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Thérèse of Lisieux: No credit where it’s due

27 Jul

The latest edition of Premier Christianity magazine features my article on Thérèse of Lisieux, a French nun who had the quickest canonisation of anyone in the Catholic Church up to that date. (Canonisation is being declared a saint, in case you’re not up on the lingo.)

This the article that I mentioned was bumped from the magazine because of Billy Graham’s death, and then leapfrogged by my later article on Richard Wurmbrand. But Thérèse would have loved that. She was self-effacing to the point of being completely self-negating. Her ‘little way’, as she called her philosophy, was about denying every self-focussed impulse, however justified it seemed, and instead living a life of sacrificial love for others, to the greater glory of God.

I found the story of Thérèse of Lisieux challenging. The first challenge was learning how to spell her name, of course. But more seriously, her absolute denial of self makes you question your own ‘reasonable’ level of selfishness. When she was dying of a painful illness, those who didn’t know her well thought that she couldn’t be seriously unwell, because she was so uncomplaining. I am not that uncomplaining, to put it mildly.

I didn’t agree with Thérèse on everything. I think she took self-negation too far, to the extent that she thought it might be wrong for her to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation (specifically the scent of flowers). But there is undeniably something to strive towards in her determination “to appear happy, and especially to be so”, despite the worst of personal circumstances.

You can get a copy of Christianity magazine for free, but if you subscribe at the moment you get the first year at half price (making it less than twenty quid for the whole year), and you’ll be entered into a draw to win £200-worth of Christian books!

Of course, if you want to follow Thérèse’s example, you’d better hope that you don’t win the books. But don’t worry, if you do win them, you can just give them away. 😉

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What do you really believe?

4 Jun

First of all, welcome to my new subscribers who have come over from the newsletter! (And if you’re thinking, “what newsletter?”, there’s a sign-up button just over there. ➡)

My latest article for Christianity magazine is in shops now. This one is on Richard Wurmbrand, because poor Therese of Lisieux got bumped due to the death of Billy Graham. Fortunately, I can be fairly sure Therese wouldn’t mind – you’ll see what I mean when her article finally comes out.

Richard Wurmbrand, despite having a name that looks very Germanic, was actually Romanian (the “W” is soft, in fact). He is best known for having been horribly tortured and imprisoned for many years because he was a Christian pastor under the atheist communist regime, and he wouldn’t preach what he was told, report on his parishioners to the secret police and generally be a good boy. When he finally got out of the country, he exposed what was actually happening in ‘tolerant’ communist Romania.

I get the impression Wurmbrand would have been quite a difficult man (he’s dead now – died in 2001), stubborn and strong-willed – but God made excellent use of these virtues that could easily be vices. (I can’t help thinking about what the people I write about would have been like in real life – which ones you’d invite to a dinner party, and which ones you’d just send a Christmas card to.)

This article is to tie in with the 50th anniversary of the founding of Release International, which works with and for persecuted Christians around the world, and was inspired by Richard Wurmbrand. They have also brought out a 50th-anniversary edition of Wurmbrand’s book, Tortured for Christ. I suppose I should recommend that you get a copy, but I’m not going to; it’s pretty horrific in places, and things read can’t be unread. Get In God’s Underground instead. It’s also by Wurmbrand but it’s more informative and less graphic.

Wurmbrand was pretty quotable, and the title of this post refers to something he wrote:

“A man truly believes not what he recites in his creed, but only the things he is ready to die for.”

I hope never to have my beliefs tested by facing death or torture (sorry, Therese), but if it ever did come to it, I hope that I would be found to truly believe the things I say I believe. So what do you believe?

The Scandalous Mothers of the Messiah

19 Dec

It’s Christmas time (just about) so for your delectation, ladies and gentlemen, here is a little essay I composed about Jesus’ genealogy. (No yawning at the back!) It was inspired by something in Companions on the Bethlehem Road, a book of meditations and poetry that I read every Advent. The author, Rachel Boulding, mentioned that all of the women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy were gentiles, which is quite striking, but when you look into it further, their stories were more scandalous than striking.

I originally wrote this piece for the Dangerous Woman series, which had published my piece on Arsinoe (Cleopatra’s sister), but they decided against this one – possibly because I sent it much too close to Christmas. But when you’ve got your own blog, you don’t need any notice at all to get a post up in time for Christmas.

Given the frequency with which I post, I imagine this will be my last post for the year. So merry Christmas, and have a great 2018 when it comes!

Scandalous Mothers of the Messiah

Rahab and the Spies

The very first words of the New Testament are “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The verses that follow give a list of Jesus’ ancestors going back over a thousand years. You may have heard them recited if you have ever attended a traditional Christmas service – “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob” and so on, until it’s time for the next carol.

These days, genealogy is a hot topic, with celebrities and ordinary people keen to find out about the long-forgotten ancestors that made them who they are today. However, unless you’re a real fan, you could be forgiven for simply letting the names in Matthew chapter one wash over you as you wait for the ‘real’ story. But there is a story within the genealogy, and it has to do with the five women who are named alongside the 41 generations of men.

Women don’t usually appear in Jewish genealogies; they are lists of fathers and sons. (Have a look at Ezra chapter seven in the Old Testament, for example.) So who are Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, Ruth and Mary, and what are they doing in this patrilineal list? The answer reveals that bold women crop up in the most unexpected of places, even in candlelit carol services.

Let’s start with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her story is well known, and acted out by five-year-olds each year: a simple girl who graciously accepted her part in God’s plan to save the world. Young, humble and virginal, she seems like a threat to no one. And yet, her decision took enormous courage. Jewish law said that if a girl was engaged to be married but was found not to be a virgin (and most people would take pregnancy as proof of that), she should be stoned to death. If Joseph had not accepted her child as his own, Mary faced not only shame, but possibly death. Her decision was dangerous – and world-changing.

Then there is Ruth, a foreigner who loved her Hebrew mother-in-law so much that she followed her back to Israel after they were both widowed. Hard-working and faithful, she seems like the perfect moral exemplar to feature in a list of the Messiah’s ancestors – until you look a little more closely at the story of her second marriage.

Ruth put on perfume and her best clothes, and crept into a room full of men in the middle of the night to propose marriage to one of them, slipping away home before first light. There’s nothing strictly wrong with any of that but, as in the case of Mary, it certainly looks bad. Ruth was already an outsider because of her ethnic origin, but she risked her reputation in the town that had become her home in order to provide a future not only for herself, but for the mother-in-law she loved. Once again, if her husband-to-be had been less honourable, things could have ended badly.

But this list isn’t about honourable men protecting women who take risks. Bathsheba earns her place because of King David’s far-from-honourable behaviour. Her name isn’t given in the list. The text says, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife”, but that brief account glosses over the fact that David and Bathsheba had already had a child together, conceived while Bathsheba still was Uriah’s wife.

It’s debatable how much choice Bathsheba had in the matter – if a woman is summoned by a libidinous king, and doesn’t want to have an affair, who can she appeal to? But however that meeting went, there’s no question that David committed adultery with Bathsheba (again, a capital offence) and then had Bathsheba’s husband killed to cover it up. None of this is mentioned in the genealogy, but Matthew’s original Jewish readers would have known all about it.

They would have known, too, about Rahab – or ‘Rahab the harlot’ as she is traditionally known. She also seems to have had a business producing cloth out of flax, but that’s not the profession she is remembered for. So much of ancient history is just hints and guesses, and we don’t know whether prostitution was acceptable in her society, or if she would have been an outcast, but of course it was not at all acceptable for women in Jewish culture.

She enters the story of Jesus’ genealogy because she took in the Hebrew men who came to spy on Jericho before attacking it; hers was a house where, naturally, strange men coming and going wouldn’t have raised suspicions. She then transferred her allegiance to the invaders, believing that God, and history, were on their side. She hid the two spies from the authorities, presumably at the risk of her own life, and bargained with them for the safety of her family. She then married a husband from the conquering Hebrew tribes (quite possibly one of the men she had protected) and became an ancestor of Jesus.

Tamar was also caught in prostitution, although the circumstances were very different. She had been married to two brothers, one after the other, but was still childless upon their deaths. Her father-in-law, Judah (the brother of Joseph, he of technicoloured dreamcoat fame) still had a third son. According to custom the remaining son should have married Tamar once he reached an appropriate age, but years went by and it was clear that Judah did not intend to give his final son to Tamar.

So Tamar took matters into her own hands. Disguising herself as a veiled prostitute, she waited on a road she knew her father-in-law would take, and he partook of her services. The ‘shrine prostitute’ kept Judah’s personal seal as a guarantee that he would send payment, but when he kept his promise, he was told there was no shrine prostitute in the area. Tamar fell pregnant and Judah, with breath-taking double standards, ordered her to be killed; but when she produced her sexual partner’s personal seal, he was forced to admit, “she is more righteous than I.” So Tamar was left to live in peace as a single mother.

What is the purpose of including these five names, attached to stories that range from the unseemly to the utterly scandalous, in a list of the ancestors of Jesus? Plenty of scholars have commented on the fact that all these women (with the exception of Mary) were gentiles – non-Jews. They emphasise the fact that the Messiah came for the sake of the whole world, since gentiles were even included in his lineage. But it’s more than that; other men on the list married foreign wives. These women are not merely included as foreigners, but also as women, and as individuals.

These are women who took risks. They are women who, by choice or by compulsion, found themselves outside the bounds of societal acceptance, but did not quail. Their place at the very start of the Christmas story challenges the sanitised, nativity-play version of the incarnation. Instead, these women point to a Messiah who would not turn away from the unacceptable, the foreign and flawed, the sinned-against and the most scandalous sinners; because these women are who he came from – but they are also who he came for.

The Great Hippopotamus Invasion of 1840

20 Nov

or
Who Wrote the Gospels, and Why?

 

I was inspired to write this post by a brief exchange on Twitter. As a platform it can be very positive and funny, and it’s stuffed full of writers encouraging and commiserating with each other, but it’s not always like that. There are also people (or bots) who are angry, nasty or crazy. But enough about Donald Trump…

Apropos of the Greggs sausage roll controversy, there was a wee discussion of the historicity of Jesus, and someone commented that he isn’t mentioned in any Roman sources. That’s not true, of course, so, thinking I would simply be offering an interesting bit of factual knowledge, I pointed out a couple of Roman sources that do mention Jesus. The reply came back that these sources (one of them the major source for early imperial Rome) were obviously “fakes”.

There’s no point in trying to have a rational discussion about ancient history with someone who thinks ancient history is falsified, so I just let that one drop. But what surprises me is the number of non-conspiracy theorists who don’t believe that Jesus existed. We have four biographies (that’s the Gospels, to you) ostensibly written by eyewitnesses or based on eyewitness testimony, lots of mentions in letters by Christians from the mid-first century onwards, plus a smattering of mentions in Roman sources.

Of course, you could argue that these are all fakes, that they were either written much later and presented as contemporary sources, or that extra bits were slipped into Roman sources by naughty medieval scribes. I’m not going to get into the historiographical arguments about whether the sources are reliable or contemporary, or this post would end up being the length of a book, and plenty of good books have already been written on the subject. (You could try The Case for Christ, for example. The author has a bit of an obsession with what his interview subjects are wearing, but otherwise it’s pretty good.)

No, what I want to rant (sorry, write) about is the logical side of things. During my degree in Ancient History I also studied a lot of Philosophy, which means that I tend to find myself questioning whether arguments are sound, and the argument that the Gospels were forged centuries later strikes me as very circular.

The theory goes that Christians forged these “eyewitness” documents in (let’s say) the third century AD. (You can’t really push it any later than that without running into far too many references to Christianity, including the Roman Emperor becoming a Christian.) Gullible people believed them, and a religion was born, despite the fact that Jesus may never have lived. The question is, why would someone make up not only hugely detailed stories about a shadowy figure they knew nothing about, and be prepared to be punished for following their new religion, but also claim that there were thousands of other followers of this brand spanking new religion all around the Mediterranean, where their forgeries would be read? What possible motive could they have to do something so rash?

The answer is “because they were Christians, of course”. But that doesn’t help. If Christians are people who believe that Jesus Christ is God, and died to save mankind from their sins, then these forgers are, by definition, not Christians. They are the opposite – people who know for a fact that the claims of Christianity are not true, because they made them up.

So why would they do it? For the fame? Hardly; if the Gospels weren’t written by the people whose names were on them, then we still don’t know who wrote them. For the money? Nope – these documents were spread around like the common cold, not sold to the highest bidder. For larks? Well only if your larks include living a strict moral life and potentially being thrown to the lions (or at least duping other people into doing those things).

Let’s make up an analogous fictional situation. In philosophy this is called a thought experiment. It’s less exciting than a scientific experiment, but it’s also cheaper, and there’s a lower risk of explosion.

Let’s say that I set out today to fake eyewitness accounts of the Great Hippopotamus Invasion of 1840. I’ve decided to fabricate eyewitness accounts of the time that 5,000 talking hippoptami invaded Birmingham and denuded the city’s ponds of all their carp. The king was summoned from London and managed to save the city by promising an offering of carp every week to the hippo overlords.* I’m going to say that thousands of people now observe the weekly carp-sacrificing ceremony. I’d probably have to get a couple of friends on board too, to write other “eyewitness” accounts, unless I was extremely skilled at mimicking different writing styles.

But I’m not going to do that, am I? Because that would be daft. I have no reason to invent the Great Hippo Invasion, and, once the RSPCA and Birmingham City Council get involved, plenty of reason not to. I don’t think I could persuade any of my friends to join in either – maybe if it was a fun hoax and there would be a big reveal, but not in order to get generations of people to devote their lives to appeasing talking river horses by killing ornamental fish. And no one would believe it. I mean, do you believe it?**

According to the theory about the faked Gospels, my motive would be that I and my friends are hippoptamists, these deluded fools who go around sacrificing carp. But there aren’t any hippopotamists. Have you ever met one? No, because I just made them up. But that’s presented as a real motive for why Christians would want to invent accounts of Jesus’ life.

Now, if you still wanted to stick to the line that the Gospels were faked, you could argue that the (let’s say) third century authors who wrote them were Christians, and were trying to provide (fake) written evidence for things they’d only heard orally, but believed. That makes more sense, but then you’re accepting that there was a surviving oral tradition about the life of Jesus passed down in an existing Christian community – which still constitutes historical evidence for Jesus. And then you’re back to the same basic problem – how do fake (oral) accounts about Jesus arise without a Jesus for them to be based on? – just pushed back a bit closer to the time, so it would be even harder for false stories to be believed, even if anyone had a motive to make them up, which they didn’t.

I’m not presenting Anselm’s Proof here, and I’m not even going to go into the question of the miracles and Jesus’ divinity (again, that would turn into a book). I’m just trying to show that dismissing the existence of a well-attested historical figure on the basis of the argument:

Christians invented Christianity because they were Christians

is silly. So please don’t.

***

*Yes, it was a queen and not a king on the throne in 1840. But why bother about historical accuracy when you’re inventing 5,000 talking hippos?

** If I set up a Wikipedia page about it I suppose a few people might believe it. But then, some people believe that Finland is a Japanese conspiracy, apparently.

Church ministers? Bunch of slackers! 

18 Oct

I’ve just done a blog post for Premier Christianity about why church ministers have the easiest job in the world. Before you start fuming, I should say that it’s not an entirely serious argument, to put it mildly.

It was commissioned because it’s Thank Your Vicar Week. So if you have a vicar (/pastor/minister) why don’t you give the article a read and then maybe send them a nice email? Although I can’t promise they will have time to read it.

The Art of Complaining

3 Apr

“I couldn’t sleep a wink!”

One of the joys of helping to look after my little nieces is getting to revisit things from my childhood. Last week it was paperchain people (try them with monkeys – it’s really cute!) but the week before that it was the Princess and the Pea, the Hans Christian Andersen story about a girl who arrives at a castle in a storm, claiming to be a princess, and whose royal pedigree is proved by her feeling a dried pea through 20 mattresses.

Coming back to this story many years on, instead of dwelling on how ridiculous this is (and it is), I instead found myself thinking, “Of course complaining about a pea in her bed shows she’s a princess. If she was a nice, middle-class girl she wouldn’t dream of complaining!” I mean really, if you were taken in on trust, out of a storm, alone and helpless, would you tell your host the bed was lumpy? I wouldn’t lie about it, but I’m sure I could find something more positive to say than, “I couldn’t sleep a wink all night!”

This got me thinking about complaining more generally. In Britain, we’re traditionally not supposed to be very good at complaining. To be more accurate, we’re very good at moaning about things, but we would rather die than complain to anyone who can do anything about it, like a waiter or shopkeeper, for example. Perhaps we might write a stiff letter, but never say anything to anyone’s face.

This is a Very British Problem, judging by the Twitter account of the same name, which is extremely funny. (It’s also available in book form for those who aren’t into social media.) This is also one of the areas where I’m not very British, perhaps as a result of spending too much time overseas (or it could just be my personality). I am fairly likely to complain if something isn’t right. I spent 15 minutes in Superdrug the other day trying to return some hair chalks that only cost about three quid, on the principle that if you buy something, it should work. The complaint has been forwarded further up the chain of management. By the time I get my three quid back (if I ever do) they will probably have devalued to the equivalent of 30p due to Brexit.

Maybe I shouldn’t have bothered. But there are some things you are supposed to complain about, or at least not sit on. I often find I’m annoyed by some insignificant thing someone has done again and start thinking, “He/she knows I hate it! They’re doing it to annoy me!”, only to realise that I’ve probably never told them I hate it, and they are blithely oblivious to my irritation. In a situation like that you either have to say something, or learn to live quietly with the annoyance, rather than explode in rage when it happens for the tenth time.

Addictions are another situation where you’re supposed to complain, according to official advice. Without going into any detail, there are some addiction/dependency ‘issues’ in my own family, and while a public blog post isn’t the place to drag them out, it’s not something I keep from my friends. In such a situation, silent forbearance probably makes things worse. But there is probably a level of willingness to complain that lies somewhere between doormat and drooket fairytale princess, which is healthy and practical without being self-centred. With that in mind, here’s a slightly altered version of the well-known Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to shut up about the things I ought to put up with,
The courage to complain about the things I ought not to,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

(If you’re into Hans Christian Andersen, by the way, check out my lovely audio version of the Snow Queen, narrated by Sophie Aldred.)

The Moral Importance of Foundation Garments

23 Dec

foundation-garments

It’s 23rd December, Christmas-Eve Eve, so naturally you would expect me to be writing about Christmassy things. And I was going to, honest. I even had the title worked out, “It wouldn’t be Christmas without…”. But then I got a new bra.

Yes, I know, that’s too much information. But it is relevant because it got me thinking about the (albeit not immediately obvious) similarities between brassieres and moral codes.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a new bra, and ages since I had an expensive, good-quality one, and I had forgotten how much of a difference it makes. The thing about elasticated undergarments, and moral codes, is that over time they have a tendency to grow slack. They are less restrictive, but also less supportive.

I noticed an astonishing difference as I ventured out into the world wearing my spanking new purchase. Some clever engineering goes into these bits of frippery; I felt positively cantilevered! I noticed that I held my head higher, and my shoulders straighter, too, the structured nature of my unmentionable reminding me of other areas that could do with a bit of improving, like posture.

On the first day of wearing the new nether-garment it did feel restrictive and unfamiliar, but by the second day it had become natural, to the extent that when I come to wash it, and have to wear one of my old ones, I will probably miss the new rigour.

I’m never one to leave an analogy unstretched, so bear with me as I opine that moral codes are not dissimilar. (By the way, if the language is more flowery than usual, the glass of rioja I just had seems to have gone right to my head.) Moral codes, like bras, have a tendency to loosen and stretch, without our necessarily noticing. They seem fine, but it’s only when you compare what they are supposed to be like that you notice how much things have slipped.

There was a comment on the Premier website* under an article on three-parent babies to the effect that in-vitro fertilization used to be controversial, particularly for Christians, but now nobody bats an eye. A comment in reply pointed out that this is exactly the point that the ‘slippery slope’ argument makes. Leaving aside that particular ethical quagmire, it’s an example of how things can become looser over time. If there’s something that shocked you years ago, or at least made you feel uncomfortable, and now you don’t even blink, it could be that you’ve become more mature, or worked through it – or it could be that you have grown slack, and not even noticed.

Of course, this is where the analogy reaches breaking point, because you don’t just go out and get a new moral code. A code to live by is probably less like a piece of underwear and more like a kitchen knife – once you find a good one, you keep it forever. However, kitchen knives need to be sharpened up from time to time, just as foundation garments need to be renewed. Talking to others who think deeply about moral issues, listening to sermons and lectures – challenging ones, not just pleasant homilies – and examining both your own behaviour and issues that you prefer not to think about are all ways of doing so, I would suggest.

So if an acquaintance thinks that something you habitually do is ethically questionable, don’t assume that automatically makes them wrong, judgemental, narrow-minded or all of the above. It may just be that your moral elastic has been through the washing machine** one too many times.

Happy Christmas!


* Don’t read comments on the Premier website. It is time you will never get back.
** Never wash your bra in the washing machine! Not even in a pillowcase or delicates bag. Always hand wash. Trust me.

Rio’s Hug

10 Aug

This blog post is simply going to direct you to another blog post, on Premier Christianity‘s website. But no, I’m not being lazy, because I wrote that post too.

If you have seen the statue of Christ the Redeemer on your TV during the Olympics, and want to hear my musings about its significance, and how it connects to the Games, please do have a wee read:

Christ the Redeemer: Why Rio’s statue is the true God of the Olympics

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Photo: Paul Mannix

The compassionate embrace includes everyone, from Olympic athletes to drug dealers, from top politicians to favela kids.

Good Friday Thoughts

25 Mar

Good Friday is an odd one. It’s very solemn and sombre for Christians because we’re essentially pretending (by way of memorial) that Jesus is dead, even though we know that he has been risen for some time now. It’s an opportunity for ecumenical events (meaning joint with different kinds of churches), during which people tiptoe awkwardly around the fact that they know very little of their companions’ practice of faith or the vocabulary that accompanies it (communion/Eucharist/mass/Lord’s Supper; priest and clergy vs minister and leadership team etc.), even though it’s the same faith they’re practising. At post-service snacks, some enthusiastically scoff hot cross buns while others, who are fasting, quietly don’t. A strange time, but a bit of disorientation can be good to snap you out of your usual life and help you remember what this Easter lark is all about, anyway (and it’s not chocolate bunnies or the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, as a historically and etymologically illiterate Facebook meme would have us believe).

It’s an even stranger one than usual this year, because Good Friday (the memorial of the crucifixion) lands on the same day as the memorial of the Annunciation (when the angel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus), meaning that (if you’re in a church that takes note of these things) we’re celebrating Jesus’ arrival as a baby whilst also mourning his death. I had only recently found out about the tradition that the Annunciation and the crucifixion were both on 25th March (to keep things nice and neat), so it’s quite serendipitous for me that in the year I find this out, the memorial of the crucifixion (which depends on the lunar calendar, thus a literally moveable feast) falls on the anniversary.

(There’s also a superstition that their coincidence is supposed to presage national disaster, such as the death of a monarch. Given how many famous people have already died in 2016, that wouldn’t be terribly surprising – but let’s hope it’s only as true as superstition usually is.)

Anyway, the article that drew my attention to this nice syncronicity is very well written and interesting, with lots of lovely pictures and (if you keep going to the end) a brilliant poem by John Donne called, rather unimaginatively, Upon the Annunciation and the Passion Falling upon One Day – so I will simply link to it so that you can enjoy it:

This doubtful day of feast or fast – Clerk of Oxford

Happy Easter!

The Stay-at-Home Missionary

28 Feb

It’s not often that I am moved to blog about a sermon I hear at church (though it does occasionally happen). Today we had a visiting speaker, Aaron Elder (who, despite his name, was almost unbearably young), and some of the things he said particularly struck me. That makes it sound as if our regular pastor’s sermons are not striking, which is unfair. They are often excellent, usually challenging, and if they suffer from using the phrase “what would it look like” more often than is warranted by normal use of the English language, well, so do Aaron’s. But maybe I was just ready to hear what Aaron had to say today – or, more accurately, what God had to say through him, because in any really good sermon the mouthpiece fades into the background.

Anyway, Aaron’s sermon was mainly about missionaries, and how we are all supposed to be missionaries. He dropped in some quotes by big hitters (he was almost apologetic by the time he invoked Kierkegaard; I was ready to cheer) and one of them was from Charles Spurgeon:

Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.

Of course this is hardly a new concept. I’ve heard any number of times the idea that we can’t all go abroad to be missionaries, but we can and should all spread God’s message of love where we are. I probably have a slightly different angle on this from most people, having been a missionary abroad; when asked what our mental picture of a missionary is (as a precursor to telling us we’re all missionaries), I think about my former friends and colleagues – although I have to admit that this image fights for space with the stereotypical image of a middle-aged woman in sensible clothes and besandaled socks.)

Anyway, when we were all being encouraged to think of where our ‘mission field’ is, I was, not for the first time, thinking “I don’t have any colleagues. I don’t have many friends, and many of the ones I do have are overseas.  I see my neighbours rarely. I don’t have a mission field.” Most people have to deal with a lot of people every day, whether they want to or not, but my work is just me and a computer, and that’s the way I like it. Even when I’m interpreting Albanian, I’m only supposed to be a human version of Google Translate (albeit a more accurate one); I’m not allowed to interject my own thoughts, any more than a Babel fish does.

However, while I indulged in this none-too-positive thinking, God* suddenly drew my attention to the fact that in a few weeks I’ll be speaking to over 200 people about St Patrick. In the week of St Patrick’s Day I’m visiting a school, talking to the whole of S1. Then I’m giving a talk on “Who was the real St Patrick?” at Govanhill Neighbourhood Centre the same week, on Friday 18th March. Neither of these talks are going to be evangelistic – I’m not luring people in and then preaching hellfire and damnation. But I will be speaking about another missionary, good old Pat, and mentioning why he went off to serve the Irish – which was of course because of his belief in God, and that God had sent him.** So while I may not have colleagues, or even many friends (don’t shed any tears, I do have some, and they are lovely!), I have a remarkably privileged opportunity that most people don’t get. Of course, I’ve also got my books, read even by people I’ve never met (so I’m told), so there’s a lovely, arm’s-length mission field – a Christian introvert‘s dream 😉

Where am I going with this? Nowhere really, except to observe that sometimes things can become new and fresh even when we’ve heard them a hundred time, and that perhaps even I have a mission field, even if it is limited in time, or extended in virtual distance.

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*How do I know / why do I think it was God? It’s hard to be 100% sure when it comes to divine communications, but they do happen (if you’re a Christian), and they come in a number of different forms, from the unsettlingly supernatural to the surprisingly mundane. In this case, while mundane, the subject came to my mind unbidden, and in a completely different light from how I had seen it before, while I was in a prayerful, open attitude. That doesn’t prove anything, but I just thought I would explain since “God spoke to me” can be a rather confusing and ambiguous statement for the uninitiated.

** In his case it was a vivid dream in which he received a letter from the Irish – a little closer to the supernatural end of the scale.