Why I’m still a Christian

I’ve written around this theme before but can’t find the posts to tag them. I am writing this now because I have been given an journaling exercise that is post-heroic. And I’m doing it without pictures for a change

I “became a Christian”, as the phrase was then, because I met something that amazed and astonished me. Yes I was lonely. I had just had my son and was living with someone who wasn’t his father in a house with other people. It was not a safe time. But something inside me was urging me to change. Some well-meaning Christians came along and knocked on my door. I went to their coffee morning and then I went to their church. I experienced an amazing spiritual encounter where I know that I met with the God who made the universe who told me He loved me and felt like I was being covered in a viscose glittery substance. I have since been told that was a Holy Spirit encounter. To me, at that time, it was like meeting the entity that made me, made my world, looked deep into who I was and how I was living and said “you may not being doing it all right but I like you. Come on let’s walk together.”
Since that time I read the Bible loads, studied Christian doctrine, theology, right ways to be a Christian, been on mission, led prayer journeys and set up prayer groups, done all that stuff and in doing it totally agreed with the U2 song “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” I’ve blogged on this and pondered this. I’ve tried to tame the mystery even though I know in my head “he is not a tame lion.”
I have reached a point in my Christian life where I am no longer wanting to be heroic, no longer wanting to tame the lion, understand the mystery. I have seen God let me down by letting people I know and love die with horrendous timing so that anniversaries of untimely deaths come at a time when we are trying to celebrate birthdays. I have seen God not come through on some dream that I believed He had promised me we would fulfil together. I have been angry and hurt and let down when it felt as if the mystery of God had turned out to be hollow.
Today I turn a corner. No that’s way too dramatic. Today I have decided to let the mystery out of the box and fly. I may never experience the viscous covering again, may never have a request answered as I like, but I know I have reached a point where I want to just hang out with the mystery, where I just want to be with whatever it is that I have tried to box as God.
So I’m still a Christian because I have decided that just as I don’t need all the answers neither does God need to tell them all to me; just as I don’t need to get it right all the time neither does God have to do what I think is right. I might even stop doing but learn to start practising and start just being. Not in that cheesy “oh I’m a human being not a human doing” but in that way that says it’s ok to just be me and for God to just be God, and for other people to just be who they are.
So I am still a Christian because there are no answers, no right ways, no clear paths but I do know that even through those dark paths the mystery that I call God is more than happy to walk with me and all my whinging and moaning and He still says “you may not being doing it all right but I like you. Come on let’s walk together.”

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Going Deeper

I love this when I get bombarded by the same concept from different angles. I have been

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Beddgelert where two waters meet and the pool is deep

challenged on this whole thing of cutting back and doing less, of focusing on my writing and of perfecting that. I am struggling with that too, especially with the mentoring angle. My mentor is awesome and patient. The problem is there is so much more to writing than writing. There is working out what I want to say then editing so that the piece I have says what I want to say and doesn’t treat my reader like they are stupid. I do  have a tendency to either overstate or understate. So either my reader gets the same message twice or it is so vague they have no idea what I’m saying (NB here I have overstated 🙂 ) But actually this is what going deeper is about.

On Sunday 10th February the Bible reading was from Luke 5:1-11 where Jesus tells Simon to “Put out into deeper water and let down your nets” The fishermen then catch a huge pile of fish and Simon and others are so amazed they leave everything and follow Jesus. Well our minister that morning preached on that. What struck me was that for me deeper water is cutting back, being available for friends, getting my writing polished, being about for my Airbnb guests, etc. But it is about cutting back, doing less, being more focused on what I do. It also means that I get more downtime than I did last year when I was rushing about doing 101 things. It means I have time to chat to the people I see whilst dog walking, can arrange coffee with friends around their schedule, etc. And in the end will lead to catching more fish rather than lots of small catches.

So going deeper for me is about doing less.

Just as I am accepting this I get it from another angle. My mentor said she was reading

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Oyster catchers on Conwy Beach – imperfect Feb sunshine 

about “wabi sabi” – the acceptance of life being transient and imperfect. So being me I got a book out about it. Well I’ve only got as far as the first chapter which is talking about having to slow down to be able to notice the imperfect and enjoy it, to notice that things are transient. It cannot be done at going fast and looking for something to make me better.

So I must make my writing the best it can be not for my ego to be massaged but because I can.  But to do that I must slow down and give it time. I must “smell the roses” so to speak. I must enjoy life even the bits that are crap.

I know I have blogged on this before but if I am to say “The joy of the Lord is my strength” I cannot have it just in the bits where life is going well. I need to find that joy when life isn’t going well. And I believe one of those ways is to slow down, go deeper and have time to accept the imperfections and transient-ness of life.

Meaning of Life?

I am working my way through a wonderful journaling course by Jan Fortune. I have also just started reading The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. (A big thank you to Josh Luke Smith for divine conspiracysharing this book on his Instagram ages ago) This quote from Jan’s course jumped out at me because it fits in so much with what I am reading at the moment that Willard is saying the problem with Christianity is. (Note I am only on page 77 at the moment 🙂  )

Joseph Campbell says:

People say that what we’re all seeking a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

I think way too often, as Christians, when people ask us about Jesus, we talk to them about the Meaning of Life, being freed from sin, going to live in heaven. So very, very rarely do we talk about being truly alive – or as Jesus put it “having life in abundance”.

I fully believe that Jesus comes to give us life here on earth in abundance, that his plan for us is that our physical life resonates with our inner most being. But I also believe that, way too often, Christians have made it a serious of dos and don’ts and what one should believe and what one has to do.

I tried this month to do the whole abstaining thing; veganuary. So I gave up dairy, meat013.JPG and even alcohol. It lasted five days before I decided that I needed to finish the elderflower presse off with the gin liquor my daughter had given me. It was a week before I decided to use the cheese that was in the fridge for a meal, to use up the mushrooms that were lurking in the vegetable rack with the turkey that was sitting in the bottom of the freezer. Why couldn’t I do it? Because I was doing it as an “ought” rather than it being something my innermost being wanted to do. And the funny thing is that we generally only eat meat once or twice a week, drink wine only on a weekend, and only have spirits on special occasions! It was in the telling myself I couldn’t that I wanted to. When it is just a part of my life – I suppose part of my innermost being – then it is easy.

The interesting thing is when I feel the rapture of being fully alive then I want to love my neighbour, don’t want to do things that would hurt me or others, want to give something back to the world. Interestingly too when I am in church doing something I love to do – lead intercession, do some play with a deep meaning – I buzz and feel like turning up that morning was worthwhile. Not because there was meaning to it – even though there was – but because it made me feel fully alive.

Willard has suggested being immersed in the Psalms to feel fully alive. I remember when my kids were little we used to read a chapter of Proverbs and a Psalm every day and then something else. Today I read the first four Psalms and yes I did feel better. It didn’t tell me what would give me a meaning to life but showed me how I could equate my innermost being with what I believed and wanted to take onward and outward.

DSCF0397.JPGSo I think we need to stop telling people that Jesus lets us see a meaning to life, or even telling people they don’t know the meaning of life but help to show them the bits of Jesus life that help us all to find true connection with our innermost being and truly bring us alive. And to be honest I don’t want to hangout with a God that doesn’t do that for me

Recommended Books

I am now not going to recommend you any books 🙂 Well I might.

the bloody chamberI am reading a book at the moment, “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter, which was not recommended by someone I know. In fact quite the opposite. She said she had had to read it for her book club but had not enjoyed it. It was too dark for her. I must say I am loving it. In a way she did recommend it because she said that I, and another in our writing group, might like it.

I have just given up, for the second time of trying, on “Ulverton” by Adam Thorpe because I still can’t get into it. It does nothing for me and a long time ago a friend said ‘life is too short to finish a book you are not getting into’ and that is so true. So I’m afraid once again I am going to have to give up on Ulverton, even though I am hoping to write something similar in future, which is why I keep being recommended it.ulverton

Books, like art, like music, like food, like coffee have a certain taste to them and one likes them not because they are amazing but because they fit in with one’s taste. Interestingly both the above mentioned books are Vintage Classics. I did just check that because I was about to say that I don’t like what are commonly known as classics. I do have Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” in the pile of books I have from the library. I am plucking up the courage to read him soon.

When I look back on the books I have borrowed from the library I would be hard pressed to give my best 10. There are some I don’t even remember getting, so they won’t go down. I loved Emma Healy, both her books, have been stuck by joy of catching up with “old friends” in a Raymond E Feist novella, learned all sorts of different things, realised how much poetry I have read this year. But faves? Not sure

my study
Random pile of books on the desk in my study that I have to read at some point. They will have to wait until 2019 

So as 2018 draws to a close and everyone comes up with their ‘best of …’ lists. I think we all need to be careful not to think we have missed something just because none of what we liked is on someone’s ‘best of’ list.

Writing Your Life Story

truth.jpgMy group asked me the other day about how to use real people in their memoir writing. I wish I had found this quote when I was looking for information to share with them.

Mark Twain said,

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

So obvious and so true, but how often it is hard for people to hear. I have been trying truth telling but often feel unheard.

Another suggestion I tell my group is that it is their truth and may not be someone else’s. Another quote:

Keep in mind that memories are subjective and tend to evolve over time.
[http://helensedwick.com/how-to-use-real-people-in-your-writing/ found 30th July 2018]

That is not to say that the truth changes but how you view the truth changes. There are facts that never change however. Things like “yesterday I went to see a waterfall with my in-laws.” That is truth. But then things like how busy it was, how warm/cold it was, whether it was a good time, bad time, etc become subjective. Even things like “your mum was really happy there” can be subjective. In reality she seemed happy to me but to other members of the family she could have looked sad, angry, distant, crazy, etc. Even thingswhat is truth like “Bob is an alcoholic” is not a truth unless Bob has told the family. So one could say “Bob appears to drink a lot and I am concerned that he is an alcoholic” or “Bob says he is an alcoholic”. Both statements are true because one is that I have seen Bob drink a lot and he has said he is an alcoholic. The concerned bit is my opinion. So with “your mum” I could say she seemed happy to me because that is my opinion.

So even though Mark Twain says tell the truth what is the truth is not as clear. Also as the second quote says our memories evolve over time. Emily Dickenson has a lovely poem:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant By Emily Dickinson
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

So facts are facts and are unchangeable but our personal truths of what happened to us to change and evolve depending on what story we tell. There are people who say that the truth of their story doesn’t change but I don’t think that is true 🙂 We are an evolving people and so how we remember things will change.

Another quote that came to me as I wrote this was

Jesus said “know the truth and the truth will set you free” John 8:32

Now I wonder with this if Jesus meant that as we grow and evolve our theology will change and alter. Hopefully grow. He was talking to Pharisees who had spent years looking at the scriptures and working out the truth of them. Jesus says it is those who are his disciples and who follow his teachings who will know the truth and be set free by it. For myself I find that understand that how I perceive a series of facts is not how truth_set_freesomeone else might perceive them then I do feel freer to know that what I understand is what I understand and not to have to spend time browbeating the other person to believe in things how I see them. So going back to “your mum was really happy there”. That is my truth. Another family member could say “mum was really upset there” and that is there truth. Maybe we need to ask mum and see what she thinks? But then maybe mum was happy at the waterfall but upset as she walked back. Maybe both things are true and each person saw her at a different time (Note this is made up to help with a point and not factual 🙂  )

It is not about having different morals as is feared by some with the post-modern conversation, but it can be that all truth is subjective to who I am, my experiences, where I am as I tell this tale.

So my hope is, with my memoir writing group, that they can be free to write their story in their words with their memories of the facts that happened in their lives, as each of us should be free to.

Self-Care

stones.jpgThere is a lot of talk about self-care at the moment and yes it is very important, but what struck me yesterday was how you actually need a level of confidence to be able to care for yourself. I was made aware of this because when I mentioned that I was going to start kick-boxing the response I had hoped for, and needed for my confidence, was “well gone. Good on you” but the response I did get was “what do you want to do that for? It’s violent and dangerous.” Now if I had got that response a couple of years ago I would have not gone to my classes because my confidence would have been knocked, but I am still going to go because my confidence isn’t that fragile now. I am able to step out and do things without the need of full approval. The comments, once I was able to challenge that person, were all valid and made sense but they were not encouraging.

I think often we see people who are abused, in a bad place, addicts etc and think “why bigger-heartcan’t they get out of there?” “Why don’t they care for themselves?” But they can’t. They need someone to say encouraging things to them. I have a friend who works in a women’s support group and one of the things she says they try to do is to make the atmosphere as loving and accepting of the women as they are as possible. This is something we should do for all people – accept them as they are not as they should be. Even if we think as they should be would be a much better place. We need to give people encouragement so they can have the self-confidence to look after themselves.

I come back to the verse “love your neighbour as yourself” which doesn’t mean, I don’t What-is-Self-Carethink, giving and giving to someone else. But, I think, it means saying “if I’m an ok person then my neighbour is an ok person, if I can be kind and have self-care for me then I can be kind and care for my neighbour.” Or to look at another often misunderstood Bible verse about turning the other cheek. That again wasn’t about being abused and downtrodden but was about saying “the law says it is ok to slap my right cheek but I give you my other cheek which by law you are not allowed to slap. Will you do that too?” It is about being strong enough to stand up to justice not to lay down and be beaten. It is about self-care not humiliation. It is about self-care and humility rather than putting yourself last and being humiliated.

How have I got to this place? Slowly and with the help of others who didn’t even know. My work at Gwrych has been a great help even though at times it has been a struggle; a struggle with putting in clear boundaries, which of course only come with confidence and self-care; a struggle learning to say what I think about things but in a gentle way not aggressively, which I often stay quiet rather than say anything due to lack of training in how to gentle speak my mind; of learning to balance my time and not do everything. I put on, almost single handedly, an amazing production for WWI working with the local schools. I made mistakes doing it but didn’t feel down heartened by my mistakes. Doing that exhausted me but also energised me. I am running great writing workshops. Not a lot of people come but those who do are faithful and keep coming and I get amazing comments and compliments. Starting to take care of myself help. That started small by getting Kinspa membership and going for a swim and a relax in the hydro-pool regularly, which has led to going horse riding which has led to the kick-boxing.

For me some of it has helped that I am impulsive and do jump in, but when I am not feeling confident I also jump out quickly. As I said a negative word, like I got yesterday, would have caused me to cancel, but now I can keep going and doing what I want notself-love what other people approve of.

Coming back to the topic though of getting self-care – I would say when we see someone who needs self-care instead of expecting them to just do it we need to let them know that we think they are worthy of that self-care. Our role, as we come slowly able to lift our heads up from the gutter and look at the stars, is to help others know they are worthy.

(Interesting note – as I was getting images for this so much was about getting self-care so you could be better at …. whatever …. rather than just saying that it is ok to care for yourself. I don’t want to be better, do more, etc. I want to just be a more contented me doing the things I like doing. That’s why I care for myself. But again it does seem like we are always having to project outward and be “better”. Thoughts for another blog?)

Searching

I love this quote from Velveteen Rabbi’s son on her post Seeking: Seeing the ordinary through new eyes about how he feels on the eve of Pesach we search for hidden hametz and about searching for Easter eggs with his Christian Grandma.

It’s fun because it’s about finding something new in regular places. If you find something new to do, then you always have it with you. And that makes it like you’re traveling, finding new places, even though you’re not going anywhere.

It was this whole thing of “if you find something new you always have it with you” and about travelling and finding new places even though you’re not going anywhere. I think this is so profound and so deep and I wonder how often we, as adults miss it.

From my reading of Mindfulness if it about looking at what we know and finding newness in it, of being ‘present’ full with what we already know. How often do we take a walk along the same route and not notice how amazing it is and yet if we take a child or even just someone who’s not been that way before they see things we have gotten used to?  How often in a relationship do we just get used to the same old same old and forget why we got involved with this person in the first place? How often do we forget that some of the flaws we see glaringly now we used to gloss over before when we saw them through new eyes?

I want to be able to travel to new places without going anywhere. It is why I write. I can be here in my room, can take something I know and can rework it. I am working with some of my memories which come from running memoir-writing groups and I was looking at them with new eyes. What slant do I want to put on them now? That isn’t lying about what happened but, I think, saying I want to look at what I think I know with new eyes. I want to travel somewhere new with what I already hold in my hand. I can then choose what light I want to see it in. Even the most tragic circumstances, if I want I can see amazing things going on. But also if I choose, even in the best of circumstances I can focus on the one bad bit in it. I can choose how I view my life. Sometimes I need to search hard, sometimes like with the Dragon Easter Egg Hunt at Gwrych Castle, where I volunteer, finding the eggs is easy because they are so big, but sometimes it can be hard to find that spring flower trying to appear through this unseasonally cold time. But the buds and growth and colours are there just not as visible as the Dragon eggs.

It is so true that once we do find something new in familiar places we remember it and hold on to it. I remember finding a clump of primroses along a path where I walked the dog regularly. Primroses for me bring back special memories of a bright patch in a hard time in my life which does make them special. But now whenever I walk this path I not only look out for these primroses but also look out for other changes. For me finding that something new and special in familiar places makes me want to look more and look harder and find something else that I didn’t see before.

I think I need to make sure I do this in places that I have yet to find something new. Who knows what is hiding in those familiar places?