Sunday, 4 October 2009

A few things on my mind...

I'm writing this post because I want to attempt to articulate a few things that are on my mind at the moment. Theology has to relate to real life and answer real questions, so here is my attempt to articulate what is real for me at the moment. I’d really love to be able to engage with others in discussing some of these questions theologically.

Church Having been seriously screwed up by religion and pretty negative of a lot of what I see (not all, by any means) and having had some pretty bad experiences in some churches, I guess I’m pretty surprised that I still believe in church at all. Having not been a part of a community for nearly a year, I’m surprised by how unsettled I feel by being an isolated Christian. Forgetting all the baggage that gets put up around church (and there’s a lot of it!) stripped to its bear essentials I still think it’s a great idea. My take on church is that it is a community of people who choose to come together to be ethically challenged and to be mobilised to take action with that in mind. How good is that? And how relevant to the needs of our age?

But, this is where I struggle… first, there are so few decent churches out there. I’m sorry if I’m just unaware of the good ones and I’m sure there are some out there, but on my tour of churches this year I’ve been disappointed by how far so many are from the ideal I’ve just presented. So many are caught up in modernist baggage which seems to be more about defending the faith and less about equipping people to live.

A bigger struggle is with the way life is structured in the 21st century. If, like me, you have kids and a full-time job, you have little time for community or even putting your faith into practice. It’s so easy to adopt an individualistic religiosity that does little more than read / write blogs and listen to podcasts on your ipod. To be religious is to be like the Madonna with her ipod!

This last point provokes a lot of questions for me: After all, I’m sure capitalism wants to make me compliant and wants my religion to be private and non-political. I think it has little to gain from giving me time to protest, march, or engage in ethical action that doesn’t involve simply changing my shopping choices. The ‘system’ (whatever that is) has little interest in giving me time for the counter-cultural church I described above. No dominant ideology wants people meeting together to think independently and question.

So, I am in something of a quandary: the reason we need church, is precisely the thing that makes it so difficult. It is the lack of community and the dominance of the capitalist hegemony that means church is so vital and so hard.

I feel compelled to ask questions about what all this means. Yet, here is another quandary: Without a community who is there to help me think these things through theologically and practically? Well, I'm hoping someone in the blogging fraternity might.

I’m sorry, I’ve rambled on a lot and I said at the beginning of this post that I had a ‘few’ things on my mind. I guess I’ll have to leave the others for a later post. So, what's on your mind?


Kevin said...

Hey Mark

It genuinely, honestly, grieves and pains me to hear that you feel you've been "seriously screwed up by religion" in the past and unsettled and isolated as a Christian now. Forgive me if I've unnecessarily contributed to that.

And I'm at work now so don't have the space to reply fully.

My immediate questions are....

- Are the churches you have visited so repugnant to you that you won't go? And if so, what is it about them that makes this so?

- Given there is no perfect church, do you feel there is any congregation you could commit to where you can cope with the "format" and seek to be a positive influence in terms of ethical / justice issues?

- Are you looking for somewhere / someone with whom you get down to the practicalities of social justice / making a difference / action, or a discusssion about these issues. There may be places you could do one of these but not both. Do you need to have both to lessen the sense of isolation? Could these needs be met from different communities?

Yes, it's true that our lifestyles mean we have full diaries with only a set amount of hours in a day, but I guess there is always the ability to "do something" if we prioritise it. I guess there will always be a dissatisfaction in terms of what we could be doing if we had the time, but what are your expectations over how much you can do personally? That's not to point out how little you can do, but to work out how much is achievable and to get on with it.


mark said...

Hi Kev,

It is always a pleasure to hear your wise, pastoral tones anywhere, not least on this blog! And, fear not, you have not contributed to my frustrations with church. Maybe I overstate the case by saying I've been "screwed up". Church has also done me a heck of a lot of good and I think there were some great things about ICL, which I truly miss. In fact, it is interesting that the church we are currently going to reminds me of ICL so much - the vicar reminds me of you in many ways. It is one of the attractions of the place for us. And although I don't get much out of the service, it is a great place to be - with loads of genuine, real Christians, doing some pretty impressive things. This also attracts us. I certainly wouldn't describe churches as "repugnant". In fact, I've been disappointed by the general sweep that I have seen, but I know there are individual exceptions and I think the one we are settling into is one of these.

I certainly hope to be able to contribute to the life of this church and to contribute to the advance of the kingdom in some small way. I think it will take time to get involved in things and feel a part of the community, but I think it will come. Still, I feel frustrated by the lack of time and energy I have for the things I really care about. Maybe this is fault of too high expectations, but I'm not sure I'm entirely willing to conform to society's expectations yet!

I hope these answer your questions and I honestly don't think there is any reason to worry.

Kevin said...

Vicar reminds you of me? Do his ears stick out too?