Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Delight yourself in the Lord...Part 1

For the first several years as a Christian I used to indulge in a secret fantasy that I rarely admitted to anyone. I used to dream that somehow, I would receive a telegram from heaven saying "No-one's Home". I would dream about how my life would be different if I wasn't a Christian, and wish I wasn't so darned wholeheartedly convinced that it's actually true.

Recently I found my mind slipping once again in the direction of wondering how my life would be if I wasn't a Christian and I realised something that worried me at first. I realised that my life wouldn't look all that different if I got that telegram. It worried me because I thought "This is not a good sign. There ought to be a real, measurable difference between the life and values of a Christian and someone who is not" and began the usual panic that regularly befalls the over-sensitive Christian, wondering if I had ever been born again at all.

However, as I thought it through I realised that it was not because my life hadn't changed since I'd become a Christian (that genuinely would be a reason for alarm bells to ring, as a Christian life without regeneration and transformation is one that needs to be examined). The difference was that I had changed from a position of hating God's laws to loving them and agreeing with them. Psalm 119:97 says "Oh how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." I realised I had come to a point where that had actually begun to make sense to me. Along with the verse below that stares me in the face every morning when I eat my breakfast:

"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart" Psalm 37:4

I used to look at the verse and think "I know what the desires of my heart are, and I'm 100% sure God isn't about to give me any of those." What I didn't realise is that God doesn't deny us our desires, but he changes what our desires are in the first place. If I got that telegram, my life wouldn't look much different because I am convinced of the rightness of the way that God says life should be lived, to the extent that it would remain right even if it was earthly, not heavenly wisdom.

What this means in practice is that I am now a far more 'cheerful giver'. It's much easier and more pleasant to give a gift that's deserved, that the recipient has asked for to someone you love than it is to give something you love, to someone you bitterly resent for asking for it. Even and especially if the gift is very, very expensive. Either way the recipient gets the gift, but the latter is far more civilised for all involved.

Of course I am not saying that everything I do is in agreement with God and I am almost indistinguishable from the living Lord Jesus himself. All I am saying is that for far more things than before, when I do, think or say something that is wrong, I agree that it was wrong. I guess you could say it's like growing out of adolescence. As a teenager it drove me mad that my parents told me what I could and couldn't do. I was a comparatively obedient teenager but my obedience was not in line with my desires or personal judgement. As an adult, I'm still tempted to do many of the things the teenaged me was fond of, but I am able to see for myself why those things are not what's best for me. There's no-one making me make those choices anymore, but now I choose to make them (most of the time). The results are almost the same but there are far fewer tantrums and slammed doors.

This in turn made me realise something else - something that totally crushed my pride. You can read about that in Part 2...

Oddbabble: Thinks that serialising her posts will increase her readers exponentially.

The Emperor's New Clothes Are All a Size Zero

This is an article I wrote for a zine called Fatty. I would like to precede it with the disclaimer that I am not talking about people who are unhealthily overweight, and I am certainly not making a comment about eating disorders which are another thing entirely. This is just about stupid women. Enjoy.

There has been a peculiar spell cast over Western society. Not the good sort like your kind, fat, fairy Godmother might cast. It bears more the mark of your archetypal scrawny witch. It’s a powerful spell that infiltrates women’s minds, men’s trousers, our purses, our time, our conversations and many, many miles of tedious print on the pages of glossy magazines.

I work in primary schools – an environment almost entirely populated by females. In every staff room I walk into I hear the conversational evidence of this spell’s effects. There are unspoken, unbroken rules about what you may eat, your attitude to it and how you may talk about it. There is a strict script in which women must agree that calorific or fatty foods are ‘naughty’ or ‘wicked’. A tacit assumption that any pleasure derived from eating must be paid for with guilt. And an apparently unshakeable rule that all women MUST be thinner than they currently are, regardless of their shape, size or weight, and with absolutely no connection whatsoever with their level of health. I hear conversations governed by these rules replicated over and over in every school I visit. Each word of it drips with socially constructed, oppressive lies that have been repeated so many times in so many ways that it has become accepted as Unquestionable Truth.

The last time I was in a school staff room at lunch time, I was invited to join in with one of these scripts with a woman I hadn’t met before. She was the dance teacher and she was eating a low fat yoghurt. I refused to follow the script at every opportunity. The conversation went as follows:

Dance Teacher: “I’m trying to eat this slowly but it’s so difficult.”

Me: “Why are you trying to eat it slowly?”

DT: “So I don’t eat as much!”

Note her surprise that I didn’t already know one of the Universal Laws of Eating for Women.

Me: OK.

No, I am not going to say “What are you talking about! You don’t need to lose weight, you’re so skinny!” because (a.) this would mean I believed it was a compliment to call someone skinny (b.) I would be stating the eye-bleedingly obvious to completely deaf ears rendering the statement pointless (c.) it is a very core conversational rule and therefore I must break it and (d.) because it would trigger the inevitable cyclical exchange “No, I’m not skinny you are!” followed by “Don’t be ridiculous, you’re the thin one here!” followed by very slight variations of the same until one of us dies.

DT: “I keep trying to eat less but I just keep getting hungry.

Me: “I guess that’s your body telling you that you’ve burned some energy and it needs replacing.”

DT: “But I haven’t burned any energy!”

I say nothing, thinking that this strikes me as extremely unlikely given that her job title dictates that she has spent the morning dancing and attempting to keep control of 30 or so small children.

DT: “It was awful last week, my husband gave me a whole box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day.”

I know I am expected to agree that this experience is worthy of the word “awful”, but I will not concede. Instead I say the logically more appropriate:

“How lovely of him.”

DT: “It was terrible though, they were these really rich, delicious truffle things. I ate loads of them.”

Again, I am aware that I am required to declare that something “rich” and “delicious” is lamentable and that she is to be pitied above all women. Instead I venture the controversial:

“They sound gorgeous, lucky you.”

She gives up at this point because it’s clear to her that I don’t understand The Rules, not to mention the fact that as we are speaking, I am stuffing my face with normal food at normal speed, without apologising or self flagellating.

As the Emperor in the fairy tale parades around as a naked imbecile, the crowds congratulate his apparel so many times that even they become convinced that there are enviable fabrics and stitches in front of them. As women nod and agree with each other that these are The Rules, they forget that there may be another way of looking at themselves. They are voluntarily living in a prison where the door isn’t even locked.

I'm Sorry I'm a Christian

For those one or two readers who are not friends with me on Facebook, or who missed this first time around:

I'm not clever enough to work out how to add the actual video here, but please follow this link for the rest of this post to make sense.

A friend, responded with this:

"That's powerful stuff. Challenging but quite negative. Does it describe how you feel about Christians you know?"

This was my response:

I posted it because a lot of people I've spoken to see Christians in this way, so I think it's healthy for Christians and non-Christians to hear something like this. This is the reality of the context that we're witnessing into - when I say "I am a Christian" these are the assumptions that people may make about me. Though this is more about the people with the loudest voices or the biggest placards than individual Christians I might know personally, I do think it's important to acknowledge that these are things that sincere and often genuine Christians have done, and I think there’s a place for saying sorry for being part of the same body that has done these things. Not for the sake of being negative, but to have some authenticity about our failures and hypocrisy and to point out, as the poet does, that this was not how Jesus conducted himself. I long for people to associate the word Christian with Jesus’ radical indiscriminate love and compassionately spoken truth but the tragic reality is that many people don’t. I am a part of the reason for this too.