Will the real Jesus please stand up.

Dedicated to my best mate. I promised to be quiet, not absent. I cannot get there but I never left you.

Sat by a riverbank, soaking in the sunshine, in June 2017 I posed a question it took me another 18 months to answer: IF God were real, what would it look like?

It triggered a process that lead me into faith one researched step at a time. I didn’t grow up in faith, my best friend had pushed open a door for me to want to seek God. Slowly and painfully I began to claw fingernail holds into what others seemed to skim over with blithe assurance. When I finally stood on the first ledge and admired the view, I realised I had gone around faith backwards to most.

Friends who grew up with a Christian faith take for granted their closeness to Jesus Christ. As a child he’s accessible, he’s a baby at Christmas, bad stuff happens before Easter but it’s all about Him, it is His story! Later, as adults, their understanding and closeness to God the Father develops out of the childhood stern figure of rules and punishment into the companion and guide with the steady gaze and boundless love.

This presented me with a unique difficulty. I had found God, I knew he loved me, I also knew I had no hope of comprehending His fullness other than what He chose to reveal to me, but nonetheless I felt that love and companionship bridging the chasm between us. But I had no clue who this Jesus chap really was, and why was everyone praying to Him?!

As an atheist I had thought Jesus was a pseudo-historical figure, probably the amalgamation of various visionaries, revolutionaries and social activists of the age, and about as real as Robin Hood or King Arthur. This martyr was enthroned by a new religious sect disgruntled with the Jewish leadership under Rome and had metastasised into a legend so twisted from the original story it became Religion! Unquestionable, unfathomable and unstoppable and every powerful Christian church had done terrible things in His name.

Where was God in any of that?!

How could the story of Jesus be true?

How could God in all His immensity squeeze into a human being?

And lastly, two years after that river bank, I stared out at the Milky Way from my tent in the Dordogne with the breeze wafting the aroma of grapes still warm on the vines, and I wondered why would God come here, to our planet? What about every other life in the galaxy, did they feel this tug to seek the divine? And given all the vastness of space, billions of stars and planets, why did the creator choose to visit a dusty, hot country two thousand years ago? I shied away from the human conceit that we are somehow more special to God.

Staring into the dark, I realised my deepest fear: what if all the men of the early church were wrong and Jesus was merely gifted, charismatic teacher and the rest was allegory or outright invention?

These are horrible questions to face alone in the dark. Especially when I felt they would offend the majority of Christians to ask them.

My best friend nudged me back at the gospels and managed not to sigh as he told me for the hundredth time to read them. This time, I did.

On first pass I didn’t find an answer. I’d sat through enough sermons by now to know experienced Christians inferred more from these stories than I was getting so I kept at it. Eventually in frustration I kept a log of all the names and titles mentioned for or about Jesus, all the bits and pieces I could see that were human or definitely magical then began to sort through them… what was “real” evidence what could have been trickery. John threw me for a loop with the whole Word bit but click the link to read how that ended!

Believe it or not, I started my Theology course still with a list of questions over Jesus’ identity… Imagine my delight when my Christianity lecturer announces he’s decided to teach Christology first this year! (Remember our -ology endings mean study of).

We immediately dived elbow deep into homoousios, the Greek word for “of the same essence” and the hypostatic union (google it and wait for your head to explode) as the specific example of homoousion that describes Jesus’ humanity and divinity. We romped through the various theories of Jesus and his relationship to God (now called heresies!) that were conceived, flourished and died in the first 500years of Christianity.

This is hugely cathartic for me! This is the same journey I have been on. These guys had inherited God the father from classical Judaism, they too were trying to figure out who Jesus was and how he fitted in. I wasn’t alone, I’m merely 1800yrs late – impressive tardiness, even for me!

Finally last week the question I’ve been longing to ask burst out – where in the gospels (aside from the resurrection) is the smoking gun of Jesus’ divinity? My lecturer beamed as he answered, “Everywhere!”

My poker face is crap at best so I’m guessing he got the message I needed more despite my mask.

I wasn’t prepared for the next ten minutes.

He directed us to look at the story of the woman who had been bleeding for more than 12yrs and was healed simply by touching Jesus’ hem. This story is found in all three synoptic gospels but for this I’m going to refer to Mark 5:24-34.

“So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.””

Mark 5:24-34 NIV

https://www.bible.com/bible/111/mrk.5.24-34.niv

I’ve read this story many times, as a pre-menopausal women I can relate to suffering unending bleeding. Coupled with that, I knew she would have been cast out of Jewish society. While on her period, a woman is viewed as unclean in Jewish society so one who is perpetually bleeding would have been seen as unable to be clean, thus unable to cook, bathe, or touch her husband or children. Her life would have been isolated, hand-to-mouth and her peers would not even have spoken her name.

The significance of this story is we see the divine aspect of Jesus appear, shine through the humanity and disappear again, like a barrel roll on a rollercoaster, BUT only if we read it as a first century Jew would have.

Jesus is on his way to a house to heal a child, he is walking, jostled by the crowd – all obviously human traits.

Suddenly he stops. Despite the noise, confusion and kerfuffle, he knows someone has drawn power from him – we begin to see the divine aspect as that carriage turns. Even when queried by his disciples he stands firm asking who touched him.

Remember God knows the answer already but Jesus speaks of “someone” touching him, a “who” not the “no-one” she has been for a dozen years. Into the warmth of this recognition, she steps forward.

She already knows she is healed, she already knows who she speaks to. Her explanation isn’t recorded but Jesus’ response is and his divinity blazes forth in a few words before he turns and departs: Daughter, your faith has healed you.

Jews have strict customs over family ties, your heritage and parentage are memorised as far back as is known and usually ending with Abraham to show the linkage to God’s family through the covenant they share. In this instance, the woman who bleeds is publicly acknowledged as daughter. No longer a no-one, cleaned of her impurity, she is adopted by God into God’s family through faith in that moment and publicly named “Daughter”.

Then he walks away.

You have to put yourself in her shoes for one second, left standing on the street after a brush with her God, healed, whole, loved, named…

Think about it.

I wonder if she ever washed that hand again.

As always, likes are love, comments are divine logos!

C. xxx

One last note:

My best friend remains instrumental in this process. It’s taken me this long to realise why he succeeded in cracking open the door of my atheism and anti-religion prejudice when so many others had failed.

Michael, women don’t learn faith from the bible, women learn faith in relationship with others. That’s not to say women don’t study the bible as effectively as any other person of faith but when seeking faith from outside belief, the bible is incredibly off-putting.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton famously said, “The bible degrades women from Genesis to Revelation” and this certainly matched my first impression but this is a story for another day. Take home the certainty it was through your friendship, I am here now.

I don’t know how else to thank you for your patience and perseverance with me, through all my tantrums and squabbles, other than to dedicate this and all the posts in this topic to you.

One day we’ll get that evening, whisky, good music, lots of laughs, probably a few squabbles. Promise.

The Word

First week of my theology degree and I walked away with an “oh wow!” moment. How cool is that?!

Now this maybe a concept you were taught in Sunday school, but I’m going to push on because this blog is as much my record of my growth in faith as it is a conversation with you.

From the beginning of my faith I have struggled to understand who Jesus Christ is. As an atheist I was comfortable with the idea that IF there was indeed a historical figure he was most likely an extraordinarily charismatic chap preaching revolutionary ideas.

When my atheism was, rather forcefully, torn away, I was left with a very distinct and personal view of God. I spent months processing my impressions of God, getting to know Him if you like, certainly starting to build a relationship with all the pitfalls and confusion that brings.

So… who was this Jesus guy and why was everyone talking about him the whole time?

I read the gospels and found a likeable but confusing character. I certainly didn’t see the phrase that undeniably asserted he was the son of God, which by now I was taking on faith as truth without evidence – an uncomfortable situation for anyone with my background in science and previous subscription to materialist philosophy.

I wanted to see the evidence, to follow the steps early Christians took to realise Jesus as both divine and human. I kept a log of bible references, all the different names, titles, labels used to allude to Jesus Christ. Each one seemed to have its own meaning or imagery – I ran out of fingers trying to chase down links between Old and New Testament and I was still left vaguely unsatisfied.

Then Thursday in my first lecture on Christianity a seed was planted though it took me a full 18hrs to follow the tendrils.

In my defence, part of my slowness is because I’ve sat through this exact discussion many times – what is the meaning of the suffix -ology e.g. Biology, Ecology, Cosmology. You take a class in any specific field of science and this is guaranteed to come up in the first session.

In this instance we were pulling apart the word Theology

Trying not to be a swot I waited for everyone else to speak, it’s not their fault I’m old and have the answer book in some places, and there’s plenty I don’t get so it’ll balance out in time.

Sure enough someone had the Greek word Logos that -ology comes from but then things went wonky… they got stuck on Logos meaning word. Now logos does mean word and word is the most direct translation into English for logos. But! Greek is very different to English – if you take nothing else away from this know that Greek does not translate smoothly into English. The concepts attached to a word in Greek don’t map 100% to the concepts we associate with a word here.

Let’s work through this with Logos-Word.

A definition of word in English usually starts like this: ‘a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed.’

An advanced student might also know word can be ‘a command, password, or signal.

“someone gave me the word to start playing”’ or even the rare sighting (or citing lol) of a verb form, “he words his request in a particularly ironic way”.

Whichever meaning you take it’s all focused on language, a segment of written or verbal communication.

Logos in Greek is conceptually much bigger. Greeks were the fathers of science and western philosophy, they systematically pulled apart the world and tried to understand it then discussed their ideas or conclusions in debates with other scholars or philosophers. These dialogues were sometimes written down – most famously by Plato. This idea of Logos not only meant word and dialogue but more importantly also meant understanding or to study, to comprehend the topic being discussed.

It is this meaning that is usually applied to the -ology ending – “to study”. So Biology becomes a study of living things, Cosmology- the study of the cosmos, Theology likewise the study of God (or Gods if you’re studying a multi-deistic tradition).

Now here’s the “wow!” bit!

Neck deep in bubbles (all best thinking is done in ones bath!) I suddenly recall John 1.1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

John 1:1 NIV

https://www.bible.com/111/jhn.1.1.niv

I read the NIV for comfort but with eyes on stalks, I scrabbled for a bible language comparative site because the Gospel of John was written in Greek. Sure enough the capitalised Word in my NIV became Logos in the original Greek.

Why is this huge?

The “Word” or “Logos” in this passage is referring to Christ, it is one of the many labels he is given in scripture. For the first time I understood how the translation is technically correct but loses immense amounts of meaning in favour of poetry.

Christ is our logos for God. Not merely bringing God’s word and intention for us with Him – our new covenant. He is our invitation to study, to comprehend, to speak with and of God. Jesus’ humanity bridges the divide between divinity and us, making God relatable, within our reach, expressly drawing us to know God.

And all this meaning that bursts out of the Greek logos, is wrapped up in one four letter word in English that we dismiss as a noun.

I give thanks to God for his Word. That I may know Him better through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Make sense now?

Yeah… this has been kicking around for a few millennia yet it feels new to me today.

Have a lovely weekend!

Likes are love, comments are… well divine logos!

A giggle to end on…

House of Earth and Blood – Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas

Review by Carolanne

Released: Spring 2020

Published by: Bloomsbury

Length: 799 pages of immensely satisfying read.

My rating: Five full bottles of Vanilla Jim Bean

Cover of book

Wow! 

This is my favourite read of this year and with my lockdown reading habit there has been some pretty tough competition this year. 

It’s a show-stopping, whodunnit, fantasy-world thrill ride that kept me reading until 4am to finish. But before you click away thinking “I don’t read fantasy and/or crime novels” take a deep breath and read on… 

The beauty of this story is in the seamless melding of these genres into characters working in a city that feels like any given present day, western world city with a fascinating twist.

Bryce, our apparently fun-loving, air-head heroine enjoys needling Hunt, our stern, commanding hero, by constantly changing her name in his contacts while snapping selfies. The indulgent sprite librarian has a tendency to watch salacious daytime TV instead of doing her job, while Danika, Bryce’s best friend and central to the plot, is having an instantly familiar generational fight as her ideals clash with her power-hungry, jealous mother’s. The rich and powerful lord it over those they perceive lower than they and friendship can still drive people to overcome all obstacles. 

Boy this is hard without dropping spoilers!

Maas’ world building is slick, always feeding the reader enough to move right along with the plot, yet avoiding acres of pages of flowery description that drag you to sleep. You get what you need and fill the rest in from our world because they are honestly close enough. 

Drawing parallels from the troubled sides of the Crescent City society was all too easy in the midst of the BLM movement in 2020. Instead of racial tension they have interspecies tension, instead of humans being at the top of the food chain, you discover they are kept under-boot at the bottom, experiencing daily prejudice and ultimately are left unprotected in the final epic show down. 

And oh wow! That end scene… 

If you do take my advice and read this book, make sure you clear your calendar and find somewhere comfy when you approach the last 200 pages – it is unputdownable. The chain of events that finally reveals the murderer, the significance of Bryce’s role, her job and her unique ability brings on an apocalyptic invasion for the city… (deep breath) all lead our two protagonists into an epic final scene.

I loved that their actions stemmed entirely from the characters we had followed and watched develop. There were no shocks or suddenly appearing super-skills, every part had been carefully laid out from the very first page, every clue, every casual action, every detail was woven into an immensely satisfying result. 

Maas did a stupefying brilliant job and I am already clamouring for a sequel. This is definitely one I will re-read often. 

Light it up readers! 

Chalk Pages

In mid-August as the thunderheads rumble heralding the long anticipated break from 2020’s heatwave nicknamed “the Sahara blowtorch”, in the tail end of the longest summer holiday ever thanks to COVID, I had a moment of inspiration:

Screen time is not the enemy in the battle against brain-numbed, addicted children – rubbish content is.

I love my phone. It’s a family joke that I would rather give up my car keys than hand over my phone. The ability to capture a moment in a photo, to efficiently search for a reference wherever I am, the security of being contactable, and yes, my collection of funny memes all pile up to a mountain of personal value I am loathe to be parted from.

So what is it that drives me batshit crazy when I see my kids attached to devices for hours at a time?

It’s what they do/watch/engage in.

Like every parent for thousands of years, I am judging how my children are spending their time and inevitably measuring their occupation against my values. If they were absorbing a veterinary encyclopaedia or joining some charitable undertaking, I wouldn’t have an issue with long hours on screens day after day. Instead the reality is crappy YouTube videos showing obnoxious giggling teens/twenty-somethings, Sims or roblox games, and endless Japanese-style cartoons.

The end result is a child who has the attention span of gnat, who can’t hold a conversation without quoting repetitive memes, and struggles to construct an original thought. It’s a frighteningly similar profile to a child who has been socially neglected and I’m not ok with this.

My plan… books.

Every room in my house has a stuffed bookcase, some have several; it is my dream to have a whole room dedicated to comfy couches and books, maybe a coffee machine… The fact I now have a significant portion of my recent purchases in ebook form doesn’t stop my friends from commenting they are happy to help move furniture when I move house, but the books are my problem! Books open us to worlds we have not nor will ever experience, and lets us weigh up those events, dissect them, take the good, learn from the bad.

I don’t mind how my kids read – via app or the humble paperback – I have challenged them to spend an hour every morning reading something and be prepared to talk about it over lunch. Our afternoons are our own but one option is to write up a short blurb or opinion on what we’ve read and post it here: Chalk Pages.

All kids need encouragement. Comments, likes, discussion, even challenging viewpoints are invaluable! I’ll tag who’s written what so you can temper your response to the age of the writer. As a general guide:

Me – yeah, bring on the squabbles! I love a knotty discussion.

TypeTheWriter – 18yr old, heading off to university. English student and stickler for grammar though IMHO excessively judgy about my use of commas… loves feedback. Type is endlessly passionate for causes and this shines through. As her mom, I’d request you keep the comments polite but definitely feel free to challenge her!

Kitty – Nearly 12yrs old, our newest writer. Animal crazy, most books she reads focus on at least one animal protagonist. Chaps… she’s 12… please tailor your responses appropriately, especially when her psychopathic traits seep past her smiles! Cat memes always make her smile.

Rocka – At 17 my son should be able to take most comments, yet I ask for your kindness. After a lot of soul-searching, I’m going to level with you; my son has a myriad of special needs and disabilities. I don’t want you to pre-judge his ability – I am delighted he wants to take part. I do, however, recognise his view of the world is distinct from most peoples and, without understanding his context, may cause you to wonder why he’s focussing on x or y. He has a beautiful mind, I hope you enjoy sharing it.

Enjoy!

C.

Xx

On a ledge…

A boy sat with God on a rocky ledge near the top of the mountain. Below his feet stretched the whole world, shades of green vegetation rippled with peaks of ancient trees to tufted grass on the plains, sparkling ribbons of blue meandered through the land as watery necklaces curving eventually to the distant sea. 

Although sitting in the bright sun, the lad was kept cool by gentle breezes, drying his sweat and ruffling through his hair as he marvelled at the world.

“It’s beautiful!” the boy breathed, his hushed tones nevertheless heard by his companion on the ledge. 

“It is unfinished.” God replied

Tearing his eyes away from the vista the lad blinked at God, then looked back at the world. 

“What else does it need?” 

“Many things.” God replied, “But I will not do them.” 

“I’ll be your hands!” The boy offered. “But I’m not very strong.” He stared at his palms. 

God considered the boy with love. 

“I will never ask more than you can hold.”

“How will I know what to do?” The boy said.

“I have a plan. I can guide you if you listen.”

“I can listen.” 

“You may need help at times.” God warned. “I cannot sit on this ledge with everyone.”

“Then I will be your voice. Tell me what words to say and I will let them know.” The boy said. 

God smiled at him and reaching out he laid one hand on the boys hair. 

“I will love them all.” 

The boy frowned, “How will I recognise them, will they all look like me?”

God laughed, and handed him a drink of water, “No my dear child, some will be white, some will be yellow, some will be bronze, but you will all have the same hands and feet and will drink the same water to live.”

The boy stared with wide eyes at his smooth, deep, brown arms and lighter palms with their hint of pink. 

“I did not know there could be so many colours!”

So they sat, side-by-side, watching the world grow until it was time to part.

I hope you enjoyed this story. From here on, this is an exercise in honesty… 

There are no right or wrong answers, this isn’t a test.

It’s an opportunity to sit on that ledge with God or with your conscience if you prefer. 

First: What colour did you imagine the boy to be the first time you read the story?

Now the harder one: How did you feel at the end when you read he was black?  

Forgive yourself any answer you realise here. The chances are you pictured the boy as you are. There is an endless amount of psychological evidence that points to how and why we fill in absent details with our own likeness or from your conception of “normal”. Our idea of “normal”, called schema, is usually set in childhood and adolescence. This ability to fill in gaps with our own familiar aspects allows us to empathise – the first step to compassion.

The second answer will tell you something about how you view the world. Your degree of surprise an indication of the way you see your community or family. 

This reaction though is something you are likely to have every time you meet someone you don’t perceive “fits in” or you weren’t expecting. Meeting a vicar in your local church who has a different skin colour, seeing a new face in the neighbourhood, or meeting an associate you’ve only ever spoken to on the phone. What is in that flash of emotion? Most will own to surprise but why are you surprised? Please take ten minutes of reflection or payer to unpick your feelings. 

Is it anxiety, are you worried about saying something wrong or not being able to understand an unfamiliar accent? Is it fear, are you worried because of a past event or stories from the news? Is it uncertainty over what you will have in common? 

Let me repeat, there is no right or wrong answer, what is important is that you are aware of your feelings. 

I believe overcoming fear of difference is central to the journey towards equality and we all know, recognising we have fear or anxiety is the first step. 

I would love for you to leave a few words in the comments. If you are ok with sharing, I’d love to hear what your answers to the questions are.  

One race of many colours

Dear Lord,

Today I read an account of how some Christians believed African slavery to be justified by the bible. I was drawn to reading by the death of Mr Floyd who, I pray, is in your care. I was stunned by what I found:-

Some historic British Christians made claims that all Africans are descended from Ham, the cursed son of Noah (Genesis 10), or had more subtle and malevolent insinuations between evil being dark or black and the right and good being light or white.

I read about the church that stood above the slave camps, allowing white men to worship after they had imprisoned Your children, raped Your daughters and abused all those captured.

At no point when those events were happening was the slavey legal in Britain*. Yet white British people took part, hiding in a moral loophole that was implausible at best, distance and a church providing the gloss sufficient to slide attention around the festering hole of the slave pits.

I know You see all, I wonder if You wept.

Embed from Getty Images

From the luxury of my life in 2020, it seems easy to condemn these people, sure that I am better, our society is better. Father, I feel that is short-sighted of me, I remember Jesus’ teaching about removing the plank from our own eyes first (Matthew 7.5).

Today, I see people turn away from stories of abuse across the sea, bored of the endless stories of abuse, discrimination, and poverty. Bored?! I pray You will empower us all with perseverance and the courage to usher in reform peacefully, to inspire our words to convey our meaning and let the news spread that we are one race of many colours.

I pray You will open our eyes to identify the more insidious issues of systems calibrated and tested by white people for white people that unintentionally disadvantage people of colour, like the racial recognition profiling used by police which leads to innocent, black men being stopped by police for spot checks and searches on five, ten, fifteen occasions, many more times than white men, or the facial recognition software on phones that doesn’t work if ones face is black because no one thought to test it that way! I pray You help us find and fix these systems.

I pray for our Police, for their safety and grace. For the clarity to be at their best and fairest when under pressure. For them to have the confidence to speak up and say, “hey, let’s ease up, let’s get some space here.” We demand an unbelievably hard job of these people, I beg You to walk with them, guiding and inspiring. I pray those who betray their badge be brought to justice, swiftly, calmly and firmly so everyone can begin to trust in the integrity of our serving officers.

I humbly beg Your wisdom and love to challenge the status quo of our workplaces, to find ways all Your sons and daughters can live and work together. I pray for the courage to say yes to the right applicant, rather than accept excuses of those selecting staff “they are comfortable with” or “who will fit in the team” or saying “our customers won’t cope with their accent”. Please, Lord, guide us to do better and forgive us – it’s easier to love a colleague than a poster.

Father, You built us all to love our children, to bleed when our children bleed, to cry when our children hurt, for our knees to ache when we get old. We all have our pain, our struggles and grief. Lord please help us build bridges, each brick and plank a shared experience. Then walk over those bridges to reach out and learn about cultural pain, listen to life impacted by bias. Lord, please help us have curiosity, patience and understanding instead of fear of offending, fear of not being able to understand or be understood. Lord help us to reach out as sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters.

Embed from Getty Images

Lord, I am frightened at how easy it is to close our eyes to the pain of Your children in another town let alone across an ocean. To hear people say, “It’s not here. Our village doesn’t have that. We would be different.” Lord, I pray we all use this time of isolation to seek insight into our hearts, to ask ourselves how comfortable we are to welcome people of every accent and shade into our church family. To reach out to people of different backgrounds, to try and apologise if we stumble or say the wrong thing but always to try.

Father, I was raised to believe “if I can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.” I have learnt this is wrong, Jesus comforted everyone, actively reaching out regardless of racial or gender boundaries. Please help me overcome my upbringing and express my shock and distress at events that are shocking and distressing so others may be comforted to know they are not alone.

Father, please comfort my friends who have cried on me, stunned at events, burnt by the resurgence of memories of their own brushes with racist behaviour, slights and injuries, bruised by the silence of colleagues and friends. Please bring peace and rest to those exhausted by the daily stress of figuring out how to suppress “blackness” and act more “white” in order to fit in – this world is more beautiful in full colour! I’ve learnt the pain is worse when compounded by white ignorance and refusal to “see” the hurt as real. Dear Lord please let me always recognise pain so I know to offer my shoulder to lean on for a while.

Jesus told the story of the shepherd who left his flock to retrieve one lost sheep (Matthew 18 12-14). These are my neighbours who don’t live next door, my brothers and sisters from different mothers, my fellow sheep. Lord, please help us all be like Your shepherd, to leave our families and cross the road, offer an open hand, lift them up, and love them. To stand shoulder to shoulder, a friend to laugh with, a companion on life’s path, in service to you.

In Jesus name, I pray.

*Please see my comment below for a correction on this statement.

Embed from Getty Images

Midnight – the new prophecy. Review by Kitty

Book title: Midnight: The new prophecy

Chapter: 19

Review/summary:

Chapter 19 of Midnight started off directly from the cliffhanger at the end of Chapter 18 – the main cats were being chased by a dog. By this point in the book, our hero cats have travelled far from their homes on a quest to find the place where the sun drowns – the sea.

When faced with this dog they all climbed a tree to escape it except Feathertail, who hid in a briar. Crowpaw, instead of hiding safely, leapt out and attacked it before they all managed to get into the tree, following the advice of an elderly loner and new character. 

The main cats find themselves having to trust this new cat to lead them through the twolegs’ dens. We find out this cat’s name is Purdy, as he was originally called. He leads them into a twoleg’s back garden where there is a small pond with lots and lots of golden fish. Feathertail and Stormfur catch some of these fish, and hand them out to the others. Crowpaw starts to get itchy about the fact that he should’ve been training by that point so Feathertail teaches him and Squirrelpaw to try to hunt the fish. He fails miserably and gets his fur all wet. Not so long afterwards, a twoleg comes outside and yells at the cats, forcing them to slip through the gap in the fence. Crowpaw licked the water he got on his pelt off, to find it was salty and he’d had his sign like the others of the sun-drown place. They got mad at Purdy for a bit before calming down and trusting him again, to get them through the dens without delay. It took a while to explain to the elderly loner why they were travelling despite the fact it could just be described as ‘dead cats are leading us along to find a strange sun-drowning place with salty water.’ After this, the chapter ends. Wow.

I think Purdy is going to play a big part of driving the plot on during the book. If it weren’t for him, they would have not been able to escape the dog. Also without him, the main cats would have just gotten lost in the maze of twoleg dens. So he’s fairly important, at least in my opinion. 

Purdy is trusted but at the same time mistrusted by the main cats. Most of them think he’s just an innocent loner, helping them to do good for the sake of doing good, whereas the others (such as Crowpaw, Tawnypelt and Brambleclaw) take a more wary approach to the isolated cat. He seems to know his way around the neighbourhood, to them, this gives the cat a suspicious look. The main cats follow this stranger that they just met blindly, for all they know he could be taking advantage of them. 

In my view, it’s possible he will betray them but unlikely with his old age. If he had no intent to help them in the first place, then why would he waste his time by saving them from the dog? I feel he’s just helping some ‘youngsters’ get around. 

Even if he caused trouble, he would stand no chance for the educated warriors, as well as the apprentices, who are well-trained, especially since they’re almost warriors at this point in the books. 

So I believe Purdy is an important part of the story as a guide for the main cats, simply there for the purpose of helping them.

-Kitty’s opinion + short summary

Favourite passages in the bible

There’s a quick and sassy answer here – it’s all important! All God breathed. Our guide to life, worship, spirituality.  Although true, I also think this is a cop-out answer! 

So… with the dutiful nod towards the lifetime of study ahead, uncovering evermore gems of wisdom from the depths of scripture that are currently vague to me, I will offer up two passages that have particular meaning to me at this point of my faith path. There are others, some I have notes on, some I’m still working on but these have spoken to me strongly on several occasions and I reflect on them often. 

Parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20 1-16):

I am late to faith. Thirty years after deciding to turn my back on church and any kind of deity I walked into my village church not knowing why I was there. I had survived a hellish year that caused me to challenge all my preconceptions and bring me to talk to God for the first time in three decades. It’s funny how deep the foundations go of barriers we erect, I had so many to work through I began to refer to them as my knee-jerks and I even mind-mapped them at one point! It took years to work through them all, an Alpha course, a bible study course and, perhaps most importantly, some steadfast friends holding my hands through my frustrations and endless questions, suggesting where next to look or something else to read. 

During this time I met one of my knee jerks in the flesh. 

She was lovely – a dedicated, lifelong Christian dealing with her own questions. Knowing how many questions I had, I felt I could relate to her confusion at having questions she didn’t expect or feel equipped to handle. She was reflecting on the fact she had lived a long and dedicated life, attending church every Sunday, supporting cake bakes, fetes, teaching Sunday school, thoughtfully delivering home cooked casseroles to families in crisis. A good life. A Christian life. She rejoiced when new people found faith but struggled with the idea of their baggage. The question she asked was “would her good works be rewarded in heaven, would she be ahead of those in the line who hadn’t lived their lives as well.” 

There are many biblical passages that deal with her question and thankfully the vicar hosting our discussion suggested some for her to read and think about, while I blinked my way in and out of mental rabbit holes as I rummaged around the concepts. 

Her stance raised many worries for me, ones I didn’t want to raise in the discussion out of respect for her right to work through her questions, instead I talked to those ever-patient friends afterwards. 

I cannot undo 30 years of my life, in fact given the chance, I’m still not sure I would. This doesn’t mean to say I’m proud of everything I’ve done – far from it! However, I recognise I am the person here today because of my experiences, the good and the bad. The best I can do is learn from that, try to be better and now, I raise my uncertainties and decisions to God and listen to Him first. 

But despite this… would I be punished later on for my thirty years of waywardness? 

My friend offered this parable to me as Jesus’ own words on finding faith. How every worker, no matter how late they started, was rewarded the same way. I feel the importance of this story resonates beyond me to my family, my loved ones, and out into the wider community – all my old atheist friends! My own mother found faith months before she died, my father began coming to church with me after she died and was recently confirmed, my husband has found faith, my children are still on the fence. Instead of pushing and demanding attendance and attention to spiritual life I feel this story also tells us its ok to keep a door open, to continue to offer a seat in the car to the children when we go to church but not hound them – they have their own journey! Far better to have a genuine understanding than a forced habit. When they are ready to get in the car and come we will celebrate that. 

My brother commented to me once that he views deathbed conversions with scepticism and dislike. He feels those assisting them are taking advantage of people at their most vulnerable. This parable made me realise a deathbed may simply be the first point in their life they have had the time to consider what’s next, to have prioritised or felt connected to their spiritual life. I feel it guides us to shift the focus from believing to escape punishment to accepting the God’s love – Come to the vineyard willing to work at any point in your life, be honest and true, and God will welcome you. 

The repentant thief on the cross:

My other friend – the whisky buddy – also suggested the story of the second thief on the cross beside Jesus – the one who repented and Jesus assured they would both be with His Father by evening. This account appears all the synoptic gospels – Matthew 27:38, Luke 23:32-43 and Mark 15:27. My friend explained this is the first person we know about from scripture to enter heaven under the new covenant Christ represented. He went on to point out that no amount of casseroles could be made on the cross and that guy had had the worst kind of un-Christian life imaginable yet when he came, with honesty and humility and right at the end of his day, he was welcomed. 

Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. 

God may have some words for me when I see him again, I have definitely not been a saint! I’ll take His teaching and treasure it. 

I met this lady again many times, her question came up again and I realised she was still processing her worries. This time she was sat next to me, so when the conversation lulled I leant over and whispered, “You are very welcome to come up the line and have my place. I came way late to the party so I could be a long way ahead if the first is last and the last is first rule is held to. How about I give you my spot?”

We grinned at each other and that was that. 

Giving thanks to God – does it make us simple or does it keep us mentally healthy?

My colleague arrived at work distressed on Wednesday, an elderly relative faced surgery to fix a broken hip after a fall, the day was punctuated with discussion of the risks, updates from relatives by text and some tears. 

I offered to pray. 

When the news came the next morning that the old battle-axe had not only come through the surgery but had walked with assistance to the bathroom, I gave joyful thanks to God and a hug to my colleague! 

Then blinked at myself. 

For me, it’s another pathway beaten out the brush to find myself staring at a milestone in this unexpected journey. Now… I’m aware that whilst my way-marker is moss-covered, possibly a tad slimy, having never seen the light of day before, other people’s may be a highly polished, regular fixture! Still I’m going to play the noob-card one more time and reflect on my tangled thoughts at that instant. 

By thanking God we attribute complex series of events to His will. I questioned if our gratitude reduces the thirst to analyse the mechanism that brought about this event, which potentially could lead to further breakthroughs for others – miracles for many! 

As an ex-atheist I find it both familiar and curious that when the analysis does occur suddenly many claim ownership of that process, somehow by stripping away the mystery, we remove the deity from the equation. It becomes a man made discovery and solution.  At any point prior to these last four years, I would have been blithely confident the discovery of the surgical procedure gramps underwent was solely down to step-by-step, methodical, human discovery. Now I question if there is room for the teacher to stand next to the pupil.

Should we persevere with our discoveries and understanding – oh my, yes! I believe it is our duty to continue to turn the pages of the beautiful story we have been given in this Earth. I do not believe God wants us to sit like sacks of spuds, but rather reach out, touch and explore the world.

There’s more to this lark though… giving thanks connects us to our world, our community, to people. 

At a time of instant communication, frenetic work pace and extreme competition for employment, people are further adrift, more lonely and more likely to suffer depression and anxiety than at any time before. Listing 5 things you are personally grateful for is a well established tool in a therapists kit for helping depressed patients form associations that hopefully develop into lasting connections outside their looping thoughts. 

Saying thank you to God is a way to highlight a positive event while on the run, driving or even at your desk. You get the benefits of recognising the moment with no hassle, no pressure to remember to call/text/buy a card, no job added to your ever-expanding to do list.  It’s a drive-thru, mental-health boost for busy people. 

But by firing off a random salute to heaven are we missing half the benefit? 

What about accepting thanks…

Receiving an unexpected, sincere thank you uplifts the recipient, empowers them. For that instant they know they’ve helped you, added something good to your day. 

Perhaps it’s something we brush off too easily, but watch a child be thanked by a grandparent for a piece of carefully prepared artwork – the grandparent is saying I see you, I know your efforts, I’m pleased with you. 

Now turn that around, the grandparent, whilst possibly indulging the child, gets positive feedback, attention, confidence they are connected together. Any glance at the sticky-glittery painting over the next week will re-release those sensations of belonging, all because a true thank you underlines a gift, good fortune, or assistance. 

In the interests of looking after me, I will continue to give thanks to God on the run. When I lay in bed and review my day, those items stand out, reinforcing to my sleepy-self that I have had a blessed day, and the good things that have happened. 

In thinking about this, I’ve also realised, I want to take advantage of the praise reports available at church each week, to plan in advance one blessing I will walk in with ready to say thank-you for. 

Lastly, I am redouble my efforts to shrug off irritation and look for opportunities to say thank you to those around me, when driving, walking, working. 

Instantly my mind flits to the next step – being the one to help, to hold the door or leap to assist, but that is a topic for another day! 

A wise man once said, “If I don’t link this to the Bible, I’m just another motivational speaker.” Now I’m still working on the whole Bible reading thing and I’m leery of dropping short quotes in like horoscopes. The topic of thanksgiving is dealt with extensively and it’s worth reading around these quotes to give kudos to the 2000yr old text that recognised the mental-health benefits we’re still figuring out today:

  1. Colossians 3:17 – Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
  2. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
  3. Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

My mind has moved house

My mind has moved house and I’m not sure I like it.

The old house was home for 30 years, comfy, familiar. I could walk about blindfolded, make a sandwich at 2am without turning the lights on. I knew my neighbours and would cheerfully entertain in the cosy surroundings. I built it one belief-brick at a time, knew every nook and corner, the bumps in the paint and the fray on the carpet. 

I had to move. I was blasted out my comfortable position by shockwaves outside of my control, the epicentre right underneath my house, leading me out on unsteady feet to a ledge where, buffeted by the winds, I painfully inched my way to this new place. 

I can see potential. 

One day I may be able to call it home, to reach out and grab mugs, teabags absentmindedly while laughing with a friend. I can’t do that yet. I feel like a child. I have to concentrate where I put my feet, watch that I don’t trap fingers in the cupboards, take care not to trip. 

My new neighbours are lovely, welcoming me and my family with open arms and invitations to the cinema, to dinner, to parties. I regret the missed years when I thought of them as “other” or worse “nuts”. They can walk through their homes their eyes never leaving mine without stubbing a toe. Some of them have lived in these houses all their lives, following in footsteps laid down by loving parents, sure, steadfast. 

A few have described times when they too left this community to wander alone, exploring, questioning. Yet they came hometo the familiar. I left my norm. 

When I was driven through this neighbourhood as a child it seemed colder, sterner. My childish questions were silenced with glares and frowns. I didn’t understand and it was a sin to be more than a passive acceptor. Any wonder I left and avoided returning? When the time came to chart my own course, I chose to live elsewhere, to build my life outside,persuade those I wanted to come with me and, despite my noble intentions, I unconsciously made sure my children would never stray far from my choices. 

I still see my friends from there, at work, for lunch. It’s not easy or comfortable. They wonder if grief has driven me crazy and resent the time I spend exploring this new place. I invite them along on my walks but they politely smile and shake their heads as I would have done. 

It’s not easy. If I shut my eyes I can still walk the paths of the old house. I know my return there would be nodded on by my friends, the kindest among them hugging me before shutting the door behind them. It would solidify and bolster their decision to remain outside, because free-thinking requires reassurance!

But it would be a lie. 

The comfort of the familiar would shimmer and fade, I may not be able to moor my new perception fully alongside my old house but I cannot forget it, therefore living back there would mean smiling through partial truths, call me stubborn but I can’t live like that. 

Like it or not, this is my new home. 

It definitely needs work. I spent months learning my way round, reorganising the cupboards, finding homes for the myriad of accoutrements I have gathered. Now I am reluctantly eyeing up the structural issues, hoping a course will illuminate where the deeper problems lie. I’m nervous, uncertain if I want to know or if I’d rather continue to amble along hanging pictures over the doubt-cracks thereby saving my new friends the effort of answering my questions. Like I said, not good at living a lie. I hope they won’t tire of me.