Tag Archives: writing

Gentleness

 

A week ago, I had the opportunity to preach in Church for the first time. Below is the neatened-up version of what I said. If you would rather listen to the talk, it can be found on the church Facebook page here.

Continuing with our study of the fruits of the Spirit, today we are looking at gentleness. We are going to read 1 Peter 3v8-18.

The dictionary definition of gentle reads as follows: kindly, amiable; not severe, rough or violent; mild; moderate; arch. noble, chivalrous. I like that last one, it makes me think of knights of yore.

Today is Palm Sunday and we have been thinking about Jesus entering Jerusalem, gentle and riding on a donkey. This is maybe not how we would picture a knight, but that’s the point: the Jews were expecting a Valiant Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel, but Jesus’ mission was one of gentle revolution – a quiet ushering in of the kingdom of God, turning lives around.

In this passage from Peter, gentleness is linked to living and preaching the good news. We must be ready to give an answer for our faith in Jesus, which we hope would have been evidenced in our lives. If we are ‘eager to do good’, despite insult or mistreatment, people will want to know why.

My NIV study Bible note explains that ‘our apologetic (“answer”) is always to be given with love, never in degrading terms’. This reminded me of another verse about gentleness: ‘a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger’ (Proverbs 15:1)

All this got me thinking, what are we known for? As Christians, are we known for being ‘eager to do good’ and answering questions ‘with gentleness and respect’? or is the way we are seen in the world less positive?

Recently I have been reading Philip Yancey’s Vanishing Grace – a follow up to What’s So Amazing About Grace? In the opening chapter he says:

We are called to proclaim good news of forgiveness and hope, yet I keep coming across evidence that many people do not hear our message as good news

I feel like in the media Christians are presented as/assumed to be angry about things? When I was a teenager it was Harry Potter, some of my friends tore up their copies. At uni I remember hearing about Christians due to the Jerry Springer opera. We often are presented as being angry about things we disagree with. To the wider culture we are thought to be on the wrong side of many debates – gay rights, abortion, etc

In some ways we are meant to speak out, be a prophetic voice for the voiceless and stand against injustice when we see it. We see this in the Bible, in the books of the prophets. This is sometimes described as righteous anger. And sometimes this is okay – Jesus got angry, we see that in the gospels. But we need to think about what Jesus got angry about. He got angry with the temple traders who disrupted the worship of the Gentiles by setting up a market in the only area they were allowed to worship God in the temple. He got angry at the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, (Matthew 23) who ‘tie[d] up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders’ – who were so focused on the law that they missed God’s grace. These were people who were meant to be showing the way to God, but instead were so caught up in legalistic obsession with rules to live by, without changing their hearts, that they became a stumbling block.

I believe the Church today maybe in danger of this – it is too easy to get on our moral high horse and miss out on showing people the grace of God. I’m thinking about – for example – the abortion debate. I’m ‘pro-life’ but not just the life of the unborn. Some others who label themselves as pro-life aren’t necessarily so in all areas – I’m going to paint a picture of a stereotypical American politician, a Republican, who would say they base their politics on Christian/family values. They are anti-abortion, yes, but they are also anti-immigration (refugees), anti-gun control, anti-universal healthcare – meaning sick people struggle to get the medical help they need, – they are anti-welfare, and they support the death penalty. Is that really pro-life? – This type of person is often seen as hypocrite by wider society. If you are ‘pro-life’ you need to be pro-all life.

Another debate where we perhaps don’t cover ourselves in glory is the area of gay rights. When I was an undergraduate at uni in Cardiff the gay marriage debate was working it’s way through parliament. One of my housemates asked what I thought. I explained that I believe that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life, but that while I try to live by what I believe the Bible teaches, I don’t think I should be inflicting my values on those who don’t hold to the same beliefs as me. I choose to try to live by a certain moral code, because my of faith and the values associated, but I can barely stick to it myself, so why should I enforce it on others who don’t hold to the same values?

The passage from Peter talks about suffering for doing good – but is that taking the moral high ground, or showing people love even when it’s hard and we disagree with their lifestyle?

Taking for example, Christian bakers. There have been several famous cases both in Northern Ireland and USA, where Christian bakers have been taken to court and lost their businesses over refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings/gay rights etc. I understand why and support them and applaud their courage, but at the same time – it’s just a cake! And what sends a better message to the world – refusing to serve someone because you disagree with them, or choosing to serve them despite disagreeing with them?

I heard another story on twitter which made my soul hurt. A gay guy was on his way to adopt a cat, when he got a message from the lady who owned the cat saying she had found out he was gay and didn’t feel right giving the cat to him because she was a Christian. She then proceeded to lecture him about his lifestyle. That is not a good demonstration of love or gentleness.

Billy Graham quoted as saying ‘It is the Holy Spirit’s Job to convict, God’s job to judge, my job to love’. Gentleness in action means living a life that shows love and respect to everyone, serving those in need, regardless of how you feel about their life choices. This means: seek peace, do good. Show God in the way you live

Verse 15 of our passage says ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’. The key words for me are: ‘who asks you’. Meaning, wait until you are asked. Show grace, don’t force your opinion on those who aren’t ready to hear it. Wait to be invited. Earn the right to speak into someone’s life by showing them love. And think about what you say – is this going to draw this person closer to God or push them further away?

At school I had a friend called Richard. When we met in year 7, he was an atheist. We stayed friends all through secondary school. When he came out as gay in year 10 or 11, I was the first person he told and I was honoured that he chose to tell me. When we were leaving to go to different sixth forms, he told me that couldn’t be an atheist any more, he had to believe God existed because he saw Him in my life. I was not a perfect teenager, I messed up quite a lot of things, but I tried to live my faith, show kindness to those around me. That opened the door for opportunities to share God with people.

Before you think I’m awesome, I’m not great at this. I often fall into workplace gossip and get frustrated with co-workers who don’t have same work ethic as me. I am resolved to do better! So let’s look a good example of this, when Jesus met a Samaritan woman of dubious morality in John 4.

[I read Ruth Tucker’s re-telling of this story from Dynamic Women of the Bible]

What Ruth Tucker highlights so beautifully is the isolation of the woman before she met Jesus. She was an outcast. The moral people of the town wanted nothing to do with her. She was hungry for conversation, and Jesus was there to meet her.

Jesus may have initiated the conversation, but he let her direct it. He was crossing boundaries even to talk to her (man to woman, Jew to Samaritan) but he didn’t let societal norms stop him from reaching out to someone in need.

He didn’t push her on her life choices. He brought up her marital situation, yes, but didn’t linger on it when she changed the subject. Regardless of her problematic lifestyle, he talked theology with her. Instead of a lecture, she was treated with grace, kindness and respect – with gentleness.

And it worked – where a sermon on sexual morality would have sent her running, an open discussion when Jesus clearly knew about her life but accepted her anyway was what changed her. And the result of this change impacted the whole town.

In this way, gentleness is linked with the other fruits: living a life showing love and kindness to others, bearing with their faults patiently and with gentleness. These create opportunities to show God’s grace to them.

We should be trying to live out our faith, to base our lives and actions on biblical values. But we should not be trying to force our moral code onto others and then expect them to listen when we tell them God loves them. Instead, if we show them God loves them by the way we interact with them, they will be more open to hearing what we have to say. We need to earn the right to tell people about our faith – and maybe that means we never challenge them on parts of their life we disagree with, or maybe that means one day they’ll ask for our advice. Either way, treat them with gentleness and respect, seeking peace. Keep the door open for them to see God.

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Flash Fiction: Bad Driver

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get back into creative writing and post it on here from time to time. This is a partial fulfilment of that promise. I wrote these two pieces of Flash Fiction a while ago (I should really date my work) based on a prompt from a book my friend gave me*. The first is a bit predictable (and a little bit embarrassing, I admit. I blame my perpetual singledom), but the second I am really quite happy with.** Hope you enjoy.

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Prompt: You’re walking on the pavement when a driver texting on her phone careers toward you. Write two very different outcomes.

 

1)

Time slows down as the car comes toward me. I’m frozen, I can’t move myself out of the way. I hear a shout, and someone is grabbing me, pulling me. We fall and roll, and the car slams into the wall behind where I was standing.

I start breathing again.

“You saved my life” I turn to my rescuer.

He has the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.

 

2)

I feel the impact, then nothing.

Suddenly I am above myself, watching as she reverses and starts to drive away, leaving my body crumpled on the floor. “Not likely” I whisper and will myself after her. I see her car, winding its way through the narrow streets and swoop after it.

I always wanted to fly.

I guess this probably means I’m dead, but if that’s the case, I’m not letting her get away with it. Her car is heading for the bridge out of town. Perfect.

I slid through the roof into the passenger seat. I go to tap her on the shoulder, but my hand passes straight through. She shivers, turns towards me. I smile.

She screams, and misses the on ramp to the bridge, crashing through the barrier into the river. Sinking down.

 

 

 

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*642 Tiny Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto (Chronicle Books, 2014)

** I toyed with only posting the second one, but they come as a pair in the prompt. All writers write bad/cheesy stuff sometimes…

New Year’s Resolutions Part One – Reading and Writing Goals

2017 was a big year for me. I turned 30, moved back out from my parents’ house into one I partially own, and completed the final part of my Masters, including a 15000 word dissertation.

You may have noticed that one of the things to take a back seat in the last year was this blog, as I while I was studying I just did not have the time to spare on writing for fun, and since finishing my course in October I have needed to give my brain a rest. But I miss all the writing, the stringing together of words in new and meaningful ways. So one of my goals for 2018 is to get back into good writing habits. I intend to post on here a lot more frequently than last year – I’m aiming for at least once a week. I’m also working toward more variety in what I post. I want to practice more creative writing, but also review more books and films, to share some of what influences me creatively. I would like to share some reflections from what I learnt from my course, and get back into blogging my Bible studies. So look out for a more eclectic mix of posts from me in the future. I hope you enjoy what I have to share. I recognise that some of that might not appeal to you, dear reader, but I hope you find something that you like and stick with me for the rest, as there might be something that surprises you. I don’t know. I am still trying to find my voice and work out what kind of a writer I am.

Outside of the blog, I also had several novels I was working on before I had to put them on the back burner while studying, so I will be reviving them. I’m aiming to finish a first draft of at least one of them before the summer of 2019 (as per my #Next5 goals from 2014) so I will be dedicating time to work on them too.

I haven’t quite worked out exactly how to make myself more disciplined in my writing yet, but it will probably involve setting aside an hour a day for a certain number of days per week for focused writing, on whatever topic. One thing I am definitely going to do is not put off writing reviews – when I read a book or see a film that I want to write about I will aim to get my thoughts down that week while it is fresh. Earlier this year I read a book that meant a lot to me and I really intended to review it, but before I knew it months had passed and I couldn’t really remember all the details that I wanted to share. So no more procrastinating. (On which note, I feel proud of myself as I have already written two reviews today, which I will be sharing here soon! Go me starting my resolutions early!)

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One of the delightful aspects of having my own place again was that I was able to unpack all my boxes of books that had been in storage for three years. Unfortunately this has also lead to an explosion of my TBR list, not helped by my addiction to buying books (I bought over 50 books this year, and was given around 30, not to mention ones I’ve borrowed from the library. My Goodreads to read shelf currently has 549 items on it). So, as I am severely running out of shelf space, I recognise the need to not buy more books next year.

The slight problem with not buying ANY books (other than that I don’t think I could cope with going cold turkey) is that one of the greatest joys of my life this year has been discovering the #Ninjabookcommunity – I subscribe to the quarterly #Ninjabookbox and have loved discovering more great independently published books through #Ninjabookclub. Of my top three books of the year, one was from a #Ninjabookbox (Star Shot by Mary Ann Constantine, published by Seren books) and one was our #Ninjabookclub pick for November (How to Be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill, published by Salt). The third I received from my partner in the #Ninjabookswap (The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James, although I don’t know if the publisher Walker books are independent as that was not a requirement of the swap and I can’t find the list at the moment).

So instead of cutting out bookbuying entirely, I will be attempting in 2018 to only buy ninja-related books – as in, they are in the #ninjabookbox, for #ninjabookclub or bought on a #ninjaorganised bookshop crawl (which I am hoping to take part in). I’m aiming for less than 20. The ONLY exception will be if I can stick to this until December I will treat myself to J.R.R. Tolkein’s Letters from Father Christmas as 2018 is also going to be my year for re-reading Tolkien and it will be Christmas.

This means that I am kind-of accidentally taking part in #Ninjabookbox’s #IndieChallenge – to buy more/only independently published books in 2018. I have discovered so many great books this year that I would not have come across otherwise through the Ninja influence that I am now a firm supporter of Independent publishers and want to help promote their books to a wider audience.

I have set other limits for myself as to how many books I am allowed to borrow or reread, but my main goal is to get my TBR list down to a more reasonable amount. I know that one year is not going to make a great deal of difference so I will have to see how long I can stick to this…

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So there you have it, my Writing and Reading goals for 2018. I have a couple of other things I want to work on for myself, which I will share in the not-to-distant future.

Do Not Mess With The Dress – a short story

Write about a time you were in trouble with your parents, a school principal or teacher, or the law, but write it from the point of view of the person in authority.*

This is meant to be a quality establishment, for the cream of society. The best, the richest, the most fashionable – people of taste, discernment, and judgement.

Not any more. Now it’s a tourist attraction for the riffraff. Day trippers from The North, or, worse, kids on school trips to the ‘Big City’ – let out of their classrooms for “enriching activities” or some such nonsense.

I should be able to take pride in my work. I help the most glamorous of brides to find the perfect gown for the most important day of their lives, evoking jealousy in the hearts of all who behold them. Only the elite can afford these dresses, so, in my view, only the elite should be allowed to look at them.

Instead, I have to put up with a bunch of silly kids cooing over my dresses, dresses they (or their parents) coulee never in a million years afford, pawing at them with their sticky hands. Disgusting.

So I decided to scare a few today. They were taking photos – the cheek of it! So I told them I would be calling the police – after all, for all I knew they were trying to steal our designs (and who wouldn’t want to steal them?!)

Well, they looked suitably chastised, and I suppose they didn’t really mean any harm, so, begrudgingly, I let them go.

 

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When I was 14 I thought I was going to be arrested for taking a photo of a wedding dress in a famous London department store. This is from the store assistant’s perspective. This was written as part of my lent creative writing challenge.

 

*This writing prompt is from 642 Tiny Things to Write About (2014) by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto

Taking up, not giving up…

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, as we wait and prepare for Easter. Traditionally, it is a season of repentence, when Christians give up luxuries and distractions to focus on God and recommit their lives to him.

I love this season, and I have given things up in the past (one year I gave up tea and chocolate – my friends will tell you, it was not pretty). I haven’t observed lent for a couple of years (mainly as I’ve been on a diet for the last three), but this year I felt I wanted to mark it somehow. But how?

Then a friend gave me the book “642 tiny things to write about” and it gave me idea.

You see, one of my life goals is to be a published writer, and if you read this blog regularly you may remember that one of my five year goals is to complete the first draft of a novel. You may also remember that this has been on the back burner while I’m studying for my masters.

I have to do a lot of writing for my masters, and I love it, but it is all so serious! I miss creative writing.

I may not have time right now to focus on novel drafting, but I realised last week at a “meet the author” event that I should still be practising imaginative writing.

So for lent, I plan to pick at random one of the 642 tiny things and write. Each one should only take up one page of an A5 notebook. I just finished today’s, and it was so much fun!

If it goes well, I will stick with it after lent. If any of them are any good, I may even type them up and post them on here. 🙂

 

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Confession: I am a selfish blogger

Last week one of my favourite bloggers, Jon Acuff, wrote about a lesson it took him 13 years to learn about blogging. It was this:

‘Your platform isn’t for you. It’s not yours. Your name might be on it. It might be your smiling headshot that folks see each day on your blog or your twitter profile, but the platform is not for you. It’s for other people. Readers, friends, family members, this is why we blog. Not to get, but to give.’

So this is why I feel I must apologise, dear Reader. I am a selfish blogger, and a selfish writer. I don’t think about who might be reading what I write. In fact, I generally assume no one is reading. It takes me by surprise when someone likes or comments on a post, or tells me they like something I wrote. I do enjoy getting new followers, but it also always makes me feel slightly guilty that I don’t post more often.

Again, I apologise, dear Reader. At the start of the summer I promised I would post more often, once I’d recovered from essay writing exertions. But the posts never quite materialised. I found that I needed more time than I thought to rest after the busy academic year, and never quite found the headspace for lots of writing.

But here’s the thing. I have to disagree with Jon Acuff (sorry! I think you’re awesome, but sorry). For some people, writing a blog is about their platform, their self-promotion, their face on other people’s computer screens or tablets.

But that’s never been my focus, that’s never been why I write. I’m not really bothered by how many followers, or page views I have. Don’t get me wrong (or stop reading!) I love that you, dear Reader, have found your way to my little corner of the internet, I’d love for you to stick around, and I hope that my words bless and inspire you.

But, if I’m honest, and I always try to be, I’m writing for me. I always have done. I think I’ve said before that writing is one of the main ways I process the world. It helps me to understand what I am living. I also love wordcraft – playing around with words and phrases, constructing sentences. My blog is where I practice writing, learning and honing my craft. Please don’t be offended, I love that you are here, but this is for me.

So for this reason, I am not going to make any more promises. I am not going to try to boost my follower count by posting more frequently, regularly, or consistently. I’m not going to let myself feel guilty if I don’t post anything for a few weeks. I’m not going to try to pre-write posts any more, so I can post on schedule even when I don’t feel like writing (because, to be honest, those posts never seem to connect with you, dear Reader, as well as the spur of the moment ones anyway). I’m not going to force myself to try to write when I don’t feel like it, because at the moment, that is not what I need from myself.

I love writing, and I want to enjoy it. I never want this blog to feel like it’s a chore, because my writing will suffer, and I know you will notice, dear Reader.

So please, stick around and bear with me, if you enjoy what I write. Because I know that when I am writing from the heart it does resonate with people. And thank-you, dear Reader, for sticking with me thus far. Writing my blog blesses me, and I hope reading it might bless you too.