At Home In the Wilderness – What happens when Jesus leads you out of, not into, Church

I am a Christian, if being a Christian means one who undertakes a spiritual journey with Christ. But we no longer go to organised church,  instead we occupy and visit with others on a similar Christ pursuit in safe spaces in the “wilderness”. I facilitate a Facebook group called Free-range Christians as a resting and meeting place for Christians of all persuasions, and you’re welcome to join us.
In the meantime, here’s what following Jesus Christ in the wilderness means to me. Selah.

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The Christian church was once a shelter in the wilderness; a refuge for wanderers on the trail, all of us following Christ on an indeterminable path, beyond the confines and confusion of culture and godlessness. We followed Jesus out here, and looked for his footsteps to guide us, devoted ourselves to the wandering both together and alone, gathering around the campfires from time to time for friendship and to share the bread. We knew the wilderness was hard sometimes, but as long as Jesus was out here, it’s where we wanted to be. To be apart from those things that led us to believe we were not enough, or too much. To be away from the distractions of the discipl-ined devotional life. To have the time and space to see Him clearly and hear His voice. It was hard, not having a home in the mainstream, but we knew there was no longer any way to live like that. We had to follow Jesus out into the wild, and were comforted to know we were not, and did not need to be alone.

But the wilderness is still the wilderness.

What happened? When did the wilderness Jesus led us into stop being so wild? When was it we decided to stop wandering, because it was too hard to keep everyone together, and started to build structures and places and organisations to keep everyone together and on the same path, the same page? When was it we stopped trusting Jesus to lead and guide each one of us, and started managing the leading and guiding amongst ourselves?

When was it we decided wandering itself was a waste of resources, and we were sick of feeling off-kilter and vulnerable, and decided to pour foundations and put up walls and car parks, and call the church a place to go when we made the time, rather than a thing we were, that we couldn’t help but be, but which we could no more tie down, control or house in a building than we could Jesus Christ himself?

When was it we got our distaste for the wilderness, and went about our own kind of godlessness, recreating the safe, strong models of the cities we left behind which make us feel more safe and secure, to help us make sense of ourselves? When did we stop trusting God for our daily bread, and build a bread-making industry by which we now feed ourselves? When was it we gave into our feelings of insecurity and lost our appetite for manna, for locusts and milk and honey? When was it we started believing the Promised Land was a place we could physically arrive at?

When was it we stopped seeing ourselves as counter-culture and started making new cultures, just so we could consider everyone else counter to them? When did the tribe become so cohesive and bonded that we needed rules and creeds and dogma to decide who was in and out? Since when did being a fellow restless wanderer on the earth stop being how we recognised each other, out here, in the wilds?

I cannot help feeling that Jesus is still doing now, exactly what he always did. Leading people out, not in. Getting away from, not into. Dismantling and deconstructing institutions and cliques, rather than facilitating them. Including and gathering people, then sending and trusting them, rather than hoarding them up and holding them with doctrines which teach them they are foolish, sinful and untrustworthy.

When did the church build itself into a walled city against the wilderness, and all Jesus knew it would do, could do for us?

When did we decide we own the idea of church, and everyone in it, instead of it belonging to the wilds-wandering Jesus Christ?

When did people consider becoming a disciple of Christ to be entering safety, security, certainty, and collectivity?

When did the church stop being the wanderers in the wilderness, and start being everything Jesus made whips to destroy?

When did you stop wandering out there as the church of your Lord, and decide to come in to the church, Christian?

For while ever you are consumed with making institutions of the church, Jesus will be standing in the wilderness, leading seekers out of them.
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The Girl In The Pink T-Shirt, The Carol, and The Humble Gifts Of Christmas

The other day when I was in Geelong, I was walking through the busy city mall with about twenty hundred thousand other people on a retail mission, as we are all wont to be this time of year. I decided to cross the street between two shopping malls, and as I walked out of the glass sliding doors onto the street outside and prepared to cross at the pedestrian crossing, I heard this amazing sound.

I looked around me, and standing in front of the department store windows to my side was a young woman. On the ground in front of her was a plastic jar, an iPhone and a small speaker. She was about twenty maybe, dressed simply in a pink t shirt and jeans, no makeup, her hair pulled back in a pony tail. And she was singing.

Opera.

Christmas carols, in the most beautiful operatic voice I think I’ve ever heard in real life.

Her mouth was open and this amazing, beautiful, spine-chilling sound was coming out. Right there in the street. I froze on the spot, and my own mouth dropped open.

I watched as people on the other side of the road emerged from the shopping centre doors and looked around in confusion to see where this transcendent noise, sailing, lilting, drifting as it was above the street sounds, was coming from. As they crossed at the green walk signal, and their eyes found her in the crowd, smile after smile spread across formerly frowning faces. Some stopped, the dissonance of the surroundings and the sound they heard within it clear on their expressions. And all the while, she kept on singing.

“Oh, holy night,
The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth…..”

And I am not shamed to say, as I stood a few metres away from her, transported by her voice and the juxtaposition of what I was seeing all around me and what I was hearing in my ears and spirit, I wept. I just cried. I closed my eyes, and tears came out of them, and I thought about where I was, and what I was doing, and about Jesus, and her voice, and Christmas, and her gift, and the street full of shoppers, and the cars and the stop lights and the rush….and the words that soared from her mouth just pierced into my soul, through it all.

“Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.”

Even now as I remember this moment in time, I feel my throat tightening. As I listened to her beautiful voice, I wanted to stand there all day. Others came up to her between verses and between songs and pressed their hands into hers, thanking her, their eyes looking deeply into hers, dropping cash into her plastic jar. Blowing her kisses. She was young, she smiled and said a few words to each of them. I wondered if she realised the immense gift she was giving, just by doing this thing which clearly came so easily to her? I wondered if she understood what was going inside the ones who were clearly being touched by her presence, and by her occupying this wholly secular environ with her voice, wrapped as it was around such sacred, holy words?

After a while, I knew it was time for me to go. I took twenty dollars from my purse and stepped over to drop it into her jar. I wanted to tell her how much I enjoyed her gift, appreciated it, to thank her for sharing it, transporting me, and yes, for blessing me.

Because I did indeed feel like I had been blessed. I did not pray. I did not kneel. I did not say a string of memorised words, or act out a liturgy. But I felt as touched by God in that moment as ever I have by any answer to prayer, any word of encouragement, by any religious or spiritual act or ceremony I’ve participated in.

As I stepped up to her, tossing the note into the open jar, I took her hand and went to speak, but no words came out. I looked her in the eyes and soundlessly mouthed, “That was very special.” and smiled. And that was all I could do. I was undone. The capacity to speak had left me completely, I actually had no voice. She stole it and took it away into the air, with hers. That’s what it felt like.

As I walked away, still unable to talk, I whispered, thank you – thank you to a God who gives such heavenly gifts and dispenses them in such humble packages, mangers, shopping malls, swaddling clothes, pink t-shirts. Thank you for gifts which come from nowhere and split the darkness and mundanity of our lives, shining into our eyes like a star from the east, guiding us towards what we long to know, what we are trying to remember, what we desperately want to believe in, and is, and can be. Toward hope.

Looking back on the other day, I can honestly say, in my own cynicism about Christmas and all it has become, all it has lost, and all we still want so desperately for it to represent, I believe, in that small space in time in that unexpected place, I was absolutely and utterly Christmassed, in the truest sense of the word.

May you this year and every year also enjoy the peaceful and sacred Christmas of your own faith, heart and imagination. May you have eyes to see, and ears to hear, the gifts that are all around you, and that lie within you, yours for the receiving, and for the giving.

Love, Jo xxx

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The school of courage is out here, in the wild.

There’s an illusion which says when we are in the place we are meant to be, the healthiest place, the place God has for us, we will feel no fear. We will always feel in control. We will be surrounded by safety and certainty and the path will be clear. In this way, we are able to be led into places which are actually toxic, dysfunctional and damaging. They draw us in and hold us where we have no business being for the sake of safety, and they keep us there by promising us what we think we need. They promise security. They promise happiness. They promise certainty, they promise control. They promise love.

You and I both know that many of these places and tribes we join ourselves to turn out to be anything other than what was promised.

The lie we bought was designed to make us afraid of dying out there. It counted on us believing the least of ourselves, the worst of ourselves. It counted on us continuing to be afraid, and buying into an illusion safety could be found in coming in, away from the uncertainty and the badness out there in the wild, wild world.

The true badness was in them telling us we would never survive on our own.

The world is wild, free, sublime, elemental. And so are you. You can run, hide, deny, make yourself small, and all you’ll ever be doing is giving into the fear. At some point, you’ll need to accept there is no place you can go to be secure, not tribe you can belong to who can keep you safe, or give you certainty. You must be secure. You must be safe. You must be certain.

You are a worldly, wild, sublime, elemental being. You were made to glean your strength from resisting, observing and drawing from the things that you prevail against. To grow and to stand, like a tree grows and stands. You were made to storm, to bend, to blow and yes, even to break. But you were also made to heal. And to fruit.

We have sterilised systematically all of our beautiful wild selves, by greenhousing in cloistered safe-houses and under coverings which caused us to never learn how not to fear. We can’t understand why the sunlight and the wind burns us so, when all we’ve ever known is the strength of the stake we were tied to, the taste of the rations they meted out to us. And now we are on our own, self-directed as ever we were, our hearts leading us out now instead of in, and we realise we have never learned to feed ourselves, to hunt, to gather, to glean, to dig, to plant, to harvest or to feast. And we don’t know where to begin.

The problems isn’t that we left the greenhouse. It’s that the greenhouse only ever equipped us for a safe, featureless existence. If you will have courage, you are going to need to learn to thrive in the environment you were created for.

You pray for courage, but courage is the result of facing fears and overcoming them, not the result of prayer. You pray for provision and protection, for wisdom, as if these things could be dropped onto you as rain drops onto a leaf. You must do the work, sweet ones, but don’t despise it. Does a tree despise the fact it must send its roots out in search of water? Does the water despise the fact it must push its way over the ground and wear rocks away to find its way to the sea? You will work like the wind works a dune of sand, like a butterfly works its way out of a cocoon. Without complaining about the difficulty of it, without needing attention from the world to validate its experience, without constantly returning to the experience of its not-quite-yet-ness. There is a sweet, sad drama in the story of your becoming free, and you can share that story to help others also on the journey. But if your journey has become a long progression of days which look spitefully back at the reasons you ran into the wilderness, or longingly forward to a future, far off day when you’ll feel free, without your ever doing anything to let go of one or hold tighter to the other, you’re not growing. You’re not healing. Check the waters. If they’re brackish, or bitter, it’s time to get moving. It’s time to break camp and get going, my dear.

You thought Gods will was a perfect, safe place, didn’t you? You thought when you arrived there all your struggles would be gone and your enemies vanquished. That’s not something God would ever do for you, because those conditions require nothing of you that would make you more of who you are. Those perfect, safe, quiet, greenhouse conditions are like a spiritual retirement home. Which is really a kind of hell. When a tree stops growing, it starts dying. When water stops flowing, it can not longer sustain life. What makes you think you’ll stop feeling fear just because you’ve got your world under perfect control, just because no bad things can happen, just because you’ve assigned your lot to the safety of a tribe? You will cast out all fear with courage, my dear, and the school of courage is out here, in the wild.

Love, Jo xxx

Finding your tribe.

It’s easy to tell who your allies are, who your tribe is.

They’ll be the ones who, when confronted with your independence, confidence, growth, courage, creativity and success, will say “I knew you had it in you”, instead of “and just who do you think you are?”

You need friends and teachers around you who have stared down their own fears, and faced off with their feelings of being threatened by someone else’s growth, joy and progress.

You need people behind you who support the truth about you – that you are capable, good-hearted, and more than enough – and who don’t try and convince you more dependency and more smallness will serve you.

You can choose this. You’ve already begun. You’re further along the path than you realise.

Look for the ones who are not surprised by your successes, threatened by your knowledge, or stand to gain by your staying small.

They are your tribe.

Love, Jo x

A Garden Of Ashes – Growing love in the remains of anger

When anger goes, what is left in it’s place?

I’ve been healing from an anger that was so much a part of me, I did not see it as something I could ever let go of. For years, I fed the fire of anger more and more fuel, trying to keep it alive – memories of abuses, the pain of shame and of humiliation, of loss and of confusion and of being made a fool of. I tended the burning hearth of my anger with the kindling of my past until it all ran out, and I literally had to go in search of more. I feared allowing my fire to go out, feared it would be too much like forgiveness, like making peace, like saying, oh, that’s okay, I don’t feel that way anymore, so don’t change, don’t feel you need to be sorry any longer. It felt like betraying myself, to not be angry any more.

It felt like I would die if I could not feel that burning, that rage. I feared peace. I hated it. I felt nothing could be created out of a peaceful place, a peaceful heart. I stoked myself up and ran away whenever release threatened to hold me down and intervene on me.

But for a while now, the energy I’ve had to expend searching for fuel to feed the anger fire has felt like too much. Just too much. I’ve known it was time to release to peace. In my heart, I know there simply isn’t enough time. It’s going to take too long, cost too much, to stay at that fire, tearing myself up into pieces and throwing myself into it. Anger was overcoming me, little by little, it was taking me over. Too tired to go out looking for firewood, I simply waited for the flames. To take me.

So, I let go.

It didn’t happen one day. It’s been a journey, a day by day getting up from that anger fire and walking away to tend my soul. And there has been a space it left in me, a hole where things were not created, were not brought in, were not accepted, were not held and reassured and put to sleep. There was work undone, growing up not attended to, intelligence and wisdom not grasped and pocketed and stitched in place. I was stunted, am stunted. I have an empty place in me – a pit where the fire once was. A cold, scorched circle. And I stand at the edge and wonder what’s to become of this place. Do I abandon it? Or do I build an altar here?

I’ve been returning every day to the fire circle, to the quiet, cold campsite of my anger. And every day I bring with me something safe, small, and which has secreted inside a little beauty, a little music, a little teardrop, a promise of change. I dig a hole with my fingers and I plant the little seed there in the ashes, blessing it and covering it carefully. And in this way, I am building a garden there in the scorched remains of my anger fire, a garden of ashes, an altar to a part of me that is healing, has healed, is yet to be healed.

I wonder if your anger is ready to die, as mine was? I wonder if you’re ready to let it burn out, I wonder if you’re ready to stand and let the embers grow cold, to risk the encroachment of forgiveness and the pervasive embrace of peace to put itself around you, to weigh you down on the floor, to hold you until you’re ready to let go, ready to walk away?

I wonder if it’s your time too?

You will grieve it, make no mistake. You will cry for it, and you will stand and mourn for it, and it will hurt, because it leaves a space when it’s gone. But things come, I promise, and they fill the space. And the things that come, they are familiar, and they are safe, because they are made of you. The things that come to fill the place your anger used to be are your desire, your creativity, your dreams, your ecstasy, your feelings, your self. And they are strong, they are clear, and they are beautiful, as you are.

Imagine in your heart a garden of ashes, a place where your anger can be healed and made whole. Are you ready? I pray you will be.

Blessings,
Jo xx

A Garden Of Ashes – Growing love in the remains of anger

When anger goes, what is left in it’s place?

I’ve been healing from an anger that was so much a part of me, I did not see it as something I could ever let go of. For years, I fed the fire of anger more and more fuel, trying to keep it alive – memories of abuses, the pain of shame and of humiliation, of loss and of confusion and of being made a fool of. I tended the burning hearth of my anger with the kindling of my past until it all ran out, and I literally had to go in search of more. I feared allowing my fire to go out, feared it would be too much like forgiveness, like making peace, like saying, oh, that’s okay, I don’t feel that way anymore, so don’t change, don’t feel you need to be sorry any longer. It felt like betraying myself, to not be angry any more.

It felt like I would die if I could not feel that burning, that rage. I feared peace. I hated it. I felt nothing could be created out of a peaceful place, a peaceful heart. I stoked myself up and ran away whenever release threatened to hold me down and intervene on me.

But for a while now, the energy I’ve had to expend searching for fuel to feed the anger fire has felt like too much. Just too much. I’ve known it was time to release to peace. In my heart, I know there simply isn’t enough time. It’s going to take too long, cost too much, to stay at that fire, tearing myself up into pieces and throwing myself into it. Anger was overcoming me, little by little, it was taking me over. Too tired to go out looking for firewood, I simply waited for the flames. To take me.

So, I let go.

It didn’t happen one day. It’s been a journey, a day by day getting up from that anger fire and walking away to tend my soul. And there has been a space it left in me, a hole where things were not created, were not brought in, were not accepted, were not held and reassured and put to sleep. There was work undone, growing up not attended to, intelligence and wisdom not grasped and pocketed and stitched in place. I was stunted, am stunted. I have an empty place in me – a pit where the fire once was. A cold, scorched circle. And I stand at the edge and wonder what’s to become of this place. Do I abandon it? Or do I build an altar here?

I’ve been returning every day to the fire circle, to the quiet, cold campsite of my anger. And every day I bring with me something safe, small, and which has secreted inside a little beauty, a little music, a little teardrop, a promise of change. I dig a hole with my fingers and I plant the little seed there in the ashes, blessing it and covering it carefully. And in this way, I am building a garden there in the scorched remains of my anger fire, a garden of ashes, an altar to a part of me that is healing, has healed, is yet to be healed.

I wonder if your anger is ready to die, as mine was? I wonder if you’re ready to let it burn out, I wonder if you’re ready to stand and let the embers grow cold, to risk the encroachment of forgiveness and the pervasive embrace of peace to put itself around you, to weigh you down on the floor, to hold you until you’re ready to let go, ready to walk away?

I wonder if it’s your time too?

You will grieve it, make no mistake. You will cry for it, and you will stand and mourn for it, and it will hurt, because it leaves a space when it’s gone. But things come, I promise, and they fill the space. And the things that come, they are familiar, and they are safe, because they are made of you. The things that come to fill the place your anger used to be are your desire, your creativity, your dreams, your ecstasy, your feelings, your self. And they are strong, they are clear, and they are beautiful, as you are.

Imagine in your heart a garden of ashes, a place where your anger can be healed and made whole. Are you ready? I pray you will be.

Blessings,
Jo xx

The Glory Of God and The Imperfect Life

Somewhere, at some point in time, some person decided that becoming a Christian was about having a perfect life.

I think perhaps I want to hunt down and kill that person.

Why? Just why? When and how? What went on in that persons head? Didn’t they think forward a bit and consider how difficult this might be to facilitate in the future? Didn’t they look around and think to themselves, “Nah, you know what? that’s just not how it is in the real world, I can’t say that – it’ll make people crazy.” Didn’t they read the bit where Jesus and the people who followed him didn’t get anything like a perfect life?

I don’t get it. I wanted to get it for a long, long time, but really, I’ve never got it, this thing about how being a Christian means no bad things, only good things. A life where I have more than enough money, terrific health and where everybody leaves me alone to do what I want, when I want. One where we know all the ones who are dong Christianity right, because they never have any bad things happen to them. One where I am never sick, unemployed, or addicted to anything. One where my family members are all like me, and we never fight, and where my children grow up in the exact way I hope and never cause me any embarrassment or anxiety. One where if someone does something bad to me, I’m okay again pretty quickly and don’t find it hard to forgive one bit, where it doesn’t mess me up one hundred ways from Sunday for the rest of my life. One where everybody likes and respects me, and I am able to like and respect others effortlessly. One where whatever I am selling is exactly what people want, and they will pay me exorbitantly for it, very often. One where I create things from my heart and people understand and receive them in exactly the way they were intended and never laugh or write things on the internet about me. One where I am always unselfish, generous, accepting, courageous and empowered, and so are all the people I hang out with. One where I am very frequently right about things, and everybody I admire and like and respect acknowledges my rightness. One where I always meet others expectations of me, and am able to adapt my own expectations perfectly to every person and situation. A perfect life, where I am always inspirational, never fearful, anxious or cowardly, where I never have cause to suffer or make others suffer, where I never fail others or have cause to feel others have failed me. A perfect life, where my days are one endless stream of no bad things, and where I die at the end comfortably and painlessly in my bed, with all my many loved ones around me in a cloud of mote-speckled light, where I surrender my spirit of my own volition at the most appropriate time, without regret or sorrow or bitterness or anger. Oh, and where I have absolute certainty I’m going to heaven. The perfect life.

You’re not going to get one of these.

Nobody is going to get one of these.

There are going to be things that happen to you, and they may feel very bad, and not Jesus, God, Buddha or anyone else is going to stop them. And it will suck.

If you became a Christian or a Buddhist or a Jew or whatever just because you hoped it was a way to stop bad things from happening to you, I’m really sorry. Whoever told you or is telling you that it is God’s job is not telling you how it really is. They may want it to be true, and they may even be able to back it up with words from the Bible, but it’s not what happens in the real world.

Truth is not aspirational. It’s not what we wish would happen. Truth is what actually happens. Truth is what is.

What actually happens in the real world is that bad things happen. They happened to Jesus, and in fact, if you believe the Bible, they happened to God.

All the time. God apparently wanted certain things to happen, planned for them, set things up for them to go a particular way, and still, things went wrong. Which makes you wonder if God has as much control as we’d like to think.

People, right from the start apparently didn’t do what God hoped they might. But, hey, even if they had, it still might not have gone the way God planned. Who knows?

Sometimes we think when something goes wrong, if we had done the opposite then things would’ve gone right, or better, or not been so messed up, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes things would have had been messed up anyway.

Now, can I just say at this point, I’m not about to get into that attitude which says when you get cancer it’s actually a good thing if only you can just see it in a certain, special way.

Having a disease that could kill you is always going to be something people don’t want, bad, if you like. So are earthquakes, famines, and tornadoes, that sort of thing.

This is not about controlling good and bad things. This is partly about accepting the fact you can make some things happen, but not other things. The other part I’ll get to in a minute.

Here’s the thing. Actions have consequences. If you smoke, your likelihood of developing cancer is statistically high. If you work a forty-hour week for forty years of your life and get paid a reasonable wage for doing so, you will experience a certain level of material and personal comfort, possibly even wealth. However, it’s also true to say that a great many people get cancer and do nothing to make that happen. And some people grow very wealthy and do nothing to make that happen.

I think a great many people become Christians not because they like Jesus or want to be like Jesus, but because they feel powerless, and also disempowered. They believe they lack both the ability and the control to avoid the former and attract the latter, and so they bring all that anxiety and powerlessness to Jesus. But they never allow themselves become more empowered. They choose to remain disempowered, because they think it gives Jesus more glory, more opportunity to be powerful, when they do. They get Jesus into a position where He might supposedly feel obliged to use some of His power to arrange the most desirable outcome on their behalf, i.e.: no cancer, and more money, that’d be great, thanks. His strength is made perfect in my weakness, and all that. Many Christians become Christians simply because they doubt their own capacity to make good things happen for themselves, and/or the capacity to prevent bad things from happening, and they are simply wanting to recruit some outside help with that.

Which is fine, except, life. Oh, and the whole following Jesus thing. Being a follower of Jesus surely is about following Jesus? I wonder if being Christian is something completely different.

Many teaching streams within contemporary evangelical Christianity have become little more than a way of helping fearful and uncomfortable people feel less out-of-control, and enabling capable and comfortable people to feel they deserve everything that happens to them. These streams confirm the self-doubting, self-deprecating persons worst suspicions about themselves by telling them they are worthless, corrupt and have no good thing inside them of any value whatsoever, and they won’t be able to do anything without Gods direct help. Also, this kind of Christianity conversely confirms the ego-driven persons sense that all their critics are wrong, all their actions are justified and all the success, recognition and comfort they are able to arrange is their God-given entitlement. In this way, many of the teachings of contemporary evangelical Christianity speak not to the King in people, but to the devil in them. They speak deeply to the fearful heart of the person who suspects they are unworthy, less-than, and will always be unable to handle any kind of stress, rejection, criticism and change. The teachings reinforce the belief the person could never cope if bad things happened to them because they are weak, intrinsically evil, selfish, depraved, untrustworthy, and had it coming. These ideas also often support the premise that God is angry, and purport to reveal the truly ugly, repulsive nature of human beings ever-present sinful nature by provide compelling evidence for what happens to people in the real world when God and our sin intersect, i.e.: bad things happen.

However, in the real world, when faced with the terrible things that often happen, regular people are for the most part not weak in the face of it, or lacking capacity and resilience. They also do not appear to deserve it. In fact, in everyday life, regular people very frequently do not behave or think in a way that is bad or evil. People are usually good, or are trying to be. They have good hearts, and the majority of people in the world want to do good things to help themselves and others, whether they believe in a Creator, or not. And not many Christian teachers and preachers are going to tell you the truth about this. They are a little like the snake-oil salesman who convinces you you’re sick and then sells you the cure. These ones want you to believe you are a member of the only group of truly good people who exists on the earth (Christians) and they’ll tell you everyone else is to be feared, suspected or denigrated in some way, because they are rotten through with worldly evil and wanting to kill and eat you, or some damn thing. But it isn’t true; the bit about the people who are not in your church, or the part about you being sick with sin and needing a cure for it. People outside Christianity are not all bad, and the people we Christians hang out with have no monopoly on good.

The truth is human beings – Christian, or otherwise – are generally not weak, stupid or lacking in creativity. People outside your church will mostly not want to steal from you, or kill you, or even criticise or judge you. They are good. Also, they are incredibly resilient, adaptable and able to cope with huge stresses and change. However, most people in the world experience fear, and feel they are lacking in some way because they do, and most have desires and impulses and needs they are trying to get met as well. This can make people do things which harm others, or which take away others liberties, and even their own or others lives. Nobody wants bad things done to them, and a great many people who do bad things wish they could stop doing them. Bad things happening in the world may not actually be the incontrovertible support for the premise everyone is essentially bad and evil many Christians would like us to believe it is. I am interested in the way many evangelical charismatic Christians are able to observe some evil things done by some people sometimes by people who are not Christians and use this as support for the premise all people are intrinsically evil all the time, whilst at the same time justifying as totally without avarice all the completely evil things they do to people inside and outside of Christianity, and because the Bible apparently told them to, to boot.

When you teach people often enough and with enough conviction they are weak, stupid, and evil, of course they will begin to doubt their capacity to cope if bad things happen to them. And they will think it makes more sense to avoid bad things than to get better at coping with them – who wouldn’t? In the real world, bad things are going to happen – this is the first truth we need to get our head around. Unless you are very well organized, or never leave your church, or are perhaps lobotomized, there is no way to avoid it. And some of the bad things that happen are certainly worse than humans could possibly be expected to endure. However, most people really do have enough resources to cope with most of the bad things that will happen to them. People really are incredible. And you’d think evangelical Christianity, claiming as it does to be really into people generally, and into helping them recognize their God-given gifts, would be right onto this. But rather than teaching people how to draw on their God-given gifts – their inner strength, wisdom and capacity to cope with stress, change and disaster – many modern Christian teachings are instead advocating for the asking of God to arrange for Christians a greater blessings-to-bad-things quotient, and a more materially, physically and socially comfortable existence.

Which, as I said, is fine, except, life.

A life where bad things never happen is not going to happen to you. Everyone has things happen in their lives that are not what they wanted or hoped for. That is a given. God knows this. Further, God is not going to stop bad things happening to you, just because you are a Christian and you asked Him nicely. Now, when you’re a Christians and bad things do happen, even though you asked God nicely could they please not, some Christians people will tell you this is because He doesn’t want to stop them even though He could, but He has a special lesson to teach you instead, or a special job for you to do in the world of the bad thing. In my opinion, that God is not a very good God. That God is an asshole.

God doesn’t stop bad things from happening to you because He can’t.

He can’t stop them. The way I see it, God is either good, or all-powerful. If God is all-powerful, He cannot also be good, because the things that happen to people along the gamut of bad things can be so horrifically bad, any God who would allow those things when He had the power to stop them is not a good God.

God is good.

And you are good too.

So, my friend, having said all that, let me tell you this. You did not deserve the bad things that happened to you because you’re a sinner and deserved it, you forgot to become a Christian or didn’t know how to pray a certain way, or because the world is intrinsically evil and depraved and the devil is out to get you. The bad thing didn’t happen because God thought you needed a special lesson in how to not die of anxiety and stress, or how to survive being raped as a child, or knew you’d one day inspire thousands with your story of how you lost your legs in a car accident. The bad thing happened because you live in a human body, and you live on a dirt planet, and all kinds of things can go wrong when we all start messing around with the dirt and bumping up against the other human bodies and the people inside them. The world and the people are beautiful, but they can get messed up. And it’s not your fault the world is dirt and so is your body, and you and all the other people have to bump into each other from time to time. It’s just the way it is. Good things, bad things; it’s just the way it is.

And He is not going to stop it, because He can’t. Remember, the truth is not what we wish would happen. Truth is what actually happens. The truth is what is.

So, this is the truth. God can’t stop bad things from happening to you. But, whenever you, through your incredible resilience, extraordinary courage, awesome creativity, intrinsic wisdom, and burning desire to help others, or because of a massive spiritual, clever or just damn bloody determined effort, able to turn the bad thing that happened to you into something useful, beautiful, admirable, inspirational, encouraging or meaningful, God falls back in awe of you, and claps the slow, loud clap with a huge grin on His face. Tears spring to his eyes and His breath is taken away for a while. He looks at you with immense pride and wonder, and He says, my Person, how on earth do you do that? I marvel at you, at your resilience, courage and creativity, at the alchemy of what you just did, of what you are doing. You are able to make bad things into good things, and I am amazed at this. I am proud. I am celebrating! Woohoo! Go you! You are my darling, the thing of which I am most proud; who of all the things I’ve made is most glorious, clever and good. Well done, my beloved, well done you!

He loves and admires you when you do that thing, when you make a good thing from a bad thing and confirm all God’s deepest suspicions; that you are stronger, wiser, braver and more creative than you think, and that you are good. When you realize the bad thing could not be God’s fault, He cries with relief. And we can know God didn’t do it on purpose not in a saving-His-reputation, defending-His-honour kind of way. But in a knowing God truly loves you, believes in you, and is on your side kind of way. He is not the Asshole God, really. He is the Good One.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter whether we believe in Good God, or any God at all. What matters is that He believes in us. All of us. All the time. Whether we believe Him back, or not. And He’s not angry about our not believing when we don’t, or can’t. He is okay with it. He still celebrates, because we are His darling, clever, dirt people. We have all believed faith meant us believing He exists, and that all the things that have been written about Him are true. And we hope they are true, hope they are truth. But truth is not an abstract. It is not aspirational. It’s not what we wish would happen. Truth is what is. And His love is.

God’s love for and belief in us is the truth; a truth so true we can build a house on it and live there. Our faith in God is incomparable to the faith He has in us. And yes, okay, even the Bible says faith and hope pale in comparison with love. Imagine how much there is then – faith, hope and love – from God, towards you.

Believing in God and being a Christian is not about having a perfect life. It’s about believing God believes in you. It’s about knowing God wants more than anything to confirm your deepest suspicions about yourself; that you are resilient, courageous, creative and wise. It’s feeling in your heart of hearts that when you do that thing with the bad thing that happened to you, He falls back in wonder. And that’s His glory, you, being you, amazing God with your capacity and your courage to turn your crazy, messed up life into something true. Our truth is not what we wished would’ve happened. It’s what actually happened. The truth is what is. You amaze Him. It’s knowing in your gut that while God is not in control, that’s okay, because God is absolutely good, and is cheering and bragging about you. Look at my darling creation, isn’t she amazing, isn’t he the best.

Your bad things, your struggles to accept and deal with them, and your generally imperfect life, my darling, are nothing to be ashamed of.

Because God is good, and so are you.

With love,

Jo xx

Why I’m not afraid to argue with Jesus.

I get into trouble a bit for pushing the accepted meanings and interpretations of the Bible. People who do this are frequently called rebels and heretics. I don’t mind.

I know we as Christians have been taught never to argue with Scripture – it’s the final word – particularly the red-letter texts. They are apparently set in stone, and must never be challenged. Because of their apparent rigidity, the Biblical words of Jesus are often used to support the most un-Christian acts. And I have a problem with this.

I do get my back up with Jesus from time to time. If you take Him at his word (word not with a capital W) He can be inconsistent. His recorded words sometimes contradict the urging of the Holy Spirit in the heart – the Holy Spirit He facilitated so we could know how to bring about His love on the earth.

It’s very confronting to find your gut and your soul challenges the *truth* of the Bible.

But I’m not the first to pull Jesus up on His inconsistencies.

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Someone challenges Jesus on the discrepancy between the Scripture – the Law – and his message of inclusion and love. And Jesus pays attention to her complaints. He calls her contention “great faith” and she returns home to find her daughter is healed.

Not just great faith, great courage.

Jesus basically insults this woman and everything she is and stands for, providing justification from scripture for why she doesn’t deserve His help. And she pulls Him up on that. And He agrees with her.

And Jesus changes His mind. In favour of love, and not Law.

Jesus. Changes. His mind. Jesus, the God-person Jesus.

Don’t be afraid to petition the Christ of your Christianity when it seems His spirit at work in your heart is at odds with the words of the Law and the scriptures. He came to break the hold of the Law over us, remember?

We live in the age of grace, and this means the Spirit reigns over the Law. Jesus changes His mind, so don’t be afraid to ask Him for His attention. When you butt up against the rigid boundaries of the Law, push a little. He welcomes your petition – it’s helping Him complete the work of breaking the power of the Law. And after all, this is what He came to do.

The opposite of should.

The word “should” is designed to make people feel they need fixing before they even realise they are broken. In fact, an awful lot of people are doing an awful lot of what they think they “should”, when in fact, what they were doing in the first place was fine.

Loving people where – and for whom – they are right now is the key to helping them. Really helping them.

We are all on a healing journey. But I find so many people are ignoring the true source of their pain and have taken up practices and habits which do nothing to help that pain, but which are simply a distraction and a kind of occupational therapy. Because someone those things or that thing was something they *should* do.

Go to church. Read the bible every day. Get up and pray at 5am. Walk 5kms. Eat macro, bio, organic, paleo. Activate your almonds. Elevate your heart rate. Eliminate toxic thoughts. Read this book. Volunteer at that shelter. Take a class. Give all your money away. Save all your money. Live simply. Get rich. Get out more. Keep yourself unstained by the world. Blah, blah, blah. Should, should should.

Being mindful of who and where you truly are right now in this time and place will do more to show you what you need, where you’re wounded and how you’re broken than any sermon, self-help book or entrepreneur with a gadget or gimmick.

“You are here.”

This is what God says. His love shines on us and shows us everything we need to know. It illuminates the dark places. Bathed in His love, all our beautiful selves with all the wounds and cracks and failures and sorrows can be clearly seen. This is where you are. This is who you are. This is what is. And I love you. These are His words to us.

God never says you “should” do something. He says, “This is what is. This is who I am. This is who you are.” The rest is up to He and we.

If we never changed, He’d not love us less. If we choose to change, He is there to help us do it.

To use the word “should” is to assume you, fellow human being, have the whole, entire and intimate measure of another person. It’s to assume you know exactly why someone does what they do, and doesn’t do what they don’t do. It’s basically to presume everyone is exactly like you.

In fact, everyone is exactly like themselves. And the way you are now is just, well, the way you are now.

Not better than, not worse than, just… the way you are now.

You’re on a journey, on a trajectory. Of healing, knowledge, intimacy, knowledge, all that. No one has arrived, and we all help each other along, as brothers and sisters under His love.

To say to someone “you should” is to say “I have arrived.” No, you haven’t. You’re not there. And our job isn’t to try pull people up to our highest level.

It’s to help lift them up to theirs.

In love, Jo xxx