Saturday, 25 August 2012

Is English Christianity Reaching Out to People?

In our own hearts, we often know when something is right, when something is true, even when we are told fervently that a particular thing is false or that something is true, when we feel that it isn’t.  To coin a phrase, and not to be foul, we might say that most of us have inbuilt bullsh*t detectors!  There seems to be amongst some Christians a kind of idea that once you become a Christian you have to lose all your common sense, you have to become mysterious, and ‘holy’ and go around castigating everyone for being a ‘terrible sinner’!  I am certain we have, even once, known someone or seen someone like that; but is that what God wants from us, to castigate people?  Perhaps the first person we need to castigate is the person we see in the mirror!  I have enough sin of my own without worrying about someone else’s.  And do we have to lose our common sense?  Perhaps we don’t: ‘Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves; so be cunning as snakes and yet innocent as doves.  (Matthew 10:16 NJB)  This doesn’t sound to me like we have to abandon our wits or common sense, in fact in modern parlance it suggests that Christians should be ‘streetwise’ and ‘hip’ to the way the world is.


I have been a Christian, more or less, for over thirty years now, but I have never been to a church to worship in my life; some people reading this might think that slightly strange.  But I still try to serve God each day with a whole heart; I have my struggles in life like everybody else though.  I actually feel uncomfortable around crowds and I am a very private and even shy person, sometimes behind the wise-cracking, city-boy image I like to hide behind.  The question I pose is English Christianity reaching out to people?  I’ve always felt, perhaps unfairly, that much of what seems to pass for Christianity in England, is aimed at a nice brigade,  for people who already having it all together, then go on to confirm it all by being Christians; but is that the way it works?  I’m not a nice person, I have oodles of sin to be forgiven, I don’t feel fine sometimes and I wonder if God sees through my act, the shoddiness of my life, the pathetic nature of my fallen self?  If God only wants nice people, fine people, people who’ve got it all together and are on a one-way trip to Heaven because they’re so perfect, then frankly I’ve had it!  Didn’t Jesus come for the lost, the lonely, the sinful, the self-destructive, the losers and their ilk after all?  I hope so. 


Is Christianity Relevant?

I think the answer to that is yes.  But the Christian faith as a whole seems less important to people than it did even fifty years ago; is there a reason for this, and is it diminishing?  I think that much that passed for Christianity like going to church , singing hymns, knowing the vicar and even being part of a community of believers is just something people feel less comfortable with; also traditional Christianity like this I feel appears less dynamic, less interesting and less relevant to the general population than a real living faith should.  I think traditional Christianity is dying out, that often uninspiring version of Christianity, but I believe a real living faith, a faith that is, or should be reaching out to all kinds of people is actually growing.  I think many people have a hunger and thirst for God, a hunger for meaning to their lives but feel that traditional Christianity is just not that relevant, and perhaps there is an assumption amongst people that traditional Christianity, where you go to church and sing hymns one day a week, is all there is to Christian faith.  I digress and add that we all need to be a part of a community of believers; I certainly do.


The Good News

I have news for you, good news in fact; the best news for anyone looking for a real living and dynamic faith that will make a difference in your life!  Christianity is a whole lot more than you might think and God is a whole lot more than you might think as well.  We put Him in a box, expect Him to be something far less than He really is, then we wonder why our faith is at best one-dimensional and sorely lacking in something.  Christianity isn’t a game, it isn’t something we do while looking for something else, it isn’t even religion, it is in fact beyond all these things and beyond what we can really comprehend.  To really understand the depth and breadth of God isn’t really possible for a human to do, but we can understand that God is something far bigger than traditional Christianity seems to make of Him; He is really beyond our comprehension and we diminish Him only at our error.  If God created everything you see and created the whole universe and everything in it, isn’t He then a whole lot bigger than we credit Him for?  The good news is that God is in charge, He is the force holding everything together and He is only a prayer away.  The good news is that God isn’t just about a nice comfy eternity in Heaven, He is about peace, contentment and even abundance in the here and now.  The good news is that God is to be found in the midst of all our experiences, all our troubles, all our wanderings and all our wondering; He’s less about religion and tradition and much more about a real lived experience.  Get a Bible, open it, read it, and see for yourself; oh, and a prayer or two might help as well.


Is Hierarchy Needed?

Isn’t hierarchy ultimately divisive?  Don’t we have enough division in the world and in England without it being in the church?  Shouldn’t churches be preaching and practising equality?  This is another reason why I feel many ‘ordinary’ people don’t want to go to church; perhaps they think it’s cliquey, a social club for the ‘better sort’ and rather exclusive and not for the likes of you and me.  If the world is divisive, divided and often about people who are wealthy, important and have the ‘correct’ social standing, shouldn’t the church, or churches, be countering this by reaching out to everybody not just a select few?  Yes, there is a dichotomy in Christianity; God is open to all, but He calls a select few to serve Him.  But it is God’s part to do this, and not humans making distinctions on the basis of class, race, gender, ethnicity or any other thing which makes one person seem different from another person.  Is hierarchy needed?  I don’t think divisions serve any purpose other than to create animosities between people and foster division.  Perhaps we need to get back to the Christianity Paul preached and Jesus came to earth for.


What is ‘English’ Christianity? 

Can we talk of ‘English’ Christianity or ‘American’ Christianity?  Perhaps we can.  I have often felt that that brand of English Christianity is more about traditional worship and slightly socially exclusive and not that appealing to that many people.  On the other hand, if we can talk about American Christianity, then this is a different thing altogether.  American Christianity seems more about a dynamic faith, something that is open to all, and that is about a person moving forward in life, progressing and having a real living faith.  Of course, there are plenty of Christians in both Britain and America who have an intimate relationship with Jesus on a 24/7 basis.  As well as this, there is a kind of liberalism in Britain and so British Christianity that is appealing to many people and there is a kind of hard-edged conservative and Right-wing edge to some American Christianity that is not so appealing; wouldn’t it be nice if through the fog of denominations, different versions of Christianity, and the often totally opposing views of people supposed to be singing from the same hymn sheet, we could find a viable living faith that is what God has always intended for us to live?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Battle of the Sexes

Like many young people in the UK, I used to go out on a Friday night with my mates, to drink a few beers, have a few laughs and sometimes occasionally meet a few women as well.  For me now, this is a thing of the past; of course it would be nice to meet someone to fall in love with but I think trying to meet someone in a dark, sweaty, loud club full of strangers is probably not the best way to rekindle romance in anyone’s life.  But you may disagree!

One of the things I remember plainly about such evenings is that women, not always but sometimes, could be really unpleasant and offensive just because you might have tried to talk to them; I never understood this, why someone should get aggressive or angry merely because you spoke to them in a pub or nightclub; to me this was just a natural way of getting to know people; or so I thought.  You learn a lot about people when you encounter them in situations like this; you learn that people can be very superficial, very false and completely different than if you met them on other occasions outside the often false environments of loud pubs and nightclubs.

There is in Britain a definite battle of the sexes, a constant kind of tug of war, and I don’t fully comprehend why but it is there.  You see it manifested on a Friday and Saturday night in aforementioned pubs and nightclubs, and you see it in all kinds of ways, usually downplayed and with perhaps a humorous element attached to it; but it’s still there.  British women seem to hate British men, and would rather go abroad and find a continental lothario than have anything to do with a British man, and British men would rather meet a Thai or Russian bride, preferably in their twenties, to marry and sweep off their feet, so to speak.  Underpinning much of this is hatred and that cynicism that human beings have to something or someone they find too familiar; familiar can become boring and old hat, and new and different is refreshing and exciting.  Until reality bites, perhaps.

Unfortunately, I found myself on the end of such hatred and such treatment many times, in a way that was somehow to be expected, that we were all playing some vast game where people could be cruel to each other for no particular reason, but which was accepted by all involved.  It doesn’t help the fact that many young British men and women are half drunk when they encounter each other, meaning that they aren’t really being themselves but are hiding behind a mask or a false persona.

As you can gather, this battle of the sexes upset me on a number of occasions and I still feel resentment towards some women even now, though by the grace and mercy of God I have many female friends, both online and in the real world, who I both love and respect.  It is easy in situations like this to develop a siege mentality, to assume that all women, or all men, or whoever you see as the enemy, are only out to upset you or be cruel to you or to harm you, emotionally or otherwise, in some way.  When we do this, we can go down a false path, and then because we hate, we become part of the problem ourselves.  I still struggle with these issues but I pray that God puts me right basically, and teaches me to understand that there are good, bad and even indifferent people in every walk of life, whether men or women, Black or White, rich or poor, from North, East, South or West, people are always going to be people in all their diverse variety; if you’re lucky, you meet nice people, if you’re unlucky you might meet a not-so-nice person.  The secret is not to take it to heart or to assume that everyone you might deem the enemy is going to be unpleasant or hostile; the dangers of thinking like this are obvious. 

For the Christian, there is of course an added element to this old story; we are not meant to live in a world of hostility and resentment, nor are we to partake in what the world partakes in, which is anger, jealousy, revenge, hatred, animosities, racism or prejudices of any kind no matter what we’ve suffered in our lives.  We are meant very much to be in the world but not be a part of it, quite simply.  Instead of the battle of the sexes, I could have talked about racism or class prejudice, hostilities between the Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland, or the Palestinians and Israelis in Israel, the problems between any two or more groups of people in fact anywhere in the world where each group might not see eye to eye, for whatever reason, and however serious or even trivial the conflict or resentment might be.    

If we want to make headway in the world and we want to end the battle of the sexes, or any other conflict big or small, we have to be the change, we are the ones who have not to partake of it; in the end for the Christian, the buck stops with you.  Whatever other people do, or don’t do, we have a duty to live as Christians and serve a God who is utterly fair and utterly impartial; He won’t take sides against our ‘enemies’ but He will uphold us and show us mercy if we have been wronged.  If you have been wronged, then turn the other cheek.  So, the battle of the sexes will very probably continue but our place as Christians is merely to follow the Golden Rule, to treat other people as we would like to be treated ourselves; in this small way, we don’t add to the misery and chaos of the world.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Sound of The City

This is a eulogy about living in a city; its good and bad aspects.  The city can be an oasis and the city can be a desert, a desert being a place to think.  It can be an oasis because everything for living is there; supermarkets, all kinds of shops, places to visit, restaurants, cafes, museums, art galleries, oh and people; yes, lots of people!  The city can be a desert, especially if you have no friends and rarely see your family.  It can be a place where you are surrounded by people but where they all seem indifferent to you because they don’t know you; whole cities full of people all doing their own thing and trying to make something of themselves, all competing with each other and you, and all needing to be fed and watered, all needing diversions and all needing love; yes, even love.

When I go to bed at nights I sometimes like to hear the sound of the city, that indefinable and really indescribable sound that is quiet and needs to be noticed but tends to be heard in the silence of the early morning; it could be static or it could be something else but I think all large cities have it.  It’s comforting somehow to know that other people are nearby and yet it can be alienating too; most people seem not to know their neighbours in cities anymore, let alone get on with them; it’s a sign of the times.  Many city people dream of rural living, and I’m certain that some rural people dream of cities.

I think that many of us who live in big cities love and hate the city at the same time; we love it because everything’s at hand and close by, and perhaps we hate it because sometimes we feel we haven’t any real space, we feel boxed in and we’re just another faceless person in a grey urban environment.


Of course, many of us feel we live in isolation; yes even in big cities we can feel isolated, cut off from our fellow human beings and all alone.  In a curious way, living in a big city can be a very lonely experience.  In the old days, perhaps up until the early 60’s, there seemed to be a community spirit, certainly among working class people, where people would watch out for each other and lend and borrow money and help out in different ways.  The problem was that people could also be busy bodies and nosey neighbours, more concerned with gossiping about you than being concerned with you.  Unfortunately, the community spirit seems to have gone the way of all things now, and people tend to keep themselves to themselves in general.  We’ve all become more ambitious, we all want what we haven’t got, and I think most people want to get on and better themselves.  In the not-so-distant past, many people from ordinary backgrounds made do, had a job for life and accepted it whatever it was.  Now, in one sense all the security has gone but in another way there are more opportunities, of a kind, if we are prepared to look for them.  It’s still an unfair world of course, and sometimes people prosper not because of their talent or drive, but because they have connections or wealth behind them.

For some people, isolation is bearable, even preferable to having too many friends and acquaintances; in isolation we can sometimes find God, and hear that distant, still small voice that often talks to our heart, the voice that is often drowned out when we are with other people or too busy or just distracted by life.  For another person, isolation is something they’ve experienced and don’t want to experience any more.  The life of a writer, or perhaps anyone dedicated to something they really want to do and achieve in, is partly isolation; frankly if I ever have any success, or win the lottery, I would be happy to live in a remote valley in North Wales somewhere and have all the isolation to my heart’s content.

It’s in isolation that we might begin to know ourselves, know who we are, know what we are about, understand where we are going, and perhaps most importantly begin to understand who God is.  Experiencing God for yourself is a lot more than someone telling you about Him, a whole lot more.  God can bring peace, He can bring contentment, He can bring meaning into your life.  It might be that in some way, loneliness or isolation might be the catalyst to bring you closer to God.  I must say that in many respects I like isolation and I feel I can hear God’s voice this way; it may be the same for you.

The Call of Abraham

Abraham is a key figure in the Bible; we don’t really know a great deal about him other than God commands him to leave behind all he knows and venture off into the wilderness with his wife Sarah and his servants and livestock and everything else.  According to the Old Testament Abraham left the Ur of the Chaldees , a Sumerian city of importance.  So, although Abraham was a city dweller and by all accounts moderately prosperous, God wanted him to up sticks and go into the unknown.  The cities by all accounts although relatively new were hotbeds of vice, corruption, crime and irreligious people; some might say what’s new?!  So Abraham leaves, to go who knows where by a God he puts his faith in.  The cities represent corruption and God calls Abraham out of the city and so corruption, so that Abraham can be the father of many nations and the spiritual father of religious Jews and Christians.  It always seems that where human beings screw up, God straightens us out.  For the Christian, Abraham’s story is important.  God enters into his life and nothing is ever the same again; He calls and Abraham simply answers. 

Perhaps Abraham was a simple man, but who can really say?  It is certain that as with many other people, God is ‘starting again’ with Abraham, shooing him out of the city to a better place, a Promised Land for a Chosen People, a people who in the end would live by faith in God’s promises.  If you are a Christian and you are obedient, you are an heir to that promise.  And it is Abraham’s faithfulness to God, God’s call and God’s promises that really counts as his uprightness; nothing more than that.   

Perhaps Abraham had twinges of doubt, and perhaps he left behind people he loved, and for all we know maybe he really was a cityboy at heart, who then becomes a great wanderer, a nomad in search of new things, bigger horizons and better pastures.  Whatever the case, God looks after him and watches over him and brings his story to a happy conclusion, even though Abraham never sees many of the promises fulfilled.  How different he appears from those of us today, who want to see results yesterday and have every whim fulfilled straight away!  Abraham can teach us many lessons. 

The First Cities; the Start of Civilisation

People will conjecture all day about the origins of mankind, and perhaps also the origins of the beginnings of the civilisation of mankind too.  Some people say that man was created no earlier than about ten thousand years ago, and other people will say that man evolved from apes over millions of years; it’s all second hand because not one person knows for absolute certainty, simply because they weren’t there!  And not to be trite, but I believe mankind was created specially and specifically by God!  So there!

I’ve read a number of interesting books about the beginnings of civilisation, and I’m reading one now, called ‘Legacy: A Search for the Origins of Civilization’; it’s a very interesting book so far.  I am particularly interested in the Fertile Crescent, which was partially situated where Iraq is now.  As a Christian and an amateur Biblical scholar, this part of the world is interesting to me because it’s mentioned in the Genesis section of the Bible; the Tigris and the Euphrates, both important rivers of this region, are both mentioned in the Bible.  According to some scholars, the Garden of Eden can be traced to this area, and certainly educated opinion is that the first cities in the world originated in the Sumerian plain/Fertile Crescent-people simply started living en masse here in cities about 3000BC or thereabouts, although I have read that it was 4000BC before today.  It’s certain that before people started living in cities, they were congregating together to grow crops and build small houses and live near each other for community and protection and so on.  Then something happened; people started to get civilised; they wanted big organised cities; they started to specialise; class divisions arose; kings arose and then of course kingdoms and city-states.

It’s curious to note that man’s creation, supposedly about six thousand years ago, mirrors almost exactly the supposed beginnings of mankind’s civilisation, or thereabouts.  I wonder whether the writers who first wrote down the early books of the Bible, the Old Testament, were mixing up the two things, i.e. man’s creation and the beginnings of civilisation.  I may also add that man’s fall from grace and his disobedience to God leads then to being ‘civilised’, to mankind eschewing God and His laws, and deciding for himself what was good.  As man came out of the Garden of Eden, fallen from grace, did he tumble into the city life, the life of civilisation?  There are deeper questions to be pondered here.

Is being civilised, cultured and urbane more important than having a childlike trust in God?  Do all the things we aspire to be, all our ambitions for being civilised take us away from God?  It seems that the Fall of man coincides exactly with man’s ascent to civilisation.  What does this mean for mankind?  What does it mean for Christians?  And, what does it mean for God?

For me, the two realities of both man’s creation and then fall from grace with God and man first living in large urban centres, have become intertwined and even confused with each other by those early writers and scholars who were trying to make sense of mankind’s origins.  How could they have known any better, not having vast libraries or the Internet like we do now?  It is something we need to look at, especially those Christians who believe that the earth and mankind are only thousands of years old.  Equally, it seems that man becoming sophisticated and falling from grace could be one and the same thing.  The rise of civilisation has led to class divisions, wars, nations at odds with each other and a world which, as it gets ever more cultured and technologically advanced, seems less and less to be concerned with God or being concerned with our fellow human beings.

Why did man become civilised?  Why did man rebel against God?  Well, He gave us free will to choose the way we would live; His way or our way.  His way means being obedient to Him.  Our way means chaos because everyone then chooses to do whatever they want to do without regard to God and usually always without regard to other people.  When people disregard God they abandon all concern for everyone and everything but themselves.  It’s clear to see where this has lead mankind and the world in general.

Perhaps instead of being so obsessed with success, making money, being seen by others as important and being concerned about high social status, we should first ask God what He wants from us and what life He wants us to live.  Through Adam and Eve we are all fallen, but through Jesus we can be reconciled to God. 

Rohl, D. 1999. Legend: The Genesis of Civilisation. United Kingdom. Century.

Roux, G. 1992. Ancient Iraq. 3rd Ed. England. Penguin.

Wood, M. 1992. Legacy: A Search for the Origins of Civilization. Great Britain. Network Books.