Living with thorns

Last month I was invited to take part in a teaching series my church has been running on mental health. Each session had looked at a different aspect of mental health from the perspectives of scripture, a mental health professional, and a testimony from a church member. I was invited to be the testimony for the session on depression.

I was actually very excited to speak about this, as being open about my mental health is really important to me personally and in terms of creating a space for others to talk about it too. You can listen to the whole teaching slot here (search for ‘Living With Thorns’), featuring myself and a therapist from the congregation being interviewed by the preacher as part of the talk, but here is my testimony itself:

Interview:

In your darkest moments what is it like for you to live with depression?

I found this first question a bit difficult as I’ve had two experiences of depression, one severe in my teens and before I became a Christian (I was actually spontaneously healed when I fist met Jesus!), and more recently a spell of mild depression, mainly through 2016, though I’m still very much walking through recovery from that now, it can be a bit of a process. So the lows are all very much past tense, and day-to-day now it is pretty mundane. Maybe that’s helpful to note in itself?

Depression takes many forms. Back in my teens I had severe depression and it manifested in suicidal thoughts, hopelessness and emotional numbness. My recent, mild, illness has been more like a crushing lack of energy and motivation and a tendency to feel so overwhelmed it paralyses me, only occasionally spilling over into low mood. But it’s all the same illness, it presses down on you as a heavy weight. For me, recently, the bad days have felt like a spiral out of control; my thoughts assail me so heavily it feels like being beaten round the head and knocked down. Thoughts of failure, of not being enough, of inadequacy, and on top of that, of all the myriad things I ‘should’ be doing, and you can imagine how upsetting is would be to have someone have that sort of rant at you – it’s like that, I break down in tears and can’t easily separate out what really needs to be done now from all those ‘should’s under the weight of it all. So – I get stuck, end up lying on the sofa, having an uphill battle to even make myself drink a glass of water…

So that’s the worst of the current beast I live with! Most days now it just manifests as a lack of energy, a frustratingly low burn-out point, despite my hope and joy and love of life.

But the darkest I’ve known previously has felt like absolute hopelessness. It is dark and terrifying to be unable to see any hope or potential for change. Depression can lie so convincingly that there is no hope it feels like an objective fact that no-one else could ever possibly understand from outside. But having come out the other side I can tell you it is a lie, and that there absolutely is always hope, in God’s big picture that is bigger than us and our lives if nothing more, and as long as you are breathing you can live for that and be part of it.

We know you have faith in Jesus so could you tell us what it is like to follow Jesus through depression?

Positives and negatives; because my illness lies to me it can be harder to hang onto the truth, I easily find myself projecting my own insecurities onto God (ie in my case I first realised I wasn’t well when I noticed I was starting to wonder if God had a place for me or had just made me ‘for decoration’ without a real purpose in God’s plan… in truth, finding my place and purpose is not easy. I’m struggling with that myself. But that’s not God!). Faith is also potentially an area I can beat myself up over, for example when I want to read the Bible but don’t for whatever reason – it’s normal I think to feel bad about that, but when depression weighs in on it it can feel really bad (I can start telling myself I’m a bad Christian…).

On the other hand, I’m more aware of my need for God, even if God feels distant or silent sometimes. Sometimes God has felt extremely close in the silence. And there’s been something special and important about giving God some very raw prayers, rants, tears… Sometimes, when things have felt very dark and I’ve lost hope for myself, I’ve seen God’s light and the big-picture hope of God’s Kingdom coming shine so strongly in contrast to it that it takes my breath away! Without the dark I couldn’t see how strong and bright that hope is. That’s been very good for me. So too has seeing God using my experiences to help others – that’s been an incredible honour and I know God’s been using me there.

What were the best and worst parts of being part of church during times of depression?

It’s made me flaky (even in recovery!). I struggle to commit to things, have to take things one day at a time, pull out of things if I don’t feel up to it (I can easily get overwhelmed, I’ve less capacity, and things get on top of me easier), and can struggle with motivation (ie to go out, or to do certain things). All this makes it very hard to get more actively involved in church, and get to know people and become part of the community (it makes it very hard to arrange to see friends too…). That in itself can feed back into the illness as it doesn’t feel good. Church/homegroup is particularly hard if it feels like everyone else is doing fine and has their life in order! On the other hand church/homegroup can be a supportive and safe environment and somewhere I can get out the house and most importantly seek God and truth.

What helps you to cope?

Talking about it. Depression thrives on secrecy, but getting it out in the open lessens its grip, whilst also helping you to find help and support from others, solidarity with others also going through it that helps you feel less alone, and also helps you find others you can walk alongside too.

Prayer. Honesty before God. God is big enough to handle our rawest emotions, let it all out.

Self care. It’s not an easy ‘just do this and you won’t be depressed’, but it genuinely does help to be more intentional about things like exercise, healthy eating, socialising, doing things you enjoy(ed) of find/found relaxing.

Work. Having a job with a lot of structure and regular hours, and supportive colleagues and a good mental health and wellbeing culture, really, really helps.

Perspective. I need the big picture hope narrative of the Bible to pull me out of myself and keep reminding me that whatever happens in my lifetime, God’s Kingdom is coming and love wins.

Therapy. I’ve been to a CBT course, it felt frustratingly like being taught how to walk – but if I’d had a debilitating accident and lost the full use of my legs I would need just that, so why expect different of my injured mind? It’s been helpful. I’ve also been seeing a counsellor to try tackling my underlying issues.

Switchfoot! I’m only semi-joking; admittedly I am a megafan of theirs and was already before I got ill, however, the work of Christian artists who are grappling with this stuff can be a real help and support. Switchfoot is one such band and certainly do a lot for me, but there are other musicians and other forms of artists whose work explores depression and mental illness at times, and I recommend finding artists who can give words to what you’re experiencing and point you towards hope.

Here’s the vid of the interview that we recorded as a back-up in case I couldn’t speak in person on the day (featuring a feline cameo!).


If you’re struggling, or just not feeling quite right, please do try to get help – it isn’t always straightforward, but help, and hope, are out there. For a start, try this if you are in the UK, and this might be useful wherever you are.

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The INTJ

‘Sorry world.’

I used to tag the apology on whenever my personality type came up in the topic of conversation, as it will do amongst friends who’ve been exploring personality for themselves. But I’m not going to do that any more, and in this blog’s spirit of openness and vulnerability, this is why.

To be able to tell my story I’m going to need to give you a bit of background to the Myers-Briggs personality classification system, or MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator)*. This is a system for determining and understanding personality differences developed in the last century by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers after Carl Jung’s work. MBTI is based around four pairs of personality traits, each represented by a letter (capitalised for each pair below), and sees everyone tending towards one side or another within each pair. The pairs are:

  •  Extravert/Introvert – this is about where you predominantly draw your energy from (interaction with others or time on your own) and whether your dominant ways of thinking express themselves outwardly for all to see or inwardly inside yourself;
  •  Sensing/iNtuition (do you tend to be a details person, or someone who sees the big picture?);
  •  Thinking/Feeling (do you tend to solve problems with your head or your heart first, do you tend to consider principles or people more when making decisions?);
  •  Judging/Perceiving, which is actually about how much you tend to need to have things planned out or value spontaneity, rather than anything to do with being judgemental or perceptive (I confess, not understanding where these terms come from, that I’ve come to refer to them as J for planning and P for jumping..!).

Both traits in each pair are neutral; neither is better, so it’s not a measure of how good you are at a certain thing or as a person (for example Ts are not more intelligent than Fs nor Fs necessarily better with relationships than Ts). Everyone can and probably does use all 8 of those traits (ie everyone thinks and has feelings that come into play when they make decisions), but has a preferred one for each pair, in the same way you can use both your right and left hand to write but have a dominant hand that’s easier, and can be more or less practised at using your less dominant hand.

It’s measured using responses to a long questionnaire** to try to tease out which side of each pairing you tend towards. This scores how strongly your answers point towards one side or other of a pair, however the score is more a measure of how certain you are about that tendency, rather than how strong that tendency is, and this is influenced both by how well you know yourself (the more self-aware you are, the more you will know the way you think and react, and the better you will be able to answer the questions about this), and how practised you are at using your non-preferences (for example you may naturally be a ‘P’, a person who craves freedom and spontaneity, but have spent all your life in a work environment that requires you to be very organised and plan everything through, meaning you answer the questions testing your need for planning in a more ambiguous way, or even in a way that suggests you prefer to have things planned!). The result gives you a 4-letter code for your personality type (E or I, S or N, T or F, J or P), and since there are four pairs, there are 16 possible combinations of traits and therefore 16 base personality types.

I like it because it doesn’t put people into boxes; it doesn’t tell you anything about what kind of person you are or how you are going to behave, but it explains people’s underlying tendencies and helps us understand how we work. You remain an individual, because although this is a way to identify the basis of the way you tick, the simplest building blocks of what makes you who you are and from which you build yourself, your actual personality is going to be made up of that plus all the other stuff of life.

I have taken this test more times now than I can keep track of, and probably did it for the first time around 15 years ago. I’ve come out as an INTJ every single time, regardless of how much I have changed as a person over those years, how much I think I have developed different aspects of myself, and how much I’ve pushed boundaries of interpretation when answering the questions! So what does that mean?

Firstly, I. I am an introvert. I can be loud and forceful. I love to be on stage, up front, lead a group or speak in public. If a decision is to be made, you will be left in no doubt what my views are! But my batteries are drained extremely rapidly if I spend too much time socialising, or in intense one-to-one conversation. I need time alone. I can spend many happy hours away from others, content to be with myself and my own inner world. I need people very much, but I’d far rather have a few close friends than many shallow acquaintances (which is a real struggle for me at present as I feel I’m in the latter situation here just now).

I am an N. This is the trait I’ve long been most unsure about, as I’ve not really understood what it means. As a scientist, I’ve always thought of myself as someone who bases her understanding of things more on facts and evidence than on gut feeling, so how can I be an ‘intuitive’ rather than a ‘senser’? However, I’ve never been assessed as an S, and when I’ve read about S types, none of them ring true for me. Last year I took part in a workshop with an experienced MBTI practitioner and got to explore it a bit more, and it seems this pair is more about how much we tend to focus on the detail or see the bigger picture. And that clicked! I am absolutely a big-picture person, and actually that’s probably the single most important way to understand me. It’s also been one of the most helpful concepts for me to grasp in terms of the differences between how different people think. It’s not that I disregard detail, or evidence, the tried and tested or the importance of ‘now’. But so much of what goes on inside me is big-picture stuff. I’m always in the wider context for whatever it is I’m dealing with at any particular time. Don’t try to appeal to me with individual case studies; explain to me the scale of the problem and I will be dreaming of solutions and how we might get from here to there.

And this ties into the next pair; I am a T. Anyone who knows me at all knows I have feelings!! They tend to explode on me at full force, and quite often you’ll see that explosion externally too, be it anger or love or grief or whatever. I care deeply about others, whether I know them or not, because people really matter to me. But I am so much more a head person than a heart person. I say that relates to the last point, because so much of my care for others actually stems from the idea, the knowledge, the theory that the other and their situation is important, rather than an emotional response. Going back to the case study versus the concept of the problem, if you tell me about a poor cocoa farmer who is struggling to feed her family because she isn’t being paid enough for her crops, I care because of the idea of the injustice of that situation and knowledge that there must be so many farmers out there, not just cocoa growers, in similar situations because world trade is set up to pay them as little as possible, rather than an emotional connection with her as a person. I still care. I can be quite reserved because I’m not great at knowing what to do with emotion, especially other people’s emotions, and that’s compounded by my introversion. And if a decision is to be made, it matters much more to me that that decision is correct in terms of it working, than it being correct in terms of it pleasing everyone.

Finally, I am a J. Spontaneity really stresses me out, which is great when you are married to someone who finds having everything planned out stressful! His idea of a perfect day out, and my nightmare, is to just wake up one day and decide to set out not knowing where you are going, and just wander. I want to have put that day aside for a day trip at least a few days in advance, and to have agreed where we’re going the night before at least, with a map and at least a rough idea of the route, and to know the weather forecast, where the loos are en route, what time the bus home goes and how long it will take to get to the stop! We’re both learning..! I need to have an idea what to expect and to be able to plan responses to scenarios in advance, and hate last minute changes of plan being foisted upon me.

So that is my type; the head-based, big-picture-thinking, introverted planner.

So why apologise? What’s wrong with that? Well. My type is the one that frequently gets typecast as the evil genius! You see it in all sorts of fictional villains, and alas there are real evil geniuses that fit too. It’s a combination of traits that easily lends itself to a person being quite detached and calculating, wanting their own way, and also being able to apply knowledge and understanding to achieve it. There are many very basic MBTI type summaries out there that give this sort of thing as the short and pithy description of what my type is like, portraying us as cold, reserved and scheming. Not great. Especially when you are neither particularly evil nor a genius! But there is more. Digging into my profile a bit more, you’ll see we’ve a tendency to ‘be right’. We know we are right, and we will say so! What is more, even if others disagree, or are trying to take time to come to a decision together, we are headstrong and independent enough to just go off and act on it ourselves regardless, without waiting for a go-ahead or a consensus. There’s a tendency to be inflexible, both to ideas and plans of action, and to the feelings of others. Argh! Now that does hit home! I have many a time made myself very unpopular in that sort of situation, both at work and in social scenarios. It’s an unattractive arrogance. I’ve been working hard to become more aware of that in myself and to learn better ways to handle situations and treat others, but it’s not easy.

My ‘sorry world!’ response was a little tongue-in-cheek, but in truth I was always a little embarrassed by my profile, and envied other types. The trait pairings are neutral, and so are the personality types; they do not dictate who you will be, or how you will react, or what you will be like as a person. But they do explain your underlying tendencies, and I can’t deny it, some types have much nicer starting points to work from! I read some profile descriptions and frankly they sound lovely. Mine is not that!! But you can start from a profile with tendencies to be big-hearted, creative, energetic lovers of harmony, and still act like a jerk. You can start with basic materials that tend you towards arrogant independence, and build a compassionate life upon them.

And this leads to where I am today; I am starting to love what I am. Yes, after 15 years working with it, starting, though I’ve loved who I am much longer. I’m beginning to recognise the beauty and wisdom of what God has made me out of. I’ve known in my head that all the types are needed to make the world work, but in practice have struggled to appreciate why such a potentially difficult character like myself might be necessary. But this is the good news isn’t it? All of us are full of potential, and none of us are sorted yet. We can all, particularly walking alongside the God who put us together and knows us, has a plan for us and gives us strength to be our best, build something amazing from the basic building blocks we’ve been given. I find the MBTI tool incredibly useful in understanding myself and my strengths and weaknesses, and in developing my character, and also in understanding the different perspectives those around me are coming from and so working better with them (particularly understanding that different styles of thinking are not wrong, just different perspectives as innate as my own). So there’s a fair bit in my make up that requires self-awareness just to behave decently. But we all have a bit of that, and I’m discovering that actually my type have some really beautiful characteristics waiting to be developed. I’m finding God has been at work in me, at least over this past year, helping me to uncover this, and I hope with God’s help I can grow into it in future.

So far in my journey with MBTI I’ve found it easier to see what I suspect others see of me; my tendency to put forth my ideas. What I have overlooked is what goes on inside me all the time; the vision. What is that inner world that I feel so at home in? It’s full of big ideas, concepts, dreams and an ache for justice, for the Kingdom of God, for restored relationships in all things and everything to be put right. That is where the INTJ mind can be a thing of beauty, and I’d never really grasped that before! In Switchfoot’s words, the tension is here, between who you are and who you could be, between how it is and how it should be… I see what things are like and where they’re headed, but I also see the potential. I may be short of the practical details on how to get from here to there but I am forever dreaming up vague roadmaps. The big picture drives me. As a scientist, activist and Christian, it makes sense. Somewhere inside I see before me the coming Kingdom of God, the world put right. I see the potential of humanity to not only turn around and overcome problems such as climate change, xenophobia and unjust trade, but actually be a creative force for good in the world, shaping it into something better than we started with (probably way outside my lifetime and even this era of history…). Big dreams! I think God can use that.

I recently wound up my latest round of counselling with an amazing session with my therapist*** in which she had me go over some of the damaging labels that had been put on me as a child (weirdo, daydreamer etc), and we worked through them (I won’t go into detail here, it would make a whole other blog post!) until I recognised I could replace those unhelpful labels with a better one: Visionary. I may have been a bit weird, and I was frequently off in my own world, elaborating in my own head ideas and stories based around what I’d been taught and read, which would have frustrated a teacher trying to keep me on track with the lesson. But there is the seed of the person I am now.

I may not be the person with the wild and original ideas, or the practical sense to make something work, or the patience to see a project through, and certainly not the people-person with the natural warmth and sensitivity to bring people together and look after others’ needs along the way, but there is a place for the ones with vision, especially vision grounded in the present reality, who can see the potential in the wild ideas and lift the collective expectation above the everyday. I have a way to go to work out what my place is in the world and how to harness a mind like this to make a useful contribution to the world. There’s definitely more for me to work on when it comes to working with others. But it’s exciting to see what’s always been in there!

So, no more apologies. I am an INTJ, I offer the world this perspective to work alongside yours, and I believe in us together. 🙂

 


*Disclaimer – I am not a psychologist, just someone who’s been using this to understand herself and how she relates to others for some time now, so apologies for what I’ve undoubtedly got wrong! This piece is really about my own journey.

**You can try a version here or here, these sites also give you a bit more background, plus you can read more about all the different personality types too

***Incidentally, the same tendency to see the big picture and resist inertia probably put me in therapy in the first place; if I wasn’t so bitten by failure, I’d be the sort of person who would much rather aim at the big vision and fail than to accept things as they are, and that is likely exactly what I’ve done with myself, to the point that I now have failure issues…

Implicit worship

Fake News Of The Week amongst the Switchfam was this satirical article from the Babylon Bee, ‘Switchfoot release implicit worship album’.

It provoked mixed reactions – but I have to admit, I laugh-snorted!  The article does have a dig at Jon’s writing style – it’s fair enough, except that he’s a lot more versatile and varied than is implied – but the classier dig is at the likes of me, who actually really get a lot out of that sort of songwriting. It’s bang on, and a proper ‘ouch!’.

The piece actually nailed so much of what I love about Switchfoot. And that got me thinking, why is that? I’m passionate about worship, yet this article shows me that ‘implicit worship’ is something I’m really behind. ‘Implicit worship’ sounds like a bad thing. Shouldn’t our worship be explicit? Shouldn’t we be saying it like we mean it? Are we not..? Here’s where my thoughts led me:

Firstly, I think we are. Being explicit is good and there’s a place for that, and you’ll find it within Switchfoot’s repertoire as well as in my own life.

But worship is more than singing praise songs. Worship is whole life. It would quickly become dry and meaningless if all we did were state our praise in words, especially in words that had been said many times before to the point of cliche, just as we do not live our personal relationships entirely through love songs. Worship cannot be words alone. Music helps it to stir our emotions, but that in itself is not enough. Worship must touch our whole lives, turn around our entire way of life. We need to be able to bring the whole of life and experience to God, engage with God there, allow ourselves to be challenged and changed and reshaped and motivated to act, and then go out and live it in God’s general direction. Simply singing ‘I love You Jesus’ songs has its place, but will not fulfil that whole purpose. Those songs I will use in church when we all need to be able to sing something simple together, and in moments when that is exactly what I need to express, but are not the sorts of songs I carry with me day to day, that help me work out how to be a better follower of Jesus in the everyday situations I find myself facing. They are not the songs that stretch and broaden my understanding and deepen my awe of God. For me, Switchfoot’s music takes me to those deeper places, the places that help me wrestle life and faith together and work through how to walk it out in the world I’m living in.

Implicit worship. Worship that involves the trajectory of my life, not merely my words. It’s precisely why someone like myself will connect more with songs of the sort the article pokes fun at, such as Stars, than with their more straightforwardly ‘explicit’ material, like new single You Found Me. They are the songs that go deep in my life, that I walk with over the years, that make me think, and change me, slowly, into something a little more Christlike, as they help me figure out what a faithful response to the world I live in might look like. Switchfoot’s music won’t do that for everyone, if it’s not to your taste or the way you think, but it does for many of us who connect with it.

And music has a purpose beyond explicit praise too, even for Christians believe it or not. And that’s an important factor to understanding the Foremans’ ethos. Switchfoot’s aim is not to be a church worship band. They are artists, making the music that expresses what is on their hearts, purely for the sake of that authentic expression. Music has value in itself. Its value is not just in ‘worship’ music. That is no higher or more spiritual than any other music. Music helps us to make sense of the big stuff, where we can turn with the things we don’t understand. Where we can experience feeling, and mystery, and wonder. That is as important to the Christian journey as singing praise songs, if not more so, and God, and good, can be found in any kind of music or art, labelled ‘Christian’ or otherwise. There is more to the human existence to experience and express than just the religious bits, and God wants to be involved in it all. We are made creative beings in God’s image, so simply using our creative capacity for any artistic expression is itself a godly act. God does not need to be excluded if we choose to use that art to express say our romantic feelings for another person or our frustration with politics or struggles with depression for example. God is present. And in music we can explore how to handle those situations faithfully. That too is worship, lived out.

So ‘implicit worship’ need not be a negative. It’s not about being ashamed or embarrassed of Jesus. Switchfoot are more than happy to speak openly about their faith and to publicly call themselves Christians, as am I. If we couldn’t bring ourselves to talk openly about Jesus at all we’d certainly have a problem. So too if I thought Switchfoot were trying to hide their faith to gain popularity amongst non-Christians. But that’s not their game. Theirs is just a different approach to both music and to worship than that of a ‘worship band’. Their calling is to make honest music. ‘Worship’ is not explicitly their aim, any more than it is mine when I go to work. Yet every day on my way to the office I’m praying for God to use me and my work that day. I’m not about to start a praise party in the office, and neither should we expect it of Switchfoot just because music is involved, but it is all worship nonetheless.

I don’t want my worship to be limited to the occasions I am singing praise songs. I want my whole life to imply worship. And long may there be music in our lives that moves us to live that way!

Summer

I stand on the edge of an endless ocean

Longing to dive in and swim

Have exhilarating waves come crashing in to meet me, challenge me, carry me

Today… I must wait

Learn to enjoy the shimmer and sparkle as I stand at the edge

Back on land, the earth bakes in the heat

Everything thirsts for rain and respite

And I thirst too

I want the harvest

Today… I must wait

Learn to enjoy the sun on my skin and the comfortable cool of the long evening

Today, all is on pause

I ache for action, for change, for movement

Today… this season is for waiting

For patience

For just being me

Here

Now.

RefuJesus

I woke up this morning, looked at my phone, and saw social media flooded with the growing storm over asylum seekers’ children being taken from their families in the USA and detained in cages.

Opening my email, I found a second response from my MP to my letter about the treatment of detainees in Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre here in the UK; he sent me the response of the Immigration Minister, in which she claims the government’s good intentions to treat people fairly and respectfully are in fact reality, contrary to the evidence pouring in from the detainees themselves.

We’re also in the middle of a campaign, spearheaded by Lord Dubs who himself came to the UK as a child refugee in the second world war, to persuade the UK government to do more for today’s vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees and take in 10,000 of them over the coming decade, echoing our wartime response.

Meanwhile, thousands of desperate people are still piling into unsafe boats and attempting the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean to try to find safety in Europe, many dying in the attempt.

My Bible reading plan this morning happened to bring me to Matthew 2, in which I read how Joseph had to get up in the night and flee over the border into Egypt with the baby Jesus and his mother Mary to escape king Herod’s attempt to kill the child, and how the young family had to remain in the foreign country’s sanctuary until after Herod’s death before being able to return. Like so many today, they wouldn’t have been able to fill in a visa application first…

And it happens to be World Refugee Day. This year it seems a bigger global issue than ever.

According to Safe Passage this week, there are currently 68 million displaced people in the world, of whom 24 million are refugees. 82% are in developing countries. Over half of these people are children.

Refugees are those who have had to flee for their lives due to some form of fear of persecution. Asylum is an international process whereby those who have to escape their country can claim protection from that persecution in another country. Usually, this is the neighbouring country to their own. Because, like Jesus’ family, people are often having to flee in an emergency, it is not only legal under international law but vital that they are able to enter that other country for the sole purpose of claiming asylum without the necessary documentation that would otherwise be required, and they must claim asylum on arrival. There is then a process within that country to determine if asylum should be granted.

In addition, many people emigrate from their home countries. This happens for a variety of reasons, including for work, family or a simple change of scene, but many are also in desperate circumstances such as crushing poverty.

Probably my biggest fear when it comes to climate change is not that we may lose iconic species like polar bears, as appalling as that would be. No, my biggest fear has long been the borders going up, as more and more people find themselves under pressure to move, either directly because of resource wars or increasing natural disasters, or indirectly as the world becomes more unstable or they find their livelihoods less profitable. I fear this becoming an increased driver of refugees and migration, and that the response of countries like ours that are less affected by these pressures will be to close our borders. Alas, I’m seeing it happening already, along with rising xenophobia and fracturing of non-military international cooperation. I fear the sort of world this will create, where desperate people will have to be kept at bay by force, and will likely respond with terrorism, as desperate people so often do, fuelling a hateful vicious cycle. It’s not a world I want to live in.

Although the vast majority of displaced people are either moving within their own countries or to neighbouring countries, the figures are still shocking. The default position when faced with increasing numbers of people attempting to enter the country either as refugees or migrants seems to be ‘How do we keep numbers down? How do we keep them out? How can we get rid of them?’

What about if we took the time to ask why they come?

I can understand that we on the ‘right’ side of a border want to hang on to the benefits of our position. We feel entitled to the privileges we experience as a result of being born in a safe and prosperous country, despite our place of birth being pure serendipity, not something we have earned ourselves. That entitlement is strange framed like that – but then, a desire for safety and prosperity is no bad thing, and when we have it, it’s no bad thing to want to hang onto it. It only becomes problematic when we don’t want to extend that to others.

I suspect we have more capacity to help than we think we do, but we are still not infinite. We can’t take in the world. But surely the real solution is not to harden our hearts and strengthen our borders, clinging to what we have and shutting out anyone else, but to extend humanity and generosity as far as possible whilst working to tackle the causes of movement, the war, persecution, poverty, that drives it?

As long as we live in an unequal world there will be net movement from more disadvantaged and dangerous places to places of safety and opportunity, either because people have to flee for their lives from the former, or because they will choose to migrate to the latter. Not many will be moving the opposite way.

I dream of a more equal world. For now, we really need to extend mercy, compassion, fairness and kindness to those who come to us and treat them with human dignity, even if some must be turned away, especially considering the horrors and hardships so many have endured and escaped to get here. But long term, I dream of a truly free world. We need to work to understand and end the things that are forcing people from their homes, the war, poverty, persecution and climate change, and work towards a world where all countries are equally safe and prosperous, where people can be free to move as they please, where there is no net movement of people because as many people are moving in one direction as in the other, and there are no refugees. We need to build other countries up, rather than shutting our doors and building up ourselves. That’s ambitious, but surely we are capable of that if we try? Wouldn’t that be what true progress looks like?

Meanwhile, Jesus stands on the ‘wrong’ side of all our borders – with the poor, the refugee, the persecuted, and with those working for them, suffering with them. When we welcome others, we welcome God. Is God truly welcome here, or are we ‘full’? Can we expand our hearts’ borders? I fear that if we don’t, as well as seeing an increasingly dangerous and divided world, it is Christ Himself we will be shutting out.

White Sky Church

One I wrote back in 2013 under similar skies and frustrations…

 

Oh! What to do with this world?

Some day these white skies have got to break

Black or blue

The haze that obscures You

As if the world would think we never knew You

Let the dark clouds gather

Deep convection of our souls

Finally do some good for this dried-up Earth

Oh! What to do with us?

Don’t let us off

Average as the concrete sky

 

 

Wonder

Can you see the sparkles in the broken glass?

Can you see the stars through the streetlights?

Can you see the grass growing through the cracks?

Or the daisies on the wasteground?

Can you see the hurt child inside the hard man? Inside your enemy? Inside yourself..?

What innocence do your child’s eyes see in the broken places?

This is wonder;

Lifting your sights

Opening your eyes

Awakening you by surprise

Imagination calling you forwards

Where cynicism has no place

This is hope.

Will you follow its playful way?