Church; not the be all and end all

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Church; the Bible describes it as “the Bride of Christ”, which is high esteem indeed. It is an excellent way to spend time with other Christians, sing some songs, worship God and to hear someone read from the Bible. Some Christians go as far as to say that attending Church to worship is the most important thing a Christian can do, but some go further and say that if you are not attending Church, you are not a real Christian or even a Christian at all.

Now usually at this point I would say something like “Is this really the case?” and proceed to break the arguments down before coming to a conclusion. Whilst I will still do that, I am first going to jump to my conclusion, which is this; it is absolute nonsense and in fact, quite dangerous (bordering on manipulative) to even remotely equate church attendance with someone’s faith. It ignores, trivializes or caricatures the reasons why many do not and indeed cannot go to a regular church service.

You see, life does not stop just because it is a Sunday. Health issues do not suddenly go away to allow you to go to church. Job requirements do not suddenly stop because you want to be somewhere else. When I make it to church, what you don’t see is the battle that I have waged to even get out of bed; a battle I have to fight every day just to go to work. I have had to stop going to darts and dance due to my health. More often than not, I have my own church at home where I can put on some music, chat to God and mostly hide out in my study. I have friend named Helen, who has a chronic illness and has to take 29 tablets everyday  just to function. She does not get to church very often due to her health issues. Sarah’s friend Sophie is in a similar situation that causes her constant pain and unpredictable symptoms; this prevents her from sometimes working and going to church. Are you seriously going to say that the most important thing they do on a Sunday is go to church? Sometimes the most important thing we do each day is just to start the day.

My previous job required me to work weekends, and I actually needed the extra money to pay bills, put food on the table and keep a roof over my head. Some people’s jobs are at nursing homes, homeless shelters, hospitals, orphanages. Would you tell them that a church service is more important than helping people in need, or ensuring they don’t become homeless themselves? God can and does provide, this does not mean that we are then suddenly exempt from needing to work on a Sunday. Perhaps the job that requires those people to work on Sundays is the one that God has provided. Some will say that we have to prioritize God; now I agree with that to an extent, but there are 7 days in the week and Paul seemed to be quite clear on this in Romans 14.

Worship does occur at church, but worship is also about so much more than singing a few songs. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” NIV (Matthew 22:37-40). Going to church means nothing if all you do is go to church on a Sunday to worship, then forget about it for the rest of the week or worse, act in a manner that is counter to what Jesus taught (a point I will return to very shortly). Worshiping God is about keeping those two commandments above all else. Singing songs of praise is great, but I can do that anywhere; in my house house, in a field, at a rave…you get the idea.

This brings me onto another reason why people do not go to church; they simply do not find Jesus there. Many have issues with how the Church approaches certain social issues (among many other things) and have left the church as a result. Comments like “you have to attend church to be a Christian” is to simply bury your head in the sand regarding the churches faults/issues and how much damage they are actually causing; not to mention ignoring what the term Christian actually means – the hint is in the name. Some have left because they have been badly burned by the church or have seen others badly burned, and if someone has hurt you, you are not going to keep seeing them, at least, not unless they apologise. The same applies to church. Some of the most vile abuse dished out have come from Christians and there’s only so much you can take before you have to walk away. This does not mean we have lost our faith, in fact, it often means the exact opposite. We have left because of our faith (and our sanity!) Now at this, people will point out that the church is not perfect and you cannot change something if you leave. This is true, but you also cannot change anything if you are so badly beat up that you have nothing left. And just wanting a morning to do nothing is perfectly acceptable. We have to look after ourselves too.

To sum all of this up though, I will end with this. Until churches start acknowledging that people have very legitimate reasons for not being in church, that they are contributing to some of those reasons, that Christians relationship with Jesus doesn’t necessarily need to involve them; then vicars & pastors are going to find more people having reasons not to be there.

Your everyday best

So…Sunday services at church. Traditionally a time where the dress code is smart. I will be doing the sound system at my church this Sunday, and many parishioners will be dressed very smartly.

What I will probably do is reach for whatever is closest when I roll out of bed, which is likely to be black jeans, or possibly trousers that have so many pockets, they’d make MacGyver proud. Or maybe even the ones with the Captain America patch on them, due to a hole on the knee that eventually became too big to ignore. I will almost certainly wear a hoodie; maybe the i59 one, or the Las Vegas one, or the one with the Rooster Teeth Logo that doesn’t zip up. T shirts could be anything from one with the iconic ‘alien ship over the Whitehouse scene’ from Independence Day on it, to “Atheism; a non-prophet organization”, or possibly one that will raise some eyebrows even further. My rainbow flag lapel badge will almost certainly make an appearance too. I will stroll into church wearing my headphones, listening to a UK Rave mix of some description, grab a coffee, take my place at the sound booth and get on with setting up the sound desk for the service.

But hang on, that actually sounds like every other day, and that’s the point; my Sunday best is my everyday best, it’s who I am every minute of every day. I go to church as I am and act how I usually would. I don’t hide, dress up or put a mask on. God accepts and loves me for who I am and I do my best for Him every day. My best is being who I am; I don’t change just for a Sunday. So if suits and ties are not you, then don’t wear them this Sunday or any other Sunday for that matter. God is not interested in how you can present yourself on a Sunday; He’s interested in how you engage your heart with Him. So dress in your everyday best and be yourself.

Lessons from inspiration

Inspirations, role models, whatever word you wish to ascribe, there are always people you look up to and say, “I want to do what you do, and you have given me the encouragement to do it”. Throughout my gaming life, 2 people have stood out to me, who’s views on games and just the way they approach games have really inspired and challenged me.

Take a bow Ray Narvaez Jr.

I first got to see Ray’s work through Achievement Hunter (AH). His passion, his laid back style; everything about what he did just made it all so much more enjoyable. It’s no stretch to say that he was the main reason I watched AH and I think many would say the same. Just over 18 months ago, Ray left AH to start a full-time career streaming on Twitch and he brought his passion with it. He is probably my favourite streamer on Twitch. Over the time, I have been increasingly inspired by him to take up streaming myself and if you’ve been reading my previous entries, you will know that I have recently started doing so.

When you first embark on any project, it takes a while to gain momentum; it takes time to build a following and to hone your skills, and it was no different for Ray. Before working for AH, Ray made achievement guides and uploaded them up to YouTube. He then did the same for Community Hunter (the community section of AH), before he was approached to produce them for Achievement Hunter. That was about 2/3 years worth of work just to get to the hiring stage. He was then with AH for nearly 3 years which is where he really built up his reputation and following. He moved on to Twitch, and the hard work hasn’t stopped; he continues to build his Twitch following through the base he established at AH. He gets a couple of thousand viewers a stream and has his own merchandise line. I asked him during a stream whether he would be streaming if he hadn’t worked at AH. His answer was pretty unequivocal:

No, absolutely not! Definitely would not be streaming if I did not work at AH

So step forward Danny O’Dwyer.

I’ve become a huge fan of Danny’s work since I watched his series “The Point” on GameSpot. He looked at games in different ways than many in the industry and tackled subjects others dared not tread. His video “Gaming through your stress” really resonated with me and much of his work has inspired other blogs that I have written. A couple of months ago, Danny left GameSpot and embarked on a project called NoClip, a project funded entirely by gamers, for gamers (including, I’m proud to say, myself); through Patreon. NoClip is a project to create dynamic and insightful documentaries about video games. I didn’t donate to NoClip because of the premise (though that did play a part), but because Danny O’Dwyer was the creator behind it. He has an established reputation for high quality work, but that started even before he got to GameSpot. He was a member of the GameSpot website before he started working there and he ran his own video games website called CitizenGame. Much like Ray, he did a lot of hard graft to even get into the industry he loved and then worked even harder to establish himself. I asked Danny if he felt he could have done NoClip without his time at GameSpot, and this is what he said:

I’m not sure I would have, no. I think the only reason Noclip got as much support as it did was because I had somewhat proved my ability, or at least pointed in the direction of what I was trying to achieve, via my work at GameSpot. I also think GameSpot, and Giant Bomb exposed my work to much wider audiences which is 9/10ths of the battle sadly. Marketing is everything. I also wouldn’t have had the ability to do this work without years of doing it under a stopwatch at GameSpot. So I really don’t think I’d have done much streaming at all – at least not professionally – had it not been for GameSpot.”

Being inspired to take on a challenge because of the success of another is not wrong, but sometimes the graft, hard work, dedication and time those people have invested to get there is overlooked. We want to jump straight to the successful part which is not guaranteed to arrive. Without keeping their journey’s in mind, it’s very easy to become disheartened when you aren’t having the same level of success they are. So I know this will take time, and I’ve only just begun my journey in becoming a successful Twitch streamer. As Danny has pointed out, marketing is the big battle but whilst marketing gets people there, it’s the quality of the content that keeps them coming back and this is where my work is focused; improving the quality of my work but again, that takes time and lots of learning from my mistakes. I guess my equivalent of working for AH or GameSpot, marketing wise, would be having a streamer with hundreds or thousands of viewers host my channel or raid my chat after one of their streams. But that is something I have to earn or possibly just get lucky with. You could say Danny and Ray both got that stroke of luck when they were offered positions in Gamespot and AH respectively, it gave them an audience to present their skills to. But they also earned that position and through hard work cemented their reputations for providing quality content and are now being rewarded with dream undertakings.

If it never happens for me, then it never happens but I don’t want to have any regrets, or think “if only I tried harder”. Some things are just out of my control; it doesn’t matter how hard I work or how good I (hopefully) become. We all started somewhere, and if I can achieve a fraction of what Ray and Danny have, then I will be very, very happy.

Chasing the constantly changing dream

So via the Facebook “On this day” app, I was reminded of the status I posted back in 2008:

“DECKS ARE HERE”

I used to do a lot of DJ’ing in my 20’s and harboured dreams of one day playing in clubs. These dreams never really materialized and sadly, I eventually had to sell the decks to pay some debts and bills. My next dream was to become a professional darts player; I went to tournaments across the country, played in different leagues, and even recently got some professional coaching. But that dream seems to be on the wane too due to my anxiety affecting my performance when I play competitively.

But now I have a new project; Twitch streaming. I’ve had a logo designed, created a YouTube channel, rebranded my Twitter & Facebook accounts, I’m running a giveaway over Christmas and I’ve got a new website currently in the works. I’m also hoping to improve my streaming setup in the future with better equipment and more room. I’m making a real go of it and the ultimate dream is to be able to do this full time.

But in the back of my mind a thought has entered; what will I do if I don’t fulfill this dream? Will I continue just as I am or find something else to pursue? At what point does it become me just constantly chasing a moving target? I still play darts, I’m still playing in a league, but I don’t practice as often as I used to and I don’t go to as many tournaments as I used to. Gaming is easier for me because I don’t have to go out, but I am putting myself out on the internet and that doesn’t always go well. The point though is my life is littered with abandoned dreams because I’ve moved onto chasing others.

I don’t want this pattern to continue; I want this new endeavour to succeed, but I am very aware that it will be hard and that it might not be as big as I want it to be. Maybe that’s the difference between this and my past attempts to focus all of my energy into something. I’m doing this because I enjoy it, because it’s helping me with my S.A.D, because the aim in the journey is not to get to the destination of being popular. But having dreams isn’t wrong, chasing dreams isn’t wrong, and maybe those dreams weren’t abandoned, they had just run their course.

So here’s to chasing the dreams.

Two sides of the same coin

One of my favourite T.V shows is Star Trek: Voyager; I was watching the episode Basics, Part 2 where the ship has been taken over, the crew dumped on a hostile planet and Crewman Suder and the holographic Doctor are the only two Starfleet personnel left on board. Towards the end of the episode, Suder breaks into engineering to disable Voyagers defences to allow Lt. Paris and a group of Talaxians to board and retake the ship. Suder dies in the process but is successful. It dawned on me that we never see Suder honoured by the crew as seems customary in Starfleet. Now, this could have been a deliberate move by the writers because in an earlier episode, Suder killed a fellow crewman in cold blood and it may have been deemed inappropriate.

But I got thinking; what if he was given a ceremony? And what would I say if I was asked to speak at it? Well, this is my attempt.

“What is a hero? Is it someone who has impeccable moral standards? Someone who has never committed any crime and always makes the right decision for the right reasons? Or is it someone who simply does something that is considered heroic? Is someone a hero by their actions or their nature?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the last few hours since Captain Janeway asked me to speak at this service. Crewman Lon Suder gave his life in defence of this ship and crew. In many cultures it is considered the most honourable way to die, and indeed upholds the highest standards of Starfleet. But Suder also murdered a member of this same crew in cold blood, considered by those same cultures as one of the most dishonourable and despicable things to do. The fact we are stood here to honour a man who did such a thing seems reprehensible and I know there are those who do not feel this service should be going ahead. But what should anyone’s lasting legacy be? The good deeds or the bad?

It would be extremely insensitive, not to mention stinking of revisionist history, to ignore the murder when talking about Suder. We can get into a debate later about whether there’s a cut off point for what you can commit before it matters, but murder is not the example of impeccable moral standards and seems completely at odds with holding him up as an example of a hero. But it would also be revisionist to ignore the fact that Suder died in the line of duty, disabling Voyagers defence systems to allow Lt. Paris and the Talaxians to retake the ship. These are actions that are certainly considered heroic and we would want to use Suder as an example to inspire others to do the same if the situation ever arose. This is partly why we have these gatherings.

Frankly it’s conflicting, confusing, complicated; but then, so is humanity. That the desire and ability to do both exists in one person, arguably exists in all of us, is what makes life so intense. I think we all battle dark thoughts, some more than others, and not all of us have the discipline to suppress those thoughts or the desire to act on them. Suder was working to increase his discipline but he didn’t become a different man as a result. So perhaps we shouldn’t say Suder was a hero, but a man who performed a heroic act. However, if I were to play devil’s advocate for a second, should we also say Suder wasn’t a murderer but someone who committed the act of murder? Can we really separate acts from how a person is? As I said, conflicting, confusing and complicated.

So how do we remember Suder? Is he a hero? Ultimately I think that’s down to each of us decide for ourselves. I believe it is right that Suder’s sacrifice is honoured and remembered as it would have been had it been any of us, but it is also right to remember his crimes. Perhaps the moral of the story is that no one is truly lost and the powers that drive people to such acts of barbarity, are the same powers that drive people to acts of unrivalled heroism, and to told these in tension is what it means to have humanity.

Thank you Crewman Suder.”

DontMancriminate; how not to start conversations about Mens issues

So a post appeared on my Facebook wall recently, shared by a number of people, under the hashtag #DontMancriminate. It was a series of pictures depicting men being gagged with a little slogan and statements supporting the slogan and were doing the rounds on social media last year. I think I’m going to file it under “perfect example of missing the point” or possibly “how to completely trivialise real issues faced by men and women”. The fact they’ve made a re-appearance suggests that people think they have a point so here’s my take on them.

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Men can (and indeed do) wear heels or even large heeled shoes and wear makeup. Problem is doing so usually results in bullying from other men!!!! Companies usually make products to fulfil demand so perhaps the reason these products don’t exist is because men don’t feel comfortable wearing them due to social pressures? The same social pressures that make women feel forced to conform to strict beauty standards, which is why they wear make-up to avoid being branded ugly? As for stupid men being blonde, I know many blonde men who fit the stereotype and if men want “dumb men” jokes to be equal I’m sure there’s a comedian out there happy to oblige. But why would you want jokes made matching your hair colour to your I.Q?

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Here’s the thing with these 2; holding a door for someone, carrying their bags or giving up your seat is called courtesy; doesn’t matter if they’re a woman, elderly or disabled; but what have these got to do with this “It’s a man’s world”? Men haven’t had to fight very hard for rights , more often than not men are in power, men get portrayed as powerful in movies/books, men don’t get regarded as inferior purely because of their gender. Here’s the funny thing about these though. Women get free drinks because men buy them for them!! Women are completely able to buy their own drinks or buy them for men. Women get free entry because men let them in for free!! Women are able to pay for themselves or pay for men to get in for free. No one is forcing men to do this though and perhaps we should be asking why men feel compelled to act in this way toward women. Is there a sense of entitlement that some men feel, that when they buy a woman a drink they expect sex in return? Do men like to feel impressive and in control so they buy the woman a drink? How many woman actually enjoy the unwanted attention and are perfectly happy being left alone?

The last statement has the same root cause as the others above. Men don’t get sympathy because men have made it shameful to be weak!! As with wearing heels, men get bullied by other men for expressing emotions like fear, sadness etc. We’re told that men have to be strong and be the provider which is why they buy women drinks, let them in for free, give up their seats etc. Women accept these because they’re told they’re weaker than men and standing up to men often results in fairly dire consequences. If men are unhappy with women getting these things, then breaking the lies is the first step.

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Let’s get this bit out of the way. Yes, men are judged based on the size of their penis. Women judge them, but usually it’s other men judge them because the size of your penis defines you as a man according to society. For every article penned by a woman saying “size does matter” there are an equal amount saying it doesn’t. Also this picture is just flat out lying because men do discriminate against a “pussy” and we probably have pornography to thank for both problems. Rates of vaginal plastic surgery are huge and growing, far outweighing any equivalent seen in men. Much of this is brought on by porn and men claiming that vaginas need to look a certain way to be “clean”. They do nothing but reduce the value of a person to the size and appearance of their genitalia. This is an issue that does affect men but pitching it against women, especially lying in the process, is just not going to help anyone. We need to get away from us vs them and start having the conversation about body shaming and how it affects people.

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This is an awkward one because I actually agree with this one, but it also seems to trivialize the very real issue of domestic violence. Men suffer abuse at the hands of their partners, but don’t report it for the reasons I’ve said earlier: it’s too shameful and tied to a toxic masculinity. This is why it’s woefully under reported and men don’t get the support they need. When a woman attacks her partner and vice versa, it needs to be classified as domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is about power and control, far more than it is about rage and anger issues and women initiating violence towards men (statistically far less prevalent than the other way round) is usually also to do with control and domination. In which case, the phrase “I was wrong” is correct but is also equally correct for the male if he is the perpetrator. Instead the man simply repeats the all too common trope of “you made me hit you, look what you made me do, if only you had listened to me” etc. etc”. These can be used both ways but due to the ongoing stereotype of the man being the dominant partner in a relationship, are more common in men.

Now some will cite self-defence as a reason, I don’t have too many issues with this but possibly linked to the picture is this; what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear a story of a woman slapping a man? Now what about a man slapping a woman? Was it “self-defence” in the first instance and “assault” for the second? Domestic violence is a massive issue for all genders and pitching the 2 genders against each other in this way again blocks the very necessary discussion of how to tackle this problem. Why do people feel it’s OK to hit their partners? Many men have “anger issues” because anger is the only emotion that other men deem to be acceptable to express. Women can be abusers, let me be clear on that, and yes there is a disparity in how abuse is seen depending on who the abuser is, but instead of pitching this a gender equality issue, lets tackle the actual problem of abuse.

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As face value this one seems absolutely spot on. It seems very much the case that women get half the men’s savings in most divorce cases regardless of the reasons for divorce. However, a quick investigation (google search) into this showed that the situation is infinitely more complex. It seems studies have shown that women are usually much worse off after divorce and there are other factors in how the monies are split .

There’s also custody battles that come with this and statistics show that in the vast majority of cases women win custody of the children but again, this seems to be more complex than face value. This seems to be largely down to traditional gender roles which encourage us to see women as the automatic carers over men. This obviously needs to be challenged but when custody is court-ordered, Men Rights Activists etc. often blame this on feminism. Our court system is anything but feminist, never over the past few hundred years has it ever been feminist. The judiciary is arguably the most patriarchal of all our current institutions with a huge amount of judges being not only male, but also white and privately educated. I think the whole issue of divorce and custody are aspects that needs to be looked at but I guess my message on this one is things are not as simple as this makes out.

That last sentence, “things are not as simple as this makes out” could have been applied to all these pictures really. They oversimplify complex issues by ignoring root causes and instead of helping their cause of highlighting areas that men are impacted to help solve them (assuming that is their aim), actually damage it. All too often these discussions get dragged into “our issue is worse than yours” and these pictures just fuel the persecuted mentality some have developed. Men suffer many issues in this world and these need to be addressed, but pitching this against women’s issues or suggesting it’s women’s fault is just throwing up smokescreens. Until we acknowledge that whatever the root cause, it’s affecting everyone, we go nowhere.

 

Lets be like Thomas; doubt and certainty in one

I wasn’t always a Christian. I first came to know Christ at age 14 and was heavily involved in the church, eventually assisting the vicar with the services and I also did a lot of Bible readings for the services. But something happened when I was about 18 that led to a lot of questions but very few answers, and I was in quite major financial trouble. By 22 I made a decision to sort out the problems and eventually walked away from the Christian faith. But I never stopped questioning and challenging and after moving to Oxford in 2008, I got to know a Christian couple who went on to become very good friends of mine and came back to Christ in their front room. My whole faith journey has been built on asking questions, expressing doubts, challenging views, getting answers then repeat. So it will come as no surprise that my favourite character in the Bible is Thomas.

I like Thomas but I was being taught that we don’t want to be like Thomas, because Thomas doubted Jesus and that doubt is the enemy of faith. How much of that is actually true though? Did Thomas really doubt Jesus and are we really expected to have no doubts at all in order to have faith?

The main story that seems to have earned Thomas his reputation is in Johns gospel, specifically chapter 20 verses 19-31, but this isn’t the only passage where Thomas is asking questions. In John 14, when Jesus is telling the disciples he’s off to prepare a place for them, Thomas pipes up “Uh, Lord? We don’t know where you’re going so how can we know which way?” Jesus gave him an answer,

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him

Now, when Phillip, one of the other disciples chimes in with “Show us the Father that will be enough for us” Jesus reacts very differently; Phillip is given a serious rebuke, “How can you ask such a question? Don’t you know me? Believe me when I say I am with the Father, or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” Keep that last bit in mind “believe on the evidence of the works themselves” because we’re going to come back to it.

Thomas also makes an appearance in John 11 which covers the death of Lazarus; Jesus is telling the disciples that he needs to go back to Judea. The disciples are like “You’re joking right? They tried to kill you last time and now you want to go back?” This is a justified reaction to be fair but Thomas, the doubter, the one we’re not supposed to be like, steps up and says “Come on guys, let’s go with him so that if he dies, we’ll all die with him”. It seems that Thomas was going to make sure that Jesus didn’t die alone. These 2 events capture Thomas perfectly; expressing doubts and asking questions but also showing complete faith by being willing to stand with Jesus no matter what.

So lets bring all this together as we look at John chapter 20. Verses 19-20 says;

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord

So Jesus shows the disciples his hands and his side and then they believed. Now, we know from verse 24 that Thomas was not with the other disciples so he’s not seen Jesus since he died on the cross. We pick the story up at verse 25:

The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Who is Thomas doubting at this point? He’s doubting what he’s being told by the other disciples and again, you can’t really blame him. Living in the first century under the rule of the Roman Empire, he’s know enough about crucifixion to know that unless they get a pardon, whoever goes up on that cross isn’t coming down alive. He has enough knowledge of biology and experience of life to know that dead people stay dead. So what has he asked for? Nothing more than the other disciples got; to see Jesus, to see the marks in his side and his hands.

So verses 26-28:

A week later, Jesus’ disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

What an affirmation from Thomas; my Lord, my God!. Thomas didn’t come to that place despite his doubts, he got there because of them. He was honest about his doubts and Jesus let him face them, allowing him to believe on the evidence of the works themselves as Jesus said back in John 14. The evidence that Christ had risen was him standing in front of them. Now, we don’t have that, we don’t have Christ physically standing before us which brings me onto verse 29:

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”

We haven’t seen Jesus physically risen as I said, but what do we have? The Gospels. John tells us in verses 30 and 31:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Luke says something very similar in the opening of his account. Now this can lead to the question “how do we know the Gospels are reliable”, and my response is “Yes, great question. Let’s look at that and have a discussion”. This leads onto other questions about the Bible because there are so many translations and interpretations, and we need to check what we are being told. This brings us onto the last passage I want to look at briefly which is Mark 16 verse 14:

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

Now, this passage is slightly contentious because it is part of verses 9-20 which don’t appear in early manuscripts and pretty much all Bibles have a footnote or some disclaimer saying as such, so that raises a set of its own questions. But who is Jesus referring to specifically when he said ‘those who had seen him’? The other disciples? The women at the tomb? All of the above? Does this mean we should automatically accept what we’re told regardless? This seems very dangerous as one US pastor found out when he took verse 18 and went with it without question;

they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

The pastor was ultimately bitten by the snake and died from the poison. We humans are flawed, our understanding is never 100% correct 100% of the time. We have to question things, otherwise we can end up doing things that are incredibly harmful to ourselves and others. It can also lead to great social changes. It was doubting the then current understanding of scripture that led William Wilberforce to lead cry’s for the slavery laws to be abolished. It was his expression of those doubts that caused others to take another look at scripture and then join the cause.

So what is Jesus talking about in that passage in Mark? I don’t know, it’s one of those things I wrestle with and what is our journey with God if not a wrestling match? Plus, it’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘I don’t know’ because faith is not an expression of certainty, it’s an expression of vulnerability. It says ‘I don’t know if I can do this, but I know you’re with me Lord.’ It says ‘I can see all the pain, all the injustice, but I’m holding on.’ Too often we’re told questions and doubts are signs of spiritual weakness. They really aren’t, they lead to a richer spiritual experience and understanding as we explore and walk closer with God. Certainty is no guarantee that you’re with Jesus. Peter was certain in John 13:37; he said “I’ll lay down my life for you” and Jesus said “Really? When it’s all said and done you’re going to deny me 3 times.”

I found a quote from Archibald Macleish, who was an American poet and Librarian of Congress which says, “Religion is at it’s best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at it’s worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everybody else.” When Jesus said, “how can you take the speck out of someone’s eye when you have a plank in yours”, he was about asking us to take a long hard look at ourselves and our faults. How can we start doing something as huge as looking at our faults if we’re not even willing to start the process of doubting what we currently believe about certain things? Doubt is an inevitable part of that process. To quote Claus Westermann;

Where God’s words penetrate a man’s life and are taken seriously there are certain to be struggles and remonstrations and defeat; doubt and temptation also inevitably occur.

There are always things we are going to be certain of though. I’m certain in what I’ve said to you today and that doubting is not wrong and that nothing is beyond reproach. But doubt is not the same as unbelief, it’s a state between beliefs; so if you find yourself doubting, know that you are in good company and that it’s perfectly fine to be there. Jesus will be in there too, as he was with Thomas and as you walk with him with your doubts; and God is not going to be angry with you. Be ready to go places you were never expecting to go and be prepared for some conflict as you end up somewhere different to someone else. Doubts are only dangerous if we make them something to be ashamed of and we insist upon remaining distant from those who doubt and hold different beliefs. Like a splinter, pretending it doesn’t exist or thinking you are wrong for having one isn’t going to solve the problem and it can become infected if not treated.  Making people ashamed is the easiest way to get them to leave their doubts unchecked.

One final thing before I wrap this up; Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit before ascending. How can it be allowed to move, work, guide, show us something new, if we cling so tightly so our certainties and reject anything that contradicts them? It is through doubting that we grow, that we can walk closer with Jesus. Doubts are what make our faith our own, are what lead us closer to truth. It is impossible to be concerned with truth unless you’re genuinely open to the possibility that what you currently believe is wrong. There’s no 2 ways about it.

There’s so much more I want to say but I will end with this. I had my doubts, I still do and if I hadn’t explored them and wrestled with them, and still do so, I wouldn’t be a Christian now. We saw with Thomas that yes, he had his doubts but he was still willing to die with Jesus and that’s what ultimately happened to him when he was killed in India spreading the gospel. This is what we are supposed to be willing to do. I think we could do a lot worse than to be like Thomas. His doubts didn’t get in the way of following Jesus, and neither did they go away afterwards, indeed they were part of what allowed him to make such sacrifices because he explored, he doubted, he learned, he grew through those doubts and ultimately came closer to Jesus as a result.