Pull your dreams out of the sand.

You might be thinking- ‘more self-reflection? Seriously Camilla, you think too much. Go and have fun.’

But I went home this weekend, and revisiting parts of my old life prompted me to write this.

Few people would have guessed, because putting on a mask hides much if it’s not studied for too long, but for a large part of my teenage years I felt like an outcast.

I had friends. But as hard as it is to admit, I often felt like a round peg in a square hole. The feeling of disconnection spread until I wasn’t sure if being me was OK. How could it be OK if I felt so misunderstood?

Inside raged a constant battle with insecurity and bewilderment at the world. Like many adolescents I really struggled with figuring out who I was supposed to be.

And somewhere along the way, the dreams I had as a little girl were buried. Somehow it became OK to expect the mundane. Despite growing in confidence when I was in Sixth Form, I was beginning to settle for a mediocre existence. I started to believe the lies circling round and round in my head- ‘you’ll never be confident enough to do that’. ‘You’ll never be a good artist’. ‘There’s no point in writing anything, it won’t make a difference to anybody’.

I began to prefer the safety of insignificance to the possibilities I was too afraid to reach out and take hold of.

But now, I’ve been set free.

My experiences up until University had led me to assume that most people my age were cliquey and I would have problems connecting with people. Sounds crazy, I know- but this is what I thought. Moving to Canterbury showed me I’d been spectacularly wrong. I met amazing people and making friends came easily to me. To my surprise, some of the things about myself that had made me feel ‘different’ were traits that others appreciated.

Canterbury Vineyard (my church if you didn’t know by now) has been a massive help in teaching me to value myself. One of their main mottos is simple: ‘be yourself’. This applies to freedom of worship and also to the face we wear in church – God wants us to come as we are, not as we think He or our fellow church-goers want us to be. As I spent time in this environment of safety I grew in trust and openness.

CV also values creativity. This is such a blessing to me, as creativity is a big part of who I am. I used to think my gifts were of no value to society. This mindset has been turned around; I remember walking into the warehouse for the first time and being so pleased to see oil paintings hanging on the walls.

The central reason for my changed outlook, however, stands out above all others. That reason is the strengthening of my relationship with God. Nothing else has so impacted my view of myself and the world around me, because when you know who your Father is, you know who you are. The more I understand that I’m created in the image of God (and fearfully and wonderfully made too, bonus! [Psalm 139]), the more I see that there is NO EXCUSE to expect a mediocre life.

I’m not really a loud person. When I started blogging it may have come as a bit of a surprise to some, but the truth is, I have a voice.

I’m no longer prepared to live a life paralysed by fear. 1 John 4: 18 says that ‘Perfect love drives out fear’.  It’s time to dig up those dreams I buried and let the Father guide me into new possibilities.

I was listening to a song on a Jesus Culture album yesterday and the lyrics really stood out to me:

‘Wake up child, it’s your time to shine, you were born for such a time as this…. I am royalty, I have destiny. I have been set free, I’m gonna shape history’.

Although life is never perfect, I feel like I’m in a pretty good place right now. If for any reason you’ve ever felt the way I used to, be encouraged. God didn’t create you to feel that way, and He will bring you into freedom if you allow Him.

freedom-cmyk-large

(image not mine)

‘Atheist church’ article- some thoughts.

atheist church

Yesterday I read this article (click the link). I urge you to read it before reading this.

To summarise it briefly as possible: A ‘church’ in North London makes headlines as people gather to celebrate the very fact that they… don’t believe in God?

I’ve read a lot of strange articles, but this one definitely stood out to me. Not because I feel like this singular case is threatening in any way (it’s no different to the humanism being taught in schools, universities and other institutions after all), but because it reflects the changes our culture is undertaking, and it’s actually very sad. But before I get on to that, there are a few points I can’t help but address.

Firstly, the use of a former church building for the practice of their… well, not faith, exactly… let’s go with ‘ideology’. I am fully aware that a church building is just that: a building; it is a functionality. But there is undoubtedly a degree of disrespect in the act of choosing to hold such a gathering in a place that was built to accommodate worshippers of God.

The phrase ‘atheist church’ is problematic in itself. A church is a body of people whose primary aim for gathering is to worship a common God. By that logic, a congregation of atheists come together to worship the very absence of God- essentially, then, they aren’t worshipping anything at all.

Interviewed writer Alain de Botton states: “‘atheism’ isn’t an ideology around which anyone could gather. Far better to call it something like cultural humanism.” This statement proves the flawed nature of this concept.

The interviewees in this article argue that it is a ‘celebration’; the service includes singing fun songs and contemplating the ‘miracle of life’. A strange word choice for supposed atheists, since miracles are part of the supernatural. But then, there is this quote:

The audience – overwhelmingly young, white and middle class – appear excited to be part of something new and speak of the void they felt on a Sunday morning when they decided to abandon their Christian faith. Few actively identify themselves as atheists.

So, despite the article’s title, it appears that most of the ‘congregation’ don’t even consider themselves atheists? Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say. But as jarring as these contradictions are, they’re not actually the heart of the matter at all. It’s this part of the quote –  the void they felt on a Sunday morning when they decided to abandon their Christian faith” that got me.

Because there is a void, in the life of each and every person who does not personally know the one who created them. A void people will try to fill with anything and everything, because they simply do not know what exactly it is they need.

This part of the article seems to agree with this notion:

Another attendee, Gintare Karalyte, says: “I think people need that sense of connectedness because everyone is so singular right now, and to be part of something, and to feel like you are part of something. That’s what people are craving in the world.”

Why choose this, of all things, to make people feel connected?

Having read the article, their order of service, though obviously differing in content, is similar in structure to an average Christian church service. The singing of songs, a talk, and (if you’re part of a church that likes technology) a powerpoint presentation are pretty standard for a Sunday morning Christian gathering. Do those former Christians find comfort in this familiarity? There’s some mockery in adopting this structure and twisting the content in this way, though perhaps that adds to the appeal.

The biggest question for me though is this: What was it about their experience of the ‘Christian faith’ that led them to abandon it, in search of something they believed would really satisfy?

Perhaps this quote from the article provides some insight into where the problem may lie- “It’s a nice excuse to get together and have a bit of a community spirit but without the religion aspect”.

Ah, that ugly word, religion. Religion as a term is pretty difficult to define, but when Christianity is seen as a set of rules and principles, rituals and traditions, it becomes nothing more than a security blanket. It makes people feel better about themselves because they are being ‘good people’. Instead of operating out of love, religion operates out of fear. Fear of what will happen if the rules aren’t all obeyed; fear of a wrathful God.

That is not the God I know.

My God is a God of love, of grace and forgiveness. The bible tells me that this is true, over and over again. And just in case that reassurance wasn’t enough, He proves it to me through the happenings of my daily life.

But most importantly as I walk through this journey of faith, I find myself actually getting to know Him. As any relationship requires communication, spending time in God’s presence teaches me more about his character- his goodness and faithfulness.

I wonder if those people who abandoned their Christian faith and joined this new ‘atheist church’ simply never knew God as their Father, and never encountered His love.

And that poses the question- what are churches across the country doing about this? Because if church is simply a place to follow all the rules and go through the motions, it’s as good as any other religion or cult.

I don’t have an answer to these problems, but this article saddened me. I only trust that God will work through even this unlikely situation, and that through these Sunday gatherings these people will begin to hunger more and more to know if this life really is all there is. That the very act of turning away from God will point them back to Him, the ever patient Father whose grace is always enough.

Small things with great love.

‘We can do no great things. We can only do small things with great love.’ 

Just thought I’d share something that happened today, because I know when others have shared similar experiences I’ve been really encouraged.

I made the decision so fast I didn’t even have time to get nervous or change my mind. All week the homeless had been on my heart, and this time I couldn’t stride past with deliberately averted eyes. The fact that there are so many homeless people in a city like Canterbury is so jarring. I’d just eaten a delicious meal and drank coffee with a friend in a warm café. And here was this man, shivering in the bitter cold. I couldn’t ignore it any longer. Here was the opportunity I’d been asking God for all week.

“Hi,” I ventured. “I don’t have any change on me. But I can get you a hot drink if you like?”

“Oh yeah, that would be great, thanks,” the man replied, clutching his dog and looking up at me with wary blue eyes.

“Tea or coffee?”

“Coffee’s great.”

“OK, sure.” I smiled at him.

“I don’t know which way you’re going?” he said. There were no cafés in the direction I’d been heading.

“It doesn’t matter, I’ll go and get you one. What would you like?”

“Er, a cappuccino?”

I started off back up the high street.

“Excuse me?”

I turned back.

“Could you get me something to eat too? I’m starving.”

I promised to get him a sandwich, then scuttled off again. I grabbed a sandwich in the Costa queue and waited impatiently, praying he would be there when I got back (as if he really had anywhere to go).

Of course, he was still there, and received his meager fare gratefully. I had half a mind to just leave it there, but something kept me from walking away. If I left, it would be like throwing the food at him just to prove to myself that I’d done a good deed, without having to step out of my comfort zone. That wasn’t love. So I asked him his name.

He told me his name. I told him mine. I remarked how nice it was to meet him, and he said the same.  I use that phrase a lot, but this time I couldn’t have been more genuine. I think he meant it too. So I crouched down beside him on the street and listened as he explained that the soup shelter didn’t open for a few hours and he was starving, so he appreciated the sandwich. His hands and face were grubby. He smelt bad. But his eyes were kind and very blue, peering out of this desperate face, thanking me repeatedly while I mumbled that it was no problem.  I asked him what had happened to him. He told me his story- he’d gone to school in Canterbury, then lost his partner and his business, and drank himself into homelessness. He told me he was getting close to winning a bid for a home, as recently he’d been in the top five, so he was just waiting now, trying to get his life back together.

And it was as I listened that I realised how simple this was. He wasn’t scary. OK, it was a little bit awkward, but not nearly as awkward as I’d expected. He was just a man, and we were just having a chat. God didn’t require me to be experienced or super spiritual or any of these things. He just wanted me to give this man my time.

And then came the question I knew I had to ask but dreaded.

“Would you mind if I prayed for you?”

He shrugged. “Yeah, alright.” Simple as that. No scoffing. So I closed my eyes, thanked God for him, prayed briefly for his protection and for his housing situation. To him it probably sounded so naïve and ineffectual. It sounded like that to my own ears. But God can do amazing things with the smallest of our human endeavours.

We said goodbye after that, as he thanked me once again and I murmured some pleasantry. I walked away knowing that what I had done would never be enough in the face of so much desolation and hurting. There are dozens of others like him in this city. But this morning at church, the man speaking reminded us of Mother Teresa’s famous quote- ‘We can do no great things. We can only do small things with great love.’