Is there really a better way?

All my life I’ve lived within the Christian community, which really says a lot of what I want to say here.

It also says something about me.
I’m not characterised as assertive, aggressive, adventurous or rebellious, traits which have certainly held and attracted a lot of people who go under the Christian banner.  Loud and aggressive Christians also make life hard for people like me and I suspect many other Christians also.
To put this more a bit more positively, by nature I’m fairly kind, compassionate, faithful and trusting.  These traits have made it easier to stay with my parents’ faith and values and those of the Christian communities to which I’ve belonged during my life – despite some inevitable bumps.

My Christian faith says something about my life story.
My journey has been quite kind to me – so why should I jump ship faith and values wise?  From a stable home into a stable marriage, four great kids who all married well and chose to stay Christians, lifelong work in different churches, work that was fulfilling and helped me stay close to my faith and values… what more could anyone ask for?  Some might say, “how about a bit of fire, excitement and independence?”
So, mebbee I’m boring, nice but nerdy?  That’s part of me.  Please read on.
I have two sisters who grew up as I did, embracing the Christian way in which we all grew up and owning it for 25 or more years, and committing themselves to partners and service.  But the men who seriously joined them had some serious issues and my sisters and the Christian communities they belonged to were not up to the wisdom and care that were needed to keep things tolerable when the wheels fell off, so…
This poignant comparison says so much to me.  My working life as a church pastor has shown me over and over again that people don’t just ditch the Christian faith: there’s almost always a reason other than the faith.

My faith also says something about how I regard the Christian faith.
Most of us I’m sure embrace a belief system with which we feel at relative ease and we tailor it to suit us in lots of ways.  As implied above, I cringe at people who call themselves disciples of Christ and then condemn everyone who disagrees with them on issues peripheral or even remote from the person and teachings of Christ.
By nature, upbringing and training my wife and I have a tolerant and kind approach to people, living and faith matters, so we no doubt find it easier than some to see and value the many positives of the Christian faith, heritage and influence in contexts besides our own.
Of course I have questions, doubts, areas under review.  What reasonable and charitable person today doesn’t?
The central Christian narratives about Jesus’ birth, death, and rising are not without issues, but then, this is true of every other “story-” and “non-story-” based approach to life.
I feel deeply troubled about what I see as the effects of increasingly non-committal, self-centred, materialistic, and individualistic approaches to living, relationships and faith.  And Christians are not immune from these very human attitudes.
But because in the Christian context they’re quickly labelled as “sin” rather than “cool”, I think there’s a lot to be said for affirming the Christian world-and-life approach.

Question:  If you’re a Christian or not a Christian, why is that so?

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2 comments

  1. At its heart, are we not really discussing the meanings that we attach to life?

    I think what you are highlighting is that life always remains a series of contexts into which, in the cause of our sanity, we must inject some meaning.

    Some of these contexts are so-called normal and as we might anticipate them to be within our culture; and other contexts, like the death of a child, tend to severely disrupt our expectations of what life may be all about.

    In moving from the local village to the global village in less than 100 years, I think we have exposed ourselves to more and more disruptive experiences which have tested our sense of what is normal.

    I certainly would not describe Fred as boring. He has an amazing intellect and curiosity. And as a spiritual counsellor, his perspective on these cultural changes is likely to be far more nuanced, than for many of us who view a lot of change through the eyes of the mass media. If you are sensitive, you get a rather different view of change, when you sit and listen to its victims as opposed to hero worshipping its winners on the TV; (the counsellor versus the shock-jock on radio.)

    And it is generally in our hour of oppression by the contexts of life, that most of us realise our need for spiritual comfort, be it in friendship or the more skilled help of a competent counsellor or teacher.

    One thing I really value in the Christian tradition, is that ours’ is a God of resurrection. No matter how bleak life can get, our recovery is always at hand. And when that notion is being delivered by someone with Fred’s skills, it becomes a powerful healing force; especially when we are confronted by one of those belief altering contexts, like a divorce or the loss of a loved one.

    And is it not through meaning that we ultimately discover the seeds of our recovery?

    I can never doubt your sincerity, Fred, which as you rightly observe is not always a given in some Christian groups. I think yours and Helen’s life is an extremely brave attempt to inject traditional meanings into a far more chaotic global context. And you have approached your task with a powerful empathy for the victims of these changes, while highlighting that for the modern day heroes, things may not always be what they seem.

    Far more than many Fundamentalists, you also seem to accept the role of evidence centred science in our metaphysical explorations. As an English churchman wrote in the 1960’s, when the first satellites went out into space, “if we are to call ourselves rational beings, then the notion of a God with whiskers, seated on a throne, just beyond the clouds has to die.”

    But have those teenagers of the 60’s, who in so many ways embraced the freedom of a dead God, thrown the baby out with the bathwater?

    Or are we somewhat painfully groping our way to a new cosmology? If religion is the traditional way of binding together the cultural beliefs of the local village, perhaps we need a make-over for a world in which Hindu and Muslim meld seamlessly on the streets of most large cities around the world.

    And, in a longer term perspective, does our society not need the freedom of thought implicit in the Enlightenement and the religious reformations, in Europe, 300 years ago. Is there any realistic way of going back to the infallibility of the Pope, or are we better off with the ratbag individualist who manages to peeve the powers that be with some heresy that ultimately leads to a better way of life? As Mark Twain observed, real progress does not come from normal, reasonable people. We need our rebels.

    Resurrection, in most cases, requires some acceptance that parts of the old structure are gone forever; in a personal context, that my old marriage is, in fact, dead. The true spirit of recovery lies in the hopeful meanings we can attach to the future, which is more than likely going to be a blending of the old and the new.

    I always remember one of Fred’s suggestions, when faced with a group with a big attack of the squabbles.

    “Let’s focus on the things that unite us, rather than the thing that divide us.”

    Now there is a nice rational suggestion, if ever you heard one.

    Love from Brian.

    • Thanks so much, Brian, for your sensitive and sensible response. You know me well enough and have a good idea of the values and strengths which have enabled me to do some good work. I have no doubt these fruits should also be part of the stories I write, and I really appreciate your adding this.
      We share an appreciation of looking at our world with a deep respect for the wealth of truth and experience we have inherited, while not worshipping it. And isn’t it exciting to live at a time when our knowledge of faith, history and culture can grow so richly? Helen and I don’t give unquestioning allegiance to our Christian faith and tradition, and yes, that’s what does outrage some people… it seems every community has its shock jocks. And hey, apparently there is something of sensitivity and rebellion in both of us… may that remain so!
      I very much appreciate and value your perceptive thoughts and sympathetic feedback.

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