I am no longer my own, but yours.Charles Wesley
These are the opening words of a prayer written by Charles Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church denomination. It’s prayed annually, as part of a special ‘covenant’ service where Methodists renew their commitment to God.
That said, many Methodists find the prayer intimidating; they’ll even avoid attending the covenant service so that they don’t perjure themselves. It surprised me when I learned this, but… maybe it shouldn’t?
Even amongst Christians, there is so much misinformation about God. So many questions, some of them unanswerable; so many people we’ve known who’ve let us down.
Never mind that it’s a big ask to unconditionally surrender your entire life to another. It’s hard not to see such unqualified commitment as a very bad idea, full stop.
And yet… I cannot bring myself to dilute my understanding of God. He is awesome and holy, fully deserving and trustworthy of total submission.
So where do we land?
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 4, Day 7: Calling
I’m a feminist but… I’m still a sucker for good princess stories.
I love the idea of being special (who doesn’t?). I love royalty being bestowed upon good people who serve their kingdom. I especially love the idea of a young daughter fearlessly weighing in on matters of state, albeit seasoned with just enough decorum for what’s at stake.
Of course, not all princesses are born into royalty. But when they are, there’s so much baggage of the state. It’s hard to shed the feeling of being a prize, a treasure, a someone-born-for-someone-else. It’s easy to think of her as merely a trophy for some handsome prince who’ll later be king.
The church does not help in all this. Borrowing from texts like Ephesians 5, 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Revelation 21, Christians often say the church is the bride of Christ – metaphorically speaking.
But I dare say this distorts our perspective. I can understand the appeal of saying the gospel is like a fairy-tale, but some of those tales have a sickly-sweet edge. Count me in for the magic and the mystery, but I don’t want a faith draped in pretty white veils. And I don’t want to be dolled up to fit the image.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 4, Day 6: Princeling
It’s Christmas Eve. And I’m not where I expected I would be nine months ago. I’m not even where I expected to be nine days ago.
Mary must have had similar feelings of bewilderment. She had thought she .would give birth to Jesus in familiar surroundings with friends and family helping her. Instead, a Roman tax census had sent her to a distant and over-crowded town. Joseph was at her side, but so were farm animals. She put her baby in a manger instead of a cradle.
This was not the plan.
Luke doesn’t tell us where Mary and Joseph stayed, just that there was no room in the ‘lodging place’ (frequently translated ‘inn’). It’s like we should know what he means. He doesn’t say where the manger was; again, he assumes we know.
Instead, he just says Mary lay Jesus in a manger. That was the bit he didn’t think we’d guess.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 4, Day 5: Unexpected
It’s funny how crime and throwaway culture go hand in hand.
Take fast fashion. It’s not technically a crime, but it’s polluting, it impoverishes communities, and produces vast amounts of waste. It does these things unsustainably. And it’s largely because people see clothes as disposable.
So we might say that throwaway culture is a crime of sorts.
But what of the things we actually call crimes? While some crime is malicious, a lot of it is driven by pre-existing injustice and inequality.
When people don’t have the basics of what they need to be healthy, when they don’t have stability, they get desperate. They find methods of making ends meet. Those methods aren’t always pretty and can trap them on the wrong side of the law. At which point they become fodder for exploitation. It cycles.
We have to find a sustainable way of dealing with this. It’s not that I think crime is good. But I’m yet to see a single ‘zero tolerance’ policy that works. And the problem is only going to get bigger.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 4, Day 4: Gateway
“Family is the first community you know.”
I was listening to a British Asian woman speak about her experience of living in the UK. Her parents and grandparents had made a huge effort to settle in the UK. It hadn’t been easy and she felt a weight of responsibility not to disappoint them – especially in the life choices she made. Her family was, after all, the first community she had known.
I find the idea of family so hard to reckon with at times. Who is family? What is family? When do we see family happening?
Children can be unjustly burdened by the expectations and demands of their parents. But children can also unmake or misuse the hard-won rights their parents fought for. When I ask what family really should be, I don’t like the idea of blanket obedience, but I can’t shake off regarding elders with respect.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 4, Day 3: Family
The Greek word ‘skandalon’ is the root of our English word ‘scandal’. It means ‘stumbling block.’
But it should mean ‘something that causes people to argue.’
The idea of ‘stumbling blocks’ recurs throughout the Bible, especially the New Testament. And it’s a bit weird.
When Jesus’ warned his close friends that he would be killed, one of them, Peter, said it would never happen. In response, Jesus called him a stumbling block (Matthew 16:23).
The early churches were told to consider their example so that they didn’t mislead or be a ‘stumbling block’ to others (Romans 14:13, 1 Corinthians 8:9).
And with graphic hyperbole, Jesus preached that if parts of our bodies cause us to stumble then we would be better off losing those parts altogether. (Seriously, don’t take this literally! Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 18:6-9; Mark 9:42-47.)
So stumbling blocks are… bad?
But on the flip side, the New Testament says Jesus is a stumbling-block.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 4, Day 2: Scandal
I always loved the nunc dimittis.
That might sound contradictory. Earlier I said I hadn’t thought much of Mary’s song when I was growing up. Because we sang it to boring tunes and referred to it by its Latin name ‘magnificat.’
Well, we also sang Simeon’s song to the same kinds of tunes and used its Latin name. But for some reason, I loved it.
It conjured the feeling of a peaceful evening. When everything is winding down and all is well with the world.
As we’ll see in today’s reading, Simeon was an old man who lived in Jerusalem around the time of Jesus’s birth. He met Mary and Joseph in the temple a few weeks after Jesus was born. He had been waiting to see this promised child and, even though he was old, he knew he would live to see Jesus face-to-face.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 4, Day 1: Departure