The dangers of Instagram envy

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On Friday a blog writer I admire posted a picture of her desk on Instagram: an unremarkable white arrangement with a pretty table lamp and well stocked supplies of stationary, all parked up against a couple of sun filled windows looking out over trees. Her coffee cup was perched by her laptop and something about the light in the room suggested peaceful mornings working undisturbed to the quiet sound of bird song and the tapping of keys. The caption under the picture said that she had just completed the first 5000 words of her new book.

I was green with envy and paralysed with fear. I haven’t written since (not until today). This is what someone else success can do to us when we’re taken unaware.

Nothing makes my heart sink more than someone else writing well, completing their word count on time, winning a book contract. I begin to ruminate darkly upon my lack of success and dismal writing habits. I will probably never write again …

Jealousy is an emotional response to fears that surround a perceived loss of status or security and envy is a feeling of discontent regarding someone else’s success. Neither of these things are very pretty and will always fail to bring out the best in us, always result in a loss of connection with others. It is very draining to live in a world where you are under attack when good things happen to other people and your own blessings start to dim.

But this is not just a piece about the sin of envy.

Like so much of what I write the piece will eventually lead to thanksgiving. This is a piece on living more fully in the truth of who I am and how much God loves me, in a bid to protect myself and others from the harmful affects of envy. There is a quality in God’s love that is worth stopping to examine because it has such a huge impact on small day to day inconveniences like feeling I am not good enough or being distracted from a path I previously felt I was called to. The quality of love I refer to is very distinctive and we sometimes think of it in terms of his intentions for us, his plan for our life, or as a calling that existed since the beginning of time. In essence it is God saying “It is good” and it bestows on us as individuals immense value. If it is true we can live completely secure with a sure sense of our own place in the world, without recourse to be jealous of anyone else.

We should not be surprised that God always warned against envy. There in those ancient commandments spoken to Moses, shared by the first followers of God, forebears of our very own beautiful gospel, are warnings against the sin of covetousness. They come like a postscript at the end of a more obvious lists of sins, adultery, murder and theft and sometimes seems out of place there. The tenth commandment tells us we should not covet what another person has and we should not be surprised because there in the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had already encountered the results of allowing their eyes to wander from what God had given to them onto what he had clearly not.

God placed them in a garden that was pleasing to the eye, a place full of plants with fruit that promise to provide them with everything they needed. He had given them each other and invested in them a measure of himself that he named “likeness”. Between the two of them he had placed a degree of companionship that flowed from his own recognition of the need they had to never be alone. The garden was well watered with rivers that promised to flow forever and within the bounds of that place, those two original individuals were free to wander and free to work, free to eat and free to love. But they were not satisfied because they had noticed something outside of this divine remit, a tree that was not theirs, a fruit that they could not eat. The more they thought upon it, the more their eye was drawn to it, they were preoccupied by its presence, so near and yet so far. It is as if the original sin was their inability to live in what had been given to them. Fuelled by a nagging thought that maybe God had lied and something better lay outside of their share of that Eden life, they took their destinies into their own hands. Believing that the gift God had given them was not enough they took something that was never meant for them, an ultimate distraction that led to death.

Giving thanks is not a soft practice. When I give thanks I acknowledge something that is true about myself and the world I inhabit. I acknowledge this is the place that God gave to me and all this provision comes from his hand. I agree with him that it is good. To say “thank you”, is the biggest and best “yes” that I can give to God and every small gratitude pulls me closer into the purposes he has for me.

So I log out of Instagram and turn off the RSS feed. I sit down at my desk. The pale wood veneer is peeling off the front edge and exposing the chipboard beneath, my chair is hard. The computer is very slow and the internet a little troublesome again. I’m sharing this small space with a rather ugly printer and a messy pile of papers that require attention but for now I’ll enjoy the quietness of the house and the pale light of a dull February day. There are daffodils on the mantlepiece and I think I will write again.

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Something lovely for the weekend (20.2.16)

 

When I was a student, living in a tiny room in the halls of residence at Grizedale College, I had an index card tacked to the side of my wardrobe, in a place where I could see it whenever I sat at my desk. I was so attached to that index card that I would take it home in the holidays and tack it where I could read it when I woke. I had a deep longing to find real peace. It was a longing to find the peace that I was convinced my faith in Christ afforded me, yet in truth it alluded me most of the time.

The card read,

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

These lines are from the famous hymn, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, written by the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier. They are usually sung to the tune ‘Repton’ by Parry, best known for the music of the hymn  Jerusalem.

I battled with the words as Jacob battled with the angel; I will not let you go unless you bless me.

To confess a faith of peace and joy, without ever knowing it for sure is a very tiring business.

So let us never give up …

I was so please to find this beautiful rendition from Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy.

Something lovely for the weekend (15.2.16)

 

Since I published on Thursday, this version of the song No longer Slaves, has been on my mind, along with the incredible idea that he split the sea so we could walk right through it.

I simply love those moments when we sense dry ground beneath our feet with the waters still raging to our right and our left. Still raging, but from a distance, near enough to hear, near enough to see but not near enough to even get me wet, let alone sweep me away.

I can sing this song on the most ordinary of days preparing my heart for worse days ahead when the storm will rage and the flood waters rise.

Just watch how Steffany Frizzell sing the lines,

You split the sea, so I could walk right through it
All my fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me, so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

Those hand actions are nothing like the ones we do at rhyme time in toddler group. Something more profound is happening here, out of the abundance of the heart her hands speak (Luke 6.45) This is what prophetic delivery of a song looks like. Really beautiful!

Have a lovely weekend!

Protest song

 

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
After a couple of repetitions the chorus has buried itself deep into my most needy places. Sometimes you feel as if you could sing an old truth into new being and it causes you to sing a little harder and a little louder.
The worship leader is young and he wears his guitar high on his chest. Between songs he shakes out his fingers as if the sheer pressure of strumming is causing him pain. With his eye tightly shut he’s reaching out into the invisible expanse beyond the four walls of this borrowed meeting room. We are parents, we are grandparents. We are married, divorced, abandoned and reconciled. We have failed and found our way back and we will fail again. There are friends here in this room and I watched them walk through difficult days; friends here who held my hand whilst I walked out my own.

Rage, rage! I think as I sing, rage against the terrors of this desperate world: hurt, despair and loss of hope. Cancer, depression and relationships gone awry. War, greed and bleeding poverty, refugees on the borders in distant lands and also closer to home.

We sing on and I know why I like this song so much: this song is a protest song.

A protest song is a song we might link to a political movement: an English song from the Levellers, an abolitionist song from the American folk tradition or an anti-war anthem from the Vietnam years. It is designed to attracts followers to a cause by perfectly expressing their moods of dissatisfaction. A protest song is a tool in the hands of an oppressed group who would otherwise have no voice. It begins as a rallying cry and ends as the anthem of a movement that has changed the world in some small way.

Mahalia Jackson, encouraged us that we shall overcome; Woody Guthrie insisted that this land was made for you and me; Marvin Gaye, believed that love can conquer hate and John Lennon asked us to give peace a chance. Bob Dylan always insisted that “Blowin’ in the Wind” was not a protest song, but he had borrowed the tune from a negro spiritual (surely the most significant of all the songs of protest) and so it was already invested with 200 years of liberation history before he took his guitar and strummed out those first chords. 1963; it became the anthem of a generation of anti-war protesters.

These voices wanted equality, basic human rights, fair pay and an end to war. But what are we, the church, God’s people, protesting against? What are we asking for when we sing?

In the beginning God created a universe and he did it with thought and purpose. The world we live in was never a random collection of chance happenings, it originated in the heart of God. It originated in an intimate relationship of Father, Son and Spirit, three persons and all that love, but no created time or space where it could be. Our creation blossomed out of his desire to love and to make his love known. Before anything existed, God envisaged a universe that would be fit to fill, over and over again, with multiplying expressions of himself. Every atom of our created world was born out of this willingness. God pouring himself into creation, one small piece at a time.
And humankind were made to be the high point, the pinnacle of all that God had made. More than anything else made by God, we were created to be like him. There is something about our nature, our potential, our very presence that is similar to God, we are always expressing God, always on the cusp of being more like him and then more like him again.

So this is what we protest: a world that is less than this, less in its love and less in its beauty. Less than obviously full of glory. And we do it from a position of strength. Jesus Christ came into the world, the perfect expression of God’s intent and our ‘not yet’ flowed seamlessly into a wonderful ‘now’, where the Son of God, has conquered sin and death and brought us resurrection life. We are the ones called to be like him, to fill the world with his glory. And we can.

When we arrive at the bridge in our song, passion increases with volume, and the worship leader strums all the harder.  We were the children of Israel sent to perish in the desert with pharaoh hot on our heels, but as we sing the deep waters of the sea open up before us and we walk right through it. If the first chorus was our rallying cry our anthem is now more sure.

No longer a slave to fear

I am a child of God.

Our protest song.

 

Nearer than you think

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Yesterday God met us in our gathering together and it was good.

Another Sunday morning meetings of the saints, whose voices swelled with prayer and praise. His presence hovered in the greeting of friends and strangers, young and old. The happy comradeship of pews filling up and news being shared from the week just gone. We promised to pray for one another in the week to come and when the first chords sounded we stood side by side and raise grateful voices to Jesus our King.

God was kind to us in the preaching of the word and we came away from the prayer line strong and full of brightness and faith. We made confession with our lips in the reading of the word, the mouthing of prayers and our hearts were stirred as heaviness slipped away and all was well with the world.

Today we will know his presence in a sink full of dirty dishes and in the loading of the washing machine. We will thank Him for his goodness to us as we butter bread for sandwiches, peel vegetables, defrost the fridge. We will find him in the awkward words of a troublesome colleague or a shameful inbox of waiting mail. Unexpected bills will drop through the letter box, people will let us down. We will persevere through the to-do list and wrestle out some time at the end of the day to read or watch TV.

We are the people seeking to bring the loveliness of God into the everyday messes of our Monday morning worlds. What seemed so hopeful on Sunday can quickly fade by Monday but, one need not cry out very loudly; he is nearer than you think …

“He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”
― Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

This is a personal walking out of heaven on earth, a kingdom-come life bringing universal notions of the presence of God into the small minutes, hours and days of our unsteady lives. For our God is an inclusive and reckless socialist, he demands that the blessings of heaven should be shared equally amongst us all; right here, right now.

If it doesn’t work on Monday morning as the sun rises on another ordinary day – then it doesn’t work at all.