Where Church Is?

GDPR rules in Europe prevent me from showing you my lovely neighbours, but I promise they are there!

Today I went to church.  But I wasn’t in church.  I was on my street.

In the UK we remember Victory in Europe (VE) Day on May 8th, remembering the day the Second World War ended as Germany surrendered to the Allies.  Our usual Bank Holiday on the first Monday in May had been moved to this day, as it is the 75th Anniversary of that day in 1945.  Major celebrations were planned, although the Covid-19 crisis has put paid to many of those.  Last week, I felt God nudging me to suggest to my street that we hold a socially distant street party for which I would come and do some live music; the Music Therapist in me is always looking for opportunities to be useful with my craft!  The uptake was enthusiastic and extraordinary in number.  People came out with picnics and prosecco, singing along and playing their own instruments, feeling connected and sharing a common experience despite the physical distance enforced.

As I prepared for the afternoon however, I kept drifting to Twitter and seeing exclamations of hurt on a day we should be celebrating peace.  They were in response to an article published by Church Times, entitled ‘The C of E has become member-only’ .  In it Tilby argues it would be easier to let priest into their churches to livestream their usual services than the current system many churches have adopted of producing online content.  She states “How trite has been the little trope that “The Church is people, not buildings,” which totally misses the point about the public and institutional nature of the Church. We are now a domestic, members-only Church, with nothing to say to the nation about death, sacrifice, or charity, and nothing to plead before God on be­half of us all” (Tilby, 2020). 

This got me so angry.  The Church is both people and buildings, and to deny either avoids the complexity of the situation.  However in the Kingdom Jesus taught about, I don’t remember anywhere the institution of the temple being a significant factor.  I don’t remember priests having special privileges to access church while the rest of us wait outside, I actually remember those things being rendered unnecessary once the Holy Spirit came to us.  1 Corinthians 6:19 tells us we are the temples for the Holy Spirit that has been sent to us.  Each and every one of us.  We meet in church buildings, and that fellowship is good and proper.  From the time of the early church this has been so, as Acts 2:42-47 suggests (although I would suggest the modern day organised church misses the mark this example presents).  However Jesus’ main recorded commission was to go out (Matthew 28:19-20).

So back to my going to church today.  I didn’t lead any hymns, we didn’t come together for a specific religious purpose and it wasn’t in a building.  But I went out, in the name of Jesus who gave me a gifting and convicts me to use it in the way I do. Two or three (and more) gathered (Matthew 18:20), in public, for a common purpose, with something to say to eachother about hope in the darkness.  We sang together, shared stories, many had wine and bread (or equivalent).  I prayed the whole time, and it certainly felt like worship to me.  I’ll let God have the final say on whether They received it as such.

We need to be more creative in our definition and expressions of church.  It is wonderful to see churches rising to the challenges of online church, although it is sad to see it has come out of necessity for the many and not in response to the long campaigns from organisations such as Disability and Jesus (For their response to the Tilby article, see this video, future blogs on this topic will follow).  I pray churches will not stop exploring alternative ways to bring their services to all who may seek, just because the current crisis is over, and perhaps even learn from having done so.  Even if that is just one congregant blessing the street with a little music.

Peace be with you.

References:

Tilby, A. (2020) The C of E has become member-only. Church Times. Available at https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2020/8-may/comment/columnists/angela-tilby-the-c-of-e-has-become-member-only (Accessed 8th May 2020)

Yeshua

I’m no artist but that doesn’t matter. It’s the process that matters.

One of the things I have come across which has excited me so much recently is the exploration of biblical material through the Aramaic it is widely expected Jesus would have spoken.  It is worth remembering that any Bible we have now is in the language of the reader (in my case English), translated from the source languages (Hebrew or Greek, or in some cases English first) and translated from the spoken word to the source language.  So the words of Jesus come to me in English, having been translated from the Greek, having been interpreted (and remembered!) from the Aramaic.  If you type a phrase into Google translate and see what comes back after passing through two or three different languages, you’ll understand why this is worth remembering! (For a more in depth exploration of this and why it is important I recommend Barton, 2019).

Although I’ve been a Christian all my life, I never had much theology instruction until I became curious for it myself in recent years. So the link to Aramaic had never meant much to me.  Until I discovered ‘Jesus’ in Aramaic would have been ‘Yeshua’.  My God-on-Earth would have sounded his name Ye-shwa.  All the songs about how beautiful the name of Jesus is suddenly take on a new dimension.  Yeshua.  Isn’t it beautiful!

Having had a tough few days, I decided to sit and do some contemplative art around this new discovery.  I wrote the name Yeshua while I prayed over it.  Here is what struck me:

Ye, or Say Yes!

In any moment, in any situation, we have a choice to say ‘Yes’ to God.  If we are celebrating, we can praise God for supporting us to a great result.  If we are suffering, we can say yes, God, please come and be with us in this pain.  There is always a choice, an option to say ‘yes’.

Sh, or Be at Peace

Miles Davis famously counted silence as vital to his Jazz, believing that without the silences the notes had no meaning.  Life without the silence is just as meaningless.  We may believe it is all about the busyness and the action but actually, without the space to process, discern and plan our next moves the busyness can soon become nonsensical.  Psalm 62:5, ‘For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him’ (ESV).

Wa, or Breathe

An outbreath.  An exhalation.  A long, slow release of deeply held air.  Very similar to a Sufi meditation I learned using the name of God ‘Yawheh’, the Ya being an inbreath and the Weh being an out.  In focusing on Their name as you breathe, you receive a real grounding of God in your breathing, in your body then out into the world.  I find this an incredibly soothing and mindful prayer to spend time with. 

Yeshua – Say ‘Yes’, Be at Peace, Breathe

All this beauty, depth and layers of meaning, of which I have only scratched the surface, in the given human name of God.  What a joy to discover!  What a thrill to realise The Lord’s Prayer was first shared in Aramaic, the Beatitudes proclaimed with the richness of this imagery.  English is such a disappointingly limited language!  However I am thoroughly enjoying using my prayer time to explore Aramaic expositions of Jesus’ recorded words further, and will leave you with this selection of gems based on the probable Aramaic for what we know as ‘Our Father, Who art in Heaven’:

“Oh Thou!  The Breathing Life of all, Creater of the Shimmering Sound that touches us.”

“Source of Sound: in the roar and the whisper, in the breeze and the whirlwind, we hear your Name.”

“Wordless Action, Silent Potency – where ears and eyes awaken, there heaven comes.”

                                                                                                             (Douglas-Klotz, 1990, p12)

Peace be with you

References:

Barton, J. (2019) A History of the Bible: The Book and it’s Faiths.  London: Allen Lane

Douglas-Klotz, N (1990) Prayers of the Cosmos: Reflections on the Original Meanings of Jesus’s Words.  New York: Harper Collins

I Get the Arguments

With thanks to http://www.clipart.email for the image

I really do.  I was brought up in a conservative tradition and I wholeheartedly believed being gay was wrong.  I would trot out the old ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ trope and feel like I was successfully  balancing my inner conscience, asking me why my friend’s homosexual crush was less valid than my own heterosexual one, with the knowledge that I could not fully accept it but still be loving to him anyway. 

Then life went wrong.  I married for eternity, yet merely 7 years later I found myself alone.  I was getting divorced, and the struggle to stay married had almost killed me.  I faced so much ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ I could have screamed, and regularly did – at a lit candle, one of my Vicars advised it and it was amazing, try it!  I wasn’t a sinner, my divorce wasn’t a sin, it was rescuing me from a destructive life course and allowing me to pursue an incredible promise from God to Their child.  You can’t love me and hate the fact that I’m divorced, it doesn’t work that way.  If you don’t understand the reasons for the marriage, the divorce, the paths I took, the decisions I made and that God was with me during every.single.one. then we need to talk more!

At my darkest time in my life, I had to completely re-evaluate what I thought sin was, what I thought covenant was, forever, biblical rules, forgiveness, acceptance.  Who I was.  It was scary, almost impossible, painful, liberating, beautiful and divine.  I didn’t have to hate anything!  For Jesus own recorded teachings explicitly told me it was not my job to call out what I thought was sinful (Matthew 7:1-6).  It was my job to love (Matthew 22:36-40)! As the people in the Church I found who didn’t give two hoots about my background did.  As the friends I made who have stood by me from my crash right through to the present day and who love me for every inch of my being.  As my dear, amazing husband does, who looked right through my trauma to the core of me and adored what he saw even when all I could see was a mess. 

Love the sinner, leave the sin to God.

Peace be with you.

Why Bother?

Isn’t diversity beautiful? We can be the same yet different, and let our true colours shine through.

I am a woman.  I have been married, divorced and remarried.  I had a mental health breakdown and have survived trauma.  Maintaining a state of mental wellbeing can be a delicate balance.  I have a child with an Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) and strongly suspect I am Neurodivergent myself.  I work part time around my family’s needs.  For all of these reasons I have been on the receiving end of discrimination from within the Church.

I have attended independent non-denominational church plants, Anglican churches, Baptist churches, Evangelical churches, and did part of my training in a Catholic school.  In all of those settings, every single one, I encountered discrimination hidden behind a veil of Christianity.  In some of them, not so hidden.

‘Part time workers can’t do their jobs properly’.

‘We can’t do anything differently just because someone is different.’

‘Thank you for your offer but someone else is more suitable’ – are they really? (No).

These are all paraphrases of true statements and situations spoken to me by Christians in Church buildings in Christian contexts, and they are all illegal, discriminatory, and ethically wrong.  Christ must weep.  And I certainly have, many a time and many tears.  I’ve grown and learned to lean into the strength God gives me, I’m certainly better at coping than I have been at times – snotty meltdowns in front of your Vicar at a meeting are never good!  But I see others.

I see the woman told she can’t get married at the Church she wants to call home because her partner is also a woman.

I see the couple silently left out of ministry because they have decided marriage is not for them at this point in their journey together.

I see the teenager desperate to know there is more liberal theology out there than the one which says she must be submissive to men, to her husband, and to her Church Leaders without engaging her brain.

I see the old couple who can’t come to Church any more because the disability access is poor and they physically can’t get in.  They don’t want to trouble anyone, and nobody notices their absence.

I see the child sitting in the corner in a quiet spot because in Church, they have no place safe or relevant enough for them.

Christ must weep. 

Then I see Nadia Bolz-Weber speaking out against the The Nashville Statement (reserving any form of sexual fulfilment for the married cishet community)  with an incredible statement of her own – The Denver Statement (championing God’s gift of sexual expression for everyone).

I see Vorster describing Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (NIV) – as ‘the Magna Charta of Christianity’ (Vorster, 2019) explaining through solid research that the given list is not exhaustive and the meaning is clearly equality for ALL. 

I see Rachel Held Evans reclaiming womanhood with a cry of ‘Eshet chayil’ – Woman of Valour (See Evans, 2012) and inspiring thousands of others to do the same despite her untimely death (see #RememberingRHE on Twitter).

Christ must weep tears of joy, as do I.  

There are voices out there calling for a redemptive lens through which to view oppressive scriptural translation and traditions.  Crying out for a hermeneutic which puts genre and context before literalism.  Shouting loud and clear that equality can’t have a glass ceiling and every life matters equally. These voices are vastly trolled, often silenced before they can truly begin, and need more support.  This, this is why I bother.

Peace be with you.

References:

Bolz-Weber, N. (2017) The Denver Statement.  Available at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2017/08/the-denver-statement/ (Accessed 2nd May 2020)

Evans, R.H. (2012) A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  USA: Thomas Nelson

Vorster, J.V. (2019) The theological-ethical implications of Galatians 3:28 for a Christian perspective on equality as a foundational value in the human rights discourse.  In die Skriflig 53(1), a2494. Accessible at https://doi.org/ 10.4102/ids.v53i1.2494 (Accessed 2nd May 2020)

#BecauseOfRHE

My time with God is often spent these days with a Bible in one hand and books like these in the other.

I stumbled across Rachel Held Evans through a retweet, A year and two weeks ago today.  I know that because she died two weeks after I found out she existed.  I was in the middle of A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Evans, 2012) and had just taken delivery of the rest of her writings as a batch order – I was ready to learn from this Teacher.  But just like that, suddenly, she was ill, then gone, and I felt absolutely bereft.  I cried, I mourned, I called myself ridiculous for feeling this way about someone I’d never met and whose existence I had only just learned of.  And then I cried some more.

A year on, and the impact of Rachel Held Evans on my life has been monumental.  Her alternative interpretation of the Woman at the Well story (John 4:4-42) taught me that when you peel away years of tradition and patriarchal influence the root story may actually be quite different (see Inspired, Evans 2018).  Her willingness to delve deep into the origins of traditions to see what can still be learned inspired me to reach back into the Old Testament, discover Midrash and begin to learn from Rabbis alongside Pastors (see A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Evans 2012).  The way she can still love and fight for Church with grace after the journey she has walked with it can only come from a deep and trusting relationship with God (see Searching for Sunday, Evans 2015), and I’m still not ready to accept she will never write again.

2 Peter 1:21 states “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men [and women!] spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (NIV).  Rachel did not speak out for her own agenda, she responded to need as she saw it.  She spoke from a place of questioning, seeking, resting with God to find Their will for her words.  You only need do a quick search on Twitter to see the incredible and lasting impact she has had on many around the world.  Of course she had many, many critics, yet she responded to them with the same love and care as she did her fans (How I pray for you, Evans 2013).

Rachel, I love your work and it will inspire me and speak to me for the rest of my life.  Your example prompted me to start speaking out with a louder voice, and my blog wouldn’t be in existence without you.  I thank you and praise God for bringing you into this world. I wish you had more time, but I pray that the seeds that you planted will grow into many strong plants of all types, across all places, with love at their hearts.

I end with my favourite piece of theological writing ever, with regards to John 8:3-11:

“Jesus once said that his mission was not to abolish the law, but to fulfil it.  And in this instance, fulfilling the law meant letting it go.  It may serve as little comfort to those who have suffered abuse at the hands of Bible-wielding literalists, but the disturbing laws of Leviticus and Deutoronomy lose just a bit of their potency when God himself breaks them.”

                                                                                                                     Evans, 2012, p.54

Peace be with you.

References:

Evans, R.H. (2010) Faith Unravelled.  Michigan: Zondervan

Evans, R.H. (2012) A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson

Evans, R.H. (2013) ‘How I pray for you’ Rachel Held Evans.  June 2013.  Available at https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/how-i-pray-for-you? (Accessed 4th May 2020).

Evans, R.H. (2015) Searching for Sunday: Loving, leaving and finding the church.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson

Evans, R.H. (2018) Inspired: Slaying Giants, walking on water, and loving the Bible again.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson

A Prayer for Sunday 3rd May

Holy Spirit who inspires, I thank you for the launch of this Blog. May it be a light in the darkness for those who seek to encounter you.

Jesus, the greatest revolutionary, I thank you for your example of inclusion, advocacy and love. May we commit to loving others in a way that fully honours your message.

God who Mothers, tend to us all now, as we live through the uncertainty of pandemic, lockdown and disconnection. May we know we are always connected at the deepest level of our beings as we resonate with you in prayer.

Today, may we know rest. May we learn to lay our lives at your feet for this day gifted to us for restoration. For rest is as essential to us as oxygen, it is our right and joy. Soothe us, strengthen us and prepare us for the week ahead as we seek to love and serve others, and you.

Amen

Peace be with you.

Why ‘Church’ not ‘Faith’

Image used with thanks from http://www.clipart-library.com

When I first started considering this idea, I did a bit of research.  There are a number of articles online around deconstructing faith, books written, plenty of material to go at.  But this just didn’t resonate with me.  My faith is stronger than ever.  My faith is not the problem.

I believe in a God who is, above all things, Love.  That They have an everlasting expression we will always be a mystery, that They had an earthly expression to give us someone to relate to, and that They have a present expression around and within each and every one of us, as awake to us as we are to them.  God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, and Me

I am invited to be part of a relationship with God, to resonate with Them; sometimes this comes with dissonance and tension, sometimes beautiful and perfect harmony, but always available and always offering growth through the  process.  When I accept that invitation I have a responsibility to relate to God in all Their expressions as best I can, through prayer, study, discernment, worship and fellowship, doing all those things with regard to the direction of Jesus as recorded by the Gospel of Matthew, 22:36-40:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

(KJV)

                                                                                                                      

So, onto Church.  Collins Dictionary defines Church as ‘a building in which Christians worship’ and also ‘one of the groups of people within the Christian religion … that have their own beliefs, clergy and forms of worship.’ (Full definition here).  Other definitions include a gathering, an employer, the whole body of Christ, an activity.  Yet further debate is currently ongoing around defining Church in an online context: for an excellent exposition of the arguments for and against see Phil Moore’s recent blog post.

It is recorded that Jesus renames his disciple Simon with the words ‘And I will tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church’ (Matthew 16:18, NIV).  The word church in this context is translated as such from the Greek word Ekklēsia This would have been a translation of the Aramaic word Jesus actually spoke, of which we have no record (for further discussion of the impact of this on our Bible see Barton, 2019).  This Ekklēsia refers to the main political assembly of the Athenian democratic system, at which all male citizens qualifying for citizenship, ie having undertaken 2 years in the Army, could attend and debate within, and literally means ‘gathering of those summoned’ (Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 2nd May 2020).  Nyland, who has produced an updated translation of the New Testament from the Greek as an independent scholar, NOT a theologian or bible translator (which is important as it speaks to agendas, but maybe that’s another post!) translates Ekklēsia in the context of Matthew 16:18 as ‘assembly’ (Nyland, 2004).  Therefore I would suggest Jesus’ intention was to establish a space to gather in fellowship and journey together, making decisions through debate and serving following His example.  The example of the early church laid out in Acts appears to bear this out.

Looking to modern day Church, I see buildings, yes, and wonderful people trying to live together in fellowship and mutual support, absolutely.  I have been blessed and touched countless times by both of these.  But I don’t see leaders submitting to their congregants, or opening debates with all those who qualify and making decisions together.  I don’t see every decision being made in service to those Jesus lead us to serve, otherwise, quite frankly, the wealth of Churches across the country would solve the poverty problem instantly.  I don’t see the Love of God and our neighbours being of utmost importance of all decisions and interactions, above law and prophecy – it’s not like Jesus healed people on the Sabbath or anything! (He did, see Mark 3:1-5)

 So I conclude with the understanding of Jesus’ intended ‘Assembly’ as a loving group of committed Christ followers living in community under the umbrella of love as an ideal, and the concept of Church that we have now as a muddled, western construct borne out of the Roman Empire, Patriarchy and political control – more on that later I’m sure!  And this, dear reader, is what I wish to deconstruct.   

Peace be with you.

References:

Barton, J. (2019) A History of the Bible: The Book and its Faiths.  London: Allen Lane

Collins English Dictionary(2020).  ‘church’. Available at https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/church (Accessed 2nd May 2020)

Eds. of Encyclopedia Brittanica (2018) Eccliesia. Available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ecclesia-ancient-Greek-assembly (Accessed 2nd May 2020)

Moore, P (2020) John Wesley and Online Church. Available at https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/is_online_church_really_church1 (Accessed 2nd May 2020)

Nyland, A (2004) The Source New Testament: With Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning.  Australia: Smith and Sterling

Introduction and Explanation

I love blossom, how fleeting it is, yet how beautiful. Just like certainty

Sometimes, in life, you hit a moment.  Where you realise you just can’t keep the status quo.  Something has to change.  Often, that is difficult and you don’t really know how to do it or where to turn.  I’ve had that recently.  Actually, it’s been building for a long time. Who knew the place I would end up turning to find my help would be Twitter!  Through following paths of tweets and threads I discovered such powerful writers as Rachel Held Evans, such present and relatable clergy as Nadia Bolz-Weber and people grappling with the same issues I am such as Sarah Bessey.  A new world of people who respect the LGBTQ+ community in a way most (but thankfully not all!) Church experience I had to date did not.  People not afraid to speak out despite knowing the level of vitriol and trolling they would receive, in many cases from those professing to believe in a Prince of Peace.  Those who would see my situation and rejoice in the redemptive story, instead of getting hung up on the path yet to walk.  I found my tribe.

Yet the physical word I live in is just not there.  I see Churches with incredible public facing profiles, yet deep rooted discrimination abounding beyond the doors.  I crave full acceptance, love and care, yet the wounds of Spritual Abuse still weep.  I sit in that liminal space, between knowing a physical Church home, and knowing there will be a new chapter of my faith story, within those walls or others, yet not knowing what that will look like.  I turn inwards, in prayer and rest, to the God who dwells within, laying all my processing and confusion down in that space.  And I feel gentle nudges.  Study.  Learn.  Write.  Share. 

So I begin my deconstruction.  I challenge the pressure to name my God as Father at all times and embrace her as the Mother she often is.  I will use They/Them pronouns in recognition They are one and three, thankful for the gift of Theology around Gender Identity for this expression.  I will study and hold my learning in liminal space with God, following the example of the Psalmist who sang “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word (Psalm 119:15-16).  I will pray until the Holy Spirit within makes the way clear, for I will take the advice of 2 Timothy 2:15 to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth”.  For in every way I want to deconstruct my relationship with Church, I want to hold true to the God who nurtures, guides, blesses and comforts me throughout all things.  For They are good, and I pray my writing will always point back to Them. 

I may make mistakes.  I may misunderstand or misinterpret.  I may write things I look back on in years to come and cringe!  I accept this as part of my journeying, I freely accept I won’t always be right and I invite critical yet polite engagement with my writing.  I do however challenge any reader to respect my journey whatever their personal response to it is, and to share any comments kindly.  Your journey will be different to mine, your conclusions may well differ to mine and that is what makes the world such a beautiful and varied place.  It is not disagreement which sows disunity, but unkindness. 

Peace be with you.