Sunday, April 05, 2015

'What kind of day has it been?'

Mary got up early that morning. Her world had fallen apart and the best she could do was to walk out of the city to anoint his body. Her world had caved in. Light would come but if you'd seen her along the path you'd have met a broken woman. Perhaps, if British, she'd have said she was fine but platitudes cover a multitude of pain.

The story would be different later that day, because sometimes things change like that - and the change she faced would be the dawn centuries of dark nights of unchanging circumstances and chronic illness would long for in agonising anticipating trust.

I sat in church just over two years ago having spent most of the week in hospital with one of our sons. I've told that story before here so I wont rehearse its details.

I felt God spoke to me in two ways that morning.

First to give me a glimpse of what he might do in this painful and dark time. I wouldn't 'process' anything else of that experience for a good month or so after that but that word has been a comfort and help.

The second was the dawning realisation that only a few in the room knew what kind of week I'd had. That was fine but the thought after was: how many more people have had (more or less) horrendous weeks, experienced heartbreak and anguish, failure and betrayal this week.

I was in pieces. And on those days: church has to be a great place to be.

Despite my theology I realise I'd assumed that church is doing better than it is. Its a baptistic flaw to think highly of ourselves - to build firm boundaries, to have a pure church, to think ourselves and others more mature than we really are. A charismatic flaw to assume victory and healing. I'm freshly embracing the messiness of a more Anglican mindset. Where my tradition looks down on those 'muddled nominal believers' who may not be able to articulate their faith or appear not to live in consistently. Y'know, perhaps that's better than we imagine! Don't we all really and only come in weakness and emptiness and failure and confusion to receive from the riches of Christ. Isn't that more real?

I saw this again recently looking around the room at church. I'm aware of a handful of the stories unfolding in peoples lives. Varying levels of trauma and pain. Stories in which it is amazing that they're even in the room. I see one praying for another, another listening, another carrying a load (or a child) another just sitting, being.

It's a young parents win on better days to successfully get out of the house and into the room and home again - add in even a little of the fractureness of this fallen world and just being there is an immense victory in taking another breath.

We sit on our chairs, trophies of grace.

Some in better seasons in which we rejoice, and who are able to aide others. Some in harder seasons in which we weep together, who are learning tentatively to receive help from those who approach to lend a hand.

Sometimes church is the last place I want to be, but true too: no place I'd rather be.

When everything is breaking, there is one who finds us in the garden - in person unseen, through his people seen - to speaks our name and walk and stumble the three legged race of life with us.

Image: creative commons.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

"Everything’s s’pposed to be different than what it is here"

Sin is one of the hardest subjects to speak about well today. As Francis Spufford observes in his book Unapologetic we think of sin as trivial naughtiness, prompting him to try the term HPTFTU as an alternative phrase. It's easily misheard or is a term that quickly offends in a way that prevents further dialogue.

Careful thought is needed. I loved reading Neal Plantinga's book Not the way its supposed to be, last year. It's a thoughtful and careful discussion of how to think about this subject. He draws together the varied biblical language and category so that we might take this subject more seriously.

The biblical approach to sin isn't monochrome. Different audiences are addressed differently. Jesus was accused of being sin-lite by the Pharisees who blindly missed his confrontation of their parading and privilege and pomp whilst grunting and grumbling about his acceptance of 'tax collectors and sinners'.

The outsiders were deeply aware of having broken God's world and presumed their own exclusion from his people - they needed his welcome. The insiders presumed their place at the table and missed the light shining in plain sight.

The self-religious think that God should talk about sin more but miss when he does, and then take offence at the welcome he gives to those who self-exclude from his family because they're far more sensitive to their sin.

We become dull in our hearts and blame others for not forcing us to be more 'godly' as if that were possible. 'If you'd done your job I'd be less sinful...' The corruption is deep, deeper than we dare admit or know.

For all references to 'we' here, read I.

The night is dark, but the morning far brighter.

Sin is a slippery subject, simultaneously a terrible and delicious experience, and a devilish reality.  "The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being" (Solzhenitsyn) and Plantinga offers to be our guide as we try to get clarity as we stumble in the shadows, cast in contrast to the bright light of Jesus.

TGC has this essay version as a pdf which condenses it significantly and gives an excellent overview.

Image, creative commons.