Tag Archives: God

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Generally speaking, all my ideas are brilliant. I am not boasting - this is a fact.
Climb a mountain? Quit my job and set fire to my life without a plan of how to actually put the fire out? Dye my hair blonde? Yes, YOLO and what would Beyonce do?
I rarely regret my brilliant ideas because they are, by very definition, brilliant.
But, every now and again I find myself questioning my sanity and wondering what under heaven led me to that particular questionable life choice. A couple of weeks ago I found myself sat in my ‘cell’ in an old convent entertaining such a line of thought daily.
I was on a silent retreat based on the teachings of a long-dead Catholic Priest called St Ignatius of Loyola.  I'd kept coming across books and articles referencing his teaching and he seemed to have an intriguing take on what it means to follow Jesus. So, I figured I had nothing to lose from finding out more. As for the silence, I’m a good listener and committed introvert. I so looked forward to no small talk over meals and time to hear my own thoughts. I thought the silence would be a rather giant and delicious piece of cake I’d delight in eating over the course of the seven days of the retreat.
Hahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha*stops to breathe* ahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahaha*cries JT a river of almost hysterical tears*hahahaha hahahahahhahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
O how the mighty do fall (off their chairs from laughing at their own naivety) and question their supposedly brilliant ideas.
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Home for the week.
Turns out, it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. But it was so worth it. I will spend the next days/weeks/years pondering the many things I learned and the many new questions raised. I am so thankful my sanity took a backseat and let my curiosity drive us outside of my comfort zone.
Disclaimer: It wasn’t complete complete silence. For about 30 minutes every day I met with a spiritual companion who, lucky for them, got to listen to all of my rambling and helped me make sense of it. This 30 minutes was life saving. Also, we had two hours of teaching each day. And Mass. And prayers. And so we heard people talking, we occasionally contributed and we sang. But most of the day we didn’t speak, not even over meals – which could have been incredibly awkward but I ditched awkward a few years ago and life has been exponentially better since.
Silence. No phone, no internet, no TV and no radio. And yet you hear everything else – birdsong, doors closing, doors opening, mud squelching, cutlery scraping plates, wind, waves and rain.
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Let's escape to the beach beach. Let's go get away.
Things I missed:
  • Laughing. Surprisingly, I missed this the most. Sure, there were small things that raised a smile but not much to make you actually LOL. Not laughing was sad and painful and isolating. Apparently, I dearly love to laugh.
  • Being called by name. As the poet once said, what is in a name? Being known.
  • A week of Winter Olympics - whats not to love about an international platform for sports you didn't even know existed?
  • (Things I conveniently avoided: my sister's Birthday; Valentine's Day)
It wasn’t just the silence that was tough. The teaching raised some challenging questions that couldn't just be glossed over. Ignatius was all in:

Take Lord and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will – all that I have and possess. You Lord have given all that to me. I now give it back to you O Lord. All of it is yours. Dispose of it according to your will. Give me love of yourself along with your grace, for that is enough for me.

So, between the silence, the challenge of a life surrendered to God, trying to put out my life-on-fire and figuring out how to get the person sat opposite at lunch to pass the cheesecake without asking them, it was a tough a week.
And yet, I think you should do it too. There were 15 of us on the retreat, we found it hard in difficult ways but not one of us regretted sticking it out.
I learned so much about the goodness of God. I learned so much about the everyday gifts of life that I simply accept as standard and don’t even see. I learned so much about who I am when I’m stripped of many of the things I delight in. My understanding of my OneWord was turned completely. I have many questions about church unity and the lack thereof. I may even have started to put out the fire that is my life.
Don’t tell me you’re scared of what you might find in the silence. You don't face it alone, right by your side cheering you on, giving you strength when you think you've run out, and preparing a feast is the God who loves you more that you can possibly know and who cannot wait to meet you in the silence.
Dare greatly, friends.
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David is one of my fave members of the Bible crew. Because let’s face it, if even after he arranges to have his mistress’s husband killed in war he can still be in that Hebrews 11 Great Hall of Faith, then there’s definitely hope for the rest of us.

Ever wondered what kinda person David would be if he were a 2014 twenty-something?

The whole writing psalms thing instantly conjures up images of an anaemic looking hipster drinking flat whites in Peckham and typing his poetic laments into a macBook typewriter. But then writing songs and playing the harp for the king was more singer-songwriter right?

But let’s go back to the start, when we first hear of him David is a shepherd for the family business. He would have spent most of his time caring for and defending the sheep. Shepherds had to be tough, ever had face off a bear or lion? Me neither, but I’m pretty sure it requires guts that I don’t have. And let’s not forget that whole incident where he defeats a giant that had everyone else running scared. David was courageous.

He also spent a great deal of time on the run from King Saul hiding out in caves. Kinda like Edward Snowden but more rural.

David was a mighty warrior – decorated war vet?

In his moments most far from God he had a weakness for beautiful women and found abusing his power as an easy way to deal with any consequences.

Here was a man who understood music, battle, betrayal and life on the run. And then he was a king.

So if you put them all together you get a more poetic, slightly grungy, strong, fearless and Godly Marcus Mumford type Prince William?

But my favourite all time thing about David was that he was a man after God’s own heart. As demonstrated by his ability to throw kingly dignity out window and dance for joy before God. I mean, I love to dance. But it's usually up in da club when I no longer know if I'm Rachel or Beyonce.

There he is, leading the Arc of God back to Jerusalem with the people of Israel celebrating all around and he simply can’t contain it any longer. David is filled with the joy of bringing the Arc back and with the presence of God. Forget dignity; forget honour of the House of David, he starts to bust a move. Think Pharell’s Happy/Tom Cruise jumping over the sofa on Oprah/your dad and uncles at a family wedding after a few too many drinks mash up - but with more Holy Spirit. Could you ever imagine the Queen busting a move for sheer joy at the opening of parliament or whatever important national thing it is that she does?

When I was a teenager I refused to run for the bus. I decided that hitching up my school skirt to run up a hill whist juggling a PE kit, five text books and a clarinet was just too undignified. I preferred to watch the bus sail pass and wait 20 minutes for the next one – yeh, ridiculous I know; thankfully my teenage years are far behind me (despite the cashier in Sainsberry asking me for ID because he thought I was 16! Sixteen! He clearly shoulda gone to specsavers).

Rarely now in my adult life do I choose to be undignified (karaoke night in Nashville not withstanding - don't ask). But David embraced indignity. David’s joy was so much that he didn’t care what people thought about him – to the scorning sarcasm of one of his wives, “How glorious the king of Israel looked today! He exposed himself to the servant girls like any indecent person might do.” To which David replies “So I am willing to act like a fool in order to show my joy in the Lord. Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this...”

I don't like looking foolish. Do you?

Guide us, O Lord,
When we have lost our way.
When we are stumbling from one path to another
Because we took our eyes from your lights on the path.
When we are no longer certain of our direction
Because we are confused about the purpose of our journey.
 
Guide us, O Lord,
When faced with an abundance of options
We are paralysed with the fear of failure.
Having fallen in love with holding out for the best opportunity
We have forgotten to be thankful for the freedom of choice.
And in our efforts to do your will
We have forgotten that burning bushes are not an everyday occurrence.
 
Guide us, O Lord
When we boldly dare
To renew our search for your lights on the pathway.
When in following your word
To the pathway of holiness
We shall find the gateway of the narrow path
 
We ask you to remind us of our identity with You;
And to guide us in re-imaging our future
In strength, courage, hope and love.
 
This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

Based on Disturb us, O Lord by Francis Drake. Part One: Comfort us, O Lord

Last last weekend I ventured into the wilds of Basingstoke-shire to see some of the East London crew.

It was a weekend full of the usuals and the unexpecteds:

The usual apprehension about trips to the country:  no street lights, axe murders hiding in the trees, no phone reception when being chased by said murderer, amazement at big open green spaces and seeing an actual live cow. A real cow. Not a burger.

Some of the unexpecteds: managing  to eat celery and mushrooms without crying, wifi,  & going for a walk by myself in the country without getting lost and/or murdered by a mad axe man (win win).

I was reminded of why I found leaving Bethnal Green so sad. I was reminded that my story, though important, is not the only one. Let me break it down for you...

Mary and Martha were friends of Jesus and their brother, Lazarus was dying. So they did the most logical thing when someone you love is seriously sick and you happen to have a friend who can heal - they sent Jesus a message to let him know. They probably hoped that Jesus would come right away and heal their brother – bringing an end to the pain and anxiety of Lazarus being on his literal death bed. (Read John 11 for the full story).

But Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus had died.

Four days late you could say. Four days of heart wrenching grief. Four days of pain and sorrow. Four days of so many tears you have none left. Four days of so many tears you think you have none left but somehow they appear from somewhere over the rainbow. Four days of wondering how Jesus could have stood by and let this happen to you. Four days of wondering why you even bothered to tell Jesus what was happening – because apparently it made no difference. Four days of wondering if Jesus didn't even care. Four days of people trying to say the right thing and making it worse. Four days of people saying the right thing and bringing some comfort. Four days of wondering what the future holds. Four days of wondering why it didn’t turn out as you hoped for with all your heart. Four days of unanswered questions. Four days of trying to remember that death is not the end. Four days of clinging to the hope of resurrection and heaven. Four days of heart wrenching grief.

Ever been there? Hope deferred and heartsick? Ever wondered why what you hoped for with all your heart is as dead as Lindsay Lohan's music career?

The thing about Mary and Martha was that God had a bigger plan than just healing their brother. God had a bigger plan than just restoring their family and ending their pain by bringing Lazarus’ back from the dead. Their story was not the only one.

Many people had come to mourn with Mary and Martha, and many of them were at the tomb when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. As a result of witnessing this miracle many of them believed in Jesus. They were still talking about it a few days later in Jerusalem.

So when Jesus first heard that Lazarus was sick he could have gone straight away and healed him. And maybe only a few people outside of their community would ever have known – and maybe few of those would have believed that it was true.

But God’s timing meant many people witnessed the miracle of life being brought back to a dead man. Many people outside of their community heard about it.

It was never just about Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They were part of a bigger story.

Ever been there? Hope deferred, heartsick and wondering why.

I would like to promise you that if you stick it out, just have a little patience, God will do the unexpected when you have lost all hope. Maybe He will. But maybe its just like my invite to Beyonce's next party - got lost in the post and never gonna happen.

Or just maybe you’re part of a bigger story that though painful will mean much to many others.

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. John 16v33

We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. Romans 6 (The Message)

The Stone Table
"...when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards." The Lion, the witch and the Wardrobe

So, it’s been six months of Exile already. Time to stop collaborate and listen pause and reflect.

There is much to be learned in Exile.

I’m learning new ways to block out that annoying thing called light when you’re on your way to work.

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Using time wisely

I’m learning that celebrating International Womens' day by choosing to spring clean my bedroom and buying myself flowers is just as revolutionary as not shaving your legs (or armpits if you're Madonna) – because I am privileged enough to make my own decisions about how I live my life (thank you Destiny's Child and the Spice Girls for lessons in being an Independent Woman). But there are millions of women and girls who do not have that privilege, here's why its important...

I’m learning that one of the purposes of Exile is to show God’s provision. There can be new life, new meaning, new dreams, new routines and new community in Exile. There is life in the seemingly barren places.

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I’m learning that not everyone has a problem with clipping their nails on the DLR whilst on the way to work.

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Eww

I’m learning that in the same way that faith produces good works, Love Does. Love doesn't stop at thoughts and feelings. Love takes action. Love enriches others' lives. Love Does. Bob Goff has this down to a T.

I’m learning that life without risks where you have no option but to depend on God, is boring, stagnant and uncomfortably comfortable.

Shout out to Jessica Hagy for this creation.

I’m learning that revolution in the suburbs isn’t always that subtle – don’t like the fact that they’re digging up half the street to change the electrics or something? Simply don’t move your car.

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I’m learning that though the love of money can be the root of all kinds of evil, the joy of generosity can overcome it.

I'm learning that dancing in the hailstorm is so much easier after you've praised Jesus first.

I’m learning that streams in the desert and ways in the wasteland can be hard to find, but once found, following the path and drinking from the stream brings Life, in abundance. Hallelujah.

Teacher: Today we are learning about Mary. Who Christians believe is the mother of Jesus.

Child: Who?

Me: Mary, Jesus. They’re in the Christmas story.

Child: What Christmas story?

Me: You know, the reason why Christmas is celebrated. Mary and Joseph and Jesus...

Child: Oh yeh, from the Koran. My mum read some of it to me.

Me: No. Today we’re talking about Christianity. Do you know why Christmas is celebrated?

Child: No.

Me: Which religion celebrates Christmas?

Child: I don’t know.

Me: Christians

Child: Oh.

Thus began RE day. A day in which the normal timetable of maths and literacy is scrapped and instead we talk about religious concepts. Today’s concept was Holy. In particular how Catholics see Mary as Holy.

I've seen several modernised versions of the Christmas story – my fave being Mary of the council estate. But if I’m honest I've never stopped to consider Mary. But today I realised that Mary's response to the angel Gabriel's message is amazing (actual AMAZE-to-the-ING not that over used and abused 'amazing' that we hear on every street corner used to describe everything slightly better than average).

There she is, going about her day when BAM! an angel appears – cue the angelic chorus. The angel tells her that she’ll have a baby, the very Son of God and messiah that they have been waiting for, by the Holy Spirit and she is to call him Jesus. The angel then tells Mary that her cousin who everyone knew as being unable to have kids was actually six months pregnant. The angel then finishes the message with "For nothing is impossible with God." To which Mary replies “I am the Lord's servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

I find this incredible. An angel comes and gives her life transforming news that not only is God with her, but she will become pregnant with the Son of the Most High who will save the world and Mary responds with “I am the Lord's servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” 

I can't imagine my reaction being quite the same.

There I am going about my day - on the packed train on the way to work/getting some exercise books from the supply cupboard/cooking dinner/chilling with friends (my life is exciting). When BAM! an angel appears. Cue the angelic chorus. I’ve never had an angel personally deliver me a message but I’m guessing it’s like one of those hinge moments in life when you become oblivious to what is happening around you. You know, like when Luke discovered who Darth Vader really was or when Elizabeth danced with Darcy for the first time. Everything else slips away and your sole focus is what is right in front of you.

What if the angel then told me that I was going to run a multinational development social enterprise that would help lift thousands of people from poverty? What if the angel told me I was going to be lead singer in a band that would be bigger than the Spice Girls, Mumford and Beyonce combined? What if God told me I would play a pivotal role in world history? What if God told me I would play a pivotal role in local history? What if God told me I would play a pivotal role in one other person's life?

I can tell you that unlike Mary my reaction would probs me much more like, "Me? You’re talking to me? Are you sure?" And then, much like Sarah (check Genesis) I would probably have laughed in fear and doubt (maybe my parents did prophetically name me after all).  I would have laughed because I feared the path described before me. I would have laughed not because I doubt God, but because I doubt myself. The immensity of the task and journey ahead would sing and dance in my thoughts more than the quiet confidence of God who can use us despite our perceived failings. 

It must have been Mary's quiet confidence that got her through the next few days of conversations with Joseph and her family that would have been so Jeremy Kyle...

Pan to Jezza “Let’s meet Mary. She’s engaged to be married and pregnant but her fiancé is not the baby’s Father. She says an angel told her to call the baby Jesus and he will be the son of God. Her fiancé, a carpenter, is sticking by her. But their families want some answers. Let's bring them out.”

Mary had a confidence in a God who can do all things. Even if those things are life alteringly big. Mary had a confidence in God who can do all things despite the immensity of the tasks ahead.

I just LOVE this Tolkien quote:

“We all long for [Eden], and we are constantly glimpsing it; our whole nature at it’s best and least corrupted, it’s gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile’... As far as we can go back the nobler part of the human mind is filled with the thoughts of sibb (peace, kinship), peace and goodwill. And with the thought of it’s loss.”

I have so much drama surrounding being exiled to the suburbs. I’ve been reading the Old Testament books dealing with the Exile of the people of Israel and Judah – there was a lot of drama there too.  But this weekend I realised that Adam and Eve were the first exiles. They were exiled from the Garden of Eden.

So the Lord God banished Adam and his wife from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. After banishing them from the garden, the Lord stationed mighty angelic beings to the east of Eden. And a flaming sword flashed back and forth guarding the way to the tree of life.                                                                                                                                              Genesis 3 v 23-24

After Adam and Eve ate fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil their relationship with God was broken. Their relationship with each other was fractured. And their relationship with the garden was corrupted. The consequence was that they were exiled.

God exiled Adam and Eve from the place where they were in a perfect relationship with God, a perfect relationship with each other and a perfect relationship with the garden. God exiled them from the place where they had known peace and unity with God, peace and unity with each other and peace and unity with the garden. The peace and sweet living of former days was gone and there was nothing they could do to bring it back.

Instead they had to work the earth for food. They had to navigate the parameters of their new relationship. God no longer walked with them in the garden – their relationship with him was broken beyond their ability to repair it; they were separated.

Unlike me who ends up in East London nearly every week, Adam and Eve could no longer return to the place they had called home. Banished. Exiled. Never to return.

The Old Testament chronicles life for God’s people from that moment of exile. It points toward the one who could and would bring us back to the peace and unity of the garden. It points to the one who would establish a kingdom of justice and righteousness, removing evil from the world. It points to the one who would bring us back from exile into a relationship with God. It points to Jesus.

And so it follows that the New Testament is how God enables us to return from exile and how we can live our lives neither exiled from our relationship with God, but not quite home yet. Not quite returned to the peace and unity of the garden.

I think this is what Tolkien meant – no matter how perfect a particular moment in time we always know that it will end. So we long for the time in the garden when all was well. We are soaked with a sense of exile.

I know in Advent we’re supposed to be looking forward to celebrating the arrival of Christ on earth. But my heart always skips from being thankful for the birth of Christ as a man on earth, to being even more thankful that his death and resurrection can bring us back from exile – if we would choose it.

Choose life y'all.

People often ask me how I'm doing now that I'm exiled in Zone 6.

I tell them "it’s ok, I’m ok." And I am.

But I am also scared.

I am scared that before I know it I will slip into a living coma of a comfortable & complacent suburban life.

I am scared that I’ll begin to confuse the lines between want and need.

I am scared that I won't even notice when I begin to think that neighbours parking outside the wrong house is a crime punishable by getting lost in IKEA for an eternity.

I am scared that I’ll have a 9-5 office job that I don’t really like but am too afraid to leave – because without that I wouldn't know who I was?

I am scared that living in anything but a house with a garden will become unimaginable.

I am scared that I'll start reading the Daily Mail.

I am scared that as I get lulled into a false sense of security my dreams will start to shrink, as will my reliance on the God I love and try to serve.

I am scared that Waitrose will become the norm not a luxury.

I am scared of a life of  No Adventure

I am scared I will get Stuck.

I am scared that one day Jesus will put me in a group with my fellow goats – Matthew 25 y’all, I don’t actually think I’ll turn into a goat, bah!

I am scared that I’ll become a goat and not even care.

I am scared that one day I will realise how comfortable I have become and be too afraid to change it.

I am scared that I will no longer believe that Jesus is enough.

I am scared that I will trivialise the concerns and worries of my fellow suburbanites.

I am scared that I will blame the suburbs for my own laziness.

I am scared that I don't really understand the meaning of perfect love casting out fear (1 John 4 v18).

I am scared that I over dramatise everything.

BUT I do know that God is with me always, even until the end of the age (not infact a LOTR quote but Matthew 28 v 20). So really what is there to be scared of?

What about you, are you scared of anything?

Ever fallen short of the person you wanted to be? Ever been hit in the face with the reality of exactly who you are and who you aren’t? Ever made an eight year sob almost hysterically because of something you said? Been there, done it, got the t-shirt and cashing in the cheque at the bank of Should-Have-Known-Better-Ville.

I’m a pretty patient person (family pick yourself up off the floor and stop laughing – I am patient, just stop talking to me before I’ve had food. Why haven’t you learnt that yet?) so when I started working in a school I was never too worried about not having enough patience with the kids - and most if the time it's not a problem. But I did want to be one of those super freaking nice people who always spoke kindly and listened to the kids. Well this week I fell far short of that person.

Yeh, you guessed it, I fell one completely justified comment but delivered in a harsh tone reducing a child to a snivelling wreck kinda short. I didn't take the time to speak kindly. I didn’t take the time to stop and listen to them tell me what the problem was because I already knew.  I was not that kind loving person that I wanted to be. I fell far short of it, and the consequence was an overly sensitive child crying in the corner.

Ever found that you’re not the perfect friend/daughter/son/girlfriend/boyfriend/sister/brother/wife/husband/employee/baker/artist/disciple/ the-list-goes-on-so-please-delete-as-appropriate-and-enter-your-own?

You know it’s ok right? It’s ok to not be as organised or patient or kind or funny or enthusiastic or encouraging or understanding or compassionate or the-list-goes-on-so-please-delete-as-appropriate-and-enter-your-own. As long as we don’t live there, as long as we pick ourselves up off the ground, dust off our hi-tops/other comfortable shoe, hold to Jesus and resolve to do better tomorrow.

There is much grace and much forgiveness.

But whenever anyone turns to the lord, then the veil is taken away. Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is he gives freedom. And all of us have had veils removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more. 2 Corinthians 3 v 16-18