Checking in on the Past

Its getting close to the first anniversary of the limey family move to a coastal location (

A lot has happened in that year, yet it feels like its flown past. On the whole we are very happy with the choice we made. We like where we live, we have made some good friends, our daughter is doing very well at her new school, better than we think she would have done had we not moved. We are more relaxed and happiness is up.

There has been one big negative. A dear friend from our last church lost his fight with cancer and we were unable to attend the funeral. Accounts say the church was packed and I am not surprised, he was an immensely popular man and was hugely respected by many of the young people. It was very upsetting not being able to attend but things conspired against us and it simply wasn’t possible.

On a more positive note; other good friends held their regular start of the summer BBQ and we made the trip back to our old town. That was a far more appropriate occasion to catch up with many familiar faces and share stories and updates on the past 10 months. Before the BBQ we stopped by to see the wife of good friend mentioned above. We were pleased to see that she’s being cared for, but adjustment to losing a spouse after all those years and having to deal with an empty house must be hard.

One of the inevitable conversation pieces during the BBQ would be the state of the church we left behind. Some more of our friends have left since we moved, yet the church continues to attract new members so the loss does not appear to be affecting the membership; though the demographic has been affected.

One of the friends who left is cancer survivor. She left because she didn’t like seeing people in corners obvious talking about her in hushed tones. Her illness and survival seemed to change the way some people approached her, specifically those who didn’t know her so well. Her friends of course treated her and loved her just the same and it really was good to see her again. One specific person in the church, who is now a deacon, has very strong literal and creationist views. On one occasion he had intimated something to her husband about sin and illness and the couple were left feeling that they were being judged for her not having claimed her full healing in the Name of Christ!

I think that would likely make me leave a church. I don’t know what the exact conversation was, but I do know that if I’d been the husband on the receiving end of such wisdom I’d have been far less gracious than that husband was.

There was one more shocking account of our previous church to come; this time involving the pastor. In a conversation with another couple where the subject of leaving the church came up (again I don’t know the exact details of the conversation) the pastor’s attitude was that he wasn’t bothered if people left the church. This was especially the case if the issue was on differences of theology. The pastor’s attitude was plainly that he was right and people leaving was because they were not on his side and if it was a theology issue it was an attempt by the devil to devide.

His arrogance in these matters appears to know no bounds. Sadly I am not surprised that this is his view, but I am deeply saddened.

By way of contrast, many years ago, in the early days of our marriage; my wife and I went to our Vicar (this was a Church of England Church) and explained that for all the good church did. It didn’t meet the needs of a young couple without children. He shed a tear and expressed his sadness. That is how one should react when people talk about leaving your church.

Unloved by Christian Friends

My wife has an old friend (not the same friend talked about here: They lost touch many years ago but recently have re-established contact and both are looking forward to seeing each other again and catching up.

They have been friends for many years, long before my wife and I met. As these sorts of old friendships often go, they both got married, moved away, had a family, moved again and as life changes and evolves sometimes these old friendships suffer and fail to last. This is one such friendship.

Hidden in all those years, my wife’s friend has had to battle illness and depression. One of the casualties of that low period is that her marriage failed and she is now in a relationship with her counsellor. I don’t know all the details and its certainly not appropriate for me to speculate or even divulge more on the personal cost here.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, my wife and her old friend are back in touch and looking forward to spending a few hours with each other this week while the limey family are on holiday in the area.

Over the weekend, while discussing this week’s plans, my wife divulged that said friend and made a comment on Facebook about the support she had recently from friends over her very recent ill health and that it had revealed who her true friends were and how she’d been abandoned by her Christian ones.

My wife confessed to a tinge of guilt and wondered if she was one of the guilty Christians. So it was with great trepidation that she suggested a catch up this week and to much relief the response was warm.

The story of this friend goes beyond ill health and failed marriages. She and my wife were both committed Christians at the height of their friendship. Now her life has led her away from Christianity and her status as a Christian is in doubt.

Hearing about abandonment by Christians in this sort of scenario always makes me sad. This story especially struck a chord with me because I’ve read in the last month a couple of critical Atheist blog posts pointing fingers at Christians for using prayer as an excuse for doing nothing. The accusation being that Christians meet for prayer, feel good about it and then actually do nothing practical about the situation. While I am sure there are some who do this, I think it’s very unkind to tar all Christians with that brush, so reading those blog posts actually made me feel defensive about Christianity.

Then, off the back of those feelings my wife tells me about her old friend who feels abandoned by her Christian friends.

The story makes me feel sad and leaves me in a quandary. I know that there are many Christians who care greatly for those around them and go to great lengths to be supportive of those around me; often at personal cost. My wife is one of them. I won’t list all the stories of her saintliness; you’ll just have to believe me. I also know there are atheists who care so little for others they scoff at the idea of ‘holding them in their thoughts’; the non-believers equivalent of prayer.

So, is the recent comment by my wife’s old friend fair? What about the atheists pointing an accusing finger at those who pray but do nothing? I think they are both guilty of a bit of confirmation bias, that is, they have reached a conclusion and then highlighted the evidence that supports it.

That said, I can’t help but wonder if the proportion of Christians who do actually act to help others in practical ways is any different from the proportion of non-Christians. Is it unreasonable to expect there to be more Christians going out of their way to help those they know in need? If the effects of the Holy Spirit are real, would there be a greater number of Christians being supportive? I think these are reasonable questions and I think that it’s also reasonable to conclude that if Christian claims of God are true then an effect of that would be a measurable disparity between Christians and non-Christians who give practical help.

I wonder if such a study exists.

How we lost a great friend

Long before we got married, my wife and I had a very good friend. Actually he was more her friend than mine. I inherited him as a friend when we started dating. He was the one person who knew and understood her better than me. When we had a major hiccup one year into our relationship, it was this friend who she turned to for support and he provided it while still being a good friend to both of us.

There is no doubt he was her best friend and its very likely she confided in him much more than she did to me during those years. I am okay with that. They had known each other for longer than they had known me, I was the intruder into this friendship.

However, this friend had issues. He had a difficult home life and he despised his father, every now and then he’d let his darkness show and we would get a glimpse of the pain he was hiding. Normally though he was a very jovial and fun person to be around. I guess he needed it to be that way.

I never met his father, he never seemed to be at home, but I did meet his mother on a few occasions. She was a pleasant but very quiet person. I do recall this friend had an awful lot of freedom at home, given his teen years. Not just a computer and TV in his bedroom, but a phone as well. His bedroom was right at the top of the house, out of the way of everyone else and large enough to include a sofa area too; visiting friends always went directly up there, no exclusions.

As soon as he left school and got his first job, this friend moved out of home and bought a small flat; smaller than his bedroom almost. Girlfriend and I spent a lot of time visiting him there.

Moving out of home changed our friend. For starters he became a little freer in talking about his home life issues. He would only visit home when he knew his mum was at home alone so he could see her on his terms. He talked a lot about dropping off the radar so he could be free of his family, I remember an attitude of grim determination fuelled by hatred.

We were all committed Christians at the time and in our mid-late teens. We attended many evangelical services and socialized in a Christian youth group and then a Christian 18+ group as we aged. We had bible studied together and prayed together and partied together many times with our wider Christian friendship group.

But our friend was continuing to have his issues and he moved on. He got a job in London and started living there, renting out the flat he had bought. He started attending church there in London too. Seeing him became more and more of a logistical challenge and contacted started to peter out.

By this time girlfriend and I were engaged. She missed her friend though and made extra effort to continue the contact, travelling into London and going out of her way to maintain the contact.

Then the bombshell dropped.

He told her he was gay.

In hindsight we should have realised, but at the time it came as a surprise. At the time I was very much of the opinion of many fundamentalist Christians today, that homosexuality is just plain wrong. I wasn’t at that meeting, it was just girlfriend and him. Girlfriend told friend that I would not be impressed, she was right, but it likely wasn’t the right thing to say. Friend needed some encouragement and support. He’d just told his closest childhood friend his biggest darkest secret and he hadn’t had the response he needed. In her defence, girlfriend was caught off-guard and really didn’t have much time to absorb the information. It came from left field at a time of concern and vulnerability and girlfriend was utterly unprepared to deal with such a revelation.

She did her best to reassure friend that his friendship was still valuable. However, that was the last time she would see him. They would speak once more; it was a difficult conversation with friend being withdrawn despite girlfriend’s reassurances. After that he never returned her calls and they never spoke again. He wasn’t at our wedding.

Nearly 20 years later, she still very much regrets those final moments and genuinely wishes that she could have played that conversation differently and kept a good friend. We don’t have many regrets in life but this one is by far the biggest and by a long margin.

In reality, I think he was going to disappear anyway. His bigger issues had driven him to leave his old life behind and girlfriend was the last thread linking him to his old life and I think he was going to cut it anyway. His long term plan had been to change his name and leave the country, I have no reason to doubt this happened very soon after.

This of course is no comfort to my wife and she still feels the pain of a lost friendship that she believes she had the power to retain but failed to act in the right way. On the few occasions we’ve discussed this over the years, it has made her cry; such is her feeling of loss. Friend being gay was never going to be a barrier to a continued friendship, despite the personal objections of lifestyle choice.

There have been a couple of times over the years when, in our involvement with youth work we’ve been able to use this story to caution young people on how they respond to their friends when faced with similar revelations. Its not an easy story to tell and the sense of loss has never left us, but we do hope we can use it to stop others suffering the same.


You Have my Permission to be Controversial

“You have my permission to be controversial, and to ask the hard questions.”

Those were the words my wife said to me over the weekend. Before I get to that though; first a bit of background leading up to the conversation and context.

After a lovely pre-Easter holiday and a long weekend break for the Royal Wedding we spent a few days at my in-laws.

Over breakfast on our last day, before we headed back home, my mother-in-law mentioned a good childhood friend of my wife’s. A friend with whom she’s had sporadic contact since the breakup of her marriage. My in-laws are close to her parents, so we get much second-hand news from them. Anyway, it’s a long and messy story which has no place in this blog apart from the mention that this friend now proclaims “there is no God”. This is apparently due to the new man in said woman’s life.

The emotion with which my mother-in-law expressed this latest development made it clear that not only was she saddened by this news, but she was shocked to the point of considering it an immensely hurtful thing to say. While I can certainly appreciate why my mother-in-law feels that way, it didn’t fill me with any confidence as I edge myself closer to the point at which I make my confession.

What it did do though, was give me a chance to open up a conversation with my wife and Atheism and reduced faith. So I decided that I’d make use of that later in the day.

Later in the day turned out to be on the drive home. An hour and a half, when we could talk without interruption; thanks to a recently purchased in car DVD system for the daughter on the back seat.

I mentioned to my wife that I was a little taken by the strength of her mother’s response over news of her friend’s atheism. My wife acknowledged it was strong, then changed the focus to that of her friend and pointed out that given what she has been through, its hardly a surprise that she struggles with accepting there is a God, let alone manages to maintain a relationship with Him.

My wife made a good point, though personally I don’t accept the ‘bad things happened to me therefore there is no God’ argument. I find it a bit self absorbed and illogical. If you’re going to declare the absence of God, do it based on (lack of) evidence and logical conclusions, not because of some sob story. No matter how bad life may seem to you, there will always be someone in a worse situation who manages to praise God and be cheerful about it. So I have little sympathy for boohoo stories which try to justify non belief in God.

Of course my reply to my wife was more considered, plus she knows where I stand on this point anyway so there really was no need to extended explanation.

The conversation moved on a bit and at some point the news came on the radio to announce the death of Osama Bin Laden, so we meandered around that a while before eventually coming back on track.

We discussed our faith and my wife surprised me by saying she’d noticed my withdrawal from Christianity since my mothers death three years ago, she also noted that while my mother’s death wasn’t the cause that was about the time it started. (The story of my mother’s illness and death will come in time; my chronological narrative hasn’t reached that point yet.)

My wife is right of course and I was a little taken aback by her accurate insight, though the shame is mine for even thinking that my wife does not know me that well by now.

So I acknowledged my wife was right and admitted that my Christianity has suffered to the point that I was concerned that recovery to what it once was would be impossible. She accepted this as though she knew it already; maybe she did and was being gracious towards me. Maybe she knew I wasn’t being entirely truthful, if she did, she didn’t follow it up.

I knew I wasn’t being entirely truthful. In the past few months when I have been pondering over how to come clean I’ve decided the best way is to treat it as a journey and give my wife the chance to get used to the idea rather than spring it on her. Maybe I’m underestimating her again. Maybe she knows far better than I realise and is continuing to be gracious and loving. Either way I don’t want to rock the boat any more than I need to, my wife is precious to me and I’d rather live a lie than risk losing her.

Anyway, the conversation moved on some more and we talked about how we’d both been unhappy in our current church for at least a couple of years and it had likely moved to the point where recovery from that was impossible under the current leadership. The problem is that we have many good friends here. We’ve discussed moving church a few times and each time decided that was not what we wanted.

The future will change

However, that’s not where it ends. We recently decided to relocate and are in the process of finalising the sale of our house; we’ve yet to start packing and sorting out our accumulated junk. The move won’t happen until August, so we have some time yet.

The move is unrelated to our church situation, but it does mean that there will be a new church for us to attend. My wife made it clear that she would like us to be able to attend together and be a family at church again.

This is where we get to the above mentioned statement. In the context of being at church again my wife acknowledge the negative impact our recent church experience had had on us and asserted that she wanted the move to be a time to change that. I agree with her, though I didn’t voice that I was not so comfortable being a church goer again. This is something I will need to deal with in time.

Perhaps sensing this and knowing that silence on the subject has been part of our current problems finished with encouragement for me. She stated that she wants me to be more involved intellectually and vocally, to ask the difficult questions, the questions that my scientific mind brings up and to be controversial in it.

We’ll see how it goes, I’m not really one for speaking out and being controversial, but maybe a new found bravery will come.

Until then, there is packing to do….