Who do you say I am?

The question is Jesus’.  He asks it to Peter but I wonder if we, the church, were to ask the same question of our communities what kind of answer we might get?

I noticed on Question Time on BBC the other night someone referred to Britain as a ‘Christian country’ before launching into a tirade about how ‘they’ come here and take ‘our’ jobs and live separately and don’t want to integrate.  I don’t want to get into that discussion just now, not because it isn’t important, it is, but because I would prefer to spend some time and thought on any contribution I might make to an already over polarised debate.

My interest at the moment lies more in how we become ‘they’ and ‘them’.  Many, many times in my adventures in youth work have I heard adults complain about young people in such terms.  ‘They’ and ‘them’ seem somehow to have appeared on our street corners from nowhere.  I wonder where ‘they’ sleep at night because ‘they’ never seem to be the children or grandchildren of the grown ups ‘they’ spend so much time making life miserable for.

But, back to the church.  I wonder who people say we are?  It seems perhaps that as far as Sunday morning worship goes people have perhaps voted with their feet, shopping trolleys or golf clubs.  Has public worship become something that bears little or no relevance to life?  I’m not so sure, but then I lead worship fairly regularly so I might be biased.  I visited the USA in 2001 to find out how the church worked there and asked the question ‘What brings people here?’  In more than one place the answer was ‘the preaching’.  How interesting.  Perhaps people like it when the church has something to say and when it articulates that well.  Why then is so little time spent on preparing our ministers for this central function?  Knowledge of theology doesn’t guarantee good preaching!

A Holy Huddle?  Is that what the church is?  I know for a fact that this isn’t true!  I’m the least holy person I know and I hang out in and around church lots with others like me.  I wonder how the spurious holy huddle image gets out?  Surely the church should be for all, particularly the unholy and unworthy.  Isn’t that the point?

Not connected to people’s lives?  I don’t get that either.  The places that the church does seem still to have contact with people’s lives is at births, marriages and illness and death.  It seems strange that if the church is so irrelevant people should call on it at such important times in their lives.

So what do you say the church is? 

God, Faith & Church

You’re welcome… is the church a welcoming place?

‘Evangelical’ is a word that seems to make people either quake or rejoice because it is a word that seems to have become interchangeable with ‘conservative’, particularly in theological circles.  I don’t get that.  Evangelical simply means telling someone about something else, particularly if the thing being told about is life-changing.  So why the association with conservatism?

Perhaps because people of a conservative theological persuasion have generally been much more active in up front evangelism.  Those who might call themselves ‘liberal’ could be stereotyped as being more prone to engage in quiet conversation and encouraging people to come to their own conclusions.

The thing is that there are many things that liberals hold to be ‘fundamental’.  Non-discrimination, the value of all and right of all to participate and be heard.  Liberals are often accussed of being ‘woolly’ and not really believing in anything definitive.  I find that to be just as untrue as the generalisations made about ‘conservatives’.

The reality is that most of our churches are inhabited by a broad range of people who hold a broad range of thoughts and ideas and beliefs.  In those circumstances the liberal base line of involvement and participation of all seems to me to be vital, but back to evangelism.

What is it we, as Christians, want to tell people?  Unless the message we have is that what we believe is life-changing in a positive way then we have little chance of convincing anyone that our faith has something to offer them.  I was preaching this morning and spoke about the initiative of the Uniting Church of Christ in the USA.  Check out the ads and have a think about the strap line… ‘Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.’  I wonder how many of our church fellowships could with hand on heart say this to be true?

Jesus was pretty set against people making judgements about who was out and who was in but we seem driven to make all kinds of pronouncements about all kinds of people, usually the kinds of people Jesus spent most time talking to.

My observation was what if Jesus had been the son of a single unmarried refugee?  Oh that’s right, he was!

So our message must be that whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.

Life Movies


Mental Health – the last great taboo?

Over the past couple of nights I have watched two amazing explorations of mental illness, Stephen Fry’s ‘The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive’ and the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’.  Both were fascinating!

Stephen Fry suffers from bi-polar disorder or manic depression as it is otherwise known as.  He spent some time meeting people who suffer from depression and manic depression to explore how it affects their lives.  Most striking was the difficulty in diagnosis and then the problems with treatment.  Many manic depressives like the milder episodes of mania.  They find them energising and creative.  Almost all of the sufferers Fry talked to said they would not have the disorder taken away if the had the choice!

A Beautiful Mind is the story of John Nash, a mathematical genius and paranoid schitzophrenic.  Nash believed he was working for the government on a highly secret code breaking assignment but was in fact delusional.  The film is a fabulous study of the trauma severe mental ilness causes on both the sufferer and those around them.

I guess my thought is that Mental Illness seems to be one of the last taboos.  Why are we so ashamed of this kind of illness?  I don’t get it.  Mental illness is pretty common.  It is much more widely understood so why the secrecy?