I will keep praying

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This image was drawn by a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist after the spring shooting and is circulating again after the latest attacks in Paris.  I must confess that it breaks my heart.

As a Christian I don’t want to be rejected and I hope I can offer some comfort and hope to people, even if all I can do is pray.  Surely prayers, even if you think they do nothing at all, don’t hurt people.

I am sorry that Christians and religion have offended people and we are now deemed to make the world worse, not better.  I’m sorry our message has been unhelpful.  We weep with you over this tragedy and others.  The Bible tells us Jesus also wept, he knew the world wasn’t right and I love that He felt real emotions and was devastated by all the hurtful things that go on in the world. He felt human pain and He isn’t a distant deity; that’s what I, as a Christian, believe.

As a Christian I cry ‘Abba Father‘ to God.  Abba means Daddy and I cry to him out of the nightmare that can sometimes be how living on this earth is.  I believe Christ came to die for me, to save me, even whilst I was oblivious to Him, and didn’t even want Him to die for me.  It is amazing really, a phenomenal act of generosity.

When I observe tragic events such as those that have just unfolded in Paris and Beirut, I can’t help but feel that there is a bigger picture, some evil out there that is larger than human nature.  I can’t deny that there seems to be a plan that is more significant than any one of us.  I’m led towards thinking there must be some deity, good and/or bad and I reject the idea that our world has simply come about by accident.  Put simply, being an atheist requires too much faith for me.  Humanity doesn’t seem to be some failed experiment either – there is too much goodness, in nature, in a baby’s laugh for instance, for me to say it is all here by chance.  I yearn to know the cosmic plan.

As I have tried to seek out truth, I believe I have found answers in the Bible and through the Christian faith.  The Bible tells me that God did not intend for the world to be full of suffering, and that He has a plan to put things right.  I am trying to find the faith to discover and believe His plan.

I want to be part of a religion that inspires beauty and does good in the world.  I love that Christianity has given us Handel’s Messiah and the Cistine chapel; it has also given us more charities, humanitarian aid workers and caused more people to become willing to go to dark and dangerous places than any other faith.  I reject the satircial world that Charlie Hebdo creates for us too, it is not enough.

There are still many unsolved questions for me, but I hope that I can keep on seeking and find some answers; I’m willing to pray, to believe and to hope.  I am thankful I can choose to do this and I remain hopeful.  I will keeping praying, for Paris and anywhere else that suffers.

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Why am I doing this? The questions I would like answered.

So, why am I writing this blog?  There are a few questions I want to discuss out loud and in public in the hope that maybe some others are wondering the same things and have some wisdom to share.

I am British and live in the US right now.  At a recent dinner at my house my husband and I had invited two other couples.  One of the other couples was British and non-Christian, the other was American and Christian.

Throughout the evening the American Christian couple made endless comments that I disagreed with, they showed contempt for any efforts I made to save the planet and were pro-guns.  They hated Obama and assumed I as a Christian would too.

On the other hand, the non-Christian British couple were anti-gun, took steps to reduce their carbon footprint and thought Obama great.  In short, we had far more in common with our non-Christian fellow Brits than the American Christians.

So my question is not who is wrong or right, but rather why do Christians from not so different cultures differ so much?  How have we come to such polar opposite conclusions about important matters?  Does culture hold more sway over us than our faith?  Shouldn’t it be the other way round?

These questions and others are what I wish to write about in this blog – in short, the intersection of culture and faith and the impact it has on us.

Where have American Christians put their crosses?

It is my great pleasure to be living in the US for a couple of years, I am British and love being here, I know I am very blessed.  It is fascinating though to observe how different Christian populations practice their faith; surely we should all be pretty similar as Christians but it seems to me that our culture holds far more influence over us than perhaps it should.  For example, it troubles me that such a large number of Christians in the US are in favour of guns, which seems abhorrent to most UK citizens, but I know we in the UK have our shortcomings as Christians too.  How is it that Christians in different countries come up with such different ways of following Christ?

One overarching theme I have observed among most Christians in the US is that they willingly suffer no hardship, in other words they do not take up their crosses.  Of course there are many Christians here that do suffer hardship, but most of that is forced upon them, rather than something they volunteer for.  Jesus is pretty clear, we should expect to take up our crosses daily through denying something, otherwise we are not worthy of Him (Matt 10:38, Matt 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23)

I had never thought about it before, but the Christians most admired in the UK are those that sacrifice something, whether it be money and status, or time and space perhaps through hospitality.  It is not unusual to give until it hurts.  In Britain there is a history of monasticism and Celtic Christianity which I think has somehow led to this sacrificial ideal, we do not take kindly to affluent and showy Christians.  Conversely I see little evidence of sacrificial Christianity in the US, but I do acknowledge there are many strengths, your esteem for the bible is something we Brits could learn from.

The problem is that so many of the issues that face America and the world today require a sacrificial solution.  American Christians need to take up their crosses.  The perfect example is action needed to save the environment; the carbon footprints of Americans need to be reduced.  Personally I try to help by not using a dryer and driving a smaller car so I consume less petrol (gas!).  These actions are commonplace in the UK because people care about the impact they have on the environment, but I am yet to meet an American, Christian or otherwise, who does either.

Similarly, if American society is to be redeemed it will probably require Christians to make friends with some non-Christians.  A great place to start would be in public schools that are in desperate need of Christian students and teachers.  My eight year old daughter was able to report to a teacher that one of her friends had been watching pornography online – this girl was helped because she had a Christian friend who acted when needed.  There are many more children in public schools who are in need of friends with faith.  I have heard many Christian friends bemoan that religion can’t be practiced in schools now and have therefore removed their children from them.  They forget that the greatest witnesses are people and that if we as Christians carry the Holy Spirit into schools ourselves, no law can stop us.  If allowing your children to mix with non-Christians seems like a sacrifice to you, then maybe this is a cross you are being asked to bear.

Poverty, so rampant in the US where inequality is enormous, most likely also requires a sacrificial solution.  Those that have more may need to give up something to help those here and abroad who have so much less.  It has occurred to me that the bad attitude many American Christians have towards the Federal Government may be sinful.  Furthermore, I simply have not got my head around the great patriotism in the US that is not accompanied with solidarity among its citizens.  Can anyone explain this?

Finally there is the obvious issue of guns, I firmly believe that many Christians are being called to give up the freedom to own a gun, and to do so would greatly benefit America.  No other group of Christians in the world has ever thought guns were a good thing.

The good news is that it is not too late for Americans to take up their crosses.  They can start immediately by taking some action to help the environment, there are a myriad resources and ways of doing so.  The other issues may take longer to tackle individually, but with collective action, done in solidarity with other Americans, they can be addressed.  There is hope and when we take up our crosses and focus on God as the source of everything we need there are great spiritual riches to be found.  I encourage American Christians to read about Celtic Christianity, to study the desert Fathers and look into Poustinias.  Could they consider if there are distractions in their lives that might be removed in order to find a new level of closeness to God.  God meets us and honours us when we give up what is precious to us for Him and maybe, just maybe, if taking up our crosses was practised nationwide this could lead to a great spiritual awakening throughout the country that will bless many in new ways.   The cross is good news, make sure you don’t lose yours.

Stealing ideas

In looking for layout inspiration and ideas for this blog I came across a friend’s blog.  He has an amazing way with words and in describing the feelings a Christian gets when following God he uses the term ‘faith endorphins’.  I love this phrase!  Just like exercising, following God isn’t always easy, but when we act in faith we receive a good dose of feel good faith endorphins.  I want more of them.

I’m conscious too, that those who leave the West to fight with ISIS in the Middle East are seeking those faith endorphins too.  They want to make their lives count for something, but are sadly seeking it in the wrong way.  I wish we Christians could better explain that following God is amazing and those endorphins can be felt by anyone who steps out in faith to follow Him.