About Me

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The blog has moved!

Just a reminder that this blog has moved! I noticed it's still getting masses of hits, which is fab if you want to read the old posts, welcome! But if you are a subscriber do update your feed/subscription to keep up to date or follow me on Facebook.

A new home for Apples of Gold is now at pickingapplesofgold.com



To those who have read, commented and supported over the last 6 years, thank you! It would be a lonely business without you all. This blog has had over 200,000 hits in that time which is staggering and that's all down to you all. Big love xx

Sunday, 24 May 2015

This blog is moving...!


Pic via Boston Public Library
So I've been blogging for 6 years now and been very happy here at Blogger. However as time has gone on I've been thinking about changing to a different platform and now today is the day! There are lots of reasons, but the main one is that with blogger you don't retain copyright to your own work, which means less control and that you are at the whim of google (who own blogger). That might sound a bit up my own backside but as a creative type I do rather value the stuff I put together. So here we are. A new home for Apples of Gold which is now at pickingapplesofgold.com

As yet I haven't been able to transfer all the old posts over so if you want to see more do check them out here.  Otherwise, please come and join me over on the new site and join the conversation! If you are a subscriber do update your feed/subscription to keep up to date or follow me on Facebook.


To those who have read, commented and supported over the last 6 years, thank you! It would be a lonely business without you all. This blog has had over 170,000 hits in that time which is staggering and that's all down to you all. Big love!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Pain

Saw this quote twice on Twitter today within the space of 5 mins. 
Coincidence? I think not... ;)

So anyway I liked it so I made a pretty little infographic...


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Is there such a thing as a Christian Practice of Internet Use?

So I posted recently and tweeted rather a lot about my latest essay for #VicarSchool entitled: Outline and Argue theologically for a Christian Practice of: Internet Use. I promised to share some of those thoughts online, so here's some of them. Bit long for a blog post but hey it was a 2,500 word essay! There was so much I could have written but the essay was about Christian Practice, so that's my focus, plus I focussed largely on Social Media but maybe I'll write more on other areas another time! And if you really want to read the full thing let me know and I'll send it over.

I'm so grateful to everyone who responded to my questions - whether I've quoted you or not, you helped me shape this essay, so thank you!

For info I've not cited all the books and stuff that I referenced in the essay as this is a blog post, but there is a list of some recommended books at the bottom and if you want to know where I got anything from then do let me know...


..oo0O0oo.. 

So, what  earth is a 'Christian Practice'? Well, I started with this quote:




I love this quote, because I mean what even is a 'Christian Practice'?! Choosing which is our own preferred interpretation could be a practice in itself! My view is that Christian practices are less about doctrine (boooorinnnng...) and more about actually seeking God for ourselves. So in a way a practice should be a bit softer round the edges, or less definite than doctrine. It’s not black and white words on a page, but more encounter with God. It’s almost as if we are building something where, if the doctrine is the foundation or the structure, the practices then enable us to fill the space and to decorate even!


I like that Dykstra talks about a practice being communal and prayer is a good example of that, because even when we pray alone, our prayers join with countless others around the world, rising together before God. Prayer is something that should permeate our lives, not be something that happens once a day or twice a week, or whenever we feel the need, it is as fundamental to our lives as breathing, without it we would wither and die spiritually. 


Right so now we have that sorted, what about using the internet? 


Use of the internet has rapidly become an integral part of 21st Century life. Of course there is a choice not to use it, but I would suggest that like prayer, without it life becomes less full, it withers, it becomes difficult to live, it is, I think, perhaps controversially: like a life half-lived. 


So then, use of the internet for Christians as a 'practice' should be an extension of a faith-filled life. We should seek to find God within it, to allow his presence to be apparent within it and for it to be a place where God is experienced and made more fully known to us.


So, Social Media then...


I couldn't find statistics for Christian use of social media (any ideas anyone?), but even if it were a very small percentage of these figures above, it would still mean a huge number across the entire world. I wanted to look at this in more detail and as you probably know I posted here and on Twitter, asking people used their social media as Christians. 


There were some key areas that people talked about including a sense of community, being part of something bigger and being supported and encouraged online, especially those for whom physical community is difficult, perhaps thorough disability.


Of course the idea of community makes sense, as humans we were created to live in relationship with others, as we see in the creation of humans in Genesis - and we seek to be part of something throughout our lives. Internet use is by it’s very nature relational and communal, as I discussed earlier with the example of prayer, millions of people taking part in something at the same time. 

I loved this from @thehippypenguin said:

it's connected me with a lot of like minded people I otherwise wouldn't have interacted with.
and
I've seen people offer prayers, support me in faith stuff, talk about the big issues. All with a godly focus. Like a church almost
And I also love that people really felt God's presence using the internet. This is a key point, that spiritual growth can indeed be achieved through internet use. After all, God has used some rather varied means to reach out to human kind, including a burning bush, bright star, a rainbow and even a talking donkey, so why not the internet too?! The responses ranged from seeing him through the words or responses of others, to a more active and personal answer to prayer. ‏@CatDeBie  felt that she was constantly reminded of God’s presence through following other Christians on Twitter and ‏@NoNonperson suggested that she felt God’s presence more in online interaction that at church.

@giles_morrison said this:

Difficult. I find my compassion challenged, there's more to despair of in creation and I'm unequal to the prayer challenge.  
might be tiny fraction of looking into the heart of God. I've become more reliant on prayer by the Spirit. I don't have the words 

What a wonderful idea, that he might be experiencing a tiny fraction of God’s heart by simply using the internet, I love that! But indeed this is something that came across in several responses and one I can relate to as I have felt God’s presence online on numerous occasions, and sometimes very personally. Read my owl story for example, if you haven't already...


..oo0O0oo.. 

All of this though, does require a definite choice to participate, which could be in actively choosing to follow or like other Christians on social media but also in engaging with the platform, posting prayer requests, responding to others or seeking out spiritual advice. 

So a Christian practice of internet use is communal both in a passive sense - by being part of something bigger, but also in an active sense - in actually receiving from God through others, by being online.  

And experience is great, but that's just a part of a Christian Practice, being shaped and formed as a result is also vital. Pam Smith mentions this in her fab book 'Online Mission & Ministry' as she talks about how using the internet has been key in her formation both as a Christian and as a minister. She highlights the importance of Christians sharing thoughts and ideas online in order to explore faith. Likewise, Romans 2 tells us we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds, in order to know more of God, therefore in any Christian Practice we must allow ourselves to be formed and changed, through God, by being online. This passage also tells us not to conform to the pattern of this world, so we must also be aware of how we use the internet so that we are there with a Christian presence and not one of this world.


One of my fave people right now is Pope Francis (@pontifex). On the World Day of Communications last year, he said felt the internet was a gift from God, when referring to its benefits and possibilities! He asked also:

How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter? What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel?


What indeed? Something to ponder further I think...


..oo0O0oo.. 



As I look back to Dykstra’s definition then, I see a Christian practice of internet use that embraces communal action in which God is made known. A practice that, in a 21st Century way, has a ‘virtual’ monastic air to it, where prayer punctuates the day as internet use does for the modern Christian. Social media statistics show that a large portion of users access their accounts several times each day and often at the same time each day. In this way if the Christian internet user does so with God as his focus, he is continuing the tradition of thousands of years of believers seeking God several times each day. The monastery is virtual, the community is online and the prayers and praises typed, but together they provide a constant chain of prayer, praise and thought toward heaven.









Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Some more thoughts on being in pain..

So a few weeks ago I visited Premier Radio and made the most of the freebie mags in the reception area, stocking up my bag for later reading. Yesterday as I sat in a pain/drug induced heap I reached for the nearest thing to me to try and take my mind off my failing body. Youthwork magazine was on the top of the pile and in no coincidence I'm sure, features this fabulous article by Danielle Strickland about pain. She suggests, in a nutshell, that not only do we need pain but that it is a gift and through it God speaks to us. 
(Note there is a link above but to read it you need to sign up for the free trial, or subscribe, sorry about that).

Do read it if you can, I've read it three times now and keep finding more things to ponder upon and it's sent me straight back to the book of Job for some theological reflection (my Tutors at #VicarSchool would be so proud). 

Like Strickland, I've been taught in the school that says pain and suffering is never of God and that we should pray until it's gone. I don't disagree with that but equally I'm not sure I sign up to it 100% either. I'm not even thinking about the whole predestination thing or what prayer is about, I'm just thinking: why should we expect to go through a life without pain or suffering? Which is basically what this school of thought expects - a life of 'unsuffering'. I mean where does that come from? The bible is full of people suffering and in pain and yes I know there's also masses of healing too, but there's also those that live through it. 

I think I see the idea of life without pain and suffering as the ultimate goal, the kingdom of God here on earth, which we'll one day see. But by the same token, although that kingdom is here and now, it's also not yet.

The danger of believing that pain can be dealt with by praying it away is that when it doesn't, where do you go? I spent months if not years praying against exhaustion and CFS. There was no instant miracle, there was a gradual recovery and perhaps that was of God, after all I did improve and I do lead a relatively normal life. But it was not what I was seeking. In fact I think it was when I let go of waiting for a miracle that I was actually able to find God in it all.

So now. Today. Still in pain but better than the day before. I want to sit and just be, but I'm not sure I'm capable of it so I'm varying my day with some reading and some vegging. And in the reading, as I said, I find myself drawn back to Job. I do find the book of Job a comfort. I did when I was ill with exhaustion and I do now. There's something about the not understanding what's going on and why awful stuff is happening, that Job helps with. And what is his reaction to the hideous things that happen to him? Simple: he falls down and worships God. Not after a good moan, then he turns to God. Not once he's got angry and shouted, then he turns to God. Not after the initial shock, then he turns to God. No, the first thing he does is to worship. And Job didn't just have a bit of back pain, he lost everything (except his wife - I'm sure there something in there to reflect on...). Everything. Home, business, family, all gone in one day. 

I wish I could say I reacted as he did. But I am choosing to today. To seek God in it all. I don't think he made this happen, I don't think it's what he wanted to happen but I sure do believe he can redeem this pain. Even in my drug-pain-fuddled state, I choose to see this as an opportunity. An opportunity to spend time with him and to listen. I was scribbling notes in my journal earlier only to see at the bottom of the page written: 'Be Still and know that I am God' from Psalm 46. 

Yes. Just this...






Monday, 11 May 2015

Seeing God in the pain


I feel like shit. And I'm not even going to apologise for swearing. It feels like the only word that explains it right now. Worse than 'I feel terrible', 'I am in pain' or 'I am fed up'. It's all of those things and so much more. So, I feel like shit.

I'm in pain, not sure if it's an old back problem flaring up or something new. I haven't been able to walk properly for a week and now I can't even move off this one spot I'm sitting on the floor without being in pain. And I don't mean an ache or a something akin to a headache, I mean an excruciating, acute, knife in my leg kind of pain, the kind that means if I find a position where the pain is manageable, I ain't moving. It's the kind of pain that means weighing up the options on everything I do: how badly do I need the loo? how much do I actually need a drink? do I really want to read that book over there? How long will the laptop (my lifeline at the mo) last without being plugged in? So far the things that have got me moving are: finding the painkillers (and oh how I praise God for painkillers) and getting a cup of tea (well, needs must when you feel like crap and tea helped although it did cost me).

I'm not writing all this to invite sympathy, I'm not good at receiving it anyway, I just want to explain how I'm feeling as a kind of intro to this post. Which I guess is really just some thoughts on pain and how we (well, I) handle it... So here's some things I've journalled in the last few days:

..oo0O0oo.. 


I made it an hour out of bed this morning before the onslaught began. I thought I can handle this, today is a new day, repeating to myself:

Thou, Lord and God of power, shield and sustain me this day….

I willed myself onwards: I can do this. Get a grip you stupid woman. Don’t let people down. Let yourself down, that’s bad enough but DO NOT let others down. We are a team, we support each other. But not willing to be supported. Everyone who had asked I snapped ‘don’t be nice to me, I’ll cry’. Truth of course, I was only just holding onto my composure by a thread as thin as a cobweb. Even a gentle breeze would destroy it.

And that was it - a simple and sympathetically voiced ‘are you ok?’ from someone who cares. But I had to shut it down, not willing to fall, to break.

But to no avail… I am broken and in pieces anyway.


Sobbing, heaving, sighing. Broken.

Thank God (and I mean that) for a dear friend who came and gently picked up my pieces and didn’t attempt to stick them back together, she just held them and gently gave them back to me.

..oo0O0oo.. 

As I lay in my little cocoon of self pity all sorts of devil-sent-lies were in my head...


You’ll have to take pain killers for weeks
You’ll be in pain forever more
There will be horrible side effects
You won’t run again that’s for sure. You are useless. You won't be able to walk, you’ll put on weight and be fat. You’ll have to sit around all day doing nothing…
People will be talking about you – did you see her – what a wreck, she can’t cope
Your team will think you are useless, you never pitch in, how selfish of you
Your family will get fed up with you always needing help

..oo0O0oo.. 

Well what a difference a few hours makes. Not sure if it’s painkillers, the emptying of tears and snot or just: a few hours. 

Now there's just anger and frustration, oh and the fog of the pills of course. Can't think straight, can't read properly, can't remember anything... There's the pay off.

..oo0O0oo.. 


I hate this. I really do. It's like my boundaries are being reduced each day. First I couldn't run, then it was walking, then a week off work, then, well then just whatever I can find that is pain free - well it's not pain free, but managable in the pain is the best I can hope for... 

..oo0O0oo.. 

When will this end?

..oo0O0oo.. 


I am so frustrated and angry right now. Oh yes I know, I know, God will teach me through this – of course He will, that’s what He does and already is. But I’ve had enough of that at this moment in time. If I’m honest I don’t want to be taught anything right now. I’ve had enough illness and infirmity in the last 7 years to keep me going for a while.


Can’t He see that? I’ve had enough.

..oo0O0oo.. 

But then...

Then I’m ashamed.

I am so blessed, I have so much more than so many. I am so much better off than so many.

How arrogant am I? To say that I don’t want to learn from the living God? How dare I? How can I rebuff his teaching, his love, his compassion and comfort?

..oo0O0oo.. 

And yet now I seek, I feel like I'm in a whirlwind, a hazy fog, where is He in all this? I am seeking, looking, not knowing or understanding...

Where are you Lord? what am I not seeing?