Identity and the Church – Can a church be inclusive without compromise?

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Image credit: Pixabay

It’s no secret that one of the big debates in the Church today is how to pastorally respond to those of varying sexual orientations.

Churches the world over range from a permissive, arms-open approach to a more closed, even angry, approach. And any talk of trying to ‘strike a balance’ is futile, as there are as many opinions on this subject as there are Christians, with everyone holding a different idea of what that ‘balance’ would entail.

So – and I’m convinced of this – we need to find different solutions to working and worshiping together peacefully and lovingly. Solutions which embrace the diversity of opinion found within the Church and use it to strengthen our mission, not divide it.

It’s why I loved reading Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation earlier this year. And it’s why I was thrilled to attend Living Out’s Identity conference in London this June.

I’ve already blogged a few thoughts reflecting on this conference, firstly how culture shapes our identity (without us even realising), and secondly how affected I was by the testimony of four celibate, gay Christians. Do have a read if you haven’t already.

This is the third and final reflection, and it concerns our approach as churches.

Kathy Keller spoke wonderfully in the afternoon on the more practical issue of how we make our churches welcoming and inclusive, while holding to traditional Bible teaching about sex being for (heterosexual) marriage.

This will jar for those who don’t read the Bible this way, but one thing I found particularly strong was Kathy’s assertion that actually homosexual ‘sin’ is a lot less common/frequent than heterosexual ‘sin’ – purely by nature of there being more heterosexual than homosexual people in the world. Of course this is obvious really, isn’t it? Only I’d never thought of it this way.

In other words, where do our churches stand on teaching about sex within marriage generally? How do we address those who are living together outside marriage, those who have had affairs, those who are in the process of a divorce, those who are considering remarriage?

There are no easy answers, of course, to any of this – but the point is: sexual sin needs to be addressed as a whole. Singling out any one group of individuals is not helpful, and it certainly isn’t Biblical.

Living Out had produced a church inclusivity audit for the day, which I found incredibly helpful, not to mention challenging. If we really ask these questions of ourselves and our churches, where do we stand? I know we fall down in a number of areas.

For example:

“Church family members instinctively share meals, homes, holidays, festivals, money, children with others from different backgrounds and life situations to them.”

I’m not so sure that our church, diverse and welcoming as it is, really models this kind of sharing with those of different backgrounds. The thinking here is that if a church develops this kind of culture then it will make life easier for a person who has chosen, for whatever reason, to live a celibate lifestyle, as they will automatically feel included, and experience life-giving relationships within their church family.

Another example:

“All in your church know that we all experience sexual brokenness and all are being encouraged to confess their own sexual sins.”

I just don’t think that we talk about sex very much or very well! Are we encouraged to think about past sexual behaviour, and whether it was God-honouring? We might be in committed marital relationships, but have we ever asked God to forgive us for what we did before that, or for mixed motives even now?

Again, this general focus on sexual sin (rather than homosexual sin) is helpful, I think, as it sets high and challenging expectations for all of us.

You can download the full audit here and I really recommend taking a look – there are some stonking statements on there. In addition, there’s a great video of Ed Shaw (a same-sex attracted church leader) explaining at the conference how he went through this audit with his church leadership team.

There were some great books recommended during the conference which I wanted to mention here, as well as some of my own favourites:

Walking with Gay Friends – I found this incredibly helpful a few years ago in helping me think through this issue. The author is a Christian and a lesbian.

Space at the Table: Conversations between an Evangelical Theologian and His Gay Son – this is on my to-read list, and looks amazing! Check out the trailer video here: it might make you cry!

The Gospel comes with a House Key – Rosaria Butterfield’s story of converting to Christianity as a gay, feminist academic is one I want to read – this is a follow-on book, where she describes the kind of radical hospitality Christians are called to give.

Mere Sexuality: rediscovering the Christian vision of sexuality

The plausibility problem – written by Ed Shaw, featured in the church audit video.

Gay girl, good God – I spotted this on Twitter, and it looks fascinating – the story of Jackie Hill Perry’s coming to faith.

Undivided – Vicky Beeching’s story, from a different perspective, has also been on my to-read list since it was released, and I know many of you have already read it.

Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation – as mentioned. Read my review here!

Happy reading!

A note on my affiliate links: this post contains them! You know the drill: click through, make a purchase, and I earn a small amount of commission.

However, I realise that many of you will Google the book titles, just to check whether there’s a cheaper price. I get it – I do that too. I always try to put the cheapest price I can find right here in the blog post, but that’s not always possible (prices change all the time, I’m UK based so some things will be cheaper/dearer in other countries, and I have an aversion to Amazon…). So by all means, go check the cheaper price – but if you find that it’s the same as what I’ve recommended, do come back here and click on my links pretty please. It’s how I keep the blog free! Thank you 🙂

 

 

The Father’s Kiss – review and giveaway!

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No father is perfect, of course, but psychologists will tell you the benefits of growing up with a stable father-figure – someone who loves you unconditionally, is proud of your achievements, and helps to nurture you into a well-rounded, empathetic adult.

Sadly, many people haven’t had this experience. Their father was absent, neglectful, sharp-tempered, condemnatory, or abusive.

Besides the ‘obvious’ disadvantages suffered by those growing up with this kind of father (anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, and so on), any lack of fatherly nurturing will have implications on how someone can relate to God as their Father.

‘God loves you’. It’s so trite, isn’t it? So obvious, in a way. And yet do we really believe it, when we haven’t seen a human example of unconditional fatherly love?

Even when we have had a positive experience with our father – when do we ever really plumb the depths of God’s affection, outlined for us in the Bible? Do we actually believe that He not only loves us, but that spending time with us brings Him – the creator of the universe – such joy?

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I’m so excited that, today, The Father’s Kiss is released – a book which, I’m certain, will bring healing and revelation to so many Christians who struggle to believe just how much and how freely God loves them.

Tracy Williamson’s story is powerful. As a young child, she suffered an illness which affected her hearing and sight. Her birth dad died when she was very young, and her step dad abused her verbally and sexually. You can read a fuller account in this brilliant interview she did for Claire Musters.

She entered adulthood insecure, with little self-worth, but became a Christian in her first year of college.

However, the journey didn’t end there. Tracy’s whole life has been a journey of healing from past hurts, learning to forgive her abuser, and allowing her thinking to be changed when it comes to her Father God – the God who doesn’t abuse her, the God who doesn’t see her as a mistake.

Why not take a couple of minutes to watch Tracy’s video, which shares her heart for the book?

I so appreciated Tracy’s honest, vulnerable writing, and believe it has the power to help so many others on their journey of reshaping their thoughts about who their Father God really is.

Although I’m blessed with an amazing Dad, as I was reading this book my thoughts were so often with my younger two boys, and how they might cope as they get older with not knowing who their birth Dad was (I wrote about that here, ‘Can you imagine having no father?’).

And for me, too, the book was challenging. Although I understand that God loves me, I often think of it as a begrudging kind of love – a bit like me when I’m tired and grumpy with my kids. I do love them – but sometimes I wish they’d just leave me alone for a few minutes, or let me get on with something.

It’s so tempting to think of God like this, but Tracy helped to reshape my thinking by showing, very clearly, from the Bible, that God is not a grumpy or begrudging kind of God! He loves to spend time with us – all the time! He’d never prefer to be on His phone, or spend a quiet few minutes cooking away from us all, or any of the other things I crave as an imperfect parent.

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Tracy and her book!

Now I like my Christian non-fiction books to be structured, with several clear and easy-to-follow points that I can mull over, remember and act upon. This book is not like that, and I have to say it took me a while to adapt to the style.

But then again, with such a deep and abstract topic such as ‘God’s love’, I’m not sure how this book could have been written in simple bullet-points all beginning with the same letter! It’s not like someone can teach you the A-Z of absorbing God’s love, can they?

Instead, Tracy effortlessly combines Bible passages, teaching, personal stories, poems, songs, prophetic pictures, and opportunities to ‘pause and reflect’, in order to draw us further into the reality of God’s love. It’s not a book to be rushed through, but one to mull over slowly and gradually.

The prophetic insights, in particular, I found very powerful. Tracy has a real gift in this area (her ‘day job’ is travelling the country with MBM Ministries, leading retreats and conferences with the singer/songwriter Marilyn Baker), and I’ve never read a book which is full of so many “As I’m writing this, I feel God saying…” moments. Truly spine-tingling and awesome!

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The Father’s Kiss is a beautiful book, full of hope and encouragement, and I really hope that you’re convinced to go and order a copy right now for yourself or someone you know would be blessed by it!

But – as always – don’t order just yet, as Authentic have kindly given me a copy of The Father’s Kiss to give away to a lucky reader! To enter – as always – simply join my mailing list (you can always unsubscribe later if I start to ramble on) – or, if you’re already on it, leave a lovely comment here to encourage Tracy!

The giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered, and well done to Kerry who won!

Affiliate links are used in this email, meaning I earn a small commission on any purchase made through this blog, at no extra cost to you. Tracy kindly sent me a free copy of The Father’s Kiss to review for this blog but, as always, you have my guarantee that I would never publish a review of anything I didn’t genuinely like.

Interested in my other reviews? I’ve read some stonking books this year!

Holidays, books and decluttering (What I’m into – August 2018)

August is the Month of Flop for me.

In July I’m all motivated for how this summer will actually be heaps more productive than last year’s – but then August comes and goes, and basically we’ve had a lot of fun, broken up a lot of family arguments, found we’ve rarely had a moment to sit down (yet feel strangely refreshed), and are very very glad that the new term is just around the corner.

So forgive me if I don’t fill all the usual categories this month – we’ve been too busy just doing August.

Books

I really enjoyed The Gardener’s Daughter – a brilliant YA mystery by K.A. Hitchins. You can read my review here, so I won’t say any more about it. But congrats to Jenni who won the giveaway!

I’m half-way through The Father’s Kiss (Tracy Williamson), which comes out this Friday, but I’ve been fortunate to get an advance copy as part of Tracy’s launch group, so I’ll be sharing my honest thoughts with you once I’m finished.

So far, though, I’m really enjoying the mix of theology, personal testimony, and prophetic insights. Much food for thought, and I’m excited about the many people who could start to be healed from past wounds as they read and absorb this book’s truths.

Have I intrigued you?! Look out for the giveaway, later this month!

My articles

Image credit: Pixabay

Curious to discover more about my first Hello Fresh experience? Thought you would be. Take a nosey at my comments on Eating, Cooking and Writing for the More than Writers blog.

Home for Good published the first of two articles I’d written on Suffering and Adoption – this one, Looking Suffering in the Eye. Part two to follow soon!

And, as already mentioned, I reviewed The Gardener’s Daughter right here on the blog!

IRL (In Real Life, for the uninitiated. Yeah, I know I’m cool.)

The Horniman Museum
  • Two lovely holidays – one to London (where we didn’t actually step foot in central London once but still had an amazing time!) – and one to the South Coast. Great weather we’ve been having, eh? Even when it’s cooled down, it’s still been about 59 times as good as most British summers.
  • One week of sick bug – Monkey and Meerkat both struck down 😦 Fortunately, this was the last week of the hols, when we were all due a bit of down time anyway!
  • Two lots of family and one lot of friends to stay – the joy of becoming other people’s Holidays!
  • Week 1 of a decluttering plan complete – I hope to blog about this in the future, because I absolutely love it! I received it as part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle back in April, and it’s an absolute godsend! A very easy to follow 20-week plan for decluttering your whole house – and it ACTUALLY SEEMS TO WORK.

The Future

August may not have held much in the way of trying new books, food, music or plays – but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, partly about this blog and my writing in general. Since this ‘What I’m Into’ has been shorter than most, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on what I’ve come up with for the next few months:

  • Rather than attempting two blog posts a week, I’m aiming for one blog post, plus one email (sent on a Friday evening). I’d like to stay in touch with you better!
  • If you don’t receive these emails, please sign up here! It’s not the same as following the blog (where you get an email whenever I publish something new.) These emails are personally written by me, and contain links to other things I’ve written, not just on this blog. When the time comes, it will also be one of the ways I publicise my books, and offer freebies/giveaways/competitions – so please sign up!
  • I’m going to continue to work on my Pinterest account, so please connect with me there if you’re on Pinterest too! If you’re able to share the odd article of mine, I’d be so grateful.
  • Now’s the time for me to investigate ‘proper’ websites for this blog – don’t worry, you won’t be losing Desertmum, but at some point we’ll be moving to a more professional looking site, so that I’m all set up for professional writing.
  • I have two books (one for adults, one for children) in the pipeline, and really hope to be able to share the details with you before too long. Both are finished, but one in particular needs a bit of a push with the publisher, and this term I intend to give it just that!
  • There’ll be a lot of book giveaways this term! I’m just reading SOOOO many good books right now, and excited to be working with a variety of publishers who are keen to offer me books to give to you lovely lot 🙂 The best way of catching them all is to sign up for my mailing list – so what are you waiting for?!

Affiliate disclaimer: affiliate links are used in this post. Click through, like what you see, make a purchase – and I receive a few pence at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s marvellous What I’m Into series! Give her blog a whirl…last month I discovered that GBBO is being shown in the States, and that Leigh is a huge fan!

LIVE James Taylor! LIVE Hairspray! LIVE nits! (What I’m into – July 2018)

Welcome to my monthly round-up! If you weren’t already aware, I share plenty of this stuff through the month on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Do check them out if you haven’t already – oh, and don’t forget to sign up to my mailing list if you’re not already on there…I promise not to spam you!

Books

OK, don’t judge me, but this month I have mainly been reading about sex.

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Before you judge (ha! I knew you were going to!), let me tell you just how great this book is. Sheila Wray Gregoire, the author, starts with the principle that, despite our culture telling us that the way to sexual fulfilment is to have multiple partners, the best sex is actually found in monogamous relationships, where two people have committed to each other for life.

That’s not the end of the story, though, is it? We all know that we live in a fallen world, and marriages aren’t always brilliant. So what I love about A Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex is that the author deals head-on with many of the problems that married couples might be dealing with, which could adversely affect their sex life: pornography, health problems, affairs, sexual activity before marriage, lack of friendship/socialising outside of the bedroom, and plenty more.

The author is very, VERY blunt in this book – and that’s actually what I really appreciated! Yes, she’s writing from a Biblical perspective, but she has none of the shame/taboo/embarrassment which, sadly, often arises from the church’s teaching on sex. She calls things for what they are, and encourages all of us to work on three sides of our sexual relationships: the physical side, the friendship side, and the spiritual side, with plenty of practical tips along the way.

She’s written this mainly for an engaged/newly married audience (it would be a great pressie if you knew of a Christian girl getting married this summer), but I think she covers so much ground that it is useful reading at any stage of a marriage.

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Serving Without Sinking is an absolutely fab book to read if you’re feeling, or have ever felt, burnt out by Christian service. It’s full of grace and wise words, and helped me to realign my priorities and rethink why I’m doing what I’m doing. Find out more in this short video clip.

I’ve also been enjoying several of my downloads from the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle (which, I’m pleased to announce, will be on sale again in November – hurrah!). A few which have stood out for me: Choose Rest (a really great online course in Biblical self-care), Clutter: Sorted (a helpful and practical guide to decluttering), and DD and I are working through the 15 Minute Marriage Makeover (a short task to do each evening for a month, although realistically it will probably take us three…).

Food

Barbecue season continued, although we ran out of steam a little after the World Cup, it has to be said.

It was our anniversary, and DD and I visited The Ivy, which opened in York last year. We were generously gifted a voucher for Christmas, so finally got round to using it!

The food was good, although we were quite surprised how ‘non-foody’ it was! We were expecting fine dining, and were presented with food which you might find on a gastropub menu. I tried to choose the most quirky items on the menu: a crispy duck salad for starters, followed by a monkfish and prawn Keralan curry, with a delicious chocolate bomb (and hot butterscotch sauce to melt it) for dessert.

It certainly didn’t disappoint in quality, but as folk who like more surprise and innovation when they eat out, we probably wouldn’t return.

Music

We went to see James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt and – oh my goodness – it was one of my top five gigs ever! OK, so we were around 30 years younger than most of the audience, but I argue that these are the BEST sorts of gigs, because all the best songwriters are from the 1970s anyway!

Raitt has an incredible voice, and expert guitar skills, and I pondered how I might switch Missy’s allegiance over from Little Mix. It seems to me that a 70-year-old, fully-clothed woman who knows how to ROCK is a much stronger feminist influence for my daughter than four pitch-corrected young ladies who can barely put together one outfit between the four of them.

(Sorry, no offence, LM – your songs are catchy – but you’re not exactly the Bangles.)

James Taylor – well, what can I say? WOW. He’s still got it – the voice, the guitar, the humour – and he played ALL my favourite songs. You’ve got a friend, Something in the way she moves, Fire and rain, Carolina in my mind…they were all there.

AND I nearly died when he performed Carole King’s ‘Up on the Roof’, as this is actually her song, on which he duetted with her a few years ago, so I wasn’t expecting that he’d do it without her. But he did! And it was all kinds of spine-shiveringly fantastic!

(I shared the YouTube clip of their duet a little while back, but it’s so good that here it is again!)

ŪTaylor’s band were F.A.N.T.A.S.T.I.C. – all 11 of them! They couldn’t have complemented his songs any better – when you have a Brazilian samba percussionist, an incredible violinist and some stonkin’ brass players augmenting an already fabulous keys/guitars/drums outfit, could life actually get any better?

All ready for the gig!

Stage and Screen

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I went to see Hairspray with some friends and totally loved it! Despite only recognising a couple of the songs, they were all really singable and catchy, and the choreography was brilliant. A totally fun show which anyone can enjoy, even if you don’t know anything about it in advance.

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Missy and I also went to see The Greatest Showman. Yeah, I know, we’re about 6 months behind everyone else, but cut us some slack – we spend our days managing chaos. What a brilliant film! Of course we knew most of the songs already (thank you YouTube and an obsessed 6 year old), and they’re great, but also the plot, the costumes, the acting, the dancing. Fabulous.

We saw it at the relaunch of our local community cinema which I’d never taken much notice of, but it was so lovely and I’m definitely going back! A bunch of film-mad volunteers have set this up, and it has such a lovely atmosphere. They even have an interval (with ice creams, yes), and a raffle – what’s not to love?! If you’re local, do check it out.

My articles

On the blog, I shared 5 reasons I’m grateful not to own a home and some thoughts on keeping children safe in a ‘public’ home like our Vicarage. I mused about whether end-of-term teacher gifts were compulsory, and reflected on how I’m changing my parenting to connect with my oldest son.

I also shared the first of what will be two or three posts, reflecting on the brilliant Living Out conference I attended in June.

I guest-blogged for To Love, Honor and Vacuum (the blog of Sheila Wray Gregoire, see ‘Books’ above) Ten Ways to Enjoy Awesome Vacations – Even with Young Kids. I am hugely grateful to Sheila for giving me these opportunities to blog on her site and reach a Canadian/American audience! She’s worked so hard for so many years to build her blogging/writing/speaking ministry, and yet she is so generous in sharing her space with not just me, but many aspiring writers.

Writing What the Church needs to Know about Single Adopters for Home for Good was an informative and humbling experience. Please read it – it has the seal of approval from the many single adopters who contributed. This really is what they want the Church to know!

And, for More than Writers, I blogged on How to Build a Blog Audience.

Other articles

In order to research my piece on single adopters, I found this Christian adopter’s Open Letter to her Church incredibly articulate and incisive.

This piece, on Sheila’s blog, about Vashti – upholding her as a strong feminist icon in the Bible – is just brilliant. It had crossed my mind before that Vashti had been unfairly treated, but I hadn’t given her much more thought to be honest, so I loved the way Sheila totally unpacked this.

My new favourite blog is Abby King, who posts a devotional every weekend. If I had to pick a favourite post, it would be When you’re full of doubt, this is what you need to know. Give her a whirl!

IRL*

*This stands for ‘In Real Life’, and I am so cool that I’ve only just realised it. I’ve decided to henceforth adopt it for this section of the ‘What I’m Into’ posts, and probably overuse it other blog posts. You’ve been warned.

* We had nits. Again. Urgh.

* PTA stuff stayed busy, with our end-of-term disco, plus three ‘Freeze Fridays’, where the lollies and ice creams we sold went down very well in July’s hot weather. We had a new committee member join us, and our Treasurer stepped down. Highs and lows, but looking forward to a new year with excitement! (I’m planning to blog about my PTA experiences soon – would this be of interest to anyone? If any of you are PTA people, please wave a flag in my direction – it would be great to know!)

* Mister went to camp for five days without us. In case you didn’t quite get the enormity of that: I am old enough to have a child who can go to camp for five days without us. This is HUGE. He had an amazing time, went abseiling and kayaking, made new friends, remembered to change his underwear most days, and didn’t want to come home. I, on the other hand, felt like a piece of me was missing for five days, and wept like I’d lost him in battle. Save me, Jesus.

This was my July (linking up with Leigh Kramer). How was yours?

Also…affiliate links. This post contains some. You know the score by now: click through and make a purchase, and I may earn a teensy bit of commission at no extra cost to yourself. Thank you!