My News!

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything on here and it turns out this is actually my 100th post!  Life has been filled with study for a Masters, making space for a third child that we sort of inherited, working on various projects, publishing a Grove Booklet and a whole load of writing for Christian Today, and some other websites.  However, I have news to share and so a blog seemed a good way to share it!

You may or may not be aware of what I do when I’m not having Opinions on Twitter, but basically it involves being a specialist in addressing lots of different aspects of male violence towards women.  I write resources, deliver training, write training, speak at events and other such activities.  In just under a decade I have delivered programmes for women who have been subjected to abuse; written materials for youth practitioners about domestic abuse; delivered training to churches, multi-disciplinary groups; written multimedia resources on pornography and; worked with a national Christian charity addressing male violence against women.  I have also delivered a programme for men who are perpetrators of domestic abuse and have written a national resource on child sexual exploitation.

When I speak at Christian events or deliver training to Christian organisations about domestic abuse issues, I am asked about what resources are available for participants to learn more.  There are a couple of books I recommend, only one of which is Christian.  Although there are a few Christian books available, most were written in the 90s and don’t include anything on digital culture or recent developments in neuroscience and trauma.  As such they are helpful, but limited.

Which brings me to MY NEWS!  Over the next year I shall be writing my first ever BOOK!  It will be published by SPCK, with a planned release for March 2019.  I’m writing the book primarily for Christians who want to be better resourced in responding to abuse within relationships, but hopefully it will also be suitable for those who are realising their current partner (or ex-partner) is abusive.

I’m hoping to give occasional updates on how things are going, and I’m sure lovely Twitter people will help me on the worst days and the best days of writing.  I’ve decided to spread my MA out over three years in order to make writing a book this year more manageable.  Writing a dissertation and a proper book at the same time would have likely proved to be Quite A Challenge.

So it’s all very exciting!  Life generally continues to be quite challenging for us GLWs, with stable income seeming to elude us.  Yet God remains faithful and miracles occur on a seemingly daily basis.  If you’d like to pray for us, you can sign up for our semi-regular prayer update HERE and if the book I’m writing is something you’d like to financially support me with, you can contribute HERE either monthly or with a one off donation.

Father’s Day Resource

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In the UK, Father’s Day falls on Sunday 18th June.  Many Church Leaders I know have spoken of the challenge of doing church services on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as so many people in their churches are dealing with difficult and painful circumstances related to parenthood and having children.  Yet, this also gives us an opportunity to shine a light into the darkness people are dealing with, and to celebrate the fathers and father figures who cherished by those in our congregations.

 

To aid church leaders in their church service plans for Father’s Day, I have written a resource that could be used by church leaders across the UK.  I have done this in partnership with The Resource, an organisation which exists to equip, support, encourage, train and develop those working with children and young people.

 

You can download the pdf resource HERE and the PowerPoint for Activity 3 HERE.  It has guidance for sensitively running a service on the subject of fatherhood, includes videos that could be used with a service and activities to do with both adults and children during the service.  If you’d like any further information about the resource, you can email me on natalie@dayprogramme.org.

 

I hope the resource is useful!  Do feel free to leave feedback in the comments!

 

The resource is totally free, but if you would like to financially contribute to my work, you can do so through my Give account, which can be found HERE.

 

 

Guest Blog: Working with Young Men

I am hugely privileged to have a guest blog from Rev. Anne Bennett, who is an Anglican priest based in Kent.  I invited her to guest blog on her experiences of working with young men after I did a live-tweetathon whilst reading “Why Men Hate Going to Church”.  I love what she has to say about working with young men!  Anne is on Twitter: @VicarofBorstal and she blogs HERE.

 

I read with incredulity GLW’s tweeted review of the book ‘Why Men Hate Going to Church’ by Dave Murrow.   This book’s basic premise is that we need to develop a specific ministry to men, a ministry that plays to gender stereotypes and which separates boys and girls. The author works from the premise that men like action movies while women like romantic comedies, and church should be themed thus[1].   Jesus is to be presented as a superhero, not a suffering servant.

 

I would like to humbly offer an alternative approach to ministry to men, based on my four years of working in a youth offending institution. I have never needed to use the stereotypes and methods of ‘men’s ministry’, nor do I think they would be helpful.  If there has been a book which has influenced me, it is ‘Contemplative Youth Ministry’, by Mark Yaconelli, which offers a gentler, holier way to minister with young people.

 

I work with young men who have been accused or convicted of crime. In our environment there is so much testosterone in the air you could bottle it as aftershave. There is nothing ‘sissy’ about this group, and sometimes they can be intimidating and aggressive.  Yet, in the five years I have worked with these young people, I have only three times had an empty chapel for worship. I have consistently found that some young people are called to come to worship, even to the point of being baptised, confirmed and publicly committing their lives to Christ.  I work as part of a diverse multifaith team that offers faith and pastoral care. It is stressful but rewarding work.

 

Our young people are surrounded by stereotypes and expectations.  As young men, especially as gang members, they are expected to be loud, strong and dominant.  They are fiercely loyal to their gang and hostile to strangers.  The atmosphere is often charged.

Yet something calls these young people into chapel.  Many have good memories of being taken to church when younger, often by their grandmothers.  Those older women, the ‘little old ladies’ so despised by some ministers, have sown good seed.  Some young people are looking for a less chaotic lifestyle.  Some are in despair and grasping at any straw.  Some are just looking for love, and we offer love without strings, unconditional, beautiful, divine love.

 

As they come into chapel these young men visibly relax.  The door is locked behind them, but the sense is that prison is locked out, rather than them being locked in.  The noise dies down and they know that they are in a sacred and a safe place.  I greet them and we have a few minutes of chat before God’s peace is allowed to fall on us in silence.  We participate in the ancient ritual of Holy Communion respectfully and reverently. At the start of our prayer time, each young person lights a candle.

 

After worship we sometimes have a discussion, but often we make art together. Creating a collaborative artwork brings young people together and avoids any sense of competition.  Our chapel is decorated with these works – a representation of the pillars of cloud and fire, a bright candle in a dark room, a burning bush, a tree of life.

 

I have learned much from working with this most demanding of groups.  I find these boys respond best to ministry which meets them where they are, but which then offers them a new hope.  They do not want the superhero narrative – every young person I have worked with has said that he wants to get away from violence.  They seek and struggle with forgiveness. Touchingly, for young people who have often had very disrupted lives, they often say they just want to ‘settle down’.

 

So what are the keys to working with young people, especially young men?  I find them to be the same keys as to working with anyone else.  Firstly, and most importantly, the gospel needs to be central to what we do.  This is not a social group, though we offer fellowship and safety.  We are there to worship, to pray and to open our hearts to the divine. It is our very difference which calls young people in. Church must always be there, waiting for those who one day will need to walk through the doors.

 

Secondly, young people can spot pretence from ten miles away.  I am far from being a male role model.  I am a middle-aged woman priest with liberal views and a fondness for rich liturgy and poetry.  Any attempt on my part to ‘speak street’ or to pretend to be part of their culture will produce instant alienation. Teen culture has exquisitely detailed rules and it belongs to teenagers.  I can only be myself, trusting in my vocation and my faith.  I offer what wisdom I can from my different vantage point.

 

Thirdly, we must listen to young people, and understand something of what is going on for them.  I always ask them what they would like to pray for.  I look at their body language: are they withdrawn, wrapped in their own arms, hiding in their hoodies?  Teenagers will tell you a great deal, but often without many words.

 

And finally, it may seem trivial, but for young men whose voices are breaking corporate singing is agonising.  I never ask young people to sing in an environment where their voice will be heard individually.  I also take care who I ask to read – both boys and girls can have reading difficulties.  I do not pressure young people to do anything – just being there is enough for God, and it must be enough for me.  Too many churches like their young people to perform, rather than participate.

 

I have never offered ‘men’s ministry’, just ministry.  I have never offered bacon rolls and paintball, just quiet worship and an atmosphere of positive change, forgiveness and hope.  Sometimes, by God’s grace, it bears great fruit.

 

[1] ‘The Danish Girl’ made $64m dollars at the box office, but films which do not fit action or romance stereotypes are not considered worthy of analysis.

 

Jon Jorgensen and Repackaged Patriarchy

In the last week, I got my first introduction to Jon Jorgenson after stumbling across his video “Who You Are: A Message to all Women” after it found its way into my Twitter feed.  The video is well on its way to having 6 million views.  Jorgenson is a Christian spoken word poet and although this video’s title is aimed at women, the video is set in a lecture hall and seems to be seeking an audience of younger women and girls.

 

A white man telling girls who they are didn’t seem like a particularly liberatory model.  So I decided to have a watch.  With emotive music and short dramatic sentences, the video is designed to create a specific emotional response.  He tells girls they’re smart and precious and funny and insists we have a responsibility to set free the “world changing woman” within ourselves.  Incidentally the video is entirely produced by men.  So he doesn’t think women are actually smart enough to be involved in creating his videos with him.

 

After moaning about the video on Twitter, I was informed that he has also created one for men.  So I had a watch of “Who You Are: A Message to all Men”, it has close to 2 million views.  The thing that is MOST fascinating is comparing the words of the videos (and though I don’t have time to delve into them, also the tone and body language within them and soundtrack lyrics behind them).  The subtly (or not so subtly) different language devices within stories that are broadly the same.  The overarching narrative of both videos are:

 

  1. You Are Awesome
  2. Things get in the way of you feeling amazing
  3. You have the capacity to change the world
  4. Jesus died for you
  5. The devil will tell you you’re not amazing
  6. Reject the devil
  7. You Are Awesome

 

The image below has the words typed up in two columns in order for you to compare them.  I’m hoping you can zoom in and read it…

 

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Here’s some of the issues when the videos are compared:

 

Women are passive: Beautiful, smart, funny, kind, unique, precious

Men are active: Strong, brave, capable,

 

Women receive: they “are worthy of love and affection”

Men give: they have ability, potential, gifts, talents, kind words, wisdom, jokes, joy to spread, they are full of qualities, traits and virtues

 

Women are “the most stunning of all God’s creation”

Men are “the Lord’s most valuable creation”

 

Women are objects: a diamond, rose, pearl, “the most

Men are subjects: writers, athletes, inventors, artists, musicians, technicians

 

The things that get in the way of women knowing their worth are all related to how they look (except maths test scores and pottery modelling): weight, hair, shoes, whether girls envy them or boys want to “have” them, clothes, modelling, hot list or not list (yes it says that), cheerleader, can’t stand to look in the mirror,

 

The things that get in the way of men knowing they are loved by God are related to activities and physical size: being muscly, being small (and in the library), baseball, swing dancing, fastest, slowest, tallest, smallest, skinniest, fattest, captain of the team or last one picked,

 

For women it doesn’t matter whether “you’re Miss Popular or never really had someone you could call a friend”.

For men it’s doesn’t matter whether “your dad could beat up his dad or you never had anyone in your life who could fill that role”.

 

Women “deserve someone who would give their life up for you because you are powerful and strong, capable”

Men “have a power inside you that was formed before the beginning of time in a secret place by the God of the universe”

 

Women get to change the world, but he gives no examples of what they do.  Just to read about women ing the Bible: Esther, Ruth, Mary, Martha.

Men get to change the world with their gifts, talent, courage, ability, and joy

 

Women are cherished, loved, adored by God

Men are treasured, entrusted and love by God

 

This videos are seeking to change the world, to change how women and men perceive themselves.  But particularly the messages Jorgenson sends to women are regressive and reinforce women as objects and ornaments.  It’s all very well wanting to challenge the cultural messages that women and girls are oppressed by.  But you cannot dismantle the devil’s house with the devil’s tools.

 

As well intentioned as these videos are, they continue to perpetuate the same models for women and girls that exist across society.  Perhaps that’s why the one for women has so many views.  It isn’t enabling women to reject the messages that oppress them, but rather to hear God tell them those same messages in a nicer voice.

 

The messages given to men are slightly more benign, there’s less about aggression and redemptive violence.  However, the comparative messages in the videos still leave men to conclude they are the actors (reinforced by a man performing both videos), the agents and that women are put on earth by God to be attractive and passive.

 

We must challenge these messages wherever we find them and remain steadfast in recognising that girls and women deserve better than repackaged patriarchy to empower and inspire them.

 

When Men are People and Women are Novelty

This week Donald Trump’s misogyny became clearer to the world.  We now all know that he likes to sexually assault women.  Many were upset because they have wives and sisters and daughtersOthers were upset because he used bad wordsYet others wanted people to grow up and stop being so sensitive about the things men say in private.  Even when those things are a man admitting sexual assault.

 

Another thing that happened this week is that two brand new Christian events were announced.  Naturally Supernatural is a new event from the Soul Survivor team and replaces Momentum.  And Jesus Culture announced a new event that will be happening in Manchester.  These new events that haven’t happened previously.  Currently the Naturally Supernatural line-up includes five white men, one black man and one white woman.  The Jesus Culture event has seven white men (two of them are called Chris) and one white woman.  This event has more Chris’ speaking than women speaking.

 

Now, dear reader, you may be wondering how on earth Donald Trump’s misogyny is related to two new Christian events.  So I shall tell you.

 

Donald Trump’s misogyny started as a seed.  It grew in a soil of white male entitlement, wealth and power.  It grew as he was socialised to understand that men are people and women are novelty; where his power and wealth gained him impunity.  It has been cultivated most recently by white, male conservative Christians, who have either been silent on his comments, have undermined the seriousness of them or have reluctantly admitted that he’s in the wrong.  When these same conservative Christians have expressed concern, it’s because they are fathers and husbands.  It seems it’s only possible for men to care about women if they are emotionally invested in one.  Because men are human and women are novelty.  I wrote about that HERE.

 

These new Christian events are contributing to the soil.  At a very fundamental level they are saying men are people and women are novelty, in a Christian world where 65% are women.  Jesus Culture say, “There is a stirring.  God is on the move.  A hope for the nations.  The inescapable truth that He will do great things in our day.”  If Jesus Culture are unable to discern that God’s move involves a whole load of women, I’m not sure we can trust that they are really hearing from Him.  The world is changing, the roar of woman is finally being heard across our nations and yet Jesus Culture are deaf to her voice.  Because for them men are people and women are novelty.

 

Naturally Supernatural is “Equipping the church to live spirit-led lives.”  The Kingdom of God currently has a female majority, yet as an event they can only find enough women for novelty.  When the men who attend this event can only be upset about Donald Trump’s actions because of their wives and daughters, who can blame them when women’s only roles at the event are as wives, mothers, daughters and sisters?  There will be little that shows women are Christian teachers and leaders, competent and skilled, capable and trusted by God and by well-known Christian organisations to bring God’s Truth to all.

 

We can all imagine that we are nothing like Donald Trump.  That his words and actions are disgusting.  But unless we are actively working to create a world where women are no longer novelty, we are part of the soil.

 

Ali Campbell has also written about this over on his blog and has some really great stuff to say!  Read it HERE.

Anon’s University CU Story

I’ve been hosting people’s experiences of University Christian Unions over the last few weeks.  You can read the rest of them HERE.  Today’s story has been shared anonymously.

 

I studied for five years at a Scottish university and attended the Christian Union. It was a medium-sized society of around 40-60 regular attendees. In my first year I showed much enthusiasm for all things CU leading to me serving on the committee as secretary during my second year.

 

By and large, jobs were dished out fairly evenly. Exec committees were almost always 50:50 and bible study leaders were usually co-led by one guy and one girl. Our CU was about 2:1 female:male. This was higher than the average gender distribution in a church, likely due to the technical nature of the university. Just about every other CU-related activity mirrored that ratio except for one thing: speakers.

 

We never had a female speaker at our main meeting. Although we had many female students chairing some of those meetings, sharing testimony, leading prayer and music, the main speaker – typically a local pastor or trainee minister – was always male. We had one excellent female speaker at an evangelistic lunchtime talk in my first year. I was thrilled to see her up at the front, excited that my CU was breaking stereotypes, yet, disappointingly, she was the only woman I heard giving the main talk at a CU event throughout my degree.

 

I was on the CU committee in 2012 when news broke about Bristol CU and their controversial change in policy over female speakers. I made sure that in our next committee meeting we were aware of UCCF’s stance in case our student union approached us. It was a useful conversation but I feel we could have done much more than just be ready to give a statement.

 

I doubt whether it just so happens all the sound preachers in our city happen to be male. Despite our claim that the CU welcomes all speakers who agree with the UCCF doctrinal basis of core beliefs, we likely stuck with male speakers as the safe conservative option to keep the peace among our interdenominational society. This isn’t being balanced though. This is catering to the desires of a particular group of believers within our CU.

 

CU isn’t a church. This point is emphasised to new recruits each year so that they go and find a local church to join alongside CU. Yet, we still adopt very similar practices to congregations in who does what.

 

I recall a conversation where I was challenged by a non-Christian course mate who wanted to be president of a society she was involved with. She asked me why I didn’t want to be CU president. While there is a whole other list of reasons/motivations for being on a committee in CU versus another society, I found myself ducking around the fact that girls in the CU tend to be vice-president, not president. I was embarrassed by the backward thinking of the people I so dearly loved.

 

I noticed an increasing number of girls-only, guys-only events being run by the CU over the years and I’m torn on whether we should host such events. One-to-one mentoring of older women with younger women and older men with younger men is biblical (Titus 2) and highly useful. However, I feel too many of these sorts of events legitimise gender stereotypes associated with the church which is damaging. In my experience, if you stick a group of Christian girls in one room together, the conversation will eventually turn to weddings, not what God has been doing in their life recently. A female who doesn’t enjoy tea and cake (which is frankly just a chance to gossip) and would much rather attend the video games evening that is “boys only” will miss out on valuable fellowship with her sisters in Christ because those are the only social gathering options a CU is offering. It’s at these initial social events that friendships begin and can develop further on a one-to-one basis. That’s where discipleship starts and people miss out if they don’t feel welcome at these introductory fellowship events. We can say that these events are open to everyone but it’s unlikely many would feel brave enough to go against the grain and be in the minority at such an event.

 

Despite all of this negative stereotyping, I was particularly proud of the committee in my final year who decided to host a seminar on taboo topics. CU members were specifically asked what they would do if a friend approached them to say they were having issues regarding their sexuality/gender identity. As enthusiastic as I was about the evening (being a bisexual feminist) it was very awkward because Christians have created a culture of not being open about such subjects. I still don’t feel like I can come out to my Christian friends for fear of being judged even though it’s really none of their business who I’m attracted to but that’s another story. These topics are much more prevalent in our society today and are increasingly keeping people from investigating Christ because we paint a poor picture of what the church should be like.

 

As I progressed further through my degree I, typically, had less time for CU and over time spent less time there. I wish I had questioned the choice of speakers etc. My sister ended up being president of her university’s CU because she was the best person for the job. I do hope that was the reason my university CU chose the people they did to lead and teach the CU.

One in Christ Jesus – A Sermon

After tweeting earlier today about my sermon I thought I’d post it online in case anyone is interested in reading it…

 

This week has been a difficult week.  Though it may not have been reported as such, the death of Jo Cox was a political assassination.  And her death is directly linked with some of the rhetoric within the EU referendum.  Yesterday I was on local authorised preacher training and someone said that we shouldn’t make preaching political and that voting is a personal thing.  And the choice of who we vote for is personal, but the impact certainly is not.

I wrote this sermon before Jo Cox was murdered, so I will speak further about that later on.  When I saw that this passage was to be preached on today, I told our vicar I would love to preach on it, as one verse in particular has great significance to me.  Galatians 3:28..

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I love this verse so much that it is the name of a project I am involved in, Project 3:28, which is all about addressing the lack of representation of women in Christian culture.

Last month I participated in a debate at Oxford University “This house believes religious practice hinders gender equality”.  I was on the opposition with a Hindu woman and a Muslim woman.  The proposition included an atheist woman, a cultural Muslim man and a “post Christian theologian”.  Her name is Daphne Hampson and she is a post Christian theologian because she used to be a Christian and she rejected the Christian faith because of how it oppresses women.

She’s not wrong…

Though it may not have happened in our church, the experiences of many in Christian culture and in churches is…

  • Women told by church leaders to stay with an abusive husband
  • Women told they cannot lead, teach, fulfil their calling
  • The failings of male leaders often colluded with.  “Restoration plans”
  • Real work seen as male, intellectual.
  • Model of spirituality often aligns with men who often have less caring responsibilities
  • Assumptions women will do childcare in church
  • Men often encouraged into leadership roles

Women’s full inclusion can be perceived as a “secondary issue”…

Yet for Daphne Hampson and many other’s it is the reason they have rejected the Christian faith.

In today’s post-modern world, it is ethics and not reason or proof that is standing in the way of many people accepting Jesus into their lives.

How do we declare Jesus as liberation when so many who bear His name are contributing to the oppression of women?

Today is Father’s Day.  Both Mothering Sunday and Father’s Day can be amazing, positive days for those of us with loving parents.  But for many they are complex days.  For better or worse, our parents are usually the biggest influence on our lives.

And for those of us who are parents what a great responsibility it is to recognise that is also the case for our children.

Our father may not have been present in our lives or perhaps he made choices which have deeply wounded us.  Perhaps we were adopted or do not know who our father is.  Or there may be men here who hoped to be fathers and it never happened.  Or fathers whose children are no longer with us, or perhaps who are estranged.

Often the church can be a difficult place to be if our family doesn’t fit the 2.4 nuclear family that is often idolised by Christian culture.  We can feel alienated and isolated if we are single, it we do not have children, or if our family background is complicated and messy.  Just as women (and men) can be alienated from the church because it seems oppressive to women, so can those who don’t fit the nice, happy smiley family structure.  How often when we’re asked how we are at church on a Sunday do we put on our church smile and say we’re fine, even though life is actually deeply painful?

Can we be confident that the non-Christians we know with messy family situation will not put the church off them because of the mess?  Do they feel the church is a place of inclusion or of judgement?  Do they know that us people in the church have messy lives too?  Are we willing to be honest about our pain?  Be vulnerable?  Or do we want to present ourselves as a model person, as a model family?

In 2 Corinthians 4:7 Paul says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  I imagine myself as a broken jar of clay, with a light inside.  It is through the cracks that the light of God can get out.  It is not my strength or competence that most clearly reveals God to the world, it is instead my brokenness.

In the past week we have witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States.  49 people were killed and 53 people injured when a man claiming to represent Islamic State opened fire in a Gay Nightclub in Orlando.  I have gay and lesbian friends who have been horrified and left deeply scared by this homophobic terror attack.  It can be easy to look at this terrible atrocity and condemn Islamic State, without examining how Christianity has often been deeply homophobic.

We can look at the murderer’s religion and consider Islam as the problem.  Fear of ISIS has fuelled hate crime to those who don’t have white skin.  Earlier this week we may have looked at Orlando and assumed it happened “over there in America, where everyone has guns”.  Yet, what happened later in the week?  An MP, shot dead.

Just as women and those with complex families can feel the church and Jesus is incompatible with their lives, so can lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  Do we have friends who are gay or lesbian?  Do we have work colleagues or family members?  Are there people in our congregation?  People here today?  Do they know that we care about them?  Or is their assumption that we are homophobic because we are Christian?

As we consider how to vote on Thursday (and there will be people here who vote both ways) as Christians, our vote must not be based on how the referendum will affect the price of our house.  As Christians we must prioritise firstly loving God and then loving our neighbour.  And who is our neighbour?  WHO is our neighbour?  If Jesus was here today, the story of the Good Samaritan would perhaps be about our neighbour being Muslim people or refugees.  As Christians we must vote based on how that vote will affect the last, the least and the lost.

The passage from Galatians includes a statement of equality that was unheard of in that time.  “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  We must always be careful not to elevate one passage above others when discussing theology, however this passage has special significance for us today.

In Jesus, the prejudices that separate us from each other dissipate.  Those people unable to accept the Christian message because it is sexist or misogynistic have a place to come in the Bible which suggests a difference truth is possible.  Maybe our differences are not as important as the love Christ came to bring to us?

Though there are many stories of how the Christian faith can be oppressive to women, we must also acknowledge that the reason women can vote today is because of the pioneering work of the suffragettes, many of whom were driven by their Christian faith.  So however the Christian faith can be a force of oppression for women, it can also be greatly liberating.

When we delve into the Bible further we find that far from 2.4 cereal box families, the Bible story is full of messy families.  Cain killed Abel, Abraham impregnated Hagar his wife’s servant, King David refused to deal with his son raping his daughter,  Joseph’s brother’s sold him into slavery, Rahab was a prostitute, Jesus was raised by a step-father.  We have a faith founded in the messiness of real life and people’s bad choices.

We don’t have to be ashamed of our messy families.  Though we may need support and help to overcome the challenges, the church should be a place we can be honest and know that messy families are in our faith’s DNA.  Let me challenge you today, if anyone asks you how you are after the service, to be honest rather than offering the default church smile and the very British “I’m fine thank you.”

As for the Orlando massacre and the many people who have been affected by it.  The church has a complex, theologically difficult road to walk with issues of sexuality and gender identity.  However, we are called first to love.  And may we represent the Jesus of love and life-in-all-its-fullness to those who currently find the Gospel to be oppressive.  May we be people who love deeply and live honestly, even when it hurts.  And may we know the God who binds our broken hearts; the God who is truly the greatest Father and Mother each of us can ever have.