How Christmas unites Columbanus and Muhammad

Some thoughts that I never got round to recording before Christmas, having just finished a month studying Columbanus’ life. It ties in loosely to travel, to why I enjoy having a travelling God – a God who comes down to us. Much lies incomplete but I hope the gist is there:

Columbanus: Irish monk, traveller and missionary to Europe in the 5th/6th century, spreading the Christian message and bringing higher education standards, challenges to those abusing power, rebukes to  religious leaders not living out an authentic message and much more – to everywhere he went.  Believing that God came down and walked earth as a man (Jesus) was foundational to his message.

Muhammad (Peace be upon him – PBUH): Arabian leader, traveller and missionary to swathes of Arab territory in the 7th/8th century, spreading the message of Islam largely by force, rebuking polytheistic practice and laying down a firm moral standard for all to follow.  Believing God came down to earth as a human, was an abhorrent and heretical impossibility, that was worthy of punishment.

Christmas: a time when a few people in the world still gather to celebrate Jesus’ incarnating Himself on earth, born of a virgin, as the God-man – fully God and fully man.  (Most of Christmas celebrations, not being anything to do with that at all, and in fact, directly contrasting to the good news of Jesus)

Given this contrast, how on earth (pun unintended) does Christmas unite our two travellers: Columbanus and Muhammad (PBUH)?

To follow this next bit, I’ll try and keep it simple, but for those who want to push into the finer complexities of theology, please don’t be put off by that – drop me a line or leave a comment.

Columbanus perhaps unlike some other Irish missionaries of the time, seemed to have little hope for the eternal future.

“The things we ought to have loved are so remote and undiscovered and unknown by us, that while we are men and situated in this prison of the body, the things that are truly good and eternal are utterly incapable of being seen or heard or thought by us.”

(Sermon 3: how the monk should please God)


But in case that wasn’t firm enough grounding to conclude Columbanus’ theology, we’ll see that Columbanus everywhere he went, was known for introducing daily (or regular) confession to one’s “Anam Cara” (soul friend) or priest.

And who could disagree with a rhythm of repentance and faith in the Christian life, right?  Keeping short accounts before God and with each other is a beautiful thing.  But why did Columbanus do this?

Well sadly, because he had little hope of standing before a holy and perfect God one day, without it.  He thought that if you could only ask for forgiveness once (as was the tradition at the time), and have your slate wiped clean once, then it left you trying to second guess when you are near your deathbed, and then trying to live an incredible life after that, to merit your way to Heaven.  Columbanus thought this very dark and hopeless, because one didn’t know when one was going to die, and it was nearly impossible to live a good enough life for a perfect God, if you lived any longer.  The slate was never going to be clean.

And so regular penance would solve this.  A daily wiping of the slate and starting again.  Good news?  Well, it would certainly seem so to those who had no eternal confidence.

But that’s where I don’t agree with Columbanus.  The gospel writers seem to have great confidence in the eternal life that is theirs, and not because they were good people. 

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:1-4


I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.

1 John 5:13-15

This confidence comes from a realisation that wiping the slate clean, will never be good enough.  If that’s what forgiveness is, then we’re screwed.  A holy God awaits us, and a new Heavens and new Earth where nothing impure can ever enter.  Should we have the slightest moral failure, we would be out.

And that’s where Patrick (around at a similar time to Columbanus) seems to have understood things slightly better by his emphasis on receiving everything from God in Christ by the Spirit.


I am Patrick, yes a sinner and indeed untaught; yet I am established here in Ireland where I profess myself bishop. I am certain in my heart that “all that I am,” I have received from God. So I live among barbarous tribes, a stranger and exile for the love of God. He himself testifies that this is so. I never would have wanted these harsh words to spill from my mouth; I am not in the habit of speaking so sharply. Yet now I am driven by the zeal of God, Christ’s truth has aroused me.

The Confession of St Patrick

It would appear that a naughty chap called Pelagius, who was branded a heretic by most people (Roman Catholic and not) for his perceived views on being able to work our way up to God by our goodness, actually impacted Christianity more than some might want to admit.  Following on from his time, swathes of people adopted semi-Pelagianism, claiming that by God’s grace, we are able to obtain merit by our works in this world, because God will empower us to do it.  Thus we have hope for eternal life, if we work hard and are good enough people (by God’s grace).  Columbanus, I would argue, seemed to live this out, and it drove him to flagellation in ascetic communities across Europe.  Much of European Christianity (both Protestant and Roman Catholic) has since followed him in living this way.

So what’s this got to do with Muhammad (PBUH) and Christmas at all?

Well everything.  Let me explain. 

You see the problem with not knowing whether you’re in or out of eternal life with a perfect God, is that He immediately becomes the distant God who awaits you in another realm, and is very hard to know, because you are impure, and He is not.  This is where the scary god of the New Atheists comes in, who watches you like a hawk in the sky, and will pounce on you to make you feel guilty at many times and in various ways.  Perhaps if you say sorry enough , and live a good enough life, you’ll be ok.

This is a stark contrast to the God, in Christ, by His Spirit, is said to dwell in the hearts of all those who believe in Him.  Somehow, the most Holy and infinite God, claims to dwell in our hearts, and not obliterate us.  This would be opposed to the times when God and His glory showed up in the Old Testament and completely destroyed all those who dared approach without permission.  No-one could look at the face of God and last.

So the God who we’re not sure whether we’ll meet his eternal life standards, is actually the same God who we hope is empowering us, within us, in our life here on earth.  And because that seems either impossible or a fearful thing, we make him into a god who is far off.  Nearly unknowable.

We say in our creeds, confessions and liturgies that we believe in a Triune God (Father, Son and Spirit) but in reality, we wonder whether the Father is angry, we thank the Son for all he’s done at the cross but ultimately think we’ve to work hard to top it up, and we’re not sure whether the Spirit is really within us, because it doesn’t feel like it, and how can God be in us if we don’t know whether we could even be with Him in the future?

We deny the fact that (for those who trust in Jesus) we’ve already been adopted in a heavenly family with a Heavenly Father better than any a=other.  We can’t be un-adopted.

We deny the fact that (for those who trust in Jesus) we’ve already been declared righteous in God’s sight, and given new clothes to wear by Him.  It’s far better news than having a slate wiped clean – we are legally innocent, completely free from punishment, and have been given everything we could ever need (spiritually) for life with God (both for here and the life beyond).

We deny the fact that (for those who trust in Jesus) we’re indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, God Himself, who is not just our prize for the end, but our joy and peace in the trials and turmoil of this world, as He changes us more into His likeness – what we were created to be!

We deny our Triune God.

And that’s where we essentially deny the good news of Christmas – that Jesus came into this world with news of great joy, that would tell shameful and guilty people to “not fear”.  We instead, join our Islamic friends, in believing in a Holy God “up there” somewhere, who might (if we’re lucky) allow the best of us in one day.

And in practice, that’s what we see across Ireland amongst many of the older, pious, religious people.  Many of them that I’ve spoken to recently, fascinatingly (and contrary to our Mormon and JW friends who deny Christ’s deity) will go as far as denying Jesus’ humanity (what we celebrate Him taking on in His incarnation) – that he ate, slept, pooped, cried etc – because they’re horrified by a God who comes down to our level.  “God” for them by very definition, is something we work up towards.  The emphasis of their religious traditions leaves more still to be attained in the strength of what Christ has done, and therefore, it devalues His works (on the cross) and His words (in offering certainty).

Similarly my Muslim friends are also horrified by such a “crude and condescending” view of a God who would take on the shame of human flesh.  But they take the option of denying his deity, rather than his humanity, as their get-out clause.  For them, a rescuer who dives into a muddy and filthy river to save someone drowning, is not more of a hero (compared to a clean river), but is actually now impure.

So now, although one (Columbanus) still professes a Triune God with his lips, you see how the consequences of his belief for others, end up looking altogether Islamic.  Which is why I’m not surprised that his monastic rules are so obsessed with the outer appearance and practice, or on a completely different spectrum, why some churches in England have no problem with Muslims reading the Qu’ran from Christian pulpits.

In fact, I nearly applaud them for making logical steps and realising that Columbanus, is not so far away from Muhammad (PBUH) at all, in that they both minimise the emphasis of God coming to us, and instead throw weight on us going to God.

It’s why I’ll take a travelling God anyday, over one we have to travel towards.

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Christianity Today interview about “Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart”

A month or two ago I “sat down” with a like-minded traveller from the other side of the globe, and had a Skype which turned into this Christianity Today article.  It’s been one of the joys of this whole process – being introduced to top thinkers and practitioners in various settings and from various theological backgrounds – what a joy!

Do check it out!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 3: Extra Material

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One of the souks, where we started off

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

A book review of Ministering in Shame/Hono(u)r Cultures which delves deeper into some of the issues I’d raised.

The potential consequences of getting shame/honour culture wrong: martyrdom.  And then some feedback from those far wiser than I.

God’s Big Picture is one classic that I recommend everyone reads at some point.  But for those of you who aren’t readers, here’s it on video.

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Souks are more relaxing for some than others!

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

Top tips for a day in the souks

More material about souks and culture

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Trying to ascertain what goods are genuine local ware, and what are imported or replica kit, is hard at times!

Feedback from readers on the chapter:

“For this chapter alone, the book is worth it to even the most experienced Christian or cross-cultural worker.  The implications of this chapter are so profound, I’ve to go away and think more about it all, and how it affects my life, nevermind those travelling overseas.” 
(A kind, retired, reviewer in Ireland)

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Further along the Arabian window, you see temperature gauges on the street – this wasn’t as high as they went!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 2: Extra Material

[This is extra material to go alongside Chapter 2 to “Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP UK, October 2018).  Video content, photos, questions, blog posts and responses will be continually added over time.]

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The stunning remains of ancient Tunisia that helped me name this blog, but also speak into what the chapter finishes with: beautiful ruins

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

This one is a link to Dan “The Rebel Cyclist”‘s  blog who shares of his broken moments.  You’ll meet him throughout the book several times – he has an incredible story to tell, I’m sure you’ll agree!

What about when I can’t stomach intentionality in my travels and just need rest, and only rest?  Here’s one for you.

On why travel doesn’t restore my faith in humanity fully.

More on “aljabr” and why “beautiful ruins” have stuck with me so much.

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I did say they were stunning, didn’t I?  Not a tourist in sight.

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

a. Find labelling everything a ruin, too depressing?  Good news.  Christianity is the only worldview who allows you to stare into the blackest of black, and still have great reason to hope.  So please don’t stop looking into the black – it makes His rescue all the more incredibly bright!

b. I mentioned how our own stories can so often dominate the conversations we’re in, or be the things that we choose to define ourselves by. 

That, done for the wrong reason, I said leads to making less of Jesus’ story and more of ourselves.  We invert the “He must become greater, I must become less”.

But what does the opposite look like?  Some will never mention themselves, will shake their head when you compliment them, and will pride themselves in asking amazing questions to open up conversations about others (and they can be good questions).  But this, taken to the extreme is equally problematic.  People know nothing about you as a human, because you’re either always asking questions to get others to talk or telling people about an abstract Jesus, when they really just would be more impressed to see what difference He makes in a real human life.

Chapter 6 will explain more of what living for Jesus’ story really looks like.  But from this chapter, you’ll tell that our silences, our questions, our stories and even our evangelism, all have their “beautiful” side and their “ruin” side to some extent.  But before I’m into another blog post…. 

c. Travel as an educator

The secular mantra is that travel educates.  It’s wonderful because it stops any objective bigotry or thinking we’re better than anyone else.  All humans are wonderful….or so the story goes.  But much as travel can educate, it can also create the most selfish, absorbed people ever, who have no ambition to truly humble themselves and learn.  We’ll meet one of them soon…

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Fun video to go withthe chapter:

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A Roman Colosseum in better shape and with far fewer tourists than the one in Rome – another beautiful ruin in Tunisia

#TravelinTandem Chapter 1: Extra Material

[This is extra material to go alongside Chapter 1 to “Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP UK, October 2018).  Video content, photos, questions, blog posts and responses will be continually added over time.]

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In the light of the Midnight Sun, Tromso, Norway – 21/06/15

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

On getting distracted with Genesis

On contrasting creation accounts – an Islamic theology of travel

On environment – something that needs far more mention than I could give it in the book, and probably fits in this chapter’s exploration of what it is for a world to be made good by God.  More here.

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What better to do than go hiking and camping 12 hours after we finished our first ever marathon?!

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

On evangelism: We sometimes think creation is good because we get to tell people about our creator.  “Aha!  They’ll never be able to deny him when they see this [insert scene]

But I’m not sure taking the quickest way to sharing of our God is always the best, particular if you have a thinker with you.  Partly because it immediately raises questions of suffering (as soon as they’re with us and see it together), that only written revelation can give a satisfactory response to.  If you’re wanting confrontation, perhaps.  And that’s not always bad.  But 90 times out of a hundred, I prefer to sit with people in their questions, and work together towards a solution, rather than coming with a perceived answer to someone’s non-question.  More on this another time.

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3am in the morning and still bright as daytime!

And your video for the chapter: enjoying life and all the random craic that comes with it…

Follow on episode here

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A rare walk through civilisation

#TravelinTandem Introduction: Extra Material

[This is extra material to go alongside the Introduction to “Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP UK, October 2018).  Video content, photos, questions, blog posts and responses will be continually added over time.  The introductory chapter is short, and so I include a special video with a short lunchtime talk I recently gave at a university.]

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The golden Atlantic shores of Western Morocco where we sat, 4 travellers together.

BLOG POSTS that engage with this chapter:

What Augustine never said

 

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Sunset by the crashing waves

Some tangential thoughts loosely to do with the chapter:

  1. Know any female missionary friends in settings where single females aren’t accepted so much?  Perhaps you could ask them whether they want company on holiday somewhere?  Often it’s the only chance they’ll get.

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One of several dinner-selling friends we made that day

A video made for students wanting to know why they should explore more:

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Pastoral authority in a travelling world

“All my congregation are travelling.  The older generation visit their children and grandchildren.  And the younger generation for work and just about everything from music gigs to sport to pleasure travel in and of itself. What should I say to my travelling congregation?  That’s what you should write on next.”

It’s what I’ve been told or asked several times in the last week or two.  So what’s my response?

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Travelling for the bank holiday weekend in Ireland: I made sure I went with other church family, and with the goal of mixing and mingling Christians with non-Christians too.

Well, although I didn’t write the book primarily for the church pastor, I hope that what I say can still be very helpful at demonstrating how to speak to someone with their heart set on travel.  In chapter two of the book, I touch on a [borrowed] metaphor for humanity that my blog name actually derives from – beautiful ruins.  Everyone on earth is beautiful but broken.  Everything on earth is beautiful but also fallen, to some degree on another.  But it creates life hard for us all.  Because it’s far easier to see the extremes of the spectrum in anything.  To brand people, things or viewpoints as entirely bad or wonderfully good.  And so pastors who have travelling congregations could quite easily do the same.  They’re looking for a quick fix to tell people to stop travelling and start committing to church.

“…quick fixes aren’t available in the Christian spiritual world.”

But I wryly smile, because quick fixes aren’t available in the Christian spiritual world.  Convictions of what church is, and other such things are taught and caught over years of pastoral ministry.  Even if I did think it was the answer to tell people to sit down and stop travelling (which I don’t, primarily), a book that told everyone to do precisely that, wouldn’t exactly be a best seller to travelling people.

But because there’s far more to travel that just “is it good or is it bad?”, I write to help people think for themselves and see both the potential and the harmful sides of travel in their life and the lives of others around them.

So the way I identify with my fellow travel-lovers, the language I use about it all, the emphasis I take and much more, will hopefully be an example or a sharpening to those who teach and those who lead churches, in how they can do similar.  A book about that, would only end up exampling and repeating so much of the same things again.

But a final note to pastors or those who are frustrated at the amount of travel their congregation or certain individuals do:

If I can boldly say so, I think in saying this, you’ve often been steeped in the same individualism as your young travelling congregation have.  Pleasure travel has thrived in the extreme individualism of the western world.  But so has pastoring-from-a-distance.  It’s amazing how we have churches now where everyone drives in from miles around, and never sees each other from Sunday to Sunday (or occasionally at the midweek).  Living out the tens of “one another” commands in Scripture (love one another, forgive one another, confess to one another etc) which seem to dominate the discipleship patterns of every letter in the New Testament, seem virtually impossible without seeing people from one week to the next!  Relationships will never thrive and sin can always be hidden from each other in such contexts.  Conversations will always be shallow after church on Sunday, if we don’t know each other better than that.

“So how was your week?”

“Oh, alright thanks.  I had a cold on Tuesday and work has been busy but good apart from that.  Did you see the football on Saturday?”

“Oh sorry to hear!  Yes, great game, wasn’t it?”

Etc.

But many of the younger generation won’t go to this type of church – they want real community.

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“They want real community”

And so as a pastor/elder, gone are the days where you can get away with saying “I’ll meet with you if you have a problem or if you’re new, but apart from that, I’ll focus on other things” (if you ever could say that).  I’ve heard it numerous times from students, that the student finds it impossible to get to know their elders or feel like they’re accountable to them, because they’re not known by them.  It’s led many of my students to find their church leaders authoritarian (because rebuke comes outside the context of deep relationship), or for them to not respect local church at all (just leaning towards a worldwide church and taking “elders” to be those who they respect across the city/world, because they actually feel understood and known by these people).

Now of course it’s a two-way thing.  And to willingly forsake a regular Sunday local meeting of God’s people around His Words and His sacraments, is just silly.  But I’ve rarely found young travelling people to be away so much when there is genuine connection and community.  It excites people, despite the messiness of true community being with people who aren’t like us.

What this means for city centre churches in big cities, or for churches that aren’t made up of geographically proximal people, is hard to see.  I think we have to be more creative than to tell people that they must just go back to the old way of life of living and spending time with all our physical neighbours (chapter seven of my book touches on why I think this).  But in other ways, I’m increasingly convicted there has to be more geographical proximity than we currently have in most churches in Ireland.  We must preach the gospel to ourselves and to each other regularly.  It’s partly why I believe Christian Unions see so many coming to faith, because of the beautiful [geographically proximal] community that models the good news for onlooking people.

(It’s also why, although I’ve been away from my Cork church two Sundays in a row launching this book, I’m quite content that I’m not forsaking the gathering of God’s people.  Not only am I visiting my sending church, and at a friend’s church on those Sundays, but I’m also intensely involved in the lives of my Cork church family during the week, often spending whole days with some of them (partly due to the flexibility of my job, admittedly) in ways that I can be vulnerable even with my elders).

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So in short?

Elders, please do be involved in your congregation’s lives and seek to know them and “one another” them regularly.

Travelling friends, please do seek to get to make yourself and your schedule open to rubbing shoulders with your elders and sharing your life with them.

It’s a two way thing.  The fault is rarely just in those we point the finger towards.

Further thoughts or advice?  Get in touch or comment below.

Hot off the press! Travel: in tandem with God’s heart (IVP UK)

It’s here!  From October 18th (today!), Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart is available on:

The Publisher’s Website (*ebook and paperback)

Amazon and with free postage to Europe: The Book Depository

The Evangelical Bookshop (*cheapest, and includes free postage to UK)

Unbound Cork (*10% off when you enter “welcome” as giftcode when paying)

All good local bookshops

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Why can’t we be friends? Thoughts on travel and gender.

I walked into the hostel on yet another trip away from home.  This one was for choice, to see some friends who’d flown over from England.  But it was still a 6 hour round trip in the car for me, and so I’d decided to treat myself on my final day off of the year, and stay over in a hostel in the mountains and go running in the morning.

I walked in tired from the drive and sat down in the hostel foyer, where many others were lounging around, to watch something online on my laptop, and have a can of Beamish.  Half an hour later, and the chat was interesting enough around me that I joined in.

Soon I found myself chatting to a likeminded runner – an Aussie lass who’d come to the Wicklows to run and to hike with friends.  On hearing my intention to run in the morning before I set off for work, she said she’d join me, if we went early enough for her to join her friends hiking afterwards.  And so looking sceptically at my unopened second can of Beamish at my feet, she agreed a 6am start time with me.

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Glendalough from the hills (photo mine)

But it wasn’t me holding the morning up, and by ten past six, I not only was up, stretched and ready, but also had been the breakfast for hundreds of midges, that swarm the lakes of Glendalough at many times of year.  Soon, she joined me, and we set off, ready for 20km in the hills.

I love running.  Partly the freedom of being able to mentally escape.  Partly the endorphins making the rest of the day a happier one.  And partly the joy of the scenery around me and the fun of not having a care in the world.

And even better when you’ve someone to share that with.  We set off, happily chatting about everything and anything in life, from our stories, through to running chat and local tips.  There’s something about running side by side that always makes me open up to whoever I’m running with and be vulnerable with them.  And sure enough, throughout this chat, she shared of how she’d split up from her boyfriend a few months ago and how she was there to get away from life and see what’s next.  She was asking advice, I was sharing of my experiences in life, and we were both asking questions and sharing our life longings.  Would I like to come to her part of the country and run in the mountains near her?

Conversation never gets too deep before my answers generally intrigue people.  And so it was here.  She said she’d never met someone who was so free in life, and wanted to develop themselves and push their limits, but yet someone who kept on chatting about Jesus.

“Do you mind me asking?  You seem so liberal in many ways, and such fun.  But you keep mentioning this Jesus person as if you know him.  Which is different from all those religious people I’ve met before.  So do you still hold to all his conservative values?”

And with my answer barely off the tip of my tongue, she nodded, smiled at me, and then declared she was going to head back to the hostel and let me run on alone.  I wondered whether I could have answered any differently and kept a running buddy.  It amused me that the liberals of this world aren’t very liberal at all when they hear someone takes seriously a worldview that can’t imagine adhering to.

But the question was twofold.  Was it really me saying I wasn’t prepared to have sex that signalled the early end of our brief getting to know each other?  And regardless, should I even have put my tired self in the place of chatting away to a girl at 11pm at night, in a hostel space where both of us were anonymous?  And then to go running with her at 6am in the morning alone in the mountains?  Was I, despite my professed conservative ethics, secretly being motivated by a desire for her?

Such questions are not abstract theoretical ones, but ones that shape our every day lives in many circumstances.  Should we have lunch alone with that colleague?  Should we meet to study the Bible with people of the opposite gender?  Should we have close friends of the opposite gender, even when we’re married?  The list could go on.

It’s one that a lot of ink has been spilt on and causes inevitable stereotyping of the “other” side.  On one hand, a great desire for holiness, and an awareness that we live in a victim culture – what happens if that women had claimed I had done something to her up the mountains?  What if I’d been tired enough to forget the consequences and to have gotten off with her?  On the other hand, a wonderful modelling of the fact that we as renewed-hearted-believers, can have deep friendships with those of the opposite gender to us, that shape us, help us, and point us onwards to Jesus, without the least hint of a sexual nature.

And it’s not just theoretical.  One deacon at a church locally recently ran off with a woman alone, and threw the towel in with his faith.  Another church won’t employ single female workers incase their male workers “stumble”.

And that’s where two books I’ve recently read have been very helpful in helping me see that everything doesn’t have to be seen through Freud’s lenses of sexual desires and in fact, the church can be a place that walks free of constantly having to make boundaries and live in bubbles from each other.

Aimee Byrd’s book: Why can’t we be friends?

Joshua Jones’ book: Forbidden Friendships

Aimee Byrd

Aimee makes a persuasive case, for why we ought to be seeing our brothers and sisters in Christ as exactly that – brothers and sisters.  She digs deep into into how the answer to abuse scandals and #metoo culture of this day in age, is not separation, but wise engagement in meaningful and deep friendships.  She looks into scriptural examples, church history and much more, to find many including Jesus, who’d fall short of the modern evangelical boundaries set, where one can’t spend time with someone of the opposite sex.  She profoundly reflects on the depth of brother-sister bonds, and wonders where we’ll go in a same-sex attracted world….do we have to abandon all meaningful friendships regardless of gender, for fear of people misconstruing our friendship even between friends of the same gender?

 

Aimee’s writing is not for someone who wants a light read, but those who pick it up will plumb depths on the topic that I wish books like Vaughan Robert’s “True Friendship” could have at least skimmed.  She also perhaps doesn’t sit with the sceptic enough to convince those on the opposite extreme – as she will have found out in very public online critiques that have gone on.  But ultimately, I thought I was picking up something I wasn’t going to be challenged by, and instead I found myself stirred to appreciate new ways of looking at friendship, humbled by parts that made me weep in repentance for how I’ve acted towards women at times, and inspired to see far more depth to Biblical community that I’ve ever known before.  Forget reading another book on the sexual revolution, same-sex attraction, or similar topics: start here!

Aimee Byrd2But for those who might want an easier read that shows more awareness of sceptical thinking on this topic, you might be better heading over and picking up Josh’s book first.  He writes clearly, simply, engagingly and along the same lines.

More than that, I’ve seen him in action, and his life models a world that takes holiness seriously, while still discipling people of both genders in ways in a depth and maturity of faith and expression that isn’t often seen.

In a world obsessed by porn, which lets that shape hearts more than God’s word on the topic, it is not surprising that we’ve generated the culture of misunderstanding we have on this one.  But as Josh says, the answer isn’t in running to the opposite extreme, but by enjoying the good gift God has given us: friendship.

And where it has been lived out well, it’s ridiculously freeing.  No more wondering about the intentions of others.  No more having to constantly withdraw.  No more surface level Sunday post-church conversations.  Real community.

Running 92km for…

…joy!

This Saturday I’m off with a friend to run 92km on the Waterford Greenway (there and back).  The original plan was to run an ultramarathon in the English Peak District with another friend, but as he pulled out with a couple of months to go, I thought it made far more sense to go local.  Added to the fact it’s a flatter route that won’t need so much planning, and will draw a few friends to support, it seems like a fun way to do it!

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Just a few miles across the road from the Greenway, the other day

Doing 92km has the advantage for me of being a slow plod (9km/hr being the rough plan).  It’s been one of the beautiful things the training has taught me.  For once I’ve been able to leave my watch and running Apps behind, and have just been able to enjoy running and the scenery around me, for its own sake, rather than always pushing for new PBs or times.  It also means it’s easier on the body, not to mention the trails being better for the joints too, rather than the tarmac roads of many marathon runs.

I would happily just do it for the fun of doing it, but as everyone seemed to think it was a worthy feat, I thought I’d also raise some money for charity while I do it.  You can read my story of why I’m raising for Diabetes Ireland and Christian Unions Ireland by clicking here (for DI) or here (for CUI).

A final question I’ve been asked by some who’ve seen me posting about this: how do I stop it becoming all about me when I’m fundraising and constantly mentioning the feats I hope to achieve?

There’s something self-depreciating about the Irish mentality that we always struggle to mention ourselves in any context of achievement.  Perhaps that also is true for many Christians too, as we want our mantra to be “Soli Deo Gloria” (to God’s Glory alone) rather than receiving any honour ourselves.  Often we beat ourselves up about things, or try and put on a false humility (which is as bad as pride) saying “oh I’m not really any good at all” after we’ve achieved something special.

But the Christian good news isn’t devoid of human means.  It’s not a dualistic message that declares our physical bodies and achievements to be nothing on this earth, and our spiritual immaterial state to be everything.  We are embodied people.  And the gospel comes embodied to us in the person of Christ, with a very real message of renewal and transformation, using weak, earthy means.

And so I’m freed to celebrate human achievement in this world, and to strive to try things to enjoy this world around us.  Not as my primary aim in life, but as a reflection of God’s goodness towards us, that he allows humans to cultivate and bless this world by developing it and seeking to look after it.  And so along with GK Chesterton, I don’t just say grace (thanks) when I eat my food, but when I watch a film at the cinema, when I see something of beauty in this world, or when I get to have the thrill of endorphins rushing through my body after a long run.

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I was reminded of this yesterday as I went for my final longer run in the Wicklow mountains before the big race.  Approaching the top of Powerscourt Waterfall, I was joined by these two creatures for a brief distance.  Though I’m not sure we were well matched for pace.

It reminded me of how the old prophet Habakkuk finishes his book (chapter 3):

I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig-tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the sheepfold
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

 

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.