Where I Am on My Spiritual Journey – Morality

I’m single and hope one day to get married. In the past, I was in no doubt that I wanted to marry someone who is Christian – for I’ve heard countless Christians say marrying an unbeliever is a bad thing to do. But now I’m thinking that I’d be okay with marrying an Atheist or an Agnostic – as long as they aren’t the angry, Richard Dawkin types. I would much rather be married to a kind, compassionate non-Christian than a self-righteous, obnoxious Christian. I recently read an article published by Relevant Magazine that was encouraging Christians to marry within their faith even pointed out that marry a Christian won’t guarantee a divorce-free marriage. Only a fool would say marrying a Christian means you’ll never get divorced. Divorce happens to all kind of couples no matter what they think of God and religion. I think to have a successful marriage depends on few things. In my view, Mark Manson’s article on marriage really shows how to have a good marriage. Mark isn’t a Christian yet his research and advice on marriage is superb. There’s this myth spread by some Christians that those who aren’t believers are nothing but selfish. They only get married for money and sex but reading such an article proves such a view is false. Sure there’s selfish non-believers as well as selfish Christians, I think at the end of the day it depends on what kind of person an individual wants to be. Ultimately a successful marriage happens if the right people marry at the right time for the right reasons.

I think it’s an ignorant position to have if we think someone who has no belief in God means automatically they have no morality. Yes, it’s possible that there may be some who may reject God’s existence so they can take part in debauchery, but surely no one can really think that it’s only Christians who have done good things in this world.

Let’s take the British politician Jo Cox for example. Jo was a rarity in politics because she cared more about making the world a better place than fighting against the opposition. Before becoming an MP she worked in the most dangerous war zones as the head policy and head of humanitarian campaigning for Oxfam. She lived very selflessly, serving others. But she wasn’t a Christian, she was a humanist

Sure there are Christians who have lived just as unselfishly as Mrs Cox, but no one should fool themselves into thinking that those who only have a faith live in such a way. Being a Christian doesn’t automatically mean you won’t be self-centred, nor does being a non-Christian mean you will only think about yourself. As a Christian at times I’ve been selfish and at times I haven’t. As wrote earlier, I think in the end to be selfish or not is a choice a person has to make.

Last month a tweet by Ayesha Curry seemed to get quite a number of people got worked up. In it, she said something about preferring to cover up in the way she dressed. She seemed to annoy some for not wanting to show her flesh and some were angry she didn’t cover up more. Some of the reactions by Christians involved a lot of stone throwing. A few saying she and her husband were bad Christians and that Mrs Curry was a bad example of modesty. This seems to be an ongoing occurrence – Christians getting hung up on the modesty issue when it’s only mentioned once in the Bible. It seems they’re certain individuals that seem to think there’s nothing more to a woman than her body. I’m not saying that there are not inappropriate ways of dressing in certain situations but sometimes Evangelicals can make the way of dressing a bigger issue than it should be. I remember as a teenager attending a talk (for young people) at a Christian camp. The person giving the talk touched on the subject of modesty, they were very dismissive of those who say that what’s in the heart is more important. The individual giving the talk said God looking at the heart was only mentioned once (in scripture), yet conveniently ignored the fact that modesty is only mentioned once as well. I also should mention that it’s wrong to say the heart is only mentioned once since Jesus constantly talks about the heart.

I think Christians reaction to Ayesha Curry really highlights how good Christians can be judging at other. It doesn’t stop and end at how women dress. It’s not enough to be someone who believes in Jesus, you have to dress the right way, talk the right way, do more, be better and try harder. It’s not enough to be a Christian, you need to read your Bible and pray every day. You need to fast, evangelise, watch the right movies and only listen to the acceptable music. If you don’t do these things you’re a very bad Christian, and those supposedly do such things will do their best to make you feel guilty. Thankfully not every Christian is like that but I find quite a number are. I mean really are you a moral person if you’re constantly judging people? 

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Where I Am On My Spiritual Journey – Introduction

This is a first of several blog posts where I write about where I am in my spiritual walk. Not sure how many I’ll write, maybe five or six.

I haven’t blogged for a while and part of the reason has been because I’ve been wondering if I should write what I’m about write. While what I write (on this blog) is my personal thoughts, however, I think this series is probably going to be the most personal writings I’ve written. I’ve been trying to decide how much I should put up on the internet – how much of where I am do I want to make public?

So one could describe that where am right now as being a crisis of faith. I am now in a place of real conflict in my spiritual/religious walk. I am in the middle of taking a break from going to church. I am questioning the Bible and to say the least, the attitude of some Christians can very discouraging. Notice I said some, not all. I don’t like to generalise, I’m not suggesting that certain Christian behaviours and attitudes are a representation of all Christians everywhere. But at times the things that Christians say or do make me want to cover my ears and eyes. I’m not surprised that people become Atheists or Agnostics. That may shock some readers that someone who considers themselves a Christian would say such a thing. At times I’m shocked myself. If a person had told about seven years ago that I would think such a thing I wouldn’t have believed them. I don’t think I could ever become an Atheist, but I do think there are mistakes in the Bible.

The other night I was listening to the rapper, Angel Haze’s album Dirty Gold. Now Angel is an atheist and isn’t ashamed of expressing her lack of belief in her songs. I admire the authenticity, honesty and passion she puts into her music. I hate singers who make music just to make money, but I greatly admire those who create art that comes from the heart. Angel Haze is one of those people but I felt conflicted listen to her album. The song Black Synagogue starts off as a gospel song and I found myself thinking that maybe those who said she was an atheist were misinformed. But then towards the end the tone of the song changes tone when she expresses her desire for truth and cynicism about the claims in the Bible as being true. Not every song deals with the issue of religion and Black Synagogue is the only one where she tackles Christianity head on. Listening to the album the rapper seems to value authenticity and has a great desire to discover truth. At times I was full of admiration of how she wasn’t afraid of challenging those who believe in Christianity, but after listening to the album I felt a bit down. At times the album gives some encouragement for those who are going tough times, but I the idea that there is no God is rather depressing. I’ve heard some Atheists say that while the idea that God not existing make us feel somewhat hopeless it’s reality. On the album, Angel Haze seems to take a similar view. After listening to her, a first time in a long time, I actually had a great desire to listen to some Christian music. For the last few month, I have been avoiding explicit Christian music. Sure I like to listen to the likes of Johnnyswim or Fleurie – people who have a faith but don’t sing about it in their songs. Also, I follow the likes of Sara Groves and Nichole Nordeman on Spotify since I consider such people to be intelligent artists who write songs about theology in a vulnerable, non-preachy way. But quite honestly I can’t stomach a lot of Christian music. But after giving Hillsong United’s latest realise some consideration I decided to give Sade’s Lover Rocks a listen. It was nice was to hear someone sing about how they won’t abandon another person, it gave me peace.

Sometimes I wish these conflicts weren’t happening inside my mind, sometimes I wish I had no questions at all. It would be so much easier if I couldn’t see any holes in the traditional evangelical narrative of God and the world. I wish I could completely go along with Christian orthodoxy but my mind won’t let me. At the end of the day I want to know what’s true, I became a Christian because I came to the conclusion that the claims made in the Bible were true. If it turns out that it’s not true I’d be wasting my time believing it, on the other hand, if there is a God it would be a waste of time not believing.

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Actually Some Christian Movies Are Pretty Good

The trailer for The Shack was released at the beginning of the month and it actually looks good.  So I thought I’d point out the faith-based movies that I’ve seen that in my opinion are actually good. Generally, I hate Christian movies, for the most part, I find them to be poorly directed, awfully acted and the screenplay to be utterly horrendous. To be fair the same could be said about a lot of Bollywood and Nollywood movies, as well as quite a fair number of Hollywood films. The other thing that can be off-putting is the way certain (but not all) Christians rally around the movies and seem to think it’s a Christians duty to support the movies. Some can get angry with anyone who criticises them and brand them as God haters. But the fact is a critique of a film may not be one attacking a theological viewpoint, it just might be an expression of a dislike for a film. Anyway here’s the movies that I’ve seen that come under the label of a being a Christian movie that I thought were worth my time and money.

 

The Passion of the Christ

(2004)
Directed: Mel Gibson
Staring: Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci

Ok, I know there was a lot of hype about this when this first came out but I really do think it is excellent. Not only do I think that this is the best ‘Christian movie’ I’ve seen, I think it’s the best movie ever made period. On an artistic level, the film was life changing for me and turned me into a bit of a movie snob. The realism and authenticity of this work of art puts all other Biblical films (except Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie) to shame. Mel Gibson raised the bar by making this and unfortunately, not a single adaptation of a Bible story has even come close since.

Woman Thou Art Loosed

(2004)
Director: Michael Schultz
Staring: Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine, Clifton Powell

Long before Spotlight brought the scandal of the abuse to the big screen, a gritty, independent movie shown a light on abuse in the African-American Pentecostal church. Woman Thou Art Loosed shows how sexual abuse can affect a person from childhood to adulthood. It’s not a film one will enjoy but it’s worth seeing, as it superbly captures the pain and anger of an abuse victim. It’s inspired by the self-help by Bishop TD Jakes (who also appears in the film), but that shouldn’t put anyone off from seeing it. I’m not in agreement with many of the theological views of Jakes, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating this movie.

Not Easily Broken

(2009)
Director: Bill Duke
Staring: Morris Chestnut, Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Hart

Another film that’s taken from a book written by Bishop TD Jakes. When I first saw the trailer of this I was a bit disappointed for it look like a made-for-TV movie, but I still decided to see it and was surprised. A well-made drama that presents a modern marriage that is going through the pressures of careers and work, interfering Mother-in-laws and the lure of an extra-marital affair. I read one review saying that the movie was preachy but I didn’t see that at all. I found it to be a realistic portrayal of a husband and wife trying to make a marriage work.

The Cross and The Switchblade

(1970)
Director: Don Murray
Staring: Pat Boone, Erik Estrada, Jacqueline Giroux

The true story of a young Pastor reaching out to gangs in New Yorks. It doesn’t shy away from the violence and drug addiction that is ever present in the life of a gangster, plus shows the courage and compassion of a Pastor.

Amazing Grace

(2006)

Director: Michael Apted

Staring: Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Benedict Cumberbatch

The story of the English politician, William Wilberforce, struggle to eradicate the slave trade. While there’s quite a number of historical inaccuracies it still brings to life the man and the work the politician did. With a fantastic British cast, beautifully shot and wonderfully directed this film is worth a spot on this list.

Chariots of Fire

(1981)
Director: Hugh Hudson
Staring: Ian Charleson, Ben Cross, Ian Holm

Everyone probably knows the story of this film. A Christian and Jew compete in the 1924 Olympics, and the Christian refuses to run his race on a Sunday. Like Amazing Grace, certain scenes are fictional, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an inspirational movie to watch. It has everything going for it, plus has an unforgettable soundtrack.

Blue Like Jazz

(2012)
Director: Steve Taylor
Starting: Marshall Allman, Clair Holt, Tania Raymonde

Based on Donald Miller’s memoir of the same name, this film tells the story of a young man losing and regaining his faith at a liberal art college. What I love about this movie is that it is interested in telling a story, sure it has a message (all movies do) but it wants to tell a story rather than preach at anyone. I love how it treats the characters, while in most Christian movies non-believers humanity is stripped away from them, this motion picture refuses to do such a thing. The scene of Donald’s lesbian friend crying on his shoulder because she had been rejected by another woman, is a perfect example of the films fair portrayal of those who aren’t Christians. I just think it’s awful that the likes of God’s Not Dead got a cinema release here, yet Blue Like Jazz didn’t even get a DVD release here in the UK.

Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie

(2002)
Directors: Mike Nawrocki & Phil Vischer
Staring: Phil Vischer, Mike Nawrocki, Tim Hodge

In this VeggieTales version of the Biblical story of Jonah, Big Ideas do what they do best. Humour, amusing song and imagination are present as they bring a unique way to tell this story. I particularly found that the people of Nineveh slapping each other with fish to be rather amusing.

So there you have it, I can honestly say there are only 8 Christian movies that are good. If I were feeling generous I may have recommended The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), The Prince of Egypt (1998), Faith Like Potatoes (2006) and The Second Chance (2006). But I’m not so I won’t. Don’t get me wrong though they’re a lot better made compared the majority of movies that are classified as Christian, but there not good enough to join the list above. As I wrote earlier The Passion of the Christ turned me into a bit of a movie snob, so I get turned off of a movie if the original language isn’t spoken. So since the Biblical movies mentioned (in this paragraph) are in English and Italian so I can’t put them on the list. I feel it’s ok to have the VeggieTales movie because of the way the film is set up to be some sort of play. I do think it’s a shame that Christian movies can be so awful, but we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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Chapecoense

I have to confess I hadn’t even heard of Chapecoense until this week. Although I like football – I don’t really follow the Brazilian domestic league – so I wasn’t sure how to react. But when I saw the photo of the three players who didn’t fly to Colombia and to see the look of loss and confusion on their faces, it really brought home how much of a tragedy it was. Then there were the last words of goalkeeper Danilo before he died. There was also the heart-breaking video that showed their forward, Thiaguinho, finding he would become a father for the first time. But it wasn’t just the members of the football team that were lost, there was the pilot, a father of 3 Miguel Alejandro Quiroga Murakami and the co-pilot Sisy Arias, a beloved daughter as well as the cabin crew. Not to mention the journalists and technical staff are no longer with us. Reading such stories is a reminder that the crash will cause sons to lose his fathers, wives to lose her husbands, a father to lose a daughter, a brother to never see his sister again.

I’ve been finding out a bit more about Chapecoense in the last few days, there were a bit like Leicester City. While they didn’t win the league they got enough points to qualify, for this seasons for Copa Sadamericana and were flying out to take in the first leg of the final. This team were true underdogs that surpassed people’s expectations.

I hope this tragedy will remind us that we never know when our time will come to an end, and that we’ll appreciate life and the people in our lives a little more. Also, that Chapecoense can pick up the pieces and continue to have success they’ve had in the past.   

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Send Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe a Message of Encouragement

A couple of days I got an email from Amnesty International with an invitation to write a message to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Nazanin is a British-Iranian woman who is a serving a five-year prison sentence in the notorious Evin prison. The charges brought against her by the Iranian government have been described by her husband ‘as a punishment without crime’. From what I’ve read I’m convinced that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe hasn’t done anything wrong and should be released immediately.

Things have gotten so bad that Nazanin has been thinking about killing herself and been on hunger strike. In the email I received from her husband, he wrote that they are all struggling but one thing that keeps them going the support they have received and the call for her freedom. So I encourage everyone reading this to join by sending a message of encouragement by clicking here.

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Why Complain About the Media?

During the US election, we had the now President-Elect, Donald Trump complain about how the media had been treating him. But Trump isn’t the only one who has complained about those who bring us the news. I’ve heard countless complainants about our news media from a variety of people, but do we really have anything to complain about? I’ve heard it been said that reporters only care about a story, but don’t we love to read the very thing they write? There are complaints about how the media is bias, but don’t we all have our own biases?

Former Daily Mail, now Sun journalist Nick Pisa appeared in the recent Amanda Knox documentary. The reporter was one of the first to break the story on Miss Knox’s arrest and trail. When responding to those who disapproved of his style of reporting he said, “They are the same people who are the same people who are logging onto the internet first thing in the morning trying to find out the latest details”. Now I’m not a fan of The Daily Mail or The Sun, but Mr Pisa does have a point.

Now one could argue that there’s a need for responsible and ethical journalism. I would agree and I wouldn’t consider Nick Pisa reporting on Amanda Knox to not be an example of fair and decent journalism. He’s been immensely criticised for what he said in the documentary and I think such appraisal is fair. I also feel the need to point out that, among others, the likes of Malcolm Gladwell, Rukmini Callimachi and Sarah Maslin Nir are ethical reporters. They are people who take their jobs very seriously and make corrections when they mistakenly misrepresent someone in a story. So let’s not paint every reporter with the same brush. Some recognise they’re writing about an actual person, but we also have reporters who don’t give a damn about the people in their story.

But the fact still remains that we read reports from unethical journalists, so why do we complain about their way of reporting? Aren’t we as bad as them if we read their stories? Does complaining about the story we just read release us of all responsibility? After all if the demand is there, it will be supplied. Maybe if we took a stand and decided not to read such stories, then maybe they would stop their immoral ways of reporting. Maybe the problem doesn’t start with the media, maybe it starts with us? Maybe instead of moaning we should seek out ethical journalists and just read their stories. And then maybe, just maybe these unethical reporters will change the way in how they go about bringing us the news.

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Before the Flood and Being Pro-Life

Last week National Geographic released the Leonardo DiCaprio and Fisher Stevens film, Before the Flood on YouTube and other platforms. Personally, I have been crying out for a movie like this. I knew about climate change but always felt like I didn’t know enough. I wanted to know what was going on in the world and what I could do to prevent the increase of global warming. So I am very grateful to everyone involved in the making of this film.

I haven’t always been so keen on finding out about climate change. It was actually last year that the thought occurred to me that people are dying and many more will die if we keep on using fossil fuel like we are today. I think my recent desire to find out more about climate change has come in part by the work and campaigning of Tearfund and Christian Aid. Now and again I would see leaflets in magazines produced by the charities, I failed to give them much attention but I did notice them. But whatever brought me to the position I hold now on the issue, I have been trying to reduce my use of fossil fuels this year.

I would consider myself pro-life. I think when pro-life is mentioned most think of people who want abortion to be made illegal. Well, that isn’t me, personally, I think abortion should be dealt with a case by case basis. But being pro-life doesn’t start and end with abortion. Relevant Magazine recently published an article by Jesse Carey about how being pro-life is more than just one issue. Carey mentions a few of the issues and acknowledges that there are more that he hasn’t mentioned. I think one of the issues that he didn’t mention is climate change. I don’t think you can describe yourself as someone who is pro-life if you aren’t doing your part to bring down the use of fossil fuel, and definitely if you’re a climate change denialist.

I think the Republicans Party would be associated with being pro-life. Yet they are also the only major political party that denies our use of energy and fossil fuel destroying life. Thankfully – as demonstrated by Before the Floor – not every Republican denies that this man made disaster isn’t happening, but the majority do. It is very easy to result to name calling and anger when reading and hearing what climate denialists are saying. But doing such things are pointless because it won’t change anyone’s mind. I try to have the humble attitude that my opinion could be wrong for I don’t know anything. But when one reads and hears the reasons from those who reject the idea that climate change, I can only shake my head in disbelief. I try to understand why someone thinks differently but I can’t on this issue for it seems so obvious to me – climate change is real and we are to blame for it.

Back in 2009, it was revealed that climate change was responsible for the deaths of 300,000 people. The World Health Organization states that in the next forty-five years there will be 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress due to climate change. Yet the ‘pro-life’ Republican leaders don’t even acknowledge climate change, let alone support measures to bring down the use of fossil fuel.

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