Why I want to be an extremist and a fundamentalist

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Extremist = bad

Fundamentalist = bad

Moderate = good

These three things are held true by most people when it comes to religion. The extremist kills, the fundamentalist hates and the moderate is nice and warm and fluffy.

So, why do I want to be an extremist? Why do I want to be a fundamentalist? Why do I want to be anything other than moderate?

Look at the definitions at the top. Look at what extreme and fundamental actually mean. Think about how that would apply to Christianity, based on its central message.

Does rejecting people because of their lifestyle sound like something which forms the central core of Jesus’ teachings? Or does calling them to follow him, dining with them, talking with them and loving them sound more like it?

Does taking the lives of people for their sins sound like Jesus? Or does telling them to “go and sin no more” strike you as more fundamental to his way?

Does the pursuit of wealth for the few come across as an extreme example of Christian teaching? Or does selling everything and giving the money to the poor fit the bill?

Does a love of Queen and country seem like the central tenet for us to hold onto? Or does the seeking of God’s Kingdom over all earthly kingdoms sound like our main aim?

Does a rejection of people based on race, colour or creed sound like a divine calling? Or do you think that welcoming strangers and making disciples of all nations is the thing we are called to do instead?

Extreme love.

Extreme grace.

Extreme forgiveness.

Extreme acceptance.

Extreme devotion to God.

Extreme sacrifice.

Extreme peace.

Extreme generosity.

Extreme service of others.

Extreme life.

These, as the result of Jesus’ teachings and his sacrifice, allowing the Kingdom of God to break into this world, are the fundamentals of Christianity.

This is what true Christian extremism and fundamentalism looks like, not the false gods of the religious right in America or similar noisy factions throughout the world.

They are extreme, but not extremes of Jesus’ way.

They aren’t fundamental, but are quite the opposite as they twist and distort the truth.

And what of the “moderates”? What of the Christians who are “average in amount, intensity or degree”? Who actually wants to be one of those?

Is feeding the poor ‘average’?

Is worshipping a God that most people in the West don’t believe in ‘average’?

Is visiting the prisoner, or the sick, or the grieving, or the lonely, even though you don’t know the person ‘average’?

Is worshipping and praying with and for refugees who nobody seems to want ‘average’?

Is proclaiming your faith in the face of oppression, as many around the world have done, ‘average’?

Is speaking words of forgiveness, then singing songs of worship before being decapitated by masked men on a beach ‘average’ or ‘moderate’?

No. This is extremism and fundamentalism at its purest and most beautiful.

A quote has been posted on social media a lot recently. It says ‘If your fundamentalists are bad, there’s something wrong with your fundamentals’. I believe the fundamentals of Jesus were everything which is good. I believe that when you look at Jesus you see what an extremist, what a fundamentalist should look like.

It’s time we looked like that as well and took back those two terms to show what they can and do really mean.

 

 

We all need a rest

Matt 11

This is one of those weeks which I knew I was getting myself into when I applied to be a Reader in Training for the Church of Scotland.

I have an assignment due in by the end of this week (only 500 words and, in a rare moment of organisation and good time management, I have actually done it). I am driving the 160 miles from work at 5pm on Friday to the college I’m studying with in Dingwall in order to be at a conference day on Saturday. I have a week’s worth of studying and a lecture (plus, of course, a full time job). Oh, and I’m preaching on Sunday for the first time at my placement Church, so I also have a sermon to write.

All mixed in with being a taxi for my kids.

It genuinely feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day sometimes. You are pushed from pillar to post as your nose is constantly stuck in a book, or you’re glued to a computer screen or you’re behind the wheel of a car. It’s almost as if your life amounts to less unless you are constantly busy, always on the go; like the proverbial fly with the blue backside.

But sometimes you just need to stop. You need to have a break. You need to push through that guilt you feel for not working towards the next thing on your to do list (as if I’m ever organised enough to have a to do list!!) and just rest. Modern life gives us too much to worry about and not enough to just sit back and enjoy; it’s our responsibility to do that for ourselves. Nobody is a robot – in case you are, in which case no, I’m not Sarah Connor, now go away – we are flesh and blood and that needs to rest occasionally.

I need to remind myself of this as the work really starts to ramp up. Yes, I’ll work hard, I’ll give all I can give to it all. Not, however, at the expense of my wellbeing or family life. If I did that, I’d be no use to myself, my family, to my workplace or to God. Even he rested on the seventh day (or, arbitrary period of time, considering the creation story in Genesis is just an illustration).

So, I watched the Rugby this afternoon after doing my assignment. Then I did more reading. Now I’m doing this, just to get some stuff out as a therapeutic measure.

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30; The Message)

Yes, we all get tired and burned out. We all need to rest and be refreshed. So I will stop and enjoy life, I will watch a bit of sport, I will chat with my family and I will just spend time with Jesus.

Anyway, I have a sermon to write…

A modern interpretation of Luke 6:27-36

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Listen!

Love your enemies. Love those who you disagree strongly with. Love those who hate you. Love those who hurt you. Love those who ignore you. Love those who discount you. Love those who see you as worthless, or worth less. Love those who are hard to love.

Pray for those who treat you badly. Pray for those who speak ill of you. Pray for those who demonise you. Pray for those who take from you without giving. Pray for those who couldn’t care less about you. Pray for those who it is difficult to pray for.

Don’t return pain with pain, insult with insult, violence with violence, hate with hate, ignorance with ignorance. Return all these things with love, patience and grace.

It’s easy for us to love our friends and family, anybody can do that, but it’s Christ-like to love and pray for those who we see as the enemy.

So, love and pray for the political opponent, the racist, the sexist, the homophobe, the islamophobe, the anti-semite, the extremist, the newspaper columnist, the paedophile, the burglar, the murderer, the internet troll, the bitter ex, the greedy, the selfish, the malicious gossip or the control freak.

Do it without expecting any thanks or reward from them for it.

Do it because your reward comes from God.

Do it because it’s right.

Do it because you know, deep down, that you need someone to do it for you, despite all your failings.

Do it to show love and mercy in the way your Father shows love and mercy for you.

December ADVENTure

Earlier this year I did a Bible study throughout Lent and blogged my thoughts about every day’s readings. I found it incredibly valuable and amazing that, on so many occasions, the readings were so pertinent to the events of the day.

So, starting on Monday I’ll be doing an Advent Bible study and writing my thoughts about it each day. I’m using a plan drawn up by Hamilton Road Baptist Church in Bangor, Northern Ireland.

If you want to read it with me, please do.

Encouragement

On Sunday I ran a session with the youth group in my Church around Acts 9:19-31. In it, the newly converted Saul (soon to become Paul, author of a large bulk of the New Testament) starts preaching the Gospel. Many of the believers are terrified of him because he had previously persecuted Christians and was present at the killing of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

The session looked at how many of us, if not all of us, have at least occasional feelings of not being good enough. Of worthlessness. Of being no use to anybody, let alone any use to God. All of the kids in my group admitted that they felt that way about themselves occasionally and sometimes felt it about others.

The irony of this is my own frame of mind. For a while now, although it’s only recently been diagnosed, I have had depression. Thankfully it’s not severe to the extent of some people I know. I manage to get out of bed in the mornings, go to work, do my job, look after my family, go to Church, run the youth group and do all the things I need to day to day. However, my emotions are rarely above flat and very often hit horrible lows. I feel worthless, not good enough, no use to man or God, and feel that other people have that view of me too.

The thing is, Saul was good enough, despite his past. Despite what fears other believers held about him. Despite the feelings of despair he had about himself at times. God decided that even Saul/Paul was good enough to bring His good news to an almost global audience and establish Christianity throughout the Roman world. He is viewed as a man who shaped the faith in a way which is second only to Jesus. Not bad for a guy whose main intent on the road to Damascus was to kill Christians and destroy the faith in its infancy.

Saul didn’t do it alone though. He had an encourager. Literally, as it happens, as the name Barnabas means “he who encourages”. Barnabas stood up for Saul at a time when others wanted nothing to do with him. He convinced the others, and Saul himself, that he deserved a chance. His conversion was genuine. He is worth taking the same risk on that God himself did.

We all need a Barnabas. I have mine. I have an incredibly supportive family, for a start. That’s only part of the story, though. In the last few weeks it has been as though people are going out of the way to boost my self confidence and self esteem. I’ve had loads of people letting me know how much better I look recently (I’ve lost 3 1/2 stones in the last year). I’ve had so many positive remarks about things I’ve done in Church. My last blog post really struck a chord both in the way I wrote it and what I wrote. It feels almost as if people are being prompted in some way to improve my self esteem. Most don’t know about the depression, but I believe they are being prompted. I feel that God is telling me that, while I may not feel it to myself, I am worth it to Him. I am His child and He loves me unconditionally, like I love my own kids, but in a more amazing way. He loves me enough to have sent His son to die for me.

I still feel low and flat. I’m taking the right medication to help. I also know that the feelings of worthlessness are depression lying to me. I am not good enough for God, but I’m good enough for Him at the same time. We all are. And that helps.

A modern interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46

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Then, the King said,

“I was hungry and you told me that it was my own fault for being lazy and believing that I was entitled to help from hard working families and that I’d probably spent all of my money on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs anyway.

I was thirsty and you assumed that I was desperate for gin or vodka, rather than water.

I was naked and you said that I would have more chance of a job if I took more care of my personal appearance, even though I wore all I could afford.

I was poor and you told me I was a scrounger who just wanted to sponge off the state and put stories about me on the tv and newspapers, despite knowing nothing about my circumstances.

I was sick and you denied me any help, told me to go back to work and assumed I was faking illness in order to scrounge.

I was in prison and you demanded that the key was thrown away and that I was kept away from all respectable, law-abiding members of society because I was a bad person who could never change.

I was a stranger and you ran, scared of me, told me to go home, that your country was full and that I was only there to steal your money, possessions and jobs.

For I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me”

The name of the blog explained

To say that I was a touch apprehensive about the possibility of another operation is an understatement. I was terrified. One thing was for sure, I was not having “routine” keyhole surgery again. Thankfully it wasn’t an option when repairing a 6 inch hole in my abdominal muscle wall; I was going to be opened up. Even so, I was scared. The last operation I had was not a roaring success (although technically it was as my hiatus hernia was fixed) and I really didn’t want to go through that sort of experience again.

I even resorted to a session of hypnotherapy to try to ease my nerves. I’m not sure how effective it was, but I certainly felt relaxed during it. By the time the operation came round, in September 2004, 18 months after the original operation, I felt a little more prepared.

Amazingly enough, it turned out that I had not been tested for MRSA enough to be regarded as clear of it so I was to have a room all to myself again. In the geriatric ward. Again. The women’s section. Again.

I went back to Poole General Hospital, settled into my room and was told that, due to an emergency admission my operation had been put back by 24 hours. Great! Another day to stew over it!

The following morning I was taken down to theatre. My last memory before the anaesthetic was a bit weird. I knew that my massive scar would go, but it was immediately above my belly button, so my last, groggy words were,
“can you ask the surgeon to try and keep the belly button?”

I opened my eyes. The recovery room. Was I on a ventilator? No. I was clearly alive. Either that or the afterlife was not as I expected. I felt terrible, but not in an “I’m about to die” way, more like an “I’ve just had major, but not life threatening, surgery” way. Oh, and there was a very unpleasant looking drain from my stomach.

I flitted in and out of consciousness as I was wheeled back to my room. I slept for about 5 months (a couple of hours, but it felt like an eternity) and woke up, sore, but ok. The pain was being eased by an epidural, so there was limited movement below the waist. I felt rough, but I knew that things were ok.

Over the next couple of days I started to feel brighter. Then a nurse came to change my dressing and clean my wound. The first thing I noticed was the nice, clean scar. It was such a difference and I knew that activities such as swimming wouldn’t be so embarrassing. With the shark-attack scar I felt really exposed if I was in a pool, as if i was being stared at. Now, however, it looked completely norm……

Ah! It was gone! No belly button!

My first feeling was shock. Followed by, “for heaven’s sake, it’s just a belly button! It never did anything for me, it just sat there accumulating fluff. Move on!” And that was it. A lifetime of having an answer to the classic training ice-breaker question of telling everyone something they didn’t know about you had started.

I was in hospital for a week. The only event of any note being the time I was washing myself, sitting on the bed, completely naked, when a very confused old lady walked in and just looked. My hands did the sensible thing and shot downwards, covering my modesty, while a nurse ran in and ushered the poor woman out.

I was off work for three weeks, then back to work. Back to normality with no hernia of any type. No operation to dread. No belly button.

I can live with that.