BBC’s #Broken: 5 things it revealed about Christianity and Faith

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I’m sure, like many others, you have been inspired by the Jimmy McGovern series Broken on BBC One over the last few weeks. If you haven’t seen it yet it’s worth trying to still catch up on the iPlayer or getting hold of the DVD which is out now.

Of course, having written a book about the portrayal of priests on the TV, I took a very close interest in this drama! It absolutely exceeded my expectations. In my book I spoke about how we shouldn’t expect too much of television programmes in terms of accurate portrayals of priests because TV is made to entertain and the quiet, faithful, work of ordinary Christians or priests isn’t necessarily interesting or entertaining. I now take that back!

I have done my best to avoid spoilers in this piece, so do read on.

Here are 5 things that I feel this remarkable drama revealed about Christianity, Priesthood and Faith:

The Nature of the Priesthood

I, along with many others, feel that this series truly captured much of the nature of what it is to be a priest. The self-doubt that comes with being a spiritual leader (Fr Michael, Sean Bean’s character, struggles throughout with feelings of inadequacy to the task) alongside the dilemma of wanting to switch off at the end of a long day just as another person calls on your time. The power of just giving people time and listening to their stories. The dogged persistence in offering pastoral care – sometimes when it’s not initially welcomed. The priest’s role as pointing to the presence of Christ all around us all the time – Fr Michael’s character repeatedly lighting a candle to tell people of this. All of these things are part of what it is to be a priest and there has never been a more nuanced or accurate portrayal of this on the television. Read more about this in this article by Cindy Kent.

The Power of the Eucharist

Every episode involves Fr Michael saying mass and as the series goes on the centrality of the mass/eucharist/holy communion only becomes more clear. The power of the body and blood of Christ offered in love for the whole world is evident throughout. This is true not only for Fr Michael himself, as we see that he struggles with his own sin each time he says mass but also for his congregation for whom many it is a lifeline. Read more about this in my article about Corpus Christi.

The radical nature of Christianity

when-someone-asks-you-what-would-jesus-do-remind-them-24587009Every priest and every church group struggles with the often wide chasm between the institutional church and the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is also touched upon throughout the series. Fr Michael preaches about when righteous anger might be appropriate; he speaks his mind on women in ministry; he questions the spending of hundreds of pounds on confirmation dresses. The series also touches on the child abuse scandals to have hit the church. What shines through, rather wonderfully in my view, is that the teachings and example of Jesus are way more important that the institutional structures of the church. It was a relief to see this portrayed so well in the programme, and that it revealed how tangled and messy it all is.

The value of the Church’s ministry

I recently tweeted about an increase in people training for the priesthood in the Church of England. Someone replied by saying ‘not relevant in the 21st century’. My reply could well have been ‘have you watched Broken?’ If there was any doubt that the church isn’t needed in the 21st century, this series, (perhaps unwittingly) proved otherwise! In an interview, the writer Jimmy McGovern spoke about how the church is needed at key moments of people’s lives such as birth and death. One of the characters in the drama walks into church because she can’t think of where else to go. Often, in my own ministry I am struck that the church offers things that are very difficult to find elsewhere – where do you go if you’ve done something you regret? Where do you go when you want to mark a big event in your life? Where do you go if you want to organise a funeral? Where do you go if you can’t feed your kids? The vast majority of Food Banks (which are also referred to in Broken) are run by Churches. I’m not saying that these things aren’t found in other religions or in some charitable organisations but if you took the church out of the picture altogether it is clear that society would be hugely impoverished. Broken was a great response to that person who told me that priests were irrelevant in the 21st Century. Jimmy McGovern in the same interview referred to the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and how the main character after doubting the value of his life is shown what the world would look like without him in it. This was one of McGovern’s inspiration for the character of Fr Michael.

The world and faith are not black and white

The series artfully explores a variety of complex moral dilemmas – should I tell the truth, even if it might harm my family? Are my motives pure or am I really doing this for my own benefit? Broken also challenges what ‘success’ looks like. Fr Michael’s congregation is tiny but his impact on the individuals with whom he works is huge. In a world, and, unfortunately sometimes, a church, that prizes numbers and ‘bums on seats’, this was refreshing and revealed that value is not necessarily found in flashy success. A friend of mine went to a course for small churches called ‘a satsuma is not a failed orange’ – this encapsulates something of what Broken showed about Fr Michael’s ‘success’ as a priest. Read more about this in an article by the Bishop of Jarrow.

I’m sure there are many more lessons to be gleaned from this series, it was beautifully filmed and written and went to depths rarely plumbed by television drama. I hope it wins all the awards going!

Here are some interesting clips to watch about the making of the show:

When atheism gets confused with secularism and Christians confuse challenge with persecution

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It’s been another fun week with a bun fight between Richard Dawkins and Giles Fraser on Radio 4 and Baroness Warsi making herself look a bit silly again (deciding to tell the Pope what he already believes!).

It started with Richard Dawkins’ survey of people who had identified as Christian in the last census. The findings of this research can be read in a few different ways. I first came across it in this article which stated:

Richard Dawkins survey shows almost a quarter of UK population believe Jesus is the Son of God the Saviour of Mankind

A friend pointed out that the data also showed that less than a fifth of those who said they were Christian believed Jesus is the Son of God. So, swings and roundabouts!

Dawkins seems to think that his interviews with these people that ticked the Christian box on the census somehow prove that Christianity now has no place in modern society. That seems a massive leap to make. Giles Fraser responded hilariously on Radio 4 to Dawkins’ comment that lots of people couldn’t name the first book of the New Testament by asking him if he could name the full title of On the origin of species – he couldn’t:

Later, Baroness Warsi came out with this statement:

“My fear today is that a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies… At its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant”

I think sometimes people of faith like the idea that they’re being attacked – it’s more interesting than being simply ignored (which is the normal attitude towards religion). I don’t think using terms like ‘militant’ really helps and as Julian Baggini points out in his excellent article:

Secularism, in the political sense, is not a comprehensive project to sweep religion out of public life altogether…Rather it is – or should be – a beautifully simple way of bringing people of all faiths and none together, not a means of pitting them against each other.

It seems as well that lots of people are confusing secularism with atheism when they’re definitely not the same thing, as Nick Baines pointed out in his reflections on this debate.

One of the things I have been thinking about in relation to this whole debate is the importance of culture, context and our national identity. Issues of religion in public life are different in every country. Our country has a terrible history of trying to sort out problems to do with religion and politics. The Church of England was established (not by Henry VIII) but really properly by Elizabeth I in an attempt to keep both sides happy – the famous Anglican Via Media – middle way. Then later on, following the civil war we needed to find a way to not continue to kill each other. Giles Fraser wrote about this eloquently this week:

The lessons of the 17th century are that religious differences can tear a society apart, and that a live and let live philosophy, backed up by equality before the law, is the best way to scale down acrimonious internal division. It’s all there, at the end of the 17th century. And now is not the time to forget the basis on which Britain’s political life was built.

The second important point to make is that of culture. Our culture in Britain is absolutely unique – it is very different from the culture in America, for example. Linda Woodhead has been doing some fascinating research into religion in society and wrote this week about how her research relates to this debate:

Britain is neither a religious country nor a secular one, but an interesting mix of both. That doesn’t make us muddled, or woolly, or confused – it just makes us British.

We have always been instinctively wary of the bright-eyed, fanatical enthusiast, of whatever hue. We don’t really do big ideologies or revolutions – and when we do, we never see them through to their conclusion. We prefer modest proposals, pragmatic solutions, and a bit of muddle – so long as it works. As Kate Fox rightly observes in Watching the English, our natural response to anyone who believes in their own propaganda too much is: “Oh come off it.”

Probably because of our chequered past, we don’t like people who espouse extreme religious belief in public, we all find it a bit embarrassing. It’s just not a culturally British thing to do.

I think Christianity has a rightful place in the life of our nation. I think that our country is a far more tolerant place to be because of its Christian heritage, a point made well by the Queen this week in a speech:

the Queen said the Church of England had “gently and assuredly” created an environment for other faith communities and people of no faith to live freely.

“Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.”

What annoys me is when Christians react to challenges about our privileged (I do think the CofE is tremendously privileged to have bishops in the House of Lords) position in British society as if we are being persecuted or driven out. Go somewhere like Nigeria or Sudan if you want to know what real persecution of the church looks like. I just get frustrated with my Christian brothers and sisters who seem to expend a lot of energy complaining about ‘rampant secularism’ instead of focusing on sharing the gospel of love and challenging true injustices in our society.

So, in conclusion, I think these things need to be remembered in these debates:

  • Atheism is not the same thing as secularism
  • We want the freedom to practise our religion – that’s not the same thing as privileging one religion or belief system above others
  • Being atheist is not a neutral position – as Dawkins seems to think it is
  • Challenge is not the same thing as persecution
  • You can’t divorce these arguments from both our country’s history and its culture
Finally, I would say that I’m quite glad that people still want to tick the ‘Christian’ box on the census form. They’re obviously identifying with something they’d like to aspire to – even if they don’t believe or practice in all of the religion’s teachings. I’m reminded of Rowan Williams’ wise comment :
“I don’t believe we are living in a secular society and I don’t believe we are living in a deeply religiously divided society. I believe we are living in a country that is uncomfortably haunted by the memory of religion and doesn’t quite know what to do with it … a society which is religiously plural and confused and therefore not necessarily hostile.”
The census results prove this.

Letter to Non-Believers by Shane Claibourne – Esquire

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Shane Claiborne

The Simple Way

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.

Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, “God is not a monster.” Maybe next time I will.

The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.

At one point Gandhi was asked if he was a Christian, and he said, essentially, “I sure love Jesus, but the Christians seem so unlike their Christ.” A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. So what we have here is a bit of an image crisis, and much of that reputation is well deserved. That’s the ugly stuff. And that’s why I begin by saying that I’m sorry.

Now for the good news.

I want to invite you to consider that maybe the televangelists and street preachers are wrong ??? and that God really is love. Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals and conservatives, it’s that you can have great answers and still be mean… and that just as important as being right is being nice.)

The Bible that I read says that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it… it was because “God so loved the world.” That is the God I know, and I long for others to know. I did not choose to devote my life to Jesus because I was scared to death of hell or because I wanted crowns in heaven… but because he is good. For those of you who are on a sincere spiritual journey, I hope that you do not reject Christ because of Christians. We have always been a messed-up bunch, and somehow God has survived the embarrassing things we do in His name. At the core of our “Gospel” is the message that Jesus came “not [for] the healthy… but the sick.” And if you choose Jesus, may it not be simply because of a fear of hell or hope for mansions in heaven.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the afterlife, but too often all the church has done is promise the world that there is life after death and use it as a ticket to ignore the hells around us. I am convinced that the Christian Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God’s Kingdom down. It was Jesus who taught us to pray that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth.

One of Jesus’ most scandalous stories is the story of the Good Samaritan. As sentimental as we may have made it, the original story was about a man who gets beat up and left on the side of the road. A priest passes by. A Levite, the quintessential religious guy, also passes by on the other side (perhaps late for a meeting at church). And then comes the Samaritan… you can almost imagine a snicker in the Jewish crowd. Jews did not talk to Samaritans, or even walk through Samaria. But the Samaritan stops and takes care of the guy in the ditch and is lifted up as the hero of the story. I’m sure some of the listeners were ticked. According to the religious elite, Samaritans did not keep the right rules, and they did not have sound doctrine… but Jesus shows that true faith has to work itself out in a way that is Good News to the most bruised and broken person lying in the ditch.

It is so simple, but the pious forget this lesson constantly. God may indeed be evident in a priest, but God is just as likely to be at work through a Samaritan or a prostitute. In fact the Scripture is brimful of God using folks like a lying prostitute named Rahab, an adulterous king named David… at one point God even speaks to a guy named Balaam through his donkey. Some say God spoke to Balaam through his ass and has been speaking through asses ever since. So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use, we should think again.

After all, Jesus says to the religious elite who looked down on everybody else: “The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom ahead of you.” And we wonder what got him killed?

I have a friend in the UK who talks about “dirty theology” ??? that we have a God who is always using dirt to bring life and healing and redemption, a God who shows up in the most unlikely and scandalous ways. After all, the whole story begins with God reaching down from heaven, picking up some dirt, and breathing life into it. At one point, Jesus takes some mud, spits in it, and wipes it on a blind man’s eyes to heal him. (The priests and producers of anointing oil were not happy that day.)

In fact, the entire story of Jesus is about a God who did not just want to stay “out there” but who moves into the neighborhood, a neighborhood where folks said, “Nothing good could come.” It is this Jesus who was accused of being a glutton and drunkard and rabble-rouser for hanging out with all of society’s rejects, and who died on the imperial cross of Rome reserved for bandits and failed messiahs. This is why the triumph over the cross was a triumph over everything ugly we do to ourselves and to others. It is the final promise that love wins.

It is this Jesus who was born in a stank manger in the middle of a genocide. That is the God that we are just as likely to find in the streets as in the sanctuary, who can redeem revolutionaries and tax collectors, the oppressed and the oppressors… a God who is saving some of us from the ghettos of poverty, and some of us from the ghettos of wealth.

In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion ??? I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.

Your brother,

Shane

A wholeheartedly agree with everything Shane says. I wish I could be this articulate about my faith!

God IS love!

Bright sadness – the irony of Christianity – Garrison Keillor

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My friend Chris Howson mentioned these ‘News from Lake Wobegon’ podcasts in his book ‘A Just Church‘ so I thought I’d have a listen. Garrison Keillor talks about news from the small town in Minnesota ‘where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average’.

In this week’s news he talks about the irony of Christianity, the irony of lent. I think that what he talks about looks at why ‘Bright Sadness’ is an appropriate name for Lent (as Eastern Orthodox believers call it).

These podcasts are gently funny and often very wise. Enjoy!

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What would Jesus Tweet? – a guide to Twitter for Christians

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Every time a new technology is introduced it is greeted with a mixture of suspicion and fear. This is particularly true, unfortunately, for the Church!

However, over the history of Christianity, different technologies have been appropriated for the good of the Kingdom of God! Without the scores of medieval monks illustrating manuscripts of scripture and other great thinkers, modern Western Civilisation simply would not exist! William Tyndale took advantage of the invention of the printing press to get copies of his bible in English in the hands of ordinary people. In more recent times film and television have been used (not always very well!) to share the Good News.

Now we’re living in perhaps the most significant period in history for technological change and world communications. Social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook mean that messages can travel the world virally in seconds. Christianity is a religion which is spread by word of mouth from person to person. It’s always been ‘viral’ – only now, it can be even more so!

Here is a video imagining the gospels played out through Twitter. It’s a very creative way of presenting the gospel story but it also is good for giving you an idea of how Twitter works! Enjoy!

Using Twitter

There are a lot of misconceptions about social media. If I mention Twitter people will usually respond with such comments as:

‘Isn’t it just people writing about what they’ve had for breakfast?’

‘It’s a bit narcissistic isn’t it?’

‘It’s just inane celebrity chat’

‘Noise – that’s all it is!’

Deciding Twitter is a waste of time is a bit like saying phones are a waste of time because people use them to send each other pointless texts!

So my first point is:

Twitter is a tool. Think of it like a phone, a computer, a piece of paper and a pen…

Twitter is primarily about sharing things (comments, news, links, pictures, videos) you think other people would find interesting. Twitter can be used on a number of different devices as well – through a computer, a mobile phone, a laptop or tablet like an iPad – this means that messages shared on Twitter can be instant. The great thing about Twitter is that you choose what you see. If you don’t want to read about what Paris Hilton had for breakfast, simply don’t follow her! On the other hand, you can follow inspirational people and be really encouraged!

Once you begin to think of Twitter like this you can imagine how it might be used by Christians.

Here are my 6 ways Christians can use Twitter:

For encouragement:

It’s easy to share an encouraging bible verse or quote in a tweet. You could ‘retweet’ (ie. Repeat) a message from a preacher you follow on Twitter (like Rick Warren for example) or you could say something like ‘my bible verse today was John 3:16, it really encouraged me’.

Examples on Twitter to follow: @pastorickwarren, @realrobbell, @johnsentamu, @cslewisquotes

For prayer:

Ask for prayer or encourage others to pray for an issue. Sometimes prayer requests can become ‘trending topics’ – that means lots of people are using the same words in their tweets. For example, in the recent earthquake and tsunami, ‘pray for Japan’ became a trending topic.

Examples to follow on Twitter: @247prayer, @petegrieg

For sharing your faith:

Share what’s happening in your life. Share what God is doing in your life – your joys and your suffering. It’s much easier to tweet something than say it to a colleague at work – and if they ‘follow’ you on Twitter who knows, they might ask you about something you tweet? If you write a blog you can tweet links to your blog posts.

For growing in your faith:

Lots of great Christian thinkers, preachers and worship leaders are on Twitter. ‘Follow’ them on Twitter to learn from them, get links to interesting articles and blogs and grow in your faith.

Examples to follow on Twitter: @donmilleris, @krishk, @richardlittleda, @bigbible, @mattredman

For campaigning for justice and fundraising:

Lots of campaigns and petitions can be started through Twitter and can go viral. The protesters in Iran in 2009 used Twitter to get their message out to the world. There are lots of great causes that you can support on Twitter to raise funds, campaign for justice and lobby the government.

Examples to follow on Twitter: @avaaz, @christian_aid

For sharing what’s happening in your church community:

You could tweet about what you’re doing in small group, you could even Tweet the main points of a sermon on a Sunday (although this is controversial and it can be hard to persuade people that you’re not just playing with your phone!) You could also use Twitter to advertise events such as church fetes or holiday clubs.

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So would Jesus have tweeted? Perhaps not, he didn’t write anything down, but funnily enough, he was good at the short pithy statement – I can imagine Peter following Him around with a phone and tweeting the things Jesus was saying! Whatever, I hope I might have whetted your appetite to try twitter. Here is my four part guide to Twitter:

Why should I join Twitter?

Creating your Twitter profile

Tweeting and Twitter terminology

Managing the flow of information on Twitter

Feel free to add a comment below or ask me any questions about using Twitter!

Two simple questions that could change my life

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Learning about the examen

I took this photo of Shaeron Caton-Rose's installation 'Mirror' at the Greenbelt Festival this weekend. I was struck by how the piece showed beauty in the brokenness.

I’ve mentioned before here how much I enjoy the Pray as you go podcasts from the Irish Jesuits. They’re based on Ignatian spirituality which is something I’ve been getting interested in this year. Serendipitously, I was at Cragg Hill Church the other week and the pastor, Gaynor, mentioned a book called ‘Sleeping with Bread‘ all about the Ignatian practice of the ‘examen’.

The ‘examen’ is a very simple spiritual discipline which you can carry out on a daily basis or use it to reflect on an event or even the past year.

It consists of two simple questions:

What has given me life today?

What has taken life away from me today?

Ignatius called these two aspects ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’.

You simply look back over the day and consider and acknowledge all the life-giving, joy-giving things that happened. These are all, of course, a gift of God. Then you acknowledge any pain or sadness, lifting these things to God.

What I think is particularly helpful about this discipline is the acknowledgement of the good and the bad. I’m an eternal optimist. I’m not very good, therefore, at acknowledging sadness and pain. I tend to try and ‘find the good’ – even when it’s not there. Equally, I have friends who are the opposite to me. They only focus on the negatives and will always look to the downsides of things. The discipline of the examen helps both types of person to see the light and the shade of life and to see where God is at work in that.

Undertaking this kind of discipline can really help you to discern God’s guidance – especially with regard to your job or your role at Church. Is what you are doing giving you life? Which parts of your job give you joy?

I’m just starting out my journey with this discipline of the examen but I have an inkling that it really could change my life for the better.

Try it yourself

If you want to try it for yourself, there is a ‘review of the day’ mp3 here on the Pray-as-you-go website which uses the examen. This is a great introduction. The book I referred to above is brilliant, very short but a really helpful introduction to the discipline of the examen. It especially has some interesting things to say about using it as a family and with children.

Try it with others

We also tried the examen together at small group recently. I played a song and then we spent some time in silence reflecting on the last few months of our lives: what had given us life, what had drained us. We then shared this with each other and found some interesting themes coming out. It was so good to share the joys and pains of the last few months with each other and even easier to then pray into those situations: giving thanks to God for the life-giving moments and praying about the sadnesses.

Next time you’re wanting to do something a bit different at your church or in your small group, perhaps doing a form of the ‘examen’ might help? Let me know how it goes if you do try it!

Why am I giving up alcohol for lent?

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It’s not what you think!

I really like the church calendar; it’s like the ecclesiastical equivalent of the seasons. And since we don’t feel the seasons so much in our Western culture (apart from getting SADS) in terms of their immediate impact on our lives, our food etc., the church calendar is one of the few frameworks available to us to map out our passing years. It still defines our holidays in the UK.

Lent is a special time of the year. Unfortunately for us Christians, it has morphed into a ‘try a new year’s resolution again’ thing from what used to be a real spiritual discipline. It’s easy to talk about ‘what you’re going to give up for lent’ but people view it as something you do for health reasons or for self-discipline. This couldn’t be further from the original point!

Apparently the season of lent developed from the fact that in the early church, new converts were usually baptised on Easter Sunday – the day of resurrection. Each new convert would have had a sponsor who would teach them about the faith (like a mini Alpha course) and pray and fast with the candidate in the run up to the big day. Before long, nearly everyone was finding themselves praying and fasting in preparation for the bonanza of baptisms on Easter Sunday! This then developed into a whole church discipline and there were plenty of ideas for the length of time to set from the scriptures: the number of days Noah’s ark floated on the water; the years the Israelites spent wandering before entering the promised land and the number of days Jesus spent in the wilderness before commencing his ministry.

Choosing my Lenten observances for this year was quite a funny affair. I decided, as I have done for the last couple of years, to give up alcohol for lent. Then I had a chat with some friends and colleagues about it and lots of people said ‘how are you going to get through the next 6 weeks?’ (it’s financial year end so we’ve got loads to do and the company is downsizing in the middle of all this) and I started to think – ‘perhaps it’s not such a good idea’.

I then started to think, ‘why do we give things up for lent?’ Well it’s the act of fasting: a spiritual discipline which exists in most major world religions. The point of fasting is to draw you closer to God, to relying on Him and making space to hear His voice. So I then thought, ‘maybe it would be more productive to spend an hour every day in prayer?’ I think this might be true, in terms of what would bring me closer to God, the prayer surely wins, right? Those of you who are friends with me on Twitter and Facebook will have seen that I posed the question on Tuesday of which I should do (the prayer or the giving up alcohol). Most people replied ‘both’ and my heart sank! My husband pointed out to me that if the thought of going without alcohol for 6 weeks filled me with dread – then I really did need to give it up for lent!

So in the end, I realised that to have the true sense of ‘fasting’ (and sacrifice) that I needed to give up alcohol, and I knew deep down that that was what God wanted me to do too. But at the same time:

I want to make clear to people that I am not doing it primarily for health reasons, or the challenge, or to test my will power but to draw myself more deliberately towards God.

To help me a bit I’ve got a book which splits the famous spiritual classic ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ into 30 daily readings. Each day also has a ‘mantra’ to bear in mind through the day and the one I read for Ash Wednesday couldn’t be more illustrative of why I’ve given up alcohol for lent:

‘Bind me to You with a loving leash of longing’

This is my prayer. I hope your Lenten observances have a similar aim!