not big enough

‘Every morning I spend fifteen minutes filling my mind full of God; & so there’s no room left for worry thoughts’. -Howard Christy

On Monday when I put the first post in this unintended series up, a wise sage responded by Twitter and said:-

‘If you can fill your mind with God in 15 minutes, neither your mind nor your God are big enough’.

Which in 140 characters said what I have been trying to do far better and more succinctly over 3 (now 4) posts.

Around 20 years ago, when faced with questions too big to handle, I was helped in my faith journey by ‘U2:Pop’. I remember being taken with a line from ‘If God will send his angels’ that has stuck with me for ages:-

It’s the bland leading the blonde’

..which summed up much of the then evangelical culture for me: when faced with pain and difficulty, go for ignoring it or complete blandness. I can remember another Christian, hearing my questions and my reflections on ‘Pop’, offering me a video by a Christian singer ‘that would help me’. I think I lasted less than a minute with said video before I had to turn it off. Fortunately, I did not swear very much then and I was much less honest than I am now. I thanked the person through gritted teeth…

So;

rage

shout

doubt

have questions

dance

sing

weep uncontrollably

swear

 

…just do whatever you do…

if there is a God……he is big enough.

(and don’t settle for bland cliches or those who utter them)

Annoying….again…

 

‘Every morning I spend fifteen minutes filling my mind full of God; & so there’s no room left for worry thoughts’. -Howard Christy

Practically all bloggers have a character flaw; they have strong introvert elements and think too much. Something more from yesterday…..

It is easy to be cynical (and I am). Maybe all that pzazz masks a place where great things are being done. But what happens when you don’t feel upbeat or you question a lot, but all you hear from the front is like this quote, banal? What happens when you are falling apart?

Your voice is not heard- you are only something to be ‘fixed’ or ignored: sometimes unconsciously and occasionally consciously.

Although I do find this annoying, it is less so than I did in the past. I feel sorrow for people who trumpet  ‘success’ in this way.

Now I often feel that they are scared: scared about when things go wrong, when bad things happen to good people, when things cannot be understood- scared of questions. In this context, the crucifixion is just a minor blip on the way to victory, the Psalms are shorn of their lament and the morally conflicted nature of most biblical characters are whitewashed on their way to becoming strength/success archetypes.

And shouting louder and ignoring the shadow side does not make it go away; it just makes it more scary.

Someone wiser than me recently wrote:-

All those smiley people out there who always seem to be on an even keel are either lying or have no idea what joy can be seen from the underside, because they have no idea of the truly awful pain life can bring’ (p13 ‘Darkness is my only companion’ K.Greene-McCreight Brazos, 2015)

What ‘saved’ Christianity for me was realising that it does not have to be this way; there is a wilder hope amidst the dislocation once you begin to admit and acknowledge the shadows….

Annoying

Image result for annoying

‘Every morning I spend fifteen minutes filling my mind full of God; & so there’s no room left for worry thoughts’. -Howard Christy

From time to time I do it, and then I immediately regret it.

Something comes up on Twitter that is from the ‘God is good and bright shiny people have no problems’ school and I follow the link back and look at the history of the person and then their church website.

It is the church where everything is perfect.

The website shows The Pastor and his wife (it is pastor- maybe sometimes the ‘senior leader’)- wife always slightly smaller than husband, but always with died blonde hair. Both with the kind of gleaming white, perfect teeth that would have the average dentist planning a new house extension.

Then there is the worship band; all young and good looking, with artfully distressed hair and carefully selected clothes that are just the right measure of ‘street’/ designer labels. Nobody is overweight, old (or even middle aged) or has disabilities.

There are the relentless upbeat slogans and the the public face where everything seems successful/dynamic/growing/wonderful (or ‘kicking’, ‘dynamic’, ‘radical’ etc).

None of those things are bad in themselves, but where they are so relentless and there is no acknowledgement of the ‘shadow’ side, quotes like the above are toxic:-

-I do not feel like that: there must be something wrong with me.

-I do not feel like that: I am a bad Christian.

-I do not feel like that and there must be no one else like that for I do not see it at the front.

Be real…..please….

 

 

Christian paranoia:3

In addition to the last 2 posts, I found these on t’internet this week:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/12/10/why-franklin-graham-says-donald-trump-is-right-about-stopping-muslim-immigration/

Billy Graham’s daughter: ‘9/11 was God’s punishment for trans people, evolution, and secularism’

Admittedly these are from an American standpoint, but if look closely you will find more examples; usually focussed around sexuality, other religions or about Christians being ‘persecuted’ in the West. You will almost never find the same people posting anything about social justice or God’s judgement being on the rich/richer countries.

I find it all rather sad; especially as it seems to be getting more and more strident and seeping into certain sections of British Christianity.

I wonder why this level of fear afflicts part of evangelicalism. Here my stab at understanding it:–

It seems to me that most who exhibit this paranoia come from a ‘Calvinist’ stance: at its most simplistic, God has already decided who is ‘saved’. So: I am saved, I am different- there is something unique about me and my tribe. At its extreme this can become ‘the rest’ are damned and dangerous.

-Throw in a theology that elevates personal morality much higher than social morality (a concern for which can be perceived as ‘liberal’).

-Add a belief about ‘strong’ leadership (which is usually male dominated- indeed many strands do not accept women’s leadership) which can lead to a deviation into almost hero worship of a charismatic leader who has ‘truth’ (and to resist is opposing God).

-Finally, make sure those leaders rarely, if ever, mix with anyone outside the church and only talk to like minded people. Add a soupcon of binary ‘either/or’ thinking and overheat.

– Stir frequently and season with an awareness of a cultural shift in the developed Western world, which you really want to shut out…

You then have the prefect recipe for paranoia and a hostility to anything that is perceived as a threat.

Or am I wrong?

Christian paranoia:2

I saw it in an email from a Christian leader. It was asking us to back a particular project (which looked good), but then came the killer line and it went like this:-

‘to be honest (it) flies in the face of the politically correct direction our Nation is going in’.

I turned off at this point.

Leaving aside the irony (unseen by the writer) of a white male leader complaining about ‘political correctness’, there was the clear sense behind those words of ‘we are being attacked/threatened by a secularist agenda and it is overwhelming us’.

Where did this offhand use of a term (‘political correctness’ ) without definition or qualification come from? Why use pejorative phrases in place of reasoned explanation? Why assume that your audience knows these phrases without outlining them? More pertinently- why are you displaying so much paranoia?

I am sure God cares about people, I am not so sure he cares so much about the idea of the modern nation state, or wants us to be paranoiac or campaign against ‘political correctness’.

But mainly, my dominant thought was: ‘Go outside, talk with people outside your constituency, get out of the pulpit, be powerless, listen and…smell the coffee’. We don’t need people in this day and age who fuel paranoia/shout slogans, but help us gracefully and (old word this) winsomely to live the world in which we find ourselves.

And then we need to love and serve. And resist the temptation to hide in churches and shout at what we do not understand and are scared at.

 

Christian paranoia:1

This was released on the day Sadiq Khan became Mayor of London. If I had seen it from any organisation, I would have regraded it as racist and alarmist. Racist: the guy is British and used a term ‘Londonistan’ that has so many unhelpful connotations and alarmist (‘we’ are being ‘taken over’ by Muslims). However, it was used by a self proclaimed Christian organisation.  I’ll be charitable and suggest that they don’t realise this (although as the people who have put this up are highly educated, I find this unlikely).

It is possible to view the election of a mayor who is Muslim as disturbing, I suppose. It is also possible to put forward a point of view that expresses disquiet about cultural integration and the minority who are hostile to ‘British values’ (whatever they are), but to do that sensitively and thoughtfully. To use the pejorative word ‘Londonistan’ and link it to a British man takes the argument into racist territory: Sadiq Khan is British, not all Muslims have a Pakistani heritage et etc.

It is not only that, but I have noticed the growing numbers of British evangelicals (of a particular church stance) succumbing  to a climate of fear: Muslims are evil, they want to take us over, we have to shout aggressively, sorry preach (Freudian slip…) at them etc etc. Just 2 weeks ago, I sat with someone from one of these churches; an otherwise reasonable and lovely person who told me that there was a ‘plot’ to take us over and that this was supported by the majority of Muslims…

A common characteristic of people who believe this stuff seems to be that they tend to come from large, male led churches that are ‘gathered’ and not community based. Most of them seem never to have never met and know someone who is a  Muslim in any meaningful sense.

Hearteningly, most of the comments on Twitter disagreed strongly with this picture. Apart from one who said something like ‘It is the truth and truth is uncompromising and hurts’. I suspect that the group has a similar point of view as it is still available online. (http://www.christianconcern.com/our-concerns/islam/londonistan-with-khan).

I am disturbed: most people whom I know who use the label ‘evangelical’ are Methodist in outlook and broadly leftward leaning. This harsh and shrill paranoia seems to be growing and it is deeply saddening.

 

Meldrew:4

I love your social media posts about your kids, grandkids etc, I love your honest opinions, I like your randomness, I like your opinions (political, social, cultural etc) even when I don’t agree with them, your hobbies are interesting; heck I’ll even take your pictures of cute cats and your undying love of One Direction/XFactor/Simply Come Bare Knuckle Fighting…

But…

I don’t like your constant posting of your wealth; unexpurgated and without and sense of irony or self awareness…neither do I much like that you don’t seem to have any political, intellectual or cultural passion that is worth posting about  …or you never seem to question yourself or your world and the story that you are in

I’m sure you do in real life and that you are a beautiful person. It wouldn’t hurt to lose the shiny, curated sheen a bit sometimes would it?

Meldrew:3

 

I am, like most people, gloriously inconsistent. As I get older I become more so. One thing that has not changed- in fact has deepened- has been my deep and abiding loathing for The Mail and The Express.

It is not that I object to newspapers with a right wing bent that much: I wouldn’t buy the Sun but it seems almost comic,The Telegraph is articulate and not bombastic (and has a great sports section) & The Times at least appears to be open sometimes.

What gets me about the Fail and the Express is the hysterical screaming headlines about asylum seekers/Muslims/benefit claimants etc. Usually the articles are biased, one sided (which most newspapers are, to be fair) and more worryingly, promote a climate of fear: ‘they’ are taking over, ‘they’ are leeching our wealth, ‘they’ are taking over our country, ‘they’ are scroungers etc.

I would imagine the effect of reading them is a kind of ‘drip-drip’ one: after a while you are seduced by their line and you begin to hate like they do and phrases like ‘I am not a racist, but…’, ‘common sense British values’ or ‘we are being taken over by political correctness’ seep through your consciousness. You cease to be open to any kind of reasoned debate and a profound suspicion of anyone who is not an imagined version of you becomes de rigeur.

Gradually your world gets smaller and ruled by a nameless fear of ‘the other’ and this becomes the norm… I did think once, bombarded by this constant diet of hate, fear, untruth and bias of arguing that Christians should think very carefully by giving space to these two dire publications, but I held back-just.

I almost wish I hadn’t.

 

 

 

Meldrew:2

Why do people read style magazines?

You know; magazines that are full of articles on how to ‘get the look’ in clothes, cars, decor or hair and display houses (that don’t seem to have messy humans living in them) or cars (that never seem to carry messy people).

I will accept that you may want to have an occasional glance: maybe you have had a severe existential crisis over choosing just the right shade of burnt ochre for your ethically sourced fair trade hot tub or your new BMW penis substitute hasn’t got quite the right texture of leather on the dashboard and therefore you need a new one.

But all the time? And then you get the thing/look/product and post repeated images of it on social media…and then experience status envy as someone else has something better and so you want more. And you are trapped in a cycle of never having quite enough.

Round these parts, some big company delivers a substantial free style magazine to every house. It is full of people living in a style that is unsustainable for many, but also inherently seductive: like acceptable middle class porn. It is also quite the fastest travelling thing in this house- from the front letter box to the recycling bin.

Embrace the dowdy, the second hand, the lived in…. and don’t read so many style magazines: they make the walls of your castle higher.

 

Meldrew:1

Sometimes people say to me ‘you are so nice’.

It concerns me: I don’t know what ‘nice’ is applied to a person, although I can guess at things like ‘insipid’ or ‘weak’. But also I think ”Nice?’ You don’t really know me’… So here are some things that unreasonably wind me up and fill me with apoplexy.

First up: driving. Not any kind of driving-I do not claim to be a ‘good’ driver in the sense I am any better than anyone else- but the kind of driving that takes place on country ‘A’ roads that averages around 35-45mph when the conditions allow for the maximum of 60mph. I make exceptions for learners, those recently passed or those approaching the end of their driving career.

Often this driving is accompanied by driving towards the middle of the road and slowing down as a hill or slope is climbed. Usually it is accompanied by the driver turning his/her head to talk to the person in the passenger seat…

…I can manage for so long until a long liturgy of mumbles, sarcasm and occasional ‘darns’and ‘blasts’ emit from my mouth.

I have never had the pleasure of meeting someone in front of me who drives like that, although being a nice Rev, I suspect I would smile meekly…and say…absolutely nothing…