All the King’s Horses …

... and all the king's men ...

… and all the king’s men …

Faith is a fragile thing: one minute it is as solid as a rock … the next it has evaporated into the ether … but once shattered it is difficult to reconstruct (rather like Humpty Dumpty) and I can vouch for this from personal experience.

About 10 years ago I was studying Applied Theology at our local university. I was there as an independent, self-funding student but many in my class were also members of the Northern Ordination Course who had extra help and support from outside the university. I went along to the initial sessions with firm ideas of what I believed and what God was all about – it was all standard stuff that I had been taught and adsorbed from others rather than thought about for myself – but during those first months everything that I had seemed to crumble into dust. We were taught to question; we were encouraged to look at biblical passages in context and from all angles and we were expected to think … sometimes this even extended outside the box (i.e. beyond the boundaries of formal Anglican doctrine.)

In the main this wasn’t such a problem for the guys (and gals) from NOC: okay they may have had a bit more of a problem with releasing themselves from the standard doctrine and formularies, images-18but when their faith was dented they were taken away and bionically rebuilt by their NOC tutors and supported by the other members their peer group … needless-to-say I had none  of that. When I found my own faith crumbling it was, in the main, up to me to pick up the pieces and put them back together again … and what developed was a very different animal from that with which I had started. Think about it, whilst the shell of faith may be reconstructed rather like a three-dimensional jig saw puzzle, the contents can never quite be the same.

But it’s not just new ways of thinking that can dent faith. There is an age old model that suggests that there are three pillars which support faith: Scripture, Tradition and Personal Experience – imagine them to be like a three legged stool, which we know has inherent stability, with our faith, represented by an egg placed on the top. If the whole thing remains in balance, the egg remains secure, but if the support becomes unstable or the length of one of the legs is longer than the others, the egg may well roll off and shatter on the ground. This sad fact not only affects an individual’s faith but it can also cause conflict between the various denominations of the church.

Think about it: the Catholic Church majors on tradition, the Evangelical Churches hold fast to scripture and Liberals tend to place their personal experience on a higher plane than anything else … and then we are surprised when we have difficulty bringing the different factions of the Anglican Church together to agree on various matters such as the ministry of women.

I used to describe myself as a Liberal – in practise this probably meant that I was trying to force God into the pigeon holes that I had designed. I now prefer to describe myself as an Holistic Christian – Experience is still important but Scripture and Tradition cannot be ignored … Scripture interpreted in context and Tradition, which provides a sense of awe and wonder, in the church but also as is relevant to the communities in which we serve. Thus, the answers to questions of faith are not necessarily absolutes: they may well vary depending upon the context and community in which the questions are asked.

Holistic Christianity is not intended to be wishy washy and good for nothing but it is a way to keep the 3 pillars of faith in balance … otherwise none of it makes sense!

The problem with Christians …

images-15Am I the only one to have noticed … ?

Are Christians actually capable of joined up thinking?

Okay, that question is based on a generality and I hate generalities but there seems to be a basis for this one. So, whilst I apologise to those who have received and use the gift of JUT, I do question the thought processes of those who have seem to be incapable of holding more than one thought in their head at any time. This deficit often enables and promotes a belief in mutually exclusive concepts:

  • God is infallible … but he sometimes gets it wrong;
  • he is omnipotent … but he has his limitations;
  • he is omnipresent … but there are places that he choses to ignore;
  • he  is the God of ALL people … but surely, not THEM!

How can this be??

How can a God of fear and vengeance in the Old Testament translate into a God of love in the New … did he change or is it perhaps … just maybe … is it US? Is it our perception of God and God’s will that has altered over time? Are we expecting God to be more like us than we like him?

Centre of all

… or is it me?

Several millennia ago, or so we are told, Moses received 10 commandments from God … 10 rules which were to act as guidance for human lives. But in the centuries that followed those 10 rules were added to such that they came to control the very minutia of life – read the book of Leviticus for yourself and you will see what I mean. 10 rules became 100’s of sub-rules and whilst some of the new ones actually helped (a number of the food rules strike me as a good way to live if you don’t have a fridge and there are also some good rules for avoiding degenerative genetic abnormalities) many went too far. But it wasn’t just the rules that went too far, their observance became obsessive. Ritual cleanliness held a greater virtue than helping someone in need: tithing (giving 10% of everything you had) became an absolute requirement of salvation and not a vision of an ideal. But make no mistake, these extra statutes were of man, not of God.

When Jesus began his ministry he also began to dismantle some of those extra rules: he questioned the food laws, he disregarded the cleanliness laws when he associated with the unclean and the sinners and he demonstrated that it is okay to do work on the Sabbath if that work has a godly purpose. In fact, he went further than that … he said, “If 10 rules are to complicated for you, let me cut the number down to just 2: ‘love God and love your fellow beings’.”

There were no “Ifs” “Whys” or “Buts” there were no “Exclusions” just  … ‘love God and love your fellow beings’ … what could be simpler? And yet … over the last 2000 years what have we done? Well, we have changed those 2 new laws into another myriad of minor rules and sub-clauses and suddenly … we perceive the ministry of women to be inferior to that of men and Gays and Lesbians have been placed in a lower class than oversexed, hedonistic heterosexuals … and the church is surprised when it is increasingly seen to be irrelevant by the masses who have accepted women as equals and understand that sexuality is a continuum and not a bi-polar state that can be controlled by a switch – the controlled experiment on celibacy undertaken by  the Catholic Church since the C17th seems to have proven the latter quite conclusively.

Joined up thinking

Joined up thinking

So, if God IS infallible, why can’t we trust that he has got things right and actively try to discern his ways? If God IS omnipotent, why don’t we just believe that he can do it? And if God is omnipresent, isn’t it about time that we accepted that he IS there with ALL people and in ALL places – even those whom or which we shun?

Why don’t we stop trying to overcomplicate things and accept that we should be loving God and ALL those whom he has created on an equal basis regardless of gender, colour, race, sexuality, disability, malformity, mental capability … and even those who cannot string their thoughts together cohesively? Christianity is fundamentally simple in its concept … why do we continually seek to overcomplicate things? Is it because we see ourselves as the centre of the universe??

Never underestimate the gift of Joined up Thinking!