Real, Awkward Christianity

Earlier this week I removed a post I’d written a few days ago from view. The reason was I have had it pointed out that what I had written was wrong and unfair. It was a comment I needed to hear.

Catfood’s wise and helpful comment said:

 ” we all compromise sometimes, every single one of us. sometimes it’s kindness that prompts it as we don’t want to hurt people, sometimes it’s weakness when we don’t want to set ourselves up.

But you know, when we portray the Church, and God knows I haven’t had the easiest ride in Church, as being cliquey, or exclusive, we do a real disservice to a body of people who simply do their best to be what they perceive their saviour to require of  them. we might not always ‘get’ them any more than they ‘get’ us, whatever ‘we’ may be…gay, trans, divorced, radical, liberal. But when we focus on what there is about us that is different, what we perceive they think of us, we risk misjudging people and we risk driving our own wedges in between us.”

This was as I say something I really needed to hear….and as often happens the timing was ideal. A big fault of mine is I do tend to focus on what I perceive people think of me and those around me.

I have clear ideas about what Christians should/ do think which fall into two camps – what “nice” and “good” Christians should/do think and what “messy” Christians should/ do think. Of course, like all stereotypes, there is an element of what some people have thought and done which feed in but most of it is founded on prejudice and/ or fear.

The reality is that church, like spirituality is often more messy and confusing than we would like it to be. Sometimes there are clear rules to be adhered to….but even then the reality is that they are often open to interpretation of meaning and can be/ are sometimes challenged. Other times there are no written instructions but there are norms of practice which emerge often varying according to context (historical, geographical and social).

There are times when the norms and values apparent in corporate worship in a church will differ significantly from those within small groups in the same congregation and what is said/ done in individual interaction can be different again. Again what happens can and does vary according to the context of the moment. Change inevitably is a continual process (however much we would like to say it doesn’t happen).

Sometimes that change isn’t easy…..as much because it requires us to acknowledge our stereotypes and self-imposed ideas of “being the other” were wrong and more comfortable to us than the reality.

On Sunday evening Karl is having a naming service at church, it is an opportunity for him to offer all that he truly is to God. Not sure what words will be used / form it will take but I know that this liturgy from Nadia Boltz Weber has been passed on to the minister taking the service as something to use as a starting point.

I have to admit that I have been unsettled by the whole thing. On one hand I think it is brilliant that Karl, who values sacramentality far more than I do, is able to have this opportunity to publicly come before God in this way but on the other it is challenging all my preconceptions about “the right way of doing things in church” and what we do/ don’t do and say to “maintain peace and unity”. Catfoods comment reinforced why I am wrong in my thinking and what underlies a lot of my issue…I am worried about what people will think of us (both in terms of who we are and as a result of the consequences I imagine could result if people within the congregation aren’t comfortable with our church leaderships decision to give Karl this naming service). These worries are not rooted in reality, but in my perceptions of what others might think. Having heard the testimony Karl has written after being asked to give one these worries increased as did my pride in Karl’s ability to simply be who he is. Karl is giving a testimony which is full of integrity and tells the truth of what God has done/ is doing in his life not in double speak which may or may not be understood by those listening to it but in a simple and straightforward way.

I’ve taught Durkheim’s theory about how change occurs and know quiet little things like this naming service are the sort of thing that bring movement in the norms and values of society. I have a nudging feeling that it is this idea of change which is what is perturbing me most. If asked I would say that I desperately want to be part of an inclusive church which is more messy but I am realising this is what I perhaps fear most. I have realised I like to know the rules and whilst I might want to challenge them they make me feel safe. The fact that Methodism has no guidelines relating to what is happening on Sunday scares me a little – in fact it scares me quite a lot. I know this is irrational and shows why in this context I am too churched but……it’s the reality practice is being established without the boundaries being clearly defined.

Ironically, if the same thing were happening in a Fresh Expression or Venture FX project I’d have no problem what so ever and it would seem the most normal thing in the world. It’s why the Venture:MK faith tent at Pride tomorrow (Campbell Park 11am – 7pm) holds no such concerns for me – Venture FX projects (as outlined in this Tablet article from Vicky Cosstick) are meant to be engaging with groups of people that I perceive church people having a problem with.

As I conclude this there are 3 short things I want to note:

1) the view of the mixed economy that has developed over the last decade does not help matters. Over the last decade we have been taught there is this division between “traditional” and “new forms” of church and this can reinforce unfair views about what “traditional” church does and doesn’t think and do. Each “traditional” church is different and each faces it’s own context. The truth is the mixed economy is not and should not be an either/ or dichotomy- it is a fluid continuum.

2) differences do exist and whilst we may focus too much on them and misjudge people, as Catfood says, there are people of all views and positions who have been hurt within congregations as we have sought to wrestle with our differences and with trying to maintain integrity and/ or unity.

3) change involves risk and risk is scary. Fear can reinforce prejudice, stereotyping and scapegoating and this needs acknowledging. We need to work corporately and individually to overcome our fears – wherever we are coming from.

Alot of rambling I know but this is one of those days when I needed to think out loud on the blog.

9 thoughts on “Real, Awkward Christianity

  1. NeverConforming

    Thank you for your very honest post. I read the earlier post (and in fact reviewed it as it is saved in my RSS feed… a note for other deleted posts).

    You’ve given me much to think about, and it ties in with a conversation with our Deacon yesterday about finding places of acceptance. I think the stage of self-acceptance within the church is one thing, but I also think that we have to hold onto the aspirational model of the church. Sometimes it’s very hard, and the biggest thing about finding that for me was when I walked away and stopped going to church. But I have to trust in God as represented by the people… and learn to trust again from scratch. I think, in relation to the importance of the church in transcending hurt and pain, that it can offer its welcome to all fully. As such, I would find it far more difficult if the established church was not able to offer Karl his service, than celebrate that it is. It is failing to be church if it cannot accept people for who they are, made in the very image of the one we worship. In suggesting that such services are more suited to venture church or emerging church risks doing a disservice to the church (at its best) and God. It also implies that there are different standards of church and hints at a level of judgment and discrimination… the very stuff we’re supposed to be fighting against.

  2. catfood

    3) change involves risk and risk is scary. Fear can reinforce prejudice, stereotyping and scapegoating and this needs acknowledging. We need to work corporately and individually to overcome our fears – wherever we are coming from

    Scarey is better than stagnant. I hope you bith have a wonderful time on sunday x

  3. tractorgirl Post author

    Thanks Never Conforming….agree with you totally about what our expectations of church should be. That’s part of what I was trying to get across I know alot of what I’m feeling is all wrong and the exact opposite of what my mindset should be and is reinforcing wrong divisions…me and God are having to do some serious business at the moment.
    Hope you guys are doing well.

  4. tractorgirl Post author

    Thanks Catfood and thanks for your wise words this week….much appreciated. Hope you are all well. :)

  5. NeverConforming

    That definitely makes sense, and as mentioned… thank you for your honesty. I have had some interesting discussions with a lecturer about the feelings and fears of a difficult church, as well as a church which embodies what we believe of God.

    We’re good, and getting settled into the new life. I will be thinking of you and Karl on Sunday… and hope it is an affirming experience for you both.

  6. catfood

    hs, ha, ha. Wise is an epithet I’d never expect to bei in the same sentence as my name. Many years ago you asked me to hold you accountable, and truth to tell I suspect I have compromised somewhat in that task. I love you too much to want to be critical.

    We’re fine. School holidays are wonderful things…especially for teachers ;-)

  7. balaam

    That’s honest. It takes guts to admit you were wrong.

    If it were me I would have left the old blog in place, but with a note at the top explaining that i was wrong. Still, each to their own.

  8. Fi

    This is a really interesting piece, especially given your desire to know what the “rules” are so you have something to push against and challenge! Having no guidelines would give you nowhere to push and this is when we all feel scared at a lack of boundaries. Remembering we are all individual and so don’t fit neatly in a stereotype is always an important lesson, as I am sure you have taught many students over the years!

  9. tractorgirl Post author

    Good point Fi, but they are important so you know how far you can push it and I actually like knowing what I am and aren’t allowed to do. I have taught many students about not fitting into and rejecting stereotypes but I have also taught more than I care to remember why the boundaries and rules are there to protect them and others. Hope you are well.

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