Today, I want to pick up on some of the thinking that I shared yesterday, and I will begin with the discussion point proposed by my friend and colleague Ian:
If we seek God more, we might worry less about how we keep churches going… and maybe we just need to stop and rejoice in what God is doing with us rather than the things we needn’t do – discuss!
Maybe we just need to stop and rejoice in what God is doing with us; I must admit that is sticking with me as I continue in my wonderings. My response to Ian’s Facebook post was this; ” we need to remember that the church isn’t God!” My thinking behind that is simple, so often church becomes the driving force, and its reason for being can so easily slip into self perpetuating survival, and somehow the story is lost. When I speak of the story I mean the amazing metanarrative that leads us from creation to re-creation, the creator whose amazing imagination and power spoke the world into being, and sustains it in all of its glory and horror, and will in the end somehow bring ultimate wonder out of all those things to a place where there are no more tears or sickness or pain.
This creator has spoken through the ages in so many ways, through creation itself, from the wonders of a tiny flower to a sweeping vista that takes your breath away. Through prophets and wise people , poetry and music, science and innovation, and so much more, then as the Christian story tells it, through the person of Jesus the Christ, who challenged the religious elite, included those who were so often excluded and calls us through the ages to follow his example, the story of his birth life, crucifixion and resurrection have survived through the centuries and mysteriously have such power that those who put their trust in the story can point to lives that have been changed. I can say that because I am one of them.
As I wrote a few days ago I struggled as a child and teenager, and still do struggle with issues of self-worth, these issues have led to various mental-health struggles, and repeated questionings, and yet in the story of the divine I find myself held, and I find a sense of worth that prevents depression from swallowing me up completely. Some of my deepest prayer comes from a very low place and has to do with trusting in God, and what God is doing in me. This challenges me because if I can pray from the pit of despair why is it more difficult to pray when I am apparently living life to the full. Maybe the answer is that I am not living life to the full. Maybe what I need is that radical trust in the God, who has shown me in the person of Jesus that I too am included in the great metanarrative, and that I have nothing to prove, maybe it is there that I will find the thing I do well, and be able to offer that as an act of worship without fear.
So much of what we do as church is about performance, about doing and saying and believing the right thing, I’m sure that many of us will have heard someone exclaim “and they call themselves a Christian!”, which is definitely a criticism of something someone has done or not done. Christians and the church are often depicted as being out of touch, eccentric or holier than thou, and yet for many reasons the story of Jesus continues to attract and inspire many. Gandhi is quoted as saying:
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Being a Christian comes with many expectations and sometimes church communities can be really difficult, even toxic, but I don’t believe that we should give up on them because they can also be great sources of encouragement, help and comfort and together work for social justice, for peace, and for the flourishing not only of humanity but of all creation, there are many examples of this around the world, in large and small ways.
I guess where I am going then is where our focus is, if it is on God, and what God is calling us to, then we begin with purpose and are less likely to be hypocrites or to be burnt out, if we look to the life of Jesus we will see that while he was sometimes exhausted, that even being Spirit-filled and in deep communion with the creator, he didn’t do everything and was okay with that. He did give everything ultimately on the cross, but received it back, breathing new life into his disciples, a grace that is there for us today.
My low points bring me down to one focused centre, to the one who holds me, loves me and knows me through and through, who calls me beloved and worthy, who promises me a hope and a future. I need that focused centre, and so easily loose it amongst demands and busyness. In 2015, to celebrate their eightieth birthdays the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu share some wonderful conversations on joy, Neither of these men have had easy lives. Both have dealt with tremendous adversity and yet, through is all, are contagiously happy, they are held by their faith, and by the way they live out compassion and forgiveness. For Tutu that faith is firmly set in the Christian story. You can watch some of their conversations here.
Focus then is where I need to start, to live from that one focused centre, to find my joy and purpose in my relationship with God. Simple maybe, but in all of the distractions and demands of daily life not always easy! So I bring myeslf to one of the readings from the Methodist Covenant Service, and leave it there for today:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12: 1-2)