thoughts on faith, justice, politics and philosophy

Month: November 2014

Left Behind?

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They were gone. All of them. It happened almost in an instant. At first, people thought there had been some kind of trick played on them. Then they turned on the TV. It had happened everywhere.

God had taken the Christians away. Everyone left behind knew immediately what would follow. Seven years of hell-on-earth, near enough. The world was really in for it now. They hadn’t repented; they hadn’t prayed the prayer; they hadn’t gone to church; they hadn’t believed. And now they were going to suffer the consequences.

Initially there was chaos. Driver-less cars ground to a halt, millions of doctors and nurses and other public servants vanished, world leaders dissapeared creating a myriad of complex power vacuums, churches were looted, and criminal activity spilled out on to the streets as people realised what was happening.

Cars flew off highways. Planes crashed and burned, dropping like flies from the sky. Hospitals couldn’t cope with the shortage of doctors and nurses amongst the carnage. World leaders had vanished in an instant creating a myriad of power vacuums.

Watching from some far away place, all of the world’s Christians had gathered together with God and the angels. They watched from afar as the world burned. One of the angels looked at the screen in front of them, looked over at God and saw him smiling. A wry, knowing smile.

“What’s so funny?”, Gabriel said, concerned and confused by God’s seeming about-turn to destruction and devastation. “I thought we had gone past all of this, now? And the Christians aren’t even there to help”.

“Exactly”, said God, as he watched.

In that moment, one of the looters picked up a Bible from amongst the wreckage of a ransacked church. For fear of what might happen next, and out of sheer morbid curiosity, he began to read.

The man became instantly animated by what he had read. Soon the man was shouting and screaming at others nearby to do the same, and within minutes twenty or thirty people were stood, intently reading scriptures.

One of the renowned televangelists of the time piped up. “That’ll show ’em”, he said, arms folded. “Now they’ll know exactly what’s a-comin’ to ’em.”

Gabriel glanced nervously at God. And then the worst thing of all happened.

In the months that followed the fighting began to die down. People all over the world were counting the cost of the chaos. But something had changed.

“I thought they were due another six and a half years of this, at least” murmured the televangelist.

Fleetingly, God broke his stern silence. “There are many things you don’t know”.

The crowd of Christians watched as society began to repair itself. But it didn’t just repair itself. Society was transformed. Financial institutions and systems were ripped down and replaced, military spending ended, conflicts were resolved. People went out of their way to bring peace. Nobody was left alone – not one person was left without community, without love, without companionship. Old enemies forgave one another. The world had been transformed.

People began to gather together in groups, sharing meals, stories and… reading the scriptures together. As they sat around and read the gospels, a sweetness descended upon the heavens. God couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as thousands upon thousands of people began to recognise his presence on earth.

“I… I don’t understand” said the televangelist. “This could have been so much quicker if you had just answered our prayers and helped us!”

“Oh, it’s quite simple,” said God. “The problem was, they weren’t really ever told about the Way. Just the Way Out. I always knew that the people would hear the good news. I just had to get you all out of the way, first.”

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Cynical about cynicism

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It’s astonishingly easy to be cynical. I’ve tried to give up being overly so in the last couple of weeks – especially in my blogging, and I have found how difficult it is to re-train my mind to think positively, and to come up with a good blog in the absence of an easy attack on some particular area of church life.

But it occurs to me that in one particular area, cynicism is not only unhelpful but is also hypocritical. That particular area is the area of doubt. One of the most frustrating and difficult aspects of wrestling with or questioning faith on any significant level is that others, less conflicted or confused about what they may or may not believe or what may or may not be true, can trivialise doubt.

My reaction to this was to find a new spiritual home among the doubters. I gobbled up anything written by the likes of Pete Rollins, Søren Kierkegaard, Kester Brewin and other writers and theologians. I read poetry by fellow strugglers. I spent hours dismantling faith arguments, and I even gave up God for lent. In part, these were genuine attempts to reconnect with some kind of spirituality and some kind of faith.

But they were also done to make a point. I wanted to show all of those who trivialised my struggles that I wasn’t alone. I wanted to show them that I could carve my own way in the world without their trite statements and their optimistic outlooks. I wanted to wind them up with my “a/theism”. I had become totally cynical about belief.

The upshot of this is that instead of creating a positive space for doubt, I colluded with others over the death of Evangelical/Modern Christianity. Instead of showing grace to those who misunderstood me, I showed contempt. And in return I created more distance, more misunderstanding, and further problems.

Moreover, having moved on from the depths of this, I find myself now struggling with even the most basic aspects of church or faith, precisely because of my cynicism. On one level, I can see great value in this. It is cautious, reserved and unlikely to allow me to commit to something I shouldn’t. On another level, it means that I find myself doing mental gymnastics trying to justify taking part in church over the most basic of theological discrepancies.

Maybe this is all just me. But I have had many a conversation with cynical and struggling friends, and the one thing I can see consistently happening is an inability to engage further with church. The cynical me says “so what”. But the part of me that is trying to shed that way of thinking reminds the rest of me that the church is what I’ve got – whether I like it or not. The church is at the very least a small part of a whole bunch of people who are pursuing the same God that I am pursuing. At the very most they are my co-pilgrims though life.

Worse still I see this affecting my relationship with “God” (quotes used for effect, of course). If I posture myself negatively towards the world and towards my ability to interact with God, then I wonder if maybe, just maybe, I am taking the easy route out. Or not the easy route, but an easy route.

The other easy route is to believe, to not question, to commit without over-thinking, to be sure of my faith and not allow it to be probed, prodded, ripped apart and reassembled. But perhaps there is a better middle way? I’m just not sure yet exactly what it looks like.

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