This is going to be a fairly short but blunt post.

Over the last couple of months I have begun to consider the implications that pastoral care should have on theology. The contemporary evangelical church in Britain is going through a rather confusing time at the moment. It remains committed to the supremacy of Christ and to Biblical truth but is having a crisis of conscience. Pastoral considerations have begun to take over, ‘What about people’s feelings?’, ‘I’m going to hurt people if I correct them on their actions’ etc. Now, there is a difference between justifiable changes in theology that we can debate about and simply ignoring clear instruction. There is also a difference between reading the bible as the higher critics do (and admitting that you read and interpret scripture differently to the way standard evangelicals have read it) and claiming that you read it as the inerrant or even divinely inspired word of God to be used for correction, rebuke etc. If you do the former and ignore Biblical instruction, that’s fine (well… perhaps not…) but at least you are being consistent. If you do the latter and ignore Biblical instruction at your whim, then your inconsistency will be your downfall.

Yes, everyone is fallen and everyone has lifestyle changes they need to make, but here’s the point. Is it an activity you’re trying to give up? Or is it something you attempt to justify? Do you deliberately enter into it or is it a genuine slip and fall that you honestly regret?

If you are ignoring what you know is clear biblical instruction then at least be consistent and admit you aren’t reading and applying the Bible consistently. If you want to read and apply the bible consistently, then stop the cognitive dissonance. Choose one or the other, but seek to live consistently.

‘For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,who loved me and gave himself for me.’

Thinking recently about who I am and where exactly my identity comes from I have been looking back on my life and exploring those moments which shaped and defined me. This was epitomised during my recent trip to Sligo, Northern Ireland where I was involved in the worship team in the youth venue. One of the evening speakers, Jude, asked me to read a book called ‘Closer Still’ by Scott Evans. Unfortunately due to time I was only able to skim it but suffice to say I’m seeking to purchase a copy for more detailed reading and reflection.

There was one anecdote about midway through where Scott was recounting his experiences of bullying which brought me to the point of tears. Forgive me for the paraphrase but I will try to do my best to get across what he said. As he was reflecting at a retreat he was reminded of an incident where he was pushed to the floor, naked, in the changing rooms at school. At this point in the reflection he heard two voices, the first coming from the two who had pushed him telling him that he was never going to be a man, people were never going to follow him, he was never going to amount to anything.
The second voice came from the people stood around watching, some of whom were friends who told him that no-one would ever stand beside him or back him up, he was always going to be alone.

At this point I closed the book and cried. I was sat in a hotel lobby alone with a stream of people wandering in and out, people sat around tables with coffee and here I was, a pathetic figure in a crowd of strangers being reminded of exactly how those many moments felt. It was lonely, incredibly lonely. Yet there was a strange sense of healing about this, about desperately trying to look like I was just resting, there was at the same time a fear of engaging with my past yet a knowledge that this was a necessary part of moving into the future. Now I haven’t yet fully let rip with this, inevitably it will happen soon and I hope nobody is there to see it but I think it says something profound about how we treat our pasts.

I believe there are two main ways to treat emotions like that, those traumatic events which make us who we are and most people will fall into one of these two camps on some section of the scale. Some will embrace it, they will not fear it and they will appear calm and collected about what has happened to them. It doesn’t seem like it controls them but in reality it is exactly what has happened to them that drives them to be who they are. They feel they need to prove to the world that trauma doesn’t define us but the reality is that the trauma has precisely defined who they are. Now don’t hear me wrong, most people who are like this go on to do great things and this response is in no way negative but there is often an emotional disassociation from what happened.
The second group of people will try to avoid any reminder of the event(s), they will convince themselves either that it never happened or that it hasn’t affected them negatively. This is the group that I belong to. That moment when you’re harshly reminded of something that you never wanted to be brought back, you feel your eyes welling up with tears and then fight them back because, in my case, I’M A MAN!!

I hate being reminded of those bad things that happened, I think everybody does. However, there needs to be healing from those past wounds in order for the future to be the best that it can be. I’m not going to go ahead and try to dictate all the different ways that this can happen because I’m not entirely sure of what they are. My experience has been that this healing comes through people, through the relationships we have with people. As the lender of the book, Jude, said so very wisely, ‘We are relational beings…’ and she is absolutely right.

Running away from any form of relational healing (because lets face it, bullying, assault, neglect etc. are all relationally damaging at their core) is what seems sensible. It keeps us from the arms of harm and the safety net of loneliness is so much more appealing than the danger of falling into an unknown void. Most people will continue to be cautious around relational danger zones which involve emotional vulnerability and self-sacrifice but it is important to recognise that there are people around us who want to help us in the healing process.

I believe that this is one of the most important jobs the church has been charged with: to journey with those who are hurting and broken on a road which will hurt and which may break a little more but will end with the rebuilding of relationships and the development of the trust we were created to have in each other.

If you haven’t found this then I would encourage you not to give up. Each of us were made in God’s image, we were made to be in relationship with others. It may be difficult, I know it is for me. But we all know deep down that life is about taking risks, life is about love and life is about people. However painful it is to embrace, look at your future as a risky path of broken hearts and people who are hurting who want to journey with you, your broken heart and your pain. Some of those people you will find healing with, others will be a comfort when you’re feeling like nobody is listening to you but the journey is about people. So let’s do it together.

 

On Bullying and Past Wounds

Posted: June 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

I was recently linked to a rather upsetting video in which four middle school kids bully an elderly school-bus monitor to the point of tears:

Having been on the recieving end of bullying in the past this brought me to reflect upon what I had experienced and the methods I’ve employed to deal with it. I’ve always been rather good at distracting myself from  the reality of things that are happening. Often to retreat into realms of fantasy and fictional reality was, and to some extent still is, my method. Comic books, RPGs, Minecraft, music, reading, daydreaming, anything that can remove from my mind the emotional consequences of what has been said or done. With each of these being ways of finding acceptance it is in these places that I found safety and solace, there was no rejection.

This cowardly method of not standing up to my bullies or to the physical/character traits that were railed upon has unfortunately meant that insecurity has followed me into adult life. The primary one being physical appearance it has meant that over the years I have found myself in increasingly more awkward situations where I’ve either taken offence to jokes from people I love or retaliated in a way which was inappropriate and offensive. Reflecting on this recently I remembered something that Paul wrote,

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippeans 2.1 – 4)
In those moments when we seek to gain the upper hand, even when someone hasn’t been malicious (which most of the time they aren’t), we count ourselves more significant than the other person(s). What is the purpose of this mindset? Now having the vague confidence to speak out I do it so rapidly and viciously that it becomes a liability. To continue to act in this way is to further damage my relationships with others and bring the level of maturity with which I prided myself so highly upon over the years crashing down to the point where I am seen as a petty and bitter man. Of course I am neither of these things and so do not want to be seen as such.

Let’s forget about getting the upper hand, swallow our pride and remember that it is not what others think that matters, our identity is not found in people, in compliments or in relationships but in who we are in Christ.

If you knew me then you would know I’m not the most active guy in the world, infact I would go out of my way to avoid unneccesary exercise. Unfortunately, this assumed predisposition and a whole host of other factors including depression and avoidance meant that within the space of a year I ballooned from about 80 kilos to 105 within the space of year. This left me with a huge number of stretch marks and a body I despised which, frustratingly, was coupled with a total lack of desire to lose this weight.

In the last month or so I have become motivated to lose this weight and to regain my fitness and as I have been thinking more about this I was reminded of some times I spent with friends a few years ago that have caused me to rethink my outlook on exercise and manhood.

I think this disposition against active exercise and my lack of strength/fitness has a lot to do with my experience early in life (maybe it’s biological, but I struggle with that opinion). I would always rather be reading a book or listening to music than out playing sport and this didn’t positively dispose the ‘jocks’ to me. Being heavily bullied as a kid and as a teenager I just locked myself away, content to play my bass guitar and immerse myself in literature. When I moved for the first time at 18 I was working as part of the worship team at an Anglican church and as part of my placement I was put into a house group. These guys were great fun, we would hang out, eat soup and crusty bread, chat about Jesus and generally have a good time. It’s also where I met Jon.

Jon was an older, single guy who love walking and power kiting. He managed to convince me to try power kiting with him so, with trepidation, I did. I loved it. I couldn’t explain it then but there was a freedom in the power of the wind, a focus on nature that I’d never had before. We did that a few times (I graduated up to the more powerful kites but never quite made it onto the mountain board!) until Jon suggested we go hiking in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. I’d never really hiked before, sure I’d gone on walks with my parents and I’d climbed Snowdon a few times but nothing like this. He suggested we do three peaks, finishing with the highest one in the Southern Britain.He picked me up at about 0500 and off we went. I was incredibly nervous but also somewhat exhilarated. He’d prepared lunch but suggested I buy some Lucozade Energy and a Camelbak so I did. Borrowing some high quality hiking boots from one of my housemates we stood at the bottom of this peak in the middle of nowhere with nobody else around. It was dawn. It was cold. Jon looked at me, ‘Ready?’. We started walking.

As we walked, we talked. I can’t describe it but I felt real, I felt alive and it felt right. Oh don’t get me wrong I was aching and was sweating like mad but I had to keep going. I remember when we reached the top of Pen y Fan, Jon told me we were nearly 3000 ft above sea level. Okay, it isn’t exactly Everest (or even Ben Nevis…) but it was an achievement and I was proud.

Pen y Fan View

Looking out over that incredible view my perspective on the outside world changed. No longer was it a demon waiting to attack me, it was beauty. 4.5 billion year old beauty. Nothing can remove that moment from me, but here’s the point. I felt like a man. Cheesy? Probably. Romantic? Maybe. Honest? Definitely. I had never felt more like a guy, and it was an incredible thing. The sense of adventure, the achievement and the solitude was something I needed more of.

I had one more experience like that before I altogether gave up and sank into self-pity. It was just a week after I’d found out that my girlfriend at the time had left me for a guy at her university and I was invited out by Jon for his birthday weekend camping. As we walked we reached a waterfall into which the people who wanted to could jump from. I’d never done anything like this. Jon was stood down at the bottom having already gone waiting for me to leap. I had pins and needles, this was at least 25 ft and I had no idea where I was going to end up. As I leapt, I yelled. I just screamed at the top of my lungs. I wasn’t falling for nearly as long as I thought I would have been but when I plunged into that freezing, moving water I was underneath for what seemed like an age. The silence, the motion, the raw power I felt from the water crashing down. Then the noise, the roar as I broke the surface of the water. Okay, I make it sound far more epic than it probably was but I hope you see how I saw it.

The truth is, the part of me that I have so often sought to diminish emerged over those 6 or so months when I was hanging out with Jon. I was free. I was playing my bass, gigging, power kiting, hiking and jumping off waterfalls. So why is this a confession?

I no longer seek to diminish this aspect of me. I’m going to lose this weight, I’m going to get fit and when I relocate to Chesterfield some time in the next few months I am going to make the best use of the Peak District as I can. I need to re-engage with this side of my masculinity to bring about the best for me and the people around me. I need to leap off waterfalls. I need to clamber up peaks in the rain. I need to reach the heights that I have and continue on to higher places.

I need to be free.

Ben.

P.S. You will note that this blog is no longer anonymous. I can’t be bothered to keep it that way, so feel free to follow my personal Twitter account. It’ll be great to see you!

@BenMartinBass
http://www.facebook.com/confessionsofanevangelicalbiblecollegestudent

As I near the end of my theological studies I have, ironically perhaps, begun thinking more about Jesus and who he was. About a year ago I became fascinated with historical Jesus studies, I wanted to find out all that I could about who this man was. What I have discovered in the last few months is someone far more exciting, real and mystical than I ever could have imagined entering my training here. I would like to confirm a few things from the outset here, while I haven’t for all the time I have been studying theology I do affirm the existence of a historical Jesus. I believe that about 2000 years ago a man walked the earth called Jesus and that the New Testament is basically right about who He was (I capitalise the ‘He’ because I do believe he was divine). I believe that He rose from the dead and I believe that He paid the price for our sins.

I have always had a fairly intense dislike of the white, fluffy Jesus who cuddles lambs and sits on tree stumps in everglades, he wasn’t like that:

However this isn’t the picture of Jesus that was shifted (I still don’t like this view of Him, fight me if you want on this but it makes me want to shoot myself). The picture that was shifted was the spiritual view of Jesus that I never had. He moved from place to place in my mind: from storybook character to teacher, from teacher to moral man, from moral man to non-existence, from non-existence to a man, from a man to a spiritual reality, from a spiritual reality to perfected humanity.

This is how Jesus should be seen, as the perfect man, the example, the pinnacle and the archetype of our race. Too often we see Him as a very out-of-reach historical or esoteric figure who can’t quite pin him down, I think we can pin him down. We can pin him down to His perfection. He’s not out of reach, He isn’t just a historical figure that we as Christians read about and think about in a detached way. He is real, He is reality, He sustains us through all the pain, all the anguish and all the shit that life throws at us. He rejoices with us and He mourns with us but most importantly of all He has saved us and continues to save us. Jesus Christ is a spiritual reality that was epitomised, exemplified, tortured, murdered and raised 2000(ish) years ago.

I am still fascinated by the historical Jesus studies but let us not allow our focus to be taken away from the reality of our saviour. Walk in His footsteps with the guidance of His teachings and His words on your heart, allow Him to move you to the place into which you dare not enter; that is, after all, what He did. Crucify the things that need to be crucified, He did so much more for me and for you and most importantly of all, exalt Him who is above all else.

He can take our doubt and He can take our questions, our disbelief, our words of frustration and anger so do not fear those moments; but try to always return to the truth of the Jesus who rescued us no matter how hard that truth might be to accept at that moment.

God bless,

Glen

@Confess_Life
http://www.facebook.com/confessionsofanevangelicalbiblecollegestudent

DISCLAIMER: I do not want this particular post to end up in a big debate about the historicity of Jesus. At most I will point you towards sources such as the Zeitgeist debunking.

With various bereavements occurring around me at the moment death has been on the brain. As I have been pondering God’s existence with death and grief surrounding me there has been something on my mind: the soul’s relation to grief and the physical response to loss.

Why do many peoples’ brains give such a negative and often uninhibited and uncontrolled emotional and physical response to intense moments of grief? It seems to me that it is a very unhelpful process, something that hinders rather than assists. Now I am not denying that people should be allowed to grieve, that would be a ridiculous idea and something that would be unsustainable but what I am wondering is what the point of grief is?

I’m sure there’s probably a neurological reason that I’m missing due to my non-scientific background but it seems to me that grief points to the existence of the soul. We realise that someone’s very existence has been snuffed out, that in that brief instant, with that last breath their consciousness no longer exists. Even as a Christian the thought does go through your head, ‘What if they are literally no more? What if there is no God? What if they don’t have a soul and their essence, the person that I knew, has gone forever. They aren’t anywhere, they literally no longer exist (at least on an A-theory of time…).

However I trust that they do still exist somewhere, not that the soul is necessarily eternal (Plato, not scripture) but I trust that disembodied mind is of course possible. 

So grief, while being destructive and a hindrance to development shows us that we care about what happens to other peoples’ souls, it shows us that we miss people around us and it shows us that we value their impact on society and on our lives. Of course this could be explained through desiring their skills for the herd and not missing them, but missing what they do. This doesn’t make sense to me, it seems more likely that we do, indeed, miss their whole being, we don’t like the fact that their consciousness may no longer exist in any way. Why? Perhaps we fear for their soul. No, I don’t think so… Maybe we are selfish. We want to keep them so we can feel good about their existence again.

Grief is okay, but it should always be seen as a celebration of life and not a mourning of the lack of existence for that individual who once was. To be caught in grief is to be caught in misery, it is to self-destruct and it is to forget the reality of death.

Death should not be feared, it should be embraced.

Glen

I apologise for the sporadic posting, hopefully I will start posting daily when my schedule becomes a little more concrete. Today has been the ‘Thank God winter is over!’ day… I really dislike it when people do this, every season is created for a reason. I mean, if you don’t even believe in ‘creation’ then even winter has a reason. Take joy in it all friends, enjoy the winter, enjoy the times when you can curl up infront of a fire with your pipe (okay, maybe just me with the pipe…) with a bowl of winter broth.

I love winter, I really am not a fan of summer… I try not to moan because it feels hypocritical but I can feel the moaning coming on, I can also hear the traditional ringing of ‘misery guts!’, ‘Why can’t you just enjoy the good weather!’ and ‘Oh, stop ruining our fun!’.

Stop ruining my bloody fun in the winter then!

Random rant over…

Glen