Thoughts (and things)
Christians are supposed to have it ‘all together’ right? We, more than anybody else, live perfect lives, right? I hate to be the one to break the news but, Christians can be ordinary people too, with real-life problems, who have to pay their bills, and go the supermarket, and find work and get on in life pretty much like everyone else. There is no magic wand with being a Christian, but we do have, unlike people who aren’t Christians, a hotline to God if you like. Communication with God, basically regular prayer, is a powerful tool because we might pray for all kinds of reasons; for help, for advice, for guidance, when we are in trouble, when we are embarking on something new in our lives, when we don’t know which way to turn and ultimately when we just need someone just to talk to who we know won’t turn us away.
I got bullied in school, and I still have issues with it now. It wasn’t serious bullying, and only on the odd occasion did it involve, fairly mild, violence. But the scars, and the anger, still remain from all those years ago. Part of me dreams of meeting some of those who bullied me and then taking some unspecified revenge, and the other better half would want just to forgive them unreservedly. I am more mature now, and believe that forgiveness is the far better option, when all is said and done. But it is true to say that when people do cruel things to other people, for the people doing it, well to them it might be just a bit of a laugh, but to the people it is being done to it can affect them for many years. I have come to the conclusion that the Christian’s role in this type of situation is, ideally, to be neither bully or victim, but that if we are bullied we try as much as is humanly possible to turn the other cheek; saying this is easy, actually doing it is another thing altogether.
If we have faith, and we have a walk with God, we should really treasure that; there are people who don’t have such intimacy and they might give their right arm for it. Some Christians, I think I am describing myself here somewhat, can take God for granted. But when we really think about it, what a privileged thing to say we have a good relationship with the being that created everything! Pretty special, that.
I had, and still sometimes have, a problem with women; for a number of reasons I suppose. I was the atypical awkward and shy teenager, and I wasn’t much better in my early twenties either. I was, in fact, cripplingly shy as a young person, especially with the opposite sex. And, when I went out on the town with my mates, many years ago now, eventually I began to see how shallow it was to meet, or try to meet, women this way. It never really worked, and the way some women treated me, and perhaps men in general, put me off them. Going out to loud pubs and clubs, getting even half-drunk, I discovered is not really a good way to meet a potential girlfriend or wife I found. But what do we do if we want to meet someone? What then? Go through a round of meaningless encounters, usually with people we will never see again? Go out on the town, in a scene that really is not conducive to finding a meaningful relationship? I’m working on this, so I’ll get back to you. Suffice to say, I have learned that sometimes in these situations, some women can be very cruel to men, and no doubt some men can be very cruel to women. Yes, I have a lot of anger for the way some women treated me, but I find myself in a better place emotionally now as I’ve got older; I can forgive. I can say also that my faith has been tried; I have learnt to forgive when people have been bad to me and cruel to me, even if for the most part those experiences are long past. A Christian man or woman looking for a relationship should live as a Christian before anything else; God is not only the God of our life, He can be the God of our love life too. I am going to give this up to God, and see what He makes of my, quite natural, yearnings.
When I was younger, in my early teens, I was a bit of a tearaway, a little wayward, and I was cruel to animals; I won’t go into more details on that, but I am ashamed of this now. The only good thing that sometimes comes from our sin, or cruelty, or wrongdoing, is that God can show us the error of our ways, allow us to be remorseful, and endeavour to be free from such things again. I even hesitate to swat flies now, with the exception of wasps! Okay, I’m not perfect, but I’m getting there! Seriously, God can shape us and make us whole again, and can reform us and give us a new start in life. In a strange way, even the worst of people can be chastened and have remorse for their actions; all things are possible with God.
I even said racist things when I was a teenager, although I’m not going to tell you I was some nazi or fascist or anything like that, because I’d be lying to you. I wasn’t, but like many people I didn’t reflect on my behaviour. Who really does at that age? Maybe some, but I didn’t. Now, I just try to live every day as a Christian. I leave God to change anything that needs changing and I just get on with trying to serve Him every day.
Being a Christian can still mean being an ordinary person who has ordinary interests and an ordinary lifestyle; the only difference is now you serve God, rather than yourself. You become God-centred rather than self-centred. In a way, it is like God becomes our employer, and we are now working for Him; or more traditionally, God is our Father, who we defer to, who we honour, who we trust, who we hold in awe and even fear, and who we try to just serve every day. If you already have this thrilling relationship you will know what I am getting at, if you don’t have this relationship then you don’t know what you are missing. And, God is truth and He is love; He doesn’t want to tell you lies or hurt you in any way; He has our very best interests at heart.
Like many people, I go on short breaks to North Wales, to enjoy myself and just to chill out; I notice however that when I do go, although I enjoy myself, I never get the same type of feelings I do now as a middle-aged adult, as I did when I was in my early teens going with my mum and nan. I seemed so carefree then, without real troubles or worries. I seem to not get the same pleasure as I did when I was younger. Some people when they travel have an itinerary: “By 3 o’clock, we’ll see the castle, by 4:30 we’ll take a look at the garden, by 6 o’clock we’ll have dinner’ and so on. I try to make my holidays spontaneous, even though I might have some inkling where I might go. I try to go with the flow, and see where my feet take me. Sometimes, I come very close to really enjoying it as I did when I was a kid. Even in this, I trust God to give me a nice holiday.
I am always having ideas; idea after idea after idea. This is why I now blog. Some of the ideas are good, some are okay, and others…? But for whatever reason, I am always coming up with ideas for articles, books, TV programs, sitcoms and the like; I even make up recipes! It’s one of the reasons why I write, to explore these ideas, and why one day I hope, and work hard, to be a published author. I really do get so many ideas and I can’t get around to fully using all of them! I believe creativity, in all its myriad forms, is definitely a blessing to me, and is a gift from God. Of course, I am obviously not the only person with ideas, and creativity does cover whole worlds of different things. Most human beings have one or even a few talents that sets them apart from someone else. I think that creativity is really one of those things that sets us apart from the rest of creation.
God stands out of time, is at the end of time, before time, but also very much in the present moment too. He is all powerful, all seeing and all knowing, in ways we really can’t understand properly.
You may have noticed, but I hate the Class system and what it represents; unfairness and division and all kinds of double standards. The myth is that Upper class people are better than everyone else, and then there are graded levels, till you get to the bottom, where people are supposed to be worthless and inferior, or, at least, not important or worth bothering about. This has caused so much pain, even in my own life, and has created injustice pure and simple in British life. The end of the 2nd World War started a slow and steady decline of the worst aspects of the Class system, but in some ways it is still with us; and I believe that it is plain wrong and iniquitous, and it is not from God, it is part of the world system, and as Christians we are meant to be in the world, but not part of it; simple as that. Where does that leave people who, more or less, believe in the Class system, perhaps because they are perceived to be in the middle or at the top? I just think that we need to get to the truth of every situation.
Coming from a very Working class background, and being quite poor, though not poverty-stricken by any means, I think for a long time I have had a chip on my shoulder about this. Posh people are better than common people, right? Middle class people are, in some way and somehow, just better than Working class people, right? That’s what we’re supposed to accept if we’re English; some people get the best jobs, the best education, are allowed to prosper and get on, while others are meant to accept second best in everything, just because of the Class system. This is all fine and dandy if you’re from the right and socially acceptable background; what if you’re not? We have to remember that injustice and bigotry, racism and all kinds of prejudice, no matter how they’ve been accepted and even justified, are really sinful, wrong, and ultimately not from God. You may just be one of those people who live in some kind of falsehood or even downright prejudice; God might be, right now, trying to bring you to some truth on this issue.
Part of the problem with class and racism and any kind of limiting prejudice, is that it fails to see that we are all unique and all made in the image of God; it can put us in a box, and define us negatively, unjustly and unfairly. Society imposes injustice in this way, and some of us resist it, whilst others seem comfortable with such injustice, maybe especially if they benefit from it in some way. Enough about class!
There are so many ways of looking at, and experiencing, Christianity. I suppose I really mean to say so many ways of experiencing God. We experience God when we are moved by the beauty of nature; we experience Him when we read the Bible and it connects with us in some way; we experience Him when He answers our prayers; and we really connect with Him when we live each day as a Christian on a daily and on-going basis.
I think, and I have found this in my experience, we should have one day in the week where we don’t work or struggle, we basically just rest on that day. For the ancient Israelites , it was the Sabbath, and God was commanding them to keep it holy, and not work on that day; a day of rest and a day of contemplating God; even a day where we quietly enjoy ourselves and in modern parlance chill out. I believe this is important, to have at least one day where we rest, and can basically gather our thoughts without worrying about financial, or other, issues. For me, it’s Saturday; for someone else, it might be a different day; I don’t think it’s important what day it is just as long as we have one.
Sad All Over
When I was depressed, seriously clinically depressed, I also experienced a kind of profound sadness which I couldn’t shake off. This sadness was at times overwhelming, and made me think everything in life, my life, was basically futile. In many ways, this was a profound and life-changing experience, even a set of experiences.
If we question everything, or something happens to us that makes us question everything, we are on a new path so to speak. What can be expressly negative in the extreme, can open a door to something worthwhile and valuable. I’m not suggesting for one minute that depression is a good thing, far from it, but God can take the worst of things in our life and bring something good from it. It’s not necessarily that evil brings good, because I don’t think it can or does, but that God can make us learn good things from bad experiences.
I was depressed for a long time; I was sad all over for many years. I lost many years to depression in fact, serious depression. There are a number of things that depression can do; it can make you angry, or it can make you sad; it can make you tired out all the time, or it can stop you sleeping properly; it can make you want to eat lots of the wrong things, or it can make you not want to eat; it can make you, at times, deliriously insanely high, or insanely deliriously low; it can even make a person highly promiscuous or desiring promiscuity, or can turn you off sex completely. In this way, serious depression can have these double effects on a person’s life. If a person is depressed it can affect the way they look too, giving you bags under your eyes, a constant ‘lump in the throat’ as if you are ready to cry all the time, it can make your hair lank, it can give you headaches and stomach aches, and can seriously affect your health in all sorts of ways. I know about this because I experienced it all at one time or other.
The kind of sadness I experienced did make me profoundly sad at times, and it made me question the very nature and reason for life, my life and life in general. In a strange way, this questioning is still with me now, without the depression; I’ve experienced the worst, and I’ve experienced the best, and sometimes everything in between. That’s depression for you. In a way too, it taught me to reflect on things, all kinds of things, and it has given me a questioning nature, which I think is no bad thing. Where some people might think things, I want to say them and then explore them. I didn’t enjoy being depressed then, how could anyone, but I have learned to use what good came out of it to my advantage. I think a questioning nature is part of human nature, and even part of God in us. He has all the answers, and we certainly don’t, and I think it’s normal to want to know the answers and ask God for them. It doesn’t mean for one second He has to explain everything, but I think He knows that we have so many questions and so few real answers.
Depression then at the time was the worst thing that happened to me, and the worst thing that was happening to me. Also, my life was not really going the way I really wanted it to, and I think I didn’t really have good friendships or a helpful healthy lifestyle either. And I was estranged from God too. Not really a good place to be for anyone who is really supposed to be a Christian. Little by little, I sort of started drifting back towards God, or He started coming back to me. I can’t stress enough that the depression I suffered with was really awful and unpleasant for many years, and in some ways I wish that I hadn’t lost so many years to it. To be contradictory, the depression I had, in a roundabout way, brought me back to God. Perhaps I had to suffer, even suffer grievously, to come back to God or to understand what I was missing. I don’t think God wishes suffering on us, I think it can just be the result of our disobedience towards Him. I know if you’re not a Christian, or you’re just a casual Atheist or whatever, that some of this might seem strange. As a Christian, I am not trying to disprove Atheism, or anything else; that I think would be negative. I am trying to prove to you that God exists, and He is as real as anything else you can see, touch or experience. I believe it is better to be positive for something, than negative against something.
Is Rock and Roll the Devil's Music?
When Rock and Roll (or should that be Rock’n’Roll?) first started appearing in America in the early 1950’s, it was really like nothing seen before; yes, you could say that it is related to Jazz and Ragtime and the Blues, but it was something that, for a time, outshone them all; and I don’t say that easily as I am a big Blues fan! Anyway, the beginning of the Rock and Roll culture in the US was the beginning of a kind of freedom that hadn’t really existed before then, or may have done but only for the rich and the elites. Rock and Roll music was earthy, sensual, loud, dirty and ‘In yer face’; you either loved it, or hated it! This culture was also egalitarian, aimed at everybody, and was colour-blind too. Rock and Roll was the music of the poor blacks, and some poor whites. It was a big part of what America is about; freedom, fast food, loud music, a sense that anything and everything is possible no matter who you are.
It was a revelation, exciting and mind-blowing, and came at just the right time. And many people opposed it; not least it seems by some church people and church leaders. This all seems such a storm in a teacup now of course, but back then I think it was seen as a great threat to civilisation! Poor blacks and poor whites, who were supposed to very much know their place, suddenly didn’t anymore.
The church at that time in America, or some people in the churches, seemed to see Rock and Roll as a major threat; and to this day I can’t really see why. There were good Christians, going to church, being upstanding members of society on one side, and degenerate, beer swilling louts, into Rock and Roll seemingly on the other. Why would some Christians take umbrage then with this music? Surely Rock and Roll, and many other American popular styles of music, was uplifting and transcended the everyday, while still retaining the common touch? A bit like God Himself!
The 1950’s, both in the US and the UK, and perhaps many other countries, was a time of transition, between what was old, patrician, worn out and tired, and a new emerging culture where anything was possible, classless, egalitarian, and which was leading up to the exciting 60’s; Rock and Roll was the perfect soundtrack for this new burgeoning culture and the freedom that came with it.
So, is Rock and Roll the Devil’s music? I hope not! The generic term for popular music of all kinds could be Rock and Roll and I like many other people listen to all kinds of music. I personally think that some church leaders of the time were fearing losing their congregation to Rock and Roll (who thought it would be that powerful?) however strange that sounds now, so attacked it in time honoured fashion when anything new comes along to shake up everybody’s world. I also think they feared losing their power, and even control, over people in the churches. I think if you are becoming a Christian merely to exercise control over people, quite frankly you’ve taken a wrong turning somewhere. America and Britain in the 50’s were divided countries; divided by race, class, major differences in wealth, health and general life chances. There was a lot of hypocrisy and double standards, in societies that were supposed to be free, just and fair. People in both countries after the 2nd World War, the majority of ordinary people, wanted something new, wanted something for themselves, and didn’t want to kowtow to their supposed and so-called ‘betters’ anymore. They wanted, quite understandably, a taste of the good life that had previously only been available to the wealthier middle and upper classes. People just didn’t want to know their place anymore. Rock and Roll represented in some way these aspiring sentiments, and was the soundtrack to people in both the US and the UK who wanted something new; maybe they didn’t know just what it was they wanted, but they knew they didn’t want more of the same old bullsh*t spouted by old reactionary establishments that seemed to exist only to justify their own existence and power.
I suppose we live now in the post Rock and Roll age, and most people, even from poorer or working class backgrounds in the US and UK have far better life chances now than people did 60 years ago or so. Now, we all aspire and dream to be something; there might be a problem with that too, but that’s another story. Rock and Roll opened the doors to a new kind of culture, a hip culture, a teenage and youth culture, something new and vital, and has shaped popular culture and modern Western society in ways unforeseeable and far-reaching; a bit like Christianity itself.
I don’t think Rock and Roll is the Devil’s music, far from it, I think Rock and Roll is God’s music! But seriously, whatever you think on this topic, whether you grew up listening to all kinds of popular music or not, we need to be honest as Christians, and not just think that hymns are the only acceptable music to Christians, or ‘Christian’ rock music which for the most part I can’t get my head around. As a BIG fan of Jimi Hendrix, and much 60’s music, I don’t want to be told that listening to this music is somehow against God, or makes me a lesser Christian. As a writer, and as a Christian, I try to explore themes such as this, and I try in my own way to give it some thought. I may not be right about everything, certainly not in fact, but at least I am trying to explore honestly and openly what could be, to some people anyway, contentious issues, and things which they might feel unsure or uncomfortable about. Music, is, after all, an important part of all cultures in the world, whether you listen to Flamenco in Spain or Country music in the Deep South of the US, or all kinds of music in England, and it is such a big part of many people’s lives; I can certainly speak for myself here. Hendrix, at his most powerful and improvisational, moves me to an ecstatic kind of state, and Paco de Lucia, at his best, also has the same effect. I couldn’t deny these feelings, any more than if you saw a beautiful woman and found her attractive; you just do, and that’s that! You can deny you feel certain feelings for music, or whatever else, but in a way you are then denying some part of you, something that might be a vital part of you. Then, we should be honest about our feelings, and our likes and dislikes; as long as we remain true to God, and we don’t sin, I don’t think there is a problem.
Music is a gift from God in the final analysis, a wonderful gift from God that can uplift us in so many ways, and which can be a soundtrack to our lives, whether you listen to Beethoven or Classical music, or whether you listen to Hendrix and pop music, or whether you listen to all kinds of stuff as so many of us do.
The Big-City Christian
Christianity, certainly in Britain, can be perceived as the religion of the terminally nice, the rather genteel, those living in nice areas far from bad people, people from the right social class who’ve got it all together. Maybe it’s the same in other countries too. Is it helpful for Christians to be portrayed in such a way? I mean, it’s not a particularly negative thing to be a Christian, and be nice, is it? I don’t particularly think it is a bad thing, but the question begging to be asked is, is this all there is to Christianity? Fulfilling a set of criteria, including being nice and of the right social class, whatever that really means?
In Britain, and maybe especially England, Christianity for a long time was perceived as the religion of the well-to-do, the well-spoken, the nice and the suburban. And Christianity was the religion of choice for those during the height of the British Empire, or was this an image that some people wanted to cultivate, a sense of respectability where there really wasn’t any? There is, and there certainly was in Britain a few hundred years or even just over a hundred years ago, a ‘Christianity’ of the conquerors, the powerful, those who owned and controlled land, people and resources, in whatever form that took; those who had real executive power in the final analysis. What are we to make of this? Is it really possible to viciously exploit other people, and really, I mean really, be a Christian? Could someone trade slaves across the Atlantic, and still be a Christian?
This was, then, a kind of Christianity, the Christianity of the conqueror and the Christianity of the rich and powerful; and, in some way, I think it is still with us today. I think also, that it was using religion as a justification for allowing not-particularly-nice people to do what they wanted and make themselves wealthy, or wealthier, in the process. Some of what passes for Christianity today in Britain, I think is a watered-down version of this, where Christianity is ‘appropriated’ by some people to give them an air of goodness, niceness and respectability, when they may be no such things. It is also about social class in some way, that those who are socially acceptable, or perceived to be so, living in the right area, with the right accents and knowing the right people, then go on to claim the high moral ground too by being ‘Christian’. Even at the very best, this seems to be more about some people’s respectability, than it really is about humbly walking with Jesus; sometimes I think Jesus is ‘surplus to requirements’ in cases like this.
For any Christian, of whatever background, to really live their faith and explore it as we go along, we need to be honest, even brutally honest, about our faith, about Christianity. We should take care that we are not caught up in ‘worldly’ Christianity, that perhaps isn’t Christianity at all, and try to find out just what it is Jesus wants from us; there’s no place for falsehood of any kind in this.
Is Christianity for us then? Surely Christians come from nice backgrounds, quaint little villages in England and those nice small Mid-West towns in America where nothing much of anything ever seems to happen and the only noteworthy thing is the local drunk coming home singing at 2 o’clock in the morning.
Cities are big, ugly, dangerous and full of bad people; right? Not the habitat of your common or garden Christian; right? Well, there are good, bad and indifferent people everywhere and in every walk of life; cities are no different. If you live in a nice area, perhaps your faith, whatever it amounts to, has never really been tried or tested. If you are a Christian and living out your calling in a harder environment, where there is unemployment, drug abuse, casual violence, and lots of people with all their own ideas of how to live and what to believe, in a way you’re just another person trying to make it amongst many other people. Even if you live in a city, or a part of a city, that isn’t particularly dangerous or run-down, you are still one person amongst many. How can you make a difference, when often stark reality means that you might be around lots of people who have their own ideas and their own problems, and who sometimes you might have some sort of problem with? Not in every case of course, but in big cities now many people don’t even know their neighbours let alone get on with them. How can we love people if we don’t even like them?
We might find, even though we are struggling in life, that God is the perfect source for all kinds of help; then, we are not being religious, we are living as Christians. Cities can be tough places, full of aggressive people and poverty, and lack of work and a real purpose; this is why some people in cities can go off the rails and become severely disillusioned with life, the universe and everything. And, disillusioned people can go off the rails, in many different ways. I suppose I’ve been there myself, bought the t-shirt and so on. My faith has been tested, it isn’t just academic, it’s something I’ve lived and breathed; the testing of my faith really boils down to me being disobedient, in one way or another, and being corrected by God! He won’t let me live any other way, than His way! Some people might say, how is God just then, if He won’t let me choose what I want to do? In my own life and very personal experience, I have understood that if God has plans for you, then, one way or the other, He will make Himself known to you; whether you like it or not! God’s call on my life is the best thing that ever happened to me, but I confess I still don’t fully understand it, or His motives.
I’m a big-city Christian, quite a hardened believer, but not quite from the school of hard-knocks; I ain’t so tough! I’ve had to get used to unemployment, lack of opportunities, sometimes problems with other people, struggled with drinking too much alcohol at times, and basically lacked a sense of purpose; that’s the real cruncher, a lack of purpose. Even with a crocked purpose, a person can make something of themselves; without a sense of purpose, we can drift. And so many people in big cities do drift. I was one of them. Now, I have a purpose in life; primarily to serve God each day, and also to believe that the ambitions I have for a better life are within my grasp, and the belief that I as an individual have the right to a better life.