Wednesday, August 29, 2007

the end times

And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be. Daniel 8:19

It has been a year since I started this blog. And in this time I have tried chastity, met a man, fallen in love for the first time and now, it seems, have had my heart broken.

Now is not the time to go back to chastity. No, that came out wrong. Now is the time to recognise my limits, of which being an Evangelical is definitely one.

So a new reason to write and a new name. Perhaps also less of the hiding behind anonymity.

See you in another life!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Remark with five a note of passion (4)

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say I love you right out loud (Joni Mitchell)

There are no passages in the New Testament dealing with love between a man and a woman. (This is very sad and explains much about the modern Church's attitude to sex, marriage and teenagers)

I am in love. With the man. And he loves me. Or so he says. Dammit, I should try not to do that deprecation thing.

I thought I loved him before. Like an idiot I told him and was rewarded with an embarrassed silence and the desperate hope I might wake up from the bad dream. Perhaps in someone else's bed. Anything but the embarrassment and the silence.

At that time I wasn't in love. I was infatuated and frankly over-awed by the fact someone still wanted to go out with me nearly 2 months down the line.

It's difficult to admit to being wrong, especially when you confess to being in love

(example scenario 1: explaining to best friend why you are dating the 'bastard ex' again)
(example scenario 2: getting married and later regretting it)
(example scenario 3: all of the bad poetry written in adolescence)

I realised that I couldn't genuinely be in love with him if he didn't love me. It is difficult, if not impossible, to love in a vaccuum: over time it becomes obsession or desperation, or some other perversion of love, which feeds on its own excrement. Nice.

So now that he's confessed to loving me, I can explore my own feelings more freely. Reciprocate the words. Then sit back and consider their meaning. Try to understand if I am in love, or in love with saying the words.

To pursue a glib saying, Love is...
...exquisite joy in their company
...crippling fear that they will be lost
...endless thoughts of them in daydreams
...smiling despite their absence
...worrying in their presence
...extreme of emotion

...impossible to define.

Of course, I can't just enjoy the fact that I am loved and love back, I have to seek the bigger picture. One day this will end in heartbreak. Whether it’s next week after a disastrous row, or 70 years in the future, in a silk-lined coffin.

Oh dear. That’s not a happy thought. Can I really be in love if I can be that pessimistic about it? Shouldn’t I be listening to Lionel Richie and walking with a permanent smile on my face?

On a better note, the sex is better than ever. Is this because it has the seal of Love approval? Fuck knows.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Whose justice?

Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd. (Exodus 23:2)

I was in Bethnal Green police station the other day. First time I had ever been inside a police station. It was dingy, care-worn, relatively inhospitable, which every Daily Mail reader might expect from the nation’s prisons, havens of criminals and ne’er-do-wells as they are.

A few months ago I had my mobile nicked by a stereotypical Hackney hoody: just out of school and looking shifty. Bastard grabbed my phone and in a split second I looked a fool. Fortunately it was my work phone so I just had to tell the boss and sit tight while they paid the damage. It was also a several year old Nokia, its only redeeming feature an addictive golf game I missed sorely.

So two and a half months later I am surprised to hear that it’s been found and would I like to give a statement? Damn right I would; it took me off work for an hour or two, it meant an exciting sojourn into new anecdotal territory, not because I felt I needed justice

I’m sitting in a room with no curtains and gargantuan filing cabinets describing at length. “And how tall was he? How old did he seem? Can you tell the difference between different types of black?” Two thoughts spring to mind.

Does the boy they have in the cells look anything like the guy I’m describing? Since the charming police officer isn’t going to stop if I’m giving her a black boy with a hoody and she has a white kid with a sweatshirt… and

What if this statement sends him to prison? Since the stolen property is only part of the bigger case they’re building against him.

I miss my golf game, but I’ve just about got over it. I don’t feel any need for justice. I should not have left the mobile on the table. True, I was little further than a metre away from the sod when he nicked it, but I didn’t feel so wronged that I chased him down the street in my 4 inch heels. The poor kid probably couldn’t flog the vintage handset, it would certainly explain why he still had it nearly three months later.

There is an argument that says justice should be served as an example, that unless every thief is publicly reprimanded, other thieves will continue to take liberties. There is the argument that this boy, who has other charges against him, is a bad sort who needs discipline. There is the argument that the police are there to do their job and charging a Hackney minor with possession of stolen property is part of that.

However, there is also the argument that as long as there is envy and greed, there will be theft and punishment no disincentive. There is the argument that discipline should have been in his life long before puberty set in or the police got involved. There is the argument that if the victim (me) doesn’t need ‘justice’, it shouldn’t be sought.

Maybe I shouldn’t have given the statement. I forgive the kid. He’s bored, it’s a challenge. Ranulph Fiennes surely has similar motives for each expedition.

So if Bethnal Green police station ask me to give evidence in court, I will say no. Except I can’t, because I signed something that said I had to. Ooops. And bugger.

Many opinions are uninformed purely through lack of experience. As Socrates says: “Wise is the man who knows that he does not know/” I had abstract ideas of justice before. Now they are informed at least slightly through experience, but still nascent. If I craved justice would I still be so willing to forgive? If I felt apathetic, would I let someone else decide on the necessity for justice? If I felt entirely absolvent, would I fight for the person who had supposedly wronged me?

Forgiveness is, according to cliché, divine. But so is wrath and justice. Some Christians love to tell people that they’re going to fire-laden hell with God’s angry finger pointing the way, while hiding their own short-comings behind the words “For God so loved the world…”

Judgement is enshrined in justice: it is the culmination of justice, its working out. However in human courts it is not the victim who passes judgement. They seek justice on the victim’s behalf. I’m not sure that makes sense.

I’m going to think about this, because it’s too easy to run away with opinions of why this is and why this may be wrong. Is justice sought for the individual or for society, and can it ever be enough for either?

Monday, February 19, 2007

radio silence

Wow, I haven't posted in a long time.

Work's been hectic, I've been moving flat and obviously there was the week skiing... Enough with excuses, here's a quick round-up:

  • Skiing was amazing. Both the learning how to and the sharing a holiday. Being in ski school for the morning definitely helped, that way we weren't in each others' faces for the whole day. We had some good talks, we had some excellent silences and one night after far too much wine, he put Robbie Williams' Angels onto the iPod speakers and sang along in my ear as we danced. I think it's a testiment to how far I've come that I wasn't disgusted by the incident!
  • I have left the small room I was renting and haven't looked back. Strange feeling, living somewhere for five months, sharing living space and bathroom tiles with new people for that long and leaving without a backward glance. There hadn't been (much of) a falling out, but I just felt no obligation to swear friendship and an "I'll miss you". New gorgeous flat, living with friends, all very grown-up methinks.
  • Work has become something different from the original job description. But only for a while. For another 2 weeks it's hectic data inputting and still being out of my depth.

That's it for the moment. Need to think about some of the things that have happened this month. Will write again soon...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

facing a fear

quidquid id est, timeo danaos et dona ferentes (Vergil)

I'm going away with someone for a week. This is something I'm very worried about. It will probably be ok, it may even be fun, but at this moment in time, with 12 hours to go before we leave for the airport, I'm scared.

I don't want to go into why because it will feed the fears. And I don't want to think about 'when I get back' because, as when I lie in bed thinking how much I need to sleep it eludes me, it will make the fears fester.

It is wrong to test God, but is it wrong to test relationships? Is every event in a relationship a test, or does that question reflect a negative frame of mind? I need to pack and I need to stop thinking so much.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

preaching: a biblical concept or a modern construct?

To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8)

The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be the converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. (Charles H Spurgeon)

A while ago I was at one of those evangelical churches where the young people all look alike - very clean - and the annual gift giving exceeds one and a half million a year.

The preacher was a 'nice' man. He stood in the pulpit and he toed the party line. He said exactly what the large, healthy and wealthy congregation wanted to hear: that they were saved, God loved them and thank His glorious name that we weren't like those poor Godless souls living outside these walls.

And yet he was preaching from the Sermon on the Mount, one of the most radical speeches on equality, liberty and fraternity ever recorded. Specifically he was preaching on Matthew 7: 13-14

Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.

First of all, there is so much scope here for a brief sojourn into first century Palestinian life. What is Jesus referring to when he talks about "the market"; what kind of life were these "crowds of people" living and were they likely to have been 'Godless' or religious hypcrites; surely it was Jesus' Judaism that informed this statement rather than a prophetic form of Christian asceticism?

This preacher, however, did not even pay lip service to the historical context of the passage. He launched immediately into how it was relevant, in its unexplored entirety, to 'us'. Like an English teacher explaining why Chaucer's ribald stories are funny without ever mentioning that they're set in the forteenth century.

Secondly, how wonderfully contraversial a passage for a congregation whose lives are, by and large, very successful in the eyes of the world. How can an investment banker on three quarters of a million a year live a 'vigorous' life? According to this preacher, by contributing to the church's hefty gift kitty every month and coming to church once a week. Would Jesus, who said if a man asks you to carry his bag one mile you should carry it two, agree that this is vigorous enough?

A vigorous life cannot wholly be measured in actions and it cannot be prescribed in a twenty minute sermon. A vigorous life should be one that is challenged, with total attention, at every turn by the word of God, by the conscience of the individual and the interpretation of other people.

The preacher should have taken the opportunity to challenge us listening as to whether our lives were examples of shortcuts to God, whether we were living in a way that was too easy to sit well with the words of Jesus or we were giving our total attention to the 'narrow path'.

There is no word for 'preach' in New Testament Greek. The words that are translated as 'preach' mean either 'tell good news' or 'proclaim' or 'herald'. The word that most accurately encompasses the term 'preaching' is propheteia, which is the root of the English word prophecy. Few preachers today would be confident enough to describe what they do each week in the pulpit as prophecy.

These days, if someone is described as a good preacher, they are probably intelligent without being academic, articulate without being longwinded, holy without being pious and always reliable to throw in a few laughs. They are rarely described as heralds of God's glory on a weekly basis. But are they prophets?

Prophets are not people who see and predict the future, they are people who speak for God and interpret His will. They are people who see what is wrong with the world and challenge it loudly and forcefully.

Some people might argue that prophecy is a spiritual gift. In which case preaching must be also, especially if you consider what congregations ask of their preachers each week - a little wisdom perhaps understanding - and then read the verse from 1 Corinthians above.

Perhaps it is too much to ask for words of prophecy every week, but complacent teaching is an insult to the words of Jesus. There has never been a rosy age of history when things were right with the world. Ever since his resurrection, Jesus has empowered us to seek the things of God, which does not mean hiding behind religious walls and patting ourselves on the back for our ability to find faith. This means looking at the world that God has made and challenging others but most of all ourselves to recognise what is wrong and what needs to be changed.

If individually we don't have the gift of speaking for God and interpreting His will, then we must rely on our preachers to do this for us. And then we listen vigorously and with total attention to what they say.

Crowds of churchgoers fall for allowing complacent preaching that neither exhorts nor exalts and this is nothing but a shortcut to God.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

feeling unsettled

You never know, wife: The way you handle this might bring your husband not only back to you but to God. You never know, husband: The way you handle this might bring your wife not only back to you but to God. (1 Corinthians 7:16)

Was just chatting with the boyfriend’s younger brother. Same age as me and quite similar I suppose in mind-sets. It’s not so surprising since they had the same upbringing and I and the boyfriend have a similar worldview. He said that he had recently come to the decision not to have sex again until he was married.

I found myself feeling ashamed when he said this. After all, wasn’t that the decision I had sort of come to myself five months ago? I hadn’t gone so far as to use the ‘M’ word because, frankly, I never imagined myself being in the position to get married (that darned self-esteem thing again), but had I lost any sense of the principles I was trying to discover?

Now that I reflect a little more honestly, I think that I fell into the same trap I allowed myself with some of my more inappropriate one-night-stands: saying yes because it was easier than saying no. The boyfriend status had made it seem less inappropriate, but I was still not assertive enough to stand by what little principles I was trying to find.

This makes me sad because it brings the boyfriend down to the level of the boys in my past. I don’t want to do that to him, but equally I don’t want to mention the ‘M’ word as a panicked dash to principled safety. Firstly because, while I really do like this guy a lot, I’m still nervous about another six weeks, let alone a lifetime; and secondly because he broke up with his last girlfriend because she wanted to know if they’d be getting married at some point in the future.

I am feeling ashamed and guilty right now, which is little different from how I’ve felt for the last four years. Or rather, how I’ve felt in conversations with Christians who are ‘better’ than me. It’s also how I feel in conversations with non-smokers, people who eat their five portions a day, people who exercise regularly, people who rarely – if ever – swear. Perhaps I’m losing sight of why I’m feeling guilty simply because it’s my default emotion when I’m feeling unsettled.

I need to pray about it, but this brings with it the possibility that I need to rethink this relationship, which means talking to the boyfriend, which means maybe jeopardizing what we have, which means almost certainly carrying on saying yes because it’s still easier than saying no.

There’s an extra dimension to this whole issue: if my boss finds out I’m sleeping with my boyfriend, there will almost certainly be a disciplinary meeting, because I am not being ‘Christlike’. I’ve laughed about this, but I’ve also been worried by it. It’s so easy to mock conservative Christians when you’re a liberal academic type, but it doesn’t make you right. What the conservative line lacks in compassion it makes up for in righteousness.

I am certainly not righteous enough, but is it ok to give up trying?