have no problems telling everyone that. And when they are depicted, they never meet anyone who is a Christian, but less evangelical. Because Christianity doesn't have any meaning to anyone these days. So we are all condemned to burning in hell!

Number 3: The vicar. A white, near retirement single man. Who always wears a suit. I think maybe his pyjamas are a suit too!

Now, I appreciate this is very judgemental view on things. But when do you ever see anything different? Even on the aforementioned Songs of Praise, the congregation was predominantly white, over 50s. And most of them were dressed in their Sunday best. There was the occasional glimpse of a child, but I don't think any of them were over about 12. And I'm certain that some of them were in the congregation with their Grandparents, and not parents. I will say, that there was at least 2 children their with who I assumed was their Mum. There was also 1 man, who was their in his rugby shirt. But everyone else was dressed up. Their were very few, if any, people who weren't white. And the ordained person who said a prayer at the end? A white, nearing retirement man (sorry if you are that minister and I've just over estimated your age!) who was all gowned up.

Yes, this is all very judgemental of me. But if I am judging the church to be like that, then people like me outside the church are thinking that too! And if programmes which are supposed to portray the church portray it in that way, then what hope has the church got?!

Songs of Praise did share some new churches, and churches that were growing. Which was great. But they didn't base that particular programme in those churches, they just made up some of the stories between the songs. I know that Songs of Praise have done programmes from these churches before, but they are always billed as 'forward thinking' or 'contemporary' churches. They are not! They are the churches of today. Maybe the churches that aren't like that are just backward thinking?

Christians cannot be easily identified from looks alone. Take a trip to your local high street. All of the people you see there, and on your journey to and from there, could be Christians. You cannot know for sure. Anyone of them could be in ordained ministry in the church. You cannot know for sure. You cannot identify a Christian by looks alone.

So come on, let's challenge this.

To the media officials - how about looking for a better representation of Christianity?

To the people who write soaps and the likes - how about mixing up the stereotypes a bit?

To the church - how about challenging the stereotype of how we look? We teach young people stereotypes are bad, so why do we let this one go un-challenged?

This is what just 1 Christian looks like. Does that fit with what you perceive of a Christian?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New year, new you?

Happy new year! When does it stop being OK to say that? Anyway, that's not really what I wanted to write.

We have this curious tradition of setting new year resolutions. The end of December/beginning of January is the time when we look back at the year that has been and evaluate it. And anyone who has ever done an evaluation knows that you always conclude on how you could have done things better. And so January sees seemingly everyone declaring how they will make themselves/their lives/other people's lives better.

I haven't made any resolutions this year. I am one of those people who takes the line of "Well, I'll just break it/forget about it by February, so why bother?!" And right there is what I want to talk about. Excuses.

I find it all too easy to make an excuse. I think the best one I ever came up with was when I was at college. I missed my train (Sorry Mum!) and so was late to college. But I found an amazing excuse leaving my lips as I walked into the Biology lab - "Sorry I'm late, my bicycle chain broke." I'm not sure if the teacher actually bought it, as he was quite sarcastic and replied "Remember that one, it is a good excuse!" But still, it got me out of the horrid truth!

I've also come up with some pretty naff excuses in my time. Like the time I cut a chunk of my fringe out with some scissors. I told my Mum I didn't think they would cut my hair. I was pretty young at the time, so I'm not sure if I actually believed it at the time or if it was just my attempt at an excuse for putting scissors to my fringe. Needless to say, my brother and sister thought it was hilarious, and Mum wasn't too impressed.

But quirky stories aside, I find it all too easy to come up with an excuse not to do something. I have a pretty good excuse for most things at the moment - looking for a house closer to work. However, when I've done that I'm not really going to have anything to hide behind. For years, people have always been saying one thing to me, and I've always rattled off an excuse - I'm too young, I've not done my local preacher training, I need life experience and so on and so on....

I'm fast running out of excuses. Soon all I'll have to fall back on is my tried and tested "Sorry, my bike chain broke". But I don't think that is going to cut it somehow.

The truth is I should make a new year resolution. And that is just to get on with it! Stop hiding behind excuses - now isn't the right time, what if I get hurt again, what if they don't want it to be more, what if I end up alone, I need to sort this first, I'm too busy at work. Yes, I can come up with an excuse for everything, but now is the time to stand up and not hide behind an excuse.

2013 will be a wonderful year. My faith will be deepened, I will learn more about the God I love and trust, I will be truthful to people including myself and God and because of these things I'll be a better healthier person.

What is the excuse you use most? I challenge you not to use it in 2013, and lets grow together!