Church

And while I’m away
I’m leaving the fiancée in charge
Have you met her?
Yes
She’s the one
Who behaves like a whore
Has been unfaithful
On numerous occasions
Been violent
Lusted after fame
And fortune
But what can I do?
I love her endlessly
She’s my bride
And even
If she’s messed
With your own heart
And head
You should love her
And live with her too
Because
Apart from second hand words
She’s all you’ve got
Of me

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“I don’t believe Noah existed?” Anya, age 6

I have found that reading the blogs of American progressive Christians can be more fun, more challenging and more enriching than most sermons I have heard in church. What can be just as eye-opening can be the comments, as conservative evangelicals seem to like to hang around and throw in their opinions too.

It struck me that the differences of opinion between people often lies in their interpretation of the bible; more specifically which parts of it should be taken literally as absolute truth and which parts were applicable only for the people at the time. My daughter just couldn’t imagine the whole world flooding, so I chipped in with, “Well how come the lions in the ask didn’t eat everyone?” David fought lions so they were indigenous to the area.

I then went on to explain that even if the story didn’t happen it was about how God loves us and wants a relationship with us, the thread through the whole bible…

So did Noah build an ark with his nameless wife? I have my doubts. I now tend to view much of the early part of Genesis as a poetic parable, not literal history.

Moving forward, some Christians get very upset about the breaking of some of the laws that the Jews were expected to follow, but conveniently forget about others. The early church worked out that at least a couple of laws were no longer applicable: the law of circumcision ànd the laws governing kosher food. It’s not recorded whether the church repealed the law on wearing clothes made from mixed materials or planting different type of seed in one field…

Jesus perhaps picked only one law from Leviticus – Love the Lord your God with your mind, soul and strength and love your neighbour as yourself. The prolific Paul of Tarsus made lots of recommendations to early churches and their leaders – drink wine if you have weak stomach, don’t let women talk in church or wear fancy jewellery, be kind, cast out people who make trouble, look after your slaves, pray a lot, amongst other things.

So how do you decide what should be taken literally. How do you decide what should be taken contextually? Who do you rely on to help you work out the context? Are the differences between Christians, and the groups they belong to, down to what we pick and choose to believe applies to us?

With thanks to Kimberly Knight
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/

Tonight I am helping with the Soup Run

Tonight I am helping out with the Birmingham Soup Run. Faith groups around the city are organised in a rota to provide meals and hot drinks to the homeless in the city centre at 8pm every night of the week.

Our group does the 4th Friday of every month. We meet up to make crates of sandwiches, flasks of soup and tea and catch up with one another before piling into a couple of cars and giving out free food on the pavement, opposite a multi-story car park.

In some way, I feel it gives me a bit more authenticity or integrity to talk and write about community and social justice. Perhaps I am doing “my bit” for the poor and downtrodden, but I don’t feel a sense of triumph at the end of the night, or feel like patting myself on the back…

I just feel sad. Really sad. The brief exchanges I have with our friends who receive the food make me realise how human, how broken, how real these people are. For a short time, I get a glimpse and a whiff of their lives and it makes me feel that a few hours once a month is not what a first Century rabbi had in mind when he spoke about separating the sheep from the goats and giving away my shirt and coat to those who need them.

Far from feeling happy that I might have done a good thing by taking part in the soup run, I feel frustrated that I am constrained by the norms of society and my own fear from getting involved in the lives of these broken people. I don’t want to pay of my conscience with a couple of hours of good deeds, but desire a heart that is big enough to care for them all dearly.

They are all someone’s brother, father, grandfather, daughter. All I can do is silently pray for them, knowing and secretly hoping that I won’t be called to be the answer to my own prayers.

More on encouragement

What is the point, you could ask, of doing anything positive, or altruistic? Is there any point in doing something out of the ordinary and free of charge if there is no reward of any sort. As creatures we are wired up for reward, for dopamine-mediated impulses that feed a desire for pleasure and satisfaction. Is that what drives talented people, and doctors in particular to write, unsolicited and financially unrewarded, for medical journals, blogs and in social media?

Do we crave the reward of retweets, likes, favourites, replies, comments, views and re-blogs? Do we need these, things or do we convince ourselves that we are performing a cathartic act that is of no consequence to anyone but ourselves?

For example, what’s the point in getting five publications in an international journal which is delivered to 45,000 clinicians, for the encouragement and appreciation of just 3 emails/responses. That’s potentially 200,000 readings for just 3 people to think it is worth typing a thank you. My, for it is I, dissatisfaction with this could be due to a number of things:

  • I am too needy and too expectant of praise

  • Doctors don’t actually read this journal

  • The vast (understatement) majority of doctors don’t like what I write

  • There is not a culture of encouragement amongst doctors

To some degree I expect that all of the above are correct. I’m going to be honest. I need feedback, I need encouragement, I need to know that I am heard, I need to be appreciated. I am a rather needy person. Amateur (and professional) psychologists would have a field day. When I write, I am saying, “Come look at this thing that I have made with my brain and hands, I cradled it for a while and now I have brushed off the dust and blown away the rough edges and fashioned it into something understandable and appreciable. So go ahead and appreciate. Look what I have done for you…” Perhaps that’s why I give sneak previews of my new articles to people I know will like them. Perhaps I need therapy.

In this time-pressured world it is possible that medical journals stay in their wrappers, from cradle to grave, or find a new home in a magazine rack or coffee table before making their way to the recycling before being opened. Nothing much I can do about that I guess.

If people don’t like what is accepted by the journal then perhaps the editors need to change their policy on accepting pieces. Or perhaps I just need to write better to appeal to more doctors, or more inflammatory to provoke a response, any response to just to be sure that I exist in the world of words.

What I am hoping is that my lack of encouragement is merely a symptom of a society that is worried of appearing too much like our American cousins. I’m hoping that there is a realisation that in order for doctors to carry on doing good things, and I’m not just talking about poems and publications, but looking after their patients in the face of adversity, blame, financial pressure and unrealistic expectation, that we need to be encouraged by one another. We need to be told that we are doing something good and that we are appreciated.

Realising that I needed encouragement made me reflect on how much I failed to encourage the colleagues and community around me. So, for the last few weeks I have tried to make sure that I give feedback to doctors who are publishing stunning blogs and articles in medical journals, giving credit where credit is due. I’m hoping to be the change the culture, one small email or tweet at a time. Feel free to join in.

Encouragement

I was thinking about encouragement this week. I was struck by two things, firstly I wondered whether I was encouraging enough to my children and family. Secondly I wondered if I sought after encouragement too much from those around me for things that I do?

As a community, I know that we should be encouraging one another, that is one of the reasons to belong to any community, religious or otherwise, but when British reserve, lack of time and my brave face combine, I am left feeling that practically no-one really cares enough about the things that I think, say, write and do to encourage me, beyond clicking a “Like” button.
If there is a God, and all that I try to believe about Him/Her is true then I shouldn’t be worrying about what others think, because surely their opinions don’t matter. I should be secure in the knowledge of an eternal, unending love. But I’m not…
I don’t hear God as an audible voice, he doesn’t send me encouraging texts or give me hugs. He doesn’t respond to my blogs, tweets and Facebook updates and certainly doesn’t need to buy my book. That responsibility lies with the people who are known as His hands and feet, His son’s body. But they’re only human.
So perhaps, I need more faith and belief in a God who calls me beloved, and less expectation of people and myself. Perhaps I need to ask myself:
Would I still write, sing, blog, tweet, if no person cared about what I thought? Or is everything I do an expression of reflected, eternal love, that’s between me and God and everyone in between?