Category Archives: Stories

Divorce and Remarriage – a True Story of Healing

There are several areas of Church doctrine that alienate people from the Gospel – the Good News – of Jesus Christ.

Whereas Christ came to set us free from having to follow rigid religious rules intended to make us ‘more acceptable to God’, instead, over the decades and centuries since His time, the very people who claim to follow Jesus have laid down even more layers of rules, laws and ‘codes of conduct’ which instead make God appear to be even less accessible.

And in no area is this worse than in the area of divorce. There are certain Christians for whom divorce seems to be second only to murder. What you get here is divorced people who are already hurting – they have split up from their intended life partner for whatever reason, and often it’s not their fault – and who are then held in some sort of contempt by the very people who should be loving them in their pain.

But wait, it gets worse! Not only is it seen as ‘bad’ to be divorced, but if a divorced person should remarry, then hey presto! Now they’re committing adultery, which is SIN!! Which means that either the divorcee has to forever forsake any further lifelong companion or be, well, supposedly rejected by God forever. How cruel is that?

I’m going to leave aside for now the nature of sin and the forgiveness that Jesus bought – in other words, I’m not going to discuss today what happens when someone is in a known, persistent sinful habit. That’s a discussion for another time. Here, I’m going to simply discuss why divorced and remarried people need not worry that they are ‘living in sin’, or any variation on that. And I’m going to do it on the presumption that many of my hurting readers may still see the Bible as a book of Rules – which it should not be – and explain what the Bible really means, and in addition what it does not mean, on this subject. I want these hurting people to be set completely free from any guilt or condemnation that has been imposed on them by these erroneous Church doctrines. If you’re reading this and you’re divorced and remarried, please let me tell you in Jesus’s Name that you are loved by God, you are not sinning, and that God loves your new marriage!

I apologise that this is going to be a really, really long essay, but it contains a real-life example presented as a story (where the names have been changed, of course) and in any case I want to bring my readers into freedom. This is definitely worth spending the time on.

So first, let’s put up the ‘problem’ verse in which Jesus appears to condemn remarriage of divorced people.

“Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’

‘Haven’t you read’, he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.

‘Why then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’

Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’

– Matthew 19:3-9

I’m going to talk you through this by using a real-life discussion I had with a hurting, divorced and remarried believer. Let’s call her ‘Debbie’ for the sake of this story. Debbie had strong guilt feelings, and even felt guilty about feeling guilty. So first off, I wanted to make sure that she was equipped to deal with guilt. I made sure that she knew that she did not need to own any guilty feelings, because of what Jesus did on the cross: He took all our shame and guilt and nailed it to the Cross. We don’t need to own the guilt any more. I said that she didn’t need to feel bad if her guilty feelings don’t go away instantly – they won’t! – but that it would help if she decided to generate the habit of being guilt-free. To do this, you don’t need to do anything, you don’t need to obey any rules, just accept what He has done already. Note that there is a difference between guilt and remorse, but again this is a point for another time.

Debbie thanked me for the compassion. She said she does believe in Jesus’ shed blood on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. But when she studies the words of Jesus in the Gospels, that some of them scare her. How can she believe in His forgiveness, she asked, when she is living in what He says is adultery, by her own choice? She had even been told she can’t expect forgiveness if she ‘boldly goes on living in sin as an adulteress’; even if she was the innocent party, she would still be guilty of this, and she just couldn’t reconcile any of it.

So my response, hopefully delivered in complete gentleness (it’s difficult for me to tell sometimes as I am Aspergic) was something like this.

 

I said, let me start by saying that my underlying assumption is this: ‘God is Good – All the Time!’ I read the Bible through the lens of God being Good all the time. This means that whatever I read, I assume that God wants me to receive good from it. Love is the baseline for interpreting all of Scripture.

And then I gave a bit of background for Jesus’s statements about divorce. Moses permitted divorce but only if the man gave the woman a certificate of divorce, and this allowed her to re-marry. That’s what it was for – it showed any prospective future husband that she was cleanly divorced and therefore free to re-marry. It showed that the reason why she was not a virgin – a really big deal in those days! – was because she’d previously had a husband but was now no longer bound to him.

But by the time Jesus was asked His divorce question, men were able to divorce their wives for virtually no reason, hence the Pharisees asking Him, “…is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” What Jesus meant by calling remarriage ‘adultery’, was that He was condemning what you could call ‘serial monogamy’. A man could marry one woman, live with her for a time, and then when he got fed up with her for whatever reason, he could simply discard her by giving her a certificate, and then presumably, he’d marry another girl and the same would happen to her in due course.

Jesus was against this perfectly legal, but morally reprehensible, practice for obvious reasons. It created deep and irreparable hurt, it left a trail of broken women existing as sullied goods in, let’s not forget, a culture with no welfare state. And it was downright disgusting. That’s what Jesus was against here.

The part about the innocent party being called an adulterer/adulteress was simply Jesus using His Rabbinic hyperbole. He was exaggerating to prove a point. So, if you hate your brother, that’s like murder! Murder! No, of course it’s not; nobody dies. But He was proving a point by exaggerating. If you look at someone lustfully, that’s adultery! No, of course it’s not; nobody actually gets into bed with anyone else. But again it’s an exaggeration to prove a point. He’s saying you might as well get your ex to be an adulterer because that’s how much hurt it causes. Now Jesus’s statements were never intended to be legally-binding, ironclad rules that have to be followed come what may, after two thousand years of translation, re-translation, cultural changes and then through the filter of human nature and its propensity towards Religious Rules. No, Jesus wasn’t like that; he came to set people free from the rigid confines of the Law of Moses. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, love your enemies”. He took the principles of the Moses law and made it into freedom of choice.

And now, back to the original statement of God being Good all the time, I said to Debbie that Jesus’s words are not to destroy her, they are to bring her life in its fulness. And as she was already hurting, it was worth remembering that ‘A bruised reed He shall not break….’ I said that Jesus will handle her gently, and not to be afraid of Him. If she hears condemnatory whisperings in her head, that’s her conscience being oversensitive; it’s not God. Jesus looks after the orphans and widows – and in that we can include divorcees, even remarried ones!

I suggested she read positive blogs, and learn how God sees her, and in time the condemnatory feelings will fade away in the light of His love. Or it could even happen suddenly! Also, to ask Holy Spirit to reveal to her the truth of how God feels about her, because she is precious in His sight. And that she would gradually begin to feel different if she lets Him work his way in her.

For anyone in this sort of condemnation situation, I would say this: Soak yourself in positive theology – ‘God likes you’ theology! – and listen to no-one who would seek to steal your joy. Who cares if they accuse you of cherry-picking ‘nice’ scriptures? At the moment, for people in that sort of pain, you need all the encouragement you can get. Grab it with both hands and avoid all negativity, both from others and from Scripture – because it is possible, as we have seen, for it to be interpreted negatively!

Sure, God did not intend divorce, but then He also did not intend poverty, unemployment, or sickness. It’s not His optimum, and He prefers things to be right, sure. But He also understands that sometimes, despite our best efforts, things go wrong. And when that happens, he does not condemn the victims; rather, He upholds them and draws near to them.

So, to the victims of this sort of twisted, condemnatory theology, I would say do not let your heart feel guilty, oppressed or any such thing. Life is for living. God wants you to enjoy your life free from guilt and depression and oppression.

Look, the enemy destroys lives by using divorce and other catastrophic life events, then he destroys them even more by making people feel guilty about what he caused in the first place. This is plain wrong; it’s lies, and it deserves to be rejected. Live in the freedom! Sing out your freedom. Declare it and claim it; it’s yours.

I firmly believe that Jesus’ entire foundation for the ethic he expects from his followers is to love other people with genuine concern for their wellbeing and to avoid hurting people or causing harm as far as we are able.

So let’s apply this to Debbie’s re-married situation. If Jesus is opposed to divorce because it harms people and disrupts relationships, how can anyone tell her that Jesus requires her to divorce her current partner (to whom she had been happily married for over thirty years!!) when we know definitely that doing so will cause the very hurt, harm, and disruption of relationships that Jesus opposes?

Debbie explained that she had always seemed to understand Jesus and his hyperbole, but just never connected it to his words on adultery – but yes it made perfect sense to be reminded that Jesus was most likely being hyperbolic. And she agreed to avoid interpreting things negatively, even (and especially!) in Scripture. She did think that Jesus has to be happy with her (over 30) years in a loving marriage to a Christian man who had even adopted her young son and raised him as his own. There is a lot of love there. She liked the idea of seeking out the Holy Spirit and asking Him to show her how God feels about her.

Great so far. Freedom is approaching for Debbie. But there was something else. Debbie was in the habit of daily begging for forgiveness about the adultery, and wondered if she should give that up.

I remembered that she’d said, “I have been told I can’t expect forgiveness if I boldly go on living in sin as an adulteress”. So I reminded her that, based on what we’d just discussed she had done nothing wrong; she is not an adulteress. So, yes, she should stop asking forgiveness, partly because there is nothing to be forgiven for, and partly because I wonder if that feeling of not being forgiven is due to what that person had told her. In effect, that person has ‘cursed’ Debbie with their words. Well, here’s the freedom: she doesn’t have to accept that curse, and indeed she should reject it! So, yes, give up the asking/begging for forgiveness on that score; this will become part of her freedom – freedom from being tied to constantly asking forgiveness for a perceived sin. And to give that curse no more room in her life.

It sounded to me as if she had been subjected to what some call a ‘sin-management church’. A church who focus on rooting out and dealing with sin in its members. Surely their focus is wrong; Jesus dealt with sin once and for all on the Cross. He came to free us from not only the separation from God, but also the entangling effect of the guilt. I pointed her in the direction of this blog post where I provide some practical tips on how to leave sin behind with a clear conscience.

Regarding conscience: I firmly believe that the believer’s conscience needs to be brought into line. Sure, It’s your adviser, but it’s not your king. You can listen to it, you can give it consideration, but you don’t need to let it bully you, especially when it has been ‘trained’ by people who are harsh and bullying. Make Jesus the King of your conscience. Let Jesus transform your conscience by retraining you in His truth and freedom.

And then I reminded Debbie that she is not an adulteress. So there’s nothing to be forgiven for, at least on that score. I reminded her that her new freedom would bless her husband too, and suggested that perhaps they sit and pray it through together, and let him know of her decision to be free. For a remarried divorcee, it is vital to decide right now that you’re not going to let others’ rules taint your beautiful marriage, and apply that as a couple. This is a beautiful expression of your unity together and your decision to stand together against the ‘disapproval’ of the established religious system.

Finally, there was this. A parable, although a true story, which I wrote down and gave to Debbie:

“This morning, there was a moth on the inside of my kitchen window, wanting to get outside into the beautiful morning light out there. I opened the window right out (it swings really wide) and yet still the moth clung to the inside of the glass, even though that glass was now ‘outside’ the room. Not until I gave it a gentle prod with my fingernail did it fly out into freedom.

Debbie, the window is open for you. Fly out into your freedom”.

Later, I received a last communication from Debbie and it moved me to tears:

“Thank you so much. I am reading the blogs you suggested and all your kind advice has really helped. The begging for forgiveness has ended. Guilt not on my mind. Freedom opening up before me. God bless you”.

“Freedom opening up before me”. Wow, wow, wow! Praise the Lord! Thanks to the ministry of Holy Spirit in her life, leading her into ‘all truth’ (John 16:13), Debbie’s story has a happy ending. She now lives in the land where Jesus is all about freedom, not about Rules. If you interpret any of Jesus’s teaching as Rules, then you are missing the point. His only two commandments were, ‘Love God; love your neighbour’. He did reiterate the command to ‘love one another’, which amounts to the same thing, at the Last Supper. And so anything that Jesus said that looks like a Rule, needs to be viewed through what I have previously referred to as the ‘Lens of Love’ – does my interpretation of this passage fit with Jesus’s only two commandments: Love God; love your neighbour? Because if it doesn’t, you are almost certainly missing what He meant.

And I know many, many people, good Christian people, in whom the Spirit of God lives and through whom He works in power, who are remarried divorcees. Street missionaries whom God uses in great power in healing, deliverance and evangelism. Gifted worship leaders who lead people into God’s presence effortlessly and under His anointing. According to the legalistic rules of the Pharisees, if God were displeased with these people, He would not anoint their ministries. But He does so anoint them. Which means that either He does indeed anoint people who are living in deliberate sin, or in fact they are not in deliberate sin. Personally, I do not believe that God waits for us to be perfect before He uses us, but that’s my own opinion; I am simply arguing this from the point of view of the Bible legalists. But the main thing is that these remarried divorcees are in a real state of grace, and God is pleased with them. Either God is wrong, and should therefore not be anointing those people like that, or the legalistic interpretation of His Word is wrong. I wonder which it is…..

Finally, how then should remarried divorcees approach the thorny subject of being accepted into Churches? Well, I have to ask, whose business is it except yours and God’s how many relationships you have been in? If you and your spouse turn up at a Church and are welcomed there, why mention that you have had previous partners? Any kids you have are your kids, not kids ‘from my previous partner’. Just don’t tell them. They don’t need to know. And if they do get really silly about it, just go somewhere else, where you are better accepted. If the people in that Church are so preoccupied with Rules about divorce and whatnot, they’re not going to really be Kingdom-focused anyway, are they? And if they don’t let you take Communion, well, just do it yourself at home. A bottle of wine and a loaf of bread, or a glass of water and a cracker; God doesn’t mind. He will bless you through it just the same.

I hope this has helped today. Bless you.


As a postscript, I’d also like to point out how ludicrous the whole Church stance on divorce and remarriage is.

You have a couple who decide that they want their relationship to be ‘proper’, and so they get married in preference to living in an unmarried state. They want to ‘do the right thing’, shall we say, for whatever reason.

Is it right, then, to essentially persecute people who have, in the past, ‘done the right thing’, then for whatever reason (and usually at least one of the parties is innocent) they have found it hasn’t worked out. Pain all around, for them, their families and their children, if they have any.

Then they meet someone else, with whom they also want to ‘do the right thing’. And they want to do it with the blessing of the Church, who will not do so. So their choice is either to live together unmarried or to get married out of Church. And of course if they’d simply lived together, unmarried, in the first place, remarriage would not even be an issue!

How stupid is that? They give people a series of impossible choices, or at east a choice of not being able to do the right thing, and doing the wrong thing. How can that be just? How can that reflect God’s character? How can that be the product of anything but a twisted theology where completely the wrong thing has been inferred from Jesus’s teaching.

Looking at this through the ‘Lens of Love’, as I encouraged Debbie to do in the story, it is clear that there is no way – absolutely no way – that this state of affairs is anything remotely related to what my all-loving Jesus was talking about on that day nearly 2,000 years ago.

Even though I am a member of the Church of England, I do not necessarily hold to all its doctrines, and especially that doctrine (whose enactment, I appreciate, is left to the discretion of the Priest) which often forbids remarriage of divorced people. As far as I can see, the Catholic Church does not allow remarriage, at least not without the people in question being effectively excommunicated. (Yes, this still does happen even in the 21st Century!) The Church should be a safe place where we celebrate joy, love and forgiveness not alienation and cold-heartedness.

No. This is an archaic, misinformed religious law which has no place either in modern society or in the Kingdom of God.


Also, there is a groundbreaking book on divorce and remarriage in the Christian Church: Divorce & Remarriage in the Church by David Instone-Brewer (Paternoster, 2003, ISBN 1-84227-180-6)Here is a link to a review of the book by respected Christian teacher, David Matthew; there are also links on that page to both a more detailed summary (which is excellent) and to the book itself which can be perused on the author’s website.


Edit: Wendy Francisco also published an excellent explanation of the Divorce scriptures on Facebook about nine months after I wrote this piece. Here it is:

0
0

‘Ex-batt Christians’

My family has a flock of rescued chickens. At present, there’s four birds in the flock, and most of them are ‘retired’ caged chickens.

Caged chickens are what used to be referred to as ‘battery hens’; hens that right from the day they were hatched have never known freedom. From before the time they begin laying, until they are about a year old, they spend all their time in a cage. Then they are either sent off for slaughter or they are rehomed as ‘ex-battery’ hens, or ‘ex-batt’ for short. Three of our girls are ex-batt hens; the fourth was a stray whom we adopted.

Now, about six weeks ago, our two newest hens arrived. Apart from being all bedraggled and nearly bald (we thought they actually looked ‘oven-ready!’), they simply didn’t know what to do with their new freedom. They spent the first couple of days huddled together in the (open) chicken cage, while the hens we already had were roaming about their large pen, pecking at this and that like chickens do. Then, after a couple of days, they dared to come out of the cage a couple of feet; after that, they came right out but hid in the bushes for most of the day.  All the time, they felt they had to be near the ‘safety’ of their cage, so they could bolt back to their place of security. Only after about four weeks with us did they realise that they had choices, they had freedom, and it was up to them how they spent their day. Stay in the chicken coop? No problem. Sit in the shade? Mmmhmm, and have a dust-bath while you’re there. Want to wander round the chicken pen and explore? Go right ahead, it’s perfectly safe. And occasionally they even get let out of the pen and into the whole garden, on what we call ‘rampage’. And they love the freedom!

I’m sure you can see the analogy. I feel that there are many Christians who are still in the chicken coop. They have been set free from the kingdom of darkness, but they are not enjoying the ‘glorious freedom of the Children of God’ (Romans 8:21)

Much of the time, they find it hard to emerge from the ‘safety’ of the coop. Sure, it’s safe in there, but it’s not freedom. Even once they emerge, they are ready at a moment’s notice to bolt back in there.

Jesus was castigated by the religious authorities of His day, for associating with ‘sinners’. He was admonished most severely for partying and having a great time with His friends. Mark 2:18 – “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” These people – even John the Baptist’s disciples, who were effectively part of a ‘new’ movement – felt that religious observance meant being dull, dry, and having a straight face all the time. No fun is allowed, folks, and certainly no laughing!

But Jesus was having none of that. When the Bridegroom (Jesus) is with us, we don’t need to ‘do’ all these religious rules and observances. We just need to live our lives in the glorious freedom of the Children of God. We can live lavishly, we can live in extravagant, outrageous freedom – freedom that will appear to the ‘religious’ (and those who think they know how ‘religious’ people should behave) to be outrageous. “What? These people believe in God and they’re happy??

Like when I fly, my home base airfield is near a huge reservoir lake with a dam at one end. So, of course, we do low-level ‘Dambuster’ runs over it. A shallow dive, picking up speed, race across the water at high speed only 200 feet up….and then call ‘bombs away’ and a sharp, high-‘g‘ pull-up into the climb away. Tremendous fun, perfectly legal and perfectly safe. But people hear the stories of that sort of thing and they say, ‘You do, like, what??‘ And to be perfectly honest, it takes a good few days for the grin to disappear from my face after a Dambuster run…. but you see the thing is that we enjoy it. Really enjoy it. It’s part of our freedom. ‘Pilots shouldn’t do things like that’ is only said by those who have not experienced the freedom of flight – and who have not spent all those years of hard training; British pilot training is the most thorough in the world of civilian aviation and we produce the safest private pilots in the world. And yet still we do Dambuster runs, because it’s perfectly safe – because we have trained for it. It’s what we are equipped and free to do.

And so it is with the things of faith, the things of God. Those who live in freedom appear to those on the outside to be completely irreligious. They laugh and joke. They appear to be filled with an inexpressible joy. They party (in whatever way suits them), they dance, they’re free. They associate with all different types of people, including those who society sees as outcasts. They do kind things. They do daft things. And those outside – both believer and non-believer alike – look in and say, ‘No way they’re Christians. They aren’t behaving at all like a Christian should behave’. ‘How can you call yourself a Christian and still do that?’ Y’see, they just don’t ‘get’ it. The thing is that most of these unwritten expectations of behaviour are completely founded in others’ opinions and not in Scripture. Even if they were founded in Scripture, it’s not there to restrict us; rather to set us free.

People of faith who discover this new-found freedom also sometimes feel insecure in that freedom. They are emerging from the chrysalis of rules and regulations, of unwritten behavioural ‘standards’, and are exploring the pen near the cage. They’ re ready to scuttle back into the cage if they feel too unsafe. But you know, God made us for freedom, and ‘it is for freedom that Christ has set us free’ (Gal 5:1). It’s what we were made for! But don’t worry if at first you feel insecure. You no longer have the ‘rules’ as a backstop. But you don’t need rules anymore. Heb 10:16 – “I will write My laws upon their hearts”. Holy Spirit is your backstop and He will not let you fall. In any event, your salvation is secure even if/when you do make mistakes. This is the freedom we possess! Once saved, always saved. Click here for my blog posting on that truth.

So, can you see then that these ‘ex-batt Christians’ really need to come out of their cage and enjoy the freedom of the pen. That’s what they were rescued for! That’s what they were adopted for!

Life in all its fulness! Come on out of the cage and into the pen – or better yet, out into the garden. The freedom out here is wonderful!

chickens
Our chickens on ‘rampage’, having fun 😉
0
0

Coping with the ‘Uncomfortableness’ of people with ‘Different’ Sexualities

As we know, there are many people who have a ‘different’ sexuality from the ‘standard’ heterosexual orientation. These people could be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer/Questioning (or ‘LGBTQ’).

I sometimes wonder if one of the main reasons why heterosexual Christians – and others too – are uncomfortable with people who have different sexualities is because they don’t know how to relate to them. They don’t know how to address them, how to deal with someone ‘different’; it’s almost like the awkwardness some people feel when they meet someone in a wheelchair, or perhaps with a disfigurement (and no, I’m not saying that LGBTQ people are disabled or disfigured; it’s an example, ok?!). They don’t want to call attention to the ‘difference’ because they don’t know how to. Sometimes this can even be because they don’t want to upset the person. Now usually people in wheelchairs and with disfigurements, to continue my example, just want to be treated normally. They’re thinking, ‘I don’t want your pity, your compassion; just be normal with me, ok?’

Because many people do not feel comfortable talking about any sexuality subjects, though, they are far less likely to know how to broach the subject, so they feel even more awkward. And then there’s the people who just say it’s ‘wrong according to Scripture’ and that therefore ‘solves’ the problem. But it does not go away! These people still have feelings…and other than their sexuality, they’re just like you in every way. These different sexualities are not actually becoming more common; they have always been in existence. It’s just that society in general (if not on an individual level) are more accepting so it’s easier for people to ‘come out’. Because of this, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will be able to go through life without having to face up to this situation at some point!

So, how do we cope with this in a compassionate way, but without being patronising?

Let me tell you the story of Michael (not his real name). At the time I knew him, about 20-24 years ago, Michael was a top engineer with a company who made specialist scientific equipment. He was such a good engineer, and knew the equipment so well, that on more than one occasion he coached me, over the phone, in repairing a piece of equipment that was broken – back in those days, we were allowed to repair our own kit; a privilege sadly lacking in today’s overprotective society! He’d tell me which relays to check, which cutouts to reset, where to look for blown internal fuses…all most impressive. I’d known Michael for about four years, on and off (he didn’t need to visit all that often).

One day, I was sitting at my bench in the lab and someone came into the room and just stood there looking at me over the top of one of the cabinets. I looked up and saw a woman who looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her – and then I twigged (and I’m sure you’ve already guessed it) that it was Michael. Michael with long hair, no beard (he’d had one before), and wearing lipstick and other facial makeup, but still (easily) recognisably Michael nonetheless. I can honestly say that I almost heard my thoughts out loud, “Oh my goodness, it’s Michael, and he’s a woman!” Evidently, Michael was a transgender person….

“Well, Tony”, he said. “I think it’s fair to say that things have changed a bit since last time I saw you…” As I nodded dumbly, Michael came and sat down next to me. The lab had gone silent; everyone else in the lab knew Michael and they too were speechless. Even my boss, normally an unflappable man, had done a double-take. So I thought I’d better say something, “Michael, I never knew!”

“Well, it’s Michaela now, but no, I know it’s a shock” he said in a ‘false’ falsetto voice. At that point, Michaela had not long been on hormone replacement therapy, so his voice was still a man’s deep voice. (Let me explain here: at this time, as far as I was concerned, he was still a man as he still had all his ‘bits’. Nowadays of course, I know differently, but remember this was my first encounter with a person ‘coming out’ in this manner – so from now on in this narrative I will refer to Michaela using feminine pronouns!) In fact, for some months afterwards, it was actually comical to listen to Michaela as she’d begin a conversation in her falsetto voice but she’d forget, and within 5 minutes or so she’d be back to her normal voice again.

So, I chatted with Michaela for quite some time, and after she’d gone, my colleagues all clustered around me and asked stuff like ‘What was that all about?’ and ‘Was that really Michael?’ – they were just as flummoxed as I had been, and right then we had to discuss whether to refer to Michaela as a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, or whatever. Remember also at this time I was a fundamentalist Christian and this was totally outside my comfort zone!

That said, though, I was the only person in the lab who felt comfortable talking to Michaela. I had the opportunity several times to sit and listen to her story and her thoughts. It was either ‘come out’, she said, or she’d have to drive her car into a wall at high speed, so fed up was she with maintaining the pretence. And, even despite my own personal shock and misgivings,  I was privileged to be able to reassure her that God loved her no matter what she was inside and outside. Funny, really, that even there, the compassion of Jesus was overriding my religious ruleset. Even then, the Spirit was preparing me for later in life – i.e. now – where I now fully accept all people with all kinds of ‘differences’.  God’s love has overridden my prejudices; now I understand things much more.

(Epilogue: I haven’t seen Michaela since I moved from Yorkshire to Devon in 1995, but I heard from one of her colleagues (they are a company with a nationwide presence) that she went and had her ‘sex reassignment surgery’ – what was often called a ‘sex change operation’ – and is now a full woman. Fair enough, and I wish her well. In doing my research for this blog entry, I have found pictures of Michaela on the Internet and she still looks pretty much the same: still visibly identifiable facially as the former ‘Michael’, but looking well, happy and – yes – female).

I think the key to breaking through the awkwardness in these situations is simply to communicate. Talk to them! Rather than feeling threatened and confronting in a ‘you’re wrong’ style, talk in a ‘how do I relate to you?’ style. Get to know the person. And don’t, don’t judge them! That way you get the double win of addressing your discomfort and make them feel accepted as a person at the same time.

Also, do some research. Take a look at my previous post, The Call to Love, for more of my thoughts on LGBTQ things, and for links to helpful materials on Bible passages that appear to condemn homosexuality, for example, where in fact they do not.

For LGBTQ people reading this, please bear with us heterosexual people. Some of us have come from highly homophobic backgrounds, and it takes time for us to adjust to new concepts, especially when we have mistakenly believed that we are so right and you guys were so wrong. I’m over it now, but many are not. Again, communication is the key, I believe. And, if I come across as patronising, I’m sorry; I am Aspergic and the finer nuances of interpersonal communications usually escape me! The spirit in which I have written this article is one of love, reconciliation and goodness of heart, and I hope this comes across. I’m just saying what I think God wants me to say; ‘Doing what I see the Father doing’ – John 5:19

0
0

The Forced Landing

As part of good airmanship, a good pilot will practise his safety drills regularly. One such drill is called the Practice Forced Landing, or ‘PFL’ for short. You pretend that your engine has failed, by simply closing the throttle (it’s very much like when you are sitting at a traffic light with your engine just ticking over) and it’s then just a question of ‘simply’ gliding the aircraft down into a suitable field – or nearly so; when you think you would have made the safe landing, you put the power back on and climb away. Job done.

This story happened about fourteen years ago, when I was still flying the Piper Warrior four-seater. Here’s the actual aeroplane in the story:

g-btsj

On this occasion, I had in the aircraft (names changed for embarrassment reasons) my friend Andy and his two sons Mike (16) and Ian (14). We were flying out from Plymouth to the Newquay area and back, and we’d briefed very thoroughly about the flight and talked about what to do in an emergency. I’d mentioned that at some point on the way back from Newquay, I would do a PFL, setting it up as a practice engine failure and practising the whole thing including a practice Mayday call.

Guys, watch what I do and be impressed; the whole thing is a bag of fun.

So off we trot with Andy in the front and the two boys in the back; we managed to find Newquay and then turned back towards Plymouth. About half-way back, I let everyone know what was happening. ‘OK guys, remember the practice engine failure drill? I’m commencing now; watch and learn!”

Carb heat to ‘hot’, throttle closed. Everything goes quiet, just the sound of the windrush on the aircraft to be heard. On with the drill. Trim for the glide. Pick a field. Plan the circuit and set the aircraft up for it. Restart drills – fuel, mixture, throttle, magnetos, fuel pump; no joy (of course not, I’m practising a complete engine failure, innit), committed to land. Practice Mayday call (say the Mayday call out loud but don’t press the transmit button or the Press will think there’s about to be another of their favourite ‘plane crash’ incidents). Height: 1,000 feet; field one mile away. It’s looking good: plenty of height so preliminary flap selection; ten degrees of flap. Mike leans over my shoulder, “Which field did you say we’re going in to?” (Oh that’s good, he’s showing an interest in what’s going on!)

“That big field there, with the farmhouse next to it”.

“Oh, ok”.

600 feet. Final flap selection. Committed checks: mime the actions – Fuel off, magnetos off, master switch off, straps tight, doors open.

“Which field was it again?”

“That one right there, with the track across the middle”

“Oh, ok”.

500 feet. Ok, if that had been a real emergency, we’d have lived for sure. Good. Practice emergency completed: carb heat ‘cold’, select full power (everything gets noisy again), prevent the strong nose-up pitch tendency, re-trim for climb power, positive rate of climb, flaps up, engine temperature and oil pressure in the green. Climbing to cruise altitude, establish track back to Plymouth.

Mike leans over again. “I thought you said the engine had failed?”

Suddenly it all made sense. The poor kid had forgotten that this was a drill; everybody else knew that there was no engine failure, it was just a practice. But for him, this was his first real in-flight emergency. He seriously thought that we were going to be in a field with sheep for company until the emergency services arrived. If we were lucky.

“Didn’t you remember? I told you before we set off that I was going to do a practice emergency; that was it!” Mike sat back in his seat, very relieved and (to his credit) with clean underwear too.

There’s an epilogue too, which is pretty important considering what had happened. About ten miles out from Plymouth, I was setting up the aircraft for circuit rejoin and landing when all of a sudden a fight broke out in the back seat. Andy turned round immediately and stopped Mike laying into his brother Ian. “Idiots! Fighting in a plane! You’re going to get us all killed!!” Things calmed down pretty sharpish…..

Then I learned after we’d landed that the reason why Mike had started hitting Ian was that, as soon as I had ‘failed’ the engine, Ian had leaned across and muttered to his older brother, “The engine has failed; we’re going to crash!” Ian, of course, knew exactly what was going on and was just winding him up.

So, for poor Mike, this was, to all intents and purposes, his first real brush with death in an aviation sense. And the lessons I learned? Only do a PFL if the passengers are a) veteran light aircraft passengers, and b) thoroughly briefed on what is going on. Yes, I’d briefed them, but they were obviously too excited to take it all in.

Well, we live and learn!

 

0
0

God’s Timing is always Perfect

For all our major life events as a family, God’s timing has always been perfect. I won’t go into great detail here (ask for clarification if you like), but in everything God has always given me exactly what we need, exactly when we need it.

The list is quite extensive, but in all these things, God has had us in the right place at the right time.

For example, how Fiona and I met, on the CB radio. I’d decided to just have 10 minutes on the radio before I went to housegroup, and long story short, that was how we met.

How I got my first job – we’d decided not to go to Church that evening but instead went out for a walk together, and met my future boss on that walk.

When we moved down from Leeds to Devon, we were looking for somewhere to live. I called our future landlady on a prompting from God, and she ‘just happened’ to be a Christian lady who didn’t mind us having our dogs in her house; furthermore, ours was the first message on her answering machine so we had first dibs on the house. Turns out she even knew a guy who’d been one of our Church leaders in Leeds.

Sometimes it’s been last-minute stuff: Fiona’s transfer to Leeds University from Liverpool, so that we could get married, was given to us on the day before she was due to go back to Liverpool. We just had to trust Him.

My current job was handed to me on a plate when a friend pointed it out to me in the local paper. Our house that we have now was set up for us perfectly – vacant possession; we were moving out of rented and had just sold our house in Leeds, tenants in situ, to another bloke who wanted the tenants in there. Everybody happy.

We found out about Fiona’s potentially life-saving operation via some friends at exactly the right time, who then went on to pay the cost upfront, and then fund-raised it back again. Wow.

…..and in all this there was no effort. It was all just natural, just getting on with life and letting God point things out as He needed to.

There was no need to be frantically thinking that we needed to be in a certain place at a certain time for God to be able to do His thing – ‘Perhaps I should be at that meeting, or go to see that person…’. Sure, sometimes God will lead you in that way – and He leads different people in different ways – because for me, in truth, it doesn’t work like that. All the major things that have happened to us have been just given to us. At the right time and in the right place – which was just where we happened to be at the time.

And you can trust God to do this, because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 says ‘Cast your cares on Him, because He cares for you’. Ever had a meeting at your house, say a make-up party, a Tupperware party, or a housegroup perhaps, and you take all the visitors’ coats (as long as they’re not too wet!) and just pile them up on one of the beds? That’s the picture I have for that Scripture; you just pile up the worries one on top of the other, onto Him, because He cares for you!

He cares for you like nobody else can, because He’s God, and He loves you! He’s perfectly capable of bearing your burdens, helping you carry the load and, ultimately, using them for your good.

You can trust Him. And His timing is always perfect.

0
0

God is Good – All the Time!

“God is Good – All the Time. All the Time – God is Good!”

This is a well-used saying in our family, and it means a lot to us.

This week, Fiona and I spent Tuesday evening, Wednesday and Thursday at the Penny Brohn Cancer Care Centre in Bristol. We were at a residential  course on ‘Living Well with the Effects of Cancer’ and very good it was too. Sure, it was a bit New Agey, but we did get lots out of it that will be useful for us. The centre is set in 4 acres of beautiful, peaceful grounds and there is also this path laid with engraved paving slabs with scriptures, sayings, well-wishes, memorials and what have you. All very lovely. Here’s Fiona on one of the swing-seats in the grounds:

Fiona at PBCC

Apart from the learning experience, our prayer was also that God would use us to bless the other classmates on the course, and somehow for us to be Jesus to them in their need.

Well, God did use us to bless them in so many ways, and we were blessed by them too. Such lovely brave people and we were privileged to share some of God with them. I love how God speaks to people at a level they can cope with, and using us to do that in the ways that suit us as personalities. So if you’re impulsive, God may well use you in impulsive ways. If you’re not, He may want you to think about what you say and even if you are going to say anything!

Anyway I just wanted to share a particularly special moment on the Thursday afternoon. We’d just been taught how to do a ‘mindful walk’, that is, a slow walk around the grounds where you look, hear, feel, smell, really take in the things that are going on around you. Actually it really worked for me…. Towards the end of the walk I began to pray a little about the way things are going. Ok it’s going slightly off-task but there were only a couple of minutes left… Soon, the course tutor came out and sounded her ‘gong’ to indicate the end of the exercise. I’d just spotted Fiona at the end of her walk, and began to stroll over to her so we could walk back in to the classroom together. I’d stopped, without thinking about it, on the laid path, and just happened to look down at my feet.

Right there next to my toes was this paving slab:

god is good all the time

God is good
All the Time

Wow.

Of course I beckoned Fiona over to look, and she loved it, but soon after that I was unsurprisingly hit by Holy Spirit giggles and could not go back into the classroom. Explaining that to the course Tutor and then relating the story to my classmates was a real privilege. God touched our lives with that paving slab in that moment. And as the Tutor said, what a confirmation!

Praise God!

Even now I have Holy Spirit giggling fits when I remember this. How encouraging is that?

0
0

Concorde in the Vertical

When we lived in Leeds, our house was about half a mile from the main runway at Leeds/Bradford Airport (LBA). In the early- to mid-90’s, the airport – perhaps a couple of times a year or so – used to host a single Concorde aircraft for a weekend of pleasure flights.

You could pay a couple of hundred pounds for a short flight of 40 minutes or so, just up to the Lakes and back or similar, so that you could say you’d flown on Concorde. Or you could pay about five hundred quid for a short supersonic hop up the North Sea, so you could say you’d been supersonic.

Of course the presence of such a spectacular aircraft drew huge crowds to the normally fairly quiet observation point at the end of Runway 14, hoping for a free airshow. On take-off, the engines would be rapidly spooled up to full power – which was loud enough – but then they would light the afterburners and you just couldn’t hear yourself think. Absolutely spectacular. The beautiful aircraft would accelerate down the runway and then lift off into a pretty steep climb; with all that power, you could do that with a Concorde. Then once she’d gone you could just hear all the car alarms in the fields (the local farmers used to open up their fields and sell parking space to the Concorde watchers) protesting at their violation by the intense shockwaves from the afterburners.

concorde afterburner

Picture: Concorde taking off on afterburner

At the end of the weekend, she’d make her final departure, and the crowds would then disperse to their shrieking cars. Now, we locals knew better. For one thing, we didn’t have shrieking cars; we’d walked to the viewpoint. For another thing, we knew that it was usually the pilots’ habit to come back for one final pass, coming in from the north-west and usually making a slow pass along the airfield in that characteristic Concorde nose-high attitude with the nose drooped for better pilot view. The aircraft would be empty, of course, with no passengers aboard.

On one occasion, however – it may have been the last time they did a Concorde weekend at LBA, in fact – they did things just a little differently. On this occasion, it was an Air France aircraft and she had departed to the south-east and the crowds had dispersed as normal. We’d waited about ten to fifteen minutes for the customary ‘surprise’ return of the aircraft. And boy, was it worth it.

She came in from over the Chevin – you could see her, coming in nose-low and very, very fast – so you could tell that something different was going on. She crossed the end of the runway at about 150 feet, doing something like 600 knots – that’s about 690mph or 0.9 Mach – 90% of the speed of sound. You could tell she was at transonic speeds because you could actually see the shockwaves on the wings; the little feathers of cloud that show that parts of the airflow over the wings is already beginning to ‘bunch up’ and form pressure fronts, the really weird transonic aerodynamics that slower aircraft simply don’t have to cope with. The noise of course was a good bit behind the aircraft but was awesome when it came. But then came the most awesome part of all.

When he’d reached about half-way along the runway, the pilot lit the ‘burners again and hauled the aircraft right into the vertical. I’m not kidding; the aircraft was going straight up. Just like a jet fighter – but this was an airliner, remember! He sustained that climb until the aircraft was no longer visible from the ground. The only thing he didn’t do was to roll it around its axis….

That has to be one of the most unbelievable things I have ever seen. I have never seen anything like  that before or since. And of course I shall never see the like again. I have looked on aviation sites all over the Internet to see if I can find if anyone else has ever reported such a thing, or better yet, got any pictures; but all in vain.

But still the memory of those indescribable few seconds of sheer awe and amazement makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. What an awesome aeroplane.

0
0

The Ghost Plane

That Blackbird story reminds me of an interesting story I was once told by my old friend Steve, who lived in Leeds at the time.

Steve was an avid airband radio listener. Living about a mile from Leeds/Bradford Airport in Yeadon, Steve used to hear all sorts of aviation radio traffic.

He’d get routine aerodrome and circuit traffic:

“Leeds Tower, Golf Alpha Romeo Oscar Charlie requesting taxi clearance for VFR departure to the north-west as booked, three p.o.b” “Oscar Charlie, taxi holding point Bravo for your checks” “Taxi hold Bravo, Oscar Charlie”

“Oscar Charlie, downwind touch-and-go” “Oscar Charlie, roger, report final” “Report final, Oscar Charlie”

Airliner traffic:

“Leeds Approach, Speedbird 7 en route Pole Hill, requesting weather”

Military traffic:

“Leeds Approach, Pirate One and Two, low level training sortie, two Jaguars from Coltishall en route Grassington for low-level practice, requesting radar information service”

And then there was this one. Brief, curt, clipped and in an American accent:

“Shadow 1, descending through Flight Level Eight Zero Zero”.

FL800, for those who are not aware of the terminology, is eighty thousand feet. In figures, it looks like this: 80,000ft. That’s a hell of a long way up – just over fifteen miles up in fact. Airliners generally fly no higher than about FL420 – 42,000ft. Concorde flew routinely at about FL520 – 52,000ft – with a ceiling (max altitude) of 60,000ft.

So, what was Shadow 1? Where had he been, to be descending through 80,000ft (which means he’d actually been up higher than that!) There can be little doubt that it was a US reconnaisance aircraft of some sort, most likely a Lockheed TR-1A

TR-1

Lockheed TR-1A

or perhaps even the Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird:

sr71_2

SR-71 Blackbird

…both of which routinely operated at that kind of altitude. There is really nothing else that it could have been. I guess Steve was lucky to have heard something like that transmitting on a non-encrypted frequency. But what a thought, it’s enough to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck…. “Descending through Flight Level Eight Zero Zero”.

Wow.

0
0

Flight of the Blackbird

Here’s an excellent aviation anecdote from a member of a very select group of pilots…..

“One day, high above Arizona, we were monitoring the radio traffic of all the mortal airplanes below us. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. ‘Ninety knots,’ ATC replied. A Bonanza [a slightly larger and faster light aircraft than a Cessna] soon made the same request. “One-twenty on the ground,” was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 [jet fighter] came over the radio with a ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley know what real speed was ‘Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground,’ ATC responded.

“The situation was too ripe. I heard the click of Walt’s mike button in the rear seat. In his most innocent voice, Walt startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, ‘Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground. ’We did not hear another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast”.

From http://flagstillstandsforfreedom.com/blackbird/

lockheed-sr-71-blackbird-4731-1680x1050

[For those who don’t know, this article is by a crewman in an SR-71 ‘Blackbird’; a high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft that could fly very, very fast and very, very high]

0
0