How a tattoo showed we need to put our bibles down

So at the weekend I went and got this done:

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Many thanks to Darryl at Infinity Tattoos in Gloucester for doing it. Anyway, as I was immensely happy with it given the pain I went through to get it, I shared it over various social media platforms and forums. The response was largely positive but inevitably there was going to be one who didn’t approve and it didn’t take long for the Bible verses to come out;

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD – Leviticus 19:28

This was followed up with yet more inevitability with comments of me disobeying God including this gem; “Guess people don’t understand the many verses about not being like the world. Then to top it off, they brag about it.” Yep, straight in with the Bible and how I’m bragging about my disobedience; and you know what that felt like?

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Now I did have people support my decision and defended me, but what stood out is that no one asked me why I got it done. They might have thought that it was probably the wrong question to ask and worse than jumping in with the Bible. Maybe it’s obvious why I got it but the story of why I got it says something about me, it’s important to me and it felt like that was not important. What seemed to be important was getting straight into debating whether it’s right or wrong and if you thought I was wrong, ensuring I knew about it from whatever Bible verse seems vaguely relevant. I was asked what I thought the Bible said that was the closest it came to people wanting to get to know me. It’s just a little thing but asking about something as (relatively) trivial as a tattoo shows you’re interested in getting know someone; but if you can’t do that with a tattoo, how are you going to do that with something much more fundamental to someone’s life?

I don’t mind discussions over what the Bible says, they’re important, but it should not be at the ignorance of everything else. We need to look up from our Bibles to see what impact our use of scripture has and is having. Better yet, we need to put our Bibles away and engage with the world in which we live. All too often the verses we chuck out end up hurting people because we haven’t thought about the context of the passage or the context of the situation the person is in because we haven’t bothered to take the time to. We may not be of it but we’re certainly in it. Before we even think about finding verses to throw, we need to get to know people and walk with them. Jesus didn’t respond to every question with scripture straight away and some he didn’t respond with scripture at all. But he got to know the situations people were in because he got to know them and we need to the same.

So next time you’re tempted to throw the scriptures at people we should take a pause, put the Bible down and get know the person because after all, God didn’t send a book he sent a person and there’s probably good reason for that.

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Maybe we deserve to be treated with suspicion

So in a recent article on Premier, Andrea Williams from the Christian Legal Centre is quoted as saying “We are seeing a worrying trend, whereby Christian parents are being treated with suspicion because of their faith” and my immediate thought was “well, maybe we deserve to be”

Looking through the articles I’ve shared on the Facebook page, the majority have been along the theme of the mind bogglingly stupid things Christians have done and come out with. From trying to restrict the rights of same-sex couples by banning them from marrying or adopting children and then disciplining churches who stand for equality, to completely ignoring modern science and history regarding…..well, everything pretty much and trying to get our religious views into law to force onto everyone, topped off with details on disciplining your wife and covering abuse claims; and these are just the ones I can remember. Is it really a surprise Christians are treated with such suspicion?

Now I know there are many instances of Christians not doing these and it’s unfair to tar everyone with the same brush, but maybe we’ve reached the tipping point where our lunacy is outweighing any good we are doing. Even if it hasn’t, things can’t simply be swept under the carpet simply because they’re inconvenient and/or we don’t want to listen.

Maybe we deserve the contempt we get and if that isn’t sobering then perhaps we deserve even more.

Quick thoughts on the banned Lords Prayer ad; Part 2

So a couple of weeks ago the DCM (Digital Cinema Media) blocked an advert depicting the Lords Prayer from being shown in cinemas, and I penned some thoughts on why that was the correct decision and not a breach of free speech or an example of persecution. The controversy just won’t die down though and has been fanned into life once more with the news that cinemas are showing a short film which depicts animated Hindu gods; and once again Christians have whipped themselves into a frenzied mob including one very misguided Christian who put this together

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I say they’re misguided, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it manipulative because this picture leaves some out some very key facts which when known, really make this whole controversy another example of the Christian persecution complex.

First off, the Lord Prayers ad was not a short film depicting people praying, it was an explicit advert for the website justpray.uk. The Hindu film is not an advert so the comparison is false. If you’re looking for a similar Christian example, it’s much closer to the movie God is not Dead which was not banned and shown in many cinemas. Indeed the only criticisms that were leveled at  it was the scathing reviews on how horrendously atrocious it was (and yet somehow it got a sequel)

Secondly though and linked to this, as it’s a film not an advert the decision to show it lies with the individual cinema companies themselves not the DCM as they themselves have stated. So the Christian anger isn’t just misguided, it’s aimed at completely the wrong target anyway.

If Christians want depictions of prayer in movies, there’s no shortage of them. Heck even Day After Tomorrow has a small poignant scene of the President praying in a chapel, not to mentioned Noah and Exodus. If they want Christian characters in movies or Christian movies in general, do what the makers of this Hindu film did and make one; just make sure it’s better quality than the aforementioned Gods Not Dead.

So it’s very much ado about nothing and another case of where people need to stop and think before brandishing the pitch forks.

Quick thoughts on this banned prayer ad

So unless you’ve been hidden under a rock or in a country where the internet really is censored, you’ve probably heard of the decision by Digital Cinema Media (DCM) refusing permission for the Lords Prayer advert to be screened in cinemas.

Claims of pandering to political correctness and rampant secularism to claims of violating freedom of speech and the crowd favourite, persecution have been plenty in Christian media. Now admittedly the way DCM have handled this has not helped. Claiming the ban is because “it could cause offense” is just petrol on the fire for those who already feel marginalized because they think they’re banned from saying Merry Christmas.

But the simple fact is, it’s nothing of the kind. First off, they’re not banned from making the video in the first place. Secondly, they’re not banned from distributing the video freely on the internet which has a far bigger audience than all the cinemas in the world combined. Third, no one is now calling for them to be arrested or worse. Fourth, DCM reserve the right to decline any advert on the grounds of if they feel the video is pushing  political or religious agenda. Fifth, Christians are free to complain about the decision and indeed appeal it.

So there’s no freedom of speech issues, no persecution. An authority governing aspects of cinema has made a decision regarding a piece of marketing material and deemed it inappropriate. If Muslims or atheists tried to make a similar video I’d expect the decision to be the same. But the biggest thing for me is that it’s a video advertising prayer and as soon as I saw that, the below popped into my mind:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:5-6

We don’t need to advertise prayer in an entertainment venue, I think everyone knows that Christians and people of many other faiths pray. There’s a lot of confusion over why people pray but the website seems geared towards helping people pray. I don’t know for sure but my experience is that if atheists are interested in prayer, they’re going to go to a Christian they know and if Christians are struggling to pray, they’re going to go to Christians they know. Now the site does offer some advice on what prayer is (how good the advice is is another matter) but if someone is having questions about prayer, chances are they’ll know someone who they can speak to and besides, the above passage is probably the best advice. But sadly it has once again shown Christians completely backward priorities. With many homeless this winter, refugees seeking asylum plus numerous other issues afflicting millions (which Churches do a great job with by the way), we’re up in arms over the fact an ad won’t be shown in a cinema.

So whilst I get the reason behind the campaign, I think it’s very misguided to try and put it in cinemas even though it is actually very good and the DCM could have handled it much better. It’s certainly isn’t a restriction on freedom of speech and because I’m free to do so, I’ve pasted the video below.

Lords Prayer Ad

International Mens Day is not just a men only cause

So yesterday was International Mens Day though you can be forgiven for not knowing that. For International Womens Day, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were awash with articles about women from history who have been forgotten, statistics on domestic abuse and why the patriarchy system is killing women. Women and men were both posting about it, standing side by side for this day.

So when it came to International Mens Day, I was wary about what some Men’s Rights Activists (MRA’s) would post but it got off to a good start as many men were posting about mens health issues; in particular the astronomically high suicide rates among young men (it’s the most common cause of death for men under 45). Then Rebecca Collins from The Great Initiative wrote in her blog

So, happy International Men’s Day everyone. Go and tell a man you love that he is valued, that his feelings matter, that he doesn’t have to live with fear of being himself. It could very well save a life.

It was pleasing to read a woman endorse International Mens Day and see the issues that men face; issues that are caused by the same patriarchy system that kill women, which teach men that expressing feelings is a sign of weakness and weakness is bad. We’re fighting the same enemy. If I was hoping for more of the same though, it became obvious as the day went on that it wasn’t going to come. Indeed, many statements by feminists were along the lines of:

  • Why do we need an International Mens Day? Isn’t every day that?
  • It’s nothing more than a celebration of patriarchy
  • Just another example of patriarchy

I kind of get it. Patriarchy is killing women and men are the weapons and a day dedicated to men can be seen as celebrating that. But this was a chance for men who are fighting patriarchy and encouraging men to change to be recognized, and for the damage patriarchy is doing to men to be recognized and to let men know that they’re not alone and there is another way. But the comments and general silence of many feminists sent out some very powerful messages;

  • Men are nothing more than the patriarchy system
  • There are no men worthy of celebrating
  • There is nothing about being a man that’s good
  • Mens health issues don’t concern them
  • Men dying at the hands of patriarchy does not concern them

These are incredibly damaging, both in the way it demeans men and in the way it seems some feminists are spreading the very messages they’re seeking to change. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about how feminists are silent when it comes to mens issues so it’s really hard not to be cynical right now. I still maintain the belief that the only way to defeat patriarchy and make the world better for all is for men and women to be working together, but events such as yesterday just reinforce that there are those on both sides who don’t want to work together and I’m tempted to just wash my hands of it all and go “fine, have it your way”. I have had to remind myself why I got involved in fighting this in the first place.

It should be pointed out though that not every feminist was silent. As well as Rebecca Collins, this tweet popped up

It’s sad that it needed to be pointed out that men are actual and real, not a system because isn’t this what many feminists accuse men of doing to women?  The lack of interest in International Mens Day from many shows precisely why it’s needed along with International Womens Day. This isn’t an either/or situation. It’s possible to be committed to defeating patriarchy and see the effects it has on both men and women, to raise awareness of both and celebrate both. After all, isn’t this supposed to be the aim of feminism in defeating patriarchy?

My grieving process and what I learned from a guy named Tony

Death sucks for those left behind to mourn and grieve. That’s nothing new or profound but life has decided to reinforce that to my family.

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That is Tony and me in 2012 and I guess no explanation is needed as to where that was taken. That was the last time I saw him. We spoke once or twice since but distance does what it does (he was in Blackpool and I was in Oxford then Slough) He was engaged to my sister and they had 2 girls but split up shortly before this picture was taken. Tony helped me get my door supervisors badge, got me singing karaoke (badly), gave me a sweet jacket and just generally helped me build confidence to express myself that was pretty much non-existent at that point. The funny thing is Tony and I wouldn’t have met or tried to get on if it wasn’t for my sister; but Tony and I had something else in common. We had a trait of just being honest and our friendship really started when I raised some concerns and it went from there (common theme with my friendships).

Last weekend I received a call from my sister to say that Tony was in hospital and that he didn’t have long to live and Tuesday morning the call came in that he had passed away. I didn’t really react except to ask really dumb questions whether everyone was OK. I was work at the time so breaking down wasn’t really an option. But this isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with something like this and I almost have a default routine; go home, put some music on (or do some DJ’ing when I had decks) put the XBox on and drink. “Bury it, don’t deal, just bury” is how most people would describe it. It’s my grieving process, it’s what works for me in the aftermath and I need different things at different times. The tears sometimes come later and this has been no exception.

Last night was darts and I was determined to go. My mind wasn’t there and I know if my mind isn’t there then I don’t play well, but I felt I wanted play because when I went to visit Tony and my sister we would play darts. It went as expected, I wasn’t really in a state to play. I was atrocious and when I finally lost, I finally cracked. Yes I cried. Wasn’t much, wasn’t for long, but I cried. Fortunately the team were great and understood and even though they were the usual cliches and I hid in the toilet for my tears, one of the guys followed me in to see if I needed to talk. But I played to honor Tony somehow, would have been nice to get the win to top it off. This is part of my grieving process and right now, everyone is going through theirs.

I’m sure I’m going to go through a mixer again at the funeral, and my sister has to be stronger at the moment because of the girls. For now I just have the emotions out and my wife, my XBox, listening to the Halo soundtrack on repeat and even this blog you are reading now are part of my grieving process, but I can’t say I’ve had the profound “life is too short to take certain things too seriously” moment. I do take things seriously, that’s part of who and how I am and I apologize to no one for it. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve gained from my time with Tony.

The guy wasn’t perfect but we had good times and he helped me in more ways than I probably realize. R.I.P mate, keep the oche free for when I get up there and have a pint ready.

If it is a war, Jesus has given us our orders

“When you spend everyday fighting a war, you learn to demonize your attackers. To you they’re evil, they’re sub-human. Because if they weren’t, then what would that make you?” – General Vanessa Kimble, Red Vs Blue

So I’ve been attending a new church for a couple of weeks and I spend most of the time at the back reading a book on my Kindle and making notes on various things. One of the things I note down are anything that stands out to me during the sermon and this has been the case over the last couple of weeks. The passage that has been the subject has been the “armor of God” passage (Ephesians 6:10-17) which, just for ease of reference, is below:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Now, the way the vicar went with this passage was about Christians being in a war with the world. We are in a war with the world and it’s ways; we are either on the worlds side or God’s side, that we need to go on the attack for the best form of defence, all wrapped up in ‘Jesus took the punishment due to us for us on the cross’ and we need to be prepared. Sufficed to say this left me very uncomfortable and not because it was particularly challenging. It was the overall narrative of conflict of Christians should be effectively be raging a war. Now I kind of agree to a point, and I will hopefully elaborate more during this blog, but I think the vicar has the wrong target in their sights, not to mention very questionable tactics which when brought together, results in things that not only don’t seem to be of Jesus, but are actually creating more problems, if not create the very problem it’s trying to solve.

Let’s start with the target and for that, lets go right back to Genesis. God created this world and He declared it good. Then a serpent came in, convinced Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the world went wrong. Now, the concept of original sin and what Genesis is about is a subject of lengthy debates, and admittedly God did seem to wipe it all out and start again, but God has never stopped loving the world. He hated what it had become, He hated what it was doing and He hated what caused it, but He never stopped loving it. Arguably one of the most famous passages, John 3:16, states “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” and Jesus was quite clear about the 2 greatest commands; Love God and love your neighbour. We are not called to hate the world, we are not called to be at war with it, we are called to care for the sick, the dying, and the poor (James 2:14-17), but I’m going to come back to this.

So, who is the enemy, who is the target? The one who came in and wreaked havoc, the one that Paul refers to in Ephesians; the devil. The devil doesn’t want the focus to be on God but on ourselves and serving our selves at the individual level. It’s easy to stand on a pedestal and say “yes, the world has adopted the devils ways”, and that would probably be true, but so have many churches and Christians which is why when you speak out for equality and peace, the biggest firestorm comes from Christians. It seems that the ways of the Church and the ways of the devil are now so closely entwined that they’re virtually indistinguishable from each other. We now see enemies at every corner that we fight ourselves more than we fight the devil. Paul is very explicit, our war is not against flesh and blood and our readiness comes from a gospel of peace. Yet from a pulpit I heard “Jesus wasn’t interested in/here for world peace but our relationship with God”. First off, there still seems to be the individual self serving nature (“our” relationship with God is meant as “mine”) but a relationship with God and world peace are not 2 mutually exclusive options. To follow God means to serve others because that’s what Jesus did, and serving others instead of fighting means world peace.

So we seem to have the wrong target, what about the tactics? Well, Jesus was not slow to go on the attack against the Pharisees regarding their attitude towards those who they deemed to be unworthy (a theme to which I will return), but he was also equally as quick to show love to people. His attack was against the ways of the devil the Pharisees adopted that resulted in people being hurt was love and healing. But people see attacking as that, an attack to hurt and defeat an opponent and the vicar used actual war examples where that was the aim to show “this works and is good and what we should do”. Peter showed though that when you adopt that strategy as an attack, people get very hurt. Jesus not only rebuked him for it though, he healed the soldier to repair the damage, (Matthew 26:51-52). Jesus used his ‘attacks’ to defend others, Peter used his ‘attacks’ to harm others and this distinction has got very lost and was missing from these sermons. It seems to be a very important distinction because passages like Ephesians get used to support Christians owning (and using) guns and authors like Ben Corey and Derek Flood do an excellent job in showing this distinction; Flood has written an entire book dedicated to this subject. I put some of my views in “Should I defend myself

When we bring these 2 together and add in “you can only be on God’s side or the worlds side”, that’s when things start getting really quite off track. Obviously any Christian would want to be on God’s side and the world is God’s enemy, so the world is therefore our enemy and we must defend ourselves and attack is the best form of defence. The end result is Christians attacking anyone who don’t deem to be on God’s side and that’s what we’re seeing today. People leaving church because they don’t feel welcome, people being asked to leave the church because they disagree with the church’s stance on a certain doctrine, countries saying they’d prefer Christian refugees, LGBT youth getting kicked out of their home and much worse. I started with a quote about what happens when you fight a war, what can be argued has to happen to fight a war and when you start using a war-like message, it’s the mindset that people will enter into. To wage a war against an enemy is not loving them and Jesus was extremely clear on how highly he rates that command (Mark 12:30-31).

This wasn’t meant to turn into another rant against the church. It should be said that this church does a lot of work with the homeless, particularly homeless young people and they should absolutely be applauded for that. I also know that my perspective does follow a very similar conflict model which in itself may be problematic. I’m also not saying this church is causing this harm directly, but the message that got preached certainly is. Preaching this kind of conflict narrative is only going to result in a tighter circling of the wagons to protect “our own” which is going to disconnect the church from the world more than it already is. Now, there are some Christians who believe it should be disconnected, “in the world but not of it”, but Jesus came to this world, made himself part of that worldly suffering. Even if we are in a war, it’s not against the world, it’s for it and Jesus has given us our orders; love your neighbour, care for the sick, feed the hungry, shelter the poor; that’s how you win. or as Ben Corey puts it:

Corey

Update: I sent this to the vicar in question and he responded by saying he didn’t say we were at war with the world, and has offered to chat about what he actually said/meant. When and if that happens, I will update further.