As some of you may know Sally and I have just returned from a conference on healthcare research. It was proposed by several of the speakers that there is a hierarchy in the quality of research for evidence based practice – one of the main approaches in healthcare today. The picture shows be breadth of methods.
This begs the question, how do we measure and research Christianity? What credibility would we give to numbers, personal stories, commentaries, learned theological texts etc. There may be merit in all of these measurements. But in my experience what is at the bottom of the healthcare list is at the top of the Christian one – expert opinion – what I would perhaps parallel to testimony in a church setting as ultimately, we are the experts in our own faith even though we may perhaps never use that word to describe ourselves. We may get our information from all these different other sources but unless it rings true for us, unless we have experienced it as real and authentic then all the syntheses of literature in the world will never quite be enough for us.
Each Grove Youth Series meeting starts with a reflection and this time I asked the group what came to mind when they heard the term “Honest Christianity”? So here is a guest blog from the Grove Youth Series Editorial Team:
- Sometimes we need to say we don’t know, we’re not sure, doubt is okay.
- Somehow we have picked up that we should keep problems below the surface – it’s not okay to be not okay.
- Relationship struggles are really common but we often don’t talk about them.
- We don’t always have answers to fix the problems that young people share with us but we can say God loves them and it could change everything but sometimes just feels wishy washy.
- It is okay to lob questions at God, scream at God etc – underneath is God’s underpinning love for us which doesn’t change.
- Feel free to have a rant – doing this job won’t get me to heaven so why do I do it!
- We need honesty in testimony – most often the story goes from low to high but sometimes it is the other way round I became Christian and struggled…
- It is great to be part of a community but how do I hold on to me and resist the pressure to conform in ways that are not right for me.
I hope to pick up on some of these themes in the future but may also try to persuade some of my colleagues on the group to guest blog for us!
There is a song by the Christian band World Wide Message Tribe called Hypocrite which occasionally bubbles up in my mind to challenge and confront me when I am reflecting on my Christian life:
What a hypocrite I am
Taking liberties I see people dying all around me full of pride and evil greed I keep quiet in a world of need casting darkness on the earth sin deceives me like a curse the world is covered in disease I sit back at ease
Don’t get me wrong, it is not that I am being humble, it’s just that I want to be realistic as to the spectrum of what my life is like. In my experience being real about my own life encourages other people to be real about theirs. Too much pretense can make the Christian life seem unlivable or make you feel as if you do nothing but let Jesus down. The song reflects the Apostle Paul’s writings in Romans chapter 7, he laments he does things he does not want to do and does not do the things he does want to do – most of us can relate to that in some ways. My values say I do not want to oppress the poor, but I do not always look at where and how all my clothes are made. I try to live a consistent life, it is easier if I try a bit harder than I do sometimes. What a hypocrite I am. It’s a good job God loves a honest trier.
This is the name of a new group being run at our Church next week. It’s brief is to create a “safe place to ask and explore some of the big questions and knotty issues of faith and life amongst friends and fellow explorers”. Does this not sound like a wonderful resource to offer? I have always wanted to be a part of a Church that values and facilitates such openness.
I would like to think that all Christians, seekers, wonderers and sceptics would enjoy and benefit from such a group. For every church to have such a group would be a healthy sign. Perhaps some might feel that churches having such a group reflects a lack of certainty in our Christian faith. Yes, there are dangers of some people hearing questions they do not have, or becoming aware of issues that begin to raise doubts. However, I would hope that this would be a risk worth taking for the wider, greater benefit of encouraging a faith journey that endorses the asking of questions without the fear of being judged. It must be ultimately good for us to engage our faith with what life throws at us and for us to revisit the faith of our childhood.
Even if all of us do not have a group like this, I hope we can all find at least one person to offer us this life giving resource. This has been a breakthrough for me in my desire to have an honest faith, and has also encouraged me to relate to God in this same way enquiring way. I have found this is counter intuitive, I have found that voicing my doubts has built up my faith rather than diminished it.
This is a theme that is close to our “Honest Christianity” heart, so we will come back to it in future blogs.
I read a book over thirty years ago called With a Church like this who needs Satan? and although I don’t remember much of the book’s contents, the title has seemed like more and more of a truism to me. I don’t need to say what it is the church does that makes me feel like this – we all have our own examples at both a local and institutional level. The Christian life and witness in our local communities and national society is difficult enough, without making it even harder. It seems to me that Christianity has not helped itself by our conduct and attitude and we do seem to have a propensity to self implode. I wonder if the Church has been too hasty to point the finger at those outside the Church when criticisms have been made, when really they are valid observations we would be mindful to own and address.
I do not make this observation as someone throwing stones from outside, I am fully aware I am a public representative of the church. However much I might prefer to say I represent God not the church that is a nuance that seems irrelevant to the people I meet in my work as a hospital chaplain. I am very aware when I talk about “a church like this” I am talking about myself (and not any particular local Church) and I have to be willing to be accountable to my own critique and seek to be a loving, accepting, forgiving, gracious witness to the Christ who called me to be a part of his body. I just wish we would stop pressing the self destruct button.
Reference: Clive Calver With a Church like this who needs Satan? Marshalls, 1981.
We spent quite a lot of time before we started blogging thinking about what to call our blog. We received a range of interesting suggestions including Gangnash! In the end we decided that marker posts and shelters encompassed many of the things that were important to us in our lives and ministry. As you may have guessed from the picture at the top of our blog the original image came from Holy Island. We first visited as part of our 10th wedding anniversary celebrations in 1996 and walked the Pilgrim’s Way.
Originally we used marker posts and shelters as an alternative to the concept of rule and rhythm of life. Although we know that rule in this sense derives from a word meaning measure it has legalistic connotations that were not life giving to us. As we walked the Pilgrim’s Way from the mainland to the island we realised that in our lives we had begun to put in place both marker posts and shelters that sustained us in our life and ministry. Shelters are all sorts of things, people, places, practices and marker posts include celebrations, sabbaths, seasons and stewardship. We have written a little more about this in the Grove Booklet Sustaining Your Spirituality. We will blog about our marker posts and shelters in more detail over the months and would love to hear about yours too.
Marker Post Summerleaze Beach Bude Cornwall
We are starting a series of posts which we are calling Wondering Wednesdays where we will share insights that have got us wondering and which have impacted our practice. This is the first… I (Sally) have lots of random memories from my childhood, one of which is being told at a holiday club that it should be God first, others next and me last. I eventually realized that this was not a healthy perspective for me. One of our values has always longevity in ministry and we have increasingly become aware that this involves investing in self-care. We are commanded to love our neighbour as ourself (Mark 12.31) but if we don’t know how to love ourselves properly it becomes difficult to love our neighbour as God wants. Parker J Palmer is an American Quaker who writes on education and spirituality amongst other things and he summarizes the importance of self care:
Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to our true self and give it the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.
(Parker J Palmer Let your life speak. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1999:30)
We have found that we can give ourselves more fully to the ministry God has called us to if we nurture ourselves too. For us this means having a sabbath or day off each week, finding space in the day to be with God and doing things which bring us life. Sometimes we feel guilty for looking after ourselves, we shouldn’t as it is only when we care for ourselves properly that we can truly care for others. One of the consequences of reflecting again on this is that for Lent I am taking up two things, one which nurtures me and one which focuses on others.
I love the way how with very young children their feelings are obvious in their face, If you see them catch a glimpse of Mum or Dad, or Grandma or Grandad or another significant adult their faces are transformed, they beam with delight, they shine with love. That is how I tried to describe what it might have been like seeing Moses come down from the mountain having spent time with God or Jesus at the transfiguration, shining faces reflecting God’s love. I (Sally) preached today on these passages and made the connection with what is known as the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:
The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you and give you peace.
My childhood impressions of God were not always of a God who beamed with delight and love at his precious child. I sometimes got the idea that God would be scowling at me, particularly if I had been naughty! It has taken quite a few years to accept that God looks upon me with love, with delight, with joy, that the look I see in little children is how God looks at me. When people come up for a blessing at communion these are the words I use. If I am aware of nothing else to pray for people these are words I can pray with confidence knowing that whatever the situation God’s blessing, grace and peace can speak into it.
Most times I preach I come back to this core message, that God loves you, and each time at least one person comes and talks to me about it. We are blessed with a lovely group of young children at church so I often get to see shining faces and each time it reminds me that God delights in me too.