The gift of Hope

1 Peter 1:3-6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice,[a] even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials

Next week, I'll be reinforcing the commitment I made to my faith six years ago at Baptism. I will be confirmed into the Scottish Episcopal Church - an Anglican church (But probably soon to be treated as a naughty child by Canterbury).

Confirmation is very important to me for many reasons.While Baptism can happen privately, confirmation is a very public affair and requires the participation of the Bishop. It is an event where one publicly declares ones commitment to the faith -No mistaking the intention there.

My faith provides a spiritual renewal for me every single day. I am imperfect and I sin, sometimes in thought, sometimes in word and sometimes in deed. Sometimes in all three. But it is my faith that guides me through the maze of spiritual self fulfillment and provides me with the wherewithall to keep going.

I am not the person that I was six years ago. There are some things that remain stuck in my mind from the morning of my baptism. I was baptised at the Easter morning service - the really early bonfire service - yes that's the one. 

My partner was always overly OCD about time keeping. I had prepared to read the book of Ruth in Hebrew at the service. I had put a lot of effort into preparing for the biggest religious shift of my life. The screaming and shouting started an hour before the service was due to start. I was in trouble because we were "late". It was rush, rush, rush and a lot of yelling at me about my bad timekeeping. We were all shuffled into the car and my partner drove us the fastest route. I realised half way there that I had forgotten my reading behind. I was deeply disappointed. It was brushed off as too bad because we were running late!

We arrived fifteen minutes early. If I had of been given just five minutes to stop and go though my checklist, the way I felt on arrival would have been different. Wearing white -check, same shoes -check, All the kids -check, Hebrew reading print off -check. I felt robbed of a special part of my transition of Jew to Christian.

My baptism was undoubtedly special, there is only ever one. I have never forgotten the date or time. 

The journey since has been spectacular. I have realised how central my faith is to my life. When things have been good I've been able to experience and express gratitude. When things have been hard I've been able to regroup my faith context and explore my beliefs. While I have been let down by family, by clergy and by the system,I have never been let down by my faith. My G-d.

Now I'm going to be confirmed. Again there is only ever one. This one will happen in the evening.This one I will have control over. No freaking about time frames, I will choose my dress, I will make my way there, I will present myself before the Bishop to reinforce my commitment that I made over six years ago. And I will have my witnesses - those that have watched me grow in my faith.

The world was made in seven days, and in my seventh year as a Christian I am to be confirmed. Hardship has lit my spiritual path for me. In the next seven years I will focus on my ministry as a Christian. My faith has allowed me to discover my spiritual gifts too. I know my path is to work with the poor and the elderly and probably the elderly poor. 

When Christians are baptised they are welcomed into a life of ministry. You dont have to be ordained to practice faithful ministry in the Church. In fact we are called to ministry at baptism. And this is where faith is the key. Wherever I am to land up, it will be with the guidance of Christ. If I am to live out my days at a mission in the poorest part of Africa, then that is what will happen, or the poorest parts of Glasgow, that's where my faith and spiritual journey will take me.

Poverty, pain and loneliness is not selective,it occurs everywhere in the world.Working with those who experience this is definitely where I will go because we all have spiritual gifts and the one gift that I have is hope.

When our spiritual gifts are based in purity, they become easier to share, to cultivate in others and to develop and the one thing that I know and understand well is hope. It is the greatest gift that has ever been bestowed upon me. I have received hope and I have shared hope. I pray that I am blessed to cultivate it in others to make a difference.

And so my confirmation is a milestone - not an end, a new beginning.

I will share my confirmation with someone who ignited my hope at one of the darkest times of my life.Someone who herself despite being an Anglican priest has needed hope and needed to resource her hope from her faith. My friend Michelle Bailey.

She has become a very close friend. A non judgmental caring follower of the faith.

It is the gift of hope that has kept the fire of faith burning within.

I am grateful for hope, because hope in Christ has transformed my life.

A difficult journey

Desmond Tutu forgiving

A year ago I walked away from a relationship that would have at some point cost me my life. It was the realisation that I was alive but not living, merely existing, that drove me to walk.

I left a business, a spouse , a home, many acquaintances, a few good friends. It all seemed so wonderful to people looking in from the outside. Simply put very few of my needs were being met. The satisfaction of my needs had been gradually eroded over a five year period. While everything may have looked hunkydory from the outside, I was living in misery.

The one constant that I had was my faith. Ironic that the person who incubated my faith was the one I was walking away from. In fact I comfort myself with the fact that I didnt really walk away with nothing, I took Jesus with me.

No matter what happens to me in my life, the one constant that remains is Jesus, And she led me to him. It was the conscience that Jesus gave me and the understanding that the way I was being was not the Christian way, that led to my departure.

But I digress.

This weekend I am travelling back to that place that I left. I'm travelling back to say a proper goodbye. To close the door. Forever.

The hardest part of this is that I will be going to visit my dying mother. In all likelihood it will be the last time that I see her. But like most relationships that have run the gauntlet of time, this one was less than ideal. It will be painful nevertheless.

I am going to forgive and just perhaps I will receive forgiveness too. I However go from a position of strength, as I have addressed all my demons regarding this episode in my life spiritually. I have sought out the forgiveness of Christ and received it.

What others think, no longer matters anymore. For so long in my life, I based my decisions on what others thought, or what I thought they thought. Now I base my decisions on what Jesus thinks and whats important in my life right now. My faith has liberated my soul.

Sometimes we simply need to close the lid on an issue permanently. The ashes in the urn. A burial at sea. And so Im going to actively close the door on family relationships that have done nothing but hurt me. Sometimes we do do good things for no return, but rarely do we do good things when we know the return will be negative. Im going to Cape Town to neutralise the return. For Ever.

And Jesus is riding in the jump seat.

So which rules apply?

As a gay christian, I struggle a lot within my faith. I hear arguments from both sides that attempt to make it simple. I have just read a blog post penned (or typed) by a prominent outspoken and respected Christian theologian. He is also the priest that baptised me and brought me in to the family of Christ. So I must respond.

Baptism of homosexualsThe arguments for accepting homosexual relationships within a biblical context from the
extrapolations of the same context, to the language used in scriptural quotes can be equally complex as the arguments against accepting homosexuality which embarrassingly quotes both old and new testament scripture, but seems to ignore the verses on both sides of the biblical fence (The old and new testament) which highlight the hypocrisy where the church accepts divorce and female leadership.

I have to make a point, that I cant help but feel no one else seems to have noticed. The rules changed when Jesus died.

If they didn't change, why do we worship on Sunday? There is NOTHING that I have found scripturally that explains why the Sabbath is now a Sunday and not a Saturday. If we go according to the rules set out in the five books of Moses, then we should be attending church and worshipping on a Saturday. So can someone please explain to me why we are worshipping on a Sunday, if man is not allowed to interpret and contextually apply God's laws?

Then there are the obvious observations. Most Christians I know eat bacon, shellfish and are quite happy to pour a cheese sauce over their steak. In fact the consequences for having intercourse with an unclean woman are greater than those for eating pork, which are nevertheless dire indeed. So we find ourselves in a church that doesn't take umbrage to the fact that we consume all these forbidden foods, nor does it refuse marriage to those engaging in premarital sex and it certainly doesn't prevent remarriage of those who have divorced, so what is the whole gay issue?

Jesus came to fulfil the covenant, and so he did, so we didn't have to. He created a new covenant. That we love one another as he loves us. This doesn't mean that we have no rules to live by. Even Rabbi Hillel said love one another, do unto others as you would have them do to you - the rest is commentary.

As I understand it that while Jesus was alive he was fulfilling the Hebrew scripture, his arrival and eventual departure was the fulfilment of this scripture, it's completion. Closure. At the moment of his death, a new era began. An era that allowed us all to share in his grace. No more of the over reaching 613 commandments that restrict every part of every day of the lives of the faithful.

When the curtain tore in the temple, the old covenant ended and the new covenant began. The new covenant that means I can eat bacon, shellfish and worship on a Sunday. The new covenant that ensures that as long as I am hurting no one, I can love anyone and in fact should love everyone. The covenant that places upon me a responsibility to evangelise truth. Not cloud it with ifs and buts from the past.

When I was baptised, I lay my past down at the cross, including the near impossible 613 commandments that I failed regularly at keeping. My baptism didn't wash away my hair colour, my skin colour or my education, intellectual or spiritual gifts and it didn't wash away my sexuality, because that is how G-d made me. What it did do is wash away my sin - the man made part of me.

What belongs to G-d, he has kept in me and what belonged to man he washed away. Every time I confess and take communion, he does that for me again. And again and again.

Because Jesus died, the rules changed.

Yes I know Paul refers to homosexuality (again the context is highly debatable and suitable for a whole new post) and the place of women in the new testament. Don't forget that Paul was human. The letters he wrote may well have been divinely inspired, but they were written by a human. Much of Paul's writing is very obviously influenced by the teaching of his former mentor Rabbi Gamliel, who as we all know was operating on the premise that the old covenant was still in operation. We also need to recognise who he was actually addressing in the letters and the context of their lives and lifestyles.

I once read an excellent interpretation on punctuation and it broke down how differently we understand things that are said based on where the punctuation falls in a phrase, sentence or paragraph. I really see how this applies, since most of us have only the direct translation in our bibles to rely on. What happens when we start moving the commas, full stops and semi colons? And in the same way, when we start to view the lives and contexts in which Paul was reaching out to the addressees of his letters.

All of a sudden the perspective changes. To mature in Christ and his message, we are also expected to explore the evidence and not simply take everything at face value as do children, but to explore and develop an understanding of deeper context, within the scriptures that are available to us.

I look at the Gospel as the core of my faith. I read it in its context. It is largely the foundation of my faith that was prepared and constructed BEFORE Christ died. The Gospel illustrates the fulfilment of G-ds purpose and the creation of a new covenant. The covenant to love one another in the context that we do unto others as we would have them do to us. Our colour, financial or social status, and certainly who we love has become irrelevant.

So before you start, telling me that I am an abomination before G-d perhaps you should start going to church on Saturday(no driving -walking only), ensure that you have all the sacrifices sorted, no pork, no shellfish, no cheese sauces. make sure your menstruant women are separated from your men and be sure to have the threads of your clothes checked because wool and flax are a no-no. In fact there are 613 tick boxes to complete and then come and tell me that the covenant that I am part of excludes the people I can love.

You cant pick and choose the rules as you go along. Either you're with the old rules or the new - I have chosen Christs rule - love one another as I have loved you.

Vocation in the church - even for the unworthy

Foundations in faith

Those close to me will know that on the 16th February 2015, I got onto a plane in Cape Town with a
Suitcase, my daughter and £300. I didnt know it at the time, but there was no turning back.

Having spent the last two years in South Africa, the country of my birth, I had decided to return to the UK, my home and country of origin. I was walking - no running away from a relationship that had collapsed around me and that I could do no more to rescue. It was like escaping a burning building, that I myself had unintentionally set on fire.

As a Christian, I had gone to church most days in South Africa and took communion on average three days a week. I prayed everyday, in private several times a day. My office was in a rented building that was an Annexe to St Georges Cathedral in Cape Town.I had access to clergy that others watched from afar, and yet I still couldnt find the peace and comfort that I desperately wanted.

I frequently ate Friday morning breakfast with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Enjoyed the company of his daughter Mpho, had conversations about the world over tea with the Dean of the Cathedral Fr. Michael Weeder and had the pleasure of passing conversation with the Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. NONE of these gracious people knew the pain I was suffering. I had to leave my favourite quiet sunny spot in the Cathedral cloisters where I used to retreat with my sandwich and juice and to meditate after my lunch, to truly find myself overseas in the cold miserable winter of Scotland.

My ex partner used to call me a religious tourist. At the time it was meant to hurt. But I have taken the term and turned it into something positive. Because my faith has been and continues to be a journey and it has taken me from Synagogues to Churches to Cathedrals and back, when I returned to Glasgow I could not go into St Mary's, my mother church. It was simply too painful. The first time I went in, I looked at the pew where Jaye and I had sat together, in the same place, Sunday after Sunday. I grieved for us for our shared faith. After all she had influenced my path to Christ. I went on the Alpha course. It drove me to ask the questions that led to my baptism.

And yet the same issues that drove me from Judaism can still threaten my life in the Church. Ive always wanted to do more. To be more. I am self employed - by necessity rather than choice, but again I believe this is divine providence as these circumstances have given me access to the church that others cant have.

Those that have read my previous posts know that I have plodded along waiting for G-d's will to manifest and to direct me. I met a female priest that simply turned my view on the church inside out and then turned it inside in again. She is a true ambassador for Christ despite her own suffering, and also a warning that Satan tries very hard to detract from those who are truly invested in their faith.

The breakdown of my relationship, the impending death of my mother, the struggle my family has been having financially are all tools that Satan has utilised to detract from my relationship with Christ and then when in my darkest hour and while looking in the most unlikely of places, Jesus sent me a rescuer. A priest. A woman whose own journey has been difficult and filled with stumbling blocks and yet she has not left her saviour. She has felt alone and abandoned and at times bereft of her life past, but has gracefully simply hacked her way through the jungle she found herself in and called out to Christ and he has answered.

She was sent to cross paths with me so that G-d could remind me that this journey is a not a simple road trip, not a fun day out, That our choice to serve Christ is a lifelong commitment that we take and even when the going gets tough we have to keep going. Some on the same journey will trip us up, sometimes intentionally, sometimes without realising their own folly. But when Jesus wants us for his own, the rules of men matter not. When we trip up on that journey and we dare to stand up and start following that path again, G-d reappears in all sorts of forms to make it a reality, to open doors and create new avenues.

My biggest problem in finding my rightful place in the church has been spurred on by guilt. I have always felt so unworthy. My whole life has been a series of incidents which of course I now realise have been designed to teach me and drive my spiritual journey. I reached a point last year when i decided that I was simply just too tired. I didnt want the drama any more. And so I simply decided it would stop. And for the most part - it did. When this actually materialised, I realised I could decide anything and it would happen, it was simply up to me to make it happen.

And so this very quiet fantasy I have had since I first witnessed the Thurifer swing that thurible with such gusto in church just under seven years ago has come full circle. I have always wanted to do it. I admitted this to my vicar after a confession this week. And he smiled and said "Why not?" I mentioned this to Michelle and she said I should train as a server. She knows how I LOVE ritual and the Liturgy. She knows how I love Jesus. And so I have taken my first step in finding my vocation within my church. I would never be able to become a Deacon as Ive been divorced twice (Some sins we pay for throughout this life) But Jesus has plans for me and by becoming a server I can satisfy my need for ritual service and also find a mission amongst the poor and elderly to satisfy my need to be part of Evangelical service.

And all this has happened because of the love and encouragement of a priest, whom herself has been judged and obstructed.

I pray that this priest will be rewarded for her selfless and compassionate contribution to souls such as mine. No strings attached, no judgements, just simple straightforward care, compassion and direction, that means that today I can walk into St Mary's and its is no longer the past that haunts me, but the present that inspires me and gives me a place to get respite for my soul.

Finally my path opens before me as an ambassador for Christ because a priest who has understood my struggle, my pain and my suffering has switched on the light!

If you want to read her blog (mostly directed at Childrens ministry) have a look at Foundations in faith. And remember those who are the best to guide us through the most difficult journeys in life are those that have already travelled those paths.

He comes back for you

It has been a very long time since I posted on this blog. A very very very long time. I first started
jesus comes back for you
writing on this particular blog, when I converted to Christianity and was baptised at St Mary's Cathedral in  Glasgow. A Scottish Episcopal Church and a member of the Anglican communion.

I have always had faith, believed in G-d and yet have always struggled with how to contextualise him in my life. Of course to contextualise G-d and how your faith applies to your everyday life, then you have to actually decide how you perceive G-d. Far too many people seem to brush over this very imporant detail.

All this upheaval in my faith happened when aged 40, I came out as a lesbian. So many friends argued that being a Christian and being gay is not compatible. Well I'll have you know that based on that reasoning being a Christian and smoking is not compatible, as are multiple modern "normal" Practices of our daily lives. (divorce and remarriage, premarital and extramarital sex - both heterosexual and homosexual just to name a few....)

I realised that G-d has given me salvation I need and like my concept of G-d I have to contextualise how the bibles speaks to my faith.

Around the time, I came out there was a female priest in Stewkley, England (Church of England) that was having a difficult time. Her problem of course was not being a Christian and being lesbian, but rather that she had a publicly visible role and in order to spare the Church embarrassment she faced a Sophies choice scenario- lie or leave. The devil you do, the devil you dont......

How well you will fare as a lesbian or gay person in a Church environment is quite reliably measued by the way that the church hierarchy treats its own clergy. I identify strongly with this woman's situation for a number of reasons.

First of all she had been married and has three children, just like me. While I had an interest in women when I was younger, I married and struggled with sexual relationships until I came out and started being honest with everyone around me. She came to realise her sexuality as a result of an ongoing battle with depression and relationships that touched her during that battle.

Perhaps what annoyed me the most is the salacious and viscious way in which the newspapers decided to villify her for her very difficult journey - just because she was a vicar. This of course makes it very difficult for the church hierarchy to do the right thing and support their priests particularly when emotional health is at play, simply because the Church is pressurised into being seen to do the right thing, than rather actually doing the right thing. If anything the Church should have turned its power against the papers rather than the vicar, which so obviously was the case.

Problem I have with this, is that Jesus was a radical, a mover and shaker of his time. he touched the untouchables and challenged the society in which he preached. I dont see the Church of England doing this. Its all PR and pomposity. Michelle Morton wasn't given the space to deal with the emotional fallout and to be honest the press have a lot to answer for the pain it must have caused her children and husband too.

I actually crossed paths with Michelle (now Michelle Bailey) many years later and she has remained faithful to her G-d and to Jesus. She continues to serve within the church as a children's worker in which she exceptionally skilled and I hope that one day soon an even handed and fair bishop will give her a licence once again.

I take communion regularly from an openly gay priest in Glasgow. In fact the vice provost at the Cathedral is in a civil partnership.

I will make two points about the bible and homosexuality. Firstly all the alleged references to gay sex happen to be nuanced in all sorts of other scenarios, which change the context entirely and in fact often do not refer to gay sex when read properly and secondly theres a fabulous scriptural quote about logs and splinters in eyes. So if youre divorced (and especially remarried) Jesus specifically forbids that but says nothing of homosexuality! Furthermore when quoting from Old Testamant Scripture dont get me worked up about the fact that most Christians I know eat pork and shellfish, so when you say those laws dont apply anymore then it would be prudent not to pick and choose which apply and which dont, but simply to apply New Testament doctrine using the Old Testament as a guideline and context where biblical foundation is found in the new Testament.

I will write another blog entirely on whether the bible is straight from G-d or not and how I can claim to be a Christian by believing anything other than it is!

And by the way the Epistles of St Paul were written by a man, to other men. They may have been inspired by G-d and his faith , but lets get real, they could only have been perfect if written by Jesus himself, which they were not! Paul had his own agenda and only by understanding where he came from will you understand the reasoning behind his communications and prolific letter writing.

And it doesnt matter what the church or its congregation do to you - If youre faithful Jesus comes back to get you.