Tag Archives: love

What does a loving church look like?

The church is its people, not its religion. I think we’ve forgotten this.

Coffee with my yoga group is one of my more enjoyable moments of the week. Our conversations cover a wide range of topics – from the day-to-day routine of our lives, to the more complex issues around love and relationships. Sometimes conversation takes place as we traverse the hills of Papamoa, other times they are a quick one-on-one after class, but mostly they take place at our favourite cafe. Our banter is always lively, and everyone contributes from their perspective on life.  I feel safe with this group.  Safe to download, upload and explode. A couple of weeks ago I did just that, last week it was someone else’s turn. These conversations, this group of people, are precious to me.

Likewise, so is my conversation with my terminally ill friend. With Kirsty there is a piece of treasure in every conversation. We discuss, rant and rave about this God we love and seek to know better. Again, I feel safe having these conversations with Kirsty. Secure to voice my often-wavering and questioning faith. Safe to be who I am. And again, these conversations are incredibly precious to me.

Then there is my elderly neighbour. Our weekly coffee morning chats are most enjoyable. Her perspective on life is intelligent and interesting and I always leave with a sense of well-being from having had a good healthy, robust conversation with someone who knows their topic.

Although these conversations vary in subject and participants, one connecting strand links them; I am having conversations with people I feel safe with. Friends I can openly share how I’m feeling about my life at that moment.  I trust these people with the ups, downs and anguishes of my story, and they trust me with theirs.  You cannot intellectualise that feeling of ‘feeling safe’ it is something you just know. When I leave these people, I leave with all of me intact. My heart and soul unjudged and undamaged.  I feel loved. And I’ve been thinking about this – wouldn’t it be great if the church was like this.  A place for everyone to engage in robust, hearty discussion about God, life and love, and feel safe doing so. The church, becoming THE place for conversation.

For most people their first introduction to God is by going to church. I have always felt a bit like ‘a square peg in a round hole’ in church settings. And for years I have blamed myself. I have had such amazing experiences of God’s love so going to church should be a breeze. But it’s not. Dread and anxiety accompany me and euphoria escorts me out; a relief that I made it.  When I attend church, I feel like a lion being tamed for a circus. My experiences of God and love become masked by religion and religiosity and I sense life being sucked from me, as a woman and as a person. My joy. My weirdness and humour, my creativity and energy, all that my wonderful God created me to be, feels silenced.

God is becoming irrelevant the media are telling us, and statistics show declining church attendances across several denominations. We can blame this on external influences all we like, but the truth is, the church is doing a pretty good job of adding to the problem. As my friend Kirsty so accurately describes, love has been ‘trodden down under religious mores’.  Yes, God and religion are difficult to untangle. When we merge God with religion, we are in danger of extinguishing the real message of God – the message of love.  I think it’s time for the church to wake up.  Love is the by-product of God, not religion.  There is nothing, we need to do, or be, to experience God’s love.  God’s pure unadulterated, unfettered, untamed love is free for everyone.

Thankfully, the Bible presents us with a list of characteristics, a bit like a recipe, of what this love should look like.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a, NIV)

There’s a lifetime of living in those 15 ingredients. The aching for love and acceptance is a strand of yearning that links all people. Thankfully there’s no time limit on love. It is the greatest weapon we have, but it cannot be forced or imposed on anyone. We must be the love. The church is its people, not its religion. I think we’ve forgotten this.

Let’s bring back the people. Revitalise love, using Corinthians 13 as a guideline. Make church a place for both believers and non-believers. A place to interact with people who are different than us in some way, whether it be culture, language, identity, or something else. A place for people to be listened to and heard. People everywhere having conversations, sharing their lives, making sense of their lives. Feeling accepted. Feeling safe. Feeling loved for who they are, where they are. ­­­

What an opportunity!  What would the Church look like for you if love was present?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only thing we can change as individuals is our behaviour. 

So much hate dressed up in garments of religiosity and ideology. [MC]

Less than 24-hours after the attack, when a heavily armed, white supremacist, stormed into two Christchurch mosques killing 50 Muslim worshipers, I wrote how I felt powerless to effect any change. I don’t have a political platform or a public voice. My voice is barely a whisper among the finger-pointing cacophony of public opinion surrounding the attack. The only place left to go is within. Try to understand the ‘tilt’, and process the disquiet that has been slowly building. To be honest, it’s been a little uncomfortable.

The ‘tilt’ is not an entirely unfamiliar feeling. The first time my world tilted on its axis was when my sister woke me late at night to tell me she could hear my parents having an argument. We tiptoed down the hallway to listen. As a ten-year-old I had never heard my parents argue. And it rocked me. I was worried and scared. Something shifted inside me. I went back to bed with my fear and never talked about it again. But since the terror attack, I find myself thinking about this incident. When I try to process recent events, I am reminded of this past event. As though in some way they are linked.

And in their own way, they are linked. In both these situations my worldview shifted. I now understand my parents were only human, and not superhuman, as seen, and expected, through my eyes. It is only in hindsight I understand the lesson of this event. However, the lessons from the March 15 attack have been a little more confronting.

The most uncomfortable truth has been my worldview of Islam and of being Muslim.  Since 911 we have been bombarded with images and comments that talk about Islam, Terror, Muslim and Radical, as if the words were joined together at the seam. As though one could not exist without the other. All or nothing. I believed it.

Most of all I feel cross with myself because I did not question. Nothing is what it seems – and this is exactly why we should question everything we think, see and are told. Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing?”

I did not question what I was seeing and hearing. Did not do my own research – trusted everything I read and watched. And my left-over crumbs of ‘religiosity’ sealed the deal nicely. I saw only what I wanted to see instead of investigating to see what there was really to see. I became judge and jury according to any narrative dished out by so-called experts. I am deeply sorry for this, humbled by the grace, love and dignity shown by the New Zealand Muslim community.

Since writing this piece there has been another attack. This time in Sri Lanka when suicide bombers struck three Christian churches and four luxury hotels killing over 300 people. At face value it seems hypocritical, ridiculous even, to talk about God as Love when we are surrounded by all this hate ‘in the name of God’. So much hate dressed up in garments of religiosity and ideology. God has suffered a great injustice at the hands of those who claim to be the closest to God.  God is not responsible for this hate. Religion is not responsible for this hate. It is the people who use religion and God to hate and control who are responsible for these attacks.

Author, Speaker and Educator, Ruby Usman says we forget that humans are only humans.
“And it is the weak humans who use religion to exact power upon other people. It is not Islam; it is always the person who is using this power to control people in their lives.”
It is these people, Ruby says, who need to be called to account. Not God. Not religion.

Yes, my world tilted, my worldview was challenged, and my soul feels uprooted. What a lesson on Love Our Muslim community has given us. I feel like I have been both reprimanded and given a gift. Been asleep and just woken up. Reminded that no religion or belief system has a monopoly on God.  That I cannot contain God in a box of my own making. Love is the goal and we all have access to this Love. The Muslim community reminded me of this. Thank you.

 

Yesterday, when hate was unleashed, we lost our innocence.

No one can learn to love by following a manual. (MC)

I am just an ordinary person trying to grapple with a hate crime.

Normality amid tragic circumstances is bizarre. Today, I walked the dog, chatted to a neighbour, watched a large peloton of bike rider’s speed by, and did the weekly shopping. A normal life of a very ordinary person.

Turn me inside out though, and it’s a different story. Shock, grief, sorrow, helplessness and sympathy smother my ‘ordinary’.  We woke this morning in New Zealand feeling different. Less than 24 hours ago our peaceful country was infiltrated by hate, violence, and ignorance. An act of terrorism. A country in mourning after a deadly massacre at two Christchurch mosques. As of today, 49 have been confirmed dead with more than 30 people hospitalised, some critical. We are a small county, sitting at the bottom of the world map. We believed we lived in a safe and peaceful country. Yesterday, when hate was unleashed, we lost our innocence.

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It takes courage to love yourself

To love yourself you must know your real self, not your relative, conditioned self. (Deepak Chopra)

I have spent much of my life travelling on journey’s that were not mine to travel. Blind to my self-worth, unbelieving of my intuition, and deaf to my own inner voice. And, sadly, my parenting reflected this.  If there is one piece of advice, I wish I could go back and build into my daughters’ lives, it would be that self-love is the most important of all love’s.  That the most prized of all relationships they will ever experience, will be the relationship they have with themselves.

Once again, I’ve been catapulted into the space of the ‘unknown’.  My profound awakening of my feminine soul is taking all sorts of twists and turns, none of which I envisaged. I blurred the lines of freeing my feminine soul, with that of being a feminist. I imagined myself fighting the good fight for women’s rights. Being a Naomi Woolf for women’s souls. A noisy, unfettered, unapologetic roaring feminist. I couldn’t have been more wrong. That may well be the end-product, but for now, I have entered a space which quite frankly terrifies me. The discovery of my feminine soul has spiralled into a journey of self-love.

In my journal entry from a few weeks ago, I wrote,

“I feel really nervous. I can see there is a real danger when the feminine soul is released from captivity. I don’t know what to do with what is happening. I’m worried I’ll go astray with this. Oh, my feminine soul, help me. Lead me to the next step…pleeeease’.

And that’s all the soul needs – permission to lead. And as it turns out I have much to learn before reaching ‘activist’ status.

Author Sue Monk Kidd says the real issue is that women have to come to understand themselves as ‘central’, not ‘peripheral’. Before anything can happen, she says, women have to depend on themselves.

“This cannot be done against men, and that’s the real problem. It cannot be woman against man, it has to be woman finding her true self, with or without man, but not against man”.

Depend? What do you mean? True self? Everything about this statement rocked my world. I do not know how to depend on my true self. I have not done this since …. well… forever. Just thinking about it sent me into a panic.

One afternoon I decided to visit my panic. I turned my focus inwards to the place in my chest where I literally feel the anxiety. I saw a couple of knots. As one of the knots loosened a baby girl appeared. She was snuggled in a womb, wearing a white bonnet and covered in a white blanket. I knew I was that baby. I held the baby’s face in my hands and covered her with little kisses, told her how beautiful and precious she was.  Me, telling me, how cherished and loved I was.  I visited other areas of my injured soul. Again, and again, I uttered words of love into those situations. This is a shortened version, blog version, of what happened, but overriding it all, was this awareness’ I wasn’t alone – I was with someone. This was my feminine soul doing Her work and how beautiful it was – absolutely liberating.

We spend a lot of time searching for love. We search for it everywhere, through other people, power, wealth, beauty and status. But the full alchemy of love is inside you not outside. Anything else is just a relative, a sanitised version of your true self. True love can only come out of you, it cannot come into you.

The aching for love and acceptance is a strand of yearning that links us all. We cannot fully serve the truth or follow in Love’s footsteps without self-love. To be a bold and unshakable voice for the soul we must also be unshakable. It takes courage to love yourself.

I’m wondering where my feminine soul is going to lead me next. All I know, at this point in time, is that without self-love, all other relationships, will be fractured versions of what is possible in love.

The fight for my feminine soul

I need to rethink my life as a ‘man-made’ woman. To take back my soul. [Sue Monk Kidd].

Did you notice my new blog category? Feminist Spirituality.  Just writing the words, and I’m shaking my head not quite believing what I see.

Feminism – it’s not a term I thought I would ever use in conjunction with spirituality or God. Never in a million years.  I’m a bit of a coward. A closet sympathiser. A secret fist pumper. Cautious about attaching myself to the word ‘feminist’ in any sense, let alone place it side by side with spirituality.  I’m scared of the backlash and outrage that occurs when old, or new ways, are challenged or questioned. A hostile response and I’m easily silenced. But no more.  I’ve been silent far too long. Hopefully, in the future, I’ll be able to change the words ‘Feminist Spirituality’ to ‘Feminine Spirituality’, but at this stage. I am just at the start of my fight – the fight to get back what has always been mine – my feminine soul.

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What matters most … is a matter for the heart

Love cannot come in to you, it can only come out of you. [MC]

The last day of the year and, like every other year, the endless wandering of my soul ‘ups the ante’.  When my yearning and longing reach their crescendo. It’s noisy, creative, anticipative and full of fire in the belly.  It also dumps with it, a bunch of melancholy. A restlessness. An ache. Of something I cannot quite see or grasp. It’s like waiting for that bus you know should come, but never comes, but you keep waiting for it.   I feel a bit like a ping pong ball – pinging and ponging my way between the fire in my belly and the stormy blues of melancholy. But today, round one, goes to the fire in my belly – the ignition point at the heart of my yearning and longing … love.

We spend a lifetime searching for love and acceptance.  A friend of mine sums this up beautifully. She says most of us are limping along in this life with deeply buried inner pain, facades of confidence, with no idea how to make it right. Love has always been at the core of my search.  The chasing of futile dreams in fantasy places, happiness in external pleasure, love in religions, even other people, hoping to fill the emptiness that has plagued me. The irony is, the only place I ever needed to search was within. How fabulous is that!

Most of us journey a long way to find what is near.  People carry such wrong notions about love. We look everywhere for our perceptions of love. But love cannot be found through external influence. Not in people, power, wealth, beauty, legislation or status. Love is not about performance or doing or going anywhere.  No-one can learn to love by following a manual. Love does not force its will on anybody. We cannot control it.  And contrary to how the world portrays love, love has no economic value, it is impossible to measure. You can’t love to order – love’s steps are experienced not constituted. Author Mitch Albom says,
“Love is not revenge. It can’t be thrown like a rock. And you can’t create it to fix your problems. Forcing love is like picking a flower, then insisting that it grow.”

I have talked in previous blogs about the way the truth hits you – both hard and gentle at the same time. How it punches you in the stomach as it puts a loving arm around your shoulder. [Anne Ursu].  A few years ago, at a time when I was mentally at my ugliest, I had one of those moments of truth.  I love to run. I find the action of putting one foot in front the other calming when life is in a turmoil. On this particular run, when my thoughts were anything but calm – full of self-pity, anger and confusion, I heard the words, ‘Margaret, love cannot come in to you, it can only come out of you.’ Wham!  It still sends shivers down my spine. I literally stopped dead in my tracks and looked around me to see if anyone else had heard anything. What a truth!  ‘Love can only come out of you.’ Those words of love literally changed and saved my life.

We are all looking for that place where love has hidden itself away. The aching for love and acceptance links us all. To truly understand love, we need divine help. People don’t like to hear this, because we tend to want to be in control of love, dictate love on our own terms, but we won’t get there without God, because God is love – nothing more, nothing less. To seek love is to seek God. And that is a matter for the heart.

I want to finish the year with a quote I used at the beginning of my blog journey. I’m hoping you may take this into the New Year with you.  It’s by the 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, Rumi, he says,

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

The greatest weapon we have is love.  And love starts with you, from the inside-out. You must be the love. It’s what you feel in your chest.  Your heart knows the way so run in that direction. The alchemy of love can only come from inside you. Oh yes, what matters most is most definitely a matter for the heart. Happy New Year.

Religion and God – making sense of the nonsense

Like a woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. [MC]

Religion and God. Oh, my goodness! This is one of those articles that will not go away.  As I sat browsing through one of my journal writings from the eighties, I noticed my first words, “My pen is the mouthpiece for my unspoken thoughts”.  It’s a quote that remains true for me today. Until my unspoken thoughts appear on paper, I’m stuck.  At a standstill, neither moving forward or backwards.

Unfortunately, I’m also a bit of a coward. It’s easy to write about the outside-in stuff. Regale you with stories of my interests – running, yoga, friends, family, memoirs, or even a work of fiction. However, I am drawn longingly to write about life from the inside-out. But religion and God? I’ve read enough bitterly scathing, caustic, vitriolic criticism from others to scare me from writing about the subject for a lifetime. But I need to move forward. As my outward life unravelled so too did my inner life.  I make no apologies about the fact that a central spiritual theme decorates my Fiftypluskiwi writings –– God, religion, love – all have woven a well-trodden path of bittersweet moments in my life. And all were littered with myth, perception and misconception. So I began the process of unpicking and discarding. Questioning everything about my spiritual life.  And part of this process was trying to make sense of the nonsense that surrounds God and religion. Here goes…

Like a woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. In a previous blog, Love in three minutes, I mentioned how, we use the words love and commitment as though both words have the same or similar meaning when, in fact, they are quite different. We do the same with religion and God. Mention religion and people start talking about God.  Discuss God and people start talking about religion. Seeking God and identifying with a religion are totally different experiences.  Throughout history, God has suffered a great injustice at the hands of those who claim to be the closest to God.

Religion has done a huge disservice to God. Not long ago I received a curt email from an acquaintance. The one sentence email read, “This is why I don’t believe.” Underneath was a link to a YouTube clip featuring Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) lecturing from his bestselling book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens was a controversial, thought-provoking British-American writer. He was a serious atheist.  In the YouTube clip he was witty, funny, riveting, confident and clever.  And I had to agree with most of what he said. I did not believe in the God he was talking about either. But the problem I had, and have, with the atheist argument is how they mix God with religion as though they were one and the same, when in fact, the two are very different. And it wasn’t until I explored the question, ‘what if everything I perceived God to be was lie?’, that I realised I had been doing the same thing.

Jeff Goldwasser, a rabbi at the Temple Sinai in Cranston, says our society, it seems, has become so confused about religion that we don’t really seem to understand what a religion is. Because of that, we don’t really seem to understand what it means to experience God, either.

“Seeking God and identifying with a religion are different experiences. Yet, many people seem to think that a person who does not identify with any particular religion must, therefore, be an atheist. That is an insult both to God and, I suppose, to true atheism. Religions are human institutions that, at their best, help people to experience and be close to God. At their worst they can give people an excuse to hate, control and be greedy. However, the relationship between a religion and God is like the relationship between a radio and music. Just because you don’t have one does not mean that you can’t experience the other.”

Goldwasser says seeking God and identifying with a religion are different experiences. He is right. Religion is an ‘outside-in’ experience, between you and other people; it’s full of interpretation, theories and opinions. But God, experiencing God, is an ‘inside-out’ experience just between you and God. A feeling in your chest – it’s a matter of the heart.  No one else is involved. God happens when you allow yourself to wander through the chasms, abysses and crevasses of your own heart and pay attention to what you feel. Religion is not necessary for this. Someone once told me ‘going to church makes you no more a Christian than going into a cowshed makes you a cow’. So true! There is nothing, you need to achieve, belong to, or go to, to know God.

Can religion be found in God? No! Absolutely not. Can God be found in religion?  Yes. But as a stepping stone, not a stopping place. Religion can one of the many, many ways we use when we are seeking that something or responding to matters of the heart.  But religions don’t work for everyone. They are not necessarily the ideal way for everyone to experience God. No religion, and no human institution has a monopoly on the truth. Because that’s what this is about. It is not about having the best argument or winning the debate. It’s about truth. You do not have to have a religion to find that truth. These days I tend to tell people, ‘If the by-product of what you believe is love, then go for it’.

Freeing God from the shackles of religion has been a liberating experience for me. When I began the process of untangling the web that ensnared religion and God, I noticed how my attitudes towards others changed. The people I met, their stories, became incredibly precious. Everyone’s life mattered. Love, peace and tolerance take on new dimensions when you separate God from religion and religion from God. Especially love, because we are all searching for that place where love has hidden itself away.

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