The one about…asking Jesus that question?

Me: Jesus, hi, thanks for agreeing to do this. I’ve just got a couple of questions. I’m not used to doing the interview, it’s usually Sid so if it’s ok with you we’ll just get on with it! Tell me, who are you and why are you here?

Jesus: Hi, yes, love that you wanted me to do this, it’s a good question, something many people have tried to answer. Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Me (slightly flustered): erm, some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Your mate Peter said ‘the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ But I was actually hoping for your answer.

Jesus (smiling serenely): I know, but what about you? Who do you say I am?”

Me (even more flustered): Er, God? Well, God in human form. The manifestation of love? The embodiment of mystery? Tangible spirit? Corporeal reality? Life? But your answer would be helpful. You know you should have been a politician, your ability to avoid the actual answer to a question is like some divine gift. Anyway, we’ve lost focus slightly…so, who are you?

Jesus (laughing): Ok, I’m the Light, the bread, the door, the way, the truth, the life; I’m the resurrection, the vine, the good shepherd. I’m life.

Me: right, yep, great; that’s quite a list. Tell me, why are you here?

Jesus: I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they have ever dreamed of.

Me: that’s interesting. You claim to be ‘bread’ as well as be here to provide; to be ‘the door’ or ‘the light’ or ‘the way’ and be here to show the way; to be ‘truth’ and to tell the truth; to be ‘the resurrection and the life’ and be here to bring life? It seems that your identity and purpose are inextricably linked. Which raises the question of whether the two questions can actually be asked separately. What if who we are is also why we’re here? What if we’re here to be who we are? What do you think?

Jesus: I think I fancy fish for tea, you up for a picnic on the beach? Talking of fish, did you watch the documentary on BBC2 about the four families who tried out being fisherman, I’m not sure but I think it was the BBC’s attempt at Love Island?

As it happens I did catch the end of a couple of episodes of that documentary. I didn’t watch the whole series (seems I never do!), but I was reminded that life at the turn of the century was hard. They worked just to survive, there was no making a little extra so that they could enjoy a night away or take the kids to a theme park. Life back then was simply about survival. Answering the question who are you and why are you here would have been almost nonsensical, they were fishermen and they were here to be fishermen.

The same reality stands true today in many cultures across our world. There are people who don’t have the luxury of wondering why they’re here, their lives too immersed in producing food for themselves and their families, providng shelter and sustaining life. They find identity in their purpose and their purpose is their identity. Their purpose is to live.

Maybe its not a luxury to wonder why we’re here. What if we were healthier mentally and spiritually when our purpose was simply to be alive. What if our “developed world” with celebrity culture, rich lists and our desire for more success, wealth and notoriety means we find ourselves losing sight of who we are, becoming caught up in unhealthy notions of who we could be, which stop us being fully present now? What if the leisure time we think we deserve, the ‘little extras’ we believe we earn actually detract from our abilty to know who we are and stifle our ability to genuinely share life with others?

What if knowing who we are could negate the need for comparison or competition? What if knowing our identity and our purpose enabled us to live from a place where we could celebrate the success of others more readily and smile at their joy? Maybe if all of us were able to know who we are and focus on living right now we’d find that community could flourish. We’d find a reliance, a generosity and a genuine need for each other that was far from superficial.

What if the reason we’re here is to simply be who we are? What if we fully understood that we are unique, that no one else can bring what we bring to our families, friends, communities or the world? What if we are here to be fully alive, to truly live, to share ourselves as a good gift to the world? What if it is as simple as that?

Me: Jesus, just one more thing, the being life and bringing life, that’s quite a mind blowing concept!

Jesus: you know Christ isn’t actually my surname?

Me: 🤔

 

The one about…comparison.

“Don’t worry about what he’s doing, just enjoy what you’re doing and let him do his thing!”

I listened to the advice I was giving to my squabbling children and laughed to myself at my own inability to follow it!

I’m good at comparison, which sucks because it doesn’t actually do me any good. It destroys any healthy perspective I have of my own life and skews the view the lives of those around me. It seems I’m often unable to see the awesome truths about my own world because I’m so busy looking at everyone else’s. It’s almost as if the more I compare the more I need to compare until I find a comparison that makes me feel better about myself!

I’d love to live from a place of security, knowing that I was good enough, clever enough, pretty enough, successful enough, rich enough; that who I was and all I had was enough. Regardless of how that measured up to Facebook, Instagram, my neighbours or even my husband; whatever scale I’m currently choosing to compare my life to! Imagine if I was able to live life content with who I am and what I have.

I often wonder why I have a problem with comparison. Maybe it’s a simple lack of self esteem or maybe it’s born out of dissatisfaction with where my life is at. I had a friend share a quote she’d heard which basically said “dissatisfaction is key to our evolution” and I guess maybe there’s something about a state of discontent that does drive us forward into new things. I guess it’s OK to be discontent with how things are and allow that to inspire change, that must be different from a comparison to how others are which makes you want to change?

It seems that so often I live life from a place of lack or scarcity rather than abundance and generosity. The religion I grew up with started from a point of lack, loss, failure and separation; as though humanity was birthed into scarcity. Stories of generosity and extravagance had been retold focussing on what was lost or what was missing. The role of religion was generally to remind you that you weren’t enough, that you lacked something; that ultimately you had fallen short of perfection and weren’t good enough for God! What I’m learning is that actually true religion starts from a place of extravagance, prodigality, abundance and generosity. I’m slowly realising that there’s a force, an energy, a Divine Spirit at work in the universe which cries out “I am always with you and all I have is yours”, that phrase echoes through creation, it’s evident in every season, which means that I don’t need to worry about having enough or being enough because there is always enough. It’s not just material wealth like money and possessions that I become fearful or possessive about but also love and joy and fun and laughter. What if I’m reluctant to celebrate the success and happiness of others because deep within I believe that there’s a limit to the amount of joy there is to go around? What if I’m jealous of the success of others because in some strange way I think that their success restricts the success that might come my way! Sounds a little crazy?! Maybe, but why else would I feel a little envious that they got to buy that house together, or that he got that job, or that she gets to go to that party? What is it that stops me being simply happy for others in their moments of excitement and happiness? If I genuinely begin to believe in a benevolent universe, a Divine being that is totally for humanity, then my need to compare or measure myself against others will diminish because I’ll know that I have access to all I need and that I am enough!

That’s my bag! But as a wise person said earlier this week:

The particular is always universal, it’s like you’re hearing this person talk about the situation they’re in and you realise ‘oh lots of people know what this is about’, it’s like if you go far enough into yourself you find everybody!*

So while this is where I’m at, maybe it’s not just me!

*Rob Bell on The Robcast Episode 231: An Anatomy of Restlesness!

The one about…poverty.

Have you ever experienced being poor? The dictionary defines poor as:

lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society.

Yet poverty isn’t just financial or material hardship. Poverty can take many forms. We can be physically or mentally disadvantaged, not capable of doing or processing life as we once could or the way others do.

We can be emotionally poor, those days or seasons where we go through the motions but emotionally we’re quite numb and disconnected. There are other times where we’ve been overwhelmed by emotion and we then feel drained, exhausted by what life demands of us. There are times where we lack the resources to function coherently in the world and we’re simply not able to relate to those around us in a life giving way. We might also describe this as spiritually poor, when we’re low in spirit, those times where we feel void of sparkle or vitality, somewhat bereft of energy and purpose.

Often it seems poverty is a comparable state. Maybe we compare our financial, physical, mental, emotional or spiritual wealth to what we perceive others to have or maybe we compare our wealth or lack of, to what we’ve previously experienced. Sometimes we simply measure our wealth against what we believe we’re entitled to and believe that it comes up short! That said, when we’re in a place of need the knowledge that there are people in the world with less might put things in perspective but often isn’t a huge comfort! Yet there must be something we can learn from the poverty we experience.

One thing all types of poverty seem to have in common is that those who are impoverished find themselves at the end of their own resources. Poverty, of whatever kind, can leave us helpless, at the mercy of others; be it the system, individuals or the universe.

There’s a book called “The End of Me” by Kyle Idleman, it’s a great read, I bought it because I liked the title. For me, the concept of “the end of me” sums up poverty quite well. That experience of being at the end of our own financial, emotional, mental, physical or spiritual resources. Have you ever felt like you’ve got to “the end” of yourself, as though if one more bad or difficult or trying event occurs you might actually fall apart? Do you ever dread checking your emails, or hearing the phone ring or waiting for the post to arrive because you’re so spent that if you’re required to do something else, pay one more bill, or sort one more disagreement you might just break down?

What if that’s a good place to be? What if experiencing poverty, requires us on some level to surrender control, to recognise we can’t hold it all, that we can’t keep going at that pace? To recognise that some “fixes” take time and we simply have to surrender to the moment, to the universe or to our need to dominate?

What if finding ourselves at the end of our own reserves means we’re in a place where we’re instead ready to receive? Maybe running out of our own resources means we have to look to others or other sources?

What if in that place of poverty there is more room for “otherness” (if you need a word, make it up!), more space for something or someone else? Maybe in a place of poverty there’s more space for creativity, for new ideas to be birthed? What if in that place we’re more willing to try new methods or adopt a different outlook and then those occasions, where we feel we’re at the mercy of the universe, actually become opportunities for something new to occur? What if it’s in that place that we find a whole wealth of story, of possibility and of life? What if that’s where the adventure really begins!

The one about…sports day!

There seem to have been an abundance of sports days in my world this year; key stage 1 and key stage 2 at primary, playgroup and then last week the two at secondary school had theirs! We also held the inaugural ‘Refresh Tots’ sports day! They all seemed to pass without too much drama, although I never did get to the bottom of why the ambulance was at the secondary school?! Across the board the adults involved did a great job of including everyone without letting it become too competitive, well at least from my families perspective of it all!

I don’t remember my school sports days particularly positively. I recall feeling as though I’d like the ground to swallow me as I trailed behind everyone else with the finishing line taking an eternity to reach. I still shrink back from anything competitive now, probably out of that haunting fear of failure rather than a genuine non-competitive soul!

It seems that, no matter how inclusive the events seem to be, sports day evokes some level of competition and comparison. I always knew I wasn’t as fast as, well, anyone…but especially the tall blonde girl who was good at everything (EVERYTHING!!) I would be crazy to think my children aren’t aware of their strengths and weaknesses and those of the others around them. That’s ok, normal, even healthy…most of the time!

There are times though as we navigate life where our ability to compare and compete becomes unhealthy and consuming. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s subtle!

What does this have to do with sports day? Well, even if the competition element of sports day is well managed, the seeds of comparison are sown. The message we begin to tell ourselves can often be “not fast enough”…”not strong enough”…”not good enough”.

A sociologist called Brene Brown gave a huge chunk of her life to studying human behaviour. As part of her research for her book ‘Daring Greatly’ she asked participants to fill the gap: never__________enough! The words that filled the gap were “good”, “perfect”, “thin”, “powerful”, “successful”, “smart”, “certain”, “safe”, “extraordinary”. Those words sum up lives lived out of comparison.

As adults we still function far too easily within the constraints of comparison. We measure ourselves against friends, neighbours, colleagues and/or family…we look to the dangerous world of social media where Facebook and Instagram (among others) can scream at us of the ways we just don’t quite make it. The wider input of television, the internet, the press and celebrity also taunt us with ways we haven’t succeeded or don’t quite cut it! If we don’t guard our hearts and souls we can very quickly lose sight of who we really are.

So where us the good news in this? Do the message of faith traditions offer any helpful insights? The Christianity I grew up with only really fed the ‘not enough’ theory…telling me I didn’t pray enough, I wasn’t holy enough, I wasn’t committed enough, basically I wasn’t good enough for God and apparently that’s good news!?

I heard a podcast by a Celtic poet called J. Philip Newell, so I bought his book! He writes:

“I do not believe that the gospel, which means ‘good news’, is given to tell us that we have failed or been false. That is not news, and it is not good. We already know much of that about ourselves…rather the gospel is given to tell us what we don’t know or what we have forgotten, and that is who we are, Sons and daughters of the One from whom all things come. It is when we begin to remember who we are, and who all people truly are, that we will begin to remember also what we should be doing and how we should be relating to one another as individuals, as nations and as an entire earth community.” J. Philip Newell: Christ if the Celts.

This idea that we have forgotten the truth about ourselves, that we look to make sense of ourselves far too often in comparison to or competition with others, means that as a result our ability to be fully alive is hindered.

What if instead we rediscover who we are? What if we stop playing out the lie of “never______enough” and look for the answer to the questions behind those lies.

Those questions we have as we compare ourselves to others are something like: Am I ok? Am I worthy of love? Am I enough?

The answer to those questions echoes through the Jesus story, it cries out from the Jewish account of creation…the answer speaks to your soul as you sit in awe of the sea or sky; the answer whispers to you as you gradually slow down, pause the busyness and still your mind, the same answer leaps out at you as become fully present in this moment, right now…the answer? YES! YES you are ok…YES you are worthy of love and YES you are enough!

Who you are is, at its very essence, good! That is enough. That is good news.

The one about…feeling blessed!

I took the dog out for a walk last Sunday evening, the air was warm and still, the sky blue and the sun shining. The children had enjoyed a chilled day with ice cream, their gran visiting, a paddling pool and a bubble machine(what more could you want)?! All was good in my world, I smiled as I walked, I felt blessed!

It’s not always like that…on a number of occasions during the last few weeks I’ve left to walk the dog in the evening with my sunglasses on, not to shade from the sun but to hide my puffy eyes from the tears of anger, frustration or sadness which were a reflection of how that particular day was going! I didn’t feel blessed I felt tearful and stressed!

So am I blessed even when I don’t feel it?

The reality is that as a family we have an abundance of food, numerous clothes to choose from and toys to play with. We have a house plenty big enough for nine of us…we have running water, a flushing loo, a variety of gadgets and machines that do the work for us! Those facts are all true regardless of how I feel. So I’m blessed, right?!

Which raises the question: what about the people who don’t have those things? Are they not blessed? Are they in some way cursed? Does the benevolent universe hold back good things from them? Does the Divine; God; the Source of Life choose not to bestow good things on some people? Or if you prefer to use the word ‘lucky’ rather than ‘blessed’ are some people just unlucky?

So here’s the thing, I’m not sure that attributing material wealth or physical health to the concept of blessing actually works. To suggest that we thank God for our children, our health or our bank balance is suggesting that God has given them to us which in turn suggests that those who don’t have health, money or children are bereft of Gods blessing.

So there are a couple of thoughts:

Firstly comparison is unhelpful, what is seen by some as a blessing may be seen by others as a curse and vice-versa! However that still doesn’t make sense of a world where some people have houses with rooms they don’t use most of the day and others are living in a tent surrounded by sewage.

I guess one basic response is that we can all live with an attitude of thankfulness regardless of what we do or don’t have because life itself is a gift…and it also follows that we get to choose how we interpret the situations we are faced with. There’s a well known phrase “count your blessings”…sometimes it’s helpful to literally do that and at other times maybe it’s about looking deeper into the circumstances to find the blessing within. There is evidence to suggest that those in our affluent part of the world perhaps aren’t as capable of noticing the blessings as those with far less?!

However, what if blessing is not about material possessions, the amount of wealth or even the state of our physical health at all? What if instead blessing is connected to an awareness of our inner self, our true self?

This is where the bible offers wisdom. Jesus explains to his closest friends who the ‘blessed people’ are…it’s not as you’d think!

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5 – The Bible

Jesus didn’t say

“Blessed are the rich for they can enjoy shopping…”

“Blessed are those with a promotion for they can buy a bigger car…

Or even

“Blessed are those who have a dishwasher for they do not need to wash up…”

It seems we’re blessed when we know who we really are. When we take time to get our inner thoughts and attitudes in order. It’s out of being real and honest about who we are that we’re able to experience life at its fullest, maybe that’s what it really means to be blessed. The beauty of this is that blessing us open to anyone regardless of circumstances. From that place of inner acceptance and understanding we can look at all those good things life throws our way (because we’ve either worked for them or that’s just how it worked out) and smile. From that place we can enjoy and celebrate all that we have and use the good things in our lives to bring good to others. Also from that place of inner peace and knowing we can journey through the times we feel cursed, the times we feel like nothing ever goes our way and the times we feel scared or sad or frustrated or angry. In those times we can acknowledge life for how it really is, cry; shout; find safe ways of expressing those feelings and then take a breath; allow others in to journey with us and have courage to look for and take the opportunities to move forward.

So as we journey through this crazy life, with a benevolent universe at work around us, an ever expanding, growing, developing cosmos, a God who is recklessly extravagant…let’s look for those opportunities to be fully present, to appreciate all we are; to pray, contemplate, meditate and from there to find ways of being a blessing to others because I think in doing so we’ll find we’re blessed, whether we feel it or not!!