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The Thirteenth Psalm

Posted: January 19, 2014 in Uncategorized
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How long, O Lord, will this jaw ache?
How long, O Lord, will you ignore me as it keeps me awake?
How long must I wait? How many operations will it take?
How long shall my enemy pursue me, and my life seem so totally pointless and ‘on-hold’?

O God, show up! Come to my aid and help me;
Give me hope, increase my faith; surround me with your love and the strength to face another day.

Don’t let my enemy say: “I have won! She’s so useless; such a failure and pathetic!”
Neither let him celebrate as I languish here in pain, taunting me with those words again – “you’re the one that never made it”.

But in spite of all this, I choose to trust in you Jesus;
whilst somewhat uncertain and afraid, I place my hand in yours.
I will sing to you, even though it hurts my jaw; for you have provided me with wheat bags, codeine, a comfortable pillow, and a beautiful niece who has brought Hammy Hamster over for the weekend, and for that I give you thanks!

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‘When Silence Falls’ was an album released by Tim Hughes in 2004. There’s a song on the album entitled: ‘When the Tears Fall’ – I felt compelled to listen to it again the other day. It’s basically a song about God being with us as we go through the shit, and about us praising God in the midst of pain, and confusion, and despair. Here are a few of the lyrics…

silence

I’ve had questions without answers
I’ve known sorrow, I have known pain
But there’s one thing that I cling to
You are faithful, Jesus You’re true

When hope is lost
I call You Saviour
When pain surrounds
I call You Healer
When silence falls
You’ll be the song within my heart

In the lone hour of my sorrow
Through the darkest night of my soul
You surround me, You sustain me
My defender for ever more

When silence falls…

I was struck recently by the inauguration of Pope Francis, who as he stood on ‘the balcony’ asked the millions gathered to pray for him in the silence. There was power in the silence, it projected something of sheer beauty and peace. It spoke far more than words, it spoke of a man of integrity and humility, a man of prayer, a man of the people and a man for the people.

Silence is increasingly difficult to find. Often we are all too quick to speak, to fix things, to find the answers. Perhaps if we listened a bit more, and said a lot less then we might actually begin to hear the still small voice of God.

When silence falls…

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The song finishes with:

I will praise You
I will praise You
When the tears fall
Still I will sing to you
I will praise You
Jesus I will praise You
Through the suffering
Still I will sing to you

When all laughter fails to comfort
When my heart aches, Lord are you there
When confusion is all around me
And the darkness is my closest friend
Still I’ll praise You
Jesus praise You

We will all at some point go through the shit, some perhaps more so than others, but no-one is immune. I recently heard of a 50 year old dying from a heart attack, a 22 year old having a stroke, and a 5 year old dying from non-hodgkin lymphoma. Life can be shit. It hurts, it’s unfair, and it’s damn well cruel sometimes.

I’ve spent most of this week in bed, in constant pain, waiting for yet another operation that never comes. Unable to do anything except wait, wait in the silence, a very long and deafening silence. Sometimes even pleading with God to just take me away to a better place. I mean, anything has got to be better than this, surely?

However, there are times when silence says far more than words ever could. There are times when words just aren’t enough. And, we often find that it’s there, in the silence where we have a choice, – to reject God or to embrace him. It’s there, in the silence where we come to the end of ourselves and try desperately in the darkness to grab a hold of God – sometimes we find him, other times he feels a million miles away, but we are to make that choice nevertheless.

I’m reminded of a guy in the Bible called Job who when going through real hardship and difficulty says: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Basically, in a nutshell he is saying: “life is fragile and it’s pretty shit at times – but I’m gonna praise you anyway, because you are God and are worthy of my praise!”

All too often we think of ‘praise’ as being something loud, wacky and extravert – something we do when we are happy, when there is something to celebrate. Surely, there is far more to praising God than warm ‘fuzzy’ feelings? Surely, God is interested in every aspect of our lives, not just the ‘good’ bits? Of course, he delights in the ‘good’ bits, but he also wants us to praise him when we find ourselves in that place of anger, pain, hurt, and confusion – and that is hard.

I’ve found great comfort and encouragement this week from Psalm 65 where it says: ‘Silence is to praise you.’

Perhaps there are times then when silence is enough… perhaps sometimes worship is silence and that’s ok.

 

‘I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I cannot feel it. I believe in God, even when he is silent.’ (Jewish prisoner – 1940’s)

odd one out

Posted: April 25, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Today I read an article taken from ‘The Independent’ which someone had posted on to Facebook. The title instantly grabbed my attention… ‘Isolated: Single Christians feel unsupported by family-focused churches.’ 

Using the responses given from an on-line Christian dating site, the research carried out found that:

  • phpThumb_generated_thumbnailnearly four out of ten single churchgoers said they often felt “inadequate or ignored”
  • single people feel ‘accepted’ but do not feel ‘included’ socially.
  • they feel the “pain” of being single in a predominantly family setting
  • they felt excluded from leadership positions

Given the fact that the number of single people in society is growing, the article was basically saying how VITAL it is for ‘the Church’ to recognise this and to attempt to become an inclusive community that embraces and welcomes ALL people.

Now, if I’m honest, the article made me quite angry. Why? – because as a ‘single person’, I could very much relate to the majority of what was said, and it hurt. Now, fortunately, whilst I’ve never experienced being excluded from positions of leadership within ‘the Church’, I have, as a ‘single person’ felt somewhat ignored and isolated at times, and this has been incredibly painful.

Over the last two years I have experienced this sense of exclusion and isolation more than ever before, and the pain has been immense. Whilst at Theological College, I have made many friends – however, I’ve noticed that if they are married then the likelihood is (although, I admit there are exceptions) that they have tended to want very little do to with me outside ‘college hours’, and if they host anything remotely ‘social’ like a dinner party for example, then they are only likely to invite their married friends. It’s almost like they don’t bother asking me because they think I’ll feel embarrassed and out of place, when in reality by not inviting me they do the complete opposite by making me feel like the ‘odd one out’, that I’m somehow not good enough.

I remember having a conversation with someone once, who was talking about going along to a pub quiz with their ‘spouse’ and how good it was going to be – they were really selling it to me. I immediately thought: “They’re asking me to go along with them! – At last! – I’m one of them! I’m in their club.” This was somewhat short-lived though, as it turned out that they were simply assuming that I would babysit for them while they went out with their married friends!

Tomorrow evening there is going to be a quiz, and whilst I’m sure people will have a great night, and whilst it’s for a fantastic cause, what is interesting is that people appear to have segregated themselves by and large into teams of ‘single’ people, ‘married’ people, – oh… and … ‘faculty’.

Those who are married, (and I say this in love) I think there are a few important things to note here when it comes to single people:

  1. Just because I am ‘single’ it does not mean that I am somehow allergic to married people
  2. Some people CHOOSE to be single (it’s actually ok!), others don’t (and it’s painful)
  3. Just because you were once single, don’t pretend that you know what it’s like. For instance, if you got married at 23 – don’t pretend to know what it’s like being single at 30, 40, 60 – after all people are different, priorities change etc
  4. Just because I am single, it does not mean I will jump on your man while you are not looking!
  5. Just because I am single, does not mean I will make a good babysitter!
  6. Don’t be scared to invite me out, if I don’t want to come to something I am more than capable of saying so!
  7. Just because I am single does not mean that I ‘don’t have a family’ – I do, and I have responsibilities (unlike what some have told me!)

I guess like most things in ‘the Church’, much grace is needed when it comes to dealing with this whole issue of ‘singleness’. It’s an incredibly emotive and sensitive subject for many and whilst I’ve written from a perspective of a ‘single person’, I also recognise that married couples have stresses and pressures put upon them that some single people don’t have. I also need to say here that I have been privileged to meet some outstanding Christian couples who I respect and admire. They have taken the time to get to know me, invited me round for meals etc, and have made me feel ‘normal’, and I am so very grateful to God for them (they know who they are).

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (the Bible)

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Yesterday whilst painting the shed I decided to listen to some music on my iPhone. I had no idea what I wanted to listen to or even if I wanted to listen to it at all, so I did what any good Anglican would do at this point, – I pressed the ‘shuffle’ button and waited to ‘see’ what would happen…

Ok, so what happened next?

Well… I wasn’t abducted by aliens or anything weird like that, I didn’t drop my phone in the tin of paint, neither did my phone start to ring – No… instead, as you’d expect, it started to play music.

Now… whilst I’d heard this song many times before, I’d never really ‘listened’ to the lyrics. (That didn’t matter though, I now had plenty of time to learn them because what I had failed to realise was that although my phone was on ‘shuffle’, it was also on ‘repeat’, and mean as though I was covered in paint at the time, I had no choice but to listen to the same track again, and again, and again…)

It was a song by ‘Rend Collective’ called ‘Broken Bread’. The song speaks of the need to allow God into every aspect of our lives and is about surrendering ourselves fully into his hands, and allowing him to use us as he chooses.

What struck me though were the words: ‘Your will done your way.’

How often do we want to do God’s will, but do it ‘our’ way?

It reminded me of a book I read a few years ago by John Ortberg. Using the illustration of the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land, Ortberg refers to God as the God of ‘the roundabout way’, as instead of the journey taking a few weeks, it ends up taking 40 years! Why? Well, – initially because God didn’t want to lead them via the land of the Philistines as they probably would have just retreated back to Egypt in fear and trembling. However, God knew best, and instead he led them via an alternative route, in order to build their character and to form them as a people.

He does the same today, and whilst it often ‘sucks’ at the time, life in the desert has loads of benefits. It’s in the desert where we often experience strength and courage that we never knew existed, it’s in the desert where we often experience something more of the love of God, and it is in the desert where we often find healing and above all else – hope.

Life doesn’t always turn out how we expect… and I guess if it did then it would be pretty boring and predictable! It’s certainly frustrating though and pretty scary at times, but if we are obedient then he will do the rest.

Here, Lord, is my life. I place it on the altar today. Use it as you will. (Albert Schweitzer)

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Having lived near to Alton Towers for the majority of my life I’ve been ‘fortunate’ enough to visit the theme park on an annual basis (sometimes more regularly). I guess there are three main reasons why I don’t go more often:

  1. the entry cost, which currently stands at £46.20 (although, if you book in advance it’s ‘cheaper’)
  2. I’m waiting for an operation on my jaw – therefore going at high speeds on a roller coaster is probably NOT recommended!
  3. if you go somewhere like that too often it becomes too familiar and actually rather boring. As a result, I get excited whenever I hear that they are in the process of developing a ‘new’ ride.

I was therefore really pleased to hear that in May we will see the arrival of ‘The Smiler’. (If the truth be told, I haven’t been this excited since the opening of ‘th13teen’ in 2010). Costing around £18 million and taking over a year to complete, ‘The Smiler’ is supposedly the first of its kind in the world as it combines the intense physical effects of plunging drops and turns, with five psychological mind manipulations: The Inoculator, The Tickler, The Flasher, The Giggler and The Hypnotiser – each designed to disorient and mislead it’s passengers.

According to Alton Towers: “This ride will put not just your body but also your mind through its paces… We want people to get off the ride and not know what is real. There are five different mind effects, which are all designed to mess with your head. You shoot towards giant syringes, spinning hypnotic wheels, and flashing lights, among other things.”

When I first read this, I thought it was actually describing my time at theological college! I’ve got to admit that even I was left smiling – it sounded hilarious! Having said this, the more I’ve thought about it the more horrendous it seems. I mean – “We want people to get off the ride and not know what is real” – WHAT??!! What is even scarier, is that the woman depicted on their current advertising is clearly terrified, and yet appears to now have a permanent grin stuck to her face.

Whenever I think about roller coasters I can’t help but think of Ronan Keating’s song: ‘Life is a roller coaster, just gotta ride it’. Whilst I’m not yet sure whether I will ever ride ‘The Smiler’ or not, life certainly is a roller coaster, with many ups, downs, twists and turns along the way. People often think that because I’m a Christian that my life is all rosy and that I’m somehow immune from difficulties that life can bring – this is anything but true. I guess the difference though is in knowing that I have Jesus there alongside me – and boy what a difference that can make!

Whilst my experience at theological college has similarities to that of ‘The Smiler’ – it has at times left me anything but ‘smiling’. It’s been a long, hard, uphill slog. It’s ‘taken my body and mind through it’s paces’ and has been like nothing I’ve EVER experienced before. Whilst it’s not quite what I was expecting, through it my faith in Jesus has been challenged and stretched, and I’ve discovered depths of my character that I never thought existed. I’ve also had the privilege of being taught by some outstanding lecturers, as well getting to know others – some for whom it’s a privilege to call ‘friends’  – they never give up on me, they make me smile when I don’t feel I can, and they make life so much better purely by being in it.

According to Alton Towers, ‘The Smiler’ will ‘turn you into a smiling advocate’ – oh, if only ‘The Smiler’ had existed 2-3 years ago, life could have been so very different! Having said that… – do I actually want to walk around like the woman pictured above? Erm… probably not!

robin who?

Posted: April 6, 2013 in Uncategorized
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robin-van-persie

Today I saw Robin.

Robin? …Robin who?

Robin Williams? … Robin Gibb? … Robin van Persie? … Robin Hood?

No. It wasn’t any of the above, as they are either way too famous, or are dead (in some cases both!) The only way I’d get anywhere near to catching a glimpse of them would be via the pages of a glossy magazine, a film, or on a football field, and since I rarely go to football matches or have money to waste on magazines, then I would have to resort to a film – failing that, there’s always ‘google images!’

This wasn’t a famous robin though, and I wasn’t surfing the internet at the time. Instead I was sat at the bottom of the garden painting the shed on what was probably the warmest day of the year so far.

Both seeing the robin, as well as the warmth of the sun on my neck made me realise that Spring had arrived at last! It got me thinking about new life, and hope, goodness and so on. This lasted for all of five minutes, until the fear, apathy and hopelessness kicked in once more.

It got me thinking about the Bible and the amount of times that Jesus talks about ‘robin’. “No, no, NO!” I hear you say, “Jesus NEVER mentions robin – sparrows, yes – robins, no!”

BUT… if you take a closer look, Jesus actually talks a lot about ‘robin’ – or rather ‘robbing’. He talks about a thief who comes to rob, and kill and destroy. A thief who comes to steal our peace, our joy, our hope, our confidence, and so on. A thief whose main aim is to rob us of all of the good ‘stuff’ that’s rightfully ours in Christ.

Jesus of course is not the thief – far from it! Jesus comes to bring life and health, healing and hope. However, we live in a broken and shattered world. We live in ‘the now and the not yet’. Whilst we see glimpses of the Kingdom, we cannot see it fully.

In all honesty, I find this immensely frustrating, yet at the same time I’d rather have had five minutes of hope, and peace, and joy today, than to have not experienced it at all. I also discovered that Robin van Persie is actually rather good looking – why had I never noticed this before?!!