Published: May 2008
Of late, I have come into contact with more and more people who tell me that they struggle to call themselves Christian. I, myself, am one of those people. You might think, "What an odd thing for a priest to say." Yet, I can assure you, there are many of us saying it.
Years ago, a priest I knew, now long retired, told me the church was dead. I was fairly young and innocent at the time and argued vociferously that it was ridiculous to make such a statement when he and I and many others were making our livelihood by working for this ostensibly dead institution. It seemed absurd to suggest that the very thing which was putting food on my table and was about to provide him with a pension was actually dead--gone, deceased, departed, lying in the grave, hasta la vista, as they say. It seemed absurd and, more to the point, hypocritical and dishonest to be suggesting such a thing.
Now, as I find myself older and greyer, I wonder if my friend wasn't right. It no longer feels difficult for me to ponder the reality that the church, if not actually dead, is barely living on life support.
Jesus was a Jew
It's a metaphor, of course, a metaphor which describes the extraordinarily small impact which the church as we have always known it, actually has on our society. Heavens, years ago when my friend said this, shopping on Sunday was still illegal while hockey and everything else rarely took place on that day of the week. If my friend regarded the church's influence on society as dead then, there can be little question that it must certainly be so now! Hence, the huge dilemma in which many of us currently find ourselves. If we continue to call ourselves Christian in the face of an institution that resembles a cadaver rather than a living, breathing body, what is it we are trying to say as we persist in assuming this title, and what is it that often makes us think twice about actually wanting to wear it?
I, for one, am deeply disturbed by the distance we seem to have travelled from the original message and person of Jesus. During a study which I led several years ago, one of the members of the group referred to Jesus' early followers as Christians. "Excuse me," I said. "The early followers of Jesus were Jews. Christianity was an unknown term in the time to which you are referring." This person brushed my comment aside with a response something like, "Oh sure, we all know that but that's not what's important here." Au contraire, I thought, it is extremely important because it's the very thing that the church has conveniently managed to forget. Jesus, himself, was a Jew; his first followers were Jewish and neither he nor they ever intended to start a new religion.
A new breed of Christianity
To its detriment the church has either forgotten or buried its origins and in doing this, it has managed to repeat the same mistakes of its ancestors. The following of rules and regulations – doing things the "right" way--has become the order of the day. Rather than being a religion which holds in highest esteem the loving relationship of God with God's people and people with one another, Christianity has become a religion of rights and wrongs, of being allowed in or being kicked out. Some of us are desperately trying to find our way back to the premise of a faith based on love because we understand this to have been the premise out of which Jesus operated. Only if we are able to discover that a thread of this still exists in the church will we then believe that we can continue to call ourselves Christian. To do this, we need convincing that the church is first and foremost committed to following the commandment to love....
Published: November 2008
Related Topics: Spirituality
My last article concerned the topic of "Titles" and how we use them. Let me follow up with the topic "Names": Somewhat related but Names and Naming is somewhat more substantive.
There's power in names. The Hebrew people recognized that and many of their Names have significant meanings. "Emmanuel" means "God with us" which would be a potent message as one might observe someone named Emmanuel strolling down a Jerusalem avenue. The name Isaac means "Laughter", the result of Laughter being the response when his mother, in older age, was told she was to have a baby. And people would be reminded, when they heard his name mentioned, of the humour that accompanied his conception.
Consider things in a very personal manner, too. You are in a large supermarket, perhaps, and think that you are alone and unknown, when suddenly you hear your own name called out. That's a personal moment of empowerment – that's my name; I am unique.
When you "name" something or someone, you exercise power and reveal something important in the person so named.
For example when we are confronted by something scary or frightening we become silent and paralyzed in its presence. At that moment it could be important to name that Fear and by doing so, observe it lose some of its power. Cancer is one such word and the Fear that accompanies it.
When you boldly, humbly and directly confront this fear by "naming", you are able remove much of its supposed power over you.
There is again the Naming of something that is important and good.
We ought to do this more and notice the increase in its relevance and power.
Think, for example, of naming who we are within our ecclesiastical tradition. For some months now we have witnessed our Communion's name being somewhat abused by those who seem to wish harm. That kind of thing needs challenging, so let's name ourselves who we are: "The Anglican Communion Family of Faith. By doing this, we will remember the history and the greatness of our Anglican roots in the British Isles through the witness of the Church of England and our Celtic Roots in Iona, Lindisfarne and other places of importance. As we do we will recall names of our heroes and saints such as Saint Columba, Saint Cuthbert, the Venerable Bede and Saint Patrick from northern England and southern Scotland, as well as in Ireland. We recall too, the unique richness of the Anglican Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries and names such as Richard Hooker, Thomas Cranmer, and Bishops Latimer and Ridley. Anglicanism does have a rich heritage and we need to name it as we call people in our times to build on that heritage.
And when we come to reflect on the naming of God, we need to heed the caution exercised by the People of Israel. They were inspired to be cautious and silent when the Naming of the Holy One. Recently I have read a new translation of the Psalms (written by an Old Testament/Hebrew scholar, Dr. Tom Barnett who deliberately avoids using the word "God" and, substitutes "Holy One" as perhaps more appropriate and poignant. That sort of "Naming" is significant for me because it releases the power of Mystery of Divine Love. It also suggests a widening and deepening understanding of the Creative Love, rather than an "in the box", limiting kind of thing.
Names are important! (Shakespeare's admonition to the contrary) Name the evil and put it in its proper place. Name the good and call others to contemplate its vitality.
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