Monday, 7 July 7777

Welcome to the Musing Monk's blog

I have written extensively about various issues, particularly in the homosexuality debate.

The best way to find these is to use the "tag cloud" on the right to choose your keywords.

All are welcome here, even those who disagree.  My only request is that comments remain courteous and respectful of others.

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God bless

MM

Sunday, 23 February 2020

A Father’s Love


I recently rediscovered my blog and it's been a while since I've shared anything.  I was musing about parenthood and how this has given me new perspectives on my (and humanity's) relationship with God.  I'll share a poem first, then give some thoughts below.

A Father’s Love

Eden
I held my new-born daughter in my arms.
I kept her safe.  I fed her.  I swaddled her.  She was secure and loved.
She had all that she needed, and I provided.

Evolution
She began to grow, and I marveled at her.
My heart leaped with joy as she ate her first bite and took her first step.
I walked beside her in the Garden, we held hands as we talked.

Entry into the World
She became self-aware and her independence grew, and she struggled with me.
I gave her rules, not for control, but borne out of love.
I wanted her to grow, but safe and secure.

Leviticus
My rules for the house were for her health and wellbeing.
How to trust her father, love her sister and care for herself.
Her boundaries were firm, an expression of my love.

A Growing Child
As a father, the challenge was mine as I saw her feel pain.
Friends who hurt, life unfair, desires unmet.
But growth requires freedom and pain, surrounded by love.

A New Commandment
What rule is the best?  How can we do what is right?
As she moves to deeper understanding free from children’s rules.
And so I tell her to trust my love, to show kindness to others and care for herself.  (Mark this with the Twelve, from Eight and Twenty).

Our Future Together
A young woman in this world, I watch her with swelling pride.
Using her gifts and love, to bring Heaven to Earth.
A parent still? A friend?  She is both - my daughter and now my friend.

Questions to Answer
Why did I let her go?  Why did I let her feel pain? 
Why expose her to a world with disease?
Why didn’t I answer all her prayers?  Why allow others to cause her grief?  Why let her struggle?

Always Here
My beloved child,
I felt every blow.  I cried with you, I rejoiced with you. 
I loved you enough to watch you grow.  I am always your Father.

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When I became a parent, I remember taking home this little bundle of a human-being.  She was cared for, with every need being met.  I like to think of this as my Garden of Eden parenting phase.  There was absolutely no way I wanted any harm to come to her.  No illness, no disease, no suffering.  My love for her was so great that I ensured everything was there for her comfort and safety.  I believe God feels this strength of love for all humanity... and that includes those I find difficult to love.

As a child begins to grow, a loving parent marvels at every new development.  A first step, a vocalization, a new skill... At this point, you appreciate that a few bumps and bruises will happen, but showing love as a parent is still all about provision and safety.  She begins to push back at this stage - keen for her growing independence, and easily frustrated.  Sometimes that frustration is focused on you as a parent.  Love can be tough, and often needs to be.  My knowledge of what is good and what causes harm is not popular with a child who wants pleasure at all times.

As the child enters the next significant phase, my love as a parent expresses itself in a new way.  Now I begin to exert authority and rules.  I call this the Leviticus phase.  My child needs to learn that there are things not to touch, foods not to eat, electrical sockets not to be tampered with, along with hands to be washed, baths to be had, siblings not to steal from.  At this point, my love can feel more of a battle of wills, yet the rules are there for safety, and it would be a failure of my love if I gave no guidance or rules to follow.  Our relationship is one of security, rules, and trust.

The next stage is one where the child becomes more independent.  She is now free to make mistakes.  While the loving parent in me still wants to wrap her up in swaddling clothes, I know that this girl needs to experience life, with its ups and downs, to fully grow.  She cannot truly experience love without experiencing pain.  She cannot revel in hope without experiencing disappointment.  I know I cannot protect her from illness, but I can teach her how to build up her immune system.  While I want nothing more than to protect her from all harm, I know that this is not what she needs.  Instead, she needs freedom to grow, to express herself, to find herself... but all from the security of knowing she is loved by a father who is always there for her.  I will be there to share her joy and to give her comfort in her sorrow.  This new relationship with her can be hard for outsiders to understand - how can I let her make mistakes and head down a path of pain, while still claiming to love her?  Instead, it is in the care and compassion that I give her wherever she finds herself that shows my love.  I cannot embrace her if I have not first let her go.

And in the final stage, I want a new relationship with my daughter.  I am always her father, but now she grows into becoming my friend.  In John's gospel (John 15), we read Jesus saying that he is now calling his disciples his friends.  They have progressed to a new level of relationship.  God, becoming our friends.  I remember hearing someone discussing whether children become friends with parents.  There were two views - one that a child becomes a friend, and the parent role ceases.  Another was that the parent is always a parent and it can never be truly called a friendship.  Yet I don't see both as mutually exclusive.  Perhaps we can be both.

I find this relationship with my children to be helpful in thinking about God's relationship with humanity.  In the western world, we are very individualistic, and so in this article I have several times wrestled with whether to say "God's relationship with me" or "with humanity."  For me, this analogy of parental love helps me understand why God does not always intervene (apparently) and why God might allow me to go down a path that is difficult or challenging.  I might let my own daughter do the same thing.  It is not a sign of my lack of love.  Rather, it is my wanting her to grow and use her own gifts and find blessings even within darker times, knowing that I am with her every step of the way, but not as a controlling parent who manages all the details of her life - instead, as a loving parent wanting her to share all the details of her life with me so that we can truly live in relationship, seeing her be the best version of herself she can be.  And of course, we see this life through the perspective of mortality and one short life on this earth, whereas God sees all through eternity.

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Which God are we describing?

This question interests me a lot.  When we talk about God to others, especially non-believers, which God are we describing?  Which parent am I?  

Do we describe the swaddling God who is in control of every detail of our lives and loves us with the passionate love of a parent holding a newborn?  Certainly, God feels that tender love for us.

Or do we depict a God of rules and laws, a God of "thou shalt nots"?  Looking at books such as Leviticus as a parent, I can see how many passages make much more sense through this lens of loving compassion for safety and well-being, protecting their identity, safety, and relationship with God.  Certainly, God feels that protective love for us also.

Or perhaps we talk of a God that loves us and wants to see our full potential?  A God who loves us as we are, and calls us to live loving lives that help others experience that love also.  Certainly, God feels that passionate love for us also.

I hear Christians describe all these elements of God at various times.  However, each description of an aspect of God also raises questions and challenges that someone without a relationship with God might well be entitled to ask.  For example:

If God is in control (as with the baby), then why is there suffering?  Why is evil allowed to flourish?

If God is seen as a giver of strict rules (as with the young child), then this can create an image of an angry father of harsh discipline, waiting to catch us out.  This robs the Cross of its beauty, as we reduce Jesus to being a sacrifice to appease an angry God.  Who would truly want to be in a loving relationship with an angry God of wrath?

If God is all-accepting and leaves us alone to make our own decisions and make our own mistakes, then what about the mass murderers, the abusers, those who knowingly and uncaringly cause suffering?  Where is the justice?  Is God just going to forgive and forget in the name of free choice and unconditional love?  Who does God see... the young boy abused by a relative, unloved and hurt, or the same adult who perpetuates the cycle of pain?  

Which father am I?  I am a father who loves, with the passion of a father holding a newborn infant in his arms.  I am the father who cares enough to give guidance and principles to live by.  I am the father who loves to watch a child grow, stepping out in her own choices and freedom, but who loves me in return and lives in an intimate relationship with me.  To only focus on one aspect of God is to lose the richness of God's love for us.   But in truth, the world will not be convinced by our talking of God.  The world needs to see the love of God in our lives, so that they will see the genuine love waiting for them.  A father with open arms, longing for that embrace.

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Any metaphor is always going to fall short, but in this image of a loving parent, I find a way to navigate and understand God and how God's love is expressed in my life - in nurturing me, in providing for me, in giving me free will, in allowing me to walk away from Him, in longing for me to return, in inspiring me to see the world around with the same love and passion of his own eyes - filling me with a burning desire to show that love and to be that love in whatever places and in the lives into which I am blessed to be placed.


Saturday, 31 May 2014

Coping with disagreement

I was visiting a blog from a more conservative Christian recently.  People who know the writer personally, who are friends of mine, tell me he is a lovely, kind and nice person.  Yes, he cares passionately about his faith as many conservatives do, but he also cares about people.

Yet mysteriously, on his blog, I have only encountered hostility, rudeness and illogical hatred of the views I share.  And this is usually in response to comments I make about loving one another, accepting difference and tolerating different views.  His prefered criticism of me seems to be that I spread poison.  When challenged on this, he says he will always fight for the truth.

So what happened to the kind, loving and nice person my friends describe?

I don't want this blog to be about a person, but rather about a strange occurence that can happen when people interact in different ways.

When Jesus gathered his followers about him, they began to learn more about each other.  They spent time together and talked, listened and shared life experiences.  From this position of relationship, Jesus built the most influential organisation the world has known - the Christian Church.

The people around him asked questions, even challenged Jesus and his ways.  But from the love they shared, they grew together in faith.  The people who exhibited the most hostility (and ultimately killed him, but thankfully that was not the end!) were the religious people of the day who didn't know him personally (with the notable exception of Judas).  These people heard about him and his influence and occasionally dropped in the crowds to hear him speak and they hated the message he shared because it challenged their own positions.  But crucially, they did not have deep relationship with him.

And there's the rub.  Disagreements between friends can actually be very healthy and can lead to growth on both sides.  Disagreements between strangers rarely do.  When we encounter people we don't know personally, we see them less as individual people, and more as positions.  This depersonalisation of the person behind the position gives us psychological permission to attack the position and view, and consequently the person.

What I noticed in my interactions with many more conservative Christians is that it puts them in such an uncomfortable position to hear me describe myself as an evangelical Christian who disagrees with certain views (e.g. homosexuality).  Were we gathered as friends around a campfire eating fish caught that day or in the home of Mary and Martha, we might have had some very interesting conversations.  Who knows, perhaps my views might have been modified after hearing different views.  Yet this does not happen.  Instead, I am forcibly relabelled as some kind of liberal, heretic or poisoner.  At times I've even had my own relationship with Jesus questioned.  After all, how can I be a Christian if I disagree with them?

To be fair, I've noticed this effect with others too (including liberals, atheists and agnostics).  It causes more pain when it comes from fellow evangelicals, but the primary cause is the same.

Jesus once said "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples".  I have heard attempts to get round this powerful teaching by people saying true love speaks truth.  I have even heard the argument that if someone is walking off a cliff, the loving thing is to shout at him, rather than politely smile!  Yet we know that Jesus was not meaning this.  He was asking us to model the relationships he taught his disciples.  A self sacrificing, loving relationship.  Yes, there was space for disagreement and difference and sometimes some people were right and some were wrong, but never at the expense of that relationship between brother and sister.

What is interesting is that when conservatives view disagreement they like to compare themselves with the old testament prophets or they use the words of Paul about heretics.  Yet we cannot truly understand these other human examples without the lens of Christ.

Jesus had his most critical words reserved for the religious establishment who were making a relationship with God rule-bound and difficult.  James in the council of Jerusalem summarised it wonderfully - "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God".

So, as Paul writes to the Church, let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

God bless you.