Lost Faith

Lost
“Your hope is not a mocking dream… We cannot hope until we know, however obscurely, that there is something to hope for…”
Maria Boulding

Some may have noticed a lack of posts the last month or so. Rather than explaining I will share some journal excerpts that I wrote this weekend during a retreat at Worth Abbey:

______________
I’m finding a slowness in my soul. A pain that is just ahead of me that I want to feel but, like in a dream, I’m weighed down and can’t catch it. I only ever get the tail end – a dull unsatisfactory ache. I long to pass through the pain, to weep it out; the fear, the insecurity.

I long for peace, for healing, for forgiveness. Where have I gone? Father…
______________
There is a firing range nearby, I can hear the shots through the forest. In this peaceful place, a faint reflection of war.
Somewhere deep inside, hidden in the woods, a battle rages – but on the surface it seems calm.

Where will peace come from? From Christ? I’m told… I want to believe that.

But the echoes of the firing range follow me as I walk up the muddy path back to the monastery
______________

Advent has begun. A time for new beginnings. This advent I want to let go, to be okay with being lost.

My journal entries speak of a desire to feel. To encounter my emotions, letting them flow and to encounter Christ. These are my prayers for advent.

“If you want God, and long for union with him, yet sometimes wonder what that means or whether it can mean anything at all, you are already walking with the God who comes. If you are at times so weary and involved with the struggle of living that you have no strength even to want him, yet are still dissatisfied that you don’t, you are already keeping Advent in your life. If you have ever had an obscure intuition that the truth of things are somehow better, greater, more wonderful than you deserve or desire, that the touch of God in your life stills you by its gentleness, that there is a mercy beyond anything you could ever suspect, you are already drawn into the central mystery of salvation.” – Maria Boulding – The Coming of God
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Sometimes We Break

Diary

I am the sum total of every moment that has lead up to now. Memories of night swims with friends in the Newlands Resevoir, the intimate moments of vulnerability, soft kisses and gentle tears, mistakes of pride, mistakes of shame, darkness, joy, finding Christ, losing Christ, losing myself, letting Christ find me… letting Christ love me.

And life whirls on in a blur of autumn leaves, winter nights, and spring-filled pain that summers into new beginnings. Every wound, strike upon my back, my breast, self inflicted, yet mirrored upon Him. Not in judgement but in Love. As I break He holds me together and the storm rages on.

I remember a reflection I once did. It was from a spiritual guide. I was a statue, a construction of time and weather; crafted with care and precision. Imagine, the reflection lead, that you are a statue. What do you look like? And finally, how does Jesus see you?

As I followed the instructions, I pictured a broken, flawed statue; Blackened by time, cracked and chipped and slowly crumbling. Over my arms were chains, locked into the ground.
I imagined Jesus coming to see me, this ruin. What could He possibly see in me, how could He love this? And yet, in my minds eye, quite unexpectedly, He embraced me. With all the chains and cracks and flaws and brokenness, He just loved. I could only cry in response.

As I’ve travelled through Europe the last three weeks, I’ve met beautiful people from all over the world. Sometimes it was a long discussion in a backpackers, and other times it was a brief encounter in broken French and dramatic gestures. But each moment was another chip into the stone face of my life, creating definition, refining me. And yet, in the whirl wind of isolated travelling, what I thought would be a chance to escape myself, my thoughts and fears, has been just the opposite. I left, but it turns out I came with too. And there have been many moments of looking at myself, this broken scultpure, and trying to remember what it felt like when Jesus embraced me in my brokenness. Because sometimes that is hard to believe.

Often thoughts will turn against me and I will think there is no way I am worthy of following Him. He wouldn’t want me. This hypocrite. This blind guide. Yet I remember His followers – The tax collector, the zealot, the denier, the traitor… All broken, all called.

And perhaps that is the key. He calls me, not because I am worthy, but because He loves me.
In every broken moment, He is there. In every quiet forest walk, He walks beside me. In the silence of a dark night, He whispers my name.

“For our courteous Lord does not want his servants to despair because they fall often and grievously; for our falling does not hinder him in loving us… He wants us so to take heed that he is the foundation of our whole life in love, and furthermore that he is our everlasting protector, and mightily defends us against all our enemies, who are very cruel and very fierce towards us, and so our need is great, the more so because by our falling we give them occasion.” – Julian of Norwich

The Art of Living

I am in London.

So you know all those posts on Facebook like this:

dontwaitfortheperfectmoment_zpsb5d25580

Yeah, they suck.

The reason is they tell a half truth and they do it in a kitch, cheesy, sentamentalised way.

I think a lot of people see these sorts of messages as motivational or inspiring because, well, life can be boring sometimes and so this must mean I am wasting my life away. The conclusion, take life by the horns and quit my job! Sail off to a foreign country and backpack through Peru!

Great!

No!

The reason I feel strongly about this is because I fall into this way of thinking often.
But I learn over and over that there is nothing on Earth that can make me happy.

Nothing makes me happy.

Yes, nothing. If I stop expecting, stop desiring, stop coveting and just be, then I start to touch freedom.

This is a message preached by many religions including Christianity but it is an extremely difficult attitude to adopt, especially in today’s world.

Just be. If what made us content was just being, imagine that peace? Sitting in the office, in traffic, on a long journey, content with who I am and what I am and everything that is around me.

Now I don’t believe that we can’t enjoy material things, they just mustn’t be the end goal.

A year ago I was in London and this city nearly killed me. A lot of the factors were out of my control, but one of my biggest stresses was that I felt like I wasn’t maximizing my time here. This put a weight on my shoulders. Where was the adventure? I was just me living somewhere else.
There was no epiphany or magical moment. There was growth, yes, but that happens when we are open to change, and change doesn’t always need to be continents apart.

And here I am, a year later, back in London. This time, with a much healthier attitude. I am planning to travel a bit and then return to Cape Town but I am consciously making the effort to drop any expectations I may have and let things be what they are. I cannot “craft” the life I want. Life is not a fine art, it is more of a Pollock painting.

"Plain Number One of 1948"

“Plain Number One of 1948”

The more you think about it, the worse you make things.

Perhaps this is what is meant by “the Art of Living” – to stop trying so hard, and to just be.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. – Jesus of Nazareth, Circa 30AD, 1st Century.

Our Own Calvary

Look at a crucifix. Reflect on whom that corpse embodied.
The Architect of the Universe, compacted into that bleeding mass.
Can I honestly say, and accept in the depths of myself:
“Yes, it’s inescapable. I am worth that.”
-William J. O’Malley, Holiness

image-15da1f18-35e6-4b33-aa11-39f487b1e07a
I recently watched the film Calvary and I found myself deeply affected by it.

What really stood out to me was the rawness, the brokenness of the characters. How they represented our woundedness, a fallen world. It was real. And then how the protagonist, Fr. James, like Christ, meets his flock where they are. He loves them and accepts them in their brokenness.

We all carry our own crosses. We all trek towards our own calvary, bearing the weight of past failures, grief, imperfections, regrets…

and Anxiety…

As I walk my weary way on this earthly pilgrimage, I often consider the weight of my own cross. I wonder what my life would be like without Anxiety, without Obessisive Compulsive Disorder. The days when I struggle to focus, when I notice my jaw clenched tightly shut and my shoulders tense and I have to remind myself to relax. Days when I feel both happy and sad simultaneously. A deep pain that can’t really be explained but which is overlaid with a gratitude. A gratitude that my hurt, my brokenness is not who I am, and that there is a hope beyond any earthly experience, no matter how horrific.

My burden, as small as it is in relation to the world’s pain, helps me to love and appreciate goodness both in myself and in others. What I notice too is that without Christ’s help, without Him walking by my side, helping me carry my cross, if He were to leave me for just an instant, I would be crushed by the weight.

Redemptive suffering is not easy. It can sound romantic sometimes to “offer it up”. To offer ones hurts and sorrows up to God as a prayer – a way of asking Him to enter into our suffering and bear it with us and for us. Which He does.
And as beautiful as it is, it is not easy. When we suffer, we want to not suffer and when I was in my darkest space a year ago in London, I wanted to die. I didn’t want to “offer it up.”

Yet… God was with me in that darkness and that Calvary I experienced in London has been followed by a resurrection. New life, joy, peace… Am I still burdened by anxiety? Yes but I have come to see that I can do nothing by my own strength. And that takes the pressure off!

When we look around the world today and see a broken, fallen world. When we see “nothing new under the sun,” and we feel hopeless, all we can do is trust in the ressurection. Trust that God will have the final say and He will make all things new.

God loves us. We’ve become so desensitised to that saying but I challenge you now to reconsider it. God, the Creator of life and the One who holds everything in its place, who is holding this moment, right now as you read, in existence. This God loves you.

Have you ever been so frustrated and hurt that all you want to do is smash something or hit someone? Well Christ took our blows. He saw our pain, entered into it and as we poured our rage, pain, turmoil, confusion, hatred into each lash, each hammering and piercing of flesh, as we lifted Him up
and mocked Him from our own insecurities, mocked Him from our own fears and pride, He took it all on and loved us, and forgave us.

And now we are weary. We’ve poured and poured and poured our pain out, we’ve tried filling the emptiness with everything we can think of, and now, exhausted we collapse.

It is here, with our faces in the dust, that Christ comes to us.

If the world seems hopeless to you right now, consider that dark day on Calvary as God hung from that Cross. The day God died. And from that darkness and desolation, when all seemed lost, Christ’s victory was won.

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
— St. Teresa of Avila

Why Have You Forsaken Us?

F1090023Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy – Psalm 126

Here’s a question to ponder: What is the Kingdom of God?

I love that line of the Psalm… But looking around the world today I would say we’re doing a lot of sowing at the moment and not a lot of singing with joy.

Which sucks.

I think I’d be a good atheist. I’d be vehemently anti-religion and I would believe that needing a God in order to do good in the world was archaic thinking. I’d accuse religion of suppressing woman and manipulating people with propaganda and fear. I’d look around the world and say, “How do you believe this God stuff when there is no evidence of His existence. Children die, catastrophes strike, where is God?”

But I am not an atheist. So perhaps I am just a bad Christian.

So where is God?

You know, God asked Himself the same question. My God. My God, why have you forsaken me?

As a Catholic, over time my understanding of Christianity has evolved. I’ve come to believe that Christianity is not a “belief system”, it is a way of life. The most radical way of life there is.

It is not about devotion or piety, because those things are meaningless without love.

In the Church there seem to be two ways of thinking when it comes to “The Kingdom of God”.

There is the idea that the world is shot and it’s going down in flames and so we better batten down the hatches and hold on tight and hope we make it through the other side when Jesus comes back.

But that doesn’t fly with me. The reason is, yes, the world is a mess, God may seem to be absent to us but Jesus gave us a mission to “go and make disciples of all nations.” He also said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

Why would Jesus give us a mission if it were an impossible one to begin with? If that was the case he would’ve said, “Okay listen guys, go and make disciples of all nations. I will be with you until the end of the age… not!”

Christian’s believe that Christ has conquered death and evil and we believe that when He returns He will set all things right but I like to build on that and say Christ wants us to bring His kingdom now. To go out into the fringes of society and love.

There is no point sitting around, claiming righteousness and waiting for the end. That’s like sitting on the nose of a plane as it heads for the ground when you actually know how to fly the plane.

We have been sent and that is why I have hope for the world. I believe that we don’t have to wait for the fireballs to start falling from the sky to say “at last God is sorting this mess out.” If we do that, He’ll step out of a cloud and ask, “Um, what did you guys do while I was away?”

Instead He has given us everything we need and more to change the world and to bring peace on earth.

He’s the exasperated parent who bought his kid all the new running gear and then when the clapper goes at the start line the child bursts into tears and sits down. He loves us anyway but it’s a bit of a waste!

So I believe we shall reap in songs of joy. The world will be okay. We will all be okay.
It will hurt,it will take sacrifice, it will be very uncomfortable but I really and truly believe it is possible because God has tasked us with making it so because even when we are faithless He is faithful because He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13) .

Thomas Merton on Free Will

Motivation at a low in recent days.

I’ve spent the last week working on a passion project; A typographic animation of a lecture by Thomas Merton on Free Will.

I posed a theological dilemma to our parish deacon a few days ago. In tongue and cheek I asked him how someone could be held accountable for his or her actions if that person was brought up in an environment that provided more opportunities to choose a life of gangsterism than opportunities for education and employment. Who’s to say that person would have turned out the same if he was given the same opportunities and privileges that I have had in my life?

He replied by asking me how Cain new it was wrong to kill Abel. In the moment I didn’t have an answer. How did Cain know it was wrong to kill Abel? He was essentially the first murderer and he had no “preconception” of right and wrong. After a bit of thought, the answer seems to be that Cain had the knowledge of what is right and wrong already written in his heart. We know he knew he had done wrong when God questions him he responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. Having God’s law written on his heart may not be the most satisfactory answer but when I think of someone born into a situation where gangsterism seems like an appealing life choice, that’s the key: It is still a choice. A harder one than any I’ve had to face, but a choice nonetheless. Does God take that into account?

I’d like to believe that.

 

I Think You Believe in God

I think a lot of people today believe in God.

Embankment Station, London at nightAnd maybe for a lot of people they don’t say “God” but rather, the universe or, great energy… or the force.
But somehow it seems there is a comparatively small number of people who will actually say, “I don’t believe there is a God.”

For many, that’s the end of their spiritual adventure. Because what does it matter?
Around us are archaic religions with outdated ideas who just end up killing each other over trivial things.

Most of these religions are run by old, celibate white men who really need to get with the times.
They repress sexuality, and indoctrinate children. They promote superstition and ultimately, they create a system of belief which is self-perpetuating, in that, you need to be part of “the club” in order to be okay with God. And if you act or think differently, you are doomed.

And God is just a comfort blanket for people who are afraid of the reality that when we die there is nothing.

I think I’ve outlined the main arguments against “God” and “organised religion”.

These arguments are right, and wrong. They are right in so far as, yes, those things and ideas have been perpetuated and practiced by some, but they are also wrong because they assume these ideas are ultimately what religion is about.

Religion is not man-made. Religion is a word. And the word is about Man and his relationship with God. And we start from there.

So maybe you believe in God, or maybe you don’t.
But I am sure you believe in respect, in morality and in old-fashioned good nature and manners.
I like respect. Let’s look at the idea of respect. What does it look like in practice?

War?

Hate?

Bigotry?

Rape?

Recklessness?

Lying and Cheating?

Self-medication?

My point, being fairly basic, is that respect is a human virtue. If someone wants the betterment of humanity, she believes in respecting her fellow human beings. Would that be fair to say?

Respecting their dignity. Respecting their opinions. Respecting their rights. Respecting their safety and security. Respecting their privacy. Respecting their health. Respecting their bodies. Respecting their sexuality. Respecting their achievements. Respecting their humanity.

Sounds like a good idea, huh? Wouldn’t that be a fantastic world to live in if everyone did that?

Well why don’t we?

If we are so sure that the answer is simple. That people just need to be good to each other, then why aren’t we living in an ideal world?

There is an ancient story. A man approaches his teacher and asks:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

The teacher replies:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

The problem with the world is not religion, as many people try to imply. The problem with the world is mankind.

What people seem to think is that “religion” is a “no”; That belief in God is a “no”

I personally struggle to see how people can think this. Everything within Christianity is ordered toward loving better.

Meet hate with Love.
Meet violence with Love.
Meet pain with Love.
Meet suffering with Love.
Meet disaster with Love.
Meet people with Love.

And what is Love? Desiring the best for others.

How does this not sound like a good thing?

We live in a society of entitlement. We feel entitled to things; Entitled to a comfortable life. Entitled to peace. Entitled to sex. Entitled to money. Entitled to freedom.

Yet none of those things mean anything without love. A comfortable life without a desire to improve others lives is a lonely, self-centred existence. Peace without love I don’t think is possible, it is just “keeping the peace”. Sex without love is using. Money without love is capitalism. Freedom without love is not freedom.

I guess my point is that your desire to be “a good person” is a desire to love. And a desire to love is a desire to put others first. It is not a warm fuzzy feeling or “romantic love”, it is sacrifice and commitment. This is counter cultural. We are told if something “isn’t working for you” then ditch it. The whole idea of commitment has gone out the window.

For this idea of wanting the best for others to work, there has to be a belief that at everyone’s core, even if they don’t know it themselves, is the same desire to love; And an inherent dignity. If we are really loving them we need to love their potential.

These ideas are the fundamental ideas of Christianity. Which, by the way, is “a religion.”

So if someone doesn’t believe in God but thinks all these ideas are good ideas, then where do those ideas come from and why are they so difficult to put into practice? If it were instinct, or just a sociological development, then I believe we’d be a lot better at actually doing it. But let’s be honest, we suck.

Christianity is and has always been, a revolutionary religion. Jesus challenged the status quo. He challenged the idea of personal gain over communal gain. The idea of rituals over faith. The idea of law over love. The idea of justice of over mercy.

And that’s why I love Him. He is the only thing that makes sense to me in this world.

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. From the book of Jeremiah, Chapter  31 Verse 33. Jeremiah was a prophet and is recognized as one by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The Jump

It is Easy to be Afraid

we-are-nTake courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

 “Come,” he said.

How do we respond?

How do we respond in the face of such incomprehensible malice and cruelty?

As I write this, thousands of Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities are fleeing for their lives.
The extremist group ISIS is literally hunting down these minority groups and committing the most atrocious acts of barbarism on man, woman and child.

Unfortunately, ISIS is claiming to be acting  in “the name of God.”
This is reprehensible. What ISIS is doing has nothing to do with God, and they know it.
At the root of all of this, as with all human conflict, is pride, power and greed.

As I was praying this morning I said to God, “It is so easy to be afraid.” I wanted to know why. How could He allow all of this? Gaza, Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria… Why? How?

It brought back my questions of “the Happy Ending”. Many of us live comfy, cushioned lives where we can moan and complain about bad WIFI signal and noisy neighbours. When we go through a hard time we are told, “It will all work out in the end.” – We spout trite, patronising phrases like that which mean very little.

It doesn’t work out sometimes. For many people right now, it really isn’t working out.

It is so terrible that I don’t think we can even fully understand how horrific it is. I imagine it must have been something like this when people heard about what was happening in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Today is also the Feast Day of St.Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan Friar who was sent to Auschwitz in 1941. After a prisoner escaped, 10 men were sentenced to death in punishment. Maximilian offered himself in the place of one of the men, who was a young father.

So what can we do? Pray. Pray. Pray. If we have the means to contribute to one of the charities working in Iraq currently, we can do that. Raise awareness. It’s amazing how little this is being spoken about.

The world is in pain right now.

Life is confusing. Life is raw. We push our boat off the shore and set sail. A storm rises up and our boat is tossed in the waves.

“Come.”

Christ calls us to step out of our boat. To walk on water. A seemingly impossible feat. It is only by faith that we can achieve this.

And now, in the darkness of this storm, we need to have faith that Christ will reach out and save us. Save us all. We need to believe that He will, because He will.

Through the eyes of God, all our human affairs are put into perspective. He sees us as children; Confused, uncertain, stubborn, foolish children. And He loves us.

He loves everyone… Even those committing the terrible acts of violence in Iraq. He loves them…
So much that He would die for them… So much that He would die for all of us.

It is times like these that bring me some insight as to why Christ came to earth and why He died on the cross. Calvary, in all its darkness and anguish begins to make some sense.

All our conflict, all our hatred, all our pride, pain, fear and resentement, when we act inhumanely to each other, we do this to God, because He loves us so much and He is in each one of us. But He says, “That’s okay. I can take it.” And there we have the cross.

God, nailed to a tree by us. . . yet, for us.

Yes, these are difficult times to understand but the power of the Cross is greater than any evil. Far greater. The Cross takes all the evil of the world on itself, defeats it and transforms it.

And so I look forward to the day when all of this evil is defeated and transformed. That day may not be in this life, but that day will come.

Do not doubt that. Do not be afraid. As much as those words don’t mean much in the current world climate, we need to have faith. Otherwise what else do we have?

Who Am I?

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM“; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

On My Way!Who Am I? Sometimes I think this question is at the root of our human experience. It is what drives us. It is a desire to know ourselves, to know where we fit in and what makes me “me”. What is my identity?

We are social beings, we thrive in community. I believe one of our greatest fears is that people will reject us. As a result we live by the book, following the script written by countless generations before us.

Imagine a scenario where a group of people come together for a book club. They were all supposed to have read a chapter of their current book before the meeting but none of them has.
They make small talk and divert the conversation for as long as they can, each one of them feeling embarrassed and scared of what the others might think. Some even lie about the chapter and make up opinions so as to appear to have done the reading.

Finally, one person confesses to having not done the reading and the tension is broken, everyone admits and the group laughs, feeling closer and more bonded than before.

This book club is a lot like life. We jostle for our place in society pretending to have it all together but we are all just lost on the inside. We’re afraid to admit it but if we do, we find that everyone is really in the same boat, and there is liberation in knowing this. It takes the pressure off.

I find it interesting how many people take those “tests” on Facebook:  “What Disney Character Are You?”, “What Is Your Celebrity Alter Ego?”, “What City Should You Really Live In?”.

I’ve taken plenty myself. Sure, they can be a laugh but I feel those tests are so popular because we desire identity, we are searching for meaning and for who we are. We like it when our ideas of who we are are affirmed, which is often why those tests are flawed because we will answer according to what we want the outcome to be.
Which describes you best: Shy, Adventurous, Bookish, Fun?
I secretly want to be an adventurer so I choose adventurous. The result tells me, “You are an explorer! Seeking adventure and thriving off change!” – Yes! No… I am actually insecure and afraid of so many things. I want to be an explorer because I believe that will fulfil me. But will it?

A year ago today, I boarded my plane and began my journey to London. This was my adventure. This was my initiation; I was going to find my place and my identity.
Well, this did happen, but not in the way I expected at all! So here I am, on the Feast of St.Dominic, back in Cape Town recovering from a traumatic, life changing, OCD episode but strangely, in so many ways, I’ve never been happier.

I’ve admitted that I didn’t do the reading.

Somehow, in that surrender, lies the key to feeling more at peace in my own skin. Realising that I am who I am, warts and all, and that is enough. I am not claiming to have reached “enlightenment”. I am still insecure and afraid of many things, I still fear rejection, I am still human. And that is fine and good. But just as shading gives a drawing definition, our flaws help shape our character.
My insecurities affect me, but they don’t define me.

St. Augustine’s most overused quotation is, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rests in you.”

The quote’s popularity is, in itself, telling. We relate to the phrase “our hearts are restless” so much because we are restless. We seek
and seek but we do not find because we seek in the world.

But we are not made for this world. At least, that’s my belief. We desire more, something greater which cannot be found in this life.

An image comes to mind of a barren wasteland in which I stand, seeking out some form of life, some sign of colour in a colourless world. I run and run, seeking in vain, trying so hard to feel and to see something which I haven’t felt or seen before but I know exists somehow. Eventually I trip and fall into the dust. At first, I want to give up, and so I weep, as all feels lost.
But then I open my eyes and notice that where my tears have fallen, a small flower has sprouted and it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

It is in surrender that we find what we are seeking, we cannot find it on our own.

And what we are seeking is God. Nothing else. And He is waiting for us all.

No matter your creed, code, culture or religion, try and say a prayer
now. Reach into that place in yourself that is hurting, and then lift it up to the I AM, the Divine Being. Realise that He is here, right now, within you, around you and that you are in Him, and He IS Eternity.

Peace and Happy Feast of St. Dominic.

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – Jesus Christ

Little “Christian” Boxes

Box

Image Credit: Gisela Giardino

Labels are ridiculous things.

They push up the price and they make clothes more difficult to iron.

They also stop people from thinking for themselves.

I have been thinking a lot recently about the “ideal Church”. What would it look like? Who would be its members?
There appears to be a paradox in Christianity at first glance. We are told that our faith makes us fully who we are, yet often individual expression is frowned upon.It happens on all fronts, whether you are “liberal” or “conservative” or “whatever”.

Take a label like “Worship Music” – As Christians, we tend to accept that it is what it is and there is a certain sound to it and a certain way to play it. Who said that that was the case? Who decreed that henceforth all Christian songs shall be of the progression G,Em,C2,D ?
Who decreed that we shall repeat the chorus twenty times with more and more fervour each time?
Who said there should be a lull midway through where the “worship leader” can interject an emotive prayer?
Why should I like that kind of music? Why should I? Because I am Christian???

This ethos extends to bigger issues; That there are certain ways to act about particular topics.
Any choice to act contrary to the “done way” is seen as a rejection of the actual teaching.

“Hey come and stand on the corner with our anti-rhubarb pie pickets!”
“Erm….. I…”
“You are anti-rhubarb pie aren’t you?”
“Well… yeah…”
“Great! Come along!”

If I don’t want to picket rhubarb pie, does that exclude me from the club? Am I somehow less committed? Who decided that picketing on the corner was the best approach anyway? Sure, someone did, somewhere down the line but since then no one else has bothered questioning the status quo. “It’s just how it’s done.”

Protest Picket Pie

Image Credit: Kheel Center (modified)

Okay, I know I am generalising and exaggerating. But I am doing so for effect.

The question is, what does a Christian look like? Hopefully, themselves.

We don’t sign away our personalities at our baptism. Sure, we put on Christ, we change our lives and our priorities, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be who we are. I believe that at our cores, we are good, we are made in the image and likeness of God. After we were created, God saw that all creation was very good. I feel quite convicted that our belief in God should draw out our uniqueness, draw out who we were created to be. It should not conform us to a box. There is no Christian box.

My friend pointed something out to me recently which took me by surprise. I was essentially telling him everything I have just written above and he responded, “I don’t want my Church to conform to me. It should challenge me.”

It was that comment that prompted me to write this post. He is of course, spot on.
At the crux of this debate is, what is the purpose of Church? To bring together believers? To praise and glorify God? To have communion with God?
Perhaps there is a clue in the final words of the Mass. “The Mass has ended, go forth to love and to serve the Lord.” To which we respond, “Thanks be to God!”

My challenge is to stop being so focused on the inward functioning’s and dynamic of the Church and to flipping get out into the field and make a difference in other people’s lives.
My prayer is that we, I, may let go of my preconceptions of how a Christian should be and rather let my heart be led by love.

Perhaps the inverse argument is true… Perhaps when I can embrace all variations of the Christian expression, rather than expect Church to embrace me, perhaps then we have the beginnings of a truly Catholic Church.