WHERE TO FROM HERE?

I HAVE COME to accept that I may never attend church again.  Given what I have been through, it is understandable.  However, this decision did not fit comfortably.  Some time ago I came across Greg Albrecht’s book Rejecting Religion – Embracing Grace[1], a book that was so timely for me.  Based on Jesus’s message about religious leaders (Matthew 23), it helped me comprehend what I was going through, particularly the way many church leaders mislead and abuse their faith communities and prevent them from knowing the reality of God’s love, joy, peace, acceptance, kindness and care.  However, Albrecht does not leave the message there.  He is keen to have readers embrace God’s grace, and in so doing have a “dynamic relationship with God”.

Rejecting Religion Embracing GraceAs I began to re-read this book, I felt guilty for not wanting to go to church and wondered how I could be a Christian, a follower of Christ, on my own in my small community.  I decided to contact  the publishers of Rejecting Religion – Embracing Grace for their comment.  I was grateful to have a response from the author, Greg Albrecht, and thought I would share this interaction with my followers.

In my first email, I wrote:

JUST OVER THREE YEARS ago I finally realised that the reason I could not find a spiritual home was not my supposed rebellion, but that I was seeing through the sham of religion. I am in a similar position as Greg, loving God – hating religion (and with very serious reasons). My query is – can I do this faith journey on my own? I am 73 years old and live alone. I have a precious, very close relationship with God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but I feel guilty for not being “in fellowship”, but the thought of church makes me physically ill (please don’t judge me for saying that, there is a very serious reason for that reaction). Greg’s book Rejecting Religion – Embracing Grace has been so helpful for me to work through the many issues that came with the realisation I had been well and truly duped by fundamental evangelicalism.

It’s been a huge journey these past three years. I would appreciate your response.

I was grateful for Greg Albrecht’s response was:

While religious traditions, buildings, rituals and ceremonies are not fundamental and We are the churchnecessary in the life of a Christ follower, loving God and loving neighbor are central products of the life of our risen Lord – products of the love he lives in us.  We are not alone because he is in us, and his life in us will spread his light into the lives of others. Others we positively effect are those most naturally in our lives – as basic and common as people we meet shopping, at doctor’s offices, commuting to and from destinations, etc. Our Christ-centered dispositions then lead us to exude his love, to be kind, gentle and patient.  While such a Spirit-led life does not guarantee deep and lasting friendships, it will produce friendship and relationship at one level or another – as simple as having a cup of coffee or tea with another.

 Your faith journey then may be shared with others informally, with or without the benefit of an organization.  One may discuss and share their faith in a variety of ways – we speak of this mutuality as fellowship.   If you never attend or join a church again, you still might find, share and give such fellowship through joining and serving in and with a charitable group, volunteer work to help others …  does this provide a few thoughts for your consideration?

 And to this I replied:

Thank you so much for your response to my email.  Your words certainly make sense and resonate with this journey I am on.

While living alone, I must add that I live in what is called here an “over-50s active lifestyle resort”, a community of about 200 people within a small semi-rural community south of Brisbane.  Since moving here about 20 months ago I have sought out residents who claim to be “Christian”.  What an interesting exercise!  None of them want to move from their particular brand so each one remains separate.  Given your comments on how I can live for God and be an expression of God’s love for and acceptance of all people, I understand now why I can relate so well to each of them, regardless of their brand, as well as those who have no desire for God.  I relate as a follower of Jesus.  Here in my community I also have the privilege of being the editor of our monthly newsletter; through that I have been sharing something of God’s love and joy as much as appropriately possible for our diverse people.  The response has been quite positive and it has been encouraging to have meaningful conversations with many people about the tough times they are going through and their understanding of God.

As part of my “coming out” from fundamental evangelicalism, I have become much more relaxed talking with those who give little thought to God – the wretched sinners we had to avoid like the plague unless we planned to convert them to Jesus –  something my church would frown upon.  But those people are far more accepting of me, and respectful, than those I tried so hard to connect with in churches.  And they are open in their conversations with me.  It’s as though God has been working with Jesus friend of allme in ways I had not known, but in keeping with his promises that he knows what he is doing with me.  After chatting the other night with a few people from the bowls club, I was a little concerned about mixing with those so far removed from church.  And then God reminded me that that was exactly what Jesus did, and he was accused of being a glutton and drunkard, friend of sinners (Matthew 11:18, 19), and he went on doing just what he was doing.  My question has always been, “How on earth can those who need to know Jesus – all of us, in and out of the church – come to know Jesus if we’re afraid to talk about him?

I have been going through massive changes these past three years, particularly this past year as I’ve come to embrace what God is doing in, with and through me, and not fighting it.  It is an exciting phase of my journey; I have made mistakes, but God and I are doing okay.

Once again, thank you for your response.  I appreciate your understanding of what I have been experiencing.

Sometimes all it takes is for one person who understands the journey we are on to make an enormous difference to how we live it out.  Greg’s words resonated so much with me and have shown me that I am on the right track—very different from what had held me captive for decades—but so very right, at long, long last.  Our God is great, so very great!  And awesome, and incredibly wonderful!

[1] Greg Albrecht, Rejecting Religion – Embracing Grace.  Pasadena: Plain Truth Ministries, 2010

HAPPY CHRISTMAS?

CHRISTMAS IS MEANT to be a time of joy and goodwill to all people, a time to pause and reflect upon the birth of Christ, God’s gift of love to His world.

However, for many people Christmas is one of the saddest times of the year, for a variety of reasons. The estrangement from children, death of a loved one, Sad ladydivorce, family issues, significant health concerns and a host of personal challenges seem to make a mockery of what should be a happy occasion.

Somehow the joyfulness of the Christmas Season, the cheerful carols, happy shoppers and plans for another memorable day, intensifies the pain that many people are struggling with, much of which is often hidden behind a mask of bravery, cheerfulness, kindness and concern for others.

Snoop Christmas hugWhether we acknowledge the reality of God or not, we can all share something of His love, joy and peace with those around us. A simple smile, perhaps a hug, words of kindness and concern, may be all that is needed to brighten a person’s day and make their Christmas a little more bearable.

Whatever your circumstances this year, I pray that you will know God’s special touch upon you and your family at Christmas and throughout the coming year.Christmas

SHATTERED! SHALOM

I AM THE mistress of procrastination, finding a thousand things to do to keep me from my writing.  I know what I have to say is vitally important; I have no doubt about that, even though it is a difficult subject to confront.  Nonetheless I have wasted hours and hours in pathetic procrastination.

After what had been a hellish life of abuse and trauma as a child and teenager, and trying to cope in a loveless marriage, I believed I was through all my challenges and was happily enjoying life in my second stint as a social worker in Outback Queensland.  That was until my mind was bombarded with frightening images of my being sexual abused by a supposedly Christian psychiatrist, the then head of a Queensland evangelical denomination.  I was absolutely shattered by what I saw.  It has taken me three years to deal with the repercussions of that abuse: and it is those experiences that I want to capture in a brief memoir.

It is important for me to document this journey, for several reasons.  Firstly, as difficult as it will be for my children to read it, they do need to know the truth of what I have been through, why I struggled to be the perfect mother they believed I should have been, and why I failed.  Secondly, people in the church and broader community must understand the destructive consequences those who have been abused by church leaders need to address—and why many are unable to do so.  Thirdly, I want church people to know that it was not just Catholic priests or Anglican ministers who abused their parishioners; such abuse has also occurred in evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic churches.  Those churches are just as guilty as those they have chosen to condemn.  All churches, regardless of denominational bias, must address this sickening issue that still taints communities today.

I have taken this project very slowly, particularly when I was covering the early weeks, months when those dreadful memories barged into awareness.  One small step at a time was all I could manage.

But now I am through the tough spots and I’m ready to write of the changes I have experienced, particularly in the two most powerful areas of life: spirituality and sexuality.  It is so precious to feel complete in myself, comfortable with who I am, and to realise that just by being me is enough.  I can at last speak my truth from the position of wholeness.

Why am I procrastinating at this point?  Perhaps because I have a bit of work to do to capture the unfolding of these final weeks of the healing process, and I’d rather just glory in the moment of how great it feels, in a sense, to have arrived.  I also want to relate the reality of my God and the journey we have both been on over these past three years.  Not only was he with me right the way through, especially when I railed against him and tried to turn my back on him, and understood the torment I went through as I dealt with this hell, but he also knew the joy I would experience when I finally came to this place of completion, contentment.  The Hebrew word Shalom means much more than peace, it also means wholeness, integration, goodwill—among other things.

Shalom.  That’s what I have found.  What a precious gift for this time of the year!

backlit balance beach cloud

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS

THREE YEARS AGO, at the age of 70, my life was shattered by the eruption of well impacted memories of atrocious sexual abuse by a church leader.  The man was also a Christian psychiatrist who used his power to force me to stay in my loveless marriage and remain the good, submissive Christian wife he decided I should be.

Shattered glassThere are no words to describe the torment that took over my life as I tried to make sense of the enormous damage that man had done to me, and the dreadful consequences for me and my kids; no words to describe the terror of trying to regain control of my life when everything had been torn from me—my faith in God, as flawed as I now know it to be, my sense of self, the injustice that my daughters had dumped on me while supporting their father when he eventually told me our marriage was over.  I was utterly devastated.  I felt cheated by God and completely betrayed by the Church.

When the full force of those memories slammed into me I was devastated and so angry, furious with God for allowing that man to do what he did, in effect robbing me of any choice to get out of that sham marriage and find happiness elsewhere, and anger that he allowed those memories to come at all, at my age.  Hadn’t I been through enough without this?  Couldn’t he leave me in peace for the remaining years of my life?  He could have, but he didn’t.  And now that I have moved through this agonisingly painful, confusing and heart-breaking healing journey I am once again grateful that he did not leave me alone.  Rather, he loved me enough—and believed in me enough—to take me through yet another incredible phase in my life that has brought with it deep healing and an even greater measure of wholeness.

The full story of this part of my life will be told in another format.  However, where I am right now could be summed up in two words “complete” and “liberated”.

Yesterday, after feeling so complete after the final work of healing, I heard again Don Moen’s song At the Foot of the Crosswhere grace and suffering meet…At the foot of the cross where I am made complete.     https://youtu.be/Z_e9Mzuk-RU

This morning I woke feeling liberated; by chance today’s Bible verse was Galatians 5:1

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

 This morning, sitting at the foot of the cross pondering upon all I have been through, I am truly amazed at the awesomeness of my God, all he means to me and all he has done for me.  I am grateful that he cares enough for his kids that he wants the best for each one of us and has promised never to leave or forsake us on the journeys he takes us on.

Foot of the cross

Sunday, 23rd September 2018

 

FRESH INSIGHTS

The Shack bookGOD HAS BEEN showing me precious truths about who he is. Through the movie The Shack I learned that his concept of vengeance differs so much from mine. Just as he chastises me for my misdeeds with love and grace, so he deals with all people fairly and appropriately. Vengeance is his, and I can leave the way he deals with others in his hands. That is none of my business.

From J.B. Phillips’ book Your God is Too Small I learned of the need to have a focussed view of God, as presented through the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ—his life, teachings, suffering, death and resurrection. Otherwise, for us mere mortals, we would each hold a very distorted, wishy washy image of the awesomeness of who God really is and how, in his majestic wonder and power, he could possibly care for each one of us intimately and individually.Almighty God

From Come Sunday, the movie about Oral Roberts’ disciple Bishop Carlton Pearson and his revelation of God’s deep, profound, all-embracing love for all people—regardless of race, colour or creed—and the falseness of the bigoted teaching that God only loves those who have accepted Jesus as Saviour and the rest were going to hell, I learned more of just how distorted my understanding of God’s love was.

And from Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward, in which he demonstrates how the first half of life is about forming the container of who we are, the second of focussing on what needs to be in there to be an expression of the True Self we were born to be.

This has been a lot to take in, but what a privilege to have the time to reflect upon this and particularly to have the Holy Spirit as my Teacher and Guide, so patient and so willing to reveal his truths to me.

Oh how I love Jesus—in this journey called life, he takes my breath away!

Worship the KingReferences:

Wm Paul Young, The Shack. Newbury Park, California: Windblown Media, 2007.
J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small. New York: Macmillan, 1953.
Come Sunday, Netflix, 2018.
Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

IS YOUR GOD TOO SMALL?

JUST AS I began reassessing my understanding of God that had largely been formed from pulpits of fundamental evangelical preachers, I was reminded of J.B. Phillips’ book, Your God Is Too Small[1].  Written in the early 1950s, Your God Is Too Small has as its premise that most people’s understanding of God is far too inadequate to cope with the challenges of the 20th Century. Phillips describes different perceptions people have of God—unreal gods—that fail miserably in the midst of life’s trials:

• Resident policeman
• Parental hangover
• Grand old man
• Meek-and-mild
• Absolute perfection
• Heavenly bosom
• God-in-a-box
• Managing director
• Second-hand God
• Perennial grievance
• Pale Galilean
• Projected image

Christ's handPhillips then goes on to demonstrate the rationale of how and why God chose to show himself to humanity, in the form of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The enormity of Almighty God is beyond comprehension for mere mortals who, since the beginning of time, have sought to know him, the Creator of this vast universe. By having his Son come to earth in the form of man, live alongside humans in a way that reflected his character being worked out in relationships, through his teachings, resultant abuse, suffering and execution on a cross, enabled people to have a focussed understanding of what had otherwise been indefinable.

Had the story ended with the crucifixion, Jesus would have faded into history. However, to complete the revelation of his uniqueness, Christ rose from the dead, overcoming the powers of death and darkness. There is significant historical proof of the resurrection, including not just that his grave stone had been rolled away, but that after his death he had been seen alive, in bodily form, by hundreds of witnesses. Anticipating that those who would follow him, mere men and women, would fail miserably on their own, God provided the Holy Spirit to continue his mission of redemption in the world.

Phillips captures the essence of Christianity, not shying away from the question ofJesus..prophet suffering, and giving the argument for and against following Christ, and the failure of the Church to present him in all his glorious, life-changing reality.

Your God Is Too Small is a timely book for the 21st Century, particularly with church attendance being seen as irrelevant leaving many people floundering in their faith and grasping for meaningful direction and purpose. A great read.

[1] Phillips, J.B., Your God Is Too Small.  New York: Macmillan, © 1953.

UN-BOXED!

A FRIEND recently commented that religion puts people in boxes, and I had to agree. Not only does organised religion, particularly Christianity, herd people into their particular corral, but within their specific congregation individuals end up being in separate, personal boxes in which they have to work out their own understanding of God as best they can. To question becomes fraught with fear, to challenge invites ostracism and being labelled a heretic.

BoxedMost people who have been in churches for decades are oblivious to this. Their particular ritualistic worship—whatever brand of faith community they are in—has become so ingrained in them that it blinds them to even the possibility that there are other ways of experiencing God and the wonder of who he is. They crouch inside their little boxes within the bigger box of their denomination in the confines of a very narrow, restrictive comprehension of God.

However, more and more people are breaking out of the bigoted barriers of their little boxes that have stopped them from seeing God in all his awesomeness, majesty and power, and with his unlimited love, joy and peace, infinite grace and mercy.

It can be quite scary being flung from one’s religious restraints into the vast expansiveness of God’s creation with a smorgasbord of options on how to know and experience God spread out before us. When once we were very sure of our faith, convinced it was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we are left flailing to pick up the pieces and begin the task of rebuilding a much broader and less flawed–though still far from perfect–understanding of who God is, what he means to us and how we can relate this fresh awareness to our daily lives and to those around us.

Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward[1], addresses life’s tasks that need to be undertaken for us to become spiritually mature and authentic.  We devote the first half of life to building our identity; in the second, we need to sort through what we have gathered and work through what has prevented us from becoming truly authentic—a time of “falling down” that ultimately leads to one “falling upward”.  The richness of the teachings in Falling Upward are so pertinent for those of us who have emerged from our bigoted blindness into the panoramic splendour of God’s radiant, all-inclusive, glorious light.

It is not easy becoming un-boxed…but it sure beats being alone in the dark.  It is as the Apostle Paul wrote:  “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, King James Version).
Unboxed

[1] Rohr, Richard.  Falling Upward: a spirituality for the two halves of life.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.