Saturday, March 27, 2010

Taking a Break

I will be taking a break from this blog for a couple of months. I'm very busy with uni and there's a few other things going on. Hopefully I will return to posting in late May, early June, after things have settled down a bit.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When Will It Stop Bleeding?

I don’t usually write much poetry. But very occasionally, I feel inspired to write some. This is what I wrote today. And I am going to be extremely brave and share it with you.

When will it stop bleeding?

A pain-filled room
littered with tears
and guilt-filled tissues
huddled in groups below each chair.
Misery loves company.

The women speak
with choking sobs
and folded arms
and hands that clench and fidget
and cover their faces,
to hide their shame.

Their words are not words
but poison-tipped daggers
piercing all who listen
to the womb.

Their right, they said.
A simple procedure.
No need to ruin your life.

Tell that to the women
who cry,
not silently, softly,
like a lady in mourning,
but loudly, angrily,
violently, uncontrollably.
The cries of a woman
who not only lost her child,
but could have saved it.

A tissue seems so inadequate.
Somebody pass her an exorcist.

When the stories are told
and the tears are shed
and the shame uncovered,
they will go home,

But their wounds will remain.
Not scars
for they never really heal,
but bleed afresh
with each new knock to their motherhood.

This is no fresh, bright red blood
But dark, clotted, almost brown blood.
(Is that a blood clot or my baby?)

These are the cries of woman with a choice,
unable to change their decision
once they made it.
(You live with it forever, you know.)

These are the cries of women with dead children,
of graves with no gravestones,
of grief with no sympathy,
of guilt with no understanding.

These are the cries of empowered women,
feeling helpless.

(Nurse, something is wrong.
I had a procedure.
I can’t stop bleeding.
There are so many blood clots.
And I think I saw my baby.)

(Nothing is wrong.
The baby is gone.
The bleeding is normal.
The blood clots are normal.
It will stop in about three weeks.)

(But Nurse, when will it stop bleeding.
When will it really stop bleeding?)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Beautiful Letdown - Switchfoot

Time for me to share another song. This one isn't because I heard it and loved it, or because it ties into a special day, or because it's sung by Bon Jovi. I am sharing this song just because I wanted to listen to it. And so you get to listen to it as well.

Here are the lyrics:

"Beautiful Letdown"

It was a beautiful let down
When I crashed and burned
When I found myself alone unknown and hurt
It was a beautiful let down
The day I knew
That all the riches this world had to offer me
Would never do

In a world full of bitter pain and bitter doubt
I was trying so hard to fit in, fit in,
Until I found out
I don't belong here
I don't belong here
I will carry a cross and a song where I don't belong
But I don't belong

It was a beautiful let down
When you found me here
Yeah for once in a rare blue moon I see everything clear
I'll be a beautiful let down
That's what I'll forever be
And though it may cost my soul
I'll sing for free
We're still chasin our tails and the rising sun
And our dark water planet's
Still spinning in a race
Where no one wins and no one's one

I don't belong here
I don't belong here
I'm gonna set sight and set sail for the kingdom come
I will carry a cross and a song where I don't belong
But i don't belong
I don't belong here
I don't belong here
Kingdom come
Your kingdom come

Won't you let me down yeah
Let my foolish pride
Forever let me down

Easy living, not much like your name
Easy dying, you look just about the same
Won't you please take me off your list
Easy living please come on and let me down

We are a beautiful let down,
Painfully uncool,
The church of the dropouts
The losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools
Oh what a beautiful let down
Are we salt in the wound
Let us sing one true tune

I don't belong here
I don't belong here
I don't belong here
Feels like I don't belong here
Let me down
Let me down
Feels like I'm let down
Let me down.
Cuz I don't belong here
Won't you let me down?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Looking in a Mirror

The Gospel reading from today was John 7:53-8:11:

The Woman Caught in Adultery

They went each to his own house,but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."

To start off his sermon today, the priest told the story about a parish, where people kept telling the priest of that parish that the church was dead. So he decided to send invitations to everyone in the parish, inviting them to a funeral Mass for the church. At the front of the church was a casket. And after the Mass, the priest invited people to walk past the casket and pay their last respects. As everybody looked into the casket, they saw a mirror.

Last year, someone from a blogging community said that I needed to look into a mirror. I presume that the reason she thought I should look in a mirror was because I didn’t see myself the way she saw me. But neither did she see me the way many other people saw me. At around the same time, I was receiving many supportive messages - some from unexpected people - that showed that not everybody shared her perception of me.

So if I looked in a mirror, what would I see? Me, the way she saw me? Or me, the way many other people saw me?

Personally, I’d rather see me the way Christ sees me.

I’d also like to see other people the way Christ sees them.

I didn’t point out to this person the messages of support I had received. Nor did I point out everything that she had done wrong. I’d prefer to concentrate on my own faults than those of other people.

I say I’d prefer to concentrate on my own faults, but that’s not always so easy to do. Other people’s faults are so much easier to find. They’re right there in front of you. But you actually need to look to find your own faults.

Once when I admitted to a friend that I was finding it hard to forgive someone, she said she was actually quite pleased I said that, because she was under the impression I was never critical and always forgiving. I don’t know how she got that impression, because I can be very critical and slow to forgive. Maybe it’s because I try to keep a lot of it inside my head. Although, I seem to be failing even at that lately.

I think very critical thoughts about people sometimes. And I get very annoyed with myself when I do. But I get even more annoyed when I do say something.

I wonder how many of the Pharisees walked away from the woman caught in adultery, imagining how much they would like to stone her.

Actually, the most surprising thing about this story, I find, is that they didn’t throw stones after what Jesus said. Jesus must have written some very powerful stuff in that dirt. Because when you think about it, if somebody is being critical, and you say ‘Let him who is without sin throw the first stone’, most people will just go on saying what they were saying. Only now they’ll add a whole load of reasons as to why they’re justified in their criticisms.

Not to mention the fact that a lot of people seem to think that they are without sin. It’s always other people that have the problem. Have you ever had a conversation with someone about bible passages, and every time you mention the kind of things Christians should be doing, they point out someone else who isn’t doing it? They never seem to be able to apply it to themselves.

I’m doing it now, you know. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of other people. Not me. It’s the other people that are doing the wrong thing. And wouldn’t it be good if so and so read this? They would really be forced to look at themselves then.

To criticise someone for being critical is to commit the same sin. To judge someone for being judgmental is to be just as guilty.

Another reason why we’re so quick to criticise is it makes us feel better about our own faults. It’s this whole ‘Well, I may be doing this, but that person is doing that.’ Or ‘If I’m a sinner, she’s a bigger one.’ Or ‘I am doing such a better job of following Christ than they are.’

Wrong attitude.

I don’t think I should be looking at a mirror. Not because I have nothing that needs fixing. I have a lot that needs fixing. But because it’s easy to look in a mirror and decide that ‘It’ll do’. I judge myself by my own standards

Instead of looking into a mirror, I need to look at Christ. And by Christ’s standards, I have a lot I need to work on. And compared to Christ, the difference between this sin and that sin and this fault and that fault is negligible.

The truth is we all fall short. It doesn’t matter who is the biggest sinner. What matters is that we are all sinners. And the more time we spend looking at other people’s sins, the less time we have for getting rid of our own.

(Image details: The woman taken in adultery, Rembrandt.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick's Breastplate

I don't have the time to write a post this week. So instead, and because it's St Patrick's Day, I'm going to share with you the song and the prayer, St Patrick's Breastplate. The song is very beautiful. I hadn't heard it until I went looking for something to share on my blog today.

"The Deer's Cry" or St. Patrick's Breastplate - Rita Connolly

Prayer - St Patrick's Breastplate

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Doing Big Things for God (or maybe not)

How many times do you hear a child say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be the leader of a band that plays in the local pub’ or ‘I want to play cricket for the local cricket team’ or ‘I want to have a lead role in a local production’.

It doesn’t happen very often. Usually it’s ‘I want to have a number one album on the charts’ or ‘I want to play cricket for Australia’ or ‘I want to win an Oscar’.

Children dream big. Which may be a good thing. My son is convinced he’s going to win Wimbledon one day. Who knows? Maybe he will. But maybe he won’t. And does it really matter if he doesn’t?

My friend who just died, at the age of 82, used to play tennis. And that ‘used to’ was pretty recently. She played on a regular basis right up to last year. When they took her casket out at the funeral, the ladies from her tennis club did a salute with tennis rackets.

And to me, that’s a very successful tennis player. Not one who wins the major tournaments and gets interviewed for sports magazines. But one who plays tennis and enjoys tennis for her entire life.

A lot of people talk about God’s purpose for their life as if they just presume it’s going to be something big. They become a Christian and tell God they’re willing to do whatever He wants them to do. But what they’re thinking is ‘I’m willing to become a famous missionary or lead thousands of people to God or write a best-selling Christian book’.

A saying that is used a lot in the Pentecostal Church is ‘God has big things planned for your life.’ Maybe he does. But what if he just has little things? Are we still so eager to follow God’s plan for our lives if it involves nothing more than reading the bible, praying and living a very ordinary life?

I was listening to a podcast where somebody asked what she could do to reconcile the things God wants her to do with the things that she has to do (such as take the children to school and keep the house clean). The person answered her by saying ‘Maybe those things you have to do are the things God wants you to do’.

If God wants us to do big things for Him, that that would be difficult. Big things usually involve a lot of sacrifice. And it can be hard to be willing to make those sacrifices. Or to step out of comfort zone. Or to place ourselves in challenging situations.

But sometimes the biggest sacrifice we can make is to give up our dreams of being somebody important.

Comfort zones aren’t always such comfortable places to live in. They’re not the stuff that dreams are made of. Sometimes when we tell God we’re willing to step out of our comfort zone, it’s because that’s where we want to go.

And it’s where the world tells us we have to go. We are told to dream big, to reach for the stars, to fulfil our potential. Try telling someone that your only goal is just to stay at home and follow God in your own simple, ordinary way, and you get some very strange looks.

I was having this conversation with a friend once. And he was telling me that God has a plan for my life and that God has big things in store for me and that, whatever I’m hoping for, God can make it happen. So he asked me what I wanted. I said nothing really. I honestly couldn’t think of anything at the time. And he kept pushing and pushing, until eventually I thought of something. And then he said something along the lines of, ‘God will make that happen for you. Because God wants to give you your heart’s desire.’

The problem with the whole ‘God will give you your hearts desire’ approach is that most people want to be someone important. Someone who does big things for God. Someone who is recognised.

But we can’t all have that. The people who do stand out as doing great things for God stand out because they were different. If everyone did it, there wouldn’t be anything to recognise.

If every single child who wanted to record a number one song on the charts actually did it, there’d be a lot of number one songs. You’d be watching the top 30, and when they got to number one, they’d have to say and here are our 6,000 songs that are in equal position for the number one place. There’s only so many places in the Australian cricket team. If all the young boys who want to play for Australia actually got in, we’d need about 100 cricket teams. And then being in one wouldn’t be that big a deal.

And although I think dreaming big can be good, sometimes it can let us down. We dream so big that we’re disappointed when we receive anything less than the very best. Boys who wanted to play for the Australian cricket team no longer even play cricket. Girls who wanted to record a number one song don’t even sing in the shower. We give up completely because we didn’t get exactly what we wanted.

When I was younger, I wanted to write a novel that would win the Miles Franklin award. That was my lifelong goal. I know now that that is never going to happen. I’m not good enough. And I’ll be honest and say that sometimes that hurts. Sometimes I even feel like giving up writing altogether. Why bother, as I’m not going to do anything ‘big’ with it?

Sometimes (not quite so often thankfully) I feel the same about my faith. I’m never going to do anything ‘big’ for God. I’m never going to be an important person in his plans. I’m never even going to do an exceptional job of following Christ.

When I was in year nine at school, I got a B for English. And it really crushed me. And after that, I gave up a little bit. Who wants to get a B? I had been a straight A student until then. It almost felt like there was no point in trying if I couldn’t get all As.

Well if God was giving out grades for how well people followed Christ, I think I’d be getting mostly Ds, sometimes Cs and sometimes Es. And I’m never going to get an A, no matter how hard I try.

But that shouldn’t be a reason to just give up. Maybe I won’t ever do something ‘big’ for God. Maybe I’ll never be a straight A Christian. But maybe that was never God’s plan for me anyway. Maybe God’s plan for me is for me to just keeping on doing the little things. And to keep on trying my best.

But most of all, to just keep on. Like my friend with her tennis, to still be playing the game at the end of my life.

This didn’t start off as a post about perseverance. It just kind of ended up that way. But as it seems to have drifted off into that direction, I will end with these words that somebody else wrote to me just recently.

Maybe my goal in life should simply be to:

Keep the Faith.

And that sounds like as good an excuse as any for a Bon Jovi song:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Public Notification

Under the policy of openness and transparency, I wish to notify the public of the following:

1. I am not perfect.

2. My imperfections may result in one or more of the following:
(a) doing the wrong thing;
(b) saying the wrong thing;
(c) thinking the wrong thing;
(d) annoying people;
(e) getting annoyed without good reason.

3. If you have good reason to believe that any of the items listed under Point 2 apply, you have the following options available to you:
(a) See Point 1;
(b) Make a complaint to the irrelevant authorities (known colloquially as a 'bitchfest');
(c) Make a complaint to me.

4. Please note that complaints made under subsection 3(c) may result in a full or partial disclosure of your own imperfections.

5. If you wish to make a complaint about the content of this declaration, please see Points 1 and 3 above.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lord, when I am hungry

This is from Liturgy of Life, an anthology compiled by Donald Hilton based on patterns of Christian worship (1992).

Lord, when I am hungry, give me someone in need of food;
When I am thirsty, send me someone needing a drink;
When I am cold, send me someone to warm;
When I am grieved, offer me someone to console;
When my cross grows heavy, let me share another’s cross;
When I am poor, lead me to someone in need;
When I have no time, give me someone I can help a little while;
When I am humiliated, let me have someone to praise;
When I am disheartened, send me someone to cheer;
When I need understanding, give me someone who needs mine;
When I need to be looked after, send me someone to care for;
When I think only of myself, draw my thoughts to another …

Co-workers of Mother Teresa in Japan

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sexy girl

Everything has to be sexy nowadays. Movies, video clips, advertisements, clothes, magazine covers. And women. Especially women.

Women nowadays see many more images of attractive woman than they used to. They are on our TV screens, our computer screens, our movie screens, our iPods and our phones. Wherever we look, there is an image of a attractive and definitely sexy woman, reminding us of how far short we fall of the ideal. And when I say attractive, it usually means sexy. The pure and innocent look may be appealing to some. But it doesn’t tend to sell a lot of magazines, deodorants or clothes. Women don’t want to look pure and innocent anymore. They want to look sexy.

So what came first? The images of the sexy women or the women who want to look sexy. They seem to be tied in together.

Sex sells, as the saying goes. But we are heavily influenced by the images we see. And a lot of the images we see relate to people selling something. Even if it’s not a specific product, the sexy, gyrating video clips are using sex to sell their music. The movies use images of sexy women to get people to come to their movie. And all these images influence how we see the world and our place in it. If sex sells, images influence. The more images of sexy women we see, the more women will want to be sexy.

Now this may not be such a huge problem when it comes to grown adult women. Possibly it is. Possibly it isn’t. But my main concern here is with young girls and young women, particularly teenagers.

But let’s go backwards a little bit. Because even children now are getting sexier. Instead of pink frilly dresses, they’re wearing midriff tops and hipsters. Because image does not just influence, it matters. Even for children or the parents of children. Who wants to see their child wearing a pink frilly dress, when everybody knows that pink frilly dresses aren’t fashionable? What is fashionable is sexy. And so children are wearing sexy clothes. Not to look sexy exactly. But to look trendy. Pink frilly dresses are not trendy. Midriff tops and hipsters are.

And so by the time they’re 12, children already have a good idea of what’s fashionable, what’s in, what’s trendy. They probably don’t even think of it as sexy. But the fact is they’re being influenced by the culture of today and the culture of today is all about sexy.

Not only do they know what’s hot, but the message is constantly reinforced. The magazines they buy, the TV shows they watch, the video clips for their favourite singers, all continue to give the message that sexy is trendy.

And teenagers want to be trendy. Not only that, they want to be accepted. They want to be popular. They want guys to like them.

And so they look to the world around them (which increasingly means their friends and popular culture) to tell them how to be trendy, accepted, popular and attractive to boys. And what does the culture say? It says be sexy. In fact, it doesn’t just say be sexy. It practically screams it at them. Continuously.

And of course, the more teenagers dress and act in a sexy way, the more they do get noticed. But that’s not always a good thing. Okay, in a minute, I’m going to say something that may not go down too well. So before I get there, I’ll change tracks a little bit.

Twice in the last week, in very different programs (neither of them religious, by the way), I have heard someone say that fathers are more afraid now to tell their daughters that what they are wearing is unacceptable. Because a father knows what a young boy will think when he sees his daughter dressed that way. But the problem is he feels it’s politically incorrect to say anything.

The message we’re told nowadays is that no matter what a woman wears or how a woman acts, she doesn’t ask for sex. Which is fair enough. A man should never force a woman into sex just because of what she’s wearing or how she’s acting. And it’s a very good message and one that our young men need to hear.

But the problem is that now it’s difficult for people to tell young women that what they are wearing may draw unwanted sexual attention. Because the message is they can wear what they want, act how they want and boys just have to keep their hands off.

I stepped backwards before. So now let’s step forward.

When an adult woman wears a sexy outfit, she knows she looks sexy. And unless she’s completely naïve, she knows exactly what men are thinking when they look at her. And maybe she likes that. She feels sexy, desirable, attractive - and often in control. She knows she has the ability to reject any unwanted sexual advances.

But a young woman does not always realise the effect she is having on men. She wears an outfit because it’s trendy. She is flattered by the attention she receives from boys. She hasn’t necessarily learnt how to tell the difference between a boy who is interested in her as a person and one who is not so much concerned with admiring her new outfit as he is with taking it off.

Rape is wrong. Obviously. But sometimes a young girl will find herself in a sexual situation that she isn’t really ready for, but isn’t really sure how to say no. She’s not yet sure herself how far she wants to go. I don’t want to get explicit here, but things can slide from enjoyable to regrettable pretty quickly. And it is my belief that many teenage girls will let things go a lot further than they actually want them to.

The solution here for many people will be to just give girls coping skills on how to say no. I don’t think that’s enough. Because I think sexy behaviour and appearance puts young girls in situations that they’re just not ready for. Not only are they not ready for sex, they’re not ready to learn how to cope with unwanted sexual advances. And not only that, sometimes they don’t want to say no. Because when a guy wants to have sex with a girl, quite often that girl feels wanted. It’s hard to say no to that. It’s hard sometimes for adults to say no to that. Let alone young girls who want above all else to be wanted - and popular and accepted and attractive.

Well give them condoms, I can hear someone say. Sure. And make it even easier for them to have sex before they’re ready for it. And make it even harder for them to say no. When a young girl walks around with a condom in her purse, it’s like she’s admitted to herself she may have sex. And admitting you may do something is always the first step towards doing it. Whether it’s something you should do or not. Whether you’re ready for it or not. Whether it’s good for you or not.

I don’t know what sex education is like these days. But I hope at least some of it involves telling young people how to avoid sex. I don’t mean the whole abstinence only approach. I like abstinence - as in abstinence education. And honestly, I think it would be good if that kind of sex education actually worked. But I really don’t think it is ever going to be fully successful in the highly sexualised culture that we live in.

But at least giving kids (for that’s what they are) some knowledge on how to deal with or avoid unwanted sexual advances. And teaching them the kind of situations that may lead to sex. Perhaps even letting teenage girls know some of the thoughts that are running through teenage boys head. And even though this may be politically incorrect, telling girls what affect their sexy clothes and behaviour has on the males around them.

I’ve never been a boy, so I don’t know what it’s like to be one. But I imagine it’s not easy. Right when their hormones are going wild, they have all these teenage girls wearing the skimpiest outfits possible, acting in the sexiest ways, often giving them the idea that they want to go further than they actually do. And many of the girls don’t actually know what they’re doing. They’re just trying to be trendy and attractive.

Feminists complain about the objectifying of women. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I also get very annoyed at the objectifying of women. I don’t think it’s all men’s fault though. When women or young girls go around trying to look as sexy as possible, can we honestly blame the men for looking at them and thinking ‘sex’? And that was probably politically incorrect statement number two.

Now I don’t want to enforce rules where modest dress is compulsory. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with mature women (and I say mature, because the exact age can vary from person to person) wearing sexy clothes. Women like looking sexy sometimes. But I do think we should be educating young girls about the types of clothes they wear - and the types of behaviours that go with them.

And I suppose I better leave this post here, before I get to politically incorrect statement number three.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I will pray for you

I heard this song for the first time this week. And I loved it so much that I decided to share it here. Sorry for the non-English subtitles. But it was the best video on YouTube. And it does mean that the English lyrics are there as well. Here is I will pray for you, sung by Katherine Jenkins.

Seriousness of sin

Before I start this post on the seriousness of sin, I want to say three things.

1. We are all sinners.
2. Sinners need love and compassion.
3. We are all sinners.

So this post is not going to be about pointing fingers and judging people. That’s never been my approach and I’m not about to start now. It is, however, about recognising that sin is serious. And we do nobody any favours when we pretend that it isn’t.

Many Christians lean towards the love and compassion approach to Christianity. I have nothing against this. I’m all for love and compassion. I believe if everyone had more love and compassion in their lives, the world would be a better place.

When people sin, they do one of two things. They either feel sorrow for it or they don’t. If they don’t feel sorrow, generally nothing anyone says is going to make them feel sorrow. If they do, they feel bad enough on their own, without having other people make them feel worse.

But the love and compassion we extend to others should not involve saying that what they have done is quite okay.

Well, not always. Sometimes people feel bad about something when they really have no need to. Sometimes they exaggerate what they have done wrong and have an unhealthy sense of guilt. And so the best thing is often to say, ‘You know something, what you did wasn’t really that bad.’

When someone feels upset about something, it’s normal to want to make them feel better. It’s the loving and compassionate thing to do. But sometimes what we say to ‘make someone feel better’ doesn’t line up with God’s view of sin. The whole, ‘Well maybe you did have an affair with your husband’s best friend. But lots of people have affairs nowadays’ kind of approach.

And sometimes people don’t need to feel better. Their sorrow for sin is a good thing. It’s what leads to repentance and submission to God’s will. Sometimes making someone feel better is the worst thing you could do for them.

In the beginning I listed three points. Okay, it was more like two. The first and third point was that we are all sinners. Remembering this should help prevent us becoming too judgemental. But it should never lead to a downplaying of sin.

Sometimes the truth that we are all sinners morphs into a ‘We are all sinners, so sin doesn’t really matter’ kind of attitude. ‘After all, what is one sin amongst so many?’ I’ve had someone say to me, ‘Do you honestly think God is going to care if you do this, when there are so many people doing much worse things?’

Short answer, yes. Because sin does matter.

Sin is not like littering. You know how sometimes you’re in a public place, and there’s rubbish everywhere. You kind of look at your empty chip packet or soft drink can and go, ‘I should just toss it on the ground. It’s not going to make any difference. There’s so much rubbish here already.’

Well sin is not like that. Sin is not just one tiny spec in a sin-filled world, hardly noticeable from God’s perspective. Each sin is important. Each sin is an offence against God.

I was praying in Church the other day, looking at the wooden carving of Jesus’ crucifixion, thinking about how He died for our sins. And I thought I can never fully grasp that. My mind can never capture the entirety of what that means. I know Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. And it’s been repeated so often it almost sounds like a cliché. Which is sad in itself, really. But Jesus dying for the sins of the whole world is such a staggering idea. I can’t even begin to appreciate how truly astounding it is.

So I stopped thinking about how Jesus died for our sins and started thinking about how he died for my sins. Not from the point of view that He died just for me. But from the point of view that my sins put him there. My sins nailed God to the cross. If I was the only person in the world, or if I was the only sinner in the world and everyone else was perfect, Jesus would have still been crucified. He would still have undergone unimaginable agony. The suffering that my sins alone would have caused him are immense.

I can’t even grasp that. I will never fully understand just how much he suffered for my sins. And I will never be as thankful for it as I should be.

Perhaps it’s better that way. Perhaps if I did understand and appreciate it properly, I would never get off my knees.

Jesus Christ had love and compassion. Jesus Christ who died on a cross, in agony, suffering for what we have done, paying the price for our sins.

(Image details: Basilique Saint-Quentin, France - Crucifixion)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Understanding Jesus' Love

For my theology unit, one of the readings, Divine Teaching and Christian Beliefs (McIntosh, 2008), discusses the idea that theological beliefs could be tested by their effect upon the person with those beliefs. In other words, good practice equals right beliefs. McIntosh also discussed John Henry Newman’s idea that you can tell whether someone has healthy faith by whether they have love and compassion.

I disagreed with this view. Firstly, because Christians with good beliefs often do bad things. This doesn’t necessary mean their beliefs are wrong.

Secondly, it is not always easy to see what good practice - or even loving others - actually means. There are many Christians who all believe that they are modelling a Christian life of love, who are actually behaving in very different ways to one another.

How can we decide who is right? And if we start deciding that someone has an unhealthy faith because they are not loving, is it really that they are acting without love or is it simply that our idea of love is different to theirs?

Most people would agree that Jesus is our best example of how to love others. But still there is disagreement as to how we should love others, even when following his example.

To some, Jesus’ example is clear. He showed compassion and love on all occasions. Therefore, there should be no disagreement as to what our love should look like.

But Jesus’ example was not clear. Although he showed compassion, he also said things like:

‘You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?’ (Matthew 23:33)


‘And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. (Matthew 11:23).

Many Christians would suggest that mentioning hell to people is not a loving act. And yet if we are to hold Jesus up as the perfect example of love, we have to face the fact that Jesus mentioned hell.

The problem is that although Jesus modelled love perfectly, it is not always so easy to understand. It can’t be summed up in six easy to understand dot-points. It is not a one-sided view of love, that only seeks to love people in one way. It loves people in very different ways. And quite frankly, Jesus’ love is mind-boggling at times. Just when we think we understand Jesus’ love, He seems to approach it from a completely different direction.

I think the greatest mistake we can make is starting to believe we understand Jesus’ love. The first point is that we are not God. We cannot understand God’s love, because our minds our limited. God’s love is so much bigger than what we can comprehend.

Secondly, I think when we start believing we understand Jesus’ love, there’s a danger we may be seeing it from only one perspective. There is also the danger here that we may take that one perspective as the rule by which all our loving actions should be measured against. We must remember to consider the whole of Jesus’ actions and words, not just those that fit into our idea of what love is like.

It’s interesting to think about the Gospels from the point of view of the Apostles. I’m sure there would have been many times when they thought they were starting to understand where Jesus was coming from. But then Jesus goes and does something completely unexpected. Surely there were moments when they thought, ‘That doesn’t fit into my own ideas about who Jesus is. I’m going to have to rethink it all now.’

We like to put people in boxes. We like to figure out where they’re coming from and try and match all their actions up with that. But Jesus was far bigger than our little boxes. We can’t even imagine a box big enough to contain him. Whenever we think his example of love is easy to understand, what we’re really doing is reducing Jesus to a box that doesn’t extend beyond our own mind.

Jesus did not just have one approach to love. He didn’t come at love from the one angle. But we do. We tend to stress one aspect of love and ignore the others. We see love through very limited eyes. We cannot ever fully grasp how big love can be. Because we only ever see a tiny part of it.

Yes, we must always look to Jesus as an example of how to love. But we must never make the mistake of believing that we completely understand that example. We never will. Our minds (and our hearts) are too limited. His love is far bigger than our own ideas. And just when we think we finally get it, that we know how to love and what love means, Jesus is likely to do something completely unexpected. And we may have to rethink it all.

(Image details: Holy Trinity by Botticelli.)


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