Who is the cleverest person in the room?

These last few weeks I’ve found myself thinking more and more around the subjects of theology, leadership and Jesus. Why, you may ask? For the simple reason that I think we’ve got it wrong. Now that probably sounds pretty arrogant, so before you shout me down, let me try and explain what I mean.

At the age of 12 Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem, and instead of returning with his family group, was found by his parents talking to the teachers there. All who heard him were amazed by his wisdom and understanding.

Why then, if Jesus was able to hold his own at 12 among such learned people, those who made the study of scripture and its interpretations their life work, why when he started his adult ministry did he not return to debate with his peers? He was clearly on their level at 12, so why not go back and study more with these people who had made such study their life work?

Today, if you want to be a minister or leader in a church then you are expected to study theology or biblical studies, or any combination of those and other subject related to leading a church. It’s understandable after all, that the people you are expected to lead, should have confidence in their vicar, priest or minister, even those who are non ordained, have knowledge of what the Bible means. Such learning can take you all the way to doctoral level. Such subjects can be fascinating and the ability of the student to show their grasp of quite complex theological arguments is to be applauded.

Our Church leadership, archbishops, bishops, deans, priests, curates, deacons, ministers etc, all undertake such study. They are taught to choose their words carefully. To be prepared to defend their arguments. How to quote the great teachers of the past as well as the present. To weigh up their words before they speak or write so that there can be no misunderstanding. They use the correct language to show their grasp of the subject, paring it down into quite carefully thought out presentations that their fellow academics can understand.

Therein lies the problem. Therein lies the issue that I need to discuss, which is, that while the language of academics is necessary, it is available and understood by a small group of people for whom the joy of such discourse is like a drug, dare I say. They simply can’t get enough of it and keep searching for more and more of it. There is a desire to gain more knowledge, to open themselves up to more fields of expertise, all the while becoming unknowingly to them, even more distant from those who they are called to serve.

Let’s go back to the question of why didn’t Jesus spend his time as an adult, studying and teaching amongst his fellow teachers in the temple? After all he is the Son of God, if anyone should be teaching there, it should be him surely? Yet he doesn’t. Instead he chooses to teach amongst the poor, the sick, the outcast, even amongst those called Gentiles, people outside the Jewish faith into which he’d been born and raised. He chose to use everyday language and examples from these peoples lives in order to teach them. He wasn’t teaching them theology. Most of them would have been able to read scripture anyway, as they went to school with the local rabbi, or teacher as children. Instead he was teaching them about love. God’s love for them.

Jesus, in answer to a question said the greatest commandment or rule that a person could live by was this: Love God and out of that love, love your neighbour as much as you love yourself.

It’s that simple. If we learn to love God as much as he loves us, then we will learn to love ourselves because we will understand what it is to be loved. Once we know that, then we can love everyone else as God loves them. Oh sure, we won’t always agree with each other. We may even fight each other, just as siblings do. There’s that saying isn’t there, you can choose your friends but not your family. Yet when we let love wash over us, even when we disagree with someone else’s viewpoint, yet we become willing to feed, clothe, house, visit, and accept those who hold different views and values to us. It’s not easy by a long chalk, which is why we are given the help of God’s spirit to sustain us, and when all else fails, and we’ve hit rock bottom and feel we can never ever love that person, to give us a top up and oil change so we can go that extra mile.

It’s interesting that despite all Jesus knew about the teachers of his time, and all his own knowledge, it was these very people who were his most ardent enemies. Jesus was willing and able to bring down the temple upon which these people based their very status upon and instead brought to the forefront those for whom these teachers had nothing but contempt. The beggars, the refugees, the prostitutes, thieves, liars, even those who helped out their overlords, the Roman empire. With their help the message of love, what is called the gospel message spread around the known world at the hands of these often uneducated people.

We need to stop thinking that only those who are educated to be “our leaders” can form churches. Church is not meant to be a building with a highly educated leader, it is meant to be a community of people who express love through acts of love and compassion irrespective of who the other person is. It is not about whether that person fits a rigid set of requirements. It’s not about whether they are straight or gay, male, female, trans or binary, able or disabled, black, white or Asian. What is important is, do you love God? If you do, then love these people in the same way God does and stop splitting academic hairs over it. Get on your knees and get your hands dirty just as Jesus did.

Let’s do God’s love in the same way he did, by healing the sick, binding up the broken hearted and stop, just stop this desire to be the cleverest person in the room, coz you know what? You are no more that the pharisees and the sadduces of Jesus’s time.

Being a parent at any cost

There are times as a parent when all I want to do is find a hill, or a field and stand there and scream. I now know why, when you are expecting a child and the midwife gives you a parenting class, there is no mention of what is to come, just a talk around the birth, and how wonderful it will be. If we could see into our future life with our beautiful baby, how many of us would be asking to put the baby back!

My sister once told me that one of my children had never grown out of the terrible twos! Unfortunately she missed one. There is currently a sense of deja vu about our life as we live through for a second time an extremely painful experience.

When you look back at events in your life after you’ve had time to process what happened, you get some perspective. You realise that maybe you didn’t handle things very well and you wonder if you would have the patience and the nerve to say things that you didn’t say then. Well it looks like we will get that chance.

I find conflict the most difficult thing to deal with. Due to my autism and my adhd, processing what someone is saying, especially when I feel challenged is hard. I end up getting angry and defensive. I find it hard to breathe as my chest gets tight and any calmness goes out the window and my mind struggles to process what is being said. It’s like a physical attack but verbally and I have no idea how to defend myself. My words trip over themselves and I loose any ability to express coherently my response.

These last few weeks have been tougher than most as I struggle to process the loss of a loved one, and the realisation that two of my children are determined to live their lives their way. Don’t get me wrong, as a parent I’m well aware that my role as a parent is to try and equip my children so that they are ready to go out into the world and live their lives. It’s funny how our dreams of this event in live can be heavily influenced by books, magazines and television. I remember reading how these people helped their child to pack up their things and head off into the big wide world having had loving hugs, kisses and tears. The parent (usually the mum) who is left behind in a suddenly empty house wonders how they will cope in the quietness.

Is that how it really is?

My experience so far has been probably very similar to my own mum’s when I left home. As I have got older I have found that I can no longer tolerate noise. Ironic really as my hearing is failing the older I get. I struggle more and more to hear the TV, which is not helped by the subtitles being to small that I can’t see them with my verifocals. Oh the joys of getting old!

I see so much of myself in my hildren, and finally see how patient my mum was with me. Despite all the conflict she never raised her voice to me, even when I was screaming at her. Reminiscing with my sister today we agreed she was a Saint. Both of us find ourselves saying sorry to her in our heads despite the fact she has been gone many years now.

Processing grief, as well as stepping out on your own into the big wide world is daunting at any age. I think though that when that person has additional needs to deal with, that it’s a lot harder. The last thing you want to do is crawl home to your parents and admit you got it wrong. It adds to the frustration of trying to find your own path through life to realise that maybe, just maybe mum and dad (if both are there) might have known what they were talking about.

Several times I found myself returning to my mums home, not because I wanted to, but because I had nowhere else to go. Jobs fell through and so did my place to live. Living back at home just frustrated me. I felt by going home that I was only half an adult, yet even when I took my frustration out on my mum, she remained calm. How on earth did she do it? Me? I’m like a volcano, constantly erupting in response. I frequently have to leave the room so I don’t loose my rag and say something I will later regret. How my husband stays calm as well, I don’t know. I think there must be a calm gene, that I missed out on in my rush to be an adult. Anyway, I digress. I wanted to say that I managed to stay calm during a recent disagreement with someone I don’t know. I understood that they were trying to help, however, having only one side of an argument can mean you don’t have the full facts. Even though my initial response was to react as I have done in the past, there was just enough space for me to draw a deep breathe and for once handle it maturely. Whether I’m able to do a repeat performance is still to be seen.

Why have I shared this? It is only recently that I have begun to understand how our actions are influenced by things that we have no control over. I had no control over the coming together of my parents, whose genetic makeup gave me both autism and adhd, neither did my children. My parents didn’t know they were autistic. Neither did I until recently. Despite trying my hardest to raise our children there is no handbook that can instruct you in what to do. All you can do is your best. You muddle through and hope that the lessons you’ve shared, and the experience you’ve used us enough to equip your children to do their own thing.

At the end of the day it is love that wins out. We can only keep reminding our children that despite getting things wrong, the one thing that remains solid like a thread is our love for them. Hopefully as they get older and wiser, they will forgive the mistakes and feel able to return home whenever they need to.

3 AM musings

I can’t sleep. I want to but every time I try either the pain stops me or my brain spins. I won’t mention the numerous loo trips as well. 😉 It’s just one of those nights when I am left with only one option, which is to get up and retreat back downstairs, get a drink and contemplate one of 3 actions. Read a book, watch a TV recording, or blog. At the moment the latter is winning but it’s early in the night so who knows, I may change my mind.

The other night I wrote about how church leadership was staying silent on issues that really matter. A friend mentioned to me that on a local level, the church leadership was speaking out on a number of important issues, so let me clarify what I meant. I am talking about church leaders on national level speaking out. Not in that boring, pompous way we’ve gotten so used to over the years, to a point where we switch off. I’m talking about speaking up with passion! The passion that involves turning over tables and throwing the money across the floor, passion. Why? Because without passion we are just a background noise that gets tuned out.

I want to hear passionate calls for the homeless, the poor, the hungry, those who are disabled, the sick and dying. I want to hear screaming from those who have been appointed to lead by the very people they serve, instead over arguments over theology, most of which isn’t understood except by a few, and increasingly shows a widening gap between what really concerns the average person in the streets, and those who sit in their ivory towers counting their money and deciding that instead of helping those in need with practical solutions, they will create yet more churches, this time in people’s houses.

I want to see church leaders putting robust safeguards in place to stop abuse of children, adults and those who are most vulnerable in our society.

I want church leaders to appoint and listen, to those who have disabilities about what it means to them to be a part of an inclusive community, not to those with x amount of degrees and no experience of what it is like to be constantly ignored and rejected by church leaders.

I want to see the church be trend setters not trend followers. To be those that put Jesus’s words and actions into continued practical and loving action today. We should not be running behind, desperately trying to grab hold of the baton in a race, instead we should be in front, constantly winning the race that shows, love, compassion, equality and leadership to all, most especially to those who put themselves forward as leaders in local and national government. How can we possibly call them to account when we ourselves are so divorced from Jesus’s example?

Yes, we have a lot to say sorry for. As a church we have given a dreadful example of what love is. Our record on matters of race, LGBTQi, disability and poverty along with speaking out for refugees, against war and the sale of arms is appalling today. We should be on our knees publicly asking forgiveness not just from God, but from our fellow human beings. There is still time. We can still find the courage to speak out, and it will take enormous courage but if we don’t, then we no longer deserve to call ourselves the Christian Church for we have failed not only to love God and love our neighbour, we have also failed to show ourselves to be true followers, willing to step into the arena and fight for what we truly believe in.

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

I am hopeful others want to see this too.

Not in my name

As an individual, no matter how loud I shout, the chances of me changing anything I disagree with is pretty much non existent. If I get together with a few other like minded people then it’s possible we can make a big enough sound that we get noticed, on a small scale. Imagine what would happen if a whole organisation came together and protested something they disagreed with?

A few years ago I was involved with a group of people who came together to help refugees. There was a lot of discussion at the time around how much help a group of individuals could do in comparison with, say an NGO. Now the interesting thing about funding for small groups when they start to evolve from grassroots is that the bigger they get, the more they want to do, and therefore the more money they need. Here’s the catch though, often the money they receive can come with clauses. Perhaps around advertising, or how that money can be spent which may contradict the aims of that group. The dilemma then is do we accept that money, and change direction, or do we accept it and move away from what we really think people need. By accepting it, often that ties up that group from being critical of those who have helped finance their work, but whom they fundamentally disagree with in other areas of life.

You see when you partner with someone today who talks the talk and appears to be on the same wave length as you, there is no guarantee that the next person along to lead that organisation will have the same views as their predecessor. And that’s when you discover that you have no control over what they say, or the direction they want you to go, because as the old saying goes, “you’ve sold your soul to the devil”.

Now obviously this doesn’t happen in every case, however historically there is one such organisation that allied itself to those in power, possibly because they saw it as a way to protect the work they were doing, or maybe they saw it as a quick way to adding large groups of people to their organisation. Who knows, but what history has shown is this, when it comes to the things that really matter to the powerless, those that could speak out, stay silent.

Yes, you, the leaders of our churches who are so intent on arguing semantics that you fail to see the real issues facing the very people you are called upon to SERVE. NOT LEAD, BUT SERVE.

Where is your voice concerning the bill that seeks to abort those babies with Downs Syndrome right up to birth? When you stay silent for this, then you are as guilty as those who vote for it to pass. The blood of those babies with their extra chromasome, is equally on your hands and like Pilate, you can wash your hands as often as you like, but that is a stain you will never remove.

You want to know the worse part? It won’t stop there. Eugenics will continue and the more you stay silent, the harder it gets to speak out.

People want to see the leaders of our churches speaking out about what really matters to them. What scares the hell out of them, because if you don’t, who will?

As an individual, my voice carries little weight, but as a united church, forgetting all the reasons behind its disunity, there is still time to break the chains that bind it to state, and speak out for those whose voice will never be heard if we ignore their need now. This is not the time to weigh our words carefully, this is the time to shout out with one voice, NO!

To paraphrase Martin Neimoller’s poem:

First they came for those with Downs syndrome, and I did not speak out—
     Because I did not have Downs.

Then they came for the elderly, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not old.

Then they came for the disabled, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not disabled.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The language of love.

One of the descriptors for filling out a PIP (Personal Independence Payment) form from DWP asks about the person’s ability to express and understand both verbal and written information, using either simple and complex language. I wonder if we applied the same descriptors to the language used within the Christian Church, what score we would give ourselves?

Until recently I never really gave this much thought. I literally grew up in a Methodist Chapel, being taken there on a Sunday in a pram from birth until I rebelled at 11. I happily learnt to speak the words printed, to repeat the learnt responses and to close my eyes and put my hands together for prayers. Old hymns whose language would be recognisable to my great grandparents were sung faithfully. Moving later to a Catholic, then Baptist and finally Church of England congregation, I once again learnt by rote the responses necessary to fit in.

I spent a year in a methodist evangelical bible college, 3 years in a methodist teacher training college’s theological department, followed later by 3 years part time study back at the first college. In all that time rather than discussing whether complex language was a hindrance to a relationship with God, we were encouraged to use highly academic language to express our thoughts around other academics complex language. The marriage between theology as an academic subject and complex language was rewarded by higher grades for those that could master it, and to begin with I revelled in it. It was like a drug that I couldn’t get enough of, and which excited me. I wanted to show off how well I had learnt my lessons and I happily spouted long words knowing full well that it befuddled my audience. Oh those heady days of academia!

For my dissertation I realised that if I wanted to talk about how accessible language needed to be for those with autism in the church (I had in mind my children at the time), and how complex language can be a barrier, then I would need to buck the trend and use everyday language. Surely to write about the barriers created by language using complex academic language is to restrict the ability of a majority, especially those new to the church, or those outside to understand what is being said.

Recently I’ve begun to question whether complex language is used deliberately as a barrier to stop easy access for all. Language is complex but if we deliberately use that complexity to exclude some then they will stay away. Instead of explaining simply that God want us to be his friend, we put clauses in. We exclude those considered to be unworthy. Where did Jesus say that? He didn’t. Instead he said love God and love your neighbour. How much simpler can it be? The son of God, the word he spoke into being used simple language to help us understand how our relation ship with God should be; based on love, and out of that flows love for our neighbour, whoever that maybe. He didn’t write a list of exclusions, instead he gave a way that we could express that love, by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and dying, comforting the dying etc.

It seems to me though that how we use language within the church encourages not love, but discrimination. Not kindness, but judgement. How we use language without our realising it excludes those who do not fit our understanding of that language.

Take disability for instance, as I started with the descriptors used in official documents. As a church we have fallen into the trap of using “official” language, yet Jesus didn’t. He spoke in parables and stories giving everyday examples to help people understand what he meant. Our use of language today excludes so many simply because we do not understand what it means within our hierarchy. We are so used to couching things in “official” and “academic” language. Do we really know what we are saying?

I spent so long repeating words that are part and parcel of the language of the church that I never stopped to think whether I really understood what those words meant. Using redemption, salvation, trinity, and other words within the confines of a church we forget that the newbie through the door has no idea what we mean and instead of being inclusive, recognising the barrier this creates, we expect them to fit in with our world. Once they do they get a club badge, irrespective of whether they have understood or not. And if they don’t? Well, perhaps our club isn’t for them after all.

For the love of God let’s change the way we do things, and speak in terms that is encompassing for all. Let us speak the language of love, a language that speaks to all people on all levels in the same way that God speaks to us as individuals. Does God really talk of inclusion but then exclude? No. Does God speak of feeding the hungry then exclude those on benefits? No. Does God talk of giving shelter to the homeless, but exclude refugees in camps around the world? No.

Until we understand what God means, we will continue to miss the opportunity to reach out to those we are asked to include in our every day conversations. Ignore their voices and we ignore the gift of God to our churches and the talents these people have and which God has given for the benefit of all. Let’s stop our arrogance and humble ourselves before both God and our fellow human beings.

I will not be silenced!

There are many forms of pain, emotional, physical, and mental. Just occasionally all three combine and night time leaves a person trying to find hope in the midst of despondency, relief from physical pain as well as an end to that which causes suffering to loved ones, and as a result of empathy, suffering to us too.

As the hours of darkness tick by and sleep becomes an enemy, hiding in the shadows, reluctant to join with you, so our thoughts can turn in directions and along paths rarely trodden.

A question asked through a different media, can leave tired minds hunting for answers. My mind has sought the answer to this for a long time, and I find that even as I feel that my conclusion is right, yet I balk at it, afraid of the implications, and after a lifetime of patriarchal subversion, fear of being labelled a heretic.

The older I get, the more it seems that I struggle to put into words, verbally and written, the pain inside. It’s there, clawing at my throat, wanting to get out but expressing it just brings more pain and more grief. The realisation that all those cleverly worded arguments, so carefully expressed in discussions, have been misunderstood and misinterpreted. The constant churning over and reliving of conversations analysing where they went wrong, and still not being able to define when and where it went wrong; which small word, incautiously used, that I do not see but which is lept upon by others and used to tear me apart. These are experiences from childhood to present day, and still I try to understand and be understood.

Slowly but surely I am withdrawing more and more from the world around me. I cannot grasp why arguments are put forward for issues that are no longer relevant to the majority of the world, while those issues that affect the majority fail to be heard by that small minority who currently hold sway.

The pandemic that has hit this world has been an opportunity to draw together and work together in order to save lives, yet too often the rhetoric used has been focused on the wrong things. Money has been wasted and those most affected, ignored. We as a society lack compassion for those less fortunate, instead being urged towards a nationalist agenda that is frightening, yet which due to clever wording is grasped by those who are too late to see the warning signs.

Even our churches, tasked with bringing the love of christ to everyone, is more concerned with fighting over petty issues and getting more bums on seats to fill their depleted coffers, than they are in living out Christ’s manifesto.

‘I see church planting and church growth coming to the fore again in so many Tweets. No talk of a ministry to those who have left, the ones damaged by their church experience. It is no good counting newcomers coming in if we don’t seek out those who have crawled away hurting.’ Tweet from The Ordinary Office, 24/06/2021. Reproduced with permission

When our focus shifts away from the broken-hearted, the sick and dying, the lost, the blind and those who are homeless and stateless due to the wars that we even start, or fund or supply arms to, then we have failed to understand who jesus is, and why he came to live among us.

When our churches hold hands with the state, and those who hold the purse strings and the land, without calling them out, and stating that all land is God’s creation, given to us in trust not for exploitation. That wealth should be distributed fairly, rather than held by a tiny minority. When churches turn their backs on the poor, the sick, the disabled, the foreigner and those from non European backgrounds simply because they do not see them as God sees them, then like the rich young ruler, they have turned their backs on the real message of Christ; his death and resurrection and instead held hands with the devil who offered jesus all the wealth and power in the world.

We can put together all the programs we like, we can criticise individuals for speaking out and calling those in authority to account all we like, but it will not change the simple truth, that we have strayed far from the path God intended for us, and in doing so, we continue to hurt those guests of honour at the feast set out for all.

I’ve concluded I must be boring.

Covid for me has highlighted a problem I’ve been reluctant to admit to. Over the last few months I’ve been able to stick my head in the sand and ignore it because of lockdown, but now restrictions are lifting I can’t ignore it for any longer.

I don’t have any friends where I live.

There I’ve said it.

When we moved here 20 months ago, I hoped to get involved in a few groups, maybe find a church I would finally feel at home in, take a course or two, but between I’ll health ndcovidthats not happened and now I’m not sure if I can bring myself to get out and start all over gain. Part of me wants to, but part of me doesn’t have the physical or mental energy to do it. I nearly burst into tears walking the dog yesterday. I actually met another dog walker who lives just around the corner and we started to chat. I can’t tell you how that felt, however, having listened to all she shared and getting to that point of being able to feel I could share back (judging this point is always a social nightmare), only for another couple to appear with their dog, and as friends they started chatting, and I was thrown back to childhood and being on the outside, literally. Eventually I gave up and headed home despondent. This whole making friends thing is a nightmare.

My self confidence is at an all time low. It feels as if nothing that I do or say is ever good enough, and that when I try to talk it just leads to misunderstandings all round, and yes, I know I sound self pitying. I make no apology for that, and anyone who feels its their task in life to call me to order for that, you can forget it!

I have been thinking a lot these last few weeks about what it means to be a friend. Join a social media site and you become inundated with friend requests. If you look at my fb profile I seem to have lots of friends, but here’s the kicker, most of them I’ve never met in person, and probably never will. As a child we used the expression, friends and acquaintances, to differentiate between those we knew well, and those who we knew to wave to or say hello in passing.

As a society our language changes over time, words come into and out of fashion, and that is as it should be. I’m old enough to remember people praying out loud and using thee’s and thou’s in their language. As children we found this funny, a walking talking king James Bible. I’ve not heard anyone speak like this for a number of years now, except in a period drama.

Equally the term acquaintance has fallen out of use in recent years, in part I feel personally, due to the advent of social media, and its somewhat false use of friends lists. I say false, because it pushes this idea that you can become friends with someone you’ve never met, purely through your interaction on each others posts.

As a child I was taught friendship was a two way process. I’ve always struggled with this and only recently after my own diagnosis of autism did I have a light bulb moment. Yet still I try and relate to people. I try to message friends to see how they are doing. If I notice they are struggling or have suffered bereavement, I try and message them. Is this reciprocated? More often than not, no. Does this mean we are not really friends? I honestly don’t know. I’m grateful to the few people who do message me, I consider them true friends. As for the rest, should I still consider them friends or acquaintances? I don’t know, and that makes me heartbroken.

Living in a city is hard. I found that out in London. I struggle with the idea of travelling miles to find a group, preferring them to be on my doorstep. My head cannot grasp the concept of living in a place that is miles apart, and where villages and towns have been swallowed up into one umbrella metropolis. My head longs for the single street surrounded by fields of my childhood, where everything and everyone is both familiar and known to me.

I have moved around a lot in my life. Each time I’ve moved I’ve been anchored by work, schools and churches. Whether because of covid I don’t know, but this time has been different and I feel rootless, blown around by the wind and without direction.

All the things that occupied my time and space have ended, and I don’t know who I am anymore. I am struggling to put past experiences into the context of my own autism while at the same time coming to terms with my own struggles to communicate. I always thought I was quite good at that, and when people misunderstood I would spend hours, days and even weeks, frustrated and angry at “their” lack of understanding, only now realising slowly tht perhaps I’m not such a great communicator after all. That makes me reluctant to go out and try to meet new people.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m lonely, but I don’t know how to make friends because I don’t know how to communicate with people. What should I say, or ask, or talk about? When is it OK to talk about myself, and why as soon as I do, do people change the subject? Am I that boring?

Loading the dishwasher

Last night I went to bed without loading the dishwasher. The thought in my head was, why should I, I’m always loading the machine while hubby heads to bed early to avoid the task! This afternoon I emptied and loaded it in just a few minutes, without grumbling to myself.

Now to be fair to my husband, he does occasionally load the machine when prompted, and if I ask him, he will help me so that we work together. On super rare occasions he does it without being asked or prompted. It’s not because he’s lazy, it’s simply that it doesn’t occur to him that in order to put the dirty dishes in, we have to empty the clean ones out. He will even admit when asked, that he didn’t think about it.

So what is the difference between my attitude today, to what I felt last night?

My thinking over the last few days has been around what it means to be sacrificial in our giving to others. Much of this has come as a result of crafting the sculpture of Christ for Good Friday. You see in the church this weekend we talk a lot about Jesus’s sacrifice. We use high flowing and theological language;quote scriptures and bandy the word hallelujah around. I wonder though how much we all understand about what it means for us to follow Jesus in terms of being sacrificial, and do we even know what that means?

I asked my husband yesterday, when was the last time he heard a sermon or talk on how our very actions towards each other should be seen in terms of sacrificial living? Neither of us could ever remember being asked to view our actions in such a way.

It’s difficult isn’t it? For starters all the conversations, sermons, talks, lectures etc that I’ve heard (and I’ve heard a lot!), have focused on Jesus, and there is a sense that so it should be, however, when it has been mentioned in terms of the individual its been about money, and our giving to the church, or about giving our time to the church in order to help it with its mission of outreach (do you sense a theme here?). What we don’t tend to talk about, perhaps because there is an assumption that this will carry through into our everyday life, is that we will see our everyday actions as sacrificial. But do we?

OK, before I go further, let’s deal with what we mean by sacrificial. What the hell does it mean? In theological, or churchy terms, it means that Jesus, who even Pilate the roman governor could see wasn’t guilty of any crime, was crucified on trumped up charges by the Roman soldiers. We talk about sin, and how Jesus was sinless, in other words nobody could point to any action, word or event, at any time in his life and say, that is against both God’s law or Roman law. He was therefore killed in order that he could take every single person’s, law breaking, whether civil or religious; whether against an individual or a group of people; whatever it is, past, present or future on himself, so that it died with him. All that is asked is that we admit that we are not perfect, and ask forgiveness. This act by Jesus is seen as the ultimate act of sacrifice, and even today, when someone steps in the path of a bullet, knife, vehicle or other, saving somebody’s life at the expense of their own, we call it the ultimate sacrifice.

OK, so back to the dishwasher!

Hubby and I were talking about all the things we have wanted in our lives but have had to give up for various reasons. From a Christian perspective we would term these sacrifices, because we see our lives as being lived out under God’s control. Not in the sense that he orders us about, but in the sense of not trying to do things for ourself, ie, selfishly, but as God would guide, even if that means giving up our hopes and dreams. That can sound really weird, why would you give something up that you’ve hoped and dreamed about, and for what?

An example. Hmm, that’s tough. OK, let’s see if this works. For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of having a rose covered cottage, with a thatched roof and cottage garden. Over the years that cottage has moved from the edge of a village, to the top of a cliff, next to a lake, anywhere where there are no people, depending on how I’m feeling. So far in life, I’ve never managed to find that cottage. We’ve never owned our own home, and the way that house prices our going up, as well as our age going up, it’s unlikely I will ever achieve that dream. Now at various times in our life together I could have pushed hard to achieve that dream. Yet I gave up on that dream in order that our children and my husband could follow their dreams, ambitions, calling, vocation in life.

You are probably asking, why? What about you? Well, good point, and it’s taken me a long time to realise the meaning of true sacrifice. You see I could have pushed for my dream house, but I don’t think I would have been happy. Sometimes our dreams are unrealistic and cause more harm than good. Our circumstances over the years would have meant that in all likelihood that cottage would have fallen down around our ears. It’s not on wheels, so we couldn’t just up and move, taking it with us, and so we would have missed out on all that we have seen and done, the people we have met along the way, and the personal growth we have seen in ourselves and each other. The chances are we would have ended up divorced as that dream became a millstone around my neck.

When we live our lives seeing and seeking opportunities to sacrifice our wants and desires for others, then we are emulating the life of Christ and crucifying a little bit more of our selfish nature each day.

By unloading and loading the dishwasher today, despite any discomfort I may feel, I am able to free my hubby up to devote his time and energy to his job, which is opening up churches today, that haven’t been opened for months, so that people can come, socially distanced and say hallelujah today.

It may not seem much, and some may even think its weird, but by seeing that one action in terms of sacrifice, it turned it from resentment, into a peaceful act of love.

The price of love.

I like to think. The trouble is that thinking, if it is to be really deep, requires space and quiet. When there is constant background chatter, or other people’s thoughts and opinions, deep thought or reflection can be hard to achieve. If like me, you have the ability to remember what someone has said or written on a given subject, it can be a real struggle to come up with your own original thought.

These last few days sculpting the Christ figure has given me time to think about the parallels to be found between the beginning and end of his life. In my blog post Thursday morning, I spoke about how wrapping the frame in bandages caused me to see the parallel with the ceromony of wrapping the body preparatory to its burial. The thought also came to me that on entry to life his body had been wrapped in swaddling bands also. That birth and death see him swaddled tightly, for comfort perhaps, who knows, yet my mind wonders if in birth as in death, the symbolism is more around comfort, not just for the child, but also for the family as they prepare the body ready to be placed in the tomb. Certainly that was the way my mind went as I made this figure, seeing the act of a mother in my actions.

Theology is full of words around the subject of sacrifice, and as I made this figure, I have found myself reflecting on this also. What does it mean to be sacrificial? We talk within the Christian faith of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross, yet how much of that do we truly understand? Theologically we use all the right words: sacrificial lamb, redemption, to name but two, yet more and more it seems to me, these become hollow words. Just as we display empty crosses, so our words become empty when we fail to relate ourselves to those parts of the story that resonate with our lives today. When we forget to ask people to put themselves into the story, to feel what Jesus must have felt, then surely we begin to loose the power of this act to affect not just ourselves, but others too.

Passion week is called this for the simple fact it is full of the passion of Christ yes, but also because it is full of the passion of those who witnessed it, who were either main players or bit part actors in the unfolding drama. We too are called to place ourselves into this drama. It’s far to easy to sit back from the here and now and say we wouldn’t have been part of the howling mob baying for blood at the end of the week, but we are part of the Happy crowd singing hosanna at the start, yet they were one and the same.

We talk about the betrayal of Judas, and even today we refer to someone as a Judas who has betrayed others. How often though do we place ourselves in his shoes and ask ourselves how we would react to fear, knowing that those in authority are turning against us, and are actively looking at a way to close down our group? What pain Jesus felt to see someone he loved, shared his life with, travelled with and ate with, turn and betray him to the authorities out of fear and greed. There are parallels today if we care to look for them. Let us not be afraid to open our eyes and see that this happens as much today as it did then, and that such betrayal leads to torture and death now also.

When we display empty crosses on Good Friday on the grounds that we need to look ahead to the resurrection and joy that that brings, we run the risk of sanitizing the events of the day. It is too easy to talk about the punishment meted out, as being fulfilment of prophecy while glossing over the blood, sweat and pain experience. The Roman form of crucifixion was designed to humiliate and cause pain at every step of the process. We gloss over in church telling people that the cross was rough hewn. Why would you create a nice, smooth wooden cross for crucifying a criminal on? You wouldn’t. Someone dying in such a way eventually looses control of their bowels, yet we say nothing of that, for fear of offending peoples sensibilities. Death on the cross is caused by asphixiation, as slowly the chest is crushed under the weight of the body. It’s slow and agonising and there is nothing dignified about it, yet for years I have sat and listened to endless sermons that failed to describe exactly what Jesus undertook in order to, in theological terms, set us free from our sins. If we do not truly express what such a sacrifice means then how can we understand what price was paid for our freedom?

That love was nailed to the cross that day, is in some ways easy to say. It’s not so easy to ignore what that meant in terms of pain, humiliation and cruelty, unless we truly describe the price paid for each and every one of us. Only when we grasp the full enormity of Christ’s sacrifice, can we fully understand his call to us, to accept his gift of freedom and live our lives being prepared to likewise be sacrificial in what we offer back.