Thursday 31 July 2008

Coming home

I've been threatening for some time to put my conversion story on to the blog - after all, it is the best thing that's happened to me. At last I've got round to it. A quieter summer period helps, and so did Jeremy, asking for stories to put in a booklet of testimonies so we can all see how God has worked in the lives of people at St Matthew's. Here's what I wrote:

I was a tortured soul as a youth. My parents had moved constantly while I was younger, usually to totally different parts of the country. I went through the experience of losing friends and trying to make new ones so many times that in the end I just gave up - what was the point? I'd soon be saying goodbye again. I became lonely and withdrawn.

I'd always believed there was a God since I first thought about it. I hadn't been brought up with this - my parents didn't take us to church or tell us about their beliefs. But somehow this conviction had taken hold of my life. The difficulty was, I couldn't seem to find this God I believed in. I tried lots of things - Eastern spirituality was in fashion - and thought that if you rolled all the beliefs about God together you be bound to come up with something like the truth in the end. But none of it filled the deep emptiness I felt within. I began to wonder if God didn't want me.

Then my father died very suddenly of a heart attack and things got a great deal worse. I found I had nothing inside to help me care for my mum, who was devastated, nor for my brothers, when they most needed me. We fell apart a bit. God seemed further away than ever. I sank into depression. Life had no meaning or purpose whatever.

Bedtime many months later: as I got ready for bed I prayed, "God, if you're there at all, you can have my life. It's no use to me." I fell asleep immediately, something I had been unable to do for a long time.

The following day I felt a strange urge to get up and go out into the streets. I remembered what I had prayed. "This is a strange urge," I thought, "Could this be God answering my prayer?" So off I went. I bumped into someone who was actually going along to an evening service at my local parish church. It was the last place on earth I'd thought of to go looking for God. But over a period of weeks, as I heard and responded to what I heard there, I came to realise that the way to find God is through Jesus.

I remember the night it finally dawned on me that God really loved me: a warm Devon night in August. I had gone away with the Church Youth for a week's houseparty and a brilliant speaker had seemed to speak straight into my heart. I went out and lay on the grass, looking up at the stars, and finally felt that there was a place for me in the universe.

What about you? If you're at St Matthew's and you have a story of what God has done for you, please let Jeremy have it, and soon! Don't forget they're supposed to be anonymous (sorry about that Jeremy - can a blogging vicar be a special case?)


Tuesday 8 April 2008

Ok, so the Times isn't listening...

I've got annoyed with the Times again, especially with their commentator Matthew Parris, who clearly hates God and has it in for Christians. Every time he writes on this subject he tries to put across to the public that faith equals foaming at the mouth fanaticism. Well, the Christians I know just aren't like that. Most of them seem fairly sane and committed to loving their neighbours, not blowing them up!

Tony Blair's recent speech on the role of faith in political life gave Mr Parris a field day for his prejudices, so I wrote in to the Editor. Of course I know they won't bother with my letter, so I'm posting it up here instead...

... not that I agree with Tony Blair about lots of things. Iraq for example. The problem here isn't that Tony Blair was too Christian but rather that he wasn't Christian enough. Love your neighbour, for example, means war must be a last resort, not a first resort, and as for the lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction...

But in spite of Mr Blair's example, Christianity has had a superb track record in changing the lot of mankind for the better. But now I'm going over my letter in advance. Why not just read it.

Sir, I don't recognise the Christianity so disgracefully caricatured by Matthew Parris in his comments on Saturday 5 April. Jesus commanded his followers to love their neighbours, to show compassion, to offer practical help, to forgive, to avoid judging others. If this is fanaticism, the world needs a lot more of it.

We don't always live up to our Master's teachings, but it is because we have too little Christianity, not too much. As Jonathan Swift wrote, we have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love, one another.

Christians have such a lot to offer in the public arena, as the lives of Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, William Wilberforce, William Gladstone, the Earl of Shaftesbury, General Booth, the founders of Oxfam, The Samaritans and many other agencies that improve the lives of countless people all demonstrate. Frankly, I don't think secularism has nearly such a good track record, probably because atheists don't have the same values and motivation. If Mr Parris, who clearly has his own fanaticism, ever got his wish to see Christianity stamped out of public life, it would be a very very sad blow against the wellbeing of the human race.

Colin Gibson.