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Why I Support The LGBTQ+ Community as a Christian

I’d love to say that I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now and have some valid excuse for not publishing it sooner, but the truth is the idea for it only popped into my head yesterday. Why do I wish I’d been thinking of it for a while? Because the fact that I haven’t means that I have been blissfully unaware of the need for such a post. And why is there a need for such a post? Because, as the amazing LesBeMums wrote on Facebook recently, people from outside the LGBTQ+ community need to be talking about this (see Facebook post below). And, as a Christian, I really need to be talking about this, because we all know how challenging the dialogue between Christianity and the LGBTQ+ community can be!

TL;DR – Too long; Didn’t Read

As this is going to be quite a long and detailed post, I thought I’d provide a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version. I’d hate to lose you because I was taking too long to get to the point. So here’s the basis of this post, in a nutshell:

Most Christian arguments against homosexuality come from a very literal reading of the Bible, mostly in the Old Testament, and seem to ignore the central message of Jesus Christ. Repeatedly throughout the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, we hear about how he taught that love was the most important thing, that he had come for all people, and that he would rather spend time with the outcasts of society than those who stuck too closely to religious law. Personally, I chose to follow Christ because of his teachings, his love and care for others, and his acceptance of all. That’s why I love and support the LGBTQ+ Community.

If you want to know more about all of this, please continue reading the post.

a little disclaimer, before i begin

As I know this is likely to be a pretty contentious post, I just want to make a couple of things clear:

  1. I am not a biblical scholar or theologian, in fact I’m pretty new to Christianity having only decided to be baptised a couple of years ago. But a large part of my faith journey has involved learning a lot from biblical scholars and theologians, and I shall be quoting them throughout this post. I hope that this will help to add weight to this conversation, rather than it simply being my own personal take on the matter.
  2. This is obviously just my personal view on this, and I cannot and will not speak for others within the Christian community. Whilst I hope that we can, over time, move towards a more accepting stance as a whole church, I appreciate that we have a long way to go before that happens, and that there will always be disagreement over issues such as this. And I respect the right of anyone to hold their own personal views on this, even when I disagree with them.
  3. And, most importantly, I am more than happy to have a discussion about this with anyone. But, I am not here to provide a platform for ignorant, angry, or aggressive voices. Comment moderation is in place on my blog, and if you leave a comment that attacks anyone within the LGBTQ+ Community, it will be deleted.

why are some christians so opposed to the lgbtq+ community?

I thought it would be helpful to get this part covered first, because it isn’t always clear exactly why some Christians are so opposed to the LGBTQ+ Community. I’ve got to admit that even as a Christian I wasn’t 100% sure where it was coming from. So when I started to think about this post I did a bit of research, and found this really helpful overview from BBC Bitesize. There are lots and lots of articles and comments about it across the internet if you want to find out more, but I really don’t want to give too much “airtime” to it within this post. So I’m going to briefly comment on the four main points picked up in the BBC article, providing the context and why I feel the arguments are mostly moot at this point.

1. In Genesis, God made humans, both male and female, in order to procreate.

Okay, so if we take this comment at face value, it’s perhaps easier to see where some of this resistance to homosexuality comes from. But the point is we shouldn’t be taking anything in the Bible at face value.

The Bible is made up of 66 books, written by numerous authors over several centuries, and spanning a wide range of subjects and cultures. Each part was written in a very specific time and place, for a very specific audience. None of it was written specifically for us, as we live our lives today.

This is a point I am going to make repeatedly throughout this post, as it is the basis of biblical literacy. The Bible must be read with the historical and cultural context in mind. That’s not to say that there isn’t great spiritual truth within it, because there is. But you have to work out what that is, given the context, rather than reading it literally. As John Dominic Crossan writes:

“My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” 
― John Dominic Crossan, Who Is Jesus? Answers to Your Questions About the Historical Jesus.

So, if we choose to let go of a literal reading of Genesis, and look at it instead through a symbolical lens, what might we see? Well, as I’ve said, I’m no biblical scholar, but this is what I see:

There are two creation stories (one after the other, in Genesis 1 and 2), and whilst both have similarities, there are some very clear differences too. In Genesis 1 God creates man and woman in His/Our image (Genesis 1:26-27), whereas in Genesis 2 God creates Adam first and then Eve (Genesis 2: 18-23). As for procreation, only in Genesis 1:28 does is specifically mention increasing in number, because Genesis 2 is more focused on The Fall (yes, I acknowledge that there is mention of pain in childbirth etc, but it isn’t given as a command).

Given that it takes until the 26th verse in Genesis 1 to even mention the creation of man and woman, and that procreation is given such a small part within both creation stories (which are only a tiny part of the Bible as a whole), why are we placing so much emphasis upon this? And even if procreation is taken as highly significant, we need to remember that medical advances have changed this significantly, and not just for homosexual couples. Think about all the times in the Bible when we read about women who were unable to conceive. A male/female couple may struggle just as much to conceive as a male/male or female/female couple might.

And then, of course, there are couples who may decide not to have children. Or those who decide to split up and end up raising children as single parents. When you start to break down this idea that God created man and woman for the sole purpose of procreation, you start to realise just how ridiculous it is to take it literally. The creation accounts were given as symbolic stories of how the world was created. In Genesis 1 God creates lots of variety (light/dark, land/sea, all the animals and plants of the earth etc), so male/female was just another example of the creation of variety upon the Earth.

2. The natural order in nature is for male and female to unite (Natural Law)

This one I find very difficult to even wrap my head around, because there are so many examples within nature that are not of male and female uniting. Just recently I’ve been researching fruit trees for a memorial at my son’s school, and there are several varieties of fruit trees which are self-fertile, that is they don’t even need another tree nearby in order to create new fruit. And then there are many examples of homosexual and bisexual behaviour within the animal kingdom.

This fascinating article gives some great examples of where homosexual behaviour is seen in various animal species. Admittedly, it goes to great pains to explain that very few can be compared to homosexual relationships in the same way we understand them in human terms. But, let’s be fair, there are a multitude of ways in which humans and human relationships are very different to that of animals, so why make the distinction at all? As the article concludes:

“We may never find a wild animal that is strictly homosexual in the way some humans are. But we can expect to find many more animals that don’t conform to traditional categories of sexual orientation. They are using sex to satisfy all sorts of needs, from simple pleasure to social advancement, and that means being flexible.”

So, let’s give up this idea of Natural Law as a way of arguing against homosexuality, shall we?

3. Homosexuality is specifically forbidden in the book of Leviticus

Leviticus 20:13 does indeed state, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (NIV Translation). But are we seriously going to selectively choose small sections of the Bible (even small sections of a single book of the Bible) without considering the context at all?

Let’s look at the context for Leviticus, shall we? Biblica, gives a great overview of the book of Leviticus, but for ease I’ll repeat the main points here. Leviticus follows the Exodus from Egypt, and covers a period of time when the people of Israel were living in the desert. It is filled with a multitude of laws surrounding holiness, specifically in relation to worship at the tabernacle. Leviticus 20:13 is just a tiny part of a book which includes dozens of laws.

Many of the laws written in Leviticus sound absurd to a modern audience, and for a very good reason – they were not written for us! Remember how we talked about reading the Bible in its historical and cultural context? Leviticus was written for a people in exile, trying to live a holy life in a foreign land. Their life, in ancient times, was so far removed from our modern lives that it’s no wonder so many of the laws in Leviticus no longer make sense to us.

A Quick Aside:

Rather than looking at specific laws within the Old Testament, let’s look briefly at what the gospels say about Jesus and the Law. After all, it’s Jesus Christ who we follow as Christians, isn’t it? In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus is asked which is the greatest law, and this is what he replied:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12: 29-31 (NIV Translation)

I’ve got to tell you, this is one of my favourite verses in the Bible, because pretty much everything hangs off this. The greatest command we are ever given is to love God (in whose image we are made), and to love one another. If we do that, no other command is really necessary, is it? Because if we truly loved each other, we would feel no need to hurt, harm, or condemn another. If I’m attacking two people for being in love, because of some antiquated law that was written for a different time and place, who is really at fault, them or me?

As John Churcher writes in this blog post in favour of gay marriage:

“​Attacking homosexuality ‘because the Bible says so’ ignores the fact that the number of chapters in the entire Bible that have anything specific to say about homosexuality can be counted on the fingers of two hands! However, the word ‘justice’ appears specifically in 24 chapters of the Bible and the word ‘love’ appears specifically in 200 plus chapters. So what is more important, justice and love or the condemnation of homosexuality? Cherry picking Bible verses to support personal prejudice and then to claim to have Biblical authority to back it up is the real abomination.”

4. Some of St. Paul’s letters in the New Testament condemn homosexuality

I must admit that this is the one biblical argument made against homosexuality that I struggle to form a coherent argument against. That’s not to say that I don’t disagree with it, it’s just that there are so many differing articles and opinions based on the writings of Paul, and I’m still trying to work my way through them. And as I’m trying to write this post with a mind to biblical literacy and not just my own personal opinion, I want to ensure that what I write has a solid foundation.

But whilst I cannot comment specifically on the verses in which Paul seems to condemn homosexuality, I do want to explain why I personally choose to place more emphasis on the overarching message of love within the New Testament, rather than these small, individual moments in which homosexuality is specifically mentioned (and they are only very small parts of much larger works).

The letters of Paul are some of the earliest New Testament writings, many pre-dating the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. But it must be remembered that Paul never met the living Jesus, and began his own ministry following his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, having a vision of the risen Christ. In fact, Paul’s teaching was often quite different to those who had known the living Jesus, as Diarmaid MacCulloch notes in his epic work, A History of Christianity:

“We know of the tensions between the first Church in Jerusalem and Churches in which Paul of Tarsus became the prominent teacher .. The Jerusalem Church remained closer to the parent Judaism than other Churches did, that secondary grouping of other Churches revered the ministry and then the memory of Paul, who suffered the potential handicap of never having met the lord in his public ministry unlike his contemporaries in the Jerusalem leadership who included relatives of the lord.”

So, for me at least, when I see just a few select verses taken from Paul’s many letters to multiple churches across the diaspora, I take them with a pinch of salt. It’s not that I don’t accept that Paul’s letters were incredibly influential in the development of the early church, and continue to be highly influential to Christianity today, because I do. It’s just that I dislike taking verses out of context, especially in order to condemn others, and that’s what it feels like we’re doing with some of Paul’s writings here.

As Karen Armstrong writes in The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness:

“If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, of self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology”.

If we’re taking single verses and using them to harm a whole community, is that not bad theology?

love, the greatest commandment

Now that we’ve looked at the usual arguments against homosexuality, let’s come back to the idea of love as the greatest commandment, which we’ve already looked at briefly. Two of the gospels describe a scene in which Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment, to which he replies to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. The latter part, to love another as oneself, forms part of what is known as The Golden Rule, which exists within all major world religions in some form or another.  The short video below expresses this far better than I could.

So if Jesus taught that this was the greatest commandment, how did he live that in his own life? As Christians we believe that Jesus lived a life that was untarnished by sin, so how he lived should surely be a prime example for how we should live. So how did he love his neighbour as himself? Here are just a few examples:

  • Jesus treated women as equals, in a society when they were very much not treated as such. Consider how important Mary Magdalene is, as one of Jesus most devoted disciples mentioned in the gospel accounts. And what’s more, some of the women we hear about would have been considered some of the lowest of the low. Take, for instance, his conversation with the Samaritan woman he meets at the well in John 4.
  • There are several accounts of Jesus healing on the Sabbath, which was considered unlawful. In Mark 3:4 Jesus asks, Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” In Luke 13 he calls people hypocrites for condemning him for healing on the Sabbath. And in Matthew 12:12 he says, “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” All of this is against the teachings of the time, and we are told that the leaders use this to plot against Jesus. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, or in line with the teachings of the day, but it is always good to love and care for those around you, even if it means you put your neck on the line.
  • Going against the overwhelming focus on purity and cleanliness in the Old Testament teachings, Jesus not only heals those who would be considered “unclean” but actually touches them, without any hint of repulsion. In Mark 1: 40-45, touches a man with leprosy, and in Luke 8:40-48 a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years touches Jesus, and his response is to praise her for her faith.
  • In one of his most famous parables, that of The Good Samaritan, Jesus takes one of the most hated of peoples (the Samaritans) and makes him more righteous than any of the teachers of the Law. In fact, this parable is told in response to the question about how to be a good neighbour, and carry out the greatest commandment.

understanding these jesus stories in a modern context

Now, I am very aware that these are just a few small snippets of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, and I have spent the vast majority of this blog post warning against taking select verses from the Bible and using them without reflection on their wider context. Which is why I have linked to any verse I have mentioned, and I would encourage you to go and read them and look into them further, if you are so inclined.

One of the best ways I have found to do so, is to read books and articles by biblical scholars (or even to watch recordings of talks they have given on YouTube, of which there are many). Two of my favourite biblical scholars, are Bishop John Shelby Spong and Marcus Borg. I am going to reflect upon their words as I bring this post to a conclusion, and I hope they will help to give some context for understanding the examples I have given above in today’s society.

First, let’s start with the historical and cultural context in which the gospel accounts were written. As Spong writes (emphasis in bold is my own):

“This point must be heard: the Gospels are first-century narrations based on first-century interpretations. Therefore they are a first-century filtering of the experience of Jesus. They have never been other than that. We must read them today not to discover the literal truth about Jesus, but rather to be led into the Jesus experience they were seeking to convey. That experience always lies behind the distortions, which are inevitable since words are limited. If the Gospels are to be for us revelations of truth, we must enter these texts, go beneath the words, discover the experience that made the words necessary, and in this manner seek the meaning to which the words point. One must never identify the text with the revelation or the messenger with the message. That has been the major error in our two thousand years of Christian history. It is an insight that today is still feared and resisted. But let it be clearly stated, the Gospels are not in any literal sense holy, they are not accurate, and they are not to be confused with reality. They are rather beautiful portraits painted by first-century Jewish artists, designed to point the reader toward that which is in fact holy, accurate, and real. The Gospels represent that stage in the development of the faith story in which ecstatic exclamation begins to be placed into narrative form.” 
― John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile

What is it that you have against taking the Bible literally, I hear you say? Well, you can take it literally if you like, but it becomes much harder to view the Bible as a whole, if you’re hoping to read it literally. There are too many contradictions, too many opinions, too many things which cannot be fully understood or explained, if you try to insist it is literally true. The Bible isn’t history, as we understand history to be today. It is, instead, a collection of writings that express the history of very specific people in very specific times, and their desire to understand and know God.

When Jesus taught in parables, do you think he expected people to think they had actually happened? Or do you think he was trying to share an eternal truth that transcended specific examples? What was he trying to teach his disciples when he taught them of The Good Samaritan? And, in turn, what were the gospel writers trying to teach those who would read their words when they wrote about the life and ministry of Jesus? How and why did they choose to include the accounts that they did? And what message is as important for us today as it was back in the first century?

Well, today we don’t generally consider menstruating women to be unclean, leprosy isn’t something that the majority of us will come across in our lifetimes, and we don’t have Samaria as a neighbouring country. So we need to lose the specifics of the verses including these, and instead find the underlying message within them. How can we love our neighbour in today’s world, in the way that we’re told Jesus did in the gospels? Who is oppressed in our world, and how can we love them?

Given that this post is about the LGBTQ+ Community, I’m really hoping that your automatic response to this is in becoming an Ally. But it might not be. And that’s okay, you may not be at that point right now. But I hope you will be at some point. Because if the gospel accounts teach us anything, surely it is that love is the most important thing, and our LGBTQ+ friends are simply trying to live a life in which they are free to love.

next steps…

So what’s next? How do you become an Ally, especially as a Christian?

Good question! It’s a tough one, not because it is hard per se, but because there is so much division over this within the Christian Community. But there’s one thing I really wanted to share with you before I give you some helpful links for connecting with the LGBTQ+ Community, and that’s a very short quotation from one of my very favourite biblical scholars, Marcus Borg:

“The Kingdom of God was not about an afterlife, about how to get to heaven, but about the transformation of life here on earth”

Given how much emphasis is put upon the Kingdom of God, isn’t it wonderful to know that it is all about life, right here and right now? It’s not about living a good life for some future reward, but upon living a good life so that the Kingdom of God is felt and experienced here on earth. And what is the Kingdom of God, if it isn’t love and acceptance of all, as expressed in the greatest commandment?

So go out, and give your support to those who desperately need your support. It is not the role of the LGBTQ+ Community to defend themselves against the dominant belief system which condemns them for doing nothing more than loving one another, rather it is our role to demand change from within the dominant belief system. As Marcus Borg writes in The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith:

“The point is not that Jesus was a good guy who accepted everybody, and thus we should do the same (though that would be good). Rather, his teachings and behavior reflect an alternative social vision. Jesus was not talking about how to be good and how to behave within the framework of a domination system. He was a critic of the domination system itself.”

Let’s be critics of the domination system which oppresses those who are different, and instead embrace an alternative social vision, in which we accept that love is love, and that’s the most important thing in the entire world.

LGBTQ+ blogs i love, and wider sites within the community

If you’d like to read more from within the LGBTQ+ Community, please consider checking out some of the following:

Blogs

Fizzy Peaches

LesBeMums

Meet The Wildes

My Two Mums

Sites

LGBT History Month

Pink News

Stonewall

 

Image of a Gay Pride Flag hanging over a building with the words "I love you this much" printed on it. The Image has the blog article's title of "why I support the LGBTQ+ Community as a Christian" superimposed over it.

Black and white image of woman holding arms in the air, her hands in the shape of a heart. The words, "experiencing God" are overlaid.

Experiencing God – How I learned to let God in

How do you experience God? Do you ever feel a physical experience of the Divine surrounding you? Or is it more of a faith-based experience of trusting that God is there, even if you never feel His presence?

For me it has been mostly the latter, although I have had times in my life when the former happened too. And I’ve been desperately hoping for that overwhelming physical experience of being surrounded by love and support for quite some time. But I just couldn’t find it.

pushing God away

If you’ve been following my journey, either here on the blog or over on instagram, you’ll know that life has been unbelievably hard for us over the past few years. It all started in 2011, when the pregnancy I had dreamed of for as long as I could remember, turned into the hellish torture that 9 months of Hyperemesis Gravidarum and additional complications bring with them. During that year my entire experience of who I am and who I thought I was meant to be came crashing down.

The following year, as my baby began to grow up faster than I thought possible (how could the months fly by when a year earlier they had dragged into a seeming eternity?) I remember being so angry with God. Why had He made me so deeply maternal that all I had ever dreamed of was becoming a mother, if doing so was going to destroy my body and my soul? I had to choose not to have another baby, and it broke me.

Which led me to starting to write a book and working closely with a charity supporting women suffering from severe pregnancy sickness. I thought that maybe this was the reason for my suffering, so that I could use my writing and organisational skills to help others. And in my desperation to find a new purpose (and avoid the deep grief I was feeling), I ignored all the warning signs that this wasn’t where I was meant to be.

reaching breaking point

Which leads me to 2014, which I have described in the past as my “breaking point”. It was a year in which I should have been happier than ever, but in reality I was falling apart. I was ill-equipped for the role I ended up in, and by the time I learnt the importance of boundaries I was already broken. I remember walking to pick my son up from nursery and I would just sob the entire way there. And I remember lying awake at night, running conversations around in my head and feeling sick with anxiety over it all.

In reality, my time working to support others was more traumatic to my mental health than my pregnancy had been. And the impact of running on that much adrenaline for so long began to have an effect on my physical health too. By the end of 2014 I had been signed off work sick, and I was miserable.

Then, one evening I decided to watch a replay of one of the Thrive Moms retreats, and at the end there was the option to pray and ask Jesus into your life. I had always resisted this, given that I wasn’t sure I really fit into the Christian community. But that evening I really felt the pull to join in. So I did. And I felt an overwhelming sense of security fall over me.

I remember ending the retreat and continuing my prayer, saying to God, “okay, I have absolutely no idea what I’m supposed to be doing, I don’t know how to get out of this situation, please, show me the way.” Immediately I thought of the word, “Surrender“. I just knew, in that moment, that I had to surrender everything to God, and so I did. A week later I found out I was being made redundant from my role, and I thought, “well there’s an answer to a prayer for guidance on next steps!”

learning to surrender

I remember, at the time, it all felt so simple. Nothing seemed to sway me, as I was riding high on the experience of having felt God with me so clearly. I had experienced moments of being connected to the Divine in the past, during meditation or whilst out in nature, but I’d never received such clarity in the moment. It was like a whole new experience for me, and I was on top of the world.

It felt like nothing could bring me down. I was turned down after 3 job interviews, each time because the employer felt like I was over-experienced (I was a graduate coming from a managerial position, applying for part-time admin work). I could see their point, but I also knew that I needed to take a step back in my career. I had a 3 year old son, and I wanted to spend more time with him whilst he was still young. So I kept applying, trusting that the right job would present itself.

A few months later it did, and I began working in a charity shop. I enjoyed the work, and it gave me 4 days a week to just potter around the house and enjoy being with my family. It felt perfect and I honestly thought, “this is it”. And then I got sick.

My health began to decline rapidly until I was signed off work sick in the Summer of 2016 and never returned. I would work 3 days and feel like I had the flu the rest of the week. I would get migraines lasting for days. I would wake up and feel like I would vomit every time I moved. My hips and pelvis became so unstable I could no longer use the stairs in our home properly. I became pretty much bed-ridden, and life was hard.

Whilst this was happening my husband’s health also declined, and we both ended up out of work and reliant on a cruel benefit system. Our son was also diagnosed with Autism. And within a couple of years my extended family experienced so much grief and pain (my Nan, my Great Aunt, and my Aunt died, and two of my uncles were diagnosed with cancer). It felt like blow after blow, and I felt incredibly worthless when my own health kept me from being able to support my family in any useful way.

faith in the darkness

However, throughout all of this my faith began to blossom. At a time when I realised I could no longer rely on myself, I had to learn to rely on something greater than myself. I began reading more about Christianity, and thanks to books like Setting Jesus Free, Jesus Through Pagan Eyes, Convictions, and The Case for God, I began to realise that my own relationship with God and Jesus was not only beautiful, it was also okay.

I had long believed that I would never fit in, and my fear of being “found out” for my more liberal (and “out there”) beliefs kept me from joining fully into a faith community. And yet I desperately sought it. I remember clearly feeling God impress upon me that it was time for me to take the next step, as I sang a hymn one Sunday in church. I realised it was time for me to choose to affirm my faith, and that day I spoke to the minister about being baptised.

Since then I have grown deeper and deeper in my faith, both through being in community with others who support me and through my own desire for answers and support during my suffering. One of my favourite parts in the Bible has come to be 2 Corinthians, in which Paul writes about his own suffering:

Man sitting by a wall, head bowed, with text from 2 Corinthians 'Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.'

I cannot even begin to comprehend Paul’s experience of being content with his weakness, of which he experienced far more than I ever will. And yet, this speaks to me so powerfully of the idea that when we are weak we are made strong, at least where our faith is concerned. It is within having everything stripped away, all the things I thought that mattered most in giving me value, that I realised the true value of my worth as a human. It doesn’t lie in what I do or what I achieve, rather it is in my ability to live a good life, wherever I happen to find myself.

learning to let god in

And yet, despite all of these developments in my faith, I continued to feel distanced from God. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have faith, for I have always had that in abundance – in my darkest moments I have raged at God, and it’s hard to be angry at something you don’t believe in! Rather, it was that I felt like I was learning to understand God on an intellectual level whilst holding Him at arms’ length.

That’s not to say that the intellectual stuff isn’t important, because it is. Exploring the wider context of any spiritual teaching to discover how it might be relevant to your life is crucial. I’m a huge advocate of Biblical Literacy, as well as Interfaith Dialogue. I find it all fascinating, and something which deepens my faith. But there’s only so much you can read and think about faith before you need to experience it too!

So over the past few weeks I’ve been purposefully asking God to help me take that step towards him, opening my heart to the experience of Him, so that I could know Him in a deeper way. I’d become so caught up in trying to understand the nature of God that I’d lost sight of that experience I knew and recognised as the Divine. And over the course of a couple of weeks I felt myself being guided to make little changes, all of which left the gates open for God to sneak in.

so *that’s* what god is

This all led to a wonderful experience the other night, when I was laying in bed thanking God for having helped me to see changes I needed to make in my life. I knew that the clarity I was receiving could only be coming from a closer connection to God, and I was feeling gratitude for that. As I thanked Him, I felt this sudden rush of love sweeping towards me at great speed from all directions. And in that moment I knew – this was God.

“So, that’s who you are!” I said, smiling to myself. “How could I have forgotten?” I couldn’t describe the indescribable, and yet I found the words to express the experience. “You’re love, pure and simple. You’re everything. You both male and female, whilst also being neither of those things. You just are.” It all made sense, and though I felt the feeling ebbing away as I got caught up in my attempts to verbally describe the experience, I knew that a fleeting moment was all that I needed. When something is so powerful, you only need a momentary glimpse to keep you going.

I know now that I’ve been worrying too much about whether I experience God or not. The experience was beautiful, and I wish I could bottle it up and share it with everyone I know. But that’s not how it works. It isn’t necessary to “bottle it up”, because it is there for anyone to experience, at any time. God doesn’t stay away from us, it’s we who keep him at what we think is a safe distance, when we are too caught up in thinking we have it all figured out.

embracing my weakness

I also know, without a doubt, that I’m going to repeatedly do that throughout my life. I’m only human, after all, and I will often believe that I know what is best for me. Life experience has taught me very clearly that I often don’t, but I’ll still fall into the trap of believing I’m doing okay on my own. This is especially true when life is going well, but also true when things start to go wrong and I feel like I need to fix it.

So whilst I am a very long way from what Paul describes as being glad in his weakness, I can now see the depth of the truth within his message. For it is when I am brought to my knees, whether through pain or awe at the beauty of this world, that I truly open up to the experience of God.

Black and white image of woman with arms above her head, her hands making a heart shape. The words, "Experiencing God, how I learned to let God in" are overlaid.

What Makes a Christian? A Progressive Christian’s View

What makes a Christian? This is a question that on the surface sounds really simple, but in reality is quite complex. Whilst most Christians have their own idea about what makes them a Christian, an idea which often coincides with the beliefs of their Church, the very fact that there are so many different denominations shows that the answer to this question is really anything but simple.

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40 Items Clothing Lent Give Away

(Late) Reflections on Lent, Easter, & My Christian Journey

I had planned on writing this update last weekend, to coincide with the Easter celebrations, but unfortunately I was rather poorly.  I was overcome with “brain fog” alongside absolute exhaustion, and so putting together a blog post was beyond my capabilities. But, as the saying goes, better late than never, hey?

Lent Reflections

So, first things first I wanted to update you on how I got on with my plan to give away 40 items of clothing during Lent. You may recall that I decided to do this, as I didn’t feel there was anything I could give up which would have a significant effect on my life. And giving something away reminded me that no matter how weak and poorly I feel, no matter how little I may possess, there is always something I can do to help another. Giving away 40 items of clothing, which was just under half of my entire wardrobe, allowed me to help a charity whilst also focusing on how these are just items, and losing some of them isn’t the end of the world!

That being said, I really didn’t anticipate just how difficult I would find it. First, I struggled with the daily aspect of it. Because I am very sick at the moment and have some days where simply getting out of bed, feeding myself and my family, and doing the absolute bare minimum to keep things ticking over, adding in a new activity can be challenging. It may sound easy enough, standing in front of your wardrobe and choosing an item to give away, but actually when you get caught up in just getting through the day, you tend to forget. There are several times throughout Lent when I missed a day or two and had to play catch up, choosing more than one item to ensure I didn’t fall behind. Those were the days when it really hit me just how many items I had promised to give away!

And then there was the fact that I wanted to be sure that what I gave away would be useful to another. I didn’t want to just give away clothes I rarely wore – I wanted them to be clothes that other people would find useful. I also wanted to be sure that I left myself a working wardrobe, one which I could turn to and know that I have an outfit for every occasion. In fact, that thinking helped me to create a sort of “must keep” pile, that then freed me up to choose any of the other items to give away. My “must keep” items included jeans, leggings, a couple of pairs of smart trousers, a few summer skirts, and a couple of dresses, plus a couple of tops to suit each of the bottom halves I had chosen. Oh, and most of my jumpers and cardigans – I get cold very easily.

All in all, it was a challenging experience, but one I am really glad I did. I now have the tidiest wardrobe I’ve ever had and actually find it easier to decide what to wear now than I did when I had twice as many clothes to choose from. And I have a big bag full of clothes to take to charity.

40 Items Clothing Lent Give Away

There are:

5 Dresses
3 Skirts
2 Pairs of Jeans
1 Pair of Jogging Bottoms
2 Zip-Up Tops
2 Jumpers
4 Cardigans
1 Long Sleeved Top
3 Long Tops (which go well with leggings)
6 T-Shirts
5 Vest Tops
2 Blouses
2 Smart Tops
1 Shirt
1 Vest (that you can wear over a long sleeved top)

Fitting them all on my bed to take a photo of them was rather challenging, so apologies for the blurry photo!

Easter Reflections

Of course, all of this was leading up to the highlight of the Christian year – Easter! This is something I have always struggled with, because until now I have been far more inspired by Jesus’ life and ministry than what happened during that first Easter. I also really struggled with the idea of a ransom for our sins. But this year I have really started to find some kind of deeper peace and understanding around it all.

I’ve realised that, for me, there is a much greater power in the message that Christ continues to live amongst us, touching us in ways that transcend the physical, than in the idea of a bodily resurrection. When I read the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, I have come to interpret them as symbolic rather than something to be taken literally. I know that for many, many people this is key to the Christian message, and for many years that was  one of the main reasons why I felt I couldn’t call myself a Christian at all. And yet, now I realise that it’s okay to interpret it this way. To me, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not crucial to my belief that Christ overcame death and continues to live among us. After all, if it was, why did he only remain in his bodily form for a short time afterwards? No, for me, it’s more about how he continues to inspire generations of people around the world, 2,000 years after his death.

And so that is what I celebrated last Sunday – the fact that I feel God’s presence in my life, that I know that Jesus is calling me to follow him, and that countless other people have experienced this too. Nothing else really matters…

My Christian Journey – Choosing to be Baptised

Of course, a lot of this newfound confidence in my faith has come from the support of those around me. I am part of a wonderful church community, and also have a very dear friend who listens to me ramble on about both my thoughts and my doubts, and empowers me to explore things at my own pace. We spent a wonderful day together at the Cathedral during Lent, and have planned to make it a regular occurrence, as it was so good for us both to spend time together and quietly sit in the Cathedral doing our own reflection.

Prayer Candles

A large part of my reflection has come from reading books like Setting Jesus Free by John Churcher and The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. It was the latter book, in fact, which first made me realise that I was overcomplicating things and holding myself back from fully integrating into the church community. I realised that I was hoping to understand it all and feel at peace with everything before taking a more dedicated step such as Baptism, and yet the reality is I may never feel that and actually it is more important to simply dedicate yourself to the journey than to have all the answers.

I found myself singing along at the beginning of a service one Sunday and I just knew that now was the time to do it. I can’t explain it, I just felt my heart opening and it just felt right. So I talked to our Minister after the service, about both my thoughts and my reservations, and he was wonderfully supportive. He pointed out that I am already involved in the church, as I attend Bible Study and went to the Church Council meeting, so there was no reason not to feel a part of the Church Family. And he reminded me that “God is big enough for everyone”.

And so, I find myself now counting down the days until my own Baptism and Confirmation into the Methodist Church (and the Baptism of Little Man) on 30th April. We had planned to do it on Easter Sunday, but my Grandma was away and I really want her there. It works out quite nicely though, as it is 2 days after my birthday and part of the Bank Holiday weekend too, so we can really enjoy some quality family time together around it.

I must admit I’m a little bit nervous about it, not because I’m not ready for it, just because it is such a big thing. The thought of standing in front of everyone, knowing that they will all be welcoming us into their Church Family, just makes me squirm a little – it’s too much like being in a spotlight for my liking!! I felt nervous enough when we got married and had to say our vows in front of everyone, and this feels very much the same to me – I’m looking forward to it, but I shall be happy once the standing in front of everyone is over.

Phew, that was quite a lot to fit into a single post, wasn’t it? It’s amazing just how much has happened over Lent and Easter in my life this year. How was your Easter?

 

 

Finding Your Place in the Church as a Progressive Christian (1)

Finding Your Place in the Church as a Progressive Christian

I hadn’t planned a post for today, but having just returned from a truly thought-provoking church service, I felt the need to sit down and share what is in my heart right now. You see, the visiting Minister who took the service today talked a lot about how difficult we often find it to share our faith with others. And for me this remains one of the biggest challenges I face in my own journey of faith.

For many, many years I didn’t even think I could fit into a church community. Ever since I first discovered the basic tenets held by most Christian churches, I realised that I simply could not accept some of them. I certainly couldn’t affirm a belief in the general understanding of the Trinity or the explanation for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that rejecting these basic principles meant that I couldn’t define myself as a Christian in any way. I believed that for a long time too.

But no matter how much I rallied against these ideas, I still felt drawn towards Christianity in ways I can only describe as God drawing me back to it time and again. I explored other faith traditions, and doing so helped to form the idea in my mind that there really is more than connects us than divides us in life. Yet no matter how many other paths I explored, I always came back to this desire to be part of the church community.

Finding Your Place in the Church as a Progressive Christian

When I first discovered the writings of Progressive Christian scholars such as Marcus Borg, I was thrilled to realise that questioning the general principles affirmed within the church didn’t automatically exclude me from being a Christian. I began to realise that even though I might not interpret the Bible in the same way as others, I could still turn to it for inspiration and guidance. And whilst I may not always agree with certain ideas, Christianity is far bigger than any one single person, church, or denomination.

Which is how I found myself regularly attending our local Methodist Church, because I finally felt like I could fit in. That’s not to say it is always easy. Despite the fact that I go to church most Sundays, I still feel more like a visitor than an active part of the church family. This has nothing to do with the congregation, who are wonderfully welcoming, it’s just that when you’re still trying to figure out how you fit in to the church, it can be very difficult to know how to do so.

For instance, Little Man has watched several children be baptised in the church and has expressed an interest in being baptised himself. Now, part of me knows he just wants to have a special day, and hasn’t thought that much about what it signifies (he is only 5, after all). But the reason I hesitate is not because of his lack of understanding, but rather my uncertainty over whether it is right for us to do so.

I have never been baptised and so if I choose to baptise him, I’d like to be baptised myself at the same time. But should we really do this when I know that I still haven’t figured out quite how I feel about and understand that part of Christianity. I wrote about how and why I was teaching Little Man about the Easter Story from a Progressive Christian point of view last year, and for the most part I am comfortable in the way we are exploring the Christian faith together. But there seems, to me at least, a big difference between our personal exploration of Christianity and a more public affirmation of our faith, such as baptism.

You may be wondering why this is such a big deal to me. We go to church, and our church is very welcoming and allows us to take part in communion whenever it is held, even though neither of us has been baptised. So in essence, it doesn’t stop us from being part of the church family. And yet, there is a part of me that feels like we still sit on the edges, looking in rather than being an active part of the church. And that bothers me.

there is a part of me that feels like we still sit on the edges, looking in rather than being an active part of the church

I know that most of this is my own hesitancy rather than anything the church is or isn’t doing to help me feel more welcome. But it does make me wonder why this is so hard, and just how many more people feel the same way that I do. The Minister today asked a similar question – how many people come so close and yet do not take that first step to enter into our community, because it feels unapproachable to them? Are we doing enough to share our faith with others and show them how welcome they would be to join us?

One of the things I love most about the church I attend is that I can see signs of this happening. There is a notice on the inside of the church which says something along the lines of, “it’s not our role to bring people to church, it’s our role to bring people to Jesus”. This speaks to me so strongly, because it reflects the ideas within Progressive Christianity that focus on building communities where there are many ways to experience and understand the Divine, and that it’s important that we, “accept all who wish to share companionship without insisting on conformity”.

And yet even with these signs in my own church, I still feel so hesitant to speak up, share my heart with others, and become a truly active member of the church. I still fear what will happen if I do. But I promised myself that 2017 would be a year of courage, and so it’s time for me to dig deep and find the strength to do so. Our Minister this morning called us to do just that – she phrased it as “God has thrown down the gauntlet”, and I love the image that evokes.

She reminded us that God challenges us sometimes, and though we may try to resist, it’s what we have been called to do. For me the message is loud and strong – I’ve been gifted with the ability to communicate and connect with others in such a way that my entire life has focused on these key skills. And yet in this one area I resist it so strongly, for fear of what it might entail. “Who am I to do or say these things when I don’t even know quite where I fit in yet?” I ask myself. Well, actually, who am I not to?

The truth is, I probably have far more in common with those who are hesitant about attending church than many other church-goers. I know what it’s like to come in as an outsider, someone new to the faith, with questions and doubts that I think may exclude me from the community. I also know what it’s like to walk a path between multiple faiths, drawing inspiration from other religious traditions as well as Christianity. And if that wasn’t enough, I also have such a passion for exploring faith and making it more accessible for others.

Which is why I felt I had to write a post today, after the message at church was so strong this morning. I needed to express what it’s like to attend church when you feel like you don’t quite belong, because it’s often a confusing place to be. And I wanted to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone this year and truly try to find my place within the church as a Progressive Christian. Because finally I feel able to say that – I am a Christian, even though I reject some of the more common understandings of what this means.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – do you define the “type” of Christian you are, or just that you are Christian? How do you define what it means to be a Christian? Is it even possible to define it, or is it too complicated for words?

Don’t forget I am always happy to provide a space on this blog for you to share your own thoughts and experiences. I feel a major part of my blogging journey is to help express the diverse unity that exists within our faith communities, as well as society as a whole. So please, feel free to share your thoughts with me on this (even if you disagree with everything I say!!) 


I’m linking this post up with Share The Joy hosted by Lizzie Somerset, as it is a really special post to me and it gives me joy to know that I am finding the courage to put this kind of post “out there” in the hope of developing conversation with others who are passionate about talking about faith too, whatever that may look like for them.
Share the Joy linky at LizzieSomerset.com

Exploring the Nativity Story with your Kids

Most of us know the Nativity Story, right? Even if you’ve not been raised in a Christian family, chances are you know the basic storyline, thanks to Nativity plays at school, Christmas carols on the radio, and cultural references to it in both literature and on tv. The same will be true for our children; even if we don’t actively seek to introduce them to the Nativity Story at home, they will come across it in other ways.

Which is why I think it’s a really lovely idea to actually sit down once in a while and explore it all in more detail. Doing so often helps us to gain new insight and a whole new perspective on things, and can be really beneficial in helping us figure out what it is we actually believe and how that impacts on our lives. Obviously how we do this will depend on our individual age and background, but I hope the following will help you begin your own journey of exploration of the Nativity Story.

Explore The Nativity Story with Kids The Family Patch

Understanding the nativity story

What would you say if someone asked you to tell them the Nativity Story? I’m guessing it would be something similar to this…

Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem and, because there was no room in the inn, Jesus was born in a stable. Angels appeared on the hill-tops and proclaimed the birth to the Shepherds. And three Wise Men travelled from afar, following a bright new shining star. 

It’s no surprise that our retelling of the Nativity follows this same pattern of events, as that is what we hear about every single Christmas. But did you know that no single Gospel account of the birth of Christ includes all of the above aspects?

The vast majority of it comes from Luke, whose account of Jesus’ birth is by far the longest and most detailed. His account includes the census, the stable, and the shepherds and the angels. However it has no mention of Wise Men, who only appear in Matthew’s Gospel. However Matthew’s version of events is much shorter and less detailed, appearing to race through the birth in comparison. There is also a marked difference in who the Angel appears to during the pregnancy – in Luke’s version the Angel appears to Mary, but in Matthew’s the Angel appears to Joseph, encouraging him to support Mary.

Then, of course, there are the two other Gospel accounts of Mark and John. Neither of these even mention the Nativity! Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Christ, and John’s is entirely different, with far more spiritual leanings as he writes about “The Word made flesh”.

So what does this all mean in terms of how we understand the Nativity Story and the truth we find within it? Does it mean that the typical story we hear year after year, bringing the two accounts of Luke and Matthew together as if they are one single narrative, is false? No, I don’t think it means that at all!

We must remember that each of the Gospel writers were telling their version of events in a very specific time and culture, which means they were also writing it for a very specific audience. Just because they adapted it to express a deep truth in a way that those who read it would understand, doesn’t make it wrong. Just think about how often we ourselves adapt what we say depending on who we are talking to – you wouldn’t expect a young child to understand with the same level of experience as that of an adult, would you?

I am reminded here of the Bible Study I went to this week in which we discussed this very thing, and I wish to share two quotations from it with you…

“This is always the task of Christians and the Christian church: to find ways to speak into our particular situations. We are not called to proclaim the gospel again, but to proclaim it afresh – wherever we find ourselves.”

— Living in the Light (York Courses)

“As has been said:

’Many will never read the gospel according to Matthews, Mark, Luke, or John, but they will read the gospel according to you!’”

— found in Living in the Light (York Courses)

I found these quotations so refreshing, as they reminded me that it’s not only okay to reinterpret the Bible in a way that means something to you, you are actually encouraged to do so. And how you do that will depend entirely on your individual and family culture.

activity ideas

Obviously, such deep theological ideas are not the easiest of topics for young children to grasp (hey, I struggle with them myself!!) Which is why it is probably far more useful for you and your family to explore the Nativity Story in some other way. Here are some ideas that you could adapt to suit you and your family:

Re-enact scenes from the Nativity

Role playing is a great way to step into someone else’s shoes. Why not ask your kids how they think the various people felt, or why they think some events happened as they did. Questions could include:

  • Do you think Mary felt happy or scared?
  • What do you think Joseph thought about it all?
  • Would you like to meet an Angel?
  • Why do you think the inn-keeper offered room in the stable?
  • What gifts would you have brought if you were one of the Wise Men?

Make your own Nativity Scene

Get creative and find ways to make your very own Nativity Scene, so that it reflects your own ideas about it. How you do this will depend on whether you have a particular interest in a certain craft, and the age of your kids. Younger kids may enjoy simply drawing it on some paper, or colouring in cut-out figures. Older kids may enjoy learning a new skill such as knitting or embroidery. Make it your own and then treasure it for years to come.

Write your own Nativity Story

Older kids may enjoy looking at the various different versions there are available and then thinking about how they would retell the story to someone who didn’t know it. Would they write it like a fairytale, starting with “Once Upon a Time”, or would they want to embed it in history like those Gospel accounts that start with the ancestral lineage of Jesus? And what style would they use – prose, poetry, music? Have fun with this one and have a go yourself, it may be fun to compare stories with each other!

Resources

There are so many resources available to help you explore the Nativity Story, in whichever way you wish. A quick Google will get you started, although it may also be a bit overwhelming too! With this in mind I have collected a few of my favourite resources together over on Pinterest. You can find it at bit.ly/SKNNativity

I hope you have enjoyed this blog post. Please do let us know by leaving a comment, we’d love to hear from you!

Share Your Personal Faith Story Book

Diverse Unity – Finding You Belong In Faith

For a very long time now, I have felt like I didn’t really belong to any faith group, and that bothered me. It seemed like there were things I believed (or didn’t believe, as the case may be) that kept me from fitting in fully with Christianity (both the more mainstream communities and more liberal ones, such as Unitarians and Quakers) as well as other religions such as Paganism and Buddhism. It felt like I was floating somewhere between many different paths and as much as I believe there is truth within each individual path, and that there is more than connects us all than separates us, I still wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere.

I wanted to be able to explore my faith openly and with others, without fearing becoming an outcast by putting my foot in it somewhere along the line! I had found myself turned away from Christianity in my first year at University by the Christian Union (which gave me the impression that to be a Christian you had to fit into a very small definition), and later found myself kicked out of an online forum for saying the wrong thing and expressing a doubt! Looking back, these were two very small experiences that were totally balanced out by the welcoming and supportive communities I experienced in the local church at Uni and my time volunteering with Die Heilsarmee in Germany. But my fear of not “fitting in” was so great that I never allowed myself to fully open up in those groups and felt like I was always hiding something.

But faith is a funny thing, isn’t it? It grabs hold of you and refuses to let you go, even when you’re so angry and closed-minded about it. Over the past decade I have come back to this idea over and over again, and each time my heart has softened a little bit. I now go to church most Sundays and Little Man and I are enjoying exploring the Bible together through the Bible App for Kids every evening before bed. But even now there is still a part of me that hesitates to define myself as a Christian, and whilst I have considered baptism for myself and Little Man I have yet to arrange it because I feel like it would be making a declaration of faith that isn’t completely honest. Because there are still things that I believe (and don’t believe) which I feel are not necessarily the generally accepted ideas within Christianity.

Which is why it has been a complete surprise to me these past few weeks to discover that there are people who have absolutely no issue with calling themselves a Christian whilst having similar beliefs to me. I have discovered over recent months that there was a growing “liberal” or “progressive” movement within Christianity, having read books by Marcus Borg and John Churcher. And then even more recently a friend of mine, who I have always considered quite a “New Age Hippy” (like me), shared with me that her church (Episcopal) would never have dreamed of expecting her to give up her belief in Angels, Reiki, and the other “woo woo” stuff that I had been so scared of sharing with others.

My conversation with this friend included her suggestion that what I had long considered the “mainstream Christian” view might actually be more the exception than the norm – what an interesting thought! Yet I know there are others, like me, who have felt they have had to keep certain aspects of their lives hidden from their church family, because they fear its reception. And that still bothers me, because I have this issue with honesty… I feel like I am being dishonest not to disclose where my beliefs may differ, yet it’s such a tough discussion to have that I hide it anyway.

But time and time again I feel the nudge to take that leap of faith and open my heart to the endless possibilities that will come with doing so. I hear the message that I am a writer, a communicator, a facilitator, and I am meant to use these gifts to help both myself and others. Which is why I have recently started two new projects – one is a Facebook group (The Faith Space), where members can come together and discuss all things faith related in an open and non-dogmatic way; and the other is a new book, bringing together the personal faith stories of a wide variety of people.

I’m loving the conversations that are starting within the Facebook group, and am extremely excited about the book. It is my hope that this book will become an informative resource for new believers and those who, like me, are unsure of whether they “fit in” or not. By providing a space for a variety of people to share their own individual story of faith, I hope to show that there is so much diversity even within a single faith tradition, and that this diversity actually opens up Christianity as a warm and welcoming faith to those of us who may have felt we couldn’t belong for one reason or another.

More than anything, I want to show that there is not one “right way” to be a Christian, rather that we are all welcomed to follow in the footsteps of a man who was so radical in his own faith that he risked everything to show us the way to know God and love one another. Because, after all, didn’t Jesus himself ignore the religious teachings of his time when doing so allowed him to show love and compassion?

So here’s my invitation (or rather request) to you – if you would like to contribute your own personal faith story for the book, please do get in touch at admin@shortmanmedia.com and let me know! I’ll then send you out more details about the book and answer any questions you may have about it. I’d love to hear from you.

Share Your Personal Faith Story Book