Category Archives: Personal

Dawn

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Dark Night

This is going to be the last post in the Dark Night series, because last week, my Dark Night came to an end.

I have come out of this time with a new appreciation for God’s love for the NPCs (Non-Player Characters) – the people I refer to as the ‘Grey people’.

So, I’d got involved in yet another battle with a Grey person* (one of the ongoing things I am learning in this regard is that of knowing when to engage and when not to!) In this instance, there was yet another awkward, aggressive and hostile person on the Disqus discussion for a particular Patheos post, and this NPC was true to form in his programming and his nasty attitude. And so I blocked him; this is something I do for self-preservation when it is obvious that there is nothing at all positive to be gained by continued engagement.

Relating this adventure to like-minded people in one of my Facebook groups, the discussion went something like this:

Me: “I find that talking with these people (either ftf or online) leaves me with a weird feeling. It’s like hurt mixed with sadness…I wonder how anyone can still consider themselves sane when they talk like they do, and I feel really sorry for them too. I think God is changing me, though; up until only a couple of days ago, I wanted to stuff all their heads in a meat grinder…”

[FB Friend]: “Up until a couple of days ago?!”

Me: “Yes; I remember reading this bloke’s comments just before I blocked him…for some reason I couldn’t get him out of my mind, not just the disturbing stuff he’d written, but also I began to feel a deep sadness for his situation, being so, so tied up and having that deep, sharp-edged hardness of heart. That was how it felt. I felt a really deep compassion for the guy and actually had to pray for him, which isn’t something I do all that often at all. I really have to feel it’s something Father is doing to do that. I have no idea what happened after that because, as I said, I blocked him for my own mental protection. But yes, this bloke I actually didn’t want to put in the meat grinder. It’s something I have been asking God about in this latest Dark Night of the Soul I am going through. I am wanting Him to give me a compassion for these jerks (see I’m not there yet! ๐Ÿ˜€) because they are so missing the mark and missing out on all that God has for them.”

Since that exchange, I have had a very frank discussion with another guy who was acting like a jerk, and I found that I could show compassion and actually have a civil conversation with him. That was no doubt to his credit as much as mine, and I’m sure not all such people would be that receptive to my Grace-full attitude, but still it was encouraging. If nothing else, I feel that God has given me a deep compassion for the Grey people.

I think that our transformation happens when we deal with the real issues. Wm. Paul Young, author of ‘The Shack‘, expresses it by saying that we each have to go through our own ‘Shack’; the place where all the hurt and damage is. In a way, we have to confront our inner ‘Shack’ in order to come through. I’m not sure that’s the case for every human being – I have never been a proponent of any kind of ‘one size fits all’ approach – but it may be the case for some of my readers. My online friend David expresses this individuality like this:

Everybody is different and should be considered (loved) as the unique individual that they are. Also each person has their own unique understanding of who God is, that is fine and to be welcomed, we can all learn from each other.

“Just as each child in a family will have a slightly different view of their father, we can each have a different view of God; ideally whilst all believing that He is a good and loving Father.

“People feel unloved when they are not respected for the unique individual that they are and for the unique beliefs that they hold. I believe God desires that everyone should feel loved, loved by Him and loved by those around them”

Anyway, my real issue, at that time, was the Grey people. Then, as I said above, one day God gave me that real compassion for that one particular person. His Grace was indeed sufficient for me when dealing with the fallout from that person, even though he was a ‘thorn in the flesh’ to me (2Cor 12:7-9) in a very real sense.

I wonder if more of my future dealings with Grey people will be more gracious. Let’s see what happens when this new compassion is tested again! Not that the Grey people are my primary reasons for posting the things I do; my main aim is to encourage those broken and damaged by the Grey people, which explains why my writing stirs up their ire! But so often the Grey people are ‘damaged’ too and also need encouragement – but in Christ, not in their own systems. Once they let Jesus in, He can sort out their doctrines; that’s neither my field nor my responsibility! So, at the very least, I hope that this new compassion helps me to stay gracious with the Grey people. And I also hope that the new attitude helps prevent me from getting damaged, which I think is at least half the point.

Also, I need to remember that many, many more people read what we write than I can possibly imagine. This writing is for them; to show them that there is Grace in the midst of horror, and that there are people who believe that God is not angry, and they don’t depict an angry god either by coming across as such themselves.

I don’t think this post would be complete without giving you at least some idea of the kind of vitriol that the Grey people can generate. If you feel you haven’t the stomach for this, then by all means miss it out; it is there solely for the purposes of illustration.

I have just read some criticisms of The Shack in the comments on this particular YouTube video, and the vitriol of the Grey people who react so violently against one commenter in particular (chap called Loren) is just incredible. Here is the link to some of their stuff. The people who criticise The Shack here have not even read the book – with the notable and creditable exception of Pastor Quintana who is preaching in the video itself. Not that I agree with him, but at least he’s read the book. Most critics of ‘The Shack‘ haven’t even done that…

But despite all this, I do feel that I have a new compassion for the Grey people. Interestingly, I still have no interest in attending church services, which for me has always been a marker for a Dark Night. Maybe this one is different; I would not be surprised, since God does things differently each time. It makes it far more interesting ๐Ÿ˜‰

But I do now have a renewed sense of the presence of God, with me all the time, feeling close to Him once again and able to hear His voice. The worst part of any Dark Night of the Soul is the absence of the formerly permanent sense of the presence of God. The return of that sense of Presence is, for me, the main sign of the end of this particular Night.

Although I have enjoyed watching how it all works, I can’t say I’m sorry it’s finished.

Until the next one, of course! ๐Ÿ˜€


*I use the phrase ‘Grey people’ because I need a term by which to refer to them, but saying something like ‘these people’ makes it sound as if it’s an ‘us and them’ dynamic. It’s not. And it’s intended to be descriptive rather than derogatory, although I appreciate that some might see it as an insult. For a full explanation of the term, please see my earlier post Dark Night – The NPCs

10

Oases of Light

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Dark Night

In this Dark Night of the Soul, I am having a lot of interesting insights.

Although at the moment I don’t always feel the burning Presence of God all the time like I usually can, He still gently reminds me – every so often – that He’s still there and still holding my hand.

I think of these reminders as oases of light in the dark valley. Or like pools of lamplight on a dark street, like in the header picture, which I think depicts the concept beautifully.

There are two recent examples in particular which stand out for me.

A couple of mornings ago, I woke up having just been in a dream in which I had been singing the chorus of the Don Francisco song, ‘The Power‘, with my hands lifted high in praise and gratitude. Singing the words, “Praise You, Jesus, for Your Holy Spirit!

In the dream, I knew that the song was just as real to me as it has always been, Dark Night notwithstanding. The dream, and the song within it, served to remind me of my deep knowledge that the Spirit of God lives within me, and that She is the guarantee of my inheritance in the Kingdom, both in the here and now, and in the hereafter too (2Cor 1:22, Eph 1:14). And I could indeed feel the ‘flood of joy’ that Don describes in his song. Ok, it was ‘just a dream’, but it was a dream that I needed and a dream that bore fruit. I have absolutely no doubt that it was from the Lord.

And then today a box of old worship tapes arrived, from a very kind lady who had contacted me through my website ‘Vintage Worship Tapes, with a view to donating some tapes to the ‘ministry’. In the box was a copy of the tape ‘Thank You Lord’, by David J Hadden, whose work I have featured on my blog before. The title track, unsurprisingly called ‘Thank You, Lord‘, I have known for about thirty years, but only today have I heard David’s own version of it. I’ve even previously shared the words for the song, but been unable to publish the audio track until now – because, of course, I didn’t have it! – but today I have made an mp3 track of the song and I share it with you below, along with the lyrics. But the thing is that the song has lifted me up again, on the back of the Don Francisco song and now this David Hadden song, and once again the joy is there and it’s real.

I don’t know if this is the end of the Dark Night or not; certainly it doesn’t feel as decisive as the last time I ’emerged’, five years ago, in February 2014. Here’s what I wrote on that day:

“What a morning. First time voluntarily in a church for fifteen years, and getting thoroughly zapped by God: weeping, laughing, complete acceptance, forgiveness. Wow, wow, wow! Going again tonight hehe

It’s not like that this time! But then I appreciate that each time is going to be different. That said, I don’t feel like everything is sorted yet anyway, so we’ll wait and see. But for those of my readers going through a Dark Night of your own, and for those who simply wanted to get my perspective from within the valley, I thought I would post this today so that you have the information. I think it’s quite fascinating and in some ways this writing of these experiences here on my blog is enabling me to observe what is happening with a more analytical eye. And I trust that many of you are finding it useful. You see, there are oases of light in the dark valley, and God will lead you to them.

Anyhow, here’s David’s song, ‘Thank You, Lord‘, shared here with his gracious permission:

When I consider all you mean to me
My heart responds in worship
The songs youโ€™ve given me, O Lord to sing
Theyโ€™re songs of worship
Theyโ€™re songs of praise
Theyโ€™re songs of gratitude

Thank you Lord
Thank you Lord
Thank you from the bottom of my heart
Thank you Lord
Thank you Lord
Thank you from the bottom of my heart

You mean so much to me my God and King
My heart is full of worship
I long to bless you and to build a throne
Through my songs of worship
Through my songs of praise
Through my songs of gratitude

Thank you Lordโ€ฆโ€ฆโ€ฆ.

Great is the Lord and worthy of your praise
His name endures for ever
People of Zion come and sing your songs
Sing your songs of worship
Sing your songs of praise
Sing your songs of gratitude

Thank you Lordโ€ฆโ€ฆโ€ฆ.

(Words and music copyright David J. Hadden, 1985, used here with his kind permission)*.

 

Even as I Iisten to this song right now, it’s moving me to tears of gratitude, and to grateful worship, and to raising my hands in thanksgiving. I am just so grateful to Father for what He’s doing with me at this time.

And I am so especially grateful for these oases of light.

Thank You Lord, indeed ๐Ÿ˜€

Peace and Grace to you


*David is the lead vocalist on the track, and he’s also playing the keyboards and piano.

10

Dark Night – The View From Here

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Dark Night

I said in the comments to a previous post that I would write as much as I can about the process of Dark Night of the Soul which I am currently in.

First of all, I had to determine whether or not I am actually undergoing what I think I am undergoing. While there is no clearly defined set of parameters to diagnose the Dark Night, I have to say that, personally, this is what it feels like to me, that I am indeed in a Dark Night. I have no interest in church things. The songs of the Kingdom do not hold the same apparent meaning for me that they did only a few weeks ago. And I currently have little interest in developing my own thoughts and ideas on the things of God; I am happy to consider others’ ideas and post them on here, but my own ideas and developing theology are, almost by definition, hidden during the Dark Night.

So, let me begin by saying that I don’t think we should mistake this time for anything resembling true clinical depression or ‘feeling down’. I am not depressed; I have seen that close up in other people, and I know what it looks like, and it’s definitely not that. I’m not even fed-up in any way; life is fun, interesting and entertaining. Lots to do, lots to enjoy, lots to look forward to. Sure, I am going through a tough time in my life at the moment, but I would like to think that this does not affect my spiritual life. That spiritual life held me firm and fast during the trauma of my wife Fiona’s illness and loss, and through the time after that. Since losing Fiona, indeed, my faith has never been stronger. If it can survive that catastrophic loss, it can survive anything!

As I hinted in the previous paragraph, this particular Dark Night has begun at a time when I am finding life to be very difficult. In particular, I am feeling Fiona’s loss extremely strongly; I am going through another phase in the ongoing grieving process. It’s been nearly two and a half years, and I am not through it yet. I probably never will be. Also, My parents have had to go into a nursing home, and that has opened up all kinds of ramifications and thoughts that I have found most disturbing. And in a more minor, yet still disappointing, role, I was ill in the last two months of last year, so I had to ground myself and was unable to fly. This might sound trivial, but flying is my stress-buster, and I find a release in my flying that simply doesn’t happen down here on the ground. Especially galling about that illness was that I was unable to take advantage of the really dark part of the night flying season*, which I love doing so much. I love flying, of course, but night flying holds a special place for me since learning how to fly at night in late 2017. I have in fact managed to fly only about 1.4 hours at night this season, but that’s better than nothing.

And yet, despite all that, I don’t think that this current Dark Night has been actually caused by these things; rather I think these things have happened around the time of an already existing Dark Night. That said, as I have said in a previous article, sometimes a Dark Night can be precipitated by big life changes and/or big – even momentous – events, and I suppose that could have been part of what happened.

I would also say that my faith is still strong; only the other day, I responded to a commenter with an affirmation of my belief and position in God, and that in itself I found profoundly uplifting. Although I do not at this present time feel the constant furnace-hot sense of His presence, I do not doubt that He is there, and part of the Dark Night, for me at least, is to trust that He is indeed there, because that’s where He always has been. I find I can still trust that God is present.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at what I do know I believe. I do not anticipate any of these things to change during this Dark Night, because they are things that have been revealed directly to me by God.

  • I know that God exists, that He loves me, and that He fully approves of me.
  • I know that “it is finished” (John 19:30). I know that there is nothing I need to do, continue to do, achieve or even be that will make me any more acceptable to God than I am already. Conversely, I know that nothing I can do, say, achieve or be that will make me any less acceptable to God.
  • I know that I am a child of God. I know this beyond a shadow of any doubt.
  • I also know that I am ‘in Christ’. This too I know beyond a shadow of any doubt.
  • I know that He is walking with me on this path, because He has done it before and He doesn’t change.

With these things in my mind and my heart, I walk this path with confidence and full security and assurance. My previous experience as a believer and as a child of God justifies me in this confidence, which I am sure is not misplaced.

Without wanting to Scripture-bomb you, let me leave you with some verses which I consider relevant, and which I have found to be true in my own experience:

(Ps 23:4)

(Jude 24)

(Phil 1:6 (KJV))

In my next post in this series, whenever that may be, I will describe some more of the things that I am feeling and thinking in this time.

Until then, Peace and Grace to you.

 


Header picture shows the view on final approach to Exeter’s Runway 26, at night, December 18th, 2017. This truly is an example of the view in the dark!


*The ‘night flying season’, because Exeter Airport (along with many other regional airports) closes at 1900 local time, so this means that there are only a few months of the year where there’s enough hours of darkness to be able to do proper night flying.

Roll on October… ๐Ÿ˜‰

10

Thinking In the Box

About twenty years ago, my lovely wife Fiona was making enquiries about going to a Bible week* – can’t remember whether it was Stoneleigh or New Wine, or even something else – and she was going to go with her friend Yvonne. In the end, they didn’t go, for whatever reason.

Anyway, as part of the ‘registration’ process, there was a couple of pages of Rules. Like, please keep quiet after 10:00pm, no cars allowed on site after initial unloading, no alcohol, please don’t block the toilets, that sort of thing.

One of the Rules, though, was a bit of a Legalism thing. Bearing in mind that, at the time, I had just begun my major detoxification-from-Fundagelicalism event which lasted fifteen years, so it was a bit of a trigger…

This particular Rule was that no unmarried, mixed couples were allowed to share a tent.

So, I guess if you’d wanted to go along with your fiancรฉ/fiancรฉe, forget it: it’s separate tents or no dice.

Quite who was going to police this Rule (and how they were going to do it) was not specified ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anyway, I simply couldn’t resist it. I wrote to their admin people and asked if it was alright if I and my gay partner were allowed to share a tent, despite not being married (I don’t think gay marriage/civil partnerships were even a thing back then!) pointing out that given the Rules as written, we would still be ok as we were a same-sex couple/unmarried, rather than a mixed couple/unmarried..

No reply was forthcoming.

And so I wrote to them again expressing disappointment that my question had not been taken seriously/answered, and emphasising that because we were not a mixed couple, we would be abiding by the Rules and therefore where’s the problem?

Still no response.

I wonder why.

Maybe those religious people were in a ‘box’, perchance?

Still, that lack of any response was a great help for me in my deconstruction, illustrating that not only were such Rules ‘doctrines made by men’ (Mt 15:9) but also that, when it really came down to it, nobody in those religious groups ever think things through to their logical conclusions, probably because they’re not allowed to.

I still laugh about it now, of course. And it makes an excellent after-dinner joke amongst like-minded believers


*For those who don’t know, a Bible Week is a sort of Christian rally where thousands of Evangelical (usually) Christians have like a camping week, usually at an agricultural showground (because of good space and facilities). It’s usually in the summer, and it usually rains. The program normally goes something like this. Mornings: workshops and/or seminars where people can attend teaching sessions or learn basket-making. Or how to lead worship or write songs, as if people can do that without the proper gifting… Usually the workshops are quite arty-farty things and very rarely anything scientific (of course), although one I went to in 1984 (Festival ’84) at Staffordshire County Showground did, uniquely, have a workshop on Amateur Radio, which led me on to eventually qualifying as a Radio Amateur; Afternoons: Free to roam the surrounding area just like normal tourists; Evenings: An extended worship and sermon session (very much like a long Charismatic church service, which is not normally as bad as it sounds. In fact, they were good fun (although the sermons were usually boring) and we always used to learn lots of great new songs there. Then, after a week of that, its pack up your tent and join the traffic jam to get off the site. That’s a Bible week.

Here’s a link to New Wine’s website; their camping events are called ‘United’. Probably means you have to fit in in order to be allowed to go ๐Ÿ˜‰

10

Dark Night – The NPCs

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Dark Night

For anย  explanation as to why I have a row of Mormon boys as my header image, please see the footnotes ๐Ÿ˜‰

In my last post, Theophilus*, I described how I feel like I am about to embark on another Dark Night of the Soul. While I could be wrong, of course, I did describe it as such because I felt I recognised the signs of its approach.

In the comments for that post, regular reader Jeremy suggested I try to blog a little on what my thoughts are, which would be helpful and interesting. I think that really is an excellent idea, because that then means that someone with a keen observational mind and an analytical brain (me!) would be making those observations and writing them down for others. The only downside to the idea is that the Dark Night might involve taking time off blogging or even taking time off thinking and observing too much. Sometimes the idea of the Dark Night is to take time off of having any commitments at all, so, subject to those caveats, I will do what I can. And I’m going to make it into a ‘series’ so as to keep the posts indexed in some fashion.

Let me make it clear right from the start that this Dark Night is not some form of depression or other mental illness. It is a normal and healthy part of spiritual growth, and, because I have been through it before, I am genuinely looking forward to the experience itself and also to the fruits it will produce. Granted, I am still heartsick from my loss of Fiona – even though that’s now 28 months ago – but this is a different thing entirely. This is spiritual, not emotional, and going through times like this only serves to highlight the difference.

Now, to my observations.

The primary observation at the present time is this: this particular Dark Night has been-precipitated, as was my first one, as a result of interactions with nasty grey legalistic people, my reactions to them, and the need to change my attitudes in my dealings with them. So, dealing with these people. And I need to spend time away from them. Fortunately, unlike those who have these people in their immediate families, I have the luxury of being able to remove myself from them.

My son refers to these people as NPCs. ‘Non-Player Characters’, you know, like in a video game. Every time you approach one of these in-game characters, they act all familiar and ‘Hey how are you, buddy?’ like they’ve known your game character all his life. If you come back to them in-game after half an hour or so, they say the exact same thing – because of course they are programmed to. And that’s what these people are like; they are programmed with all the ‘right phrases’ that they trot out willy-nilly and – more worryingly – they also have all the same programmed attitudes. It’s almost as if they have no colour; no personality. The NPCs. What a great analogy.

As my readers will know, about twenty years ago, my first Dark Night began, in which I avoided all church things like I would Flat Earthers ๐Ÿ˜‰ Every time I went in a church, it reminded me of why I didn’t! That Dark Night lasted fifteen years as I was detoxed from all the harmful attitudes that my twenty-one years as an Evangelical Fundamentalist had given me.

Five years ago, I had a dramatic re-entry into the ‘things of God’ (although I was never really away from Him per se) and He has carried me through losing Fiona and all kinds of other stuff. And my faith life blossomed.

But recently something in me has just snapped. I have so had enough of the NPCs who take it upon themselves to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’…whatever happened to ‘mind your own business’? And these people cast such a bad light on my wonderful Jesus and my Father God…and I have to make this observation that at present I feel that if I never go into a church meeting again it will be too soon. That, for me, is a characteristic of a Dark Night experience. In a way, being with other Christians – at least in a large meeting – is such a ‘trigger’ for me that it can be harmful. Also, being Aspergic does not help in this regard; I can think of many places I’d rather be than in a room with lots of people!

I’m not saying that people at my Church are NPCs; they’re not. They are lovely. And I know for a fact that part of what Father is doing with me at the moment is that He’s not asking me to go to Church, so in a way it’s almost as if that lack of Church prompting from Father suggets that He’s the One Who’s leading me into the Dark Night – and that would come as no surprise to me. And in a lot of ways I have been at this point for a long while, not having been to the main Church meeting for about eighteen months, although I was in a housegroup for a while (it recently came to an end; not my fault, I hasten to add!)

Regarding the NPCs, it’s always the same. If there are two possible interpretations of a Scripture, these people would always rather swing towards the ‘bad’ interpretation and call it ‘loving’, rather than swing towards the actually ‘loving’ interpretation. And coming up against this constantly has made it so that I’ve so had enough of them. I am so sick of religious people like these, and as a sad corollary to that, I am avoiding all things to do with faith at all, because there are just so many triggers. I’m staying off Facebook because there are people on there whom I care about but who also have a list of NPC ‘friends’ as long as your arm, who trot out the same programmed crap in response to my friends’ posts again and again. I just need a rest from it all, and that might take fifteen days, or it might take fifteen years again.

To quote my reply to one of my friends on Facebook, whose post was being ripped at by grey** NPC miseries,

But the truth of it is that I have had enough of these people. Completely had enough. From now on, it’s an instant block from me. We are giving dogs what is sacred and they simply turn and tear us to pieces. From now on, my job is to minister to the people whom these nasties would seek to destroy, while ignoring and blocking the nasty ones. These are deadly, grey, dull people who spread a gospel of horror, hate and lies, and I’ve had enough of them. There is enough poison in life in general without people like these, who claim to represent a loving god, from bringing even more toxicity. Enough is enough. Let them wallow in the mud of their shipwrecks.

(And that’s partly where my recent post. ‘Shipwrecks‘, came from)

One such grey person thusly replied to my exhortation to reconsider the doctrine of Hell:

“Don’t need to. Hell is forever. You don’t make the rules. God does. Your job is to obey, not figure out God’s logic.”

Case in point. Cold, grey, dull, lifeless. In fact the voice of the Pharisee isย always cold, lifeless, grey, dry, dusty and joyless. By their fruits you shall know them (or in this case, the lack thereof)

Remember:

Dry

Dusty

Grey

Cold

Joyless

Lifeless

Jesus spoke of them as tombs – whitewashed tombs. Lookin’ good on the outside; full of rot and corruption inside. And these are the people who accuse all mankind of being ‘unregenerate sinners…’ for goodness’ sake! If your life looks like that, you need to get it sorted. But then, if your life looks like that, you probably are not reading this because you will have consigned my blog to the heresy pile long ago!

Another key phrase, when given a joke that falls outside the lines of what their group think acceptable, is ‘We don’t think it’s funny’.

Like this one, for example:

“We don’t think it’s funny”, they would say***. Who’s ‘we’? That sort of prohibition only has power when there’s a group of them all agreeing with each other, and presumably nodding sagely, and they find like-minded miseries to sit with.

Even talking to these people is a downer. This is not what the kingdom of God is about! If it’s not righteousness, peace and joy, then it’s not the Kingdom of God.

And I find, as a direct result of my interactions with grey NPCs, that when I’m reading my Bible, my reading voice – you know, the voice that I hear in my head as I read – sounds just like the grey NPCs. And so, unless I feel particularly inspired, I do not go to the Bible all that often. True, when I do get such inspiration, that voice is absent…maybe the lesson there is to not read the Bible unless that voice is absent… This is another of the signs of the Dark Night, and obviously one I have learned from already! ๐Ÿ˜€

Another thing is that, in some ways, I don’t feel as close to God as I normally do. I know He’s there; I still feel the Spirit burning inside. Or maybe that’s indigestion. And worship means little; once again, I can hardly bear to hear the Songs of Heaven. These are two more of my signs of an impending Dark Night.

I think that one of the main things I am looking for in this Dark Night (although of course Father probably has other plans!) is that I need to learn how to deal with the Grey People. The NPCs. If indeed there is any dealing with them. By ‘dealing with’ them, I mean how I personally deal with the effects of interfacing with them on a theological level. Certainly we’re not going to change them; not that I would want to – that’s not my job! And indeed, this brings me to another point about the NPCs and how to cope with them, and it’s this.

When we criticise the judgemental, their standard response is always [predictably] โ€œAh, but now youโ€™re judging me!โ€ It seems to be the privilege of the judgemental that, although they started it, still they think we are wrong to point out their judgementalism; that we are ourselves being judgemental in our pronouncements against their judgementalism. I sometimes think that they set these things up just specifically for that purpose. He who accuses first has the upper hand, it seems!

Talk about a no-win situation!

So, how do we solve this conundrum? How do we tell these people what they are doing without ourselves being judgemental, or even giving them the excuse to say that we are being judgemental? Is it even possible?

Iโ€™m 56 years old and I am still unaware of an answer. Maybe that’s something I will learn in this Dark Night. But I wouldn’t bank on it.

And please be aware that I am actually not blaming the NPCs; all I am doing is to describe how their actions and my responses/triggers have precipitated this new Dark Night. For others, their own entry into a Dark Night will be highly individual, and indeed probably unique to that person. Also, I have not been forced into this ‘course of action’ by these people, because a) it is not my choice anyway, and b) they are not that powerful. The main thing is my response to their trigger reaction in me; that’s what I need to work on.

This may well read like a rant, and I do not apologise for that. What I need to show, above all else in this series, is honesty. Because it will be of no use to my readers if it’s not honest.

And anyway I am allowed to rant. There are no rules in a Dark Night! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I hope this is helpful.

Peace and Grace to you all.


*Pirated from St. Luke in Acts 1:1 ๐Ÿ˜‰

**What’s all this about ‘grey’ people? Well, one of the characteristics of being in a religious cult (which I believe Evangelical Christianity is) is that everyone has to be the same; everyone has to believe the same things, have the same sense of humour (none) and all that sort of thing.

Imagine a group of Mormon missionaries lined up for a game of ‘Spot the Difference’ and you’ll get what I mean.

And that explains the header image (it’s actually taken from a Broadway show called ‘Book of Mormon’ – and they’re not real Mormons; they’re actors...) ๐Ÿ˜‰

(Not saying Mormons are NPCs; I don’t personally know any so I can’t say. But their missionaries, at least, do all dress the same and will therefore do for the purposes of illustration).

And so, despite each NPC being technically an individual, in terms of faith they are not; there is no colour, no variety, nothing interesting going on. Hence, grey.

[Edit: Apparently, the term ‘NPC’ is nowadays common parlance for people who always say the same, predictable things. Shows how far behind the times I am]

***Clue: YMCA ๐Ÿ˜‰


 

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The Dark Night Beckons…

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Dark Night

As my regular readers will be aware, I am a strong advocate of the idea of the ‘Stages of Faith‘, which is a loose set of ideas describing the way in which some of us humans grow and change in our spiritual lives.

One of the Stages of Faith is of course the ‘Dark Night of the Soul‘, which is where God takes a believer into a place where old ideas and preconceptions are challenged and often deconstructed. Once this period is completed, the believer emerges into a new ‘era’, if you will, of freedom and light in the Spirit. As such, the Dark Night is therefore to be welcomed and, even though it might not always be pleasant, the blessings are nonetheless real.

But the Dark Night is not always, nor indeed is it usually, a ‘one-off’ experience. Several times in a believer’s life, God might need to take that person aside for a discussion and contemplation of that person’s belief systems, attitudes, or whatever.

And I, personally, am beginning to enter another Dark Night. I am recognising the signs. Despite the lovely and sympathetic best wishes of my online friends, however, I actually relish the opportunity, because personal growth in God is one of my primary ongoing objectives. My appetite for new learning is insatiable, and in the Dark Night, we learn more about God, His secrets, and the way things work, than at any other time.

In practical terms, this means that my blog posts may or may not be intermittent from now on. I may not even do my monthly ‘Fiona’ articles on the 25th of each month. I would think also that those articles in which I present my own thoughts and ideas will be rarer, and as part of this Dark Night involves a general staying away from my usual external channels of fresh thoughts and concepts, I might not be getting ideas for blog posts from others all that often either. At the very least, others’ posts will be featuring more than my ‘own’. I have been writing this blog now for almost four years, and my output has been reasonably constant. But I don’t want to give my readers poor-quality articles that are not grounded in my deep convictions and deep thinking; I don’t want to short-change you. But, who knows? Maybe this season in my life might bring forth a torrent of inspiration…well, we’ll just have to wait and see, I guess!

So, there we have it. I am excited to see what God has in store for me over this next season, and I look forward to sharing the fruits of it with my readers in due course. It may take a few weeks, it may take a few years – although I would hope the latter is not the case. I just thought I’d better let you know ‘where I’m at’, because I cherish my readership, both those who comment and those who are the silent listeners; you are all welcome and all part of my journey. And I don’t want you to think I have abandoned you!

Peace and Grace to you all ๐Ÿ™‚

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In So Many Ways…

This entry is part 36 of 36 in the series Fiona

Two-and-a-quarter years ago today, I lost the love of my life to cancer. Fiona was my soul-mate and my best friend; the only person who really ‘got’ me with my weird Aspie traits, and she was the most gentle, kind-hearted and Christlike person I ever met. What a privilege it was for me to be married to such a lady!

And we think about her daily. Not a day goes by without I have a happy memory of her; the way she was, and especially the things she would have found funny. Fiona found so much joy in life; so much to laugh at. To illustrate the point, here is a very blurred picture of Fiona laughing at something our grand-daughter Lucy was doing.

It’s blurred because the camera shutter speed was slow (the lighting was poor) and because Fiona was laughing and moving her head, but it illustrates her wacky sense of humour. You see, Lucy is holding a Chocolate Orange, and that particular confection is composed of twenty segments of orange-flavoured chocolate which you traditionally tap on a hard surface in order to separate the segments, before you unwrap the orange, so that you can eat the pieces one by one. However Lucy hadn’t heard about that bit, and so she’d taken the chocolate out of its wrapper and tried to get the whole thing in her mouth at once. Fiona’s reaction is easily visible despite the picture being blurred ๐Ÿ˜€

Even now, and usually on a daily basis, we (my daughter Ellie and I) laugh at many things, and often say to each other, ‘Mum would have found that hilarious’. Because she would. I’ve just thought: if there is indeed a Judgement Day video where all our life is played back in Blu-Ray quality, mine and Fiona’s is going to be bloody hilarious… ๐Ÿ˜€

I often notice habits or attitudes that I have, which were put there by Fiona, just by her being herself and being such a great lady. There are things that I notice each day, like those funny things or those attitudes, or maybe little trinkets decorating the house, or maybe a certain arrangement of furniture, but things that remind me of her. Things that we still do that she too loved to do, like going out places and going for walks, things like that. It all reminds us of Fiona.

In so many ways, then, much of who Fiona was is still with us, and while it is of course painful for us when these things remind us of her loss, still, what we do in these circumstances is to remember her with joy – which we do without even trying – and in that way her legacy of goodness, love, joy, wisdom and laughter will never be lost. It’s kind of bittersweet, I suppose.

I have also learned, and I continue to learn, huge amounts about the vast wisdom and love of God in situations like ours. I have endeavoured to share with my readers as much of this wisdom as I can, or at least, as much of it as is communicable, and as much as is not personal revelation that is not for others. I am increasingly aware that death is not the end; I know this because God has given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of my inheritance – I can feel the Spirit there all the time; I live in a constant awareness of the Presence of God – and because He has shown me that this is the case. And so, on that level, I am confident that I will see Fiona again; because I know that Jesus has conquered death, and because I know that I died with Him and therefore I will also live with Him (Rom 6:8; 2Tim 2:11).

It’s just that I miss her so much now, right now. I still dream about her most nights. I still miss the light of her presence in the house. And yet still I have that unshakable hope: I will see her again in Glory.

You see, God is present in everything; all of Creation is shot through with His sustaining power and His amazing creative energy; His love, His bubbling enthusiasm. And all Creation worships Him in response (Ps 66:4; Ps 19:1). The entire universe is infused with His presence; what David said in Psalm 139:7 is true –

Where can I go from your Spirit?
ย ย ย ย Where can I flee from your presence?”

…amongst other things (read the psalm; you will get what I mean) – God is just so vast, huge, great and incomprehensible.

Given that God is so bubbling with Life and Love, how can I doubt that everything that Fiona was is somehow taken to be incorporated into that incredible Presence? If I can feel that Presence now, even as weakly as this body allows, how much more will Fiona, in that Place beyond all places, be soaking in the immediate, overwhelming Power of God? I think that’s awesome, and the reality of that concept is part of what sustains me. After nearly 40 years of walking with Jesus, I have learned sufficiently of His ways and His truth to know that He’s so much more amazing, so much more wonderful, than I can possibly imagine. And because of that, I know Fiona’s in the very safest of hands, and that I, one day, will go and join her there, and I will never need to miss her again. And what a day that will be! ๐Ÿ˜€


Header picture shows Fiona meeting Lucy for the first time, once Lucy had been brought home from the maternity unit.

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And So It Began

This entry is part 35 of 36 in the series Fiona

Today would have been Fiona’s and my 35th wedding anniversary.

And five years ago today – around our 30th wedding anniversary – was when I really began to be seriously worried about Fiona’s health, and, unbeknownst to me, we were about to enter the hardest time of our lives – the beginnings of the really serious cancer pains and all the meetings and tests and clinics and so on that this entailed.

But I can’t believe it’s five years ago. The memories are so strong that it seems like only yesterday. And the grief has, once more, taken hold of me. I have to say that it goes up and down: for months I will be fine, but then all of a sudden it all hits me again. It all goes to show that there is no easy answer; no set/fixed timescale, no timetable for recovery. Each of us grieves and heals in his own way, and in his own time.

And Jesus has been close to me all this time. I have to say that He has given me the ‘peace that passes all understanding’ (Phil 4:7) and helped me through this last few years. He’s been my faithful Friend and, although it might sound trite, He has been my Rock, my Refuge, my truly present Help in time of my need (Psalm 46:1). The Lord draws near to the broken-hearted, and He saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). I find it amazing (and yet unsurprising) that the same God that those Psalm writers wrote about, being close to them in their time of need some 3,000 years ago, is present for me in my time of need right now in 2019. That’s pretty awesome when you think about it.

And so, on my third anniversary without her, I am thankful once again for the incredible times we had together: the adventures, the joys, the sorrows and heartaches, the fun, the laughter (and there was lots of that!), the walks, the music, the meals, the kids, the dogs. Our life together was full and fun, and I am so grateful for having had that time with her at my side.

I miss you more than ever, Fiona. You were my companion, my soul mate and my best friend. And your legacy lives on in those who loved you; those for whom you were such a part of their lives that your influence and input still remains even though you are gone. We won’t forget you.


Header picture shows Fiona at our favourite beach, Porthcothan Bay in north Cornwall. When this picture was taken, in September 2013, Fiona had already been feeling the tumour pain for a few months and we were only just beginning to have it investigated.

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Facing into Bereavement, Part II

This entry is part 34 of 36 in the series Fiona

I know that it can be very hard at Christmas time for people who have suffered bereavement. At this highly traditional, cosy family time which is always known for its joy and ‘good cheer’ (has anyone ever explained what that actually means? ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), the absence of our loved ones is always more poignant.

It’s similar for me, as the 25th of each and every month is always harder for me because my wonderful wife Fiona died on a 25th; the 25th October. That’s why I do a ‘Fiona post’ every 25th or thereabouts.

But as I wrote a few months back, although for me, my faith helps me through it, I do appreciate that not everyone has that faith. And that’s why I wrote that article, to try to help others, without such a faith, to cope.

But what I want to write about today touches not so much on matters of faith, but rather on those of heartlessness and what amounts to spiritual terrorism, especially when directed towards those who do not share a ‘faith’.

Whatever your beliefs, you will have heard religious people – usually Christians, and to a lesser extent Muslims (these are the only two faith groups, apparently, that believe in it) banging on about Hell. About a terrible place where bad people go when they die, to be tormented for ever. Or, indeed, you might even have heard someone say that everyone goes there, apart from, of course, the people who adhere to the ideas of the group making that claim.

So, I’m going to be talking a little bit about God today, but only in the context of trying to help you past any of these fears you might have. either for you or for your departed loved ones (or both!). If God doesn’t exist, then you don’t need to fear any afterlife of eternal torment in Hell. If God does exist, I would say you also don’t need to fear such an afterlife either, because, I believe, God is good and loving. Bear with me as I explain.

To my dismay, I have even heard of religious preachers at funerals perpetrating their despicable claims about Hell, at grieving relatives, destroying them in the process. Well, I am here to tell you today that, no matter what your beliefs in God, afterlife, whatever, Hell, as depicted by these nasty Religious people, does not exist.

Think back to those preachers I mentioned, who destroy grieving relatives at a funeral by claiming that the person they are mourning has gone to Hell. I can’t even imagine how someone like that can claim to be a follower of Jesus, the one about whom the Bible says that he will not crush those who are grieving; instead, he will gently lift them up. How do I know I am right, and these preachers are wrong? Well, you can tell by the effects – Christians would call it the ‘fruit’ – of what they say. If their words bring grief, destruction and sadness, they are not speaking the words of God. If, on the other hand, their words bring comfort, reassurance, even joy, then this is from God and is therefore true.

There are those who seem to really want to believe everything bad about God that they can. If there’s two Bible verses that contradict each other (and despite the contrary claims of certain religious people, the Bible does indeed contradict itself, regularly, blatantly, and often [1]) then why do they always go with the verse that means the most grief for the greatest number of people? I really don’t know the answer to that. But what I do know is that we need to remember Jesus. If you are afraid that God might not forgive you (for whatever), look at what Jesus did. He forgave people who were actually in the process of driving huge iron spikes through his wrists and his feet. If you are afraid that God is a grumpy old radge just waiting for someone to throw thunderbolts at, then tell me, did you ever hear any stories of Jesus doing anything like that? (Hint: Luke 9:54 where Jesus actually refuses to do just that) If you are afraid of Hell, be aware that Jesus did not speak once about such a place. Jesus actually shows God as a nice guy.

No, Hell is what happens here on earth when people are horrible to each other. Hell is the tragedy of lives wasted; lives lost to alcoholism or other addiction, or to religious fundamentalism, or whatever: anything where people are prevented from living to their full potential. Hell is nasty religious preachers telling people at funerals that, even as they speak, their loved one is burning in some terrible fire and being prodded by devils with pitchforks. That’s hell.

And Jesus came to set us free from that; both from its effects here in this world, and from the fear of its happening in the next. The afterlife – including for your loved ones, dear heart reading this – will be glorious, joyful; full of amazing colours and light and scenery and full also of the presence and love of God. Tell you what, since it’s Christmas Day today, let’s remember what the angels said to the shepherds:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men, on whom His favour rests! (Luke 2:14)

It doesn’t mention only certain ‘chosen’ people; it says that there is peace to men (meaning all mankind) on whom His favour rests. This means that actually God likes humans. He’s not mad with us; no, He loves us and in fact likes us! This is a million miles away from the story told by those who would call everyone miserable sinners. Jesus never once did that. He just loved people, and demonstrated practically the claim of the angels; that God’s favour rests on humanity. God likes us!

And so, please be assured. Your loved one is not in a Hell of any kind. They have gone on to be with the One Who loves them – present tense – both in this life and in the next.

Don’t listen to anyone who would have the gall to tell you otherwise!

Be encouraged, dear heart.


[1] For example, the adjacent Bible verses Proverbs 26:4, and Proverbs 26:5. They go like this:

v.4: Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him

v.5: Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

So, which is it? Do you answer the fool, or don’t you? That’s a contradiction, plain as day. Oh sure, people will try to explain it away, and as a Bible college graduate, I do understand what it means. But it contradicts, and there’s no getting away from it.

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Weddings

This entry is part 33 of 36 in the series Fiona

Twenty-five months ago today, my precious wife Fiona died of pancreatic cancer. She’d been fighting it for three years.

And in the midst of the horror, we chose hope over despair, joy over grief, and love over despondency. Four year ago, on 5th December, 2014, about eight months after her diagnosis, Fiona and I renewed our wedding vows together in our Church in Torquay.

Hope for healing (didn’t happen, at least not this side of the veil), hope for the ability to live life one day at a time and appreciate everything that each new day brings. Renewing our vows so that, no matter how long we had left together, we would publicly declare our commitment to each other and our intention to live out our time together in freedom, joy and love. Because of our faith in Jesus, Who died and then came back from the dead, we believed (and I stil do) that death is not the end. That kind of belief gives a person the power to live free of fear, and to live in the freedom of the moment. Not that fear and horror are not part of the ‘cancer journey’ – they are! – but thatย  the fear is not one of losing someone forever to ‘death the great divider’, but that our lives go on through the veil of death and on into a glorious afterlife with Jesus. And that definitely affects the way that we live our lives, including the ability to live in the light of that blazing truth.

Fiona and I were married in January, 1984, at Guiseley Baptist Church in Guiseley, West Yorkshire. In the same way that we first promised to ‘have and to hold, in sickness and health’, that promise became actual and real in the face of the ultimate sickness of terminal cancer.

I’ve scanned in some of the photos that were taken at our wedding. The header picture is one of gorgeous Fiona, here reproduced in colour:

Wasn’t she stunning? Like I’ve said elsewhere in this series, Fiona was easily the most beautiful girl I had ever set eyes on, and, for me at least, it was love at first sight. ๐Ÿ˜€

Happy days, eh? ๐Ÿ™‚ I was twenty-one (nearly twenty-two) on our wedding day, and Fiona was nineteen (nearly twenty). I count myself the most blessed man to have had such a gorgeous, amazing, wise and clever lady as my wife, and we always agreed how glad we were that we had met when we were young so that we could spend our entire lives together. And what amazing lives we led. The sheer amount of adventure we packed into our nearly 33 years of marriage was incredible, despite me (at least while in Leeds) being in a low-paid job and raising a young family on a shoestring. We were so happy together.

Of course, the last part of the story was traumatic. Cancer has a way of changing one’s outlook and priorities, but that doesn’t have to be a change for the worst. The illness meant that although we had wanted eventually to grow old together, we knew this wasn’t going to happen, and that’s quite disappointing when you realise it. And yet, over the time of the illness, we were so close: we learned so much about life and death; God and others; illness; compassion; dedication and commitment. Truly, that time enriched us as people, and we certainly didn’t let it go to waste.

For some time, we had wanted to renew our vows, so what better time to declare our love for, and commitment to, each other, than in the face of a terrible terminal illness? On that 5th December 2014, then, we stood in front of our family and our Church family, and many of our relatives and old friends who had come hundreds of miles to be with us on our special day.

In the face of that evil illness, we lit a bright light of hope and joy. We had decided that we were not going to let the illness defeat us as people, nor to let it cloud what remaining time we had together. And it’s interesting, but we actually enjoyed our second wedding far more than we did our first. Which, I think, speaks volumes.

Here are some photos from our second wedding:

Look at her wonderful smile, and that despite the ravages of the chemotherapy and the cancer. Because we had such a great life together, I often find it hard to point to a specific event and say ‘that really made her day’ – there were so many such events! – but in this case I think I can safely indicate that this was one of those occasions. She was just so happy! As you can see on this next shot, with Fiona dancing down the aisle because she was so full of joy ๐Ÿ˜€

I’m so glad we did that renewal of vows wedding. And at the time of the publication of this article, it’s almost exactly four years since our second wedding, and I still look back on it as one of the happiest days of my life, mainly because my lovely Fiona was so happy.

And doesn’t that smile say it all? It compares very well with the one she’s wearing at our first wedding, in the top picture above!

This next point is quite personal. Just lately, I have had the experience of seeing elderly people living in a care home. And while the care home in question really is an excellent one, still it is less than ideal; there is little privacy, there is of necessity a regimented approach to mealtimes, the patients have no freedom, but to be honest what else can they do? If someone is incapable of looking after themselves, then someone has to look after them, whether that’s family, or, if unavaliable/unable/unwilling, the local care system. But it’s horrible to see, even though the staff are lovely and the care home is excellent. I find it incredibly traumatic to see it. And here’s my point: although obviously I miss Fiona greatly, it would have broken my heart to see her in a situation like that, should we in our old age have become unable to look after each other any longer. Or being separated from each other; some elderly couples are (for whatever reason) not together in the same care home. We would have found that unbearable; completely and heartbreakingly unbearable. It hurts to even think about it, but I know of course that I will be spared seeing her in that situation, and for that I’m grateful. And she too has been spared the pain of either being in that situation herself, or seeing me go through it. I mean, sure, the trauma of losing her, and that of coping with her having a terminal illness, was immenseย  for both of us. And in some ways I have already been through the heartbreak. But this is one heartache I will not have to face into. Fiona had the chance to live her last years in dignity and in freedom, and only for her last two weeks or so was she in a hospice – and even that was supposed to be temporary.** Maybe that sounds like I’m glad she died young – it’s not that; all I am doing is being grateful for ‘small mercies’, and finding another silver lining in the dark cloud of her loss. But I’m glad that I was spared that care home trauma, and of course I’m glad that she too has been spared it either way.

Anyway, with our second wedding, we effectively thumbed our noses at death and disaster. We declared by our actions that tragedy wasn’t going to have the last word over our happiness, and that was indeed how it worked out. Our last two years together were spent in joy and fulness, living the Kingdom life that Jesus gives, and being shining examples of joy in the face of adversity.

Fiona, my love, I love you and I miss you. Thank you so much for our second wedding, for what you said to me there, and for affirming once again that deep, deep love we shared.

It meant everything to me, and it still does.

I’ll see you soon, and then we’ll never be separated again.


*During our first wedding, itย  was throwing a blizzard outside and this is why all our photos were done indoors.

**As she was going in to the hospice (for a closely-monitored pain control regime), Fiona did jokingly ask, “When people go into a hospice, do they ever come out again?” “Oh, yes!” said the nurses…but in her case, they were wrong! Even at times like that, Fiona thought it funny. Our sense of humour together was funny and flippant; I’m still like that (have been so since about 1980) and I would have it no other way ๐Ÿ˜€

In fact, I almost did even more dark humour and called this piece Two Weddings and a Funeral. For this purpose, I took a photo of Fiona’s gravestone, which I reproduce below to complete the ‘joke’. The Scripture quote is Psalm 116:7, Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you

Our family name has been redacted because I want my site to stay semi-anonymous. With disabled people in my family, and given the propensity of certain Christians to take exception to heretics like me, the last thing I want is for a mob of rampaging Pharisees to turn up on my doorstep brandishing King James Bibles ๐Ÿ˜‰


I must also say that credit for the photos of the second wedding go to my friend Ella. Well done, chick ๐Ÿ™‚

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