A god with dirty feet.

I can’t give up being a Christian. God knows, I’ve tried.
The thing I find most compelling about Christianity isn’t the church, the Bible, the promises, the grace, the hope or the salvation. In fact, on any given day, I question what those things actually mean, and what they mean to me.
I don’t find Christianity particularly compelling. But still, I can’t leave it. I think I’ve worked out what it is that makes me stay.
What I find most compelling about Christianity is Jesus Christ.
And what I find most compelling about Jesus Christ is his humanity.
For Jesus Christ to be made of god is important, and important to me. But him being made of dirt and blood and bone is far more important as far as I’m concerned.
I need to know he is like me.
So many religions and paths try to convince me I am a kind of god whose basic problem is I need to lose my humanity – that I will not be enlightened/transcendent/evolved/abundant/all-fixed-up unless I unbecome all the things a human being is.
Dirt, blood and bone.
Flawed, imperfect, vulnerable.
Damaged, scarred, wounded.
Shackled to memories. Tied to others.
A product of my past. Afraid for the future.
Hungry. Thirsty. Naked.
Nailed inside my head, my heart and my humanity.
But I just can’t do it. Because those things connect me to others, help me help them, help me help them heal. And I think Jesus Christ got this. It was a stroke of genius, so simple, and so misunderstood. It’s not his god-ness we love and need so much. It’s his us-ness.
………………………………………………………….
They killed a tree with a blade of iron
a tree that grew in the earth long before they were even born
hacked it in pieces
split into beams it took two of them to carry
on their shoulders to a hill
a burial mound
and they broke up the body of a man three different ways
rent that body until the sap flowed out and on the ground
on their hands
and they pounded the iron into his meat
planted him in the ground
mocking creation and the creator and creativity
look at me, I am man and I can kill
as if ending life meant it was somehow transcended
but the killer died long ago
and the one he kills can never die

…………………………………………………………
I want Christianity because I want a religion and a god of flaws, imperfection, vulnerability – a god of earth, blood and bone. I want a god with dirty feet. I want a god who knows what it means to be abandoned, misunderstood, abused, rejected, broken and sworn at. I want a god they suspected was mentally ill, accused of being a heretic, cast aspersions upon regarding his character, his origins and his motives. I want a god of mood swings, anger, generosity and grace. I want a god who has experienced shaming and blaming, ignorance, injustice and prejudice. I want a god who doesn’t have complete control. I want a god who cries and rails and who sometimes gets there too late to do any good. I want a god who sees people. I want a god who was born and died like any other human being.
I want Jesus Christ.

Just love ’em.

Your much-loved, much-lauded, beautiful son finally marries the love of his life, but despite your pride and delight, you can’t brag on him or his new partner to any of your friends at church. Because the love of his life is actually a man. What do you do?

You hide.

Your daughter moves out into her own place just a few weeks after she graduates high school. She’s bought a new car with her own money, and has a great job she can support herself on. But despite the fact you raised her to be independent and she made it happen all on her own, you can’t tell anyone, because she’s now living with her boyfriend and they have no intention of getting married. What do you do?

You hide.

Your husband is an alcoholic, and despite desperately needing support and advice, you can’t share with your pastor about it, because he preaches so often about how a real Christian man should be able to “hold his alcohol”. What do you do?

You hide.young girl

You had an abortion fifteen years ago, but you can’t tell your counsellor because her husband is an elder in your church. Nobody can know what you did. What do you do?

You hide.

You have to take your daughter to get a pregnancy test in the next town, because the pathology collector is also the church secretary. Everybody wants to know why you need the day off from work. What do you do?

You hide.

Four years ago, your third child was stillborn. You know you need to talk about it, but you’re so incredibly tired of hearing people tell you, “That’s so awful, but you know, God is in control!”. You can’t face being fobbed off with cliche’s any more. What do you do with your pain?

You hide.

The first time you had cancer, everyone prayed and it went away and you all thanked God for your healing and you were their own little walking miracle. But now the cancer is back. What do you do?

You hide.

Despite your distress, your pastor insists the only way to be free from your drug addiction is to forgive the man who sexually molested you when you were a child, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t do it. What do you do?

It’s at this point you realise you just can’t hide any more, and you see this pain and the lies will never go away until you do something about it. You decide it stops here.

So you commit suicide.

*****

These are real stories. These are people I know. And some of these are my own story.

But listen, I know – this isn’t your church. No way – we don’t make people feel like that. I know nothing I say can convince you the Body of Christ could ever advertently or inadvertently cause someone hide their pain and their truth.

But it is your church. This is you. And this is me. On both sides.

We do this.

These are the women – and yes, the men – in your church. These are their lives, their burdens, their hurts and their histories.

These are also their nows.

These people are us.

We create this system of silence, lies and hiding whenever we promote a culture of perfection and shame. When we say the only true and authentic expression of the Christian life is a successful life, an abundant life, a life where nobody gets sick or hears voices, or dies or divorces, where nobody is anything but English-speaking, employed, middle-class and heterosexual, where nobody is addicted or abused or bitter or angry, or could possibly have ever been hurt, offended or abused by us, then we tell A Great Lie. Great Lies force people underground, into the dark, and sometimes that darkness is within ourselves. We force people to turn away from their pain and their truth, we make them split themselves in two, and sometimes into even more little pieces. And folks learn they can only ever show us one kind of face, tell us one kind of story. The perfect face. The story with the happy ending.

But these happy, perfect stories and faces are not what Jesus came to heal.

If people feel they cannot bring into church what Jesus came to heal them of, then what the hell are we doing, Church?

Our churches may look great from the outside, but if they do, we have nothing to brag about. Most of our churches look great not because they’re populated with the whole, the helped and the healed, but because they’re filled with hurting and heartbroken people who have learned how to hide.

Our quest for perfection works against Gods greatest gift to us – His grace.

We must cease from this creation of perfection-centred cultures, and promote love without condition, without pretext, and without agenda.

Just love ‘em.

I pray our eyes and our ears will be opened to the reality of the vulnerable amongst us  – the we, not the them – who must lie, hide, repress, forget and otherwise numb themselves simply so they can hold their heads up in our presence. May we repent from our culture of perfection, and embrace the raw, salty, bloody wound we all carry: the shame of not being All Fixed Up and All Right Now – the authenticity of having lived and tried and failed and fallen in this, The Real World, the world You came to heal and make whole. Amen.

*****

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Stepping Over My Brother In Search Of My Neighbour

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”*

*****

The other evening, I drove to Sydney to hear writer and social activist Shane Claiborne of The Simple Way speak as part of the Surrender series of conferences. Having read about the work Shane and his team do in Philadelphia, I was really excited to hear him share about what is being achieved by Christians across the globe in the field of social justice and community activism.

I got a lot more than I expected, and I don’t think I was the only one.

Aunty Jean Phillips (image: Anglican Deaconess Ministries)

After the traditional Aboriginal Welcome To Country, and a few moments before Shane took the floor, the audience of 200 or so was introduced to a small, elderly aboriginal lady named Aunty Jean Phillips. Aunty Jean bowed her head to acknowledge our polite but slightly puzzled round of applause,  then shyly took the mic and moved to the front of the stage to address us.

If any of us had been under the delusion we could all be just a little bit pleased with ourselves as a group of committed Christians involved in social justice and activism, then our hip little balloon of smugness was about to be decidedly burst.

Perhaps some of us had expected Aunty Jean to modestly deliver a report from some remote Aboriginal mission field, or provide an interesting anecdote to entertain us or reinforce our stereotypes. That wasn’t what we got. I can’t repeat word for word what Aunty Jean said to us, because like most people, I was too busy squirming in my seat. The notes I tried to take say things like “damaging perceptions of aboriginals in the general community” and “evangelical church absent and indifferent when it comes to indigenous issues”, but I know she said much more than that.

Aunty Jean told us in no uncertain terms about the burden of sin that lies on this nation because of the “Stolen Generation.”  She told us about the toxic – albeit well-meaning – actions of churches and governments in the past, who conspired to remove every skerrick of aboriginality from their vision of a new, white Australia. She talked about how, even long since we knew better, the general populace has done little to bring about a healing of the rift between white and indigenous Australians, believing that the crimes of the past should simply be forgotten. White Australia has long insisted that aboriginals ought simply complete their assimilation into mainstream society, believing that the collective pain and memories – and eventually, the remains of aboriginal culture  – will conveniently just go away.

But neither the things we did – nor nor the people we did them to – are going away.

Aunty Jean talked about how, for the majority of Australians, January 26th is a day of celebrating our history as a nation, but for the original owners of this land, Australia Day is a time to mourn and grieve. Their land was taken from them on this day. Their people were evicted, killed, murdered, captured and enslaved. For aboriginal people, said Aunty Jean, marking Australia Day as one of celebration is an insult. At this point I looked around the room at the mainly young, middle-class, white audience. Some appeared to hang their heads. Others nodded solemnly. Nobody made a sound.

Aunty Jean went on to describe what many of us already know full well. Infant mortality statistics for aboriginal children are amongst the worst in the world – three times higher than the national average – inexcusable when you consider Australia is one of the most developed nations on the planet. Adult life expectancy for aboriginals is 57 years for an Aboriginal male and 62 years for an Aboriginal female. Aboriginal people generally have higher rates of ill health than any other group in Australia, and major concerns for indigenous people include diet, children’s health and diseases such as cardiovascular disease, sexually transmitted diseases or STDs and diabetes.** This is not India or Africa we are talking about. This is Australia – the same Australia with one of the strongest economies in the developed world, and amongst the highest standards of living in the world.


All Australians are aware of the systemic poverty, the health problems and the indignation about past injustices that wound and damage indigenous communities. But somehow, even as socially active Christians, we’ve been able to ignore them. But if we believe our mission to be Christ on earth includes bringing equity where there is social injustice, feeding the poor, housing the homeless, and just as importantly, healing the wounds of the past, then why exactly are the issues facing indigenous populations in our own country not our problem?

There was a lot of squirming and blushing in that room before Aunty Jean left the stage.

As I write, I glance sideways at a list I wrote about two months ago. At the time, child trafficking in Asian countries was the current social justice flavour of the month, but I just couldn’t extend my vision beyond what I was seeing every day in the city where I live. Looking for ideas for my blog, I made a few notes on some issues the church in Australia needs to start addressing in order to both remain socially relevant, and also to deliver the mission of Christ to our communities. Here’s my list –

  • Refugees in detention
  • The environment
  • Alcoholism and addiction
  • Mental illness
  • Racism
  • Australian indigenous social issues

Now, in light of what Aunty Jean said to us all the other evening, I’m looking at my list again, and feel even more determined to find ways to address whatever mindsets I may have that contribute to and sustain these social problems. Specifically, I think it’s  time that Australian evangelical Christians confronted their own perceptions, prejudices and mindsets.

Aunty Jean was handing out flyers that evening. One describes in detail the concept of “white privilege”, and lists some practical examples:

  • I can excel in some pursuit without being called a credit to my race.
  • I can be confident when I go shopping I will not be followed around by security personnel.
  • I can purchase alcohol without without it reflecting poorly on my race.
  • I can walk around at night without being viewed as a threat, and I can be in a group without us being perceived as a gang.
Ouch.
Also from Aunty Jeans flyer – “The first step (in affecting change) is to become aware and acknowledge our own socialised racism and work against it.”

Christ tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves, but perhaps it’s time we stopped merely stepping over our brothers in search of the neighbours.

*****

 

To add your support –

The Vision Trust

Aunty Jean Phillips has established a fund for the support of families who minister with indigenous youth and children, and for other one-off projects or needs. The fund is administered by volunteers, and almost every cent supports holistic indigenous ministry.

For information on making a contribution to this ministry, or for more information on The Vision Trust, please contact Philip Hall on 0402 454 804 or Aunty Jean Phillips on (07) 3844 7640. (For callers outside Australia, please add country codes).

To learn about or donate to the work of World Vision Australia in indigenous communities, please click here.

 

*Luke 10 – The Parable of The Good Samaritan

**Better Health Channel – Victorian State Government. 

Good Girls Never Change The World

Of all the stories surrounding Jesus that appear in the Bible, one of my favourites would have to be the account in John chapter four of the Samaritan woman who speaks with Jesus at the well. Now, I’ve heard many readings of this passage, most which focus entirely on Jesus’ words and actions – mostly lauding His marvellous condescension at lowering himself to speak to a woman, and a Samaritan at that. I realise that it is indicative of Jesus’ nature that he seemingly wasn’t bound by sexist or racist conventions. But why are we so surprised? Why would he be bound by sexist or racist conventions?

Er, Son of God, people.

I’m not that surprised Jesus was prepared to speak to the Samaritan woman. (And just as an aside, I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to be identified in your most defining moment throughout the ages not by your name, but instead by two words representing your ethnic group and your gender. “Hi everyone, you may know me as the ’Samaritan Woman’, but my name is really Pamela Jones……” )

No, I’m not surprised Jesus was prepared to speak to a Samaritan woman. Jesus never was one for conventions. What I am surprised about is the fact that the Samaritan woman was prepared to speak to Jesus right back. Because women – especially Samaritan women – just didn’t do that sort of thing.

Not only did she speak with Jesus, at length, about theology (what was she thinking?), she went back to her town and told everyone there what they talked about. And as if it wasn’t bad enough to fess up to openly conversing with a Jewish rabbi in order to tell people about Jesus, she also had to blather quite a bit of personal information about herself. Not that they probably didn’t already know of her shadowy past, but nevertheless, it was pretty brave of her to bring it up. In public. “I just met up with this man…” (I can hear them – “Oh, really?”) “…who told me everything I ever did.” she reports. Which part? “Oh, just the part about me being married five times before, and how the guy I’m living with now isn’t even my husband.” Oops. Embarrassed much? Apparently not.

“Come see a man who told me everything I ever did.” Come on! Don’t hassle me now about all that living-in-sin crap. Come and see him!

Come meet the guy who read me like a book. Come see the man who exposed my shameful actions and didn’t flinch. Come listen to the rabbi who shouldn’t have spoken to me, but who did, and to whom I spoke back.

Funny thing is, they did come.

And the Bible says that “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’” The Samaritans went off and sought Jesus out, and had him come stay with them for a few days so they could learn more. And because of that, many more believed.

I love the Samaritan woman. She didn’t have anything else to report except “I met Jesus, and he knew all my crap.” That was all she had to say, and it was more than enough to bring the Way, the Truth and the Life to a people who would otherwise have avoided Jesus like the plague, and who would not have had a disciple come within a stones throw in a pink fit.

Good for her. I guess that’s why she’s in the Bible – someone obviously thought what even with all the things she had done wrong, something the Samaritan woman did was very, very right.

 

Why Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Smooshy Love

There’s no doubt in most Christians minds that that Jesus was – and is – the kind of guy that just loves people to bits. After all, according to John 3:16, He did die on the cross for our redemption. A heck of a lot of people love Jesus right back too, and rightly so. After all, Jesus is not just the savior of mankind, He was pretty amazing as a human being, too. It’s fully appropriate that we regard, respect and admire Jesus, as we do all the amazing people we know of, especially ones who do great things for us personally, and for the collective good of mankind. But there’s something weird going on with Christians these days, particularly Christian women. It seems it’s no longer enough to love Jesus Christ as God, as a great person, as a savior, a brother, or a friend. People – men and women – are falling in love with Jesus. That’s falling in loveromantically – like they do in movies, like you do with your first crush, like you do with your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, like with Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom or Aragorn. Christians are falling in love with Jesus – and encouraging others to do the same –  just like teens at a Twilight movie. Like swooning fans of Justin Beiber and his ilk, they’re falling for Jesus in churches and gatherings everywhere, quickly, obsessively, and sometimes even with a great big mob of their screaming friends.

Am I the only person who isn’t totally comfortable with this?

This is actually a veeeeery sensitive topic for me to broach. Many of my dearest friends enjoy what seem to be deeply intimate and even romantic relationships with the person of Jesus Christ, and I have no wish to criticise or alienate them. But I don’t share their feelings, and the whole falling in love with Jesus thing just makes me feel very uncomfortable. I’ve tried to do it, and I’ve been strenuously encouraged  – by the usual methods; socialisation, sermon, and song – to push my relationship with Christ to it’s utmost emotional and spiritual limits, for as long as I can remember. But after all these years loving Christ and being loved back, I think I’ve found those limits, and they’ve stopped way before I could ever consider myself to be in love with Jesus. I consider Him my brother, my friend, my master and my Lord. But my lover?

Ew.

You see, I already have a lover. His name is Ben. I married him 23 years ago, and we have 4 children together. We’ve had our troubles, but at this time we are more in love than ever we have been. God gave us to each other, we believe, and we seek His help and guidance in our marriage every day. And we enjoy a level of physical intimacy with one another we don’t share with anyone else. This love we have is God-ordained, and absolutely appropriate. The Bible describes this love in Greek as eros – sexy love – and according to the Bible it’s for the enjoyment of people who are married to each other.

Ben is also my friend. We’ve been friends for a little longer than we’ve been married, and we are best friends. Literally, best friends. I don’t have a female best friend – I gave them up a few years ago. Female best friend making and keeping caused so many problems in my marriage, I stopped trying to keep Ben and the female best friends, and decided just to keep the one friend I promised to love forever in front of God and everyone. I have a lot of friends, people I love, admire, respect and have history with, and like my marriage, this is a God-ordained kind of love. The Greek word is philio – brotherly love. I love my husband as my friend and brother in Christ, and he does the same for me.  I also love my male and female friends that way, and this is entirely as it should be.

I have these other people in my life I love better than friends, but not in the same way I love Ben. My family – my parents, my children and my biological brothers. The Greek word for this is storge – familial love.

The other kind of love – one the Bible talks about in relation to God and us – is agape. Agape love is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional – and it’s the love God has for us. This is the most difficult kind of love to practice, because it cuts the strings of expectation and obligation and just gives itself to it’s object expecting nothing in return. I try to love people with agape – and we’re all encouraged as Christians and worshippers of God to love others as God loves us – but I’m not very good at it. Agape is God’s special kind of love, and it’s a miracle working kind of love. In fact, the only miracles I have ever seen or known of are the ones where agape love was practiced or experienced in its simplest and purest form.

In church, as far back as the eighties, congregations have been encouraged to fall in love with Jesus. I recall songs we sang, such as I Keep Falling In Love With Him, Jesus – Lover Of My Soul and Falling In Love With Jesus, and I know they made me squirm a little. We used to sing this song that went Jesus, you have stolen my heart, I’m captivated by you, and I just couldn’t bring myself to sing it. I tried, but to be honest, it just felt weird talking about Him this way. I used to sing, Jesus, you have all of my heart, but even that seemed off, and was actually quite untrue. Jesus didn’t have all of my heart, hadn’t stolen the part He did have, and I wondered why we needed to use these images to describe what was meant to be the most natural, healthy thing for me to do in the world – have a relationship with Christ, and love the people He gave me to.

Besides, I didn’t want to see Jesus as someone I could just fall in love with. I didn’t want my relationship with Christ to descend into the kind of emotional quagmire other romantic obsessions had in my past. And really, that’s what falling in love means, isn’t it? Romantic obsession. I don’t know about you, but all my romantic obsessions had the following features. 1) They were based on an unrealistic picture of the person I was obsessed by  2) They sprang and were perpetuated from a place of deep unmet needs in me that actually needed to remain unmet for the obsession to continue 3) They inevitably ended badly, but always ended, because that kind of heightened emotional lust is simply not able to be satisfied, isn’t in any way sustainable, and most certainly is not healthy.

There’s another thing. The biggest problem I have with imagining myself to be in love with Jesus is the imagining part. Falling in love as a rule relies very, very heavily not on the wisdom, the will or the character of either of the lover or the loved – but on boundary breaking, fantasy and false expectation.

Do you really think Jesus wants us to do this? For Him?

I believe Christ loves me with philio love – I am certainly His friend. I also believe He loves me with what the Greeks called storge love – I am His sister, too. I have no trouble believing He loves me with agape love – His sacrificial love for me is evidenced in His actions on the cross on my behalf. But do I believe Christ wants me to express, feel or encourage anything other than these kinds of love toward Him?

I think when it comes to worshipping Christ, contemporary Christianity has kind of lost the plot. Instead of teaching reverence and the art of relationship, because that’s all far too traditional and pedestrian and not very sexy, we’ve instead created a physical and spiritual celebrity of Jesus Christ and then made ourselves into His silly, screaming fans. We imagine Jesus as our doe-eyed boyfriend and cast Him in our imaginations as a youthful, chisel-featured and ever chaste lover. We then paint ourselves in the role of perky-breasted ingenue in some broody teen movie based on Song of Solomon. But despite the fact the Bible describes Christ returning for His bride – the Church – that bride isn’t literally us, as individuals, as lovers. Jesus doesn’t want to be our boyfriend. He doesn’t want to be our lover, in the sensual, sexual or erotic sense, at all. Call me old fashioned, but the more I get to know Him, the more I know He has no interest in sweeping me off my feet. Sorry, but that swoony Jesus movie you and He star in is all in your head. All the romantic notions of falling in love simply go against everything Jesus ever said or did when He was here, and everything that was said about Him before He came, and after He left.

I actually think the depiction of Jesus as a romantic object detracts from our relationships with real people, and teaches us to remain spiritually and emotionally immature. I don’t want the kind of relationship in my imagination I have with my real-life husband. It feels erky. God gave me a husband made of flesh for a reason. Because I am made of flesh. I don’t want to be chasing after an imaginary, pin-up Jesus when I have a real life Ben and a ring on my finger.

I know we’ve been told that loving our spouses and families and friends must come second to loving Jesus. For me, I find there’s just no competition between them. In order for a competition to exist, I would have to shift Jesus Christ away from the God/Deity department in my head, and move Him across to the other part with the beings who won’t clean the toilet after themselves and who look funny naked. Maybe your head doesn’t work like that, but I suspect it does, and I happen to think loving Jesus and James Patterson with the same part of you is going to mess you up big time.

Jesus is not your boyfriend, and – male or female – I don’t think you should try to fall in love with Him. If you don’t have a part of you that can feel loved without needing to be pashed, pined over or pursued, you need to do some work on that. We were made to worship God, but worship is not what the world has taught us it is. It’s not appropriate to love God like a celebrity, a pop star, or that unattainable sex-god you drooled over at high school. Gods love is pure, and unlike romantic love, wants nothing from you. It cannot disappoint you. Your brother, friend and saviour Jesus Christ has transcended all that gushy, pop-star stuff, and what He has to offer you is vastly more interesting than anything you can think up, even in the most vivid imagination.

The final word, from the best known scripture on love.

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13

A Semblance Of Dignity

My cousins husband tweeted a link to this article this morning.

Daily Nation – Twin Towers Jumpers That Americans Will Not Talk About

Very challenging and confronting, and perhaps one of the issues which is sidelined when discussions come up around the World Trade Centre attacks.

The most saddening part for me about what occurred here, is that many people cannot accept the possibility that their loved ones were responsible for their own death because suicide is considered by them a grave sin, which means their loved one will go to hell.

For me, this brings up some issues which perhaps need to be discussed. Particularly by Christians. It’s the erroneousness of our position on issues such as suicide that cause untold intolerable and unnecessary pain and confusion for those who must deal with the fallout. Stigma. Fear. Shame. Just to name a few.

Think about it.

What if someone told you that according to their religion, your loved one was going to die in an eternal lake of fire because they refused to die at the hands of terrorists, instead opting for a demise of their own choosing? Imagine yourself at the top of a burning skyscraper, looking out at what you believe for all intents and purposes looks like the end of the world – what would you do? What do you think God would have you do?

*****

I am a mental health support worker. Yesterday, I could hear one of my clients in her home next door to my office as she battled her “voices”. The “mother” voice was berating her with savage verbal abuses, against which my client was defending herself in a most vehement fashion. There was swearing. There were threats. There was volume. It was very, very disturbing. After about an hour, the client came to the office door to ask for a cigarette from her supply. Once she was settled outside with her smoke, I approached her quietly to ask if she was okay, and if there was anything I could do for her. “Please, just back off and go away. I can’t deal with talking to you right now.” She wasn’t being theatrical – this was no reverse-attention seeking. She had the cement-hard look in her eyes of someone who had just emerged from the middle of a huge trauma. My voice was one more in the mix she simply could not tolerate. I left her to her repose. As I locked myself back into the office, I wondered what it would be like to have your mind be your own adversity, and how she manages to survive this daily trauma. I can imagine that if it were me fighting against those voices, I would consider any hell I might be in danger of fairly meaningless in light of the very likely relief suicide might provide me.

It’s probably much easier to believe that someone who kills themselves will go to to hell if the person doing the killing and dying isn’t you. But what if being extinct is actually more tolerable than the hell you’re in right now?

*****

 

The whole argument rests on one premise – suicide is a sin. There appears to be no real Biblical support for this, although some will argue that the commandment not to murder covers killing oneself. Odds on, the folks who adhere to this erroneous belief haven’t had to face anything that would make them question it. I believe the fallacy that suicide in a sin probably was borne in medieval times, when people in positions of power wanted to stop the plebeian masses taking their own lives before they had a chance to subject them to an inquisition.

It is, after all, a matter of power. Who has the power of life, and of death? We say God does, but we do too. People have the power to abduct and strangle, rape and subjugate, hijack and terrorise. We can fly a plane into a building and God either made us do it, or is powerless to prevent us, depending which side you’re on. For those people at the top of the WTC that day, I believe they probably thought the world was coming to an end, or at the very least, they were acutely cognizant of their own imminent and unavoidable demise. Is it a sin to take the power to kill you away from your enemy? Is it a sin to not want to die a victim of someone else’s stupidity, evil or madness? Is it a sin to choose the manner of your death?

We act as if death were avoidable. We act as if the only good death one can have is the unplanned, tragic, victim death, or the prolonged, painful, protracted kind. There is such a thing as a good death. Way before we came to worship the vain and gratuitous sustenance of human life, regardless of how awful that life has become, people died every day and it was perfectly all right, perfectly sad, perfectly awful and perfectly tragic – but it was perfectly natural.

Death is a sanctity. Let’s not pretend that God wrings His hands as we do because we die – He does not – in fact, we who claim to believe God exists must die before we ever realise that elusive Kingdom we prattle on so much about. I like to believe He is saddened by the perpetration of evil and angered by men’s attempts to extinguish each other. But I simply cannot believe that God would reject outright the soul who chooses to impose a semblance of dignity upon their own death, when often the fact they even consider this an option means that dignity was probably utterly unattainable in life.

 

 

Speaking In Tongues, Internet Shopping and My Three Nights On The Mental Health Ward

I started a new job a month or so ago, another role in mental health rehabilitation and support. This time, I don’t just go out visiting service clients in their homes, supporting them with their ADL’s (activities of daily living) and helping them reach their personal goals and aspirations. The organisation I am working for now has the additional service of a 24 hour facility with clients living on site. These clients require 24 hour care and supervision, because they have a dual diagnosis – this means that they have two separate mental health issues going on, like schizophrenia + intellectual disability, or schizophrenia + obsessive compulsive disorder. These darling folks (and I mean that most sincerely) can’t be left alone for a moment, otherwise they may wander off and do various anti-social things out in the neighbourhood, the details of which I won’t elaborate on. Suffice to say, we have a locked office on the block of housing units that a staff member must man overnight to make sure nobody leaves, and more importantly, make sure nobody comes on site that isn’t supposed to. I’m told this has happened in the past: this is a fairly high crime area, with vandalism and robberies common. This thought comforts us no end at 2am when we’re locked in the teeny little office in the dark watching late-night TV with one eye on the grainy security monitor and one hand clutching a fistful of keys like a set of knuckledusters.

On the whole, this role is turning out to be a little more demanding than I bargained for. I applied for a part-time position. I thought that meant I’d be working part of every week. My employer, however, seems to believe it means part of every day. I’d hate to see how literal a full-time role is. I had no idea I’d even be doing night shifts when I applied, but thought it might be an interesting experience. On receiving my roster, I was surprised to discover I have about six overnight shifts every three weeks, and three of those shifts are consecutive. A Friday, Saturday and Sunday night all one after the other.

My first triple night shift was last weekend. 11pm to 7am, all of it to be done sitting up or walking around, absolutely wide awake. There are rounds to be walked, and paperwork to be signed to say rounds have been walked. I thought I’d be a little scared staying awake there by myself all night, but then I realised that being asleep, or even half asleep there by myself all night would be much, much worse. I packed for myself a lunch bag with appetising snacks, because if there’s anything I know will keep me awake it’s the thought that several kinds of tasty food are available and nearby. I packed my computer, hoping to catch up on a little writing. Over the next three days, I was to experience 24 hours of nocturnal consciousness, interspersed with 24 hours of daytime sleeping, and 24 hours of something weirdly in between these two. A kind of menopausal, mental-ward, twilight zone.

I decided my first night I’d take a few DVD’s to work to watch during my eight hour vigils. My kids suggested such horror slash drama epics as Gothika (set in a mental hospital, I’m told), Jason Returns (featuring a certain psychotic homicidal maniac)and perhaps even One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest (where a sane but pathologically irritating guy fakes mental illness and ends up with a lobotomy). I’ve since decided on a black ban against any movie with Jack Nicholson in it, because when the gentleman from unit 4 comes shuffling up at 2am to tell me through the crack in the door that Johnny has arrived, my screams might just wake up the whole building.

At  first, I seemed to be coping quite well. The Friday night shift came and went. I slept after arriving home about 7:15am Saturday morning, then got up about 11am and did some stuff until having an early dinner at 6pm and heading back to bed. I got up at 10:30pm and got ready for work at 11pm. Then I did it again for Saturday night and Sunday night.

Monday morning. Everyone was getting ready for work and school when I got home at 7:15am. On the weekend when I’d arrived home they’d all been schlepping around and I’d felt great about sleeping during the day knowing they were all there somewhere. However, on Monday, everyone was busy getting ready to make off into the world, and going to bed felt to me to be a very boring and antisocial thing to do. I felt like I had passed through weary, beyond tired, kicked exhausted’s ass and now I was all fired up and ready to roll. I bounced around my family like a puppy begging to go walkies. “Where ya goin’? Where ya goin’? Gosh ya lookin’ awesome! Wow, what a beautiful day, don’t ya think!? Where ya headed? Goin’ out? Can I come? Can I come?” The last one to leave kicked me off their leg after dragging me up the hall, and locked the door from the outside shouting back at me, “Go to bed!” My eye-motes were vibrating. Look at the sunshine! Look at the blue-ness thingy! I’m so thirsty. I feel so skinny! I don’t need to sleep, I need eggs. I have a car! I can go out and drive and get eggs! That’s not me that smells, no way. I’m going for eggs!”

I found eggs, poached ones, two of them, on top of a slice of sourdough on a very white plate beside a rustic hand-thrown terracotta receptacle which held about a cup of home-made baked beans. There was garnish. And relish made from an exotic berry. My coffee hummed in my teeth while I batted my eyelids at the staff flirtatiously. I watched a video clip on my phone without the sound with my jaw hanging open, and read my local paper with the perplexity of a jet-lagged tourist – what day is it here? I then gave the lady at the cash register all my petrol money for my breakfast, and went looking for an art supplies shop.

Don’t even ask. But I did spent enough to get five holes punched in a customer loyalty card.

Now, I know better what to do. On the next post-triple-shift Monday morning, I must have an arrangement in place with someone I trust to take my credit card and my car keys away, and put tasty snacks in my bed, to which they must forcibly direct me, after they have me change out of my underwear, just in case I hallucinated I was camping on Saturday night and have been turning them inside out ever since. I have also closed all my internet shopping accounts, just in case. I think probably 95% of purchases made on Ebay are by shift workers after their 36 hour rotation.

I also have a theory that when the disciples spoke in tongues in the upper room, it wasn’t so much the holy spirit as the fact they’d pulled a couple of chronic all-niters. No sleep, three nights in a row, and not long since having been with someone claiming to be Jesus Christ? Now that sounds very much like my weekend on the ward.

The Making Of Me – The Christ Identity

I’m always interested when people say that they want to be more like Jesus, because it’s something that’s important to me as well. Christ’s life and persona is the echelon of the ideal Christian life, and I know we are supposed to imitate and model ourselves on Jesus; do what he did, say what he said, act like him and be like him in all we say and do.

Simple really. Except not.

You know, trying to be something other than what we are is something we all know how to do. Our whole lives, we learn to copy people we think have desirable attributes; physical, social, financial, political, in fashion and hairstyles and ways of acting and speaking. Whole industries have grown up to service our need to be like other people – people we feel are successful, sexy, smart, interesting, powerful, rich, or is just someone who sings pretty. Weird.

It’s all about identity. We want to lose ours and get someone else’s instead, because then people will like us and think we’re cool too. Wanting to be like Jesus Christ these days has to be a good thing, especially when you consider some of the alternatives. I still struggle with the uncomfortable realisation I live in a world that had little trouble finding someone in about ten minutes to replace Charlie Sheen in Two And A Half Men. I just hoped it would be a little bit harder is all.

Changing the subject entirely, Jesus, when he was here, apparently wasn’t looking for an identity. However, having been baptised by his cousin John at the appointed time, Jesus entry into the wilderness could be construed as the beginning of a search for his true identity. No doubt Jesus already knew he was special. And he knew other people knew he was special. People had seen a bird come out of nowhere and heard heaven speak when John dipped him in the river a few days before. Jesus knew people were either expecting him to save the world, or turn out to be another crazy false messiah in a camel-hair toga. When Jesus left for the wilderness, he looked like any other young adult might who knows way too much to go back to his old way of life, but also realises he’s not quite ready for whats about to come. We’d call a journey like this “finding ourselves” However, it seems that by leaving his family, religious tradition and employment and all the expectations that come with them, Jesus is not going to look for his identity. Indeed, he looks for all the world like he’s trying to lose it.

And it’s not until he’s done with this wrestling, this sacrificing of his own will, this process of identity deconstruction that Jesus re-enters the world. He has become a human being without a skerrick remaining of his traditional, religious, political, commercial or even a personal or familial identity. He deliberately left it behind in the wilderness. Having done this, Jesus now knows that he’s ready to undertake and complete the work of his Father in the world of men. In losing his identity, he has given up all he ever really had as a man – and now, he has nothing else left to lose. He is ready to fulfil his destiny.

When we claim to be imitators of Christ, we need to be careful we don’t simply exchange one set of personal attributes we think are undesirable for another set from somewhere else we find more desirable. This is simply taking on another identity. Jesus Christ identified completely with the Father that sent him, and was able to do this because his own identity had been completely laid down. Of course, Jesus didn’t identify as a Christian, the way we might do today. He didn’t identify as a carpenter, a Jew, a Rabbi, a teacher, a son, a brother, a citizen, or any of the other things he was expected to either. He identified as the Son of His Father, and did only what came from that. He laid down his own identity, and all the other faces and names and roles he had been expected to have, and did this as a daily discipline, for all of his life. And, in essence, this is what he asks us to do too.

Of course, we can’t relinquish our social or personal responsibilities as citizens or parents or employees. We may be sons of God, but we’re not the Son of God. We can however relinquish all concepts of what we are meant to do and  be – this identity of “Christian” – and instead, as Jesus did, simply lay down our will, and our desire to do the right or the popular thing, in exchange for the will of the Father. Oh, and we also should never believe our own publicity – take ourselves so seriously we forget what we were meant to be doing in the first place. It’s easy to get caught up in the seriousness of the Great Commission, and forget that the gospel is simple, any fisherman can tell it.  The idea we’ve come to be accustomed to of what a “Christian” is and should be is a construction of ours, and not Jesus’. Jesus knew we’d never be able to do all that he did anyway. It’s meant to be much more simple than that.

A Christ-identity is one that is always being laid down for the Fathers will. A Christ-identity is one that is being journeyed through like a wilderness, and laid aside like a promise of false riches and power. A Christ-identity is one which has no life of it’s own, but is sustained daily by the manna of God’s provision of grace. A Christ-identity is one that does not die with the one who carries it like a personality does, but which, like communion, is shared again and again with thanksgiving and humility, and will come alive again no matter how deep the grave, or how grievous the wound. Imitating Jesus is more than just copying his ways and his words, and keeping to some predetermined construct we’ve created of what a Christian ought to do and say and be. Being like Jesus is being prepared to give away our idea of what a Christian, or a religious person, or a minister, or a leader, or a good organiser, or a perfect mother, or cool father, or neighbourly neighbour, or very hurt person who is able to forgive, or even a quite good person, or anything else we think we need to do to be a Christian should look like. And it’s to just keep giving that idea away away, while we love the people He brings within shouting distance in the meantime.

Because, funnily enough, that’s exactly what Jesus did.

Heffo Plumbs The Depths #2 – The No-Brainer Of God’s Love

My brother-in-law Mark is an amazing man. More so now even than a few years ago, when he was truly tremendous. He was always our favourite Uncle Mark (he pays the kids to tell people this) but now he is also a walking miracle. Its not just the fact that a couple of years ago he survived a stroke which could have killed him, and threatened to leave him unable to walk and talk, and that now he is back plumbing and probably healthier than ever. The fact is, Mark went in for brain surgery on a nerve condition that caused him excruciating and constant pain and while he was in there, God did a little heart surgery on him as well. Mark is a different man than he was before he went into hospital for that operation. I’m trying to be polite here – now, I really loved Mark before his operation – but, he was, well…different than he is now. He’s…really nice now. And gracious. And loving and non-judgemental. And I can honestly say, before Mark had his heart surgery – er, brain surgery – I had never really met someone who authentically fits the phrase “on fire for God”. Heffo (as Mark is known) is lit up from the inside by this constant passion to share God’s love that just disarms people. I fall back in wonder at the things he does every day to win people to the life he believes everyone deserves…a life loved and loving Heffo’s Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Heffo, unlike you if this was your photo, will probably be stoked this is the only one I could find of him. He took it himself on my mobile phone for me to find later. Yep, that’s Heffo.

Heffo has been writing to pastor and author Darrin Hufford. Hufford likes Heffo and what he has to say, and even though Heffo seems surprised by this, those of us who know Heffo’s story aren’t. Heffo is the real deal. He’s been sending me his writings, and I love them. I’ve published one of his letters to Darrin here before, and here is his latest offering. Interesting, considering the current controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s new book.

I give you Heffo Plumbs The Depths – #2. The No-Brainer Of God’s Love.

 

Dear Darin,

Sorry to take up your time and I know that you must be busy, but I have something that I want to confess because I think you are one of the few people I know who may understand. My confession is “out of the box” and may sound far-fetched but please bare with me and I’ll try and explain.

I’ve heard you talk about your God-given love for people, and this is why I choose to tell you. This is it –
I don’t think that millions of people are going to hell (let me explain).

Six years ago I had a major operation in the centre of my brain and as a result, I had a stroke. I was left with a very bad memory and the inability to get my head around things as easily. My communication skills aren’t as good as they used to be.

Anyway, what I want to tell you is that the good news is that although I’ve lost the ability to use my head for a lot of things, my heart has kicked in and gone into overdrive. It’s like it grew ten times its size that day (just like the Grinch!) and I have learned to follow it, because that’s where my Father is. It’s what he sees when he looks at me and it’s what he speaks to me through. I cannot deny it, because denying my heart would be like denying my Father.

After the operation I would tell people that I wasn’t able to understand it, but I’m just so in love with God!
They would just look at me with a look that said “Good on you Heffo…you looney” or tell me it sounded a bit on the “sick” side.

Now, the point that I am making is that my heart is telling me that millions of people are not going to hell. I’ve just spent days searching the scriptures and going through my concordance, looking up the Greek and Hebrew meanings trying to find a scripture to back my theory. To be honest, this theory (as I like to call it) can be argued with just as many scriptures opposing it as I have confirming it. This leaves me with no choice other than to listen to my new heart that my Father has given me – and it screams “No”.

I recognise the fingerprint of my Father, and sense his fragrance in the most unlikely places, and on the most unlikely people; even people who will unashamedly tell you they are not religious at all. In the process of talking to them and getting to know them, they can sometimes (even by accident) show me their heart for others, their friends, family or injustices done…and I see Christ. I see their compassion and love for others, I see their hearts and for this reason my heart breaks for them when I hear a preacher clicking his fingers as fast as he can, telling me that people are going to hell “this fast”. The other day, I was talking to a bloke who told me about his great compassion for spreading the gospel because people are going to hell. It may seem crazy but my heart is ripping when I hear this and it screams “No”.

Even now I want to chuck in a couple of scriptures that help support my theory, but I will refrain because what I am telling you can be argued about or debated when read from a book – but this is written in my heart, and therefore to me at least it is fact.

I am told that I should keep my theory to myself and that people already think that I’m loopy, but I will explode and there will be Heffo guts everywhere if I don’t declare to the whole world the unbridled love God has for us. 1Corinthians 9 verse 6.
How can I read 1 Corinthians 13 and believe all the things that love is, knowing that God is love and then add to it that he will send those who don’t believe to a place where they will be tortured, tormented and be in agony forever? To me to read all of the following scriptures and then tell me that millions are going to hell is very contradictory.
1 Corinthians 13 v1-8, 13 v 13, 14 v 1,
Romans 8 v 35-39, 5 v 8-10, 5v 5
Jeremiah 29 v 11-13, 31 v 3
Psalms 40 v 5, 139 v 17-18, 36 v 5-7, 91 v14
1 John 3 v 1
Titus 3 v 4-5
Ephesians 3 v 17-19, 2 v 4-6, 5 v 2
Deuteronomy 7 v 6-9, 10v 14-15, 23 v 5
John 15 v 9 –17, 14 v 21, 3 v 16
Zephaniah 3 v 17
Galatians 2 v 20
2 Thessalonians 2 v 16-17

I was going to tell you stories about all of the people that I have read about, heard about or know who possess all of the qualities that love is but who don’t necessarily recognise Christ (yet); heart warming stories, stories of compassion, bravery and love, stories about my fellow Australians who I’m just so proud of and humbled by. Stories of people who it appears are hard and tough but have a heart of gold. If I did, this would be one long letter.

So let me confess this; I figure that according to God’s word the main requirement for salvation is to believe in Him and that God’s heart is that we should know Him. Is it not possible that if a person believes in all the things love is (and we know that God is love) that they whether they know it or not my actually believe in God? Is it not possible that the main reason people reject God is because their objection is not actually toward God himself, but to the God that they have been told about? If they were presented with the true God I believe they would undoubtedly recognise Him straight away.

Have we not all said when we have learned a truth about our Father that it was as if we had always known?

Maybe I’m just too hopeful, but doesn’t love hope all things? Maybe I am nuts and I’ve lost it. Maybe my pastor was right when he said to me that God had just told him that I am deceived and don’t understand the gospel. But could it be that God chooses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise? The thing about people who are nuts is that you can’t tell them that they are nuts, so bring it on! My life with Christ is not always easy…but I LOVE IT !

I’m Heffo…I’m a plumber, I love my Father, and I’m crazy.