Labelling and love

good samaritanWalter Brueegemann, one of the most influential contemporary theologians put his finger on a key issue for Christians — labelling others. “To beat each other up with labels like capitalism or communism or socialism is simply a waste of time.”  [I’d add LGBTQ, atheistic humanism and all political labels to that list!] Labels get in the way of what Jesus was trying to get across to us — what Brueegemann calls “neighbourliness.” He wrote “The discussion needs to start with what it means to be made in the image of God. The confession of the Christian faith is that all of God’s human creatures are made in the image of God. That means they are to be treated with dignity, offered maintenance and security, as is necessary. . . The only thing that will change people’s minds about this is getting to know people who are (different than you are).”

 But what if  (the labelled group) is out to subvert my way of life and harm my children and family?

Labelling, which flows out of fear is incompatible with being a neighbour. Suspending your use of labels and taking risks is what it means to love one’s neighbour. That is the essence of Jesus’s parable about the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan, an outsider and not an accepted religious practitioner, took the risk to rescue and care for the man who had been beaten by robbers even though he didn’t know the man. St Paul summarized the importance of this parable for Christians: “Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” (Romans 13: 9-10)

There is an epidemic of labelling in the media and on the Internet, which flows into our conversations and even our beliefs. We need to guard against being infected by this. Labelling has no place in the Christian community!

Is my religion my hobby?

hobbyI had a coffee today with Graham J. an old friend of mine, who is a believer in Zen Buddhism. He said he recently decided to take his Zen beliefs much more seriously. I asked him if his Zen beliefs were a hobby or a way of life? (Graham knows me quite well  and likes or at least tolerates my habit of asking provocative questions in order to learn more deeply about any subject.)  My hobby is Duplicate Bridge; I take it seriously and my partner and I analyse our performance and try to learn how to play better so we can win more often. But I don’t see Bridge as being very important compared to many other aspects of my life. It isn’t my ‘way of life.’

We discussed this question for awhile. Graham suggested that his desire was to live all aspects of his ordinary life more mindfully. His Zen Master taught him living mindfully required three steps: Clear your mind; Understand the situation; Act.  His way of making Zen his way of life was to practice these three steps diligently, starting with meditating each morning on his day and preparing to live mindfully.

What about me?

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In the Catholic Church Lent is a special time to ‘repent’ and think about your life as a Christian. I don’t think that it was accidental that Graham and I had this conversation on the second day of Lent; God arranged it and sent his grace into our conversation to shape it for His purposes. When I asked Graham whether his belief was only his hobby I was actually asking myself that same provocative question. I’d like to say that I was able to quickly say that I treat my Christian belief as a way of life not a hobby but I have an uncomfortable feeling that there’s too much ‘hobby’ in my practice and not enough ‘way of life.’  And my discomfort is grace again working in me.

I won’t do an examination of conscience here in my blog. I do suggest that you ask yourself the question ‘Is my religion my hobby?’ and listen very carefully to what God has to say to you. One good result of this exercise is that you will come to appreciate God’s mercy and forgiveness a whole lot better.

Needs beyond Maslow’s Hierarchy?

It struck me, as I watched the superstorm Sandy hit New York City, that millions of people suddenly found themselves thrown down Maslow’s hierarchy and face to face with basic security needs. Probably most of these people were used to operating at the mid-level of social and esteem needs, with a few (according to Maslow) operating at the level of self-actualization. It is a shock, I’m sure, to return to basic survival after spending all your life not worrying about such needs.

My experience is that, at times of great stress or chaos, another need emerges. People instinctively utter prayers like “God please help me” even if they are agnostics or haven’t been in a church for many years. Maslow’s hierarchy ignores such needs. In fact, many Psychologists now criticize Maslow’s concept of a “needs hierarchy” finding that self-esteem and self-actualization needs are present no matter what the circumstances are — whether a person is homeless or a millionaire. Arguing from that position, I would say that when someone utters a prayer in dire circumstances, they are only fulfilling a pervasive (although largely hidden) need for God.

Dependence on God

If human beings have this deep need for God, doesn’t that indicate that we are dependent on God? The word ‘dependence’ is an ugly word in our society. The ideal is independence. Dependence means we aren’t self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-determining and all those seemingly good things we teach our children. It’s hard to image teaching our children to be dependent. Yet, in reality, we are all dependent on each other. As the storm in the Eastern USA showed, the complex web of modern society is easily disrupted. We turn to our neighbors in these times, and depend on them. So why is it so hard to believe we are truly dependent on God too — and live that way, and teach our children they too are dependent on God?

To me, why it’s hard to admit that we are dependent on God is connected not only with modern culture but with who we are. One of the first questions in the old Catechism was “Why did God make me?” “God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world and the next.” God made us free, and didn’t tie us to his “apron strings.” The beauty (and perhaps tragedy) of human life is that we  freely get to make ourselves and our eternal destiny. Our natural thrust toward independence matches each individual’s profound responsibility for themselves.

Communion — The other side of being human

If you consider the story arc of the Old Testament, however, you can easily see that there are two basic themes– the great individual heros like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and others — and the people of God. The great hero of the New Testament is Jesus of course. But the theme of communion is also there — “I am the vine, you are the branches” and Paul’s metaphor of the “Body of Christ all working together for the whole.” The question in our modern time, is how do we experience communion? Unfortunately we equate it with “church,” I say unfortunately because being in communion is far deeper than belonging to a church. It is a mystical reality not an organizational phenomenum. And that is what we have lost — the sense that, alone, we are actually nothing. Communion is an exchange between our soul and God and all other human souls in a manner that we can hardly imagine let alone understand. If we begin to see dependence in that way, perhaps we will begin to love differently.

 

Distinctions and Generalizations

We live in a world filled with information. Media, Facebook,  email and mobile phone connectivity push information at us continuously. In fact. our lives are so completely full of information that we constantly need to make quick judgments about whether we should pay attention or not, or whether something rings true or not.

We ought to use critical thinking to make better judgments about what is true versus what appears to be true but isn’t, in important areas of our life. Much of what we encounter in the media or Facebook has some “spin” or bias connected with it and it requires some effort to sort out what is true. That’s especially important for Christians.  Jesus claimed to be “The way, the truth and the life.” Therefore, we ought to try to see things with “the mind of Jesus” to better understand the truth in the complex situations we encounter.

On the 7:30 Report last night in Australia a story was featured about the Victoria Police’s investigation of how the Catholic Church mishandled paedophilia cases in the past. Too say the least, the report was damning. This story was about the Catholic Church but it didn’t just affect Catholics. News about any Christian or any Christian church reflects on us all. Therefore we need to be able to help people outside the church understand how we Christians view such ugly incidents. This involves making some important comparisons and distinctions, rather than just generalizing, “Religion / Churches / Christians are all ___(epithet)____!”

Three important comparisons

First, I’d like to make three comparisons so help clarify some basic concepts that many people use quite loosely.

  • Church and organizations (government, corporations, etc)

Every Christian church is an organization. Like every organization, the primary interest of its leaders is the survival of the organization first and achieving its purposes second. There has to be an organization in order to be able to collectively work toward its goals. Where the church organization differs from other secular organizations (perhaps) is in its values. How the church survives, and how it achieves its purposes is paramount. The end doesn’t justify the means. Thus, church organizations are (and should be) held to account not just against the usual organizational criteria, such as ethics and following the law, but also each should be measured against its own espoused value system.

  • Religion and other institutions (legal system, healthcare system, etc)

Religion is also a human cultural system, which organizes itself to communicate certain foundational ideas and ways of thinking. There are no precise boundaries that limit ‘religion’ on our planet, so religion is a global cultural system. To a large extent, religion is out of the control of any church. In modern scientific terms, the Christian religion is a complex system that emerges from the interaction of enormous numbers of phenomena at all levels of all Christian churches as well as outside the church. This is exactly how the global legal system, global healthcare system, global economic system and all global systems work. In general all leaders are powerless to control how their specific brand of complex global system behaves and evolves. In fact, all these systems interact with one another, and influence each other’s emergence. The global system of religion is shaped as well as shapes, as we well know, by global political and economic events. That said, churches need a global understanding of how the system of religion works (or doesn’t) to advance the cause of love and peace on this planet

  • The Kingdom and reality (two views of “what is”)

We Christians also make another comparison, which hardly anyone else understands. We believe that, besides day-to-day reality, we also live in God’s Kingdom. Therefore, in addition to the realities of ‘church’ and ‘religion’ I described above, there is the real Kingdom of God. That is the fundamental meaning of who Jesus is — “I am the way, the truth and the life.” What is the Kingdom? Is it ‘pie in the sky by and by’ as some cynics describe it? Or is it “what is” right now? Some Christian scholars describe the Kingdom’s reality as being “already but not yet” fully present. The cynics would say the “already” bit is so tiny as to be non-existant. They may be willing to concede a hidden reality that only exists in some individual Christian hearts, but not many of those. I am of a different opinion, which I’ll cover in the next part of this blog.

Important distinctions

So, what about the paedophilia news story? What distinctions ought we Christians to make in understanding this ugly situation that involves all of us?

  • As an organization, the Catholic Church ought to be criticized. The way it handled paedophiles was inept and didn’t follow its own ethical or moral value system. I suspect that the Catholic Church organization is already taking steps (like any corporation or goverment organization would) to find the flaws in its governance processes that allowed this evil to persist for so long. And, the wider society has a right to keep criticizing the Catholic Church’s efforts. None of this means, however, that the Catholic Church ought to be condemned and destroyed. That would be like saying close down a major bank because fraud was discovered in some of its transactions.
  • Religion has a lot to answer for, which goes well beyond paedophilia. I won’t catalogue the evils that have been done in the name of religion down through the centuries. The distinction to be made, however, is whether those of us who are ‘religious’ need, advocate and support this institution — or are those who say “I’m spiritual but not religious” on the right path? The value of religion is its global power and capability to bring God into the world’s affairs. (That power is also its human weakness). For Christians to say that we don’t need religion is ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ on a global scale. The question is, how to help the global Christian religious culture to evolve toward something that is closer to a “godly presence.” That is the task I have decided to support in this blog — transformation of the global Christian religion through ‘bottom-up’ transformation of all local Christian communities. Had local Catholic communites taken more responsibility for paedophilia, this current situation would likely have been fixed long ago.
  • Perhaps the most important distinction we Christians need to understand and apply is between living in a secular reality and living in God’s Kingdom. I described the ‘already but not yet’ idea above. My personal view is that the ‘already’ part is far more powerful than we Christians allow ourselves to imagine. The mystery of the Body of Christ is having a profound effect (in God’s time) on our everyday secular reality. The story of the “final days” is being written right now — and we individual Christians in our local communities are the Change Agents. So, in the paedophila case, we are responsible for changing the church and religious system that allowed that evil to persist — beginning right in our own local church, whether we are Catholic or not. It’s not a case of “That’s a Catholic problem.” We are all brothers and sisters, in one Body. Bottom-up change begins with the Spirit’s actions in each individual Christian when such outrages occur.

The “submit” controversy

At the risk of politicising this blog, I’d like to comment on a deeper aspect of the current “marraige vow” controversy being debated within the Anglican Church as well as publically in the Australian newspapers. To me, this debate is really the collision of two worlds — the sacred and the secular — with the not unexpected result that there are incompatibilities between them.

One branch of the Anglican Church wants to change wives “obey” to wives “submit” to their husband in an optional form of the marriage vow.  There are two ways to view this change, one religious and one political. The Anglicans are debating this based on  religious not political grounds; the public at large is debating it based on political not religious grounds. Let me briefly cover each.

Submission of wives to husbands based on religious grounds

The basic religious point, it seems to me, is one of being faithful to one’s beliefs. One side of the Anglican church is being faithful to Paul’s analogy of marriage and Christ’s relationship with the church. By giving couples this option to consciously choose to elevate the seriousness of their vow into a higher level of conformance with the sacred mystery of Christ / Church, that branch of the Anglican Church is pursuing a higher level of religious faithfulness to Paul’s ideal.

The other branch of the Anglican church takes a different view. It attempts to stay faithful to Christ’s call to go into the world and be “yeast”, transforming the world by emulating Christ’s forgiveness. This branch views St Paul’s statements on marriage as being culturally conditioned. Dorothy Lee wrote a thought piece on this on the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne website. Click here to read the full article. Here is the crux of her argument:

“Household codes [like those on marriage] reflect the culture of the ancient world and the context in which the early Church found itself. These codes, originating with Aristotle, demonstrated that, far from being socially and politically dangerous, Christians were good citizens, following the accepted values of the day (even with a Christian twist). The household codes reflect the compromise the church sometimes has to make in order to proclaim the gospel in socially or politically repressive contexts.” This branch of the Anglican Church would say that we aren’t being faithful when we antagonise the people we are trying to serve in the world by stressing an outmoded cultural code.

Here you see the contrast between two religious views; one which draws a sharper line between secular and sacred in order to convert it, and the other which moves toward the secular, to be part of it, transform it and convert it.

Submission of wives to husbands based on political grounds

This might seem a simple question. In our society, it seems completely obvious that wives don’t submit to husbands, nor women to men in general. That is the ideal of western society (but not other global societies). It has been the ideal since the emancipation of women, given strength by the feminist movement.

But, as a general rule, in cases where things seem completely obvious, we ought to look more closely, to discover whether we have lost some nuances or distinctions. [Let me hasten to add that I am not opposed to the general thrust of complete equality for women.]

Here is one point I’d like to make about the nuanced power issue contained in the ideal of complete equality of men and women. As an example, when women take up powerful political positions — CEOs, Prime Ministers and the like — we hope that their feminine side is not totally subsumed by the masculine demands of the role. The crucial strenghts of the feminine side are well-known — seeing issues and context more broadly, more sensitivity and nurturing in their decision-making, more concerned about relationships. Their feminine side ought not be forgotten by the women in such power psoitions. Indeed Thomas Berry in his wonderful book The Great Work sees the feminine influence as being one of the major positive forces that can heal global problems in the 21st century.

So, if we have a nuanced view of feminine power in corporations and government, cannot one also exist in marriage? Whatever words we might use in the marriage vow, don’t we want women to bring their feminine talents to the marriage? I’m sure that makes sense to most married couples. Young people choosing their vows ought not lose the distinction between the different strengths men and women bring to marriage. It is an important part of what they are commiting themselves to.

If the Sydney Anglican Diocese, by its emphasis on having an option to “submit” in the marriage vow has reawakened a discussion of these important things, good on them I say.

 

Ideology versus ?

I had a very provocative dinner table conversation last night, with a woman who is a passionate advocate for social justice. At 15 she set up a special breakfast at her school for poor aboriginal children because they had no food. She has continued to be an activist for social causes her entire life. She made a statement that initially I objected to but eventually agreed with. “Ideology is one of the biggest issues that stands in the way of social justice.” She also claimed, as many people do, “I’m spiritual but not religious,” and wrapped ideology, church and religion together. The conversation made me think about how Christians distiguish between “ideology” — which is harmful — and . . .? What is the Christian antidote for ideology? Do we need an antidote? Will we bring the antidote into the world to help the cause of social justice?

What would Jesus do?

First of all, I had to admit to myself that I didn’t know the answer to these questions. Any word I tried to use to describe the Christian antidote to ideology seemed to have problems of its own. Ideology versus faith? Ideology versus morality? Ideology versus love? If I am trapped in ideology aren’t these words also infected and twisted? Do I somehow claim a perfect understanding of “Jesus’ mind” and what he would do to overcome ideology? Isn’t that pride, the deadliest of sins? It seemed to me that, as a Christian, the only way out of this dilemma was to both understand what Jesus did during his life as well as how thinkers in the church since then have dealt with this question of ideology versus “right thinking and acting.”

“Right thinking and acting”

If you read the four Gospels — the stories of his life — it is obvious that Jesus did not buy into any of the religious, political or cultural ideologies of his time. He lived in opposition to them but did not create a counter- ideology. He simply announced and lived  what “right thinking and acting” in God’s kingdom is all about — feeding the hungry, healing the sick, befriending the stranger and especially caring for the poor. You could say that, like my dinner guest, Jesus was advocating and living social justice. [He was spiritual but, unlike her, he was a Jew and generally followed that religious tradition but not any of its prevailing ideologies.] After Jesus, Christian thinkers down through the ages have dealt with the specifics of social justice but, it is safe to say, not one has ever disputed that social justice was part of Jesus’ core message about “right thinking and acting” in God’s Kingdom.

So, what must I do?

The answer is simple to my pragmatic Australian dinner guest. “Get on with it!” Don’t let my ideology get in the way of social justice. Don’t say to myself, “Well ____ doesn’t deserve my concern and help because she ______.” [You fill in your favorite ideological targets.] Go read my previous post about Christians and Moslems if you want to think about your ideology about a specific issue. Christians and Moslems: A Way Forward. Or pick your favorite sin — abortion, drugs, fornication — and see how you thnk about and care for the “sinners” engaged in such activities. But most of all begin to question, “How is my Christian ideology blocking following Jesus’ way?”

Read Ideology Part 2

 

A Heart-felt Story

An old friend of mine, a recovering alcoholic, sent me a note after reading one of my recent posts. In it, he describes how Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) views religion, which is worth pondering. We may disagree with some of his views but none of us can dispute the great good that AA’s approach has brought to millions of the ‘least of these’ — men and women trapped in a prison of their own making. God is certainly on the side of AA.

“AA takes an unique approach to what we generically refer to as ‘religion’.  A fundamental principle of AA is that we have been unable to stop drinking on our own, no matter to what lengths we go, under our own power, free will and best wishes.  It simply won’t work.  Organized religions, no matter which ones, were either derived from what was known as Catholicism, such as Protestants of all types, generally known as Christians, as they follow the teachings of Christ.  Others, such as Buddhism, Shinto, Muslim and many others take their beginnings from similar precepts, except they feel Christ was but a holy man, a special prophet, and they, too, have their own.  The Jewish faith is still waiting for theirs.

“But, collectively, they do not offer what any given human being needs – a personal God that loves us unconditionally, will always forgive us our trespasses as long as we keep trying, is not keeping some sort of tabulation or balance sheet to advise Him on which way to send us when we die.  We alcoholics felt we were trying to be good people, but began using the wrong medicine for our ailing minds, and could not stop feeling we had the weight of the earth on us, had to control ourselves and the lives of all we met, and despite our overt feelings to the opposite, we lived a life of self-centered fear.

“Organized religion has become man’s never ending quest to humanize that which cannot be humanized.  It gives all a set of rules, often quite different by religion, by which to live.  They often use the Bible, Torah, Koran, etc., to express these rules.  These books depict the life of Christ, Mohammed, or Old Testament characters, and they all offer wonderful knowledge, but often that knowledge is not applicable today.  Moreover, the books are often in conflict.  Divinely inspired or not, we have to recall that these books were written at least two thousand years ago, some far older than that, and the writers could only write what the readers at the time could understand and relate to.  For example, the concept of time, a day, or other relationships are not only often in conflict between the books, but within any book itself.  For example, did God create all He did in 7 days on the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese or Jewish?  We have no idea.  So we all begin to argue among the religious and throughout time many have used our human influence to desecrate what the Holy writings most likely meant, e.g., the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and many others.  Who was actually right, on whose side was God?

“AA says that we must have a higher power of some kind, because then we are able to do what we could not, what medicine cannot, what the greatest minds in medicine cannot, and it works.  It has worked for me going on 19 years.  Without the ability to ‘turn over’ that which I cannot do to a Higher Power, I would not have been able to stop, and death is the ultimate reward, no matter how much I wanted different.  The proof is that 19 years, and the many other years of millions who have tried, given themselves over to that Higher Power, and followed the principles.  It is noteworthy that AA does not mandate, or even suggest, any details about that Higher Power, or suggest a relationship to organized religion of any kind, simply saying that He exists, and that He is not me.  It goes on to say that for as long as I try to run my life (and most often the lives of others),  a true belief in a power greater than me is impossible.  There is no other alternative.  Either God is everything or He is nothing, and that’s it.

“I was recently diagnosed with a 50-50 chance of death from lung cancer.  Today, complications from Chemo have required me to attend to my heart, and have a pacemaker installed.  I had to have spinal shots to put steroids in my back to be able to walk properly.  I am still on disability.  But, from day 1 of all of this, I accepted what I had, as not given by God, but given to me by the luck of the draw in an imperfect world.  But I accepted it, and maintained my faith in a God that loves me.  AA gives me no special prayer for any one thing, although it has some suggestions offered by St. Francis, among others.  AA asks me to accept my frailty, and the hand I am dealt.  With this acceptance comes ownership – this problem was mine, not the fault of me or anyone else, but it presented an opportunity to look at each day given me as a new opportunity, and I was able to consider the cancer almost as a type of adventure, a learning experience from which, if it were His will, I would come out the other side a better person, closer to that Higher Power than when going in.  There is glory in fighting for one’s life, but when you give it all you have, there is futility in trying to call on more, when I am out of strength.  However, there is strength in calling on that Higher Power, asking for the strength to do His will, whatever that might be, and hopefully be of help and inspiration to others along the way. AA never suggests I do six Litanies or other formal chants that were in good faith defined by other humans and along the way, included in a doctrine that God had never mandated.

“AA condones no organized religion, nor does it condemn any.  It teaches that “Condemnation prior to investigation” will get you nowhere.  It does not name or frame your Higher Power – that is up to interpretation of each member, as long as it is not that member himself who becomes his own Higher Power, for anyone who does that has already failed.  It teaches to surrender that which is not mine, such as control of the lives of others, to that Higher Power, for He alone has that control.  It teaches me that perhaps I have abused, willingly or not, my gift of free will, and asks that I turn my will and my life over to my Higher Power that He may guide my every move.

“Does it always work?  It would, if we were perfect, but we are not.  We seek only progress and maintenance of a spiritual connection with our God.  If we falter or fail, we come to Him for a chance to try again.  We would find it hard to forgive ourselves were we not completely sure that God forgives us when we keep trying, and if He can forgive us, who are we to overrule Him?  So we keep on trying, keep on praying “only for His will for me and the power to carry that out” as the driving force of each of our days.

“I hope this helps in your writing, Jim.  It comes from the heart from a good man that was drowning in self-centeredness and self-condemnation, who found there is One who is greater than I, and who loves me, and will help me every step of every day of my life, if I will but ask.

Authenticity and our three ‘Selves’

“Being authentic” is one of the key attributes of leading a good life in the postmodern mind. As our confidence in traditional beliefs and institutions has weakened, we have come to rely more and more on our own core strengths. One of these is our “integrity” or our “authenticity.” The opposites of “authenticity”  — being a “phony” or “wishy-washy” — are easy to imagine. But what does being authentic mean in practice?

We all experience “being human.” We can easily recognise three parts of ourselves in daily living:

  • Our normal feeling, thinking and behaving self, that does practically all our living, mostly automatically, “on autopilot.”
  • A critical self, that watches our normal self and tells us what we ought to be doing, why we aren’t living up to its expectations, etc.
  • A third self, the detached observer, who watches both these other selves, recognises their characteristics and wonders about “what all this means” and other questions.

What does “being authentic” mean?

Given that each person has these three selves, how do we live “authentically?” Here are several things living authentically doesn’t mean:

  • It doesn’t mean living only ‘on autopilot.’ It doesn’t mean “If it feels good, do it.” Our normal self is shaped by many things out of its control — where and when you were born, your family, etc — and makes choices based on these circumstances, without a full view of the consequences. Learning by experience is what our normal self does, sometimes to its regret.
  • It doesn’t mean doing what someone else tells you to do, especially your own critical self. While that self might possibly include recommendations from a well-developed conscience that we ought to listen to, many times it is simply inappropriate memories and limiting decisions that chatter away and distract us.
  • It doesn’t mean living in a detached state, observing life but not actually participating. Our detached observer could spend all its time mulling over questions while the normal self stays on “autopilot,” barely aware of other people or day to day life and the critical self as it chatters away.

To me, living authentically means being able to balance all three of these selves and participate in life according to some higher level of meaning and purpose. Living authetically implies that our detached observer becomes an involved and committed self, which counsels the normal and critical selves according to its understanding of my higher purpose. [You can see an example of how this involved and committed self might emerge in Steps 2 and 3 of the AA’s Twelve Step Program.]

The only authentic question we can ask

To a Christian, being authentic must mean that I live according to Jesus’ guidance for the meaning and purpose of my life. But, many times, this leads to more questions. What is Jesus’ guidance in my precise situation? Where do I find this guidance — in the Bible (which passage?), from the church (who?), from prayer (How do I recognise Jesus’ voice?), etc. We may want to develop our involved and committed self so that we can guide our normal and critical selves “authentically” but we get stuck in all these questions. Many times, I lapse back to detaching again and letting life go on as it always has, defending this choice with, “Oh, I’m a good person” or “I’ll rely on God’s mercy to sort all this out at the end.” While I forgive myself and keep on trying, being detached is certainly a cop-out and not living authentically.

These is only one authentic question that our involved and committed self can ask, to find the way forward. “Where is God right now in this situation?” If we truly strive to answer that question, then Jesus’ guidance (and grace) will surely find us in our need. Of course, it’s not like picking up a phone, calling the God number, and getting an instant answer by SMS. It is like a conversation with a close friend. You know the mind of a close friend, even when they aren’t there. By telling her or him the story of your situation, you are pretty certain about what they are going to tell you when you meet them face to face. Sometimes, you talk to other friends and tell them what your close friend told you, to get confirmation. This is a metaphor for prayer and Christian community.

A Christian’s involved and committed self is formed in prayer and in conversations with other Christians about our life. Forming this crucial authentic part of ourselves so we (and the community) can achieve God’s purpose for us is one of the primary purposes of a local church. If this is happening already in your life, you are fortunate to know how to pray and you are in a genunine Christian community. If that isn’t the case, perhaps you are being called to be a Change Agent in your own prayer and in your church.

 

The real church?

I visited St Winifred’s Well in northern Wales on my holiday and encountered an “old fashioned” religion that I hadn’t experienced since I was a boy. This holy place is called “The Lourdes of The UK” and has been visited by kings and ordinary people for many centuries. While I was there, an old couple was collecting a bottle of holy water from a brass spout. They got me thinking. I have an ideal of what religion and church ought to be — different now than when I was a boy — but is my view too limited? I began to think of other churches I have experienced.

On the same trip, I visited the Coventry Cathedral — the bombed out shell destroyed in a German air raid in WWII, built next too a very modern new cathedral. There were a few visitors in the ruins, and all were probably having a religious experience of some kind. The theme of this cathedral is forgiveness — even while the theme of the new church is portrayed by the massive bronze figure of the archangel Michael spearing the Devil. I thought the juxtaposition of these two themes says a lot about < !->Christianity Continue reading “The real church?”