Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When do you jump ship & what's the option?

I was doing some reading in books and on line for Advent Sunday preparation last night. Somehow I got onto a video of a sermon by Bishop John Spong looking into the reason for anti-gay/lesbian feelings and action in the Christian Church. He spoke of Roman Catholic history and circumstance. He spoke of Evangelical Fundamentalist Christian perspectives but then raised a good point about Christianity in general. I sat there saying "AMEN" and "You tell them" to what he was saying. It is often for me a deep matter of feeling like I am in the wrong place, and even a matter of honesty and integrity.

What he pointed out was that often the view of God and humanity presented in hymns, liturgy and christian teaching is extremely negative. We are victimized when we go to church. He told of attending a Church service within his own Dioceses and counting 54 requests for "mercy" from God! He quoted well known and popular Christian songs as calling humans "worms" and "wretch" and such like. (e.g. "Amazing Grace" ... that saved a wretch like me") He pointed out how we have this old substitution theory of Jesus "paying the price" with his blood to a vengeful God. He quoted hymns focused on "the blood" - "washed in the blood", "fountain of blood" etc. etc. He said that we have this picture of God "taking us out to the woodshed and he is going to beat us his naughty children. But at the last moment Jesus steps in and takes the beating for us... because we can't take it." He pointed out that again and again in Christian songs and services we are put down as evil, sinful and nasty pieces of work, and that God the angry judge is after us. He is saying that this comes through in mainline christian worship... not just nasty fundamentalist worship. He goes on to say that we are victimised in church. We come out feeling guilty and beaten up and so, he says, beaten up people often look for others to beat up. This is the reason we Christians often pick on anybody different, such as gay/lesbian folk and others who do not conform.

He then finished with the plea that the "way" we see in Jesus sees God as the source of love and we are to love freely and wastefully. God is the source of life and we are to live it fully and freely. We are not meant to be grovelling, snivelling and fearful human beings but called to live positively, reaching up and out to be all that we can be - reaching our potential as Christ reached his.

I agree. But I will look through our song books for Sunday and there are few songs, ancient and modern, that do not pass on this negative aspect of Christianity. I will allow lay people to pray at the communion table and often (less often than it used to happen thank God) their prayers will focus on "the blood" and this negative aspect of humanity. I received Christmas resources from the Bible Society and they tend to depict this distorted image of Christianity. I was at a chaplaincy yesterday and one guy came out with a heap of expletives. "Hey" said another guy jokingly, "We have a man of the cloth here, he does not want to hear all that filthy language. You'll get hit by lightening!" He was joking but on a serious note the "default" view of God, the Church and "the clergy" that many have is one of negativity, judgement and that they will see them as "sinful wretches".

My question is... I am hooked on Jesus and seek to follow him, and express his positive way. (Along with me, Spong loves John 10:10 Jesus saying, "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly") I think truly significant, useful and fulfilling life is found in Jesus. But.... Christianity has all this negative baggage! How can you work in Church or within Christianity when there is so much distortion of the way of Jesus? There is one channel I struggle to get on our TV. I adjust the rabbits ears, but again and again the picture becomes too snowy, ghosty or distorted. I will get up and fiddle with the aerial repeatedly. Often eventually I will tune out of that channel and switch to another. Is the Church's picture of Christ "too snowy, ghosted or distorted" to be bothered keeping on trying to adjust the channel? When does the distorted baggage that the church carry become too much of a burden as a follower of Jesus, and you must ditch the church?

Many of my colleagues have done that. I am constantly tempted to do that. Often on Sunday as I read the words of a hymn I feel my gut twisting inside! (But often too that hymn is the best of a pretty bad bunch - I hate trying to choose hymns) But the question I ask is "where else is the way of Jesus promoted?" If I dump the institution where else is there where Jesus' very relevant way can be promoted? Of course I can opt out and remain a follower of Jesus, but somehow as a follower of Jesus there needs to be some place where the Jesus story and way are recited - a point of reminder for the community at large. At the moment all we have is "the church". ... It needs changed. To me it would seem like I was being gutless if I followed the crowd out of the church. Enough people, lay and clergy, need to bite the bullet and stay to keep asking the questions, nudging and prodding the old girl in more sane, wholesome, Jesus-like directions. Too many have left, and we are left with the people preaching the "people controlling" distortion! I am glad that "emerging Christianity" or "progressive Christianity" seems to be taking hold. Probably it is all too late for me to enjoy. I will have to struggle on in the often misunderstood task of trying my best to represent and get the church to represent Jesus. But I sense there are less distorted options approaching for generations ahead. .....Thank God.

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