Where does our strength come from?

This is a bit of a working draft, I’m still processing my thinking but this is where I’ve got to. I don’t want to misrepresent anyone’s views so open to comments and corrections to ensure it’s accurate and clear.


Yesterday the internet went into one of its sporadic meltdowns, a bit like Iain in the bake off kitchen which ended up with his baked Alaska in the bin and him heading home. This time – as with many others – the debate that exploded was over the role of women.

It was a curious affair, Andrew Wilson picked up on comments Alistair Roberts made below an article Hannah Malcom wrote for Threads and reposted an excerpt on the Think Theology blog. The original comments were made a month ago and were part of a long discussion which I had previously missed, as clearly had many others who became inflamed when they were given prominence. Part of the problem is that Alistair Roberts writes very long comments, his longest in response to Hannah ran to just shy of 3000 words, and below Andrew Wilson’s post he wrote another of similar length replying to Steve Holmes which he has reposted on his blog with a couple of additional remarks.

To get my head round what he was saying took quite a lot of time! Last night, before reading anything bar the Think Theology post I had a hunch that Alistair was saying something interesting, but also sure that I disagreed with him, and that despite both of those I didn’t really understand what he was saying. Having read in some detail the various journal article length comments on various posts I’ve come to the conclusion that I do disagree with him, but at the same time he makes a useful point which is danger of getting lost in the wave of criticism he’s received. But also that the level of my disagreement is significant and the strength of his logic lost because of the direction he chooses at the outset. He says many things I am not going to engage with, for example others have picked up on his articulation of feminism. This is what I have summarised his position as, I may have this wrong, and I am undoubtedly overriding some of the nuance he covers in his discussion.

  1. men are stronger than women,
  2. things are better when strong people are present,
  3. strong people inevitably rise to the top of power structures,
  4. exercising power is a key function of leadership
  5. strength is therefore a key feature in the affective exercise of leadership.

Alistair writes in his comment responding to Steve Holmes which I think is the crux of his position:

Just as men have a natural relationship to power that women don’t have, Genesis and the rest of Scripture presents women as possessing a natural relationship to life, communion, and the future that men don’t possess. If the tasks of taming, naming, and exercising dominion over the world (tasks corresponding to the first three days of creation) primarily fall on men’s shoulders, men are to empower women to perform the tasks of filling the world with life and fellowship, a task for which they possess a unique aptitude

As an understanding of why men dominate power structures this is a fair historical and sociological assessment. Coupled with this is a critique of advocates for equality as wanting to undermine the power structures for its own sake without considering whether the outcomes of that shift to equality would benefit those who most need it. Alistair argues that equality, if meant by that raising up and protecting those who are marginalised and disenfranchised, is better served by strong leadership and that is best achieved by not bowing to an overarching concern for equality. He also goes further and suggests that equality is so disputed it is an empty concept. Specifically this means that where women are marginalised they are better off with men in more positions of leadership because those men are better able to protect and to serve. As an extreme but useful example he says an equality which demanded parity of gender representation in the army would leave the country less able to secure its defence. Continue reading

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20 things to spot when observing Christian relationships

** WARNING – this post may lead to introspection**

If you spend enQuick-Easy-Valentine-Day-Treatsough time among Christians, especially those who are single and dating, some of these may be very familiar:

  1. The person who needs to be in a relationship just that little bit too much. Whenever an eligible boy or girl turns up on the scene they are the first to latch onto them, in the hope that maybe, this one, will be the one.
  1. The flirting butterfly. Every person is a target, they flit from one person to the next, pulling their best moves to impress the person in front of them. When one person rebuffs them, or often before they have the chance, they move onto the next. It’s not so much a relationship they are after but the affirmation that their flirting leads to when someone laps it up.
  1. The one who leads them on. They know they’re being flirted with, they enjoy it, they are the ones who lap it up – it makes them feel good. They’ve no intention of it going anywhere, but to turn the flirter down would mean turning down the attention. So they let it carry on.
  1. The one who seems above romance and relationship. They breeze through life as though attraction and emotion are unknown, they are busy in their own life. As far as anyone can tell they are attracted to no one, and no one is attracted to them. Except the person who is attracted to them but has no idea if they even notice.
  1. The one who is waiting for God to do it. They’re not exactly content in their singleness, because they’d rather be with someone, but they are trusting in God. This means they don’t do much on their initiative and are inclined to turn down offers if God hasn’t told them that it’s the one.
  1. The amazing girl who all the other girls can’t understand why no guy asks out. You hear the gasps of exacerbation and bemusement at why such and such hasn’t been asked out on any dates recently (or at all). This is likely to come with the tacit suggestion (and sometimes explicit) that you might want to rectify this state of affairs.
  1. The guy who doesn’t ask girls out. It’s not that he’s not interested, he is. It’s just he always finds a reason not to ask out the girl who’s occupying his thoughts. After a while he tends to decide he’s not that interested, or she’s not that interested, or sees she’s now with another guy.
  1. The married to Jesus one. They are so in love with the Lord, and he fulfils all of their needs. Until hot guy asks them on a date.
  1. I need a hero! They are just desperate for someone to fall in love with. Someone who is the right height, with the perfect colour hair, that compassionate but confident temperament who will sweep you off your feet without coming on too strong. Other than that, they’re off the market.
  1. The naïve one who everyone likes. They don’t know it but they have a legion of admirers. Guy after guy has a thing for her. All the girls wait around hoping she will be the one he picks. But it doesn’t happen, they seem immune to the volley of attraction they provoke.

    © April Killingsworth

    © April Killingsworth

  1. Friendship dependency. It starts with them hanging around and becoming friends, and being Christians they know that even if they were in a relationship with someone (not necessarily the friend in question) they wouldn’t get much more out of it then they do as friends. And they enjoy their friendship and lean heavily on it for emotional support. So friendships act as a buffer making crossing the Rubicon towards a relationship that bit less appealing (you know, they might get rejected and all that). This can lead to…
  1. The couple who aren’t a couple. They are categorically not going out, they are friends, they spend time together. Plenty of people think there must be something going on, but they’ve never even talked about such an occurrence. That would be awkward, and after all they’re not really attracted to one another. Problem is, getting a plus one to a wedding is even more awkward. But this is different to…
  1. The couple that will be a couple. Everyone can see it (apart from me), the friendship, the chemistry, the attraction. But it goes unspoken. Maybe they’re nervous, fearful of rejection, uncertain of the reciprocation of feelings, but they hold back. And everyone, the everyone who sees this as inevitable, hold back because to do otherwise would be meddling. Instead they just talk about it. And when they do they either become…
  1. The couple who want to convince you they aren’t a couple. Maybe it is early days in their relationship and they don’t want to be public about their growing amorous affection. They arrive separately, are distinctly detached in the post church mingle. But it is just a little too studied, a little too planned. Or…
  1. PDAs, alternatively known as: The couple who want to convince everyone they are in love. It’s all about the Public Displays of Affection. One minute they were single and the next inseparable. I’m all about showing your significant other how much they mean to you, but in church, during the sermon on atonement, really? I don’t think that’s what ‘his wrath was reconciled meant’.
  1. The couple who were a couple. They were going out, you knew about it, most people knew about it, but now you’re not so sure. It’s been a while since you’ve seen them together but maybe that’s just because one of them has been away. But because we don’t gossip no one talks about their break up, it just glacially filters through the ecclesiological eco-system hopefully in time to cut off another awkward plus one wedding invite.
  1. The Christian festival couple. In a blaze of camping induced romance they find the love of their life. They commit to each other 4EVA. The messages pass back and forth (in my day text and email, probably fb messenger, whatsapp and snapchat these days). But slowly it fades, until they embarrassingly bump into each other next year in the same showground having not spoken for months.
  1. The girlfriend (and sorry to be gender specific) who can’t do anything without their boyfriend. Being in a relationship mutes independent thought and the previously confident lady is a shadow of her former self.
  1. The over protective boyfriend (again, see above for apology). You get within a few meters of his girl and he’ll come alongside her and bring the conversation to a close.
  1. The wannabe matchmaker. They have a pairing for everyone, they think they’ve got skills in who suits who, and want their friends matched up pronto. Except, when it comes to it, the matching plan never hatches.single contact person

What about, a friend asks, the normal Christians, who are confident, honest, and not playing games?

Married.

What have I missed? What should be in the A-Z spotters guide of Christians who are single, dating or getting into a relationship (provisional title)?

Will anyone resign because we are failing Iraqi Christians?

iraqi-christiansA minister resigns over the government’s policy in Israel and Gaza. And the shock is not so much that Baroness Warsi resigned, but that the government had a policy on Gaza over which one was able to protest.

Because the government seem as helpless as you or me. And it’s not just in that particular corner of the Middle East that violence is leaving its bloody scars. In Syria, the war continues, in Iraq, the illusion of peace is extinguished.

But those stories slip down the agenda, and each new insurgence, coup or catastrophe demotes the last to also run status. The fragile ceasefire and hope for peace in Gaza comes after horrendous loss of life and humanitarian vandalism in the previous month. I struggle to understand the right and wrong, whose side has the just cause and who is the aggressor, I want things nice and simple, I want options laid out on a menu, and if I don’t like what is chosen then I can protest. Then I could, if I were a government minister, tender an honourable resignation in support of a cause I am passionate about.

If only more people would resign, like Baroness Warsi, because of government inaction to support those who share their faith in the hardest corners of the earth.

Today two senior officials from Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge were found guilty of crimes against humanity. In their eighties they still remain resolute of their ignorance and innocence of the atrocities committed. In March I walked around the killing fields, I saw the fragments of bone still rising through the soil nearly four decades later, I walked around the school turned into a torture facility – a place where thousands passed through over four years but just 11 walked out alive. This was genocide, this was horrific: this was man killing man for no other reason than they could potentially pose a threat to one man’s idea of what society should be like. I wondered at the time whether it made it better or worse that this wasn’t killing an ethnic or religious group, it wasn’t like the holocaust or the Rwandan genocide, and that’s a moot point because it was horror laid on horror, a legacy that haunts a country grappling to find its way out of poverty, searching for ways to rebuild trust among its population – who had been taught to hate one another.

A13310755845_038146b4d2_ond I wished someone had resigned over that. What if there was a Cambodian in the British cabinet, or the American administration, who caught an inkling of what was happening and stood up and said no more. No more vacillation, no more vague good intentions, but something has to be done when children are being taken from their families and smashed against trees.

So often we call for advocacy on behalf of the voiceless regardless of their faith or ethnicity, and we should and it’s important. But those who share my faith are dying today, and we should speak for them. It is for them that I cry out, and for whom we should shout. And Christian politicians looking at the plight of Christians, especially in Iraq, should despair at the inaction of their government and resign.

The violence against Christians in Iraq is not negligible, it is horrific. The deaths caused by an insurgency seeking to create an Islamic State covering Iraq and Syria are not just of Christians, but as Christians we should be especially vocal in speaking out for their protection. This is not a simple act of self-interest, it is the defence of freedom which benefits all. The thousands of Yazidi Iraqis forced to shelter on a mountain top, and slowly dying because that is no place to shelter. They too need protection and advocacy, this morning I had no idea who they are, a small group which blends Christian and Zoroastrian beliefs and branded by ISIS as devil worshippers.

What’s happening in Iraq is genocide.

As Philip Jenkins writes: We often read of the birth and growth of churches, very rarely of their deaths. In Mosul, however, we may be seeing the end of an astounding example of Christian continuity that lasted nearly two millennia.”

The US Catholic Bishop’s Conference wrote last week to National Security Advisor Susan Rice, they said: “The urgent situation in Iraq demands both our prayers and action. U.S. humanitarian assistance for the victims of the conflict is critical. In addition, our nation must take diplomatic measures. Our nation bears a special responsibility toward the people of Iraq.”

There is no doubt that this is a hard situation to respond to, and made harder by the legacy of US and UK military involvement in Iraq, the opposition to that involvement and the problems it created. Because of the loss of life British military action caused then there is understandable, but regretful, hesitancy about getting involved in any way now. But abstinence out of fear is shameful. Especially when we think of Canon Andrew White and others who are committed to serving in Iraq and have refused to move regardless of the threat to their life.

I know of no Yazidi politicians in the British government who can resign in solidarity and in protest that we are not doing enough, that we are not doing anything. But I know of plenty of Christians. I know of Christians committed to their faith and passionate about defending religious freedom, and above all, thinking death is never a suitable sentence for refusing to convert.

I wonder if there are any men or women of principle, who seeing the violence, hearing of the persecution, witnessing the horrors that scar the landscape of where the church has its ancient foundations, turn down the privileges and the prospects that their post affords and hand in their resignation. It is shameful that as a country we are doing nothing.

As Dan Hodges puts it, lets not wait for the books and the films, lets not wait to shed a tear as we read the next We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, or wait to stare in horror at the next Hotel Rwanda.

Is there an honourable man or woman in today’s government who cannot stand that we stand by while Christians are slaughtered and forced from their homes? Who instead of standing by, stands up and says that something must be done.

Who will resign out of protest that we are not coming to the aid of the Christians and the Yazidi: the persecuted and the hounded of Iraq?

Assisted dying: it’s just not cricket

On Saturday morning James Anderson marked out his crease in effort to prevent the England cricket team capitulating to a hefty first innings deficit. The previous night Stuart Broad has played a few shots and helped Joe Root nudge the scoreboard towards respectability, and then the final batsman – not a batsman in any conventional sense of the word, but the final player in the team to come out to bat – hung around long enough that his bowling duties would be delayed until the next day.

All through Saturday’s morning session Root and cricket batsAnderson pushed the total up, with Root, the recognised batsman, initially protecting Anderson from most of the play before they went on to bat as equals with the teams talismanic bowler trading the red leather for the bat as his weapon to do damage to the opponent. That morning all sorts of records fell. It was the first time both number 11s had scored fifties, first time both teams had a final wicket partnership over a hundred. When Anderson finally succumbed shortly after lunch England had carved out a lead from this granite of a wicket in Nottingham.

Cricket is a strange sport, it asks everyone to play their part. Only a fortnight before Anderson had fallen two balls short of the most redoubtable defence against Sri Lanka, turning down shot after shot, refusing to risk his wicket for anything. When he was out to his fifty-fifth ball it was the second longest duck ever. There were tears in his eyes when he was interviewed after the match. In most walks of life we play to our strengths, we do what we’re good at, and we avoid those things where failure is likely. Bowlers have no such option. James Anderson is not in the team for his batting, as a number 11 he is sent out onto the wicket as a final sacrifice at the tail end of an innings. He is not expected to score, but still he marks his crease and waits for the bouncers designed to scare him, the yorkers which will put him off balance and the reverse swing, of which he himself is a master, designed to tempt him into playing a shot.

A couple of years ago I was working with someone who had cancer, I didn’t know all the details, but I knew he had cancer, went into remission, then was no longer in remission. In May 2012 he passed away, but a few months before he wrote about his experience and his thoughts on assisted dying. Yesterday his thoughts were published in the Independent ahead of a debate in the House of Lords this week on legalising assisted dying for the terminally ill. Christopher Jones writes, that had the proposed law had been in place it would be for people like him:

“I might have been open to the option of ending my life by legal means, had these existed. The legal prohibition of this course was immensely helpful in removing it as a live option, thus constraining me to respond to my situation more creatively and hopefully. In hindsight, I now know that had I taken this course, I would have been denied the unexpected and joyful experience of being ‘recalled to life’ as I now am.”

Over the weekend the unexpected revelation that Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, supported the proposed change in the law sent shock waves around the Christian community, uniting those from often hostile factions in disagreement with his stance. This was followed by the support from Desmond Tutu, a seeming momentum of support from senior Christian leaders to change the law to one that is ‘more compassionate’. But, as current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote in the Times, “Helping people to die is not truly compassionate”.

I cannot imagine the suffering many people who are terminally ill face, or the life of those who are not terminally ill but suffering from illnesses that render their lives hard to live. There are cases that go through the courts of people who want their loved ones to have the freedom to end their lives, there are heart wrenchingly painful accounts.

And yet, and yet, I don’t think life can be subject to those choices. There are some choices we should not be allowed to take. I firmly believe that restricting the choice available to assist in someone’s death is the more compassionate thing to do.

We all have our part to play in life, and whether that’s for a few more months than we might expect. I am grateful for having known Christopher, and I am grateful he left these words.

Number 11 batsmen are sent out at the end of the innings when it is nearly over, but for them this is their chance to play some shots before the end. And sometimes it is remarkable. In twelve tests the winning shots have been struck by a batsmen disregarded as really a batsman. We could limit the batting to those who are good at it, those who train day in day out to receive the bullets of fast bowlers, the turning balls of whirling spinners.

cockney cricketSometimes playing out of position leads to unexpected results. Sometimes things happen that should not. What looks like a lost cause can be the gateway to something new. After Anderson’s heroics on Saturday the epilogue on Sunday evening was even more remarkable if irrelevant to the outcome of the game. On a pitch that yielded few easy wickets a draw was the inevitable conclusion as India batted through the day yesterday. As the sun dipped beneath the horizon and the match proceeded towards its close Alastair Cook took the ball to bowl his second and third ever overs in test match cricket. And took a wicket. The batsman out of form became a bowler, and the country’s greatest bowler was a batsman when it mattered.

In yesterday’s sermon at ChristChurch London Liam Thatcher talked about how Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from his chains while under arrest in Rome. He writes to the church that started when revival broke out in another jail twelve years before. His chains were not the method he would have chosen, but they were the way the gospel was spreading throughout the palace guard. Paul was chained up but the good news could not be.

Playing out of position can be awkward, being somewhere we would rather not can be painful, and it can be difficult, and sometimes we wish we could choose otherwise. But sometimes we learn something in those places, sometimes the unusual is where the unexpected happens. When it does, it’s more exciting. Anderson taking wickets isn’t worthy of headline (and nor should Cook scoring runs – but that’s another matter altogether), but when his heroics were with the bat people sat up, refreshed the live updates, and paid attention. There is something about let everyone play there part, even if it is out of position, and allowing assisted dying could stop that: and it’s just not cricket.

Does the customer have all the rights?

Business Cartoon“I want a wet cappuccino” declares the customer, “so you want a latte?” I reply. “No” they restate, “a wet cappuccino”. So I give them a wet cappuccino – which is really just a latte.

Burger King have long marketed their burgers with the tag line “Have it your way”, a riposte to the supposed inflexibility of McDonald’s. The customer can choose what they want and how they want it, within reason and usually at extra cost. Recently they changed the slogan to ‘Be your way’, and the shift marks not only a development of their advertising but the further incorporation of individualism into everyday life.

It’s not so much ‘I think therefore I am’, but ‘I choose therefore I am’. The liberty to decide what to do, how to do it, or whether to do it – whatever it may be – has become society’s fundamental and inalienable right. Not just the customer is always right, but the customer has all the rights.

Cases on both sides of the Atlantic have brought the question of religious liberty to the fore in recent weeks. There was the case in America of a dog walker ‘firing’ a customer because they supported the legalisation of marijuana. Also in the States was the related issue of whether an employer should cover medical insurance for treatments which they had religious objections to. And in Northern Ireland a bakery is being taken to court by the Equality Commission for refusing to back a cake decorated to advocate for the legalisation of same sex marriage.

Each of those cases is different, the dog walker is being ridiculous, it is simply unhelpful, intrusive and frankly impossible to regulate whether services or goods are provided to a customer on the basis of their views. You cannot know what they think about myriad issues.

If you’ve followed the Hobby Lobby case and decision in the States the first thing apparent to observers in the UK is the bizarre idea that it is employers responsibility to provide medical insurance, and therefore there is the potential for discretion in what is covered. The case was not over whether the refusal to provide some of the contraception treatments was based on a religious objection, but whether that objection could be held by a for profit company and if it could whether there was a less burdensome way for the end to be met without infringing that religious expression. The religious objection to providing four out of 20 of the forms of contraception had already been accepted for religious institutions and non-profit organisations on the grounds they were, or could fairly be considered to be, abortifacients. The court’s majority opinion held that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act provided a broad conception of religious freedom and as it applied not only to individuals but non-profit organisations it should also apply to for profit corporations. This means that companies can have religious views and those religious views are entitled to expression and protection.

That is very different from the legal situation in the United Kingdom where although limited exceptions are enshrined in law religious beliefs are mostly dealt with on an individual level. For example, there are exemptions for doctors with an objection to performing abortions. Likewise, religious expression is considered at the level of the individual and their belief as regards their own expression of that belief, but various cases (particularly those relating to B&Bs) have shown those beliefs cannot be used to restrict services to certain people based on their sexuality, gender, age, religion, or disability. (There are common sense allowances for religious organisation to restrict employment to people who share the beliefs of the organisation.) Importantly in the cases of Eweida et al decided by the European Court of Human Rights last January the court held that what matters is that a belief is held by the individual to be of central importance, and not that it is widely considered to be of such importance, nor held by a significant number of religious adherents to have such a position. For example, the wearing of a cross is important to some Christians but not to all, this does not stop it from being a legitimate manifestation of belief.

This brings me to the bakery in Northern Ireland. And to show that it has nothing to do with any of the above examples. The customer was ordering the cake for a group campaigning for same sex marriage and it was to be iced with Bert and Ernie from Seasame Street with the wording: ‘support gay marriage’. The coverage of the case has inferred that the customer was gay, but there is no need for that to have been the case, and the objection of the bakery was not to serving someone who was gay but to producing a cake which supported a political campaign they objected to. In other words, had the customer been heterosexual but ordering exactly the same cake the bakery would have had the same objection and refused to produce the cake.

However, the question this raises, and to bring us back to Burger King, is what freedom to companies have to do things their way, or to ‘be their way’? Or, is the freedom of organisations and companies defined by their obligations to serve the freedom and choices of their customers and clients?

As I understand the law, a request for materials relating to a political campaign can be refused, so a printer could choose not to print a poster campaigning for the reintroduction of the death penalty, or for the reintroduction of grammar schools, or for a certain political party. Assuming I am correct – and it’s very possible I’m not – it is incredulous that the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland are getting involved in a case which should fall into that category.

But it also raises a wider point, and one that the US Hobby Lobby decision brought into view, can organisations have moral and religious view points, or a encompassing worldview, and can that view be a factor in how they operate? The irony of the case in the States is that many on the left who reacted with horror at the judgement have long criticised the profit alone mentality of corporations, and for whom the idea of companies with a social and moral conscience should be appealing. And yet, we disagree with each other as to what that social and moral conscience should entail: seeking to do good is not enough if we do not agree on what the good is.

Which is why we end up resorting to further ingraining individualism and choice as the primary mantra of society, and when that choice is disrupted we cry havoc.

So in a world where we are allowed to choose what we want, as long as that doesn’t restrict another person’s right to choose, do choices motivated by faith end up privatised or privileged? The upcoming parliamentary debate on assisted dying has seen calls for religious believers to back out of the debate, inferring that they are somehow privileged, and Emma Barnett wrote in the Telegraph at the weekend that faith is something people shouldn’t have to deal with at the train station on their way to work.

She was referring to the recent trend for Jehovah’s Witnesses to stand outside train stations, both in London and other major cities across the UK with Bibles, tracts and magazines. They don’t approach members of the public – so Barnett’s complaint of having faith forced on her is nonsense – but wait to be approached. While not replacing door to door evangelism this new tactic is a way of seeking to reach more people with their message.

Because faith should be public. If you believe something to be true there’s an incumbency upon you to let other people know that, as Gary Barlow sings “Tell me if you found God and he gave you hope, would you tell the world or save your soul?”

Faith isn’t something separate that can be taken off like a knitted jumper or put on for special occasions, maybe like a Christmas knitted jumper, it is part of who you are. And if that belief is something that you believe others would benefit from you will share it, and if you believe it has something to say about how society should be ordered, you will say it.

To not allow faith to play a full role in public life would be to allow the belief that God is irrelevant or non-existent to triumph. Under the guise of neutrality one set of beliefs would be dictating to others which parts are allowed to be displayed in public.

How I found freedom from the prison of ego

iPhone July 2011 005 - Copy

As a thirteen year old I dug the garden on a Saturday afternoon to earn a little extra pocket money to go and see Delirious (at that point transitioning from being known as Cutting Edge). I joined the masses queuing outside my church and then packed into the hall to hear the big new thing in the Christian world. A few years before in what was know as the Toronto Blessing I had stood awed in meetings and fallen prostrate. There was undoubtedly a little of me mimicking what those to my left and right were doing, but that was not the entirety.

Being ahead of Christian culture was what mattered.

When I got to university and people would go on about Delirious I would roll my eyes, it was no longer cool to be into them. When someone had the great idea to do a 24-7 prayer room, I said I could do that in my sleep.

I’d flippantly pontificate on whether DJ led worship was really suitable for a congregation. But also make sure people knew I’d done break dancing sessions in a disused and refashioned train station in Germany. When cell groups, small groups, D groups, life groups, connect groups, were being discussed I’d have a couple of handy mnemonics or aphorisms up my sleeve; I’d find a way to segue in that I’d done a seminar on cell group multiplication. I’d be one of those people who wouldn’t clap, or stand, or raise my hands, when the host or worship leader said to, because, you know, worship is about us choosing to worship.

I got Christian culture and I thought I was better than it. I would raise my eyes and sneeringly remark at the queues of people waiting to get a photo with Tim Hughes. Until someone else noted my own remark was designed to draw attention to myself.

When others were weirded out during the prayer ministry time, I was unfazed.

Ten years ago I remember chat boards discussing this or that issue, some theological debate, whether a certain band was better than another. I would spend many an hour formulating the killer argument. I remember writing a long paper on whether God heard the prayers of non-Christians. (The answer is yes. I’ve got better at being succinct. But not that much better cf. this post.)

I thought that because I recognised the bubble which existed, I thought that because I would critique it, and at times subject it to ridicule, I was better than it. I thought that I wasn’t captured by the tyranny of culture that makes faith a thing to be practised, perfected and performed, I was immune to it.

Faith meant something to me, it wasn’t just a culture that I was absorbed into, it was something more. Knowing God made a difference: it helped when I was lonely, when I’d stand at the back of the hall and no one would speak to me. It helped when I was in a crowd and acting cool, but not too cool, because that would be uncool. It helped when things went wrong, when the thing I had set my heart on crashed before my feet. I kept walking through the rubble knowing I was not alone.

My belief in God, and that he loves me, mattered when I messed up, when I disappointed, when I did not do the things I should and did others I shouldn’t.

I spent too many years hanging off the coattails of the vanguard of Christian culture. The people I was with were ahead of the trend, and I thought, by association, that was enough. Being innovative, creative, different, was important. Rejecting conformity, orthodoxy, ritual, was a badge of honour. If people weren’t objecting to what you were doing, it wasn’t radical enough.

When handing out chocolate selection boxes to the neighbours at Christmas is radical action, provoking ire and critique, something somewhere has gone wrong.

Many of my fellow travellers on that road those years ago are now on different paths. Some who walked this way in recent times do not any more. For some it was decisive, deliberate, definitive. It was giving up on a childlike ways, it was parting company with a life they were opting not to lead. It was the decision to leave God behind. But for many others the path is less certain, less clear cut, and cloaked with frustration, doubt and hurt, emotions they felt were not accommodated.

Not accommodated in a church where having it together was only optional if you were cool enough not to care (and your trousers were baggy enough and slung low enough around your thighs). Even then, being cool enough not to care about being cool was a carefully manufactured image.

Church was a place for worship, and for belief. It was a place for reaching to God, calling down his presence, sending out his disciples, going to the ends of the earth to comfort the wounded.

But often the wounded were sat next to you.

Often the wounded did not know what it was to know with the certainty they were told to know. Did not believe as earnestly as they hoped they did believe. Jessica Misener recalls her youth: “My desire at that moment was for Jesus, or as 30-year-old me wants to declare in hindsight, what I earnestly believed was Jesus.”

Others were hurt by decisions the church took, or what leaders they looked up to did when people weren’t looking.

Mike Pilavachi, leader of the Soul Survivor youth festivals and church, has commented on the different tenor to the conferences aimed at teens and Momentum, which is for students, 20s and 30s. For the younger attenders it is hopeful and optimistic: it is about changing the world for Jesus. For those a little older the dreams have sometimes been dashed, sometimes the hopes have faded, and the world has not changed how they expected, and maybe Jesus seems a little further away – seeing through a glass darkly resonates more than doing all thing through Christ who strengthens me.

I never gave up on faith, but there were many days, long periods, when I was stuck on autopilot. I was doing the things I needed to do, attending the meetings, reading the books, listening to the music, understanding the concepts I needed to grasp. But sometimes one was missing. Sometimes I wasn’t sure that I was sure enough that I believed.

Sometimes I wonder what it is I have spent the twenty years, since I went to the front at a meeting aged ten, doing. Sometimes I wonder who it is I’m praying to. I wonder if I am actually going mad and talking to myself.

But I never gave up, and instead I have learnt to let go. I learnt to stop performing, stop worrying, and know that peace is more important than knowledge. I needed to know that last week. This is not a past story of my teenage years, it is a daily walk.

It’s the paradox of childlike faith. Doubt isn’t the enemy, it is what makes belief matter. Children know with certainty but never stop questioning: everything is definite and nothing is sacrosanct. It is my hope that I know with certainty that I am loved, but I never stop asking.

Many who don’t currently go to church never decided that was it, they were not betrayed or hurt. Going to church just stopped happening. For some they still believe, they can still be still and know that God is here. For others God seems distant and a relationship with Jesus part of the clichéd Christian culture they are embarrassed to have embraced with such abandon.

My story is not one of rebellion, it is not one of rejecting God, it is not one of walking away. I was the one who stayed and kept up appearances. For me that mattered, for me hanging on when I felt god was not hanging on to me was important. But it also grew me a hard shell, it grew a heart that was harder on the outside, and a vulnerability on the inside I dared not expose.

It taught me that being seen as with it, together, sorted, grown up, mature, responsible, was what mattered. It made me hide shame with secrecy, and fear of failure with planning and perfection.

I wish that if I or anyone else could answer, beyond doubt, criticism or rejection whether the Bible is inerrant, infallible or trustworthy for faith and conduct and what that means, it would solve the problem many have with the Christian faith. But I don’t think it would. There are men and women who defend the faith with deftness and dignity, winsome writers who tell of the divine. And I wonder if it misses the point. The answers we give aren’t always the answers many are looking for.

There are people I know who left church behind, others for whom God is not what he once was. But in equal measure there are friends who find this road once more. Who perhaps stumble a time or two. Who perhaps wonder whether this is the place they can call home. Who nurse the wounds caused by hurt and betrayal. Who do not always believe with the fervour they feel their faith should elicit.

And one thing Jessica’s deeply moving piece portrays is that communities of belief are important, the place where we worship and the people we join with, makes a difference. It is why in the nineteenth century atheists set up secular societies, it is why in the twenty-first the Sunday Assembly copied church services but dispensed with the faith bit. Jessica says: “Losing Jesus, someone I talked to both hunched over in prayer groups and in the darkness of my bedroom, felt like losing a friend, even if he was an imaginary one all along.” She goes on: “With a divine outlet compelling me to focus on something besides self-preservation, I felt free from the prison of ego.”

Commenting on someone else’s beliefs, even when published on Buzzfeed, is a vulturistic past time. Stopping blogging for even a few months last autumn taught me a little about disengaging, leaving aside the controversy of the day, the outrageous statement, the fact that someone somewhere on the internet was wrong. I let it go.

So I’ll leave it at this: I believe that faith in Jesus frees me from the prison of ego, and I believe that enough to let it matter. That prison was broken down, not by the force of certainty, but the cracks that let the light in.

The confession of a lazy but determined voter

Tomorrow morning I’ll head round the corner from my house and enter a community centre I never knew existed. I’ll be on my way to work and probably one of the first to enter. I’ll mark the papers, pop them in the respective boxes and be on my way.

I’ll have cast my vote for the councillors to represent me on Southwark Council and MEPs to do the same in the European Parliament.

I don’t yet know the names of the people I’ll vote for. Not that I’m undecided, just that I know very little about what they’re saying or standing for, or even their names.

There was an election flyer on my kitchen table, and my flatmate was canvassed a couple of weeks ago – and on that grounds alone likely to vote for the party to take that minor amount of effort. I think that flyer found its way to the bin.

If I were to go home tonight and scour the internet for policies and biographical details I would not need the contrition I feel towards my lassitude toward the democratic process. But I’m not, I know how I’m going to vote. I know enough about the parties and their positions on the national level to be frustrated by them all but aligned closest to one. And the names beside that logo will get my vote tomorrow.

Except tomorrow I’m not supposed to be voting on the national policies of parties, but on what they would do on my local council or in the European Parliament. And yet, my confession is not one scarce found among voters heading to the polling booth tomorrow. I would argue it’s the norm.

Most voters are not deciding which candidate gets their support based on a thorough evaluation of the options, or the specifics of the ballot, but on a wider, general, sense of support or disagreement with the parties across the country. Perhaps I do a disservice, there are surely many who do know who is standing and what their vision is; perhaps I misrepresent the population by projecting my ignorance onto others.

And while I am a lazy voter, I am also a determined one. Voting is not something to do lightly, or without thought, but more than that, and regardless of whether we take care, it is something we must do. I would rather the population opted for the party whose logo was in the colour they preferred than stay at home. Voting is too important, even when it seems pointless.

Before the last general election the oft heard cry was that a single vote doesn’t make any difference – the majority is too large, the party I support will never win, my vote will be wasted. But what if everyone took that view? What if everyone opted out?

Politics isn’t a consumer activity where our choice to participate or not is an active decision, and where exit is also a valid option. If we choose not to go to the cinema we are communicating our dissatisfaction, with the choice of films, the price of tickets, the location of the cinema, we are telling the cinema that something is wrong. In politics it doesn’t work like that. If we opt out we let others take the decision, and their decisions affect us all.

It’s why despite everything, despite my frustration with the parties, their leaders, their campaign tactics, their policies, or lack thereof, I vote because I must. And so should you. Because to not would be to let others make your mind up for you. You should also watch the video at the top – best voting video ever.

Also, if you wish to learn a bit more about the European Union and the elections, read this guide.