Should I defend myself?

A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” – Yoda, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

I thought I’d start this blog off with a quote from an actual conversation that took place between myself and a guy in a pub one evening:

You’re a Christian right?
Yeah
Didn’t Jesus say to turn the other cheek?
He did yeah
So if I slap you, you have to let me slap the other one right?
That’s right, but there’s a slight flaw in your reasoning.
What’s that?
You’re assuming you can hit the first one, and Jesus says nothing about me having to let you do that.

Admittedly, whilst we weren’t drunk, we weren’t going to be passing a police breathalyzer test that night. Fortunately, he didn’t decide to try and hit me, and we just carried on with our game of darts.

As many of you may know, I study martial arts and the subject of self defense comes up occasionally, especially in the context of  “turn the other cheek”. It also comes up regarding the respectful act of bowing to instructors, and in some of the more eastern philosophy and concepts. But that’s for another time.

Just what exactly can we do when it comes to defending ourselves?

In one of my first lessons, the instructor said “If you’re in a situation and you can run, run. If you can’t run, try and talk your way out of it. If you can’t do either of those things, only then use what we teach and only enough to get away”.  This has stuck with me ever since; it certainly helped that the instructor was very strict on respecting the style and not using our skills to show off. I’ve never really understood what being able to beat someone up actually proves, which is probably why I try to avoid a fight whenever possible.

It’s been a good set of rules to go with, it seemed to work for Jesus. Pretty much anytime he was under threat of physical abuse he’d leave the town. The only time he couldn’t was when the Roman authorities came to arrest him but I’ll come back to this. So what would constitute “doing enough to get away”, assuming that you couldn’t simply run or talk your way out of it?  I wouldn’t suddenly start brandishing a sword; if a punch comes towards me, a simple dodge and/or block would be sufficient whilst trying to get out of the situation. If getting out of the situation involved having to hit someone, then I’ll hit them. It’s not something I would enjoy or be proud of, and it’s not something I would do first, but Jesus did send the disciples out with swords (Luke 22:35-38), and some commentaries have suggested that in addition to these being for hunting animals and chopping wood, they would have had them for self defense. Now, I’m not saying that this is a mandate for Christians to carry weapons, but it seems Jesus was happy for them to defend themselves if they needed to.

So what do we do when it comes to defending other people? For me, this should be a no-brainer. If you see someone getting beat up, you step in.  I’m not suggesting we all become Batman here, that we go out and find situations to swoop in and help people and beat the bad guys up, but I don’t think Jesus would expect us or command us to simply walk by either. Parable of the Good Samaritan anyone?

Again, diving in with fists first doesn’t need to be the first reaction. Peter pulled out a sword and went for the Roman soldiers before they even did anything, and Jesus wasn’t particularly happy about it. This very much seems to be at odds with the above about Jesus allowing swords for defense, but it seems that context is everything. Yes, Peter went to defend Jesus, but he went on the attack with the intent to harm whilst doing it. I am not suggesting that you harm anyone, but in the course of defending yourself, harming the other person may be unavoidable.

Looking through the Gospels, it seems that Jesus was never faced with a situation that he had no way out of, he was always able to walk away before anything happened. The only exception that I can find was when the Roman soldiers came to arrest him. Being honest, if the authorities came to arrest me, I wouldn’t be putting up much of a struggle. Am I being pedantic? Probably, but I don’t think it’s an irrelevant point. Like anything, it all comes down to context, and the number of scenario’s that people can come up with seem endless. I can’t address every single one, nor do I think what I’ve written above can be universally applied to all of them. Jesus was certainly an advocate for avoiding violence and finding other solutions, (which would be putting it mildly), though he was not above using a whip when the situation called for it. (John 2:15)

When we think about non-violence, it seems to be so simple on the face surface; don’t be violent. Is blocking someone’s attack violent though? Is using a punch to dissuade/distract your attacker so it allows you time to escape, violent? How many punches can your opponent throw before it becomes acceptable to respond? It’s at this point that the discussion on this can get bogged down with semantics and word play, and this blog is most likely an example of that.

The section of my conversation with a stranger at the beginning of this blog is probably a classic example. I think I was correct in what I said, but I wasn’t looking for a fight. Many people seem to think that Christians are supposed to stand idly and let others simply hit and abuse them, which is another reason the subject of self defense comes up. Many people say a violent response simply perpetuates the cycle of violence and they’re right, but I’ve not said to be violent, I’ve only ever said do what you need to do to protect yourself and get out of the situation (there’s that word play). I’m sure there are those who will disagree, who believe that Christians shouldn’t be even studying martial arts (despite the fitness and discipline it instills). It’s very easy to debate the ins and outs from the sidelines, it’s a little different when you’re facing someone intent on hurting you.

The answer to the question in the title should have been a short sharp yes. Given that this is now my 17th draft, it seems it’s really not as simple as that, or maybe it is, but the discussions around context gets complicated. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be attacking each other so there would be no need to defend ourselves; but unfortunately, we don’t live in that kind of world…yet.

How blowing the questions wide open (with the help of some heretics) saved my faith

synchroblog

(This post is part of the synchroblog “What Saved Your Faith?” hosted by Ed Cyzewski to celebrate the release of his new book, “A Christian Survival Guide.” Get the book free today only!)

I’ve written about this previously over many blogs, so my answer has been cobbled from these, but it’s a question that comes up often; mostly from Christians who’s faith seems to be falling apart before their eyes. Hearing the stories of those who have come close to losing their faith, only to come out the other side again can be very inspiring. I hope my story does the same for someone.

If I were to answer this question directly, I would say that those who were considered heretics were the people who helped to save my faith and make it stronger. I’ve never been particularly scared to ask questions, or to challenge the views of others and express my own. Whilst I am very determined, I try to remain open to the possibility I am wrong, though I can be stubborn. An infinite being such as God is never going to be explained properly by my finite mind, so I try to keep it open. Discussions with atheists regarding religion, faith and evidence for God always left me feeling challenged but inspired, and therefore, I’ve always tried to take on board what I was being told.

But none of this really prepared me for my encounters with those regarded as religious fundamentalists. From the beginning I was bombarded with scriptures and was told the ways I should interpret them. Because I was still learning about the scripture, I took what they said as gospel and went with it. Difficult topics, like Genesis, sin, and hell, I went with what I was learning from others. But as time went on, questions began to come to my mind. What about evolution? Why would a loving God send people to hell? In my usual manner, I asked these questions to the people who I was discussing these issues with. Sufficed to say, the responses I got took me by surprise. Same scriptures but with the added “why are you questioning God?” in there for extra spice. “It doesn’t make sense to you? You just need more faith!!!” Wonderful! I just need more faith. How do I get that if I can’t ask questions? “Well you’re not asking the right questions!” Yeah, well that’s less than unhelpful, along with being overly aggressive. I retreated into my shell and just hoped it would all go away.

Something I heard Michael Ramsden once say kept coming back to me; “If you have doubts and you leave them un-answered, they will erode under your faith until eventually it all collapses.” It got to the point for me where that’s exactly what was happening. I couldn’t reconcile everything I knew with what I was being told. I risked losing it all, but according to some, I already was by sending people (and myself) to hell with my theology. What this talk did though was show me that it’s perfectly acceptable to have questions and ask them, and slowly, my confidence and my curiosity grew once more, and my need to ask questions returned.

During one of my Google searches regarding homosexuality and the Bible (it turned out that it was a huge topic for many so I wasn’t alone, which felt good), I came across an article by Rachel Held Evans, titled “How to win a culture war and lose a generation”. Lovely article which really demonstrated love for others. This resonated with me, this was what I was looking for. When I did a search for more of her work, turns out not everyone saw it that way. Many of the searches came up alongside the word heretic; “a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church”. This made me nervous. Was I a heretic for agreeing with her? I’d already been told I was going to hell, maybe this would just seal the deal.

As I researched more topics, more names starting popping up; Justin Lee, Richard Beck, Peter Enns, Derek Flood (who I will come back to), Jeremy Myers; each Google search revealed them to be considered heretics. But the more I read their work, the more they made sense to me. Not only with the points they made, but with the diversity of the questions they were asking. These weren’t people afraid to ask questions, they openly did it and confronted head on many of those who would rather they were quiet. They had opened up a whole new world to the one presented to me before, yet it was a vaguely familiar one as they vocalized the questions I had been suppressing. They took a lot of abuse for it, but they persevered. To this day, I still don’t know how. But in it I began to see the vaguest of ideas of what the Bible was getting at and more importantly, what it meant to be a Christian.

So with my confidence back, I adopted my usual grace of a free falling safe and dove in. I rediscovered what I’d lost – my relationship with Christ. That difficult, slightly odd but totally unique relationship I have with Him.

Everything became different as I learned to embrace the relationship once more, I tried to look to Him for answers and see things as He does. I have my quirks because He gave them to me. If I was expecting a smooth road from there on out, I clearly hadn’t learned my lessons from the past.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I refer to Derek Flood a lot. I can say that his book helped to save my faith. As I mentioned previously, in the early days of my faith, I was influenced by people like Ravi Zacharias and Michael Ramsden, but their interpretation of the cross, (that it was about the pouring out of God’s wrath onto Jesus) really didn’t seem to settle with me; it didn’t sound like the God I knew. Previous issues regarding Genesis and the whole inerrancy issue were coming back to the forefront as a result. The work from the likes of Peter Enns and John Walton were helping me with these issues, but I couldn’t understand God and His wrath. It wasn’t until I read Flood’s book that I began to understand that the cross was about restoration, not wrath. Until that point, what I was coming to understand about heaven (courtesy of NT Wright’s work), were just words that sounded great, but I had no idea what they meant or how to apply them. Flood’s book acted like a pen joining up the dots, not just about the cross, but about virtually everything that I couldn’t reconcile. It blew away my fears, and I felt a freedom and a peace that I hadn’t had since that night at my friends house.

When you’re in the middle of working through something, and you have all these voices telling you conflicting things, having people you trust who you can go to can really help you to find a path, but in the end, I had to work it out for myself. When relying solely on other peoples opinions, you run the risk of simply being blown about in the direction of whatever author you happen to be listening to at the time. Also, your understanding isn’t really your own – it’s your understanding of somebody else’s point of view. Your faith is effectively somebody else’s. It is a fine line to tread, but there is a difference between being influenced by someone and saying “this is true because they say so”. It isn’t wrong to listen to others, it’s how we learn, and it certainly gives a great starting point. It may even result in a massive breakthrough like Flood’s book did for me.

Looking back, the people I mentioned (and countless more I’ve missed) have helped shape my outlook on the Bible and my faith. These “heretics” have quite literally saved my faith and my relationship with Christ. They blew wide open the questions and dared to go down roads many deemed too dangerous. Anytime I find someone branded a heretic by a Christian, it encourages me to go read their work. This doesn’t mean that I agree with everything, but it encourages me to think differently about things and to be confident when doing so. You can’t do any of that without support, and I’ve not always had that from churches, so I often have to remind myself that it is ok to take a step back. It’s also opened my eyes to a great many things, I still have lots to learn though, and lots to work on, but at least I feel more confident to walk alongside Christ once more.

 

What saved your faith? Write a blog post answering that question and then visit this post at Ed Cyzewski’s blog to learn how you can join the synchroblog or to read additional posts to celebrate the release of Ed’s book A Christian Survival Guide.

My dark hole

Following the tragic death of Robin Williams, it wasn’t long before the ugly side of Christians reared its head. Comments about how he wouldn’t have been depressed if he had Jesus, how Christians who suffer from depression can’t really be following Christ, to it was all his choice and his fault.

I just wanted to curl up in the corner of my sofa and cry.

Apart from the occasional side reference in a blog post, I’ve not really talked about my battle with anxiety and depression. I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder a few years ago and it’s mild really, so I’m reluctant to call it a battle. By their definition, my moods are generally impacted by the weather and it’s something that’s happened for as long as I can remember (even before I knew what it was).  I just accepted that it was something that happened to me and I just got my head down and powered through it. Occasionally I would drink to help get through the evenings, or watch things I would regret later (which probably didn’t help); anything that got me through each minute seemed justified. When I was out, I often just didn’t want to be seen and would try to hide in the corner. I felt safe in the corner, away from people. Nothing really changed when I gave my life to Christ, I still had to battle it; I wasn’t cured of it (something I still struggle to understand now). What it gave me though, was a definite sense of not being alone in this. Many times in the winter months, traveling from Abingdon to Slough for work, I’d feel like Jesus was just sat next to me, arm around me, telling me he was going to help me get through this.

I’ve never seriously considered suicide, I never got that far down my hole, but I’d be lying if I said that I never thought about just throwing myself in front of the train whilst standing on platform 3 of Didcot Parkway station at half 6 in the morning. I can’t explain why I didn’t, probably because I wasn’t totally serious, but it went through my mind. For several brief moments, I thought it would be better for everyone. I know friends who have tried, but I can’t say I fully understand why because I’m not them. I don’t walk in their shoes and mine aren’t a perfect fit. My experiences give me a starting point to understanding, nothing more. I think this is what hurt the most about yesterday. There was no attempt at understanding, just a blanket condemnation as if one solution that worked for one person must work for everyone and if it doesn’t it’s the persons fault. Sometimes I don’t need someone to understand, just someone who will join me in my duvet/pillow fort and listen if I need them to. My dark hole is mine, and it is different to everyone else’s.

When I eventually went to see my GP about it, I was adamant I didn’t want to be on medication for too long. I needed a long term solution, but what the medication did was make my hole seem less dark; enough for me to re-orient myself and go and see a professional. I am eternally grateful to those professionals for their help and advice. They didn’t judge, they didn’t condemn, they showed support and compassion and got me the help I needed. I was part of a church at the time and I made it when I could, they were supportive for the most part and that was important too. I now have a light box which helps with my moods, my XBox helps me distract myself for a couple of hours and helps relieve some of the stress, I know I can rant at Sarah or at any of my friends and I know they will support me. That’s what’s really needed, support. They don’t blame me, they don’t heap shame on me, they don’t tell me to just “get over it”. Sometimes I do need a kick up the backside, and they give me that, but they are in a position to because they know me and my past.

Someone had commented on Twitter that “You wouldn’t throw Scripture at a broken leg and expect it to be healed, so why would you do that for a mental condition?” There is so much misunderstanding about mental health, not just within the church but in society as a whole. There is a strong current of ‘blame the victim’; “it must be their fault”. Within the church that leads to shaming statements of “you don’t have enough faith in Jesus” or “you don’t believe in the right Jesus”. ‘Salt and wound’ come to mind, but passing judgement on someones faith or issues that they don’t know the full story of, seems to be the job description of the modern day Christian. Why would anyone go for help if they’re going to get more pressure heaped onto them? A friend said to me “only a person who’s gone through the same thing, truly understands what you’re going through“. I think that’s largely true, and I’m incredibly grateful to the many who have battled depression stepping up and combating the dangerous nonsense that was going round yesterday.

Depression is very very real, the most common cause of death in men under the age of 35 is suicide. I sometimes find myself back in my dark hole, sometimes it’s almost comfortable being there. Other times I find myself just looking down into it. It’s just part of who I am, but it doesn’t define my existence.

If you’re struggling with any of the issues mentioned in this blog, or you’re in a situation that you don’t know how to get out of, the Samaritans are available 24/7. They are there to listen and offer impartial, anonymous advice. You don’t even have to give your name if you don’t want to. Their contact details are at http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

What I’ve learned from my time away from social media

I can’t avoid social media – Facebook being the only way I can keep in touch with people probably didn’t help with that, but every article has links to the sites social media sites and buttons to link articles to social media. It has become the easiest and most popular way to share and obtain information.

I felt I was missing out – During my hiatus, it occurred to me that the reason I was on social media so much because I was afraid I would miss out on something. With so much content around, it is hard to keep up and I felt I had to keep up or I was missing out. So I ended up pretty much spending every moment on Twitter just to feel part of getting the news out.

I want to be at the front – I also wanted to be one of the first to get information out, so everyone would come to my Facebook or Twitter for the information, to be regarded as being at the forefront. I feel I have so much to share, and that to do that I need to be at the front of wherever I am, be it social media or church. It really gets to me when I feel I don’t get given the chance.

I’m jealous of Micah Murray – Well, not Micah Murray specifically, but those who have large fanbases and get thousands of views per post whilst I struggle away in my little corner of the interweb for little reward. I would write a post and get my usual dozen views and a few weeks later someone writes a post on the exact same subject and it’s all over the internet; so yes, I get jealous, even though I know they’ve worked at their craft and reaping the rewards and fair play to them for that.

I tried too hard to be a blogger –  I write my views in a blog from time to time, but sometimes I tried to be deep and clever and thought provoking because I thought that’s what bloggers should do. Being a blogger is a cool sounding title, I wanted to call myself one but it’s not what I do or who I am. Learning is good, and I have lots to share, but blogging regularly probably isn’t the best way for me to do it. There has to be a reason, sometimes it felt I was blogging just to get ahead of the curve or because I felt I had to because everyone else would be.

I work just as well from the back – When I stop worrying about whether I will be noticed, and just get on with what needs to be done, I seem to have more confidence in what I’m doing; that or I just feel more relaxed because I’ve stopped worrying about trying to climb the popularity tree. During my first facilitation session with The Great Men Project, the teenagers didn’t really listen to me so my partner did most of the talking. That allowed me to listen to what was being said, pick out a couple of statements that were missed by others and turn them into a question to keep the session going.

I’d split my life – I have a personal FaceBook page and one associated with this blog. What was happening was that all the “religious” articles would go on the blog page and everything else would go onto my personal page. I’d almost split my faith from the rest of my personal life. Oddly, it’s not much of an issue on Twitter since the account for my blog has pretty much become my personal page now. In my personal life, I think I have a better idea on when to talk about my faith and when to leave it out of conversations, but mix it

I want to be Jason Bourne – Or a world champion darts player, Batman would also be cool. Why I imagine these things I have no idea. I also play out conversations and scenario’s that are unlikely to ever happen; either to be ready or to imagine me actually being the winner. This is probably why I keep myself so busy, to stop this happening (past scenarios haven’t always ended well)

My confidence can quickly turns to arrogance – When I get confident and relaxed, I have a tendency to over state what I can do. I can get a bit aggressive which just makes my confidence sound like arrogance; probably because it is. It’s been a while since I felt confident, sometimes I forget it needs to be reigned in.

Battles are never far away – Life sometimes feels like a maze with no solution, and there are no shortage of people who want to line up and remind you of that. Then there’s the challenges that this maze and those in it provide and since there is no solution, the battles are endless……but we fight not because we can win, but because it’s something worth fighting for.

Still very unsure about church – I think I’ve found one that’s more a style I’m used to, but I keep finding excuses not to go. Eventually I’ll go and wonder what all the fuss was about, I’m not quite there yet though, and I’m a little nervous about being treated as a puzzle to solve or worse.

I think I just miss Jesus – I struggle with being in silence, reading…..praying. My relationship with Jesus is like my relationship with my friends; haven’t seen them for a long time, speak occasionally but still friends and need to have a proper meet up.

I do what I criticize others for – having read a lot of blogs from a lot of people and organizations, you get an idea for what people write. Now, if I see anything from The Gospel Coalition (for example) I just don’t read it because it’s likely to just get me very angry, ever since that “gag reflex” article. I find myself doing that with others as well. I’ve tried to have a stance of giving people the benefit of the doubt, to treat arguments on their merits, but as soon as I see articles from certain people, I’m just not interested.

I’m in a pretty good place – Maybe it’s the lots of sun that we’ve had recently, but despite of the above (or possibly because of the above) I feel I’m in a good place at the moment. I’m not broken, I have issues to work through sure so I’m probably a little cracked, but a mosaic is basically pieces of cracked material.