This past week a well-known spiritual writer made a video expressing her changing views on certain New Age ideas since her Baptism. As someone who is inspired by both Christianity and The New Age, I often wonder where the balance is between the two...
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.
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?
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.
2 Pairs of Jeans
1 Pair of Jogging Bottoms
2 Zip-Up Tops
1 Long Sleeved Top
3 Long Tops (which go well with leggings)
5 Vest Tops
2 Smart Tops
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!!)
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.
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…
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.
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!
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!
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 email@example.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.
As someone who falls somewhere between (very) liberal Christianity, Paganism and New Age Metaphysics, I've been thinking a lot about how to introduce the Easter Story to WB.