Most people could not really care if the Church stopped existing. Many would in fact be pleased, because they see religion as the source of many evils. I am not impressed with much Church life, and often think it deserves to die. I am sure western societies would continue without the Church. But something is going wrong for people in our communities. They need help! I would be concerned if the church was lost or ignored because there are many indications that people still need the Church as “the keeper of the way of Jesus.”
Here are some indicators…
I encountered one man at a chaplaincy and asked after his welfare. “Life is a shit sandwich Dave,” he replied. “You’re born, you die and everything in between is just shit!” We went on to talk about his experiences that prompted the comment. But for many people I believe they experience lives like this. There is not much that is good in their existence and they do anything to get at least some jollies. Reflect a moment on these items. A father involved in addictions, steals a donation box out of a store and flees leaving his children in the store. (duh!) A well-known restaurateur dies drunk in his swimming pool. When we go to a wedding these days, as the couple say their vows we wonder, “Yeah right? For how long?” I have heard conversations on the buses (the Scots speak loudly) and I am astounded at the attitudes, the cattiness, the threats and the sick level of interaction. Because the Brazil team got soundly beaten at the football world cup, Brazilians tipped over cars, burned buses and vandalised. Many people seem to live for the superficial distraction and meaning that following sport brings. We are living near Government housing estates and there are some sad looking families coming out of there. Life looks miserable for them. Even though we know it kills, I am surprised at how many people in Scotland are smokers. It is deeply sad that they do not value their life more. Binge drinking and alcohol and drug abuse seem to be a real problem in Western cultures.
Anger - We were on a bus in Inverness and a man climbed on demanding that the bus driver to do something for him. He expressed so much unprovoked anger and left still yelling abuse. Again at Inverness a few times we encountered a man standing talking aggressively with others. It was like he was looking for a fight. He is not alone. In my hometown some intoxicated 15 & 16-year-old girls beat up and kicked some 19-year-old girls in the street. In another city security camera footage showed four 15 & 16 year olds mercilessly beating up a liquor storeowner for a few beers. In a New Zealand rural area some people shot 195 sheep for no reason one weekend. The next weekend they shot 20 others. People seem to live on the verge of destructive anger.
Sexual distortion - Rolf Harris, entertainer and star of children’s programs and one of my favourite entertainers in days gone by, has been exposed for his sexual abuse of under age girls and women. But he is not alone amongst well-known people. A Catholic bishop in Australia is involved in sexual abuse claims and I know that some leaders in other denominations are not innocent of abuse either. The secondary school girls around here wear school blouses, with ties and skirts to school, but they are arranged in such a way that they look like a stripper done up as a fantasy schoolgirl for a men’s bachelor party! We live in a sexualised society. Sexual violence and things like date rape are frequent. In spite of women’s lib and our PC world, men still treat women as sex objects in destructive ways.
I could go on. But watch the news on TV, the Internet or in the newspapers and there is something deeply wrong with people. They are sad, angry, bad, unhinged and leading miserable crisis riddled existences. I am not judging these people, I just feel sad because of their troubled mixed up experience of life. While there are many people living beautiful lives, without the need for “religion”, there seems a need in many others’ lives for an anchoring point, breadth or depth. We need “spiritual depth” some how and need it badly. I read in a museum here in Scotland how, in times past when the cities were bogged down in drunkenness, prostitution, greed and miserable living, Church preachers have saved the day, reversed the trends and changed society. The Church potentially has something to offer today too, but it has been so distorted, wrapped up in old ways and in other baggage, that it is largely ignored.
Jesus’ message to me…
I am so grateful for the difference that Jesus has made in my life. That sounds like a fanatical religious evangelistic exaggeration. I simply say though that my knowledge of Jesus’ way has profoundly impacted my life for good. I am not a saint, but I would be so much more of a mess without his influence. Here in summary is how I read Jesus “speaking” to me.
“You are important!
“You are important!
Everybody is important!
You are brothers and sisters.
You are so important that I invite you
to a lifestyle
so live that you
devote your personality,
your gifts and abilities,
to enhancing the lives of those about you
- your family
- your community
- your nation
- your world.
When you do that
you will discover transformation
in your life and world.
Your personality will grow,
your gifts and abilities will be extended
your life will be full of adventure and significance.
You will sense a partnership with
the sacred, the significant and the ultimate,
and when you die
your life will continue
to impact the world
for good. …
because love never dies.”
I look at the people around me and I so wish that more people could have that simple profound direction, ongoing transformation and sense of significance that I have been lucky to experience.
Bishop Spong’s writes…
I have used these words before but he puts the essence of the above very concisely. He quotes the words of Jesus given in John’s gospel Chapter 10 verse 10. “I have come that they might have life, life in all its fullness” (or “Abundant life”)
Bishop John Spong says that Jesus calls us to;
be all that you can be,
and dedicate yourself
to building a world
in which everyone
has the opportunity
to do the same.”
I long for people to know that message deep in their living. While for me most current church life sucks, I would love to be part of a community of people who model that in the way they live and share that in love with others.
Another theologian Hans Kung writes,
“By following Jesus Christ,
the human being in the world of today
can truly humanly love, act, suffer, and die,
in happiness and unhappiness,
life and death,
sustained by God and helpful to others.”