the 15th of January

So in a sense we made it, we got to a milestone in that from today , the 15th of January H__ could have her own church, a church in which she is the minister and I am officially the ministers wife.
This could happen soon or it could be in another year, it may not happen at all but it theoretically could happen, she is someone ready to be called. What does that mean? What lies ahead?
I don’t think it’s been an understatement to say that I’ve been completely dislocated by this whole experience of moving to somewhere that was in some sense chosen by people I don’t know, it was something that I was prepared to do but I never really settled and if truth be told I liked living in Dublin. Belfast has been a struggle,perhaps I resented different things too much.

I never really liked Belfast even when I was a student in Queens, I know lots of people love it but we just haven’t gelled at all. And I’ve been a nightmare to live with, I’ve withdrawn from people and being unemployed (or strictly speaking self employed) means that I’ve been hermit like.

So part of me wonders what the next move will be like? What will happen now that we’ve more of a say in our options? Yet also we’ve also less options because there are some churches that disagree with women ministers and won’t be interested. The major fear is that our next move will be as hard as this move was. That freaks me out. I’d like home of sorts, not just a house. So 15th January, you’ve been marked, a little stone alter of blog words has been left. Exile was tough, I want a home.

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the perfect space

In many ways this is tensest time of the week for me, that time just before church when I decide to go, or that I should go or sometimes force myself to go. Some weeks I just don’t go.

No amount of deoderizing will stop the cold sweat I will get from going to church, especially if H___ is leading. It is always that heavy sweat as well.

Why the sweat?

It’s the thought of the people, of the uncomfortable interactions with strangers and the more familiar, the thought of chats afterwards with thos who might say
‘So any joy on the job front?’ or ‘So are you off anywhere nice on holiday?’ etc. etc.

Perhaps it is because I feel extra exposed being married to one of the ministers, the person who has been leading the service and preaching the sermon, the person who is brought into the whole church equation.

Perhaps it is also because church halls are the least uncomfortable, inhospitable spaces  I be in each week. The spaces we worship in are all the wrong colours , the seating uncomfortable and too close for someone who likes his own space and feels claustrophobic.
The way I can’t sit beside my wife like most other people who go to church but have to watch her from afar.

My holy friends have become increasingly righteous is saying ‘Well that’s the beauty of the church community, you can’t choose your family members, you have to love those people who you would not naturally gravitate towards…’
but the tense, cotton cutting sweat has little to do with that.

Anyway, I should get ready. The Perfect Space by The Avett Brothers is what comes to mind.

‘I wanna have friends that I can trust,
that love me for the man I’ve become not the man I was.
I wanna have friends that will let me be
all alone when being alone is all that I need.

I wanna fit in to the perfect space,
feel natural and safe in a volatile place.
And I wanna grow old without the pain,
give my body back to the earth and not complain.

married to the minister No.5 -‘You Gotta Walk that Lonesome Valley’

When you’re a minister in a large congregation death, pain and suffering are unavoidable.
Obviously death, pain and suffering is unavoidable full stop as ‘You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley’

In a church the minister is a sort of reference point for people in their pain. Marriage break-ups, cancers, funerals, job loss, ill health, addictions, abuse, adultery, the list goes on and on. This is one of the things that church should be doing, binding up wounds and proclaiming that the kingdom of dark doesn’t get the final word.

H____ (like most ministers) spends a good portion of her week visiting people and often these visits are to people going through hard times, very hard times.

So whenever H___ comes home and I say “You OK?’ and she sighs and mentions that she has been visiting someone (usually nameless) who is going through some type of pain experience
a) you wonder how do they carry around so much pain from different sources and does the tidal wave ever relent?
I often wonder the same about counselors and social workers. Part of you marvels, part of you wonders.

b) you can get depressed or dragged down because you are only too aware that pain and death are out there. And of course that plays on your mind.
Every minor ailment could be first sign of the disease that plunges your life into tragedy or pain. Or pain and disease are waiting to pounce on those you love. ‘Have I got a tooth ache or is it a brain tumor like so and so had? He only thought he had a toothache but the found a etc etc instead and he was dead with a month…‘ etc

The reality is that we can’t avoid these things, but if you hear about them day after day (whether first hand or from hearsay) the darkness out there seems over-whelming. Add to that the things you might hear on the news report and you can get scared and wither away from life.

I don’t want to wither away from life. Simone Felice was on the Bob Harris radio show the other night talking about having open heart surgery and how it has brought clarity to his life. Bob asks him (about 2.26mins in) how this experience has effected his art and Felice says
‘I sing every song as if it was my last night on earth and I’ll try to wake up every morning and feel like it’s my first morning on earth – you know So just trying to live for the moment and give praise for every breath…’

Those words seem like wise advice and of course we believe that there is redemption from the kingdom of death, which is the good news (or else it is nothing at all)

Still, if you’re naturally melancholic, partial to a bit depression or pessimism it can wear you down sometimes.

fear and death in the north

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been fairly disillusioned by Christianity in recent years and that the disillusion doesn’t seem to be shifting anywhere fast.

And as I’ve mentioned before that is an unsettling place to be when you’re married to someone who is training t0 be a minister in a church.
There are just so many overlaps and confusions that it seems to become a mire that is impossible to escape sometimes.

On top of that there is an extra  layer of mire – Northern Irish, evangelical, Presbyterian, cultural baggage mire that I’m also having to wade through.

When I first lived in Northern Ireland I always  had my doubts but they where simply overwhelmed by the size my Christian bubble.  Any doubts I had got forgotten about in the rush to do church stuff or hang out with my Christian friends.
There was a hint of something different during my student days, especially around Queen’s  CU with talk about grace and about not wearing masks but it wasn’t until I moved down to Dublin in 2000 that I can say I experienced something approaching grace in practice as well as theory.

I experienced something approaching freedom in a spiritual sense and also culturally. I had never enjoyed Belfast as a city but always loved Dublin. Happy where the rainy afternoons spent in Bewley’s by the fireplace drinking tea and eating a rock bun.  It was an amazing time to be in Dublin, so many different cultures and languages on the 66A into town, the IFI showing foreign films, music and good friends.
In the churches/ places I worked I experienced a different sort of community and most of all I knew that I was accepted no matter what happened.
A simple way to put it was that it felt like home to me. A different sort of home, but in a really good way.

That’s not to say that I still didn’t struggle with Christianity or church, but the thing was that I felt that I was accepted and given space to wrestle with God without any expectation that I had to hit a certain standard or wear a mask. There was freedom to wrestle with stuff, to wrestle with God and that was freeing.

Fast forward to my current situation and that doesn’t seem to be the case. I don’t feel that freedom to wrestle and worst of all there seems to be a merry-go-round of Christianity that I am expected to jump on which is made even worst by being married to a minister who is near to finishing up.

But that’s a discussion for another day.

There are many reasons I have found it hard to fit in and don’t feel as free or as joyful, that Christianity is good news.
My more holy, biblical friends might be tutting and saying that it’s not our job to fit into  church or to be so individualistic, that the church is not a consumer choice and that we can’t be shopping around for the perfect church as there are none but I’m just about hanging in there with any faith I have so I’m not going to get too theological about things.|

There is the fear, life weakening fear that seems to hang over our churches and sneak about the pews up hear. Fear is like damp mist that drains any life out of so many people I see and has wrecked havoc with me and members or my extended family. Fear is all over the place, and fears seems to lead to control and abuse of power.
Or rather control seems to play into the hands of fear. Much of the religion I grew up with and have been witnessing again seems to be controlling things, about getting as many disembodied floaty souls to heaven as possible.
And this meant that you shouldn’t piss of the God who could send you to the flames of hell for all eternity, and the best chance of achieving that was to do what the minister said as he was the professional who understood what God wanted us to do the best.

Fear is coupled with death, particularly the fear of death and suffering. I honestly think this is the main problem with the religion I grew up with, this fear of death and of suffering and pain and of not hearing any or very little good news about how death is actually defeated.
Of course there is great suffering and pain in Dublin but up here the population seems significantly more obsessed with death.

So if there are two issues that I would love to hear more good news about it would be those two, the FEAR and DEATH. Those are the main components of the mire that has been bogging me down.

authority + church leadership + trust

Ploughing through my book on church history I’ve reached the French Revolution and as the centuries pass by a recurring theme seems to play itself over and over again.

Jesus once said these words

‘You know that the rulers of the heathen lord it over them and that their great ones have absolute power? But it must not be so among you. No, whoever wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be your slave – just as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free’

Well it’s hard to see how that command of Jesus fits with the words of someone like Pope Innocent III who said of his position way back around AD 1200

‘The successor of Peter is the Vicar of Christ:he has established as a mediator between God and man, below God but beyond man; less than God but more than man; who shall judge all and be judged by no one.’

The author of the book also mentions about how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples while subjects(?) had to kiss the pope’s feet.

Of course that was a long time ago but it seems pretty clear that Jesus was telling the apostles that they should be leading in a completely different sort of way to the pagans.

This was Jesus who practiced what he preached as well, it wasn’t just some type of fancy theory that he said about leading but then didn’t follow through on.
He was cursed and exiled, beaten to pulp and lonely and led like a lamb to the slaughter. He washed the disciples feet. It’s there right at the start, as plain as the nose on your face.

That’s was what being great looked liked.

Yet reading through church history (and you won’t need me to point this out) much of it doesn’t seem to be like that.
Church leaders have continually lorded it over people, over and over and again. And it’s not just the Pope’s in the days of yore. And it’s not just the Catholics either back in the days of yore, it’s Protestants today I guess for that is my branch of the Christian tree.

The author of the book has pointed out a few times that society was different back then so while we look on in horror now at the time it wasn’t considered unusual to execute someone for heresy but I say ‘bollocks’ to that.

The plain fact is that Jesus said that we shouldn’t lead like that, we should wash each others feet and serve each other. Does the Jesus we encounter in the gospels and who said ‘take up your cross and follow me’ sound like the type to be launching a Spanish Inquistion?
Paul was responsible for killing lots of heretics in his day but once he met Jesus he gave up that up.

Killing heretics doesn’t seem to be part of the way things should ever go down. But hey they did.
All this would be easy to dismiss as from another time when things where different except for the way that it still seems to go down that way.  Church leadership seems to be for the ‘movers and shakers’ and certain Christian leaders like John Piper can cause a sh*t storm when they say that the Biblical pattern for a Godly man is a certain way and the batallions of reformed evangelical church leaders line up behind him in agreement and tell the women to stand back while they take charge as God has commanded.

I was originally going to forget about this blog but my wife and I got talking tonight and we realized that the attitude is still around and the struggle is how much you submit to church tradition or the way things are done.

Again we’re all a mess and if you have men with messy hearts you will have a messy church and institution just like any messy institution like the banks or government

EXCEPT

that the church should be different if it’s real and really has the Spirit of Christ living in it.
World leaders might kill those that threaten their regime of power but it should never be like that in a church.
Yet we  still do. Not literally but metaphorically.

In closing I guess a lot of my struggle is how much I’m on board with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland or the branch of Christianity I’ve inherited.

seal team 66



Seal team sixty six
(for John Piper and Mark Driscoll)

Seal Team Sixty Six
The Bob’s and John’s and Mark’s and Rick’s
The Al’s and Brad’s and Kyle’s and Nick’s
The Paul’s and Ken’s and Tom’s and Mick’s

Seal Team Sixty Six
Where not deceived by Satan’s tricks
They’re more like God than all the chicks
He’s got some things, He needs them fixed

Seal Team Sixty Six
Discipline you with some sticks!
Stone the weak man with their bricks!
Give you Gospel with some kicks!

Seal Team Sixty Six
An alpha male toxic mix
With all the pain  that this inflicts
Is this the God Christ depicts?

What about the women Jesus picks?

the big one – married to the minister no.4

…except it’s not my last post as I nearly forgot the most obvious difficulty about being married to woman who is a pastor namely that many good Christians think that only a man should be leading a church and teaching men. Some people very obviously believe it is a sin while with others you aren’t sure what they are really thinking but suspect they think the same but won’t say.

I’ve thought about this many times but maybe not as many times as a man in my position might have been expected to.
The main reason is something of what I’d mentioned in the first post.

The traditional role of a minister has been built up and inflated out of proportion to what it actually is and should be in my opinion. It is seen as the key position, the most important position in any church as if that church should call a duffer then things start to go wrong.

It would be silly of me to say that they’re is not some truth in that as if you’ve a minister teaching things that just aren’t true (like Roman Catholics can’t be saved for example or that you shouldn’t enjoy an alcoholic beverage or two) then things will go wrong.

But at the same time there is too much emphasis and prestige placed around the minister/pastor/vicar as the leader of a church. Their position matters too much.

Because it is seen as the key position the debate about whether women should be in the position of church leadership takes a more prominent position than maybe it should and is blown out of proportion.  Some people seem to think that if we don’t get this right they’re won’t be a revival and we’re off to hell in a hand basket.

Again I’m not saying it isn’t important to think about these issues but perhaps there are more burning, pressing issues out there to be getting our knickers in a twist about? What about injustice or encouraging people in their work and dealing people who have no hope?

Which is why I’ve not thought about it that much. At the end of the day we don’t have to answer to anyone but God. And I live with the evidence and the evidence is everything you could possibly want in a pastor and more.

Besides often the debate isn’t really about the question of women in ministry but how Christian’s should interpret or read the Bible. The debates and fights for truth over issues like this aren’t about whether ____ would be suitable as a minister but over the authority of the Bible and how we should interact with it. The issue over homosexuality as well is maybe more about how people read and treat the Bible than issues of sexuality. For some Christians I know it is very important that life is black and white, right or wrong with no room for shades of grey and things that don’t really matter that much. They like to major on the minor’s as my friend Trevor used to say.

Many Presbyterians I know and have known will insist that the Bible is literally true and that if you don’t submit to it’s authority, even the difficult bits you are sinning.

S0 when Paul writes in a personal letter to one man that he’s doesn’t permit women to teach in church it seems fairly obvious to them that applies to all women from then until now. But does it?

They’ll talk about Greek words and context and arguments from Genesis and this and that while forgetting that the ordinary man on the street just doesn’t care.

They just want to know that if they’re mother is terminally ill someone from the church will come and visit and pray with them. They want to know that someone cares for them when they’re struggling with life. They want to know that someone is praying for them or that if they loose their job it will be OK.

Again I’m not saying that it isn’t important or a vital position but it doesn’t seem to have sunk in that all people occupy an important and vital position in the scheme of things.  The teachers, bin men, farmers, Tesco workers all have a ministry and matter as much as the minister.
Put simply there is too much emphasis on the role of the pastor and what he/she does or doesn’t do.
There is too much expectation and pressure with the position and by default with the family of a minister to be something more than an ordinary pilgrim struggling with things as much as the next person.

What would happen if a minister got up on Sunday morning and said how they really had been that week?
How they are struggling with addiction, or clinically depressed, or had been having huge fights with their spouse?
How they didn’t trust God as they are sick of having no money to go on a simple holiday or to buy a new car?
How they struggled with family members or struggled with pornography or said the church should be  welcoming but didn’t really like anyone?
How they had lied that week or were greedy, how they had thrown the sermon together at the last minute and didn’t really believe the words they where saying?

The list goes on and on yet it seems to be a matter for most if not all ministers to suck it up every week and be expected to churn out an inspirational sermon whether they feel like it or not, even whether they truly believe it or not.
It is their job and much like you would get the sack if you didn’t turn up for work on Monday morning and do your job so the church minister is obliged to do a sermon whether they feel like it or not.

The disconnect is hard though isn’t it?
If all the stuff someone like myself has been taught in church over the years is true then this Jesus stuff should be life changing and we should be whole people.
If we’re fundamentally doubting inside but saying things on the outside that sound good and correct surely that doesn’t mean we’re whole people at all.
Isn’t that why Jesus hammers the Pharisees in Matthew 23?

It’s hypocritical.

As a spouse how can someone help their husband/wife to be a whole, healthy person if  their job and the expectations of the job put them on some type of treadmill that doesn’t allow them to be a whole, healthy person?