Monday, 9 December 2013

On Why I Need Christ During Christmas

So the Atheists are back, and they have a new billboard (because all the best-spirited debate happens when billboards get involved) in Times Square. It's animated (because why should Jesus have all the tacky adverts?); it starts off by saying "Who needs Christ during Christmas?", and then there's a bit of CGI whizziness and it changes to "Nobody needs Christ during Xmas".

Now, first of all, I appreciate that there are plenty of atheists out there who are facepalming at this; the ones who mocked the atheist bus campaign, and who hide under cushions when Richard Dawkins goes off on one again. And secondly, if they have the money and want to buy screentime, who am I to stop them?

But mainly I want to discuss their key point, that nobody needs Christ at Christmas. Firstly, this is a stupid argument to make, because, as any student of logic will tell you, you can't prove that something doesn't exist, whether that something is God, or a blue elephant, or "a person who needs Christ at Christmas"*. I'm being pedantic here, but a certain brand of atheist would go nuts if this was the other way around, so I'm not going to feel bad about it.

* It's a bit more complex than this, but still.

But secondly, and this is my main point today, I'm going to disagree with them, put my hands up, and say "I do. I need Christ this Christmas". I can't prove it to you, or use logic to persuade you, because I don't have a logical, rational argument (mainly because my life insists on being illogical and irrational). And I know that for some, only the logical and rational will suffice, but for me, I need there to be something else.

I need Christ because Christmas fills me with dread. At the darkest, coldest, most difficult time of the year, I'm expected to be merry and bright; I'm expected to go to parties; when all I want is the safety of bed and quiet and warm, I have to organise, plan, attend, pretend to enjoy, and I need Christ because I need to hear "You're enough, as you are. You're loved and accepted on the bad, grumpy, teary days as much as you are on the happy, excited, joyful days. You don't need to do more or be more. You're enough, and you're loved".

I need Christ because I often don't like myself; I hear criticism where none is meant; I hear sarcasm and anger when I need gentle words and compassion; and every time the fear rises and the anxiety comes and I need Christ because, Oh God, I don't want to cut again, but I need to let the feelings out and I need to hear the still, small voice saying "I know. I understand", and I need to let the tears run hot without judgement.

I need Christ because I don't always love my husband as well as I could; because love is not a feeling, but a series of choices, and a lot of the time I need help to make the right one.

I need Christ because I've made mistakes this year. I've hurt, I've lied, I've let down, I've judged, I've condemned. My best efforts have missed the mark. I need Christ because I need to hear "You're forgiven. You will always be forgiven. And you will overcome."

I need Christ because I've been lied to, I've been let down, I've been betrayed and abandoned, and I need to hear "I am with you always".

I need Christ because my friends have been beaten, abused, raped, cheated, widowed; they've had miscarriages and cancer and depression; they've been hurt and belittled and seen their dreams ripped up and their stories trampled. I need Christ because I need to be able to say "There is healing; there is hope; there is peace and joy and love for those who cannot even dare to imagine it".

I need Christ because my friends have cheated, lied, stolen; they've had affairs, fought, and gossiped, and I need Christ because I need to be able to say "There is redemption and restoration, and there is forgiveness and there is reconciliation, and sin is never the most powerful thing".

I need Christ because all the willpower in the world can't make me less afraid or more patient or give me any hope of transformation. As Robbie Williams sang, "You can't manufacture a miracle", and yet, a miracle is exactly what I need to hope for, in my life, and in my friends' lives, and it would be nice to have a machine to churn out miracles on demand, but instead I can only hope and pray and hold on to the promises with the tiny grain of faith that keeps living when it should have died.

So I respect the atheists' opinion, but I respectfully exercise my right to disagree; I know that others will say they don't need Christ for any of this, but I can only say that I do, and why don't we all just get on with things that matter and not be twerps about it?

Friday, 15 November 2013

This Post Is A Bit Serious And Contains A Smattering Of Religion. I'm also not really sure why I'm telling you it, except that it's in my head and I want to get it out.

Well, over 2 people thought the "Here's-a-headline-and-I-wrote-a-better-article" thing was a good idea, so I'll be doing that forthwith.  In the meantime, I've been Thinking Thinks, and decided to share some of them, for no real reason except that sometimes Thinks make more sense when they're written down and you can have a good look at them.

Recently I was looking through old diaries and journals, and came upon some stuff from about 2000-2001, when I did a Thing called "Encounter" - a kind of discipleship / Sonship course, which involved about 20-25 Irish people and some Americans all meeting in a little village south of Dublin and Learning Stuff for a fortnight, before being sent to far-flung places like Galway to work with churches for a week (that was a whole other experience, which we'll save for a time when I have the emotional strength to dig it all up again).

Anyway, part of this was that you got stuck in a "discipleship group" with a few others, and you talked about your problems*.  So I was with 2 others, who we'll call Lorraine and Christine, since that's what they're actually called.  I like to describe the three of us as "The discipleship group from Hell", because, while we're all very nice people, in general, we all arrived on the Thing refusing to talk about ourselves or share experiences or generally do any of the things that make a discipleship group actually work and not just be really awkward.

*I'm not sure that that was really what we were meant to do, but it sounded more doom-laden when we put it that way, and we liked that.

I remember being asked things like "What are you struggling with at the moment?" and it wasn't just that I was being awkward (I mean, I WAS also being awkward, but even if I hadn't been, that wasn't even close to the main issue), it was more that I really honestly couldn't have told you what I struggled with, because I didn't like Thinking Of Such Things.  If you'd asked me whether I was happy with who I was, I'd immediately have laughed and said "no" (well, I might have said "yes", but that would have been to stop you asking any more awkward questions), but if you asked me for specifics, I'd have been at a total loss.

During that time, I was keeping a journal fairly regularly, and one of the Bible verses I wrote that week was "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from you and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26), and I remember feeling that I had a heart of stone because it didn't seem to really do "feelings" and stuff very well, so I prayed that God would soften it and put feelings in it and that, even though I had a notion that I might not like That Sort of Thing, but I figured I could always throw them back out if I had to.

The thing is, I'm not an especially good person.  This is not me-bashing.  I'm not an especially bad person either.  I'm just a regular person, and I have good points and bad points.  But I've always loved an excuse.  Like, when I read stuff about how I should love other people, I liked to be able to say "Ah, yes, but that command is for people who can do stuff like that.  Not for me.  I just exist to facilitate everyone else doing that."  In the great mosaic of life, where everyone adds their own little bit of colour, I liked to think of myself as the grouting.  I'm there, I show up, you can see me if you look, things wouldn't go well without me, but I don't actually add anything much.  I liked to think that stuff that happened in the past meant that I had a sort of free pass to skip bits of the Bible.  I didn't have the capacity to love other people, I told myself, so therefore I was exempt.  I didn't have a ton of people in my life who loved me or did stuff for me, so it was ok to not love people all that much.

Don't get me wrong; I was all for compassion and goodness and kindness and things like that happening, and if I was able to do the dishes afterwards then I could feel ok about myself, but I didn't like to think that I could actually DO anything to make myself more compassionate or loving or generous or whatever, because then I'd have to actually DO something involving feelings.

I liked to be liked, though.  We all do, I think.  I liked to be nice to people, and to help out where I could, and to listen to problems and be all sympathetic about them.  And I was aware that sometimes sympathy wasn't the best course of action, but if I tried to suggest that perhaps plotting to kill the person who'd annoyed you wasn't the best course of action*, then you might not like me, so I'd go back to sympathy.

* Dear Police, this never actually happened

But then stuff started to change.  Our little group started the fortnight by spending our hour (or whatever it was) of discipleship group time studying the daisies and making jokes to break the tension, and ended it by actually talking about stuff.  Like, not major stuff.  But stuff.  At some point someone even cried a little. Then we went to Galway and we all came back exhausted and ill, and suddenly all the feelings inside me exploded all over the place one night.  The leader of the Thing was summonsed, and I sobbed on her shoulder for about half an hour, howling out the most random sentences known to mankind before or since, and she very patiently held me tight and then pointed out that maybe I was a self-centered, people-pleasing ball of anger and confusion who used excuses to stop having to move on or let God work* and suddenly I realised that maybe that was true, and maybe I couldn't just excuse it away, and maybe it might be ok to deal with it.

* I think she said it nicer than that, though.  But I wouldn't swear to it.

So suddenly the heart of stone started to crack a little, and let stuff happen.  Not much stuff, and not very fast, but I could stop blaming myself and my past and my fundamentally flawed personality for not being able to say hello to a new person who'd just come into the room, and I'd start going over to chat.  Awkwardly, of course.  It is a merciful thing that I don't remember my early attempts at being a Normal Sociable Person.  But I started to discover that people weren't really looking at me and thinking "Why is this girl with the weird facial expressions and weird voice who looks all weird having a weird conversation with me?", but really they were thinking "Does she think I'm weird? At least she's talking to me so I don't have to stand here like a weird freak on my own.", because really, I'm not the centre of everyone else's universe, and that's probably ok.

And then after a little while I could open myself up to being generous and taking little risks like giving people stuff and risking that they might give me something back and then I'd be stuck in some sort of viscious cycle of gift-giving, or else I'd look bad for not saying Thank You loudly enough, or else they wouldn't like what I gave them or they'd just think it was weird.  And I started to stop giving things just to make people like me, and started giving them just because I thought they might make the other person happy.  And I stopped really noticing whether the things I did for people made them like me or not, and I just went on doing things because there was joy in it.

And after a while that got to be ok, and, to cut a long story short, I started to open myself up to the idea that maybe I could try to love people properly, and focus on them instead of on myself, but in an encouraging way and not in a comparing myself to them way.  And maybe I could be honest and say "I know you want to kill that person, but maybe you shouldn't" and maybe they'd reject me and not talk to me again, but maybe that wasn't the end of the world, and maybe it was even better than just encouraging them to kill the person so I didn't look like a party pooper.  And maybe I could let them love me too, and I could be vulnerable sometimes, and accept help and allow other people to give it and not have to immediately make it up to them, and not be obssessed with what it would make them think of me.

And after another while, I realised that it was actually ok to obey what God said and to love other people, because it's not about me anyway, and if I screw it up, I have a couple of friends who were in that discipleship staring at daisies who have seen the bad and the good and who love me anyway, and then I thought that maybe that's a bit like what God is like, only he's even better, and then I started to get more friends like that, and then I think maybe I started to be that kind of friend for other people sometimes too.  And it turned out that other people actually thought that being secure in Christ as a child of God was more important than being good and right all the time, and that I could drop the pretence and not have to be perfect, and actually that was much better and safer and more exciting than always trying to be good and right and then having to run away and hide and never speak to people again when I messed up or gave in to temptation or couldn't be bothered or decided to have fun doing things my way.

So I'm thinking that somewhere along the way, quite a lot of what was stony and scared has been replaced with flesh and confidence, and even though that sometimes means that I care too much and probably annoy the feck out of people (especially the people who just want to block things out and stare at daisies), and even though there are still a lot of stony bits that I probably don't even know about, and a lot of the good bits are messed up in some ways, and there could be a lot more good bits and a lot less bad bits, I think I find much more joy and freedom in being this way, and overall, I think I would recommend it.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

On Winter

The ole winter blues have arrived early this year. Whether it's that it's a lot colder outside, or because I've had a stressful few months with one thing and another (though, surprisingly, not with being married, which has so far been, y'know, ok), or a combination of things, the urge to hibernate has kicked in, and we're not even into December (ah, Christmas stress!).

So I've decided that this year, I'll try to go easy on myself. I'm not going to force myself to go to everything I'm invited to. I'll take the breaks where they're offered. I'll be gentle with myself as much as I can. And if all else fails, I'll try to focus on keeping breathing, and putting one foot in front of the other, and enjoying the little things that bring me happy.

We'll see how it goes.

Monday, 11 November 2013

A New Idea I've Been Thinking About

So I've had this new idea, and it stems from the fact that I keep seeing articles with really interesting titles which are not anywhere near as interesting when I actually click on them.  So I'm thinking of writing blog posts which contain what I wanted the articles to say.

This may or may not be interesting.  We'll see.

The 10 Day You Challenge. Day 10: 1 Photo

Sorry.  Forgot all about this.  Here's me on my first bike, as previously mentioned:


The bike was called "Pritter", apparently.  I think I was trying to say "Critter", although where I got that from, I'm not sure.  Probably an encyclopedia or something.