Thursday, 5 January 2017

Who Amongst Us Is The Greatest?

Today I was reading the latest post from Pete Enns, which is basically an extract from a book by Anthony de Mello (who was an Indian Jesuit priest and a psychotherapist).

It includes the following parable:
"A group of tourists sits in a bus that is passing through gorgeously beautiful country; lakes and mountains and green fields and rivers. But the shades of the bus are pulled down. They do not have the slightest idea of what lies beyond the windows of their bus. And all the time of their journey is spent in squabbling over who will have the seat of honor in the bus, who will be applauded, who will be well considered. And so they remain till the journey’s end."
I read it... and then read it again.

And then I felt like weeping.

Not only does this perfectly describe my own experience of leadership at my ex-church, but it is an incredibly apt description for way too much of Western 'churchianity'.

Jesus came to set us free. He offers us an abundant life. An easy yoke.

He released us from man-made religious obligations, and rescued us from hierarchical ladder-climbing.

We are now all welcomed as children of God. Brothers and sisters born into God's royal family. One body with One head.

We have been reconciled to God and restored to relationship with him - and in him.

We have been unchained from death, and liberated to live in such freedom that nothing can ever come between us and the love of the One who is Love.

We have all this, and yet so many of us remain oblivious to the splendour of our surroundings because we are so focussed on squabbling over the question of who amongst us is the greatest.

How tragic is that!?

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A Few Things I Wish Christians Understood About "The World"

If you act like total jerk and people object, you are not "suffering for Jesus", or being "persecuted for your faith". You are simply experiencing normal, negative feedback.

Having someone disagree with you is not persecution. Persecution involves genuine human rights being violated (e.g. oppression, torture), not merely a loss of power and privilege. Disagreement simply means someone see things differently from you and is willing to say so. Please learn to know the difference.

When people outside the church respond badly to things you do or say, it might not be because "your words convict their hearts". It is just as likely because they see a disconnect between what you preach and how you live.

Politics (and by extension, your favourite political leader) will not save the world or usher in the "millennial reign". Neither will legislation based on your own understanding of "biblical" morality.

If making others comply with your moral code is more important to you than the plight of the poor and marginalised in your community, you may have misunderstood what Jesus meant when he told you to love your neighbour.

Jesus had no time for empire-building or king-making. He focussed on serving others, loving others, laying down his life for others...

It's just possible that "the world" is waiting to see "the church" look more like that.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Dysfunction Disagreement in Christian Conversations

I had another one of those conversations recently. You know, the sort where I ask a christian friend (as gently as I know how) a question about the implications of a statement they've made. And the response leaves me feeling like I've crossed some invisible line that reads, "Heretics and other outcasts stand here." My question remains unanswered...

This type of interaction seems to happen all too frequently. I question something, or I say I see it differently, or I simply raise the possibility of an alternative viewpoint, and the wagons circle in polite silence until I find myself on the outside looking in, counting the cost of wanting authentic relationship.

It makes me think. (Sorry, I'm still unrepentant over that particular "sin".) And it seems to me that the institutional church sets us up for this dysfunction. It fails us when it silences our questions. It stunts our growth and sets us up to founder in the real world.


Too many christians have been trained in an atmosphere where the leader speaks, and the sheep bleat in unquestioning acceptance. "My pastor says x, so that's the end of the discussion." And then they tend to repeat their favourite leader's statements, expecting to meet with the same response they've seen those leaders receive in the church.

Unquestioning acceptance.

The only trouble is that outside the walls of that culture bubble live people who have either woken up and shaken off their stupor, or who never fell down the rabbit-hole in the first place.

So when it happens that christians speak their 'truth' and are met with questioning (or worse still, disagreement!) they are totally unprepared for the shock, and unequipped to deal.

I'm not talking about ad hominem attacks here. I mean genuine questions asked by people who are seeking to engage in actual dialogue in the hope that maybe both parties will learn something.

But so many of us were taught that we had 'the truth' and if we just presented it in a manner that was authoritative enough, 'the world' would "see the light". 'The church' failed us like a parent who hides their child away in a darkened room to keep them 'safe'. Such a child might look normal, but they will be incapable of healthy or mature social interaction with the wider world.

Sadly, many well-meaning christians who have been taught their church's version of "the Truth" simply regurgitate it and expect people to accept it as gospel. And when they are met with anything but absolute endorsement, they don't seem to know what to do.

Some go into attack mode, angrily fighting back against an unseen enemy. Some pull the heretic card, outraged because "the bible clearly says..." Some go off on a tangent, piling up enough red herrings to stock a fishmonger's shop. And some play the conspiracy game in which said christian assumes the position of 'persecuted christian'.

Whatever their reaction, what they all fail to do is engage in rational, reasoned, grace-filled conversation. But I guess people can't do what they've never been taught or seen modelled. And for multitudes of otherwise intelligent people, the church has not only failed to provide a safe place to practice diversity of thought, it has actively discouraged it.