Candles, Ghosts and Saints

We are big fans of Halloween in this house, and looking forward to a bit of trick-or-treating this Friday. It’s fun getting dressed up and carving pumpkins, and cheers us up after the clocks go back. Like Christmas none of this has got anything to do with the real reason Halloween exists (although some would say the Church is good at hijacking existing festivals as well!)

Halloween is the night before All Saints Day, which was an attempt by the church to avoid having millions of separate Saints days, and an opportunity to remember those Christians who had died for their beliefs. So the night before, people imagined the ghosts of those who have gone before coming back as well as celebrating the lives of the saints the next day. In the times this was established, many people in the UK would have lost their lives for their faith, and although this is unusual now here, it’s still the case in many countries around the world, including places like Turkey where Christians are regularly persecuted.

I think it’s actually really important to spend time thinking about the people who have gone before us, as it forms part of who we are. Like the history programme “Who do you think you are?”, we are made up not just of our individual consciousness, and efforts and achievements, (much as we like to think so) but also a legacy left to us by the previous generations along with their efforts and struggles.

This is something the descendants of immigrants are keen to point out about the UK, at the moment, as the debate heats up in our run up to the elections next year. Many of us are descended from “in-comers” one way or another, especially if you include the Romans and the Vikings! My granny on my Dad’s side was Jewish and her family traveled extensively before settling in the UK, and she really valued the stability and comfort she had later in her childhood, after her mum settled in the UK with her step-father.

Through my quest for enlightenment on my calling into leadership in the church, I’ve been reminded several times through different scriptures and passages, about how important family inheritance is for God  Matthew 1 v17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. There is a full description of every generation, from Abraham to Christ, and some of the people included are not Jews and also Rehab who was a prostitute.

My children are what you call “digital natives” they have grown up with technology and don’t need to be told about it’s benefits or sold on the concept as it’s all around them and forms part of their landscape. For me it’s always been brand new. I remember trying to programme a Sinclair game for most of one Saturday with my friend before we gave up as it didn’t work! I have started harping on at work about how we used to manage without emails when I was a lass!

My childhood was in a christian household and my mum’s childhood was also influenced by her father’s faith, and my father’s by his family, and their parents were influenced by their families again, so I am well and truly a “christian native”. I grew up very much in a christian community, and as the daughter of christian leaders, I was prayed for by other people without even knowing about it. God keeps pointing this out to me, as if to say, your genealogy Becky is a blink of an eye for me, and I know you, I know where you fit in amongst your forebearers.

As an adult I have grown into my faith away from the community I grew up in, where I felt more anonymous and able to ask stupid questions. I totally understand why most people don’t get it, when people talk about God, as for most of my life, I understood the theology but couldn’t see the relevance for my own life and having the theology explained again in a different way didn’t matter, when I had switched off. Until I grew into my own faith, I took my “inheritance” for granted, and at times found it quite a burden in a way, because I didn’t really feel like I knew God at all. I felt the need to leave my native land and “go travelling!” My relationship with God as far I was concerned started when I was about 29 years old and was on my own terms, not just because I was supposed to love God!

Nowadays though I feel blessed that part of my spiritual inheritance, has been prayed into my life, by people I never knew, no longer know or remember as well as through my own efforts and time spent getting to know God for myself.

I am planning to celebrate All Saints Day this year for the first time. I will be saying a prayer for all those who went before me all those who’ve prayed for me over the years, through the good and the bad, and those people who love me, just because they love my mum or dad, and keep on praying just because my Mum preached a good sermon once in their church.I am going to light some candles to keep the beacon of hope alight, and pray for the children of my friends and family that the blessings of God are passed onto them in their lives and that they come to know God themselves one day.

As Billy Joel says in chronicling the historical events that took place during his life..

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Keeping up with the Jones’s

I don’t know about you but I often think some friends of mine I admire have really got things sussed. They have gorgeous husbands, lovely children, work flexibly so they can be around for their children, cook fabulous meals whilst effortlessly rising through the ranks at work to smash the odd glass ceiling or two! If they are married, then their husbands are pursuing their dreams and they enjoy their weekends  together as a family.

Don’t get me wrong, I know my life is pretty amazing, I have a great job, home, loving husband, gorgeous children and food on the table, and a roof over my head. There are times when it seems pretty tough as well. I’ve been through redundancy, near death experiences, being rejected by work for opportunities I thought I could step up and do, I’ve been ignored by people I used to be close to, seen family go through the torture of mental illness, and most days wishing I spent more time with the kids.

However as a Christian, I think it’s really important that I am not trying to be a “super-apostle” as described by Paul in one of his letters to the early church. As I’ve mentioned before I feel called to move to leadership in the church, and find myself wondering why me? I am deeply flawed, and not really the most holy of people. I swear, drink, shout at the kids, I like watching rubbish TV and eating junk food. I love going to the pub, most of my friends aren’t Christians and don’t know my bible very well at all!

It turns out this is exactly why God is trying to “tap me up” for his team. If we are “holier than thou”  as leaders in the church then noone will want to know about Christ, as it’s through our dark times and weaknesses that we often come to know Jesus. God doesn’t want us to all read the same newspapers, parent our children the same way and eat the same food.  If your vicar is a “super-apostle” then it may seem too much like a marathon to run, to keep up. Anyone who says they have all the answers and can explain how easy it is to follow Christ, is probably not telling you the truth. Most people I know who have a deep understanding of their faith, have persevered through really difficult times without much concrete proof that the Lord is with them.

Paul in his letters to the Corinthians talks about this in 2 Corinthians 12 v7-10

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So whatever the issue is in your life, whether it’s not being able to share your faith with those around you, that you can’t have a baby, not having enough money, having a chronic illness, facing redundancy or losing a loved one, instead of saying “why me?” you could try saying through gritted teeth

“Thank you lord! Thank you for this opportunity to get to know you better, and to rely on your strength to keep me going. Show me the way and help me turn to you.”

God will always bless those who cry out to him like this. Not always in the way you had in mind though!