Faith, art and kids: how does one open up the other?

Recently, a young lad of 13 came to our church alone.

My husband recognised and remembered him as the same boy who’d come with his Dad, three years ago. They’d attended services for maybe two or three weeks – then not again. Until now.

At the time, the boy’s Dad said, “I’m not really interested, but he’s been asking to come”. Quite astoundingly, this young boy has claimed the identity of ‘Christian’ even though he has not been brought up in a Christian home, and has had very little Christian influence in his life other than the Christian group who led half-termly assemblies in his primary school. (If you do this job, be encouraged – it has an impact!)

I find it fascinating when parents who don’t hold a religious faith tell me how interested their children are in God. Kids can ask deep questions, that’s for sure, and if there is a God behind human design, then it’s unsurprising that children would have a deep-rooted longing to connect with something greater than themselves – a longing which doesn’t come from what their parents or teachers have taught them, or from the ‘religious’ experiences they’ve had, but from within their very beings.

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‘I know all the birds of the hills…’ by Elisabeth Rutt

And what of children, like mine, who are being taught about God’s existence, and who are having regular ‘religious experiences’ through church, children’s groups and Christian camps?

These children have deep questions too. Yes, they may frame them within the context of God’s existence – at least until they are of an age to question this – but that’s not to say that doubt and uncertainty can’t exist too.

So our question, as adults helping to raise spiritually-healthy children, is – how do we encourage these questions? How do we initiate debate? How do I permeate the deep recesses of my 9 year old son’s soul, when he only really wanted to tell me about the Newcastle-Man United game?

The closed approach of “That was your question – this is the answer” is not always appropriate. Of course sometimes there is an answer we can give – and I’m not dismissing this – but when our children have deep struggles and questions, I think that the simple black-and-white answer can often trivialise their experience, and devalue their thinking.

This is where creativity comes in: lots of questions, lots of responses, lots of deep thinking and forming of opinions. An understanding that one question may have many answers.

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‘Grenfell 2017’ by Matthew Askey

So when I heard about ‘Where is God in our 21st-century world?’, the new release from Instant Apostle, I was fascinated.

Let me back-track a little and inform you, if you didn’t already know, that Christian publishers don’t usually do Books Like This.

For example, we’re used to the 15-chapter teaching guide on a particular area of discipleship, written by someone with more experience than us. We’re used to someone telling us (or encouraging us) how to think.

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‘God’ by Trevor Attwood

Sorry – that sounds a bit cynical, doesn’t it? As if Christian writers are trying to brainwash their readers – and I don’t mean that at all.

But, generally, when I read a Christian book, I’m out to learn what the author has discovered through experiences, training or qualifications that differ to my own. It doesn’t mean I will agree with every word, but these books offer fodder for my mind, new interpretations of Scripture that I hadn’t come across, different opinions which strengthen my own.

“Where is God”, however, breaks this stereotype. It is, essentially, a coffee-table art book – hardback, with gorgeous pictures throughout, and empathetic commentary by Ann Clifford, who I interviewed for this blog on Monday.

And here’s another difference: Christian books, on the whole, tend to be written by Christians – right?

The art in this book has been produced by a variety of people from a variety of faiths and none.

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‘In the detail’ by Kate Green

Each of the 60 pieces of art was shortlisted for the Chaiya Art Awards, and is as diverse and beautiful as you would hope it might be, given the brief of “Where is God in our 21st-century World?”

Now this isn’t specifically a children’s book, but as any age group can enjoy and gain from art, I was keen to see what my children made of this. I viewed it as a PDF on my phone, but even without the ‘glamour’ of an open book with its glossy photos, my children were interested.

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‘Left Out’ by Maxwell Rushton

“What does it mean? Why is he wrapped in a bin bag? Who’s that? What’s happening?” were the initial questions, which I tended to follow with some more questions of my own. My children ended up providing their own ‘answers’ and interpretations.

We were able to bring our Christian beliefs into the discussion, but not in a forceful, dogmatic way – more a kind of, “The artist might be saying this… Jesus said this too” or “Do you remember when Jesus did…?” or “There’s a verse in the Bible that says something similar”.

I love the way that this book brings the question of God’s existence into regular situations that we and our children encounter. I already mentioned here about the picture of homelessness. Another I was struck by was a modern take on the Virgin and Child – except, in this version, both of them are wearing life jackets, linking to the Syrian crisis, still fresh in our minds, and the fact that Jesus and his family were also refugees.

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‘The Exiles’ by Louise Davis

Of course there’s plenty of more abstract pieces that my kids (and I, for that matter) looked at and, with screwed-up faces, asked, “What’s THAT??!!” – but that’s okay. Not all art will speak to all of us.

In fact, author Ann Clifford gives us this very caveat. “Perhaps [a particular piece] doesn’t look like art to you and it evokes nothing. That’s okay. Turn the page.”

Ann’s commentary is wonderfully incisive and articulate. She doesn’t comment on each piece, but offers short pieces throughout the book on themes expressed in the artwork.

‘Where is God in the 21st Century?’ is out now (you can buy it here) – but if you’re local to me, let me know as we can benefit from a bulk order discount.

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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 🙂

 

 

Eleanor Oliphant, pulled pork and a sexuality conference (What I’m into – June 2018)

Books

Wow. Just wow. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine certainly lived up to its hype.

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This was our Book Club’s choice this month, and I was delighted as it’s been on my list for months. Eleanor Oliphant lives an isolated life, devoid of any meaningful relationship, hobby or interest – beyond drinking vodka on her own all weekend to get through the gap between her working weeks.

Without giving anything away (because you really do need to read this book for yourself!), it’s fairly apparent from the start that there’s something unusual about Eleanor – but what it is unfolds gradually throughout the book.

I loved the hopeful way the book ended (not to mention the exciting twist in the last few pages), and I found the whole thing immensely enjoyable – laugh-out-loud funny at times, as author Gail Honeyman captures Eleanor’s straightforward, literal thought processes perfectly.

Again, without giving too much away, I particularly enjoyed this book from an adoption perspective. Although adoption isn’t a theme in the book, the impact of trauma, neglect and abuse is explored, sometimes making for difficult reading, but always sensitively and wisely handled.

In short – read this book! Seriously one of my favourite books ever.

It didn’t take me long to finish, but everything else I started this month didn’t get finished, so you’ll just have to wait till next month for more books!

Food

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Of course there were plenty of BBQs, and general al fresco eating this month – BECAUSE EATING OUTDOORS IS SO MUCH MORE FUN AND LESS HASSLE. And because – look at the weather! Even in the North!

My personal favourite was the yummy pulled-pork recipe you see above. It’s a great one for a busy day, because it takes about 10 minutes to get all the bits together and whack in the oven – then when you get home from your busyness, you’ve got a fabulous meal waiting for you with very little else needed except buns and coleslaw (although we did chunky chips – also easy – and some cooked veg for fussy little eaters).

And I successfully made canneloni for the very first time! I realised the problem was in the piping bag – so, in the month where I tried to reduce plastic usage by buying a shampoo bar instead of a bottle, I offset this by buying a roll of 100 disposable plastic piping bags. Eek. Sorry, world.

It did help, though. The result was amazing (this is the recipe I used). Sadly, I don’t have a pic of the finished article, so (just for evidence, so that you believe me that I actually pulled this off) here’s a pic of the cannelloni, all neatly piped and ready for some sauce, cheese and a half-hour in the oven.


Music

Not being at all gadgety or Internet-y, I was absolutely delighted to discover that Spotify was indeed as wonderful as everyone says it is. I bought a 99p 3-month trial so that I could put together a soundtrack for our Summer Fair (see below), but within an hour or listening for my own benefit, I was totally converted that THIS IS HOW I WANT TO LIVE FOREVER, THROWING OUT ALL THE CDS AND NEVER USING ANYTHING OTHER THAN DIGITAL MUSIC EVER AGAIN.

Until the hubs reminded me that our car only plays CDs. Oh well.

Through Spotify, however, I discovered Lily Allen’s latest album – I’ve kind of lost touch with her since her first album, but this one was perfectly accessible and just brilliant. I like how her music’s grown up with her, exploring different territories lyrically (divorce, being a working mum, etc.) but musically having the same quirks and emotional sweetness of her earlier stuff.

My personal favourite on the album was ‘Three’ but, honestly, there’s not really a dud song on there.

Stage and screen

download (2).jpgWell, having read it last month, our Book Club had to watch The Light between Oceans, didn’t we?! It’s good, and well worth watching – obviously not as good as the book (did I really need to say that?), predominantly because so much detail has to be left out – detail which changes how you view the secondary characters – but it’s a powerful film none-the-less.

download (3).jpgWe finished the UK House of Cards (the old one), and, much as I’d enjoyed the three series, I was hugely disappointed by the finale, which felt like a cop-out along the lines of “…and then they woke up to discover it had all been a dream”. I really felt that, with the clever plots and dialogue thus far, the writers could have come up with something better. Anyone seen it/share my views?! Feel like I’m kind of on my own here in 1990s British drama territory.

Articles

Some great stuff this month!

I’ve started to think a bit more about transgender and sexuality issues (and no, this is not my way of announcing my impending transition).

I absolutely loved Living Out’s Identity conference (see below), and interestingly I’ve started to find a few non-religious voices speaking out against the ease of gender transition (not against it per se, but concerned particularly for under 18s, and their vulnerability when it comes to their gender, and decisions which could have an impact they’re not expecting). This article is long but well worth a read – it’s one mother’s story of her daughter’s desire to transition.

Not on my watch is Krish Kandiah at his best, using Fathers’ Day to ask men whether they’ll step up to the challenge of caring for the most vulnerable. Adoption and fostering are two ways to do this, obviously, but they’re not the only ways. Our society has one particular definition of ‘real men’, but the Bible may be calling you guys to something different…take a read!

This article, about some fiery female missionaries who were practising Christian feminism way before the #metoo movement, was fascinating.

How disability makes a church strong spoke right to my heart about how vital inclusivity and diversity are to our church communities. I’m becoming so passionate about this!

And I’m really enjoying Abby King’s blog at the moment. She’s a fellow ACW member and writes a really thought-provoking devotional each week. I’m finding it so relevant and considered. Have a read of Why it helps to know what you really want.

On the blog

I was privileged to review The Mermaid who couldn’t, a fantastic book aimed at adopted children.

For Fathers’ Day, I published two pieces: some musings on the idea of having no father, and a tribute to my husband, who’s a wonderful father to our four kids.

In response to 5 Valuable Work Lessons from Maternity Leave which I mentioned last month, I wrote about five valuable work lessons I’d learnt from my nearly nine-year ‘maternity leave’…

To celebrate National Writing Day last week, I took up this writing challenge (“I feel most free when…”) – and then shared a few thoughts having watched the wonderfully thought-provoking ‘Gone Fishing’, featuring Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer.

Elsewhere

Whilst I still feel like a blog novice (after six years?! How can that be?), people have started to ask my advice when thinking about starting their own blogs. So I put a few thoughts down in my ACW More than Writers blog this month: “Why and how should I start a blog?” Do have a look if you’re in this position.

Other

* I went to the beautiful wedding of a lovely new friend – it was down-to-earth, simple, and God-centred.

* We finally found a Fathers’ Day gift for DD that he liked and didn’t complain about (he doesn’t like ‘commercial festivals’ and never knows what he wants for the non-commercial ones):

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God bless Pinterest.

* I went to watch my boy play cricket for his school (having no idea whether he knew the rules or not). It was a lovely, relaxed tournament for Years 3&4, with the Years 5&6 matches clearly taking on a bit more formality (read: they had rules). Our school did really well, winning our group and progressing to the semi-final where I think we came 3rd (?). Anyway, it was a great achievement for a school which doesn’t have loads of kids paying for additional sports coaching. We were all very proud!

* We had our school Summer Fair! Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while will know what a big deal this is – our PTA only started last year, and this is our second Summer Fair. We were aiming to improve on last year’s £1000 profit by a couple of hundred, but I was sceptical about actually reaching it. In actual fact, we made over £1400 – smashed it!! It was also just such a lovely afternoon, with great weather, and a brilliant atmosphere amongst all the families who came.

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* The most exciting thing for me this month – and possibly this year (you can tell I don’t get out much) – was a child-free 24-hour trip to London with my good friend Izzy to hear Tim and Kathy Keller speak on Identity and Sexuality. Oh my goodness, they were superb! The first hour was like an undergraduate Sociology lecture – the second was a brilliantly packed sermon. After lunch Kathy stormed it with some practical guidance for churches, then there was a brilliant panel made up of the Kellers and a couple of LGBQTI+ Christians. I couldn’t type my notes fast enough! I hope to be able to share a few thoughts with you on this blog over the next month or two…let me know if you’d be interested.

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Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m into’ blog posts. Do check them out – you may discover a fantastic new blogger!

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The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum – review and GIVEAWAY!!!

When you write a blog, it’s inevitable that people start telling you to write a book. All very well, you say, but it’s a bit harder to come up with an idea that might actually sell. After all, a book has to be more than a group of disparate thoughts all fused together. (Unless you’re a celebrity, in which case people will buy this kind of book in the thousands.)

This has been my dilemma over the last year or two, and particularly in the last few months since taking the plunge to devote more time to writing. If this blog could ever be translated to a book that people might want to read, then it would probably be a sort-of diary, perhaps halfway between Bridget Jones and Adrian Plass, recounting the pressures of parenting whilst telling the funny stories and also trying to pursue discipleship through the haze of early…

…BINGO! Fiona Lloyd has written this book, and it says EXACTLY what I would want mine to say, and she has done it A BAZILLION times better than I would have done. One thing can now be crossed off the to-do list. (Which seems to grow rather than shrink. Anyone else have this experience?)

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I’ve had a wonderful March, indulging in The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum. It’s honestly been my guilty pleasure, and has had me laughing out loud at times, and moved to tears at others.

The diary follows the ups and downs of Becky Hudson, mum of three and wife of one, who struggles to keep afloat in the sea of tweenager tantrums, toddler mischief, and one little boy who’s very obsessed with Formula One – not to mention a husband who’s facing Ofsted, an overly judgemental mother-in-law, and a church leader who seems to think Becky has a gift for leading whole-church prayers.

It didn’t take me long to warm to Becky, and her group of friends, as they support each other through their various parenting struggles and joys. I saw so much of myself in her, and various other characters. If the author has resorted to a couple of stereotypes (a holier-than-thou church mum, and the aforementioned MIL), she’s quickly forgiven because of such brilliantly funny, sassy writing, and a plot which develops cleverly throughout the diary entries.

I don’t usually read Christian fiction, and I found the whole experience completely wonderful. Christian non-fiction can inspire in a radical, ‘things you hadn’t thought about before’ way – but Christian fiction, like this book, can inspire you in a much more down-to-earth, ‘getting alongside you’ way.

If you’re a Mum, you’ll love this. If you’re a Dad who likes reading Mum books, you’ll love it too. (If you don’t, then buy it for a Mum you know.) I would also go a step further to say that even if your kids are all grown-up, you have grandkids or great-grandkids – you will still love this book! I’ll bet it’ll take you back to your days as a younger mum, and have you nodding away as you chuckle into your cuppa.

If you’re keen to get to know Fiona Lloyd before investing in this book, you can read this brilliant piece she wrote for the Baptist Union on why (and how) churches should welcome parents, or listen to this wise and articulate podcast she recorded for Premier Radio. If you subscribe to Woman Alive, you may also be interested to read her article in the April issue.

But before you head off to order the book…enter this giveaway! The kind folk at Instant Apostle have offered TWO FREE BOOKS to two lucky readers! All you have to do (you’ll be getting to know the drill by now) is leave a comment below by 11pm on Wednesday 4th April. I’ll use a random number generator to pick two winners, and let you know the happy news pronto.

THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO HEATHER AND REBECCA!

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Disclaimery bit: I reviewed my own copy of the book. All views are my own. Instant Apostle are kindly supplying the giveaway copies. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t review books I think are no good. I don’t receive payment, and if I receive a free book myself I’ll always let you know.

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