Tag Archives: Christianity

Veggie Theology

“All creatures of our God and King

Lift up your voice and with us sing

Sun, moon and stars rejoice on high

Praise to the Lord of light divine!”

 

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above you heavenly host

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost”

 

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

 

 

What do you think of that? We sing these songs, and others like them, all the time, but do we ever think about what we’re singing?

 

My initial reasons for going veggie were purely ethical, and I was extremely surprised when my Christian boyfriend, now husband, told me that he was veggie for spiritual reasons. It hadn’t occurred to me that being veggie related at all to Christianity. However, over the years, I have come to appreciate the links between my faith and our relationship to animals.

 

Here is some research I did into the subject a few years ago for a workshop I was leading at a food justice gathering; if you want to study along, I’ve included links to each scripture I quote, which will open in a new window, or you can look them up in your own Bible:

 

A Brief Biblical History:

In the beginning, all things were made by and for God (Colossians 1:16).*

We were made together with the animals, but we alone were made ‘in God’s image’ and put in charge of other animals and the rest of the Earth. We were given grains and fruits to eat. God looked at it all and was pleased with it. (Genesis 1:24-31) Jesus is our model for how to be good rulers.

We were put in Eden to care for and work the Earth, in companionship with animals (Genesis 2:15-20).

We were permitted to eat animals as well as plants following the fall and flood, when much of the Earth was destroyed (Genesis 9:3).

When the law was given, animal welfare commands were put in place (for example Exodus 23:12 and 19, Deuteronomy 22:6-7 and 25:4).

 

God’s plan:

We often assume animals have no soul, but the most the Bible says explicitly is ‘who knows?’! (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21) There are strong hints that they do, in that the creation story uses the same original words for the bringing to life of other animals as for humans, but this is translated as soul for humans, and breath for animals.

In Isaiah 11 a return to Eden’s peace (restored relationships, not mere absence of conflict) is prophesied.

John 3:16 says that God so loved the ‘kosmos’… (meaning pretty much exactly what it does in English); God’s purpose in Jesus was far bigger than just humanity.

This is expanded in Romans 8:19-21 and Colossians 1:20 – all created things are waiting for salvation, via us, via Christ!

 

So that’s the Bible’s view of our relationship with animals. However, I don’t think it stops there, as the Bible also teaches us ethical principles:

 

Ethics:

How we treat others is important, so we should always think about our impacts on fellow human beings and how we can best live in love (Matthew 22:36-39 and 25:31-46, Romans 12:1-2, 1 John 4:16, and many more!).

Meat impacts on the lives of other humans in many ways. About 10% of the average Brit’s carbon footprint comes from meat and dairy; beef and milk in particular have huge carbon impacts associated with them as cattle produce a lot of methane, which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. A vast amount of land is also being deforested globally for livestock farming, either directly for pasture or indirectly to grow animal feed, releasing more greenhouse gases, removing a carbon sink, and also often taking land away from indigenous people. All of this matters as climate change is already hitting the poorest and most vulnerable people hard through famines, land losses and natural disasters, and adding to human migration pressures. Meat production also requires up to 20kg grain per kg of meat produced (and a vast amount of water); whilst there are still so many people going hungry in the world, isn’t it unjust to make more food into less food just for our own personal preferences? The land we have could feed many more people if we used more of it to feed people directly, rather than feeding so many livestock and making a relatively small amount of meat. I’m convinced that being veggie reduces my impact on others, and that this is therefore another way I can choose to live with a slightly more Christlike attitude.

 

And yet in spite of this, I still hear people say some weird stuff about Christianity and veg(etari)anism. Here are a few, and why I think they’re false:

 

  • Animals were made for our use

Animals, along with us and all other created things, were made for God and God’s praise and pleasure (Psalm 24:1, Colossians 1:16).

This is the stunning truth we so often, so easily sing in church without even thinking about it; we are not the only part of God’s creation made for worship, but everything that has breath should praise the Lord! Are we helping or hindering that praise to rise..?

 

  • We were given dominion over the animals

Absolutely; but Christ is to be our example, not a crazed, exploitative human dictator! Philippians 2:6-11 sets out what this looks like, a life of selfless love and service.

 

  • Christian men should be ‘real men’ (… which means eating lots of meat)

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians must conform to Hollywood stereotypes, or indeed, eat meat. Being a good Christian man means Christ-like selfless love, not machismo (Ephesians 5:25-33).

There are no rules for the Christian – although not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12); we are under grace, not law, and this statement comes dangerously close to undermining this Gospel truth.

 

  • We are called to be responsible stewards of the Earth

Absolutely; but let’s go a bit further. Stewardship implies that we are guardians of a resource to be used wisely. However, Biblical language speaks far less of animals as a resource to be used, and far more as living beings made of the same flesh as we are, made for God’s praise.

We are called far beyond mere stewardship, to bring the whole cosmos, including its people and animals, to salvation and resurrection in Christ  – see John 3:16, Romans 8, Colossians 1.

 

  • Animals will not be resurrected

Says who? All the Bible says directly is ‘who knows?’(Ecclesiastes 3:19-21), but ‘living creatures’, probably representing all animals, are present in the vision of heavenly worship in Revelation 4.

 

  • God made us carnivores

God made us not only vegan but fruitarian! (Genesis 1:29)

We are also made with sufficient intelligence to understand our nutritional needs and creative enough to meet those needs fully in more compassionate ways than our mere instincts would permit.

 

  • If I stop eating meat, it won’t make a difference as everyone else will carry on

This is not a Christian attitude – our smallest acts make a difference in God’s kingdom (Matthew 25:40). Mother Theresa was once asked why she did what she did, as her work was only a drop in the ocean. She wisely replied ‘Yes, but the ocean is made of many drops.’

 

  • If I stop eating meat, farm animals will go extinct, so meat eating keeps them alive

We have managed to conserve all kinds of species of non-economic importance, and any visit to a farm park or petting zoo will tell you that we love domestic animals enough to preserve them in the very least as tourist attractions if nothing more. Humanity, made in God’s image, has a unique ability to conserve, and even improve upon, creation in its current state – Genesis 2:15.

 

  • Vegetarians have weak faith; Romans 14:2 says so

Read the rest of Romans 14 too. The context of this advice is that some Christians were avoiding meat altogether as they were worried about accidentally eating something unclean or becoming spiritually unclean by eating meat sacrificed to other gods; they were afraid of accidentally angering God, a sign that their faith in God’s saving grace was weak. Weak faith may be one reason for some people to abstain from certain activities, despite all things being permitted the Christian. However, whatever reason a person has for abstaining, to them, doing that activity would be wrong, and we should not attempt to force them to change their views in case we caused them to act against their conscience.

Many Christians are well aware that there are indeed no food laws to adhere to any more, and are not afraid of accidentally losing their salvation in Christ, but still have ethical reasons for boycotting certain foods for the sake of loving others as ourselves – from meat to non-Fairtrade chocolate.

 

  • We were commanded to eat meat

We were commanded in Eden to eat grains and fruits, and later permitted to eat meat after the fall and after the flood had destroyed much of the land – Genesis 1:29, Genesis 9:3.

 

… and therefore, if Jesus was sinless then meat eating cannot be said to be a sinful act in itself.

However, Jesus modelled deep, border-crossing compassion that gives us an example to work towards where love has no limits.

It is also true that issues like factory farming, climate change and global hunger did not exist in the same way in Jesus’ time; perhaps He would take different ethical stances in today’s globalised world..?

 

I’ll finish there, but if you want to explore more, this is an interesting organisation to check out. Here is a prayer to close, which blew my mind when I first read how ancient it was; its powerful, beautiful insight far pre-dates today’s mass-market mistreatment of animals and is all the more relevant today:

“The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

Oh God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things,

Our brethren the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.

We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty

So that the voice of the Earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail.

May we realise that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee,

And that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee in their place better than we in ours.”

– St Basil of Caesarea, 4th century church father

 

*I’m leaving aside questions over whether the Genesis account of creation was literal or figurative here; I do firmly believe it has a lot to teach us about God’s plan and intent and why things are as they are, and that that is not dependent upon it being literal.

A decade vegan

I have been vegan for ten years this year! I was 24. I get asked about it a lot, so here’s my story:

I never actually went vegetarian.

I grew up a real meat lover in a normal omnivorous household. My favourite foods were roast dinners, steaks, seafood, and meat stews. And pizza. But it had to have pepperoni on it really. If I was taken out for dinner, it was always my mission to order the meatiest thing on the menu that I was allowed; the biggest steak, a whole chicken, a mixed grill… When my younger sister went vegetarian when we were older children, I mocked and criticised her mercilessly! Surely it was unnatural, we evolved to eat meat, we need it to be healthy..?

So, what happened?!

I’ve always been passionate about nature, science and the environment, so studying environmental science at A-Level and then university made perfect sense (if you’ve not come across it, environmental science is the scientific study of all aspects of the natural world; the physics, chemistry, biology and sociology behind weather and wildlife, geology, oceans, soils, landscapes and more, and the way they interact…). I was 17 when my A-Level ‘Env’ class studied a module on agriculture and food production. For the first time, I had to really look closely at the way my food was produced. I knew meat was made of dead animals; I unemotionally thought this a fact of life and quite natural. It wasn’t a surprise to me to learn about how animals are grown for food and slaughtered. What did shock me was how unnatural we have made the farming system, and how much of an impact it has upon the rest of the natural world.

The kind of farms I thought of as a child, small land holdings run by a family, keeping small flocks and herds of a range of farmyard animals, are largely consigned to history.

Today, most of our food is industrially mass produced. Animals do not have names. Large companies run the farms purely for profit. Many animals, chickens in particular, never see sunlight or reach anything near adulthood before slaughter, and have been selectively bred away from their natural shape and size to produce more meat or milk than their bodies can physically support, crippling them in various ways before their early slaughter. Those that are kept outdoors are kept on huge scales, and unable to be supported by grazing the land they live on, require feeding with tonnes of mass-produced animal feed. This has to be grown of course. To do this, vast amounts of land many times the size of the livestock farms themselves are required; land is constantly being deforested to grow more and more animal feed, including in the rainforests, and to keep producing the quantities of animal feed needed requires constant inputs of industrial fertilisers and pesticides to be produced and sprayed over the land. Gallons of water are needed to irrigate the feed crops, as well as to rear the livestock themselves and produce the meat. Both the production of feed and livestock farming cause shocking amounts of pollution; water pollution from run-off contaminated with fertilisers, pesticides, slurry and bacteria, impacting aquatic life and human health; air pollution from spraying agrochemicals and from ammonia from industrial poultry units; greenhouse gases from the methane the livestock produce, fertiliser production and transport of feed. In addition, stocking animals at high densities of the same species leads to disease outbreaks. In many places, this is mitigated by routinely feeding antibiotics to livestock, but this is leading to the rise of antibiotic-resistant disease in both animals and humans.

The more I learnt (and there is more), the more I became convinced that industrial livestock production was not environmentally sound. I cared deeply about the world we live in, so because I could no longer eat meat without knowing how it was produced, I felt I needed to make sure that any meat I ate had been produced to good environmental standards.

So I did some research, and decided that certified organically farmed meat was  produced in much more sensitive ways, with much higher environmental and welfare standards than factory-farmed meat. So I decided to go ‘organic vegetarian’ – vegetarian, unless the meat was organic. Because organic farming has higher standards it costs more to produce, so is more expensive. So I therefore ended up eating less, but better quality, meat. I was not at all vegetarian, but I was eating many more vegetarian dishes, and eating vegetarian food or seafood when eating out. I got used to eating a wider variety of foods, and to the vibrant flavours in vegetarian cooking, though I still loved my meat.

I lived like this for a couple of years before it occurred to me (or I had to admit to myself!) that eggs and dairy were also factory farmed, so for consistency if I was going to cut out all my support for intensive livestock farming, I’d have to go organic there too.

And this is where things got tricky.

Milk and eggs are ingredients in a lot of foods. Reading labels to find out if they contained animal ingredients, and if so, how they had been produced, got boring and time consuming. And the social impact – having to ask, before anyone fed me, ‘Is it organic?’! Nope.

I was living this awkward ‘organic vegan’ lifestyle when I moved to my second university. And it was here I met several real-life vegans, including the man who became my boyfriend and then husband. They seemed to have it a lot easier than me! They didn’t spend hours in the shops scouring ingredients lists. They could shop and eat out in normal shops and restaurants. They didn’t have to ask socially awkward questions – a simple ‘I’m vegan’ sufficed to explain their diets. And they could eat chocolate!! I’d previously assumed being vegan was miserable and difficult, and probably unhealthy, but the reality I encountered was anything but!

So, I gave it a try. I was helped by the discovery that, to me at least, soya milk tasted far, far better than the cows’ milk I’d hated the taste of all my life! I missed and craved all sorts of animal-based things. But I made what turns out to have been a very wise decision to be extremely gracious with myself; if I had a craving (for cheese or pork for example), I would wait a short while to see if the craving went away (as it sometimes would). If it didn’t, I would allow myself to go and get some (if I could find it organic!), eat and enjoy it, and then, be vegan again the following day. I found over time the cravings got fewer and further between, and went away more quickly. I found I was having to give into them less and less, and eventually, after a couple of years, I found I just wasn’t feeling the need to buy animal-based foods. Today, whilst I do remember what animal-based foods were like and that I enjoyed them, it no more occurs to me to eat them as it would for me to eat cardboard. It doesn’t register to me as food.

The final straw was unexpected. I was on a train, passing through some beautiful countryside, where a few extremely sleek and contented looking cattle were happily grazing in a huge, open landscape. I thought to myself as I passed, ‘This is how farming should be…’, and was just beginning to feel pleased with myself when I heard God say to me, ‘So who are you to cut short those happy lives?’. Wow. I was hit with the compassion for animals that I’d never really experienced before. It was a perspective I’d not even thought of, that yes these animals were living happily on such farms, but that in demanding meat from them, I was taking that happy life away prematurely. So. No more meat.

Over that time I’d also learnt more and more recipes. I’d got a lot more creative and adventurous with my cooking (and started writing recipes!), finding ways to produce my favourite meals, desserts and snacks without animal ingredients. I actually put on a lot of weight (this was a positive, I’d been underweight for years), mostly I think from baking more than ever!

The last thing to go was the seafood; I’d been convinced for a long time that this was free from the concerns of factory farming, which was largely true for wild-caught fish at least. However, much of our seafood is also farmed, with similar associated problems, plus requiring huge amounts of wild-caught small fish for feed, to the detriment of seabird populations (as a bird lover this is the killer for me!). And wild caught seafoods have a myriad of associated environmental and ethical issues of their own. I realised, reluctantly, that this was also an ethical minefield I was best off out of. In my 24 years to that point I concluded I’d already eaten my fair share of the world’s fish stocks, so I decided to stop. That was a little sad; however, there is so much good food still out there for me it really hasn’t been a major loss. Including chocolate. 😉

Most foods are not made from animals at all, and are therefore on the menu. Almost everything that is can be replaced straightforwardly, especially if you have a good grasp of what flavours and ingredients suit the cuisine you are cooking. For a long time, the only things I couldn’t replace were cheese (for sandwiches and crackers – I could make cheesy sauces and substitute tahini for melted cheese in many recipes), meringues and seafood. Hardly a hardship, especially gotten used to over a period of many years as in my case.

When I went vegan a decade ago, veganism was about where vegetarianism had been in the 1970s – very much a minority lifestyle, seen as a bit unusual, not generally well understood, and you’d have to go to a vegetarian restaurant if you wanted a good meal out, though you could find something to eat in most places, especially if you looked them up beforehand and explained what you did and didn’t eat. There was great icecream and chocolate and yogurt and cream cheese available out there, in specialist shops mostly, but other ‘cheese’ substitutes resembled vanilla-and-Wotsit/Cheeto-flavoured plasticine!

Over the past decade, veganism has grown by over 350% in the UK, and the revolution has been really noticeable the past couple of years. Today veganism is about where vegetarianism was when my sister went veggie as a kid around 20 years ago; you could find something to eat almost anywhere, it was normal for a restaurant to have vegetarian options marked on the menu, sometimes including desserts, and there were a few lazy options like ready meals available if you searched, most people knew a vegetarian, and people generally knew what being vegetarian meant.

We’ve discovered that coconut cream whips like double cream, that the water from a can of chickpeas froths up just like egg white and makes a mean meringue (admit it, egg white is just as gross in its original form…), and even cheeze is becoming edible as some sort of cheese, even if it rarely resembles the particular variety of dairy cheese it claims to mimic. I now have a few brands I buy regularly, after almost a decade cheese-free! And oh how I am having to re-learn the art of self-control now that new vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants are opening up all over town, and café after bakery after tearoom, that I have to walk past every day, now serve irresistible vegan cakes..! Waistline expanding.

My favourite foods today are thai curries and stir fries, chocolate ganache pies, and pretty much anything involving roast aubergines! And pizza. Especially with veggie pepperoni. 😉

As now a relative old-school vegan I’m having to up my game with baking and cooking, and re-learn what I thought were my limits. But over the years I’ve also discovered more and more reasons I’m convinced that veganism is a step in the right direction; it’s no longer just about the environment, though that remains my passion; it’s about loving my global neighbours, about walking kindly alongside other species, about health, about my worship and that of the rest of creation, about understanding others with special diets, and about a love of food and creativity.

Let’s see where things head over the next ten years; I hope we can really begin to shape the world into something a little better.

Singing dangerous prayers against the darkness

God’s taken me and my church on an amazing worship journey these past few weeks. We’ve been studying the first letter of John, and singing all the dangerous prayers. It’s all felt extremely timely.

I’ve found it very difficult to write recently; the political situation we’re in is unlike anything I’ve seen before and evolving rapidly. I wonder what I can say into the face of it that won’t be an irrelevance a week later, or what I have to add to the clamour of voices already speaking loudly, especially when I don’t think any of us have navigated anything like this before and none of us entirely know the way. If I’m honest, I’m fumbling along in the dark trying to find what love looks like just as much as anyone else!

 

But then, into our chaos, God speaks.

 

The teaching in church over the last few weeks has looked at 1 John, which was written to a church suffering from the effects of false claims, which were causing division in the church. Truth itself was under attack, and the Christian community was finding itself fractured. So John writes to assure the church that there is a real truth we can be sure of, in Jesus, and then sets out how we can know it better.

If we want to know where to walk, we need light to be able to see the path. Walking in the light as he calls it is not about whether or not we are ‘saved’, but about how well we know God. We must press into God to see clearly. Honesty and accountability are the path to better relationships with one another and with God, and when we are able to live in total honest openness like this, the truth can be seen and known and division healed. Before we leapt to making judgements of others, we must look honestly at ourselves and see the roots of the same problems in us. And all can be forgiven!

Jesus is our standard against which we must measure truth and love. The more we know Him, the more we can discern these things. And His love, real love, is a love that sacrifices itself, its own interests, and its very life for others and for the benefit of the wider community.

We live in dark times, as truth is under attack and we are being divided against one another. But we can face down and overcome the darkness by striving for closeness with God, personal purity coupled with a transparency and humility that keeps us on the right track and helps build connection with others, and sacrificial love.

 

And then the worship! I don’t know how intentional this has been (I like to think it has been), but most of the songs we have been singing these past few weeks have been the surrender songs*. Big, dangerous prayers, reminding us that we follow a God who became a perfect example of surrendered sacrifice and who is worth everything, and committing ourselves to laying down our lives for God’s work in the world. I say dangerous, because if we really take what we sing seriously and are prepared to let God take us up on our words, we could find ourselves called into painfully sacrificial love for the benefit of God’s people and plans. Laying down our lives is going to hurt! But here we are singing these words, over and over, and I believe truly desiring God’s will be done in and through us, whatever the cost.

And it’s not just been music; on one week we looked back at the bold prayers we’d been encouraged to pray a few months earlier, and to be encouraged by the answers we’d seen to keep up the bold prayers. One week as part of our worship we spent a while praying over our involvement in the world and in politics, that we as a church can bring light into the world.

And a holy silence has descended between these powerful songs as we have sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit working in us. We can be a very reserved church at times, but it’s seemed the Spirit has been at work, breaking down our reservedness, and I’ve never heard this congregation sing so passionately or keep such profound silences.

 

It’s made me wonder about the implications for me personally; here I am, laying aside my claims to a career (which still eludes me) and an easy, comfortable life, and pledging myself to Christ in the battle for truth and love…. I just don’t know how my life and the world situations I find myself in will pan out. I’m aware it could get very difficult and unpleasant, but also that God is worth it all; though I wonder, am I brave enough, should it come to real sacrifice..?

But bigger than my own life, it has felt as if we are being commissioned as a community to face up to the darkness we face in this troubled world, and lay ourselves down in God’s service to work to bring light, and love, and truth, and restoration. Will we take up the call?

 

At the end of one of our worship sessions, an image came to me as we sang; I saw the church standing together, facing a great crowd of terrible dark monsters, but singing out against the darkness these songs of surrender. And the darkness cowered in fear as we sang!

 

* I mean, just look at these songs and lyrics! –
Jesus, be the centre (be my hope, be my song, be my path, be my guide, be the reason that I live…)
Jesus, all for Jesus (all I am and have and ever hope to be, all of my amvitions, hopes and plans, I surrender these into Your hands, for it’s only in Your will that I am free…)
Receive our adoration (we choose to leave it all behind and turn our eyes towards the prize, the upward call of God in Christ, You have our hearts, Lord, take our lives, receive our adoration Jesus, Lamb (sacrifice) of God, how wonderful You are…)
Amazing grace
Blessed be Your name (You give and take away, my heart will choose to say blessed be Your name…)
I surrender all I am to the Saviour who surrendered all for me
Take my life and let it be…
Mighty to save (take me as You find me, all my fears and failures, fill my life again, I give my life to follow everything I believe in, now I surrender…)
This is my desire (I give You my heart, I give You my soul, I live for You alone, every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake, Lord have Your way in me…)
All to Jesus I surrender…
Jesus, lover of my soul (it’s not about me, as if You should do things my way, You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways…)

Guilt and innocence

Last month I was found guilty by a court for taking part in an action I firmly believe was right by God (more about that here), and I got thinking about what that means, to be on the one hand judged guilty, and on the other, innocent.

I’m sure as far as UK law goes that the judge was right to find us guilty, but my conscience is clean; I’m aware there is a Law higher than UK law. It’s a strange thing to know that you’re breaking the law, but acting within the greater Law, to know in fact that for you, you would be breaking that greater Law to remain within the immediate law. Our legal case was thin, but our moral case was strong.

Our human courts are themselves subject to a higher law of justice; God’s Law. What does it really mean to be found guilty by a human court, when under God’s authority you are innocent? To me it’s more important that I am found innocent under God’s Law than under human law. This is far better than to be innocent according to human law, but guilty in the eyes of God, even when human punishment and God’s mercy and forgiveness are taken into account. I want to be actively living in God’s service, a living sacrifice, sacrificing my rights and freedoms where necessary to live a life that better honours God. Heaven’s perspective is far more important than earth’s.

It’s a funny thing; this is considered a ‘loss of good character’ by the courts. And yet, in the Kingdom of God, what ‘good character’ did I have? I began guilty, from the first moment I had the smallest selfish thought, and I’ve proved over and over again that my character is capable of terrible things as well as great good. I had already broken the greater Law before I’d spoken a word. Christ alone is my innocence. When I handed my life over to Him I was joined to His innocent status before God, regardless of the flaws already present in my character. Through the Holy Spirit’s work in me, I can see His good character increasing in me, and that includes the surrender and submission to Him that led to this, the passion for His Kingdom of true justice that drives me, the integrity that drives out fear. Trust me, I have an extraordinarily long way to go before I’m ‘there’, and there’s still plenty of bad in my character. But that was already there, and this action and subsequent judgement have certainly not increased it. My conscience is clean before God in this.

This was a small way of ‘burning bridges’ or ‘faking my own death’. I hope gaining a criminal record helps me stop fearing human authority and learn a greater ‘fear’ (awe) of God, die to human law and live more consciously under God’s rule (which will almost always mean keeping human law – but not always). There are times following Christ may result in a criminal record – after all, that was His journey, He Himself had one – in which case, that record cannot stand in the way of His plans for our future. So I need to be able to step out where He calls me and not be tied down by fear. This is part of the journey. I hope I am faithful to following where He leads me from here, whatever that looks like, and that His good character continues to increase in me.

Tracking down hope

Am I hopeful about climate change? Am I hopeful about making a difference?

These questions have come to me a lot recently, asked implicitly or explicitly by fellow activists, and recurring at the back of my own mind.

I think I am. And it’s really hard to pin down why, and exactly where this hope is pinned.

I have no faith in people, or the political process. I don’t see that we can fix this on our own, or without us all changing in fundamental ways. I believe what we do does have a significance, but I’m under no illusions that myself or any of us can really turn things around in a big way; we’re too small. My hope isn’t in our plans, efforts or campaigns. But neither is my hope in some vague idea that God will intervene, or that everything will be alright ‘once we get to heaven’. I am hopeful for this world, and I don’t believe that God (usually) intervenes with our mess.

That rules out pretty much everything! So why am I hopeful, and where?

There is an ultimate hope in the coming of God’s kingdom of restored relationships, when relationships between God and humans and all things will be set right, which I honestly believe is coming (see Romans 8, Colossians 1). But my hope now in how we get there from here is far beyond anything our plans could achieve.

I think my hope is in Jesus, at work in the world through the Church*; that as we are faithful to Him and work hard at serving Him and getting to know Him, gradually, collectively we will ‘get it’, and that some day the Church will come through and the world will be restored. So the answer in a way is ‘end times’ and ‘God’ – but not in a straightforward way, instead via a process, and through us, collectively. It depends on me, and all of us, but not as individuals. Not one of us individually can grasp it and get it right or have the answer, or even make all that much of a difference, but we are all part of the searching and the faithfulness that will lead us there.

We’re a long way off this today. It’s a long process, and I don’t think the early Church realised how long it could take for us to be changed as a body into what we were made to be. Whilst the process continues, there will be a lot more pain, brokenness and disasters, but I really believe God is working through the Church, leading us in the direction that will one day mean that God can set the world right through us.

So probably I am not too hopeful in the short term, nor in myself being able to directly make too much of a difference. But I am hopeful in a long term sense, and I believe it’s for me to stay faithful in actively following and seeking God in this, and doing all I can in response to what I see God doing, even when it means sacrifice. If I do, I will be part of the process that will eventually see us, collectively, make this and everything well.

*in its broadest sense

Romans 8

This was written a couple of years ago for a follow-up blog to a workshop on prayer I ran for the SPEAK Network*, but it’s something I’ve continued to think about to the point at which this passage has become probably my favourite part of the Bible. Some conversations I’ve had with friends recently about this incredible passage have made me feel I need to share my take on it again here; I hope these thoughts on prayer are as helpful to you as they have been to me:

I’ve been struggling a lot with prayer recently. I’ve been finding it easy to get overwhelmed by the mess everything’s in, and the need for prayer, and not known where to start. A friend asked me how my prayer life is, and I told him that, honestly, it hadn’t been in great shape – I’ve been unable to pray and have just been feeling overwhelmed by it all and going ‘oh God!’ silently in God’s vague direction. And he said to me, ‘But isn’t that a form of prayer?’. And it made me think – actually, maybe somewhere in this, I’ve been meeting God. Somewhere, God’s been feeling the pain with me. And then I re-discovered Romans 8.

Romans 8 is a huge chapter full of all sorts of gold and big ideas, and I recommend giving it a good read through, but what jumped out at me on this occasion was that here is the reason that my ‘oh God!’s are a form of prayer, and an important one too. Here is a description of a process that begins in God’s intimate presence, moves us through a painful identification with the brokenness of the world, and then out into becoming part of the solution and salvation of it all.

It all starts when we open ourselves up to God, and becoming close to God. The more we do, the more the Holy Spirit is able to work in us as we become more open to becoming more like Jesus. We develop a closeness with Jesus as we spend time with Him, and we see just how inspiring He is, and He begins to work transformation in us. The Holy Spirit in us begins to help us share His experiences, and we develop a very real sense of how close God is to us.

The trouble is, opening ourselves up to seeing the world and ourselves through Christ’s eyes, and sharing His experiences leaves us open not only to the love and closeness of God, but also opens our eyes and hearts to the brokenness of all we are and are surrounded by. In Jesus we see our own potential and that of the world; but we also see things clearly as they are in their messed up state, and it is heart-breaking. I can look at my own life; I’ve been a Christian for over 15 years now, but I’m still struggling with a lot of the same things I was struggling with 15 years ago, like negativity, grudges, inertia and anger. When I’m close to Jesus I realise that I don’t look 15 years more like Him than I did when I began. And I see more clearly how far everything is from His plans; my family and friends are struggling with their work, health and relationships, and the whole world is failing to deal with poverty, hunger, loss of biodiversity, conflict, and supremely climate change. Even the little things that show that this is not the way things are meant to be stand out so clearly; I notice how much everyone seems to be in a rush, I notice the emptiness of our 9-5 lifestyles, I notice how many areas are run down and dirty, I notice rubbish. I begin to see entropy everywhere and it feels overwhelming. This is the ‘groan’ of the earth – and us tuning in to it. And when we do open ourselves up, tune in and allow the pain to affect us, prayer happens. All we can do in that moment is go ‘oh God..!’. And in that moment, the Holy Spirit in us joins with us in lifting that groan up to God.

But it doesn’t stop there. Romans 8 dives off into the depths of mystery at this point; somehow, through this process of sharing God’s closeness and Christ’s pain, the Spirit in us works our salvation, our transformation. And (this is the really incredible bit) somehow our salvation brings hope to the world, and not just the vague ‘I wish…’ kind of hope we often talk about, but the real, gritty hope that’s backed up by real evidence of change and firm promises. All of that entropy, all that groans, all the brokenness, is somehow being transformed through us! It’s mindblowing. A clue comes in verse 28 in the Good News translation. A lot of versions translate it something like ‘God makes all things work together for good for those who love Him’, but the Good News has it ‘in all things God works for good with those who love Him’. That makes a lot more sense to me in the context of the passage. This is prayer that opens us up to God’s plans for the world, and makes us vulnerable to God’s purposes. We become changed, and driven to bring change. And this is promised to eventually reverse this entropy in the whole of creation!

So, what can we do with this? I’ve been thinking a lot on the following questions to work out where I fit in, since re-reading Romans 8, and I hope they are helpful questions for you as you try to discover your place in it too:

  • What helps you draw close to God? Where/when do you feel a close relationship with God?
  • Where do you feel the groan the clearest? What places/circumstances/practices put you most in touch with the pain of the world?
  • How do we then bring the pain to God? What helps?

Let’s try to open ourselves up more to God’s work in us, and know that ‘in all these things we have complete victory through Him who loved us!’


*Excepting a few minor edits and updates, this was originally published here in 2013

My tour of The Wonderlands, part 5: Mannheim, and reflections on the journey

(The last of five posts from my adventures: Part 4 here)

Mannheim, 4th June: My final show

We went straight from Munich to see friends in Freiburg in southern Germany for a few days, during which we were seeing Switchfoot for the last time in Mannheim, just to the north. We had a fun few days there in extremely hot weather, lake swimming and exploring the area.

The gig day felt like the hottest day possible! We found a tour poster on a billboard right outside the venue, so M got a photo of me next to it, with the venue and tourbus in the background, wearing my (signed!) Spring t-shirt and other fan gear 🙂 We were totally melting in the heat both on the way there, and waiting in the queue outside in the sun.

But – we connected!! 🙂

This time they opened the set with When We Come Alive, which was really nice. I didn’t capture the set list this time but they also played Meant To Live, Stars, Love Alone Is Worth the Fight (during which Jon came over to where I was stood at the side of the stage and sang part of it ‘to me’, holding eye contact with me till I broke out in a huge silly grin before moving on :D), Dark Horses, Who We Are, Hello Hurricane (with a very surreal intro with drummer Chad on his own!!), Dare You To Move, The Sound, Let It Out and Your Love Is A Song. We were also given a new version of The World You Want, (somewhat imperfect video here!) which was really, really nice. That’s a song that I find very inspiring already, so it was great to get a new version that was even better than the original.

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As an encore they finally played us BA55 – it was total immersion in sound, complete bliss 😀 I just stretched my hands up and soaked in it 🙂 And then Where I Belong – I got the banner out as soon as it was clear they were about to play it and Jon came straight over and took it, and commented on it again, held it up, and looked at me for a moment, then looked round the crowd and spoke about how he’d met people from all over Europe on this tour, and so many new family… 🙂

The crowd was really hyped up again, less insanely energetic than the Vienna crowd but just – they wouldn’t stop!! Any song they could keep on singing they did, Love Alone wouldn’t end, as they kept ‘ooh’ing and Jon had to pick it up again and end it twice 😀 At the end they kept singing Hello Hurricane until they got an encore, and then wouldn’t stop singing ‘oh ay ohh ohh’ from Where I Belong afterwards, even after the second encore (We Are One Tonight/Shadow Proves The Sunshine), even when the crew were packing down the stage! They kept it up without faltering for at least 15mins, until Jon was ‘deployed’ from the stage to clear the venue by means of aftershow!! 😀 😀

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The aftershow was beautiful again! I was at the back of the venue as Jon came out from the stage; I lost him in the crowd pushing to the door but happened to end up right behind him going out, so was right at the front for the aftershow for once 🙂 He played on the grass bank outside the venue, by the road (resulting in much comedy from loud passing traffic). We got Only Hope, Vice Verses, Terminal (‘this one’s even softer – you’re probably the only one who’s going to be able to hear it!’ ‘well, fine with me, it’s my favourite song of the moment!’), This Is Home, and Your Love Is Strong.

Afterwards since I was right at the front I jumped straight in with my chance to hand him my thank you card, but he was thanking me again and I found myself clasping his hand and telling him how much it meant to me – I couldn’t let him ‘out-thank’ me again. However much appreciation I was giving to him, I was getting it back for just being there, I couldn’t out-give the guy! Incredibly I *almost* got a shout out in front of the whole crowd from Jon for being at so many shows, (I forget exactly what he said, I was in shock, but it was along the lines of ‘this girl… she has been here the whole…’) but he got interrupted by someone asking if he’d bring Fiction Family over here 😀 Which I seconded! 😀 Probably good he was interrupted, I think I’d have fallen through the floor! I was so glad I’d written that card!

I can’t remember how but we ended up in pretty much normal conversation briefly as he went to leave, I said it was my last show of the tour, and he asked which had been the best – either this one or Edinburgh, and then said goodbye, and I let him go this time. It felt like a total breakthrough!!!

Then things got surreal – I ended up waiting with M and a couple of others for the bus to leave, but everyone was super relaxed so it was ages this time! Some German guys started singing spirituals on the grass, M and I joined in; the bus driver came out and did a silly dance to our singing, and then whacked ACDC loud on the bus speakers, at which M went off headbanging and air guitarring! We sat on the grass under the Where I Belong banner whilst the bus driver and Ike joked about. Then the guys came out one by one, Jerome first to chat to us all, he came up to me and thanked me, he’d read my card too! 😀 I shook hands with them all, thanked them again, managed to have a funny conversation with Drew since he was in smiley mode, and then a final thank you and goodbye to Jon. As the bus pulled out we noticed someone had written ‘SWITCHFOOT’ and ‘I made a mess of me’ in the dirt on the back 😀

We went and sat by the river, waiting for our 4am train back to Freiburg, M praying with his hands in the water as he sometimes does to mark journeys, me wearing my Where I Belong banner and trying to process what just happened 🙂 All the bittersweet had gone, all was well.

‘Forget sad; I’ll stick with happy’ 🙂

A song for part 5


A Postscript:

So; my reflections on the whole experience:

I think sometimes we don’t know how broken we are till we are healed, or how much of a weight we’re carrying around till it’s lifted.

It’s no less strange to me than it is to you that I should feel like this essentially about music, but the fact stands. Jon Foreman’s work has been so much a part of my life for almost half my life that never expressing the appreciation I have for him and all he does had become a huge burden on my soul, and I’m now feeling such an incredible sense of peace, freedom and release.

This couple of weeks has been an amazing journey, more so within me than the physical journey around Europe. I began as an awkward, emotional, freaking out fangirl, with Jon being very patient and gracious with me but, I sensed, wisely just a little wary of me too. By the end of the trip there had been a real breakthrough; I was, and am, still in awe of him but it all felt a lot more comfortable. I was getting genuine smiles of recognition, semi-normal conversation, and a sense that he was really feeling loved and grateful for the support I was giving. It blows me away to think how quickly and easily things turned around, after all these years and all my worrying, and that I broke through into not just making contact with him but actually finding myself ‘in the family’, a precious middle ground between random fan in the crowd and genuine friendship that I don’t think I’d fully appreciated even existed before it happened. Nothing that happened was outside of Jon’s standard behaviour with fans; he’s famously very good with us, I’m not special, and I don’t care! But what it meant to me was that my message had got through, and that means everything to me.

I’m going to slip into religious language, not because I think this guy’s the messiah; far from it! But it seems the best language I can find to describe what happened. And he is my saint, in the best possible sense, not someone perfect and unreachable, but an ordinary, imperfect human being who is just a little further along the journey in most respects, and whose example and ‘teaching’ is pointing me in the right direction and showing me The Way.

Anyway. This journey has been a pilgrimage of repentance, and a quest to atone for my past failings as a fan. I could never have hoped for as much grace as my repentance has been met with, to be not just forgiven but to feel like none of that matters any more, that I have a new start and am accepted as ‘family’, with thankfulness coming back at me as fast as I can give it away. I feel like I’ve been able to make back a lot of lost time, and that I’ve brought the fan relationship right up to date. I’ve now seen Switchfoot six times in 15 years, during which I’ve met them to say thank you four times, and they know I’ve been supporting them all this time, and know what some of their music has meant to me over the years. Far from being over, it starts here, whatever I’ve been before, right now, I am part of the fan family and will continue to behave like I am. So much grace, it’s overwhelming.

And God’s grace behind it! The whole experience has brought the love and grace of God home to me so powerfully as a faint picture of how he relates to us, responding to our every attempt to reach out to God in love with ever more love towards us, a dance in which God is always a step ahead. Perhaps in our own imperfect way we’re picking up the steps of this infectious dance. It’s unthinkable that God could care about such a ridiculous aspect of my life, and yet God does care! All the time we were singing Your Love Is Strong it struck me as I sang ‘You know what I need’ that God really does know what I need, and was supplying it freely, and the whole experience has given me new insights into God’s grace, reminders of the greater redemption I’ve experienced in Jesus’ acceptance of me.

Every breath is a second chance 🙂