We need the experts

I can’t help but smile when I hear the likes of Penn Jilllet say that reading the Bible made him an atheist [1], as if simply reading it is all you need to fully understand it. Never mind the fact that theologians and scholars throughout history have been studying it their entire lives and admitting they barely scratch the surface of what the Bible is about. I don’t entirely blame Jillet for his approach though, it’s one that often encouraged in certain Christian circles; “just read the Bible and take it at it’s word” so that’s what people do. That simply is not enough though.

In science there are experts in all fields, they are acknowledged as experts and they are needed to help ensure the correct information is made available. Since the internet, there is so much misinformation around it can be very hard to determine which is correct, which is why I often refer any questions on biology to my friends who work in the field. This is not to say that all experts agree or that the conclusions won’t change, but just because I’ve read a book on physics doesn’t mean I’m in a position to challenge Stephen Hawking. In a similar way, just because I’ve read the Bible doesn’t mean I’m in a position to challenge N.T Wright about Paul or that no one disagree with N.T Wright. In order to challenge their viewpoint I need to have done some studying first, simply reciting the opposing view doesn’t count. I’m not suggesting that we just accept whatever an expert says or whichever expert we choose to listen to, we have to understand what they are saying and what the basis of their conclusion is.

Contrary to assertions from some, the Bible is not a simple book and we need the theologians and the scholars to help us make our way through things. We may not end up agreeing with them but time and care is needed when approaching the Bible and they can help with that as well as the history and culture surrounding the Bible.  As one editor summed up regarding the Talmud:

“This book is actually pulled out when you have to make a legal decision in Jewish law,” she says. “You need specialists in the field. It’s like saying: ‘Do you want everyone to be dabbling in theoretical mathematics?’ I may love theoretical mathematics, I may think that it’s hugely important and everyone should be aware of theoretical mathematics, but I will also understand that to be in any way workable you really have to leave it to the experts.”‘ [2]

To which one person responded:

This is how I feel about the Bible, as someone who studies it academically and has seen firsthand the awful things that can result from the contemporary American rejection of biblical scholarship.

We are to study the Bible, not just memorize what it says. “The Bible says so” is not enough. Maybe “lean not on your own understanding” can also be about individual knowledge and having a wider variety of views and sources helps keep our understanding on solid ground. Sometimes it feels like discussions are operating at such a higher level that I’m just occasionally popping my head out trying to grasp what’s going on but that’s ok, there’s always someone who knows what’s going on and can explain it to me.

Thank God for the experts.

References:

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/10/29/should-reading-the-bible-make-one-an-atheist-rjs/

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24367959

The art of friendship

A friend is one who knows you and loves you just the same – Elbert Hubbard

There are two questions that seem to come up often in Christian circles; “Can I be friends with an atheist?” and “Can I be friends with someone of the opposite sex?” I have always answered “Yes, absolutely” to both of these questions and I have cited the fact that my closest friends (aside from my fiance) are women and atheists.

There are those who will cite passages like 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 and 1 Thessalonians 5:22 to argue against being friends with atheists, as well as being friends with people of the opposite sex (that, and issues regarding temptation, but I’ll come back to this issue later). There have been many great articles written about both of these subjects, including explanations of the relevant Bible passages (such as those stated above) arguing for both sides. This is my attempt at looking at this issue, but I’m not going to give my view on what I think these passages mean, though I will refer to them. Instead I’m going to come at this topic by sharing my experiences of my friendships, how I’ve gotten through potential pitfalls, how myself and a friend have got to grips with our differences in religious beliefs, and how my fiance and I have built up trust regarding these friendships.

I first met one of my friends through an online dating site. We didn’t meet up again until about 6 months later but since then, we’ve met up every 2-3 weeks like clockwork (with the occasional gap). During those 6 months, I was seriously wrestling with faith and had recently become a Christian. The more I met up with her, I began to realize that I really liked her and would like our relationship to progress beyond friendship. Sadly (from my perspective), it became more and more apparent that my feelings were not to be reciprocated on her part. At times, this proved very awkward and sometimes I would raise the possibility of us becoming more (hey, can’t blame a guy for trying), but I was always rejected (it wasn’t as harsh as it sounds). I accepted the answer she gave me, but I always harbored hope that she would change her mind. Our religious differences took some balancing though, especially because of me; being a new Christian, I wanted to tell everyone and that can get very annoying. Sometimes I’d overstep the mark and have to backtrack or apologize. You only get through/over such things if both parties are willing to, and her unspoken commitment to keeping the friendship going is something what would be put to the test.

As I said, we were meeting up often and the difference in religion wasn’t really an issue. It provided us with some great conversations. I decided that it would be cool if we went somewhere for the weekend. I suggested the east coast so we ended up in Cardiff (yes, I know, my geography abandoned me that day). It was weird in many ways right from the off; the B & B I’d chosen was run by a Christian couple, who seemed extremely surprised that we were not sharing beds (or indeed rooms). They described our relationship as one of integrity and gave us £20 off the bill; which was extremely nice but it set the tone for the trip.

The major event was when we had dinner in the restaurant on our first evening there; my friend got the brunt of my disorganized, raw thoughts and I was still harbouring that private hope whilst simultaneously wrestling with whether I could have a relationship with a non-Christian. This combination resulted in me telling her that I loved her, but then admitting that I couldn’t be with her 20 minutes later. The evening ended with me having an early night, being oblivious to the impact of what I’d just done had had. The next day we went sightseeing and kept running into people handing out religious leaflets about the end of the world and ended with a heated discussion in the Hard Rock Cafe; and to top it all off, there was a Vicar sat opposite us on the train home.

It was such a weird and intense couple of days that left me with an emotional hangover that lasted a while. We tried to have a conversation over MSN, but it became heated due to multiple misunderstandings. We didn’t speak for over a month after that. It wasn’t until the movie ‘Green Zone’ came out that I asked if she would like to meet up. In Pizza Hut that evening, everything came out from both sides and it became a ‘make or break’ situation for our friendship; we could either deal with our issues there and then, or our relationship had to end. Fortunately, it was the former. For everything that happened in Cardiff, it showed us that we could be bluntly honest with each other and talk about anything (as patrons of various eating establishments who have walked out very quickly will be able to testify to). But most importantly, a deep level of trust has been built between us and I wouldn’t go back and change anything. I doubt we’d still be friends without Cardiff. I learned a lot of harsh lessons about feelings and human expression, as well as about sharing my faith and bringing it into conversations. It’s never been my way to walk away from something or someone just because things get tricky.

I get the argument against having friends of the opposite sex because of the romantic element, or more accurately the temptation element, to a point. I didn’t have the temptation problem as I wasn’t seeing anyone at the time, but not everyone is in that position and there is a risk that things might happen. On the other hand, it’s an odd argument, because what exactly is the difference between being friends and being more? The dictionary describes a friend as being; a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard and friendship as a friendly relation or intimacy. That covers a wide spectrum of relationships including my friendships and my relationship with Sarah (my fiance). Does it come down to what the people involved think and for them to define the terms and definition of their relationship? As for temptation, desires do not justify actions and Christians are told to resist temptation. Christian or not, it’s very patronizing to suggest that people can’t control themselves and will merely give into feelings at the first opportunity. Resisting temptation is just one part of it though.

If you have a close friend of the opposite sex but are dating/engaged/married to someone else, there is the trust issue. If anything was going to happen between my friend and I, it would have done long before now, but that didn’t ease Sarah’s fears straight away. Her experiences of men being “just friends” with another woman were not good. I was just honest with her about what had happened between my friend and I, basically telling her everything you’ve just read. The rest comes down to her trusting me as her fiance and my friend not to do anything that breaks the boundaries. It really does all come down to honesty, trust and setting (and sticking to) boundaries that you set. I can quite happily sit in a restaurant with my friend (not in a groups setting, just me and her) and there’s not a problem with me having to resist urges or anything. I’m not suggesting everyone needs to have an experience like Cardiff to get there though.

So what about the differences in religion? Obviously they don’t believe but they’ll quite happily sit there and listen to my faith related struggles because that’s what friends do. There’s an underlying assumption that atheists are all out to take people from Christ. There are some and I’ve met them, but the majority don’t. The majority are more interested in how you treat others and how you treat them, especially if they’ve been treated badly by the church in the past. Another one of my closest friends, who has known me for over 6 years since we first met at a TV and movie convention, has been treated pretty shabbily (to put it mildly) by many Christians because of her sexuality. I didn’t initially do much to change her views when I became a Christian, as I was questioning whether I could still be friends with her because of it. She put me in contact with another Christian friend of hers to help me work through it. She worked to keep the friendship going and I still have the response to do this day. She is the reason I am as passionate about the same-sex marriage discussion as well as the wider discussion of homosexuality in the Bible. We’ve had many disagreements over religion and I’ve sometimes just done things without thinking; but getting a hug in the middle of the hotel restaurant to know I’ve been forgiven is a great way to start the day though. I can be a bit accident prone and/or have back issues, but she’s always been at my side in the Accident & Emergency section of the hospital, and I’ve been at hers when she needed help after coming out of hospital after surgery. She also keeps me in check and stops me getting too carried away with things by gently mocking when needed. But we still spend time together because we’ve worked at it. It’s what friends do and I’m incredibly grateful and blessed to be able to call her my friend. I probably don’t tell her that enough.

There seems to be a key component that often gets missed in these discussions; what actually makes a good friendship? It’s not about agreeing on subjects; if I stopped being friends with people over disagreements, I’d have no friends left and that would include Sarah. It is about shared interests to an extent, but anything can be a shared experience; religion, conventions, scaring people out of restaurants with discussion topics, you name it! It could be how you treat others and whether you take time to get to know them. Whatever the reason, you’ll just click with some people. Doesn’t mean you’ll agree on everything or have to do everything they do, but I’ve never been overly concerned with how it all looks from the outside. If I didn’t do something because of how others may take it, I doubt I’d even leave the house.

Regarding appearances, am I giving the appearance of evil by going out to dinner with them without my fiance? People often assume that 2 people having dinner together must be dating/married/sleeping together in order to be doing that. That’s society’s problem not mine. Anyone who knows me who sees me out with them will know what’s going on. Those who don’t know me won’t know I’m engaged to someone else anyway. They may assume I’m dating the person opposite me but they won’t assume I’m being adulterous. Similarly with religion. Unless they’re eavesdropping in on the conversation, they’re not going to know I’m a Christian and I don’t announce it every where I go. Even if they did know, they’re not going to give it a second thought. The greatest appearance of evil would be to end these friendships purely on the basis of a difference in religion; or to shun someone on the basis of religion. You’re essentially saying “you’re not good enough to be my friend” Whilst friendships can be a great way to spread the gospel, that can’t be your only reason for being friends with someone. That comes across as having an agenda for being their friend and that’s not a friendship at all.

Looking back through all this, there were many pitfalls I fell into (it’s not like I could plan ahead) but there were all overshadowed by the deep friendships that have come out of them. Next to marriage, friendships are the greatest relationships God created for people. They will never match what a marriage is, they’re not designed to, and men and women do have different needs that only other men and women understand. They do transcend all boundaries though, that’s their beauty, and it’s a beauty that can quite easily get muddied if the focus is on what type of people you can be friends with.

As part of this piece, I invited my friend to write a few words about this. She’s very graciously provided the below:

According to the saying, “friends are the family that destiny forgot to give you“; and this appears to hold especially true of those we consider our best friends. With Graham, I have a strong albeit slightly unconventional friendship, forged over a number of intense events over the years. It is a friendship that I treasure deeply and am hugely appreciative of. This is not just due to the friendship itself, but also our freedom to have such a relationship, that is only frowned upon by some who are socially confused by it; and not prohibited by law in the society that we live in. Friendships like so many things in life are what you make of them; and require thought and effort to truly reach their full potential. In this case we are both committed to the friendship and have found a way to make it work despite our differences in both gender (and the associated potential romantic issues) and religious thinking.

It’s time for the next revolution

A little revolution now and then is a healthy thing, don’t you think? Captain Marko Ramius, The Hunt For Red October [1]

I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. – Thomas Jefferson [2]

The church has faced many changes throughout history and they have come in many forms. In the 1600’s, the church came up against scientific evidence in the form of Galileo’s findings that the earth did in fact move. He was continuing the work started by Copernicus and others before him. The church of the time did not take too kindly to this affront on the Bible and in a letter by Cardinal Bellarmine stated; ….that the doctrine attributed to Copernicus (that the earth moves around the sun and the sun stands at the center of the world without moving from east to west) is contrary to Holy Scripture and therefore cannot be defended or held.[3]

It should be noted that Galileo was also up against other scientists of the day since the church was pretty much in bed with the Aristotle philosophers. As history has shown, Galileo was right and the church eventually moved from the then traditional interpretations of passages like Ecclesiastes 1:5. Doesn’t seem like much now but at the time, it was a massive revolution in approaching the Bible. In a report compiled for the church

Proposition to be assessed:

(1) The sun is the center of the world and completely devoid of local motion.

Assessment: All said that this proposition is foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts many places the sense of Holy Scripture, according to the literal meaning of the words and according to the common interpretation and understanding of the Holy Fathers and the doctors of theology.

(2) The earth is not the center of the world, nor motionless, but it moves as a whole and also with diurnal motion.

Assessment: All said that this proposition receives the same judgement in philosophy and that in regard to theological truth it is at least erroneous in faith.[4]

To go from every passage is to be taken literally to the possibility that even some of it may not be was a massive shock to the system to them (some still haven’t gotten over it but that’s another matter).  It was a revolution for the church in how they treated scripture. The church has had a torrid history of clinging onto traditions whilst other Christians step out and push for change. William Wilberforce, one of the leading figures in abolishing slavery, found himself up against traditional views. Like Galileo, he too was also up against massive opposition. In May 1788, Wilberforce introduced a 12-point motion to Parliament to abolish the slave trade. The motion was defeated as planters, businessmen, ship owners, traditionalists, MPs and the Crown opposed him [5]. Wilberforce cited his Christian faith as motivation, he had a desire to put his Christian principles into action and to serve God in public life [6]. The church did not see it that way and once again, the church seemed to be at war with itself. Abolishing slavery was a revolution for the world and for how the church handled passages in the Bible.

Thing is, there’s always been diversity within the church and the Christian faith; the Bible itself is a testament to that. The church has been able to adapt but it now faces another two; women bishops and same sex marriage. With more countries and states passing laws to include same sex couples in the definition of marriage, the traditional stance of the church has come under heavy scrutiny. Views on sexuality have changed over the years; huge strides are being made in not excluding LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) from society. The American Boy Scouts is the most recent example with a motion passed to accept gay members. The same is true about women, with discussions raging about pay discrepancies. People are looking to the church for guidance but many see it as needing to catch up first.  I’m not saying that the church should alter its views just because society thinks it should, but many Christians are tired of how the traditional interpretation is rigorously (and dare I say viciously) held onto. Indeed, looking at the examples above it seems changes came about, not because the church went against culture (it seemed very much aligned with it) but because Christians went against the church; but that’s an entire blog in itself.

Women bishops has slipped under the radar somewhat due to the issue of same sex marriage; as the latter isn’t just about the church but the law which affects everyone. It’s this fact that is causing so much uproar with the church seemingly trying to dictate to the rest of the world what it can and can’t do. Within the church, the old discussions of interpretation are being played out. With 24 hour news and instant access, these debates have been played out very publicly and everyone chiming in on it. Like with Galileo and WIlberforce, the church (or probably more accurately, the traditionalists) has dug its heals in and if it changes its views, it will be dragged kicking and screaming. The church though, should be at the forefront of social change and combating against social injustice, not hanging onto the coat tails of it. That’s not to say the churches current beliefs are not beneficial. The belief that life is sacred can help inform and contribute to the debate regarding topics like abortion and euthanasia. Admitting you might be wrong is not weak but it is healthy.

These 2 issues of women bishops and same sex marriage are the new revolution regarding approach to the Bible and approach to society. Not just with what they say but how they act. My Twitter feed is awash with updates from the Leadership Conference [7] about the inspirational leaders and speakers, I couldn’t help but respond with With all these wonderful statements coming from #LC13, the cynic in me can’t help but say “I’ve had enough of talk, back it up with actions” Jesus did not come with political aspirations or power, as he categorically told Pilate after being arrested. He didn’t stand and debate endlessly with the Pharisees. He spent more time going out to those who have been outcast, to heal the sick and comfort the grieving; no one was excluded. Wilberforce saw this, many Christians today are seeing this, are you listening church?

 

References:

[1] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Hunt_for_Red_October_(film)

[2] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Thomas_Jefferson

[3] http://www.tc.umn.edu/~allch001/galileo/library/1616docs.htm#certificate

[4] http://www.tc.umn.edu/~allch001/galileo/library/1616docs.htm#conreport

[5] http://www.gci.org/history/wilberforce

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce#Abolition_of_the_slave_trade

[7] http://leadershipconference.htb.org.uk/

 

First published 9th June 2013

God, Morgan Freeman and please don’t make me build an ark

Last week I got watching Evan Almighty. Not my usual type of movie but Sarah wanted to watch it so what’s a good fiance to do? Somewhat surprisingly it started raising questions in my mind about following God, knowing its God that’s commanding you and how do you explain it to others?

In the movie, Evan is called by God to build an ark for an impending flood. He gets some pretty blatant signs what he is to do with everything pointing him to Genesis 6:14 then God himself appearing before him (and if God looks like Morgan Freeman, that would be very cool) Naturally Evan is asking how he can be sure it is God. Inevitably he gets signs from birds following him to him losing all his clothes except the robe God gives him; the unshavable beard seemed to clinch it though. It’s all well and good in the movies but in the real world it doesn’t work that way. I’ve spent my week off just putting everything to one side and just spending time with Sarah and whilst I think I have a handle on where God is leading me, he has a habit of sending me off in other directions, or I have a habit of going off in other directions. Which it is, is actually part of the problem; thinking I’m following God when I’m not and vice versa.  My current job is in digital forensics and I’m currently taking an exam (well, waiting for the results of it*) and I’m pretty sure God has something planned for me in this field, but I can’t be sure. I ask him, but Morgan Freeman doesn’t come, it just feels like that’s where I’m heading. I’m not sure I have a definite task yet though, I have this site and causes that I try to publicize but I feel I want to do more. Maybe it’s all linked.

How do you explain it to others though? Not even Evan’s family, who talked about praying at the beginning, believed him to start with. The town thought he was just plain nuts, to be fair if someone started building an ark because they thought a flood was coming, I’d think they were nuts. Or if they’re going to build a giant cross within which to bury people in [1]. If Christians are going to be skeptical, how do you explain it to someone who doesn’t even believe God exists? If they’re your friend, they’ll probably accept that you think God is calling you because you believe it. If they’re not your friend, be ready for ridicule, but the Bible is full of stories such as this and Jesus never said you’d have an easy ride. The other aspect though is what you think God is calling you do. Many atrocities have, and continue to be “justified” by saying “God called me to do it!” If I say “God is calling me to fight slavery” then many people will probably be with you and accept it. If you say “God is calling me to kill these people”, that would be questioned and rightly so. These atrocities do mean that when people say God is calling them, it makes people nervous. Trying to explain that you’re doing something because God is calling you will raise eyebrows regardless. Sarah and I postponed our wedding by 2 years because we believe God is calling her to be a youth worker and train in Birmingham, approx 80 miles from where I live. Explaining this to my parents was interesting.

The phrase “you have to follow your heart” is an easy one when people agree with where your heart is going. Same for following God. It’s easy to do when people agree with where he’s leading you. Filtering out all the influences and trying to get to what God has planned and what you’re supposed to do with it seems to be the hardest part of being a Christian. Faith affects every part of your life, it’s going to drive decisions and it’s going to get people curious. I just do the best I can and pray God does the rest.

I just hope he doesn’t get me building arks.

 

References:

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/16/great-cross-alliance-tomb_n_3769255.html

 

*Since writing this, I have passed both sections of the exam

First published 18th August 2013

Eternal questions of the teenage mind

At the weekend I attended a Q & A session with the youth group at St Mary’s of the Arden Church in Studley. The aim was to allow them to ask any question they had and I would try to provide some answers for them. I probably learned more than they did and my respect for youth leaders increased exponentially.  It was a very enjoyable and worthwhile session.

One of the big things I learned was that conversations never stay on one track. I’d had a list of questions from them beforehand and it very quickly became apparent that this wasn’t a session where we’d just work through them. The discussions went off on some great tangents (mostly involving food which is always good) and more questions came out of them. From that, I learned that back and forth is critical in making them feel included and the session more enjoyable. They were pretty much driving where the session went and I (along with the youth leader) was just prodding them back onto topic every now and again. What you don’t do is fire stats and numbers at them as their eyes just glaze over. That’s something I’m going to need to work on for future sessions.

Analogies work really well. When looking at evolution and creation, I took some inspiration from Professor John Lennox except instead of using the Ford car, I used the Red Bull Racing F1 car. It was a very pleasing feeling to see their eyes widen as things clicked into place and they understood it. I felt I had accomplished my task at that moment. I also learned that sometimes you just got to go with a fun answer. The first question was “Does Jesus like KFC?” I could have gone on about capitalism etc. but instead I said “Yeah he does. If he was to do communion today, he’d probably order in a couple of bargain buckets” Probably not the most theologically correct answer but everyone laughed and it broke the ice a bit so it was worth it. Another lesson chalked up.

But the session showed that teenagers have questions and it is beneficial for all involved to simply sit down with them and go through them. No question is silly, especially not if it’s causing them issues. All that’s needed is a little time, a knack for making the point easy to understand, the ability to go with the flow and actually answering the question.

I very much looking forward to going back for another session and I thank the youth group for their questions and comments.

The questions that were put to me (but not necessarily answered) are below:

  • Why are we Christians if Jesus was a Jew
  • Where do different denominations come from?
  • Why did God send Jesus “meek and mild”
  • Who goes to heaven and how?
  • Why do you believe?
  • Who was there before God?
  • Why is there suffering?
  • When will the world end?
  • What does eternity look like?
  • Does Heaven and Hell exist?
  • How do we have different religions?
  • Why do we have communion?
  • What is the proof for the resurrection?
  • Why can’t dogs see colour?
  • How was God around before anything?
  • Do evolution and creation have anything in common?
  • How did we find out about God?
  • How do we know the Bible stories are true?
  • How can we be sure God listens to us?
  • Where do the dinosaurs come in?
  • Does Jesus like KFC?
  • How was God there before everything else?
  • Is there any proof that God exists?
  • How old is God?
  • How does God know everything about you before you’re even born?
  • How different is life now compared to when Jesus was living?

 

First published 4th February 2013

Words

Words are strange things, and how we seem to treat them sometimes is even stranger. We say things like “talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than words” even though you actually have to use words to convey that message. The latter may be true but the former certainly is not. If you say to someone that you love them, pay them a compliment, read them their favourite poem; their eyes light up and they smile. All you’ve done is use words. If you tell someone though that they’re broken, that they’re ugly and generally demean/abuse them, it can affect them for years if not their entire life. All you’ve done is use words.

It’s said that “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” and it’s simply not the case as has been tragically shown in recent times [1].  It’s no secret that the internet is not a model of decorum and respect when it comes to using words. Words like “trolls” are used as descriptions of some of it’s users, reflective of the often vitriolic content of their posts.  Christians are called to love our neighbours, be gentle and respectful with our words for they are like fire [2], being on the internet does not give us a free pass. Jesus is synonymous with words like grace, peace, love, mercy. He teaches to love our enemies and the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6:45). Yet Christians are synonymous with words like bigotry, homophobia, hatred, self-serving, hypocritical; I’ve taken abuse and insults from people but none hurt as much as the ones from brothers and sisters and Christ. According to some I’m:

  • a heretic
  • a blasphemer
  • a fool
  • a dangerous liberal
  • simply dangerous
  • sending people to hell
  • going to hell
  • a wolf in sheeps clothing
  • not fit to work with youth or answer their questions
  • a degenarate
  • a counterfeit Christian

My crime? To disagree with them on interpretations of passages, nothing more. They may not seem much but these are heavy words to label a Christian, it calls into the question the very nature of the relationship with Christ. These are nothing compared to the hate that has been aimed at others. There’s clearly some disconnect between what Jesus is known for and what his followers are known for.  “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians, your Christians are so unlike your Christ” says Ghandi; “You don’t even know Jesus” is the response of one Christian [3]. As Jefferson Bethke suggests, if Jesus said what Christians believe the Bible would look very different [4]. I’m just left asking whatever happened to the gentleness and respect? I admit I can be blunt at times, I’m not perfect here.

One word I’m thinking of not using is the word Christian when describing myself. As I’ve said above, the word Christian is now so far removed from it’s original meaning (follower of Christ) and now stands for the complete opposite, I don’t feel I can bring myself to use it any more. Jesus has been put so far out of reach he’s unknowable [5]. I can’t do this though without feeling like I’m abandoning Jesus or turning my back on him. It does seem like throwing away something because it’s difficult (or in this case, seemingly broken), though other people have stopped using the word to describe themselves [6]. If I decide to use the word Christian it will be to try and show that we’re not all like that.

Speaking of all not like that, the NALT campaign [7] has been ongoing for a while and they are still accepting video from Christians explaining where they’re not all like that. It’s specifically about showing that not all Christians are bigoted and homophobic and I’ve been thinking about doing a video for it myself. My slight fear of appearing on camera aside, I’ve decided not to do it for the very reason I’m pretty much speaking against; actions speak louder than words. I have a tendency to be oblivious to the consequences of what I’m doing so I may think I’m not like that, it’s possible I might so I will let others decide if I am or not.

Bottom line is be careful with your words, don’t throw them about mindlessly and always look to build people up.

 

References:

[1] http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2013/10/17/two-girls-arrested-after-one-allegedly-brags-on-facebook-about-cyber-bullying-suicide-victim/

[2] http://4jireh.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/be-careful-what-you-say-read-james-31.html

[3] http://www.challies.com/articles/gandhi-doesnt-like-us

[4] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xlmBv4hgNw

[5] https://christianonthefrontline.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/the-out-of-reach-jesus/

[6] http://fawnziebird.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/goodbye-christianity-hello-jesus.html

[7] http://www.notalllikethat.org

A heretic saved my faith

This was written as a follow up really to my earlier post “Limited edition, one of a kind

 

I’ve never been particularly scared to ask questions, to challenge the views of others and express my own. Whilst I am very determined, I try to remain open the possibility I am wrong though I can be stubborn. An infinite being such as God is never going to be explained properly by my finite mind so I try to keep it open. Discussions with atheists regarding religion, faith and evidence for God always left me challenged but inspired. I’ve always tried to take on board what I was being told.

None of this really prepared me for my encounters with those regarded as religious fundamentalists. From the off I was bombarded with scriptures and being told this was the way to interpret them. Because I was still learning the scripture, I took what they said and went with it. Genesis, sin, hell; I went with what I was learning. As time went on, questions began to come to mind. What about evolution? Why would a loving God send people to hell? In my usual manner, I asked these questions to the people who I was discussing these issues with. Sufficed to say, the responses I got took me by surprise. Same scriptures but with the added “why are you questioning God?” in there for extra spice. “It doesn’t make sense to you? You just need more faith!!!” Wonderful! I just need more faith. How do I get that if I can’t ask questions? “Well you’re not asking the right questions” Yeah, that’s just less than unhelpful.

Something I heard Michael Ramsden once say kept coming to the forefront; “If you have doubts and you leave them un-answered, they will erode under your faith until eventually it all collapses” It got to a point where that’s exactly what was happening. I couldn’t reconcile everything I knew with what I was being told. I risked losing it all, but according to some I already was by sending people (and myself) to hell with my theology.

During one of my Google searches regarding homosexuality and the bible, I came across an article by Rachel Held Evans titled “How to win a culture war and lose a generation[1] Lovely article which really showed love for others. This resonated with me, this was what I was looking for. When I did a search for more of her work, turns out not everyone saw it that way. Many of the searches came up alongside the word heretic; “ a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church” This made me nervous. Was I a heretic for agreeing with her? I’d already been told I was going to hell, maybe this would just seal the deal.

As I searched on more topics, more names starting popping up; Justin Lee, Richard Beck, Peter Enns, Derek Flood, Jeremy Myers…..each Google search revealed them to be considered heretics. But the more I read their work, the more they made sense to me. Not only with the points they made, but the diversity of the questions they were asking. They had opened up a whole new world to the one presented to me before, yet it was a vaguely familiar one as they vocalized the questions I had been suppressing. They took a lot of abuse for it, but they persevered. To this day, I still don’t know how. But in it I began to see the vague idea of what the Bible was getting at, what it meant to be a Christian.

So with my usual grace of a free falling safe, I dove in…….and re-found what I’d lost; my relationship with Christ. That difficult, slightly odd but totally unique to me relationship with him. Everything became different as I learned to embrace the relationship once more, to look to Him for answers, to try and see things as he does. I have my quirks because He gave me them. Looking at the definition of heresy again, I found something that appealed to my more mischievous and rebellious side;

anyone who does not conform to an established attitude, doctrine, or principle.

I’m not exactly a free spirit, kicking down the doors of convention at every opportunity but I try to make a dent every now and again. I was having drinks with a friend of mine and I was voicing some things about what is expected of a typical Christian. She just said “When I think of a typical Christian, you wouldn’t be top of the list” Not sure what she thought a typical Christian was but I think I got her point. I do things my way, look at the world the way I do, and never been bothered by what most people think of me. I’ve re-discovered that for the most part. I would be lying if I said getting told l’m going to hell and sending others there didn’t hurt. Questioning ones salvation is going to, as well the things they say about others.

Looking back, the people I mentioned (and countless more I’ve missed) have helped shape my outlook on the Bible and my faith. These “heretics”, have quite literally saved my faith and my relationship with Christ. Anytime I find someone branded a heretic by a Christian, it encourages me to go read their work. Doesn’t mean I agree with everything, but it encourages me to think differently about things and to be confident in doing so. It’s also opened my eyes to a great many things. Still lots to learn though, lots to work on but I at least feel more confident to walk alongside Christ once more.

References:

[1] http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/win-culture-war-lose-generation-amendment-one-north-carolina

First published 8th August 2013