Tag Archives: Christianity

Modern, white church building on housing estate

Is church relevant anymore?

My faith is of central importance to my life and it always has been; I don’t know what it’s like not to believe in an all loving God I can turn to at anytime and to be part of a community of fellow believers.

Pew ends with stacks of bibles

Not many years ago, going to church was the thing everyone did on a Sunday, on the day of rest, whole families would attend church together as part of their weekly routine. Society has changed a lot, with shops opening on Sunday and many sporting activities happening on Sundays, there are many reasons why the habitual practice of going to church has changed. But does that mean that church no longer has any relevance?

British culture has changed such that people are encouraged to express their individuality, instead of following what their family has done for generations. People, now more than ever, think about what’s right for them personally, rather than fitting in with what everyone else does.

I see many people for whom religion just isn’t on their agenda, they live their life quite happily and don’t see any reason to show any interest in the church or what they have to offer.

Many people have actively been put off church by the things people do “in the name of religion”. Interpreting the Bible in an unhelpful manner has made people think Christians are judgmental do-gooders who do not welcome difference or anyone who’s struggling.

So we have people who have been hurt by the church and we have people who are indifferent – how is the church relevant to either of these groups of people?

When I was young, I went with my family to church, I thought I was an ok Christian – I didn’t think I was anything special but I moved through life being as good-a-person as I could be and I thought that was ok. I knew I sometimes did things that weren’t great, I might have told a fib here and there but I wasn’t a terrible person.

When I went away to uni, I continued going to church, it was what I’d always done, I saw no reason to stop. But it was here that I woke up to what being a Christian really meant. It suddenly hit me was that I was a serial sinner, I committed sins daily even hourly, but I also learnt that that’s ok, God forgives me even before I sin and when I ask for forgiveness, God’s grace is abundant.

But, why am I talking about is sin?! I hear you ask. I’m not that terrible am I?! I’ve not murdered anyone or stolen anything?! The sorts of sins I commit include being quick to anger, being slow to say sorry, letting my emotions dictate how I react to situations, not being compassionate towards people and judging people before I know their story. At the moment something I’m struggling with is that I’m being quite negative at work, I try not to be, I’m generally a positive person, trying to see silver-linings etc but just now I’m letting a negative situation get the better of me – this is not how God made me to be. Maybe other people wouldn’t call these sins but for me, I find it easier to lump everything together otherwise I get unnecessarily caught in grading or rating the level of “not great” I’m being.

God’s grace through Christ is greater than our sin, even on our worst days - white quote on grey background by Jerry Bridges

For me, it is these things that brings me closer to God, they remind me I am human, they humble me, they remind me I can’t do anything without God’s strength and being mindful of my shortfalls keep me striving to be a better person. Yes, I’m sure there are non-Christians out there who try to be good people but I strive to be more Christ like, the bar is high – I will fail but this does not stop me trying.

Jesus loved the sick, he prioritised spending time with criminals – no matter what sin people had committed, Jesus wanted to love them, to accept them and to bring them into his fold. Absolute unconditional love and compassion is not something many people experience – this is what Jesus has on offer.

I’m not one for writing hard hitting challenging blogs as I’m naturally a people pleaser, I don’t like upsetting people, I like to gently present a idea for people to think about but I feel this subject needs a more direct approach. I ask you this – why do you do anything?

Why do you get up in the morning? To go to work? To put breakfast on the table for your family? Because you feel you should?

So why do you do that? Why do you go to work? Why do you prepare meals for your family? Why do feel you should?

Cup of coffee and a pen on a pile of papers with the question “Why am I here”.

Keep asking “why” until you strip your life back to find what you fundamentally believe the point of your life is. Why are you on this earth? What, ultimately, gives you meaning and purpose?

I believe God has put me on this earth to serve him and other people, I believe I am meant to use the skills God has given me to care for other people, to show them love and compassion, and to improve the quality of their lives.

Most of my blogs are about mental health because illness has dominated my life and I believe by sharing my experience and the things I’ve learnt I might help other people, whether it’s by helping people feel less alone or by educating and raising awareness in order to decrease stigma and discrimination.

The connection between my faith and my mental health recovery is simple – I could not have recovered without my faith. There was a point in my recovery where I had to make a conscious decision to take my illness out of the centre of my life. I decided I did not want it to define me. By removing my illness from the centre, I had to replace it with something, for me, this something was God. Other people may want to fill that hole with family, friends or work but in my experience (as fantastic as they are) these things cannot be as rock solid and reliable as God.

While going through trialing times, such as illness, bereavement or relationship breakdown, we all need people we can rely on. As an introvert, I struggle to make friends and it takes me a long time to open up to people. Some people are fortunate enough to have strong groups of friends either purely socially or via a hobby who they can rely on to be there through thick and thin. But for me, it’s my Church community who offer love and acceptance no matter what I’m going through. I don’t need to blurt out my deepest darkest secrets for people to care, to offer words of comfort or to pray with me.

I have been really fortunate that various music groups that I’ve belonged to have been understanding when I’ve been unwell. For example, for a period of time I could only manage half rehearsals but I was still accepted and my participation (no matter how little or unreliable it was) and my talent was appreciated. But with a social group or hobby, there’s an expectation, some condition on you belonging. This situation here was great but there was some expectation that if I was to come along, I would play the saxophone, at least some of the time!

But church goes the extra mile; there are absolutely no conditions placed on being part of a church. There have been times I’ve gone to church, week after week, sat at the back and not spoken to anyone – this was what I wanted and needed at the time. It’s totally up to the individual how much you take part in the church community.

Looking across rolling hills with mountains in the background and trees and hedges in the foreground

People find God in different place, for example, within themselves or in nature and although I agree God is everywhere and people will feel nourished by different environments, God has designed us to be in community and for me, church is not about some old (or new) building, it’s about a community of people, a loving, accepting community of people.

Unfortunately, there are groups of people who call themselves Christians who are judgmental and expect people to conform to a set of rules in order to be accepted into a church but this is not what Christianity is about. My church is a safe and supportive environment where my relationships with Jesus Christ can grow.

So, if you’ve made it to the end of the blog…

If you’ve been hurt by people acting “in the name of religion”, I’m really sorry. Please remember humans get it wrong. The God I know is not judgmental, he is infinitely gracious and longs to have a relationship with you.

If you’re “meh” about religion, might it be worth giving it a go? What have you got to lose?!

Question marks

The Big Questions – live debate, an experience

I hope you can excuse a little self indulgence while I digest what just happened… Some of you will have seen me on The Big Questions (TBQ) on BBC1 today debating the subject “Is religion good for your mental health”. If you missed it, you can catch it on iPlayer here. It was my 2nd experience of live TV, it’s kinda fun being treated like an important person for a couple of hours. I was asked if I enjoyed it… I think I can certainly say it was an experience but, enjoy? I’m not sure!

In case you don’t know me, in a nutshell, I woulnd’t be alive right now if it were not for my faith. I don’t always tak about my faith, for more details see here. But there’s no escaping it now – live on BBC1 I stated that I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Quote from John chapter 13, verse 34. As I have loved you, love one another

To be honest, right now I feel overwhelmed with sadness that people claim to be working in the name of God, express hatred towards other human beings. I have been brought up to love everyone, I don’t think this was part of my “religious upbringing” or it’s just a descent thing to do. I do not judge people, it is not my place – I treat others as I would like to be treated.

First things first, I’m not out to convert anyone – I share my religious views, if you don’t share them, please do not dismiss me, please do not label me as “judgmental” or assume I hold views that you haven’t asked me about. I share my experiences in case they will help other people.

If someone doesn’t want to experience a personal relationship for God, I’m not going to force it on them. If, however, you’re looking for one and all you hear is “you’re a bad person”, “you’re sinful”, “you’re going to hell”, “you need change before you’re accepted” – this is fundamentally wrong. These words are human in origin, this is not what God says. If you’ve had a bad experience of religion, long story short, it’s likely to have been the human element (i.e. other human’s telling you what you should think or how you should behave) that messed it up, not God.

God loves me despite how much or how little I have it together

My experience of God is simple – he loves me for who I am, just the way I am, if I make a mistake he has forgiven me before I do it. He invites me into a personal, loving, relationship with him. As a Anglican Christian, I am fortunate that with my faith comes a loving community – this is not everyone’s experience of Christianity and I feel pretty angry about that.

Predictably, there were people on TBQ who had bad experiences with religion and, rightfully so, wanted to get their voice heard. There were also people who weren’t bothered by religion who didn’t think it was something they needed in order to be healthy. As I have previously found, people who feel they have been wronged have a very loud voice. I find myself wondering what people want when they shout about a bad experience, often an answer to this question is not forthcoming. The need to be heard is powerful but often people don’t think they have been heard unless you agree with them.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say

I do not dismiss other people’s experiences, I find it hurtful and disrespectful when my experience is disregarded or laughed at. Although I felt respected by all staff working on the production, I was surprised at the “guests” and members of public before and after the debate. A debate is a forum where opposing arguments can be put forward – perhaps I was expecting people to actually listen respectfully to each other but this wasn’t what people wanted to do. People spoke over each other and took the topic off tangent to make unconnected points.

In summary, am I glad I agreed to go on TBQ? On balance, yes but there’s no way this subject could be fully explored in such a short time or with people who just want to get their point across without fully listening to other people.

Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, they listen to reply. Stephen Covey

How do I believe in a God who allows suffering?

We are all too painfully aware of suffering and if we are touched by it we are bound to ask questions, we generally want to know why it’s happening?
If God exists, maybe there are a few possibilities, either:

  • he is not all powerful or
  • he is not all loving or
  • he just doesn’t care/can’t be bothered/is lazy.

I do not believe in a God who causes suffering, nor do I believe in a God who actively wants us to be in pain or sits back watching us in pain.
My experience
I have been to some of the darkest places on earth through suffering the torture of depression. At times, my mind was so broken that I could not see a way through the emotional pain so the only way it was going to stop was if I ended my life. Some people have experienced physical or spiritual pain that has taken them to a similar place.
I believe in a God who knows my pain, a God who experiences my pain with me. I am his child, when I’m in pain, his heart breaks.
I also believe God has experienced the ultimate pain of seeing his one and only Son be put to death for crimes he did not commit. And it’s by his wounds I believe I am free (but that’s another blog).
Illness and healing
When it comes to illness, the fact is, our bodies go wrong. What’s fantastic about our bodies is that they often get stronger as they heal. Healed muscle fibres are stronger, this would not happen if little tears didn’t happen.
When my mind was sick, I could have wished (prayed) for instant healing but I never did. When I could think rationally I knew the recovery journey would be worth it and make me stronger.
Our bodies are incredibly complex machines that require very fine balances to function, things will go out of balance for all sorts of reasons, some things we can control (and we chose not to at times), others we can’t.
Perfect isn’t so simple
Some could say that God should have made our bodies perfect and that they should not go wrong. Christians believe everyone of us is made in the image of a God and that we are all perfect in his eyes. Creating a “perfect” world is not as simple as is sounds. For example:

  • Would the body contain water? Vital for life as we know it but only a small amount is capable of drowning.
  • Would the body contain bacteria? Vital for digestion but can also cause deadly diseases.
  • Do we want a body that can experience pain? If we do not feel pain we would not withdraw our hand from the hot iron, nor would we know if we’d swollowed a fish bone.
  • We’ve been given wonderfully beautiful minds that have invested medicines and make great technological advances but we also use our intelligence to make weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

If everything was good and perfect all the time we would have no concept of good or perfect. How would we know things were good if we had nothing to compare it to?
Turning despair on its head
Some people are able to look at their disability or illness in such a way that it is a gift. To some this may sound very bizarre. It is a fact that mental illness exists, if I had not suffered, I would not feel passionate about raising awareness about injustices, stigma and discrimination. I have met a whole new world of people, some of the kindest and gentlest people I know. If I had not gone through therapy I would not have developed such clear understanding of how my mind works and my relationships wouldn’t have gained the benefits.
God as a parent figure
Some people find it helpful to think of God as a parent figure. Let’s consider the parent who protects their child from everything. These children are not allowed to play in the stream, they do not tear their trousers, they never graze their elbows, these children will not develop a healthy immune system. Children wrapped in cotton wool are not allowed to play conkers or tag, they do not watch upsetting TV programmes, are protected from anything that might hurt them physically or mentally and do not develop skills to assess risk and take responsibility for their actions.
My parents gave me opportunities to make choices, sometimes I have made wrong choices and these have harmed me, I have learnt far more powerful lessons from these times than if I’d just been told what I should and shouldn’t do. My Father God has done the same, I am glad I am free to take risks, to make mistakes, to learn and to grow. He has gifted me with free will.
Free will
God has overcome evil but he has given human beings free will to follow Satan if they choose to. God asks us to choose him but he cannot force us to, otherwise it would not be true free will.
So, if we accept that stuff happens, whether it’s illness or poor decisions, surely God can just put things right when they go wrong? The way I see it is that we would not learn to look after ourselves if someone else could automatically click their fingers every time we stuffed up.
Something God does offer, to help us through the tough times, is a unique relationships with him.
Who am I to say?
When we object to suffering we are suggesting that we have the right to decide what is right and wrong. But who are we to decide that our right is right and our wrong is wrong? One person’s right could be another person’s wrong. We’re all aware of the saying that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Even between my husband and I (who agree on most things) have opposing views regarding WMD (called a nuclear deterrent when we want to deminish their destructive nature). My black and white belief is that they are evil and every single one should be (safely) destroyed, my husband has more grey views, believing they are a political necessity (but would not have them in an ideal world). Who am I to say my view is any more right than my husband’s?
Perhaps we should take responsibility
When it comes to natural disasters, have you ever wondered why we build settlements on faultlines or in the shadow of a volcano? Why, as a world, do we allow the poorest of our world to live in the most dangerous places, meaning not only their homes but their lives are at risk? Why do we jump into action when the disaster happens, running crisis plans, blaming and getting angry at God for allowing it to happen? Why do we not act before the disaster happens? Why do we not use our intelligence and moral compass to declare dangerous sections of the world uninhabitable and make sure every single person in the world has a safe place to live?
I’m not saying it’s easy, nor do I have all the answers, these are just a few of my humble thoughts about how I make sense of it.
In conclusion I believe God chooses to use his power wisely, he does not callously decide some people will be in pain while others will be spared. When in the midst of suffering we may think things are simple but if we’re able to step back and consider the bigger picture, the subject of suffering is not as black and white as it feels. My experience is that God loves us so much, he offers himself as a companion in the pain, he doesn’t just watch us, he experiences it with us and carries us if we ask him to.
A broken world will throw trials at us, we have God given freedom to choose to go through our trials with him or without him.