How should we vote as Christians?

So it’s general election time again, and in less than a month we will have a prime minister who has been democratically appointed by the United Kingdom, along with MP’s representing each constituency. As a christian sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, when you begin thinking about all the different policies and impacts of your decision. The bbc has a helpful overview here of what the parties are pledging in their manifesto, but you can also visit individual party websites to find out more. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-39844115

I’m a Lib Dem supporter but I think if I lived in the centre of York I’d vote for Labour as the current MP Rachael Maskell came to a local event recently and I was really impressed with her humility, and gentle approach to talking to people with dementia from Minds and Voices, a local charity. She has also campaigned to try and keep a mental health hospital on the political agenda for York and has been widely respected for her views.

In my area, York Outer, the MP Julian Sturdy voted to leave the EU and I would fundamentally disagree with this, and the way the Conservatives will lead us in this process. If you want to find out how your MP voted head to Theyworkforyou at https://www.mysociety.org/wehelpyou/find-out-how-your-mp-voted/

Ultimately the EU question is the defining one in this election, but there will be many others to consider. Only the Lib Dems and Green party are keen to see a second referendum on the final outcome of the negotiations, so we can see if the UK is still fully behind us leaving the EU when the final deal is on the table.

So this passage from the bible I think is helpful in trying to determine our decision about who will be the most “fruitful” in their work for our communities and our country. Whether someone claims to be a christian or not, is actually not that helpful I don’t think. There are many people like Donald Trump who say they are a christian, but their actions may not support this, such as him bragging about sexually assaulting women.  It’s better to look at who they are, what kind of politician they are, and what they stand for, both at a local and a national level.

Matthew 7:15-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

A Tree and Its Fruit

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Concerning Self-Deception

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

Hearers and Doers

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Guest blogger Naomi shares about belonging to church small groups

When I look back on my journey as a Christian, something that really strikes me is how essential being part of a church small group has been for my own development. Yes, of course, there’s the growing I did in my own individual prayer life, my Bible study and my faith. There’s the teaching I received and the activities I was part of as part of a big church. But central to both of those aspects, and critical for me, was the part I played in a small group.

 

A small group usually meets midweek. It is usually has 5-15 members, who commit to studying the Bible and praying together. Almost all churches have them, and I highly recommend getting involved in one.

 

My first small group was a mixed group of us in our early twenties. We were all in a similar position: starting out in our careers, navigating that difficult path of working out who our ‘adult’ selves were. Most of us were looking for ‘the one’ (although no marriages actually resulted from that group!), and all of us were looking to grow in our faith.

 

For many of us – myself included – it was the first time that we’d led a Bible study session, or actually gone out to serve others. Having very few commitments, our attendance was good. We had our highs and our lows, but there were some really strong friendships formed.

 

After a few years, our small groups in our big church were shuffled around. I found myself co-leading an all-girls group. Again, this was an amazing time of growth and deepening for me in my faith. We explored the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and I was amazed by the wisdom and maturity of women my own age. Once again, really close friendships were formed, and some of these women are my closest friends today.

 

When Tim and I got engaged, we started attending a small group together. This was a different group altogether – several couples and some single people, ranging in age from early twenties to early eighties. This group was really lovely, and supported us hugely as we stepped into married life together.

 

Again, after a few years, we were shuffled around. We joined – and eventually came to lead – another small group. This was another mixed group, some single, some married, some dating, and again, these people became some of our closest friends. They supported us through Ben’s birth and the transition into parenthood – and didn’t complain too much when he threw up all over them.

 

When we moved away from our city, I felt the loss of our small group keenly. Even more so than the wider church – perhaps because our church was so big – they were my community. As a Southerner up North, they were my family. They were the ones I could pray with, laugh with, hang out with and learn with. That’s where I grew the most.

 

We have a brilliant small group now. It’s taken a while to settle in. It always does. You have to be vulnerable and open with people, and that’s hard. We’re learning and growing together. That’s the way it should be.

 

If you’re looking to get the most out of a small group, here are my recommendations:

 

Commit. Be consistent with your attendance. Reply to emails. Show up.

 

Offer to lead. Even if it’s scary, have a go. You will get so much out of it.

 

Offer to host. People feel they know you better once they’ve seen you in your home.

 

If you can, ‘shop’ around. Try a few different groups and find out what works for you.

 

Be open and honest as soon as you feel able.

 

Connect in between group meetings – a group What’sApp is great for this.

 

Remember, you get out what you put in. If you put the effort in, God will show up.

To find out more about Christian Blogger Naomi visit http://lifebynaomi.com

 

Caring at Christmas

The closer we get the more emotional I am feeling this year about Christmas. it’s too much build up I think! The gap between the reality of our world and how we’d all like it to be is just getting bigger it seems. We can all help do something though however tiny if we want to. Often it’s the little things that grind you down….

My husband is a paid carer and like alot of people in the helping professions, is working this Christmas. He was fed up last night, not because he’s going to miss some of the party, but because his client had been served a half defrosted meal for lunch by other paid carers, and noone had remembered to stock up on dog food.

Because he’s working this year,  Christmas is being reordered.  Instead of normally going to church and then on to my parents, we are going to spend the morning at home for a change, and the kids are having a sleepover at my parents with extended family on christmas day, and I’m coming home in the evening to celebrate with husband when he gets back from work.

This has been preying on my mind, as we all get set in our ways and I’m also in a new context and was nervous about how to present this to people in the congregation. While I’m not yet a vicar or a curate, I responded to an article in the Church Times about vicars slacking on Christmas day. My response was published. The article was by an eminent theologian, Angela Tilby, and discussed familoraty- another eminent theologian Ian Paul has since commented on the article and it’s published responses here http://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/should-clergy-have-christmas-day-off

I know there was a large mailbag as it touched alot of nerves, not just those of women in ministry but all of us who give up regular chunks of our weekends to serve in church settings at the cost of nuclear or extended family time.

It’s been a roller-coaster year 2016, and I’m relieved to have just scraped a pass on Ian Paul’s module at St Barnabus. It all seemed unimaginably strange when I started in September. The thing I’m learning about theology is it’s full of different opinions, positions, perspectives and all have nuanced rationales behind them. I am finding my feet but it’s quite odd being asked my own response to people’s perspectives who have given it considerable thought.

In previous commissioning and strategic planning roles my own opinion hasn’t been that key, as a team in the NHS or social care we relied instead on the consensus of stakeholders involved, political drivers, finance available, research evidence and it’s been my role to combine these perspectives into a set of options that someone else would then make a final decision on, having weighed up the risks and issues.

I keep thinking that at some point it will become clear whose the correct, common sense answer is. However this doesn’t really seem to be how it works! God speaks to us all in a myriad of ways in a world of multiple languages, contexts, cultures and conditions. We can all hear God’s voice and bring our own perspective, this is called hermeneutics. It doesn’t mean though that any one of us is not “on message” if we are sincerely expressing a theological view. There are restrictions of course, but within the parameters of the discussion there is more blue sea than horizon.

I took the kids to see the Disney film Moana and found it really inspiring. Like Moana, the ability of God to direct my travel plans is becoming more and more central to my life and it’s now impossible to stay in the comfort of “what we’ve all always done”.

Theology is basically talking about God, and I can happily do that all day long, I am hoping by the end of the training I’ll have more of an understanding of the debates and issues that are in the sea with me and the history and previous journeys people have made to navigate it all.Hopefully this will help me understand more about the Bible, but I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion there are no shortcuts, only my ancestors and culture behind me!

 

Family holidays

This summer has been a bit of a roller coaster time, I am leaving work to start my theology training for ordination in September, so have been on count down at work, and then enjoying some time with the family, before gearing up for the next challenge. Summer holidays are always a mix of things I think, it’s time to get to know each other again, time to notice each other’s annoying habits and time to grow together through shared experiences. (even queuing for rides at Legoland!)

This summer I took the kids camping with church to New Wine at Thirsk which felt pretty risky without my right hand man with me. It was really tiring sorting things out and doing the camp-stove cooking with the kids, but we all slept well and they loved sleeping in one big area together. The main reason for going was the teaching, and I loved being refreshed and renewed with up to date worship songs, powerful singers, and fresh new speakers.

Being back at Hollybush farm was a revelation! I went there in the 80’s whilst at primary school with a local farmer’s daughter and her family and it had an impression on me, as when I arrived back to sign-in at the office I felt ridiculously calm, happy and at peace. Hollybush is a special place, and has been a centre of worship since the 1950’s. The sense I had there though was more of being welcomed back, and remembered by a community who had met me before, and prayed for me back in the 1980’s. I know most of the elders who were there then may have not attended this particular worship meeting, but during prayer in the “hungry tent” there was a sense of being cheered on, spotted in the crowd, and encouraged by saints who were happy to see me as an adult, having met me before as a child.

During our time at Inspire, we saw lots of people receive the Holy Spirit some were trembling and shaking, like the early “Quakers” some were talking in tongues, I nearly always receive a word, or a picture, and this time was no different, in one powerful session I saw a row of slaves in chains step freely out of their bondage, and run down the hill to freedom. The kids loved their “Ground Breakers” session, seeing them grow in confidence and faith was really special. Something to do with drenching their leaders in slime?

I experienced some physical healing for the first time, and received the gift of prophetic prayer, so hopefully will now be able to confidently pray for anyone who needs a sign or word from God in his spirit.

The main thing I learnt though is that all the people who have ever prayed for me are part of my spiritual inheritance, and that God is only really interested in a bigger and better family. He’s not exclusively carving out a role for me as a leader rather using me to extend the reach of Jesus heart and hugs. God’s not keen on us using excuses for our actions, he sees us in our whole totality as perfect. That’s why, if you say “I’m rubbish at that, can you ask someone else?” he doesn’t listen! He also sees us in the totality of our christian family.  Some of the longest passages in the bible we skip over as they are just a list of names and relatives, but really this inheritance from previous generations of Christians is one of the best gifts any child (grown up or small) can receive.

A special thank you has to go to my “kin” at Clifton Church, who invited me to come along, and to David and Hazel Crosby who regularly pray with me, and this weekend were on hand at a crucial time.. when I had to get the tent back in the bag..! In their retirement years, they put the rest of us to shame, positively embracing the camping experience!

Out with the old, in with the new

It seems to be the mark of a family home that you own more things than you ever thought possible. I seem to spend most of my time looking for lost teddys, whilst climbing over piles of dolls. Trying to find a birthday card for tomorrow, whilst sorting through ones that for some reason I’ve bought but are no longer quite right. I think it’s because as the children grow up, the stuff they need changes and it’s hard to let go of the past. I’d like to think that I’m still the age I was when I became a mum, and that somehow I’ll go back to that time in my life again, even though when they were babies it was phenomenally difficult.

This year I’m on a mission to de-clutter, I don’t know where to start, so I have begun by ditching about 20 spoons for calpol and some gooey sweets left over from Halloween. I’ve lost weight, so might even get rid of some clothes I’ve not worn for at least 5 years. We recently finished our huge pot of sudacrem, so that’s gone too after living with us for about 7 years! Next on my list is the 11 pots of bubbles scattered round the house, and the draw full of pens for colouring which would easily support a small junior school.

If anyone needs four plastic covers for a Blackberry Curve, please do get in touch.

When I’m thinking about my faith, I think it helps to move other things out of the way. It’s like a mental declutter. Reading, colouring, sudoko, crosswords, getting some exercise, or having a change from the normal routine, all seem to help with this.

This January, my new routine seems to be reading the bible more often. If you are a Christian considering ordination, it’s kind of important. I’m following a bible course through our house group and learning alot.  I’d recommend it if you’ve got a bit stale or or bored, cyncial or otherwise drifted away from the bible..  http://www.thebiblecourse.org/

The more I learn about it, the more I realise I don’t know much about the world’s best selling book. It wasn’t written for us, as it was written so long ago, in a different culture, and uses metaphors and analogies that were much more relevant in those times, but there are plenty of things in the bible which are really powerful and relevant today. When I was on a study session, I once had a picture once of a shadow theatre, which is trying to mimic real life, but isn’t a carbon copy or manual, it’s more creative and mysterious. I think the bible can be like that at times … if we saw God how he really is, it would probably blow our minds.

In a fit of biblical enthusiasm I’ve also signed up to do a study course on Youversion, where I can read the whole bible in one year…. https://www.youversion.com .. so far so good, as it makes a change from playing Candycrush!

 

It’s all in the mind

I pretty much take my mind for granted. I’ve been lucky in sailing through most of my exams at school and rely on my brain to pay the bills, as I am in a job where analysis and composing complex information is a requirement. Recently I felt like I’d let things go a bit and my mind wasn’t performing as it should. I kind of needed to give it a rest. If this had been a bad back or some other illness, I think I’d have been much kinder on myself, and accepted this earlier. As it was I struggled on for way longer than was really helpful for me or others concerned. This is pretty common, we all like to think we are invincible and young for way longer than we actually are, otherwise why would anyone smoke! If you are rundown mentally though, the implications for  your work, social life can be more long-term and people often suffer prejudice and discrimination.

Since then people have been really helpful in sharing ideas and approaches, and I’ve had different kinds of support from my GP signing me off work to counselling and advice from colleagues and friends. The one I’m enjoying the most is mindfulness, I downloaded an app, called Head Space and completed a 10 day trial, and have noticed immediately that I am much nicer to live with and can take different developments more in my stride. It teaches you not to react immediately to thoughts and feelings, rather to notice these and explore them, without acting on them. It’s a technique not dissimilar to meditation, guided Bible reflections, or other ways of praying that people of faith use around the world. It is definitively worth a try though as it helps you take a step back. When my mind is full of children’s schedules, work, difficult conversations I’ve had, and any other ideas swilling around, I can end up feeling overloaded, and miss the sunshine and the colour of the sky, when this isn’t actually necessary.

I have two close relatives who are olympic champions in taming their minds after being diagnosed with bi-polar and schizophrenia in the early 90’s and both have managed to complete degrees, get married and live independent and challenging lives. Both are a real inspiration to me in managing life long conditions that have big ramifications for their lives, but not letting it define them. Like a paralympic they aspire to achieve as much as they can with their amazing minds, but also recognise their limitations and own the reality of that on her day to day life. I think if everyone did that the world would probably be a much nicer, and safer place!