Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"The baby out with the bath water..."

I have read Cathleen Falsani's book, "The God Factor" in which she interviews 32 public figures about their spirituality. I recently read a similar one by an Australian journalist. I found them both interesting and exciting. There were so many times when I found myself saying, "Yeah! Great! Amen to that!" and that was often in response to people who would not be seen dead in a church. In both books there was criticism, hurt and sometimes anger expressed toward the Church and/or Christianity. Many had "outgrown" the religion of their youth. I mix with fire fighters, ambulance personnel and other workers who share similar positions. To them, organised religion has had its day at best, or is a destructive, judgemental and limiting force at worse.

I understand these reactions and in some way identify with them. I had a friend who used to say of so much church activity that it was "Spiritual masturbation." I have sat in church services, in conferences, ministers' association meetings and various church meetings and thought of these words and similar. I have often had the urge, but never the courage, to say "we're wanking" or through gestures demonstrate my frustration and repulsion at the distortion of the way of Jesus that goes on. I tend to absent myself from places where I feel such things more intensely. I struggle with the church! I often hate the whole format and sound of Church services that I run! I am a square peg in a round hole! I long for the church to be a servant movement for good in the community. I long for a church ethos in which people can relax and be true to themselves. I find, (and I know others even more so) that I have to deny myself, my personality, my soul somehow to fit into the structures of the church. I feel more at home sitting around the mess at the fire station than I do talking to the saints at morning tea at church. Some how people are being more "real" in the mess.... blunt...often vulgar... but human! Yet it ought to be the other way around? The gospel ("Good news") should be a relaxant!? It is meant to produce freedom? That's how the early disciples experienced it? It was "grace"? But so often, I and many in these books and people I mix with experience the opposite. It often seems to produce uptight, robotic, sexless, life denying people.

BUT....I can't throw it out! There is a lot of "dirty bath water" in the church that deserves to go down the drain! I suspect most of what the church has become is a distortion of the way of Jesus. But the Church keeps the face of Jesus before the world. Who else does? I cannot help but think that if I left the way of Jesus behind and moved on, I would somehow be "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." I still find Jesus and his spirit opens the door to those things which are sacred and eternal in life. I still find that the call of Jesus on my life makes me more fully human, a better person with a more complete life. He still "expands" me "stretches me" and brings depth to my existence. I feel a certain sadness that so many lovely people that I feel an affinity with (perhaps more than I do with most religious people) seemed to have left behind or discarded something so valuable and precious as Jesus. I do not blame them, I blame the distortion that they have had to endure. I ache for radical reform and change to a more true "Jesus centred spirituality".

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