A prayer for the days after a tragedy. 

Almighty God, who made us and gave us life, we are hurting and confused. We find ourselves, once again, bewildered by how those whom you have made in the same God-image as us can be so callous and do such great evil. 

We are hurting as we have before. We are mourning life lost, both young and old; stolen by another senseless act of cowardice. How many more of these tragedies must we face? This world that you created and called good, is pocked with violence that seems only to increase. 

When the darkness comes close and invades these places so familiar, our eyes struggle to see you, our ears strain to hear you. Questions grow loud and faith is stretched.

Yet we know you are faithful, that in our suffering you draw close. Our heads know you are good today, help our hearts feel the same. 

In this darkest moment, we come to you again, with all the small faith we can gather, and ask that you to help. We ask that you intervene, that you save us from this mess. With the hope that we have left we ask for solution. We ask that not one more life is lost to this battle, but that peace will rise.

May the whispered promise that love will one day win, become a shout, ringing like a bell around the world. Comfort those who mourn. Draw your arms around the bereaved. Pull the grieving close and hold them to your chest. 

May love heal these hearts broken and changed these hearts set on evil. 

May your strong hands break the back of every ideology that calls for death. May you dry up resources that buy weapons, and silence networks that recruit lost souls for war. May their plans turn to dust and their hands fumble and fail. May every plan stutter and every foot soldier stumble. 

May your mind be in our leaders, our forces and our medics. Show them how to respond and where to intervene. Give them words of assurance to lead us and strategy to defend. May the miracle of medicine save lives and heal bodies. 

Pour your peace into our beings and let it flow out from our core. Let us reach across divides to draw close to those whom our enemies would keep us from loving. Give us boldness to unite without fear and to stand with solidarity. For your perfect love casts out all fear and by that love we will win.

May your mercy be with us. Your kindness our guide and your hope drive us forward. 

Almighty God, be our Father and hold us, your children near,

Amen. 

Don’t believe the lie that you aren’t worth helping. You are. #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

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I’ve never been amazing at having self-confidence. I have always admired people who exude that sort of confidence that comes across as fearless and calm. I’ve learned to fake it, and have faked it many many times, but inside the wheels are turning too quickly and I am just waiting to be exposed as afraid and overly concerned with the opinions others hold of me. Everyday, for a long time, has involved some level of overcoming this lack of self-assurance in order to achieve the things that I have wanted to achieve and to be more like the person I want to be. It can feel, sometimes, like I walk with an emotional limp, a dent in my character.  Continue reading

As an ex church worker, working for a church can be painful but you can help.

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The first ‘church position’ I held was as a youth ministry intern in 2000. Since then the vast majority of the past 17 years have involved me spending my working hours, in some capacity either paid or as a full-time volunteer, on churches. Through many of those years I was in leadership roles. I’m now on an indefinite break (until I work out what comes next/God presents some direction) and from this side one thing stands out from the past 17 years – working for a church can be hard and painful and leading one can be even harder.  Continue reading

If it is true…

If it is true, that somewhere and somewhen is a God who by some cosmic moment of creativity invented all of us, to love and to be loved by…

And if it is true, that this same creative genius placed us on a planet to be explored and unwrapped; revealing beauty and endless gifts…

And if it is true, that at some point in our family tree, our great great greats chose not to love and chose to rebel against this loving God…

And if it is true, that as with our great great greats, there is a crack in the character of everyone of us; a crack that gives all of us people, brimming with wonder and goodness, the ability to do evil both small and grand…

And if it is true that this most patient God chose to heal us of that crack, sending love as a person, His son, to live, teach and die…

And if it is true, that by some “one part gracious, one part scandalous” exchange, played out in the hidden places, that the death of this Son of God, love as a person, washes guilt and shame from the consciences and souls of people…

And if it is true, that even people like us, the normals and mundane, the good and the bad, can benefit from that exchange, not just in our minds but in our identity; that in that moment we can become adopted children of God, no longer just creations…

And if it is true, that even the grave of that Son was not the end, that death, our oldest enemy, with all of its horror and power over us, lost its first battle with our kind, losing Jesus back to life…

And if it is true, that the same power that lifted Him from death to life, will call us, his adopted brothers and sisters, from the hands of that oldest enemy of the living…

And if it is true, that we will rise from that place to life, both eternally great and everlastingly long, in the presence of that Creator who sparked us first into existence…

If all of this is true then Easter matters. It matters when we celebrate the good and when we are broken and weary. 

It matters because even this, our today, in all of its wonder and beauty and goodness, is the grayscale of the colour of what is to come. 

It matters because even this, our today, with its pain and sorrow and anger and fear, is not the end and will not have the final word over us.

(And if it isn’t true, then enjoy your holidays and your chocolate eggs and your families and your friends. You’ve a lot to celebrate.)

Gratitude, joy and social media. 

I find social media an increasingly negative place to be. The all-you-can-eat buffet of real news, fake news, trolls and over-aggressive interactions, is indigestiion inducing and thoroughly depressing. I realise I have control of what I read and who I follow, so I’ve unfollowed and unliked some stuff today, but I want to be better at being positive. 

I believe that there is a mystical (or hormonal) connection between gratitude and joy. I think that, whatever your belief, giving thanks to God, people, the universe or nature for the good things releases a sense of joy into our souls, minds and bloodstreams. I want to be better at being grateful; better at bringing joy. 

I wonder if more of us shared our gratitude on our platforms would that release joy into the collective consciousness of social media? Do our online communities have cultures and ‘souls’ that can be affected in the same way as our ‘in real life’ communities can? 

Here’s my little idea (it feels a little like one of those chain letters but that isn’t the hope): 

Write a status that thanks God (or the universe/nature depending on your belief or lack of belief) for 3 good things. They don’t have to be huge things.

Write on 3 people’s timelines thanking them for something. (This is harder to do)  

Do this regularly. Not everyday, that would be harder than eating five fruits and vegetables, but often enough to remind yourself and the rest of us that there is very real wonder and goodness in the world as well as the very real sadness and pain. 

They will know you are my disciples because you eat chocolate eggs. 

The Christian faith, when broken into its constituent parts is a little weird. I’ve never been shy of the fact, that as someone who believes in Jesus and His teachings, I’m taking a walk on the weird side. Christianity, the culture and all its trappings that have grown out of the Christian faith is a whole lot weirder again. It has a while micro culture of music, art, literature and language that can be hard to understand from the outside. 

Perhaps I’m sucked in by clickbait and trending topics but I often read stories of enraged Christian activists decrying some very niche issue as the next step towards Armageddon. Today was one of those days where I wondered if I’ve missed something. 

My Facebook and Twitter had a more than generous portion of Christianity vs the world today. Today’s chosen enemies were those bastions of evil, the fifth and sixth horsemen of the apocalypse, National Trust and Cadbury’s Chocolate eggs. This put me in an awkward position, I’m a Christian, employed by National Trust who can eat a whole Dairy Milk egg in the time it takes to drink a single cup of Yorkshire Tea. 

Here are some of the responses I had to what has been abhorrently labelled #EasterEggGate. If you want to fight against a real issue, choose the use of gate at the end of a contentious issue – #gategate.

‘It’s the erasing of Christianity from society.’ What right do we Christians feel that we have to govern the business practices of Cadbury and NT? Both run their events to raise money for their business plan – they have the right to call their eggs and egg hunts anything they want. They never were and never will be faith focussed organisations. They are corporations, one charitable one not so much. I’m much more concerned with Christianity being erased from society through cuts to disability support or the exponential need for Foodbanks. Call them Tinfoiled Calorific Chocolate Chicken Foetuses for all I care. Easter was never supposed to be about them anyway. 

Some of course will say that John Cadbury was a Christian, and in the words of one prominent figure, this ‘spits on his grave’ (odd thing to say). He was indeed a Quaker Christian who, as a Quaker, didn’t celebrate Easter. He didn’t half make some money off it though. 

Cadbury’s of today is a very different beast, owned by Kraft and no longer the company it was. To suggest it is somehow a Christian entity because it’s founder was is like saying that Manchester United is a Christian organisation because one of its founders was a Christian. People have faith, not corporations. 

Of course all of this is wrapped up in the myth that Christian countries exist and that we are a Christian country. I’ll give way to the fact that many of our laws and traditions are based in an historical Christianity but that is very different to saying ‘we are a Christian country.’ Being something historically does not make us something now. Go back far enough and Richard Dawkins is from a Christian family. 

Sure, our head of state is also the head of the Church of England. Anglicanism is the established church, but a nation is much more than its institutions. A nation’s identity is in its people much more than its institutional structures and the reality is, we are a much more complex nation than a Christian one. We are a tapestry of all and everyone. 

This is scary for some people, and I understand that. The move from being the dominant religious force towards being one of many faith groups is often mistaken for persecution. The sharing of power feels like the loss of power but others having the same rights as you does not remove your rights.  Others receiving the equal rights to opinion and belief, and freedom from having the opinions and beliefs of others forced upon them, is often mistaken for the oppression of the previously dominant group. Yet, in spite of the fact that UK Christians are incredibly free, perhaps amongst the most free in the whole world, most of the trouble starts when we act like we deserve even greater privileges. 

The sooner we realise that God cares little about the cultural tropes (like chocolate eggs and Christmas trees) of nations, within imagined borders laid down by centuries of war, and much more about communities and individuals pursuing Christian traditions of charity, hospitality, kindness, acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation, the better. These are traditions that cannot be erased from a flyer or a cardboard box. If you want to hold on to the Christian heritage of the United Kingdom then hold onto these things.

If you want us to be known as a Christian nation, we won’t be defined as one by the labels on an egg box or the flyer for an event but by how much our culture reflects Jesus’ teachings and in how we treat one another. Let’s start by not fighting over the egg box when what’s inside is the important thing anyway. Hmmm Dairy Milk. 

What’s the point? 

I have lived the vast majority of my adult life ‘away from home.’ It was never easy. The whole time a song by Derek Webb, Faith My Eyes, was a comfort, playing both in my headphones and in my memory. It has this great line, ‘I’m all wrapped up in my mother’s face with a touch of my father up around the eyes.’ I love that line because it describes my face pretty well. 

I spent the lion’s share of my years away from home working in church jobs. I started aged 18 in Illinois, wandered via York and Luton and ended up in Bath. 

When I moved to Bath, to work for the church there, it felt like an arrival. Here I was after all the training, reading, experience and experiment with a role from which I could put it all into practice. Yet, as I’ve said before, it was bad for my health, so I made the terrifying step to walk away. 

I now work at a rope bridge shouting at tourists who aren’t being careful enough as they walk 100ft up, between two volcanic columns. The honest truth is, in spite of my gratitude for a job and for the chance to be in the middle of stunning scenery all day, it raises questions within me about who I am. 

There is a large part of me that thinks that my days in ‘ministry’ are done. That I burnt out and exhausted what I had. That makes me sad as it is what I’ve loved doing with life. Yet, the saddest thing is that I allowed the role I played in churches to get a grip on my identity. My job title somehow defining as who I was,  not just what I did with my time. Prising those fingers open to release that grip has not been easy. 

I think the loudest question I hear in my mind is: what was or is the point of all of that? In the bad moments it feels like years wasted. Those are of course, bad moments and are to be respected but questioned. 

Today, I watched a very small child toddle across the rope bridge, hand gripped tightly by his father. The child was unaware of almost everything in the scene that I could see. The child knew of two things, his dad, and the boards beneath his feet. He was unaware of the gulls, the line of people behind him edging across at his slow pace, the cliffs, the sea, me. His world was small and compact yet contained within the grand expanse of the whole scene. He knew only of the boards and his dad’s hand and he kept on walking. 

I found it to be a helpful analogy for life. All of our worlds are compact and small. We rush from one place to the next contained within our bubble. We are usually only aware of what we see with our eyes and hold in our hands and we keep on walking, unaware of so much around us. 

Yet the scene is more beautiful than that somewhat nihilistic view. There is a father’s hand, a memory made, photos taken and future stories written. It was more than thirty seconds on a bridge, it was a young boy being and becoming himself. Ultimately, I think, that’s the point; that whether crossing a rope bridge with dad or leaving a job, all of it invests in who we are becoming. 

Who I am is not what I did for a living for most of my adult life, but that sure is part of it. We are all a complex mix of failures and wins, delights and regrets. Our memories create us as much as we create our dreams. Every tragedy and triumph builds or breaks our confidence a little bit. Every person we knew, loved or detested, wove a stitch in our design. Every love lost or won, friend for life or long lost, has formed us. All of it creates us, all of it makes us who we have become and who we are becoming. 

That’s what is ‘wrapped up in my mother’s face with a touch of my father up around the eyes.’ It’s the boy and adolescent and man who lived all those days to now, and the bits of those days that stuck around as character, lessons learned and scars yet to heal. 

Today at the bridge I realised that all of life is ‘the point’ in all of its giant complexities contained in tiny moments. I’m determined not to waste it.