Easter 7- Wednesday my justice journey #myjusticejourney…

This morning I changed my photo on Facebook and Twitter, marking the beginning of pride month, it is a happy photo, I am tanned and fit and wearing a rainbow collar. It was taken 3 years ago. A lot has changed. We have all been through a pandemic, and it is rumbling on, the world has changed, as JRR Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of the ring;

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it. 

The world is changed, I guess the world is always changing, the words written Tolkien are spoken by Galadriel who is expressing a deep longing, I suspect it is a longing that lives somewhere deep within every human heart and soul as we try to make our way through the world we live in, yet with a hunger for something more something deeper. We all express that hunger in different ways, when I look back at my life I have expressed that hunger by a deep desire to fit in, and that has lead to me being a people pleaser who lives with letting people down, because you can’t please everyone, and to trying to soothe the ache, its amazing what a hole food, stuff and other unhealthy substitutes will fill in, though it never lasts!

Others have tried to create a world in their own image, leading to holocausts and genocides, and we see the other-isisng and demonising of those who we declare unacceptable in some way shape or form. This of course has led to campaigns for equality, from the anti- apartheid movement in South Africa, to the Black-Lives Matter demonstrations and movement of recent days, from campaigners and activists like Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dali Lama, to Gretta Thunberg, Malala Yousef and more, I am sure we could write a substantial list as we go on, going back to the anti-slavery campaigners, to those who fight for women’s rights, such as the Suffragettes to people like Jayne Ozanne who has campaigned tirelessly for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community in the church, and groups like Stonewall, One Body One Faith, and Dignity and worth. Almost everywhere we look there are those who will campaign for fair treatment for the young, the old, the disabled, for those with learning disabilities, mental health challenges, groups who work to alleviate poverty and more.

This week the Methodist Church has been shading #MyJusticeJourney on Twitter, and there have been so many tweets, and so many inspiring stories to follow! So many in fact that one or two have posted comments like this: so many inspiring stories. Also now struggling with paralysis from feeling I should do something about everything. I know, I do know, that I have to make choices and accept that I can only make a small contribution. Just needed to say it.

We can of course only make the contributions we can make, and it never feels like enough, we talk about drops in the ocean, as if our one, two or three drops will never be sufficient, and it takes a lot to change that feeling! It can even be annoying to be told that without our one drop the ocean would be depleted, especially when we look at what seem like enormous contributions from others. My drops over the last few years have been to fight for justice for the poor, vulnerable and homeless, to speak up where I can, at one time it led me into a meeting with Iain Duncan Smith, when he was the Secretary of State for Works and Pensions. I think I was the only non-Tory voter in the room, I did what I could. It was a drop! I have also been a supporter of the LGBTQIA community, but my own work circumstances have made that very difficult at times, I found myself working in a homophobic team which was actually quite threatening. I was also on a journey of self discovery, even in my mid 50’s!

I guess we are all on a journey of self-discovery in one way or another! So this quote really resonated with me:

I think I might even edit it to say the most Godly thing that anyone can do is to love themselves enough to believe that they can be loved by God and by others. I think that is where the power of shame comes in. When you have spent what feels like a lifetime fitting in and trying to please people, I think this is something many women struggle with, others also, but there I have said it, for many of us were brought up to smile, to acquiesce, to smooth things over, to agree even if it cuts against the grain and to become separated from our true selves. I know many who share this journey!

I wonder if my bravest step in my justice journey recently was to own and even begin the journey of loving myself, and to believe that God could love even me. I have had years of shame and hiding to sift through, not only because of my sexuality, but for many other things, being too tall, being too opinionated, muddling love and sex for one another, hiding behind piles of books, breaking promises I deeply wanted to keep but couldn’t because I was over stretched. There have been lost dreams and broken relationships, none were intended but they are there, and deep under all of that is a small girl who only wants to be loved and accepted. I guess that is where my deep longing lies, denying it has led to self-denial and depression, and when I say denying “it” I am not talking about sexuality, but about acceptability, I am sure there is a lot in my background that has led to this, frequent moves, divorced parents, my own divorce and more, but what I am not looking to do is to play a blame game. I am where I am, and who I am, I am both the little girl longing for love, and the grown woman who is finally coming to accept herself, 60 years later.

To do justice and love mercy, I need to love myself, in loving myself I begin to rediscover that call within for the things that have been lost, to hear God call me good, to accept that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, the little girl longing for who knows what, the tall teenager who was obsessed with being overweight but never was, the lost teenager who tried to find love in sex and was confused by it, the too young single mum, who then struggled through marriage and life never feeling good enough, always hiding something, all of those are fearfully and wonderfully made. Why oh why has it taken me 60 years to begin to become comfortable with myself , and I am only beginning!

I wonder if this journey is a journey we all need to make to a greater of lesser extent, we need to to push past the fears that tell us we are not enough, not good enough and inappropriate, we need to to break down the barriers that separate us from accepting ourselves and therefore accepting we are loved by anyone, let alone God! For nothing, not the colour of our skin, who we love, what language we speak, how much we have in our bank account, what gender we are, whether we are fit or unfit, tall, short, fat skinny… nothing can separate us from God’s love, what does is a false construct, societal and cultural pressures, our own deeply ingrained inner monologue that keeps us awake at night.

I wonder too where we might find the peace of Christ within, the peace that is deeper than anything we can find anywhere elsewhere when we begin the journey of loving ourselves, and therefore be freed to truly work for justice in a deep and meaningful way, even if it is only one drop!

All included, chalk pastel drawing- mine

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Easter 7- Sunday- on being one….

Today’s Gospel reading is a part of Jesus prayer found in John 17, where he prays that we might be one with him and the creator ( Father, Mother…), so that the interwoven relationship of Creator, Son and Spirit might be extended to flow into our lives and through our lives like a beautiful and ever expanding eternal dance. A poem I wrote a while ago contains these lines as I tried to express the mystery of this yearning and invitation I hear in Jesus prayer:

“Do you yearn

to join the joyful

throng

encircled in their midst?

For you are invited

to this heavenly

ceilidh!

Will you dare to take

the outstretched hand,

kick off your shoes

and dance?”

+

Do I yearn to join the joyful throng? Well I long for a joyful throng to join, and I do catch glimpses of it sometimes, but there are so many things that prevent the body of Christ from being the body of Christ Jesus is longing for here. That we might be one as “they” God is one, in an ever giving and ever receiving relationship of mutual appreciation, service and love, that people would be drawn to the love of God by the evidence of love flowing from the people of God, both in praise for their maker, , reveal-er, and sustainer while a wonderful image is sadly very far from the image that I see in the church. Of course as I have said, we do catch glimpses of it, sometimes in the most unlikely places.

I have been ministered to by a homeless community who clubbed together to allow one of their member a former baker to make me the most beautiful birthday cake! I didn’t ask where the ingredients came from, the expression of love was enough. So often it is the poorest in our communities who are the most generous, offering their widows mite, over and over again, joy in a simple shared meal, or in swapping a few cans of food, in gardening together for mental health and to provide fresh food which is usually scarce. I have seen joy as groups learn to live together where formerly there may have been conflict, in ministry to and by refugees, and more. I know the joy of finding the face of Christ in unexpected places, and in a young boy at his sisters baptism who decided to bless me with the baptismal water, and in watching a young man with learning difficulties and a former detective inspector serve one another at the communion table.

I am sure that many reading this could add to the list, and so can I, but I can also point to scars inflicted upon one another by false expectations and by assumptions, and also by entrenched bad teaching that has taken root and twisted the Gospel into a distorted version of itself. A friend asked the question today about whether of not we can disagree well, the subject was about same-sex relationships and whether same-sex marriage might be possible in the Anglican Church, and while it could have been about other things, such as economic policies, politics on all kinds of levels, climate change and more, I think I would say that when the church fails to agree to love, and instead other-ises its’ own people then we have a problem.

That we might show love and be one is what Jesus is praying for, when the colour of our skin, the way we dress, our other abilities, be they physical or mental, our age, be that young or old, our sexuality and or gender is what is rejected then we have a problem. How many young families have been tutted at and felt uncomfortable in church because their children are a bit noisy? How many people have been made to feel uncomfortable because they simply don’t have a Sunday best to wear, or their choice of attire is frowned upon, I remember having a conversation with a young man who loved his band t-shirts but daren’t wear them to church! I have heard stories from BIOPIC friends who have experienced exclusion and toleration, who have been asked absolutely ridiculous questions, for example, when asked the question “where are you from?”, and the answer given is “Birmingham.”, the response then comes ” no where are you really from?”, my friends family have lived in the UK for generations! I on the other hand was born in Singapore and brought up in Kuala Lumpur, but nobody ever asks where I am from, and I certainly won’t be excluded because of it! The there is the story of the mother on a bus, speaking Welsh to he son, an ignorant passenger challenged her, saying why don’t you speak English when you are in England! Thankfully another passenger piped up, she is speaking Welsh, and we are in Wales! The assumption was made because the mother was wearing the Hijab.

When exclusion comes because of who we are, it cuts deep, I have mentioned before that when I came out, and was open about my sexuality I had a member of my congregation stand in front of me pondering whether to receive communion or not, when people question your sex life, when there is no way you would question theirs, when a church member declares his child’s marriage as not a marriage at all because they are married to a same sex partner, when trans people are vilified, and others insist on naming them by the wrong gender, there are scars. When we fail to acknowledge the full humanity of someone who displays a different facet of God’s glorious creative imagination because they don’t fit the required norm, then we are not inviting people into the creative dance, but are saying you are not welcome here!

Can we agree to disagree on such things as our common humanity and the way that we express it in ourselves and our lives then I think I want to say no. I am not talking about accepting abuse, or greed or other immoral expressions of humankind, but about the core expression of consenting, committed, adult relationships. Or the acceptance of a young person who is struggling with their sexuality or gender identity, the number LGBTQIA+ who live rough on the streets is staggering, and usually because they have been rejected by their families or religious communities. There are also stories from parents who have come to the conclusion that the only way they can support their child is to leave the church.

I wrote today about my justice journey a Methodist Church initiative, on Twitter, the photo was of a wedding blessing I was privileged to conduct, my post read:

Photo blessing at the wedding of two amazing friends. After so many years of learning that love is love. From suicidal thoughts, mine and others in the 1970’s/ 80’s to accepting myself and then finally

From suicidal thoughts, mine and others, the late 1970’s in rural Essex was not a place to be different, and I loathed myself, I did suffer from suicidal thoughts, and I know others who did too. I buried it all for years, and I mean almost 40 years, and while I do not regret my amazing children or grandchildren, I was not comfortable in my own skin. I am more comfortable now, but still have to ask myself how safe I am, and that question is more likely to be asked when I am considering how open to be in church settings! It would be wonderful to believe that, that will one day become a question that I don’t need to ask, but we have a long way to go, in this and many other ways!

Join the dance, image mine.

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Easter 6- Friday- on inclusion , love and scars, and a search for wholeness- in which I may mention Franklin Graham again!

I have been pondering family relationships recently, the expectations and the strains that exist within what are often set against a complex background, which can defy the rosy happy picture of family life often pushed forward by TV adverts, and cultural/ peer expectations. I mentioned this at Easter, when people around me were expecting me to be spending time with family, when for all kinds of reasons I spent it alone, and for me that was okay! My own family relationships are complex, my parents divorced when I was 12, and my mum remarried relocating my sister and I when I was 14, it hurts to admit that I spent most of my teenage years trying to fit in and looing for love, the fact that I felt that I didn’t ever achieve either may be telling. Marriage brought other tensions, and it wasn’t easy, and when I say that many are surprised because that is not what they saw, it’s amazing what stays behind closed doors, often due to external expectations! Difficulties and strains can be painful and cause complications, sometimes conversations can be hard, and sometimes we simply have to agree to disagree and live with the brokenness. I am now divorced, there are many reasons behind that, and having moved past the blame game I can say it was best for all concerned, and nothing is perfect. Families disagree, families come in all shapes and sizes, there is no ideal relationship, and rarely a completely perfect happily ever-after story!

I was thinking about all of this when I was reading some of the comments made on Sheffield Cathedral’s Twitter post regarding the prayer vigil held at the same time as the Franklin Graham rally . Many of them very critical, some of them downright abusive and nasty. The reason, well two groups of the Christian family are disagreeing with one another, one sees Graham’s message as a message of hope, another sees his message as a message of exclusion, intolerance and even of hate. Graham has openly spoken out against the LGBTQI+ community, approves of conversion therapy, has strong views on immigration, and supports the gun lobby. He says he preaches a gospel of love, but a delve beneath some of the acceptable sounding words he offers you find a different message. That of course is my view, on what I have seen, heard and investigated.

Alongside the vigil in Sheffield Cathedral a group of protestors gathered outside of Sheffield arena, they wanted to show a different and inclusive message to the people going in to listen to Graham, and to preach a gospel of inclusion and love, a comment on a Facebook post about this protest was made by one individual saying that the protestors were wrong, because Christians should not be divided against other Christians, and making this public in the arena car-park was counter productive. In that thread people began quoting Bible verses at one another, entirely unhelpful in many ways because it is easy to take one verse out of context, which is exactly what the protestors say that Graham and others do with the clobber texts, the talk highlighted is worth listening to if you haven’t heard of them, I am not going to unpack all of that now. What I want to talk about is the protest, was it right?

Was it right, well cards on the table, I love that Sheffield Cathedral held a prayer vigil, and I supported the protestors in the car park, not with my presence but with online prayers of my own. Why? Well partly because I identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community ( maybe it is a bit clearer why my marriage failed- though it is much more complex than that), but I also take a pattern from Jesus himself, whose opposition to the rigid teaching of the Pharisees, Sadducees and the religious elite who surrounded them was often outspoken and demonstrable in the way he not only drew the excluded to him, but also in the way that he challenged their teaching! In the Sermon on the Mount, ( the link is to Matthew 5, keep reading through to Chapter 7) he turns some of the rigid thinking upside down, not only should we not murder, but we should not harbour hateful thoughts, in place of an eye for an eye he offers the subversive act of turning the other cheek, he warns against outward shows of piety and prayer, and repeats the phrase “You have heard it said…. but I say to you…..” on more than one occasion. He also warns us about removing the log from our own eye before offering to remove the speck from our siblings eye!

Jesus is the one who challenged the rules of the day by healing the man with the withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath, challenging the shocked leaders with the question; “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!” they were not too happy to have their hypocrisy exposed, Jesus is the one who has mercy on the woman caught in adultery and dragged before him by a baying hoard hungry for a stoning by challenging the crowd that only the one who is without sin can cast the first stone, he sent her on her way without condemning her! Jesus is the one who commended the faith of the woman who had been bleeding for 7 years, the law says she should not go out in public, he set her free, healed and seen!

The whole trajectory of the gospel is to include the excluded, the life of Jesus revealed a more expansive and loving God than many of the struggling Old Testament Texts affirming wars and violence in the name of God, as humankind grapples to work out it’s relationship with the one who named ALL of creation good!

Do I believe that Jesus would have opposed the gun lobby in the U.S.A? Yes I do, his call to non-violence and its evidence on the cross is clear there.

Do I believe that Jesus would have welcomed the stranger and the refugee? Yes I do, his affirmation of the marginalised and the excluded, his words about finding him in the prisoner and the outcast make that clear, as do Old Testament instructions regarding the treatment of foreigners and refugees, and against the exploitation of them.

Do I believe that Jesus would have welcomed members of the LGBTQIA+ community without demanding that they change the essence of who they are, which is far more than anything about sexual desire, but of course also includes that! Do I have evidence from the gospel that he did so, well no, but neither is there evidence to the contrary. The texts so often weaponised against LGBTQIA+ people are often misinterpreted and taken out of context, while other commands that surround them are ignored. This video is well worth watching, showing that the word homosexual was not included in the Bible until 1946!

So, I disagree with Franklin Graham and his supporters, I read the Bible differently from him and his followers, and any others who read Scripture in the same way that he does. I am a Christian and I disagree with him! We are both a part of the body of Christ, I would like to deny that, but I cannot deny it, there will be those I disagree with vehemently, and those I disagree with from time to time, sadly Graham falls in the former group for me, and I suspect I do for him. I lament the brokenness of the body of Christ as much as I lament the brokenness in my family, but I refuse to cover it up and be silent, and while I am not going to air the whole of my family story in public (we will work through it), I will speak up against what I hear as hate speech, I would also enter into open and honest, respectful debate, something we in the Methodist Church have attempted over the last few years ( though it began many decades before), but to say we have come to complete agreement and do not bear the scars of the process would be wrong!

So what is the way forward, I truly do not know, I pray for love and unity in the church, the church I am sure that the Spirit groans within and Jesus weeps over just as he wept over Jerusalem. I pray for the glorious diversity in which God’s creation is shown to be celebrated by all, and that includes the diversity of humankind, with our differing skin tones, eye patterns, finger prints, heights, loves, passions, values, spiritualities, genders and sexualities. I hold out the hope of Revelation 21, that one day there will be no more sickness, sighing or pain, but I don’t expect the perfection of the new creation will be anything but wonderfully and gloriously diverse. I will pray for love, justice, mercy and healing, and if that means writing a blog, or lifting a placard to tell those who have been excluded that, they are in fact included then I will continue to do so!

As the wonderful prayer in the Wee Worship Book ( Iona ) says:

…. on our own we could never discover that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither male nor female.

ALL ARE ONE IN CHRIST, AND FOR THIS WE PRAISE YOU!

All are one in Christ, perhaps that is the most challenging part of all!

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Easter 6- Wednesday- Uvalde, and other perplexing things… where is God in this?

Life is strange sometimes, very strange, as I went to bed last night I was processing two pieces of news, the first being the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the other the illness of a close family member, these two made for a sleepless night, partly broken by the rising of memories mixed with self-doubt and all those things that seem much bigger and nastier at 2am!

Uvalde, goodness what to say, the Robb Elementary School becomes the latest in what is now a long list of shootings in schools in the U.S.A., and the second mass shooting in ten days, the other being in a grocery store in New York. There have already been twenty seven school shootings this year alone. Young school children routinely rehearse what to do if a gunman enters their classroom! It is hard to imagine the stress levels that young children and their teachers must endure with the constant low level anxiety that a shooting might be possible without warning at any time! The BBC reports:

Politicians recognise this a problem almost unique to America, where guns have overtaken car crashes as the leading cause of death for children and teenagers. But it’s a problem that politics seem incapable of solving. Deeply entrenched views on gun control are not changed in response to events like the tragedy in Uvalde.

“Why do we keep letting this happen?” asked President Biden. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage?”

But there is no sign that Democrats will get any closer to passing tighter gun control legislation. Some Republicans are already accusing them of using this latest school shooting to cynically further their own political objectives.

Once again there are calls for gun control, and once again the right to bear arms is being defended, I must admit that the latter leaves me scratching my head, there have even been calls to equip teachers with guns so they can protect their classes! The opposing voices are quite simply polarised:

Speaking on the floor of the US Senate in Washington DC on Tuesday, Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy begged his colleagues to pass gun control legislation.

“These kids weren’t unlucky,” he said. “This only happens in this country. Nowhere else, nowhere else do little kids go to school thinking that they might be shot that day.”

But Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, rejected the calls for gun control. He said restricting the rights of “law-abiding citizens… doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime.”

I am processing how I feel about all of this, my two youngest children went to Elementary School in Texas, the older ones to Junior High and High School, and while it was a long time ago it brings it close, though I recognise that many things about the culture of Texas bemused me, the land of the free didn’t seem very free at all, fear governed the lives of many, sexism and racism were always just below the surface, and I remember being laughed at when I spoke against the death penalty. Maybe as a foreigner, divided by a common language, I have no right to make comment, but I know my neighbours all had guns, and that one particular incident brought that home when a neighbour accosted ( and that is putting it mildly) my eldest son, and rather than apologising, he said we should think ourselves lucky because if he’d been sober he’d have reached for his gun and shot him! At the time we were too shocked to report him to the Police, though I suspect his right to defend his property may have won out!

That said from here I can only watch and pray, which feels useless, and yet I know that prayer is not a mere sentiment, but a heart-cry for justice, and a deep lament that yet more lives have been lost. The statistics surrounding guns in America as opposed to the rest of the world are sobering, and the demonising of the shooters, so often young and troubled, is yet again a part of the defence, the lack of recognition that the U.S.A. is addicted to guns, which creates a cycle of fear seems only to perpetuate itself! It must be noted that White Fragility has a big part to play in this debate!

This news is being taken in against a background of the continuing war in Ukraine, but not only Ukraine, in Palestine, and Syria, people are living amongst the ruins of years of warfare. In Afghanistan the Taliban are exerting an ever more oppressive regime for women and girls, the world is scrabbling for oil, while here and elsewhere the cost of living is spiralling, and the behaviour of politicians including our Prime Minister beggars belief, as they partied while the country was in lockdown!

Here in Sheffield many are heading out to protest the presence of Franklin Graham, who brings his Festival of Hate ( he calls it hope) to Sheffield Arena, I have chosen to lead online prayers and to preach love instead.

So where is God in this? I hope we find Them in the grief filled cries of the parents of Uvalde, and any who mourn with them, in the ware torn countries walking among the devastated, the weary and the wounded, in the oppressed minorities, be that because of gender, race, sexuality, poverty , mental health, disability,… the list could go on and on. I hope we find Them in the calls for justice, the outspoken activist, and in the quiet of the intercessors prayer cell, in the raging and the weeping and the disbelief which seems overwhelming when we dare to turn on the news and look it full in the face.

I hope, that because God is God, that They can draw close to every overwhelmed person, be present in every shattered community, and walk with them bearing the weight of the yoke they bear, and leading them from trauma into the unforced rhythms of grace, for many that will be a long road.

I hope because God is God, that They will stir up the complacent, and breathe life into the stagnant, and blow the wind of the Spirit through all of our foibles and fears. That They will support the activist, and bring to earth a peace that only They can bring. But, I am also aware that we are called to walk with Them, to be salt and light, bringing out the God colours and God flavours in this troubled world, to act where we can, to look for signs of the heavenly kingdom breaking through, to see where They (God) are working and to join in.

I know I cannot be passive in this, but I also need to know how, when and where to act, so I look to the still place withing, where Christ speaks peace over my jumbled thoughts and feelings, and wait for the call, follow me!

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Easter 6- Tuesday- Wesley Day- on experience of the divine…

I can see some folk scratching their heads and asking, “what on earth is Wesley Day?”, others, many of them my Methodist friends are sharing the well known story of John Wesley’s conversion where he recorded this in his journal:

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

He and his brother Charles were deeply dissatisfied with their spiritual state, and in May 1738, they both experienced a deep spiritual conversion in which they knew and felt the love of God. Charles wrote of his experience ( which had taken place three days earlier) in a hymn, he was a prolific hymn writer:

Where shall my wondering soul begin
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire,
How shall I equal triumphs raise,
Or sing my great Deliverer’s praise?

Charles went on to write over 6,000 hymns, while John used his organising genius to turn a spontaneous movement into structured body which became the origin of today’s world-wide Methodist Church.  The name Methodists was originally almost an insult, but it stuck, I’ve often wondered what we might look like as a church if one of the other nicknames had stuck, imagine being a member of the Enthusiastic Church! You can read more about Methodism and it’s history here.

Over the years the church has grown, split, come together and diminished in size, a question I often hear is “what would John Wesley think?”, I am not going to offer any suggestions as to what Wesley might think, but I do know he was a man of his time, as was Charles whose hymns were often set to popular tunes that would be known by “ordinary people”. John took his message outside the churches and had a passion for social justice, he wanted to see the burdens lifted from the poor. So maybe, just maybe his work wouldn’t look that much different in some senses though I suspect he would make good use of technology and challenge his church to be outward focused.

So, history lesson over, as I sit writing I am watching the wind sweeping through the trees, and pondering that the Holy Spirit is often depicted by the symbols of wind and fire, the wind blowing where it will, an unstoppable force. Given the Wesley’s hunger for spiritual reality and depth, I am not surprised she blew in their direction, nor that John’s heart was strangely warmed. The place of experience is firmly embedded in Methodist Theology, Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience make up the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The assurance of the free grace of God was the experience of the early Methodists, which the Wesley’s set in the Christian tradition of ‘arminianism’, emphasising within human freewill the need for holy living as an outcome of faith leading towards ‘Christian perfection’.

In all of this human experience of the divine action holds an important place, I have certainly experienced many touches from the divine, both large and small, being caught in wonder at the beauty of a sunset, or a mountain top view, to the intricacies of the details of a flower, to experiences in worship, in discussion, or the way something suddenly makes sense, to seeing a healing take place, and people’s lives change. I wonder what my life would look like without faith, and while I was an adult convert, I really can’t imagine it now.

Experience is important, but what happens when all of that feels absent? When there is no sense of the divine presence, when prayers feel dry and the heart feels numb, and when no amount of reading, praying or seeking makes a difference. These desert experiences are well documented, and are certainly not uncommon, Mother Theresa wrote many letters to her spiritual confidant detailing her doubts and feeling of alienation from God, yet still pressed on in her calling, if I am honest I wonder how she did it, choosing to see God in the need that surrounded her, to see the suffering face of Christ in those she ministered to all the time feeling empty inside.

If I am honest much of the time at the moment I feel empty and dry, I know that is partly down to the fact that I am suffering from depression, and that life has once again taken an unexpected turn, but previous bouts of depression have caused my faith to deepen and to grow, and while I am aware that the divine energies don’t always come with feeling attached, the emptiness, or dullness I now sense is particularly challenging. Yet I choose to press on, to pray, to read to hope, to take time to look and seek, and to revel in the glimpses and whispers that are there. Do I need to experience God in presence only, perhaps absence, or perceived absence is just as powerful and necessary. While I long for a heart that is strangely warmed do I find God in the longing, when I write in my journal, “what do I believe?” or “what does it mean to believe?” do I find God in the questions? What is stirring these longings and questions within me? I have only one answer. Lord I believe, come help me in my unbelief, stir me to life again I pray.

Blackpool sunset, image mine
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Easter 5- Saturday- better?

I received a message yesterday, it said this, well I see you smiling and leading prayers online, so you must be better! Better, well I haven’t had a cold, that is now over, I have had a long period of mental turmoil and ill health that has been a real struggle, and leading prayers are a part of my recovery. So I might be smiling on screen, and I may make jokes, but smiles and jokes are often used to deflect pain and honesty. Think of Robin Williams, who took his own life, he was known to struggle with depression. So, am I better, no, but I am beginning to recover….

Some days, and this is one of them I only need to look around the kitchen to be overwhelmed by the fact that the dishwasher needs, emptying, and the freezer needs defrosting, and then the living room where carpets need vacuuming, that may well be why I hide in my study, blogging. Procrastination is an art form I can excel at!

I have defrosted the freezer, the rest can wait.

A conversation with someone last week about returning to work, when I have so little time left here in Sheffield centered on whether I feel I have let people down, I do, and whether they feel I have let them down, I am sure some do, but dwelling on that won’t help me. I can only offer what I have to offer, and slipping on a mask and smiling and making jokes can only be done for so long, I said as much in my prayers yesterday, admitting that I was covering stuff up….

I swing between feeling energised, going out for walks etc, to being stuck, which is basically where I am now, getting out for a walk feels too big, even though I could just pop my boots on and walk the footway behind my house, tomorrow may well be a different story, who knows.

So I reflect that I am better than I was, but I am not back to normal, whatever that might be, no magic switch has been flipped, If I had a bad break in a leg or arm physiotherapy would be needed to get it working again, maybe I need physio for my mind, and maybe that could include walking, some might say should. But, I have been sleeping well, and eating well, and getting out in the garden. Who knows, I might go down stairs and empty the dishwasher, better get dressed first!

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Easter 5- Saturday- on being a disciple…

My posts earlier this week were mostly about inclusion, and my objection to the message of Franklin Graham whose message excludes many of my friends, and excludes me! He believes that Conversion Therapy is a good thing, and were I to respond to his message I would most likely be told to undergo it, or to find myself once again on the outside. It’s okay, I don’t want to be on the side of hate and exclusion, so I am not going to respond to his very narrow message, even if he does talk of God and Jesus, even if he does point to the life changing power of the Holy Spirit, because God for me is never a God of wrath, and never has been, no matter what might be recorded in the Old Testament ( how many wars have been fought in God’s name???), where humankind grapples with its relationship with the divine, as I said earlier this week, I prefer to think of original goodness rather than original sin!

Over the years I have changed and grown in my faith, there are things I would have believed that I no longer believed, books I would have recommended that I would rather trash then pass on, ways of living that scared me, I remember banning certain TV programmes, refusing the possibility of God being in all things, and I am not talking about dangerous, violent or explicit stuff, but children’s cartoons among some! There is of course stuff that is not good to watch, but boy can we go over the top!

I was an adult convert to faith, having long been fascinated by Scripture, and by churches, what I loved was the mystery, what I was looking for was a sense of belonging. I am not sure I can point to an exact moment of coming to faith, it sort of seeped in over time, but I can remember praying when my middle son was diagnosed with congenital heart disease, and the sense of peace that followed. I was also the type of person that wanted to get everything right, a perfectionist who wanted to excel, it is something that shows up in all areas of my life, and I have learned over the years that I need to remind myself that quite often good enough is enough!

The faith I first subscribed to was quite rigid, and probably though I hate to admit it not far from the faith of Franklin Graham, but that faith caused a tension within, as a woman I had a certain place in the hierarchy of things, that didn’t sit well, nor did many other things, and in some senses I ended up being two people, often coming back to the question do I even believe in God? When I began studying formally I soon found lots of different strands of thinking, and a spacious potential that I hadn’t known before, and I loved it, but had friends who didn’t and I have even heard some people declare free thinking, questioning and doubting to be wrong, and dangerous, and that theology has no place in the lives of true disciples. Oh yes, I have heard that said, and if you pause to ponder it it is a ridiculous.

So, I set off on a journey to find the God of grace, who I believe includes all who would be included, and not only within the confines of Christianity, but any seekers of love, and followers of the way of love, for real love sets people free. There are many false loves out there, abuses and excuses that seek to control, demanding conformity and obedience to human devised rules, and sad to say the church is often full of them, and they can be expressed in a myriad of ways. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia and more are not absent from our institutions, and sometimes they are so ingrained that we don’t even notice them. I remember making real connections with a particular family in a previous post, they came to our home for dinner, and began to come to church; I also remember being told by the treasurer of that church that we were reaching the wrong kind of people! Translate that to- they smell a bit and aren’t putting any money on the collection plate ( they didn’t have any). I also remember a friend returning to church after a long absence, to be greeted with being handed a paint brush rather than a coffee and a chat! How do we get it so wrong, maybe we are not so different to the people of God in the Old Testament who saw God in their wars and conquests!

But. despite all of my questions and doubts, I still believe in God, though I don’t try to make up rules for them, and I still try to follow the example and trajectory of the life of Jesus, who revealed God’s love and grace to the excluded over and over, Jesus was not racist, nor was he misogynistic, and I am pretty sure that he wouldn’t have been Islamophobic or homophobic either, and for those who question me, I can point to his inclusion of the dreaded Samaritans who the devout Jews would have nothing to do with, and if you want to state that he would have been homophobic and mis-quote St Paul, who was talking about promiscuity and abuse, then yes I am happy to have a conversation with you…

As I move through life I find in my faith a more spacious and gracious space, and finding that in encountering others, allows me finally to find that for myself, to say that I am my own greatest critic, would be wildly underestimating me, self-love and self-acceptance have been among the hardest things for me to come to terms with, but lack of self-love and self-acceptance cause me to block myself out, and therefore by default to block others out. I don’t want to block out others so I have to learn that the love and acceptance I preach is there for me too.

Finally, I wish I could count on my fingers the number of times I have wanted to walk away from church, and I have walked away a couple of times, but not for long, one time, when I’d arrived for the evening service, leaving my 5 children with their dad, craving peace and quiet, I was greeted at the door with ” oh good, you’re here, you can hand out the hymn books”, they were thrust into my hands and I stood there for a few minutes welcomed a few people, then put them down, and went for a walk! I needed peace not a job! The second time was in my 3rd year of training for ministry, I got up one Sunday morning, and as we were preparing for worship after breakfast, the thought I can’t do this crossed my mind, in a powerful way, so, I packed my bags, threw them into the car and drove off. About 2 miles down the road I sat and cried and was met by peace. I turned around and slipped into the back of the worship space. There have been other times too, I don’t have enough fingers to count them, but something always pulls me back, and it is not the God of wrath, nor a fear of hell ( that’s a whole other post), but the depth of love that somehow resides in the deepest place of my being, when I get to the end of myself love is there waiting and I cannot escape it. That depth of love is so often apparent in the broken confused and muddled people of God as they attempt to make the journey together. Annoying though that might be!

I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly hold no certainties, I’d like to say I have chosen this journey, but I think the journey has chosen me, and so it continues….

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Matthew 5 (The Message)

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Easter 5- Tuesday- International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

Today is the International day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, it probably needs a longer title, but then like Pride events, maybe what we need to do is look forward to a day when neither of them are needed. Sadly, for now, they are! It is marked globally on 17 May every year to draw attention to the discrimination and violence experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and all other people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics.

The date of 17 May was specifically chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization declassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, which only happened in 1990. I was in a meeting only recently where an elderly doctor explained carefully to those gathered, that we should be concerned for “them” because “they” are ill! He obviously wasn’t aware quite how out of date he was. But of course he is not alone. You can read more about the day here.

Here in the UK there are events taking place in towns and cities, some to explain to anyone interested the need for the day, others to offer social gatherings, interestingly our newspaper headlines are filled with the story of Jake Daniels, a professional footballer for Blackpool FC, choosing to come out as gay, a brave step from the 17 year old who is being supported by family, friends and the Club itself, which has a good reputation for supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. You can find his story here.

His statement that he is one of the first is correct because it is worth remembering that it is 32 years since Justin Fashanu became the first and until now only male British professional footballer to come out as gay, in his case via a salacious newspaper splash. Fashanu played on for seven years in various leagues, but he suffered terribly at the hands of his sport, his family and the wider public. After moving to the United States, in 1998 he was questioned by police when a seventeen-year-old boy accused him of sexual assault. He was charged, and a warrant for his arrest was issued for his arrest. He feared that he would not get a fair trial because he was gay, fled to the UK, where he sadly killed himself in May 1998, his suicide note stated that the sex had been consensual. He certainly wouldn’t be the first gay man to be accused wrongly, and to suffer at the hands of the media!

Sadly, despite all of the positivity there is surrounding the story of Jake Daniels, there are also nasty trolls and nay sayers, discrimination and abuse is alive and well. That needs highlighting, and much more work needs to be done before we don’t need days like today or Pride events , or organisations like the wonderful Stonewall, and so many others who campaign for equal rights and acceptance.

The church has sadly lagged behind, and while there have been changes, with Same Sex marriages now allowed by several denominations, including my own, the route to get there has often been brutal, with people telling their stories over and over again, sometimes at great cost.

So taking all of that into consideration I simply want to share a prayer:

I long for the day when, nobody has to “come out” or explain who they are to anyone, unless they wish to.

I long for the day when nobody remarks on their son bring home a boyfriend or their daughter bringing home a girlfriend,

I long for the day when nobody considers it strange when their friend, sibling, even parent, or child chooses a new name, and where transitioning is acceptable and support is accessible.

I long for the day when it is okay to be who you are and love who you love…

I long for the day when labels are no longer necessary, and being human is enough.

I long for the day when kindness, understanding and love triumph over questions, when nobody is trolled and no hate is spewed.

Maybe I am longing for heaven, but then Jesus calls us to bring about heaven on earth, to be the God colours and the God flavours.

So, I offer my longings as a prayer, and my past inability to speak out as a confession.

May the day soon come.

May that day soon come

AMEN

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Easter 5- Monday- on original goodness, inclusion and maybe a bit about Franklin Graham again!

I am sure that almost everyone is familiar with the lyrics of Do-Re-Mi from the musical The Sound of Music, here in the UK it is a Christmas staple, some love it, others avoid it, I remember seeing it on the big screen as a child, but must admit that I fall into the camp of the avoiders ( don’t judge me). That said the songs stick, and the encouragement in Do-Re-Mi, is this;

Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with – A – B – C

Go on, admit it you are singing it now aren’t you! I must admit that I am.

The very beginning, the beginning of time itself, something we can gaze into as a mystery, for surely even before the big bang, and yes I am not a 7 day creationist, sorry if that offends, though I suspect that it won’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads my posts.

The very beginning of the Bible begins with a poem, the great poem of creation, the opening words are:

In the beginning when God created….

It goes on to list the days of creation, step by step, and quickly picks up the refrain “and God saw that it was good”, culminating with the creation of humankind, this gloriously diverse expression of love and goodness is drawn to a close:

26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind[in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

27 So God created humankind in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ 29 God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Blessedness and goodness, this is how we humans, and the whole of creation is presented, right at the very beginning, even the following account of creation shows a special relationship between God, Adam and Eve, and while the story ends with a break in the relationship, and the pair being driven from the place of innocence in the garden, that goodness is still there deep within them, God’s image may have been covered ( with fig leaves) but it is not removed, for they are God-breathed. Blessed and good.

Blessed and good! We are all blessed and good, all bear the image of God within, and are all God breathed, Psalm 39 ( yes another poem) tells us that God knitted us together in our mothers wombs, each of us as unique and diverse as creation itself. Of course when we look out at our world and we see war, famine, destruction, and hatred prevailing, when poverty rubs alongside greed and unimaginable horrors are inflicted on people by other people it is hard to see that blessedness and goodness, but it is there.

All through history however we have seen how religion, and I would say all religion has created laws and rules and descriptions of sin that are used to control the masses. Wars have been fought in God’s name and even the Old Testament is full of violence. I might be easy to see in this how the doctrine of Original Sin came about. I am not going to go into a long explanation of Original Sin, you can look it up, what I want to argue for is Original Goodness, that started at the very beginning! Original Goodness celebrates our creation, and the whole of creation in all of its diversity and wonder, in Scripture both the beginning and end are held in a garden, and the end of the book of Revelation tells us that there will come a time when all will be well, no more crying, no more sickness and no more pain, no more exclusion, no more shaming!

No more shaming, I think that shame is one of the most debilitating factors that runs through all cultures, shame drove Adam and Eve into hiding, their innocence gone they hide because they are naked, vulnerable, exposed. The fear of being exposed and vulnerable can be crippling, no matter what is is that makes us feel exposed and vulnerable, and the fear is often that you will be shunned, and rejected, you will become an outcast.

Jesus had a way of including the outcast, of revealing to them the Original Goodness within them and setting them free from fear and shame, be that the woman who had been hemorraging, the woman dragged by the religious leaders and exposed as an adulterer ( yes we should ask where was the man) the man born blind and, the lepers, the list goes on! In his book Being Human, Steve Chalke says:

It is a sobering fact that the only groups that Jesus chose to seriously critique were those who included themselves yet excluded others from the always given welcome and embrace of God.

The religious community leaders of Jesus day were far from inclusive. Theirs was a culture littered with outcasts. They were accomplished at using their distorted understanding of God to underpin the repressive social hierarchy that they had created, which at one and the same time, put them at the centre of everything, and legitimised their exclusion of others.

There were so many who were considered beyond the pale, this included the disabled, people suffering from leprosy, which covered any skin diseases, foreigners, and to a large degree all women! Part of the blessings the devout Jewish man would recite each morning would include:

Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.

How shocking is that? The trouble is when you begin with a set of exclusive beliefs and begin defining who is in and who is out, then the lists can grow longer and longer. Today as we see women’s rights being challenged in the US, and totally predictable curbing of the freedom of women in Afghanistan, we can say that maybe nothing much has changed in the eyes of some.

I wrote yesterday about love, and how challenging the call to love can be, and yes I mentioned Franklin Graham, who is coming to Sheffield this month, and I haven’t changed my mind, I still don’t think he is bringing a message of hope, precisely because his message is exclusive, he demands a repentance from sins that aren’t sins at all. It is not a sin to be the fearfully and wonderfully made human being that you are no matter what your sexuality. The notion that sexuality and members of the LGBTQI+ community are all sexually promiscuous is nonsense, but definitely engrained in some psyches. I was asked once whether I was afraid of sexually transmitted diseases, it genuinely makes me laugh, but the focus of certain purity teaching on sexuality and sex itself is ridiculous, and let’s face it anyone can be promiscuous. But no, I am not interested in what other people do in bed!

So often the whole focus is either sex obsessed or other obsessed, when we fear those who are not like us our tendency is to exclude them, and only to include them if they become like us, to become like us they need to leave behind a part of who they are, thus becoming a shadow of themselves, shamed by their true identity. At this time I suspect this is particularly true for Trans people who are targets for far too much abuse, and so much ignorance!

Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we need to turn from violence, from greed, from theft, murder, from hatred in all its forms. I do believe that we all have a long path to walk before the full glory of God in us can be seen and known, and I believe that that path is best begun with coming to terms with the doctrine of original goodness. You are good, how many times might you have been told that? Recently the BBC, has produced a number of documentaries from people like Olly Alexander, who explored the shame of Growing Up Gay, and also Tan France from Queer Eye, who talked about bleaching his skin as a young man in an attempt to fit in, shame is powerful.

Nobody is sinful because of their sexuality, disability ( in whose eyes) gender, or race, nobody is superior for any of those reasons either. All are fearfully and wonderfully made and originally good. It took me years to get there, I was too tall, to fat, never fitting in, too loud and to quiet, I was asked when my third child was born with a heart condition to look into my sins to see what had caused God to allow this- seriously I was asked that, I have always gone with the sensible answer, which is genetics. It was that child whose condition drove me to prayer, and in and for whom I have seen prayer answered over and over again. He is married now and training to become a Local Preacher!

Jesus always included the outcast, the trajectory of the whole of the Gospel is inclusion, inclusion and revealing the deep love of God, we are not always good at that, but it is where we should seek to start, at the very beginning all was good!

Sunrise….
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Easter 5- Love one another- in which I might mention Franklin Graham

I have been pondering todays Gospel reading, and the focus on the call to love one another, here at the table with the eleven disciples, Judas has already left, with wine soaked bread given to him by Jesus still tasting warm in his mouth, and with freshly washed feet, he goes to seal the deal with the religious elite, for thirty pieces of silver. I don’t want to focus on Judas particularly, but will mention his deep regret that led to suicide when he realised far too late that he could not force Jesus hand, that a violent uprising was not in Jesus plan. Surely he’d have realised that after the three years of following, but no, I guess we all need to check our assumptions and blind spots, we all need to be aware of our potential misunderstandings!

So there they are, at the table, full stomachs, washed feet, probably reclining expecting to relax a bit before going to bed. Jesus though knows otherwise, he knows Peter will betray him, and that most of the others will scatter in fear for their lives, he knows that their expectations will be dashed, and he is filled with love for them. I wonder what he sees as he surveys them, perhaps a clue is given in the way he calls them “little children”:

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come… John 13:33

Little children, how did they feel about being called children, these grown men, were they disturbed, puzzled, or was it somehow comforting? Or were they more fixed on the second part of this declaration- where I am going you cannot come, though I doubt any of them ( even Peter, despite his protestations) would want to go with him to the cross and the tomb, and anyway, how on earth would that glorify God? I know my mind would have been racing now, what on earth is he talking like this for? The thinking again, this seems to have been on his mind for a while, the Son of Man will be lifted up he’d said, taking time to explain his death, but surely he can’t mean now, here in Jerusalem, not after they have celebrated together?

He did mean it of course, and went on to give them an instruction;

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34-35

Love one another, show the world that you are mine by loving one another, you who have argued on the road with one another, replace it with love, you who speak up quickly, always wanting to have the right answer, love one another, you who seek power, love one another. Love of course is the way of Jesus, the way we are called into, in choosing love we can perhaps lay our differences aside and choose a different path. Jesus could not be clearer: It is not by our theological correctness, not by our moral purity, not by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know that we are his disciples. It is quite simply by our loving acts — acts of service and sacrifice, acts that point to the love of God for the world made known in Jesus Christ.

As I write this I am aware that Franklin Graham is soon to visit Sheffield to speak in Sheffield Arena, the adverts on buses and trams state there will be live music and a message of hope! I would like to change that to live music and a message of hate. Franklin Graham, son of the well known evangelist Billy Graham, has a message, he reads the same Bible that I do, but comes from a completely different angle, it confuses me that he can read of how Jesus included the excluded and preaches a message inviting people into a relationship with God that I do not recognise, a God that I do not recognise. He is Homophobic, Islamophobic, and racist, he preaches a morality that demands conformity to a strict moral code that leaves little room for love.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that discipleship should be laisser faire, that we can live how we like regardless, because the command to love means that I need to strive to include the excluded, that I try to see the world through the lens of love that celebrates diversity and seeks to bring love to the loveless. So I will speak out against this so called message of hope, and I will seek to pray for him, which means seeking to love him, and I am not going to say love the sinner hate the sin, because that has damaged too many people too many times over the years, it has been used against people as a demand that those people should change, and not from an immoral life style, but change the core of who they are, it has certainly been used against the LGBTQI+ community on many occasions. I love you, but I don’t love what you practice, can be translated, I love you but not who you are, which makes no sense at all!

The thing is if I look on the surface of his message there is much that I can agree with, I can’t condemn the help given by Samaritan’s purse to refugees in the Ukraine, but I can’t condone the fact that LGBTQI+ people were refused treatment in the Covid hospital in New York just because of who they were. According to Graham I belong in hell, I read scripture very differently to him, and he feels he needs to warn people against preachers like me:

There’s certainly nothing very forward thinking about progressive Christianity. It actually regresses into unbiblical thinking and living, and it will put a person’s very soul in eternal jeopardy.

Evangelicals need to guard the truth of genuine Scriptural preaching and living, remaining true and bold about exactly what the Bible clearly teaches. There is no other way to be saved and secured for all eternity.

So where does love come in? And how do I seek to love, is going to protest with a placard enough? I am going to say no, I wish there could be a place of deep dialogue, and am grateful that, there are those who seek to make space for that. I am proud to be part of the Methodist Church UK, who have worked together to allow Same Sex marriages in our churches, not every church or minister will agree with this, but the choice to put the love of God first. There are members and colleagues who disagree with me, but choosing the path of love and respect, of deep prayer and conferring we have reached a place where we agree to disagree in love, where we choose as it were to wash one another’s feet. Love does not mean agreement, and even a swift read through the book of Acts will show you that there have always been disagreements in the church. The way of Christ is love, and in the way of love, I would like to say that we are all little children, learners, which is what disciples are.

Finally I offer you some links to videos from the Methodist Church:

A discussion about what the Marriage and Relationships Task force was all about

I’m ready for change

A message for LGBT History Month

There are many more of course! So, to Franklin Graham, I think I would like to say, I will seek to love you, but I cannot agree with you and not only regarding who I am, but on the way we receive and read Scripture. I suspect we won’t ever have a discussion, but if we do, then I hope love wins!

I finish with this:

“I want us all to believe in inclusive church – a church which celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate, and will continue to challenge the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality. I want us all to believe in a Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”

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