it’s probably just me; it usually is

August 26, 2012

At this time of year a lot of Evangelicals and post-Evangelicals and pseudo-spiritual Jesusy types (and all and none of the above) head to a big festival in Cheltenham called Greenbelt. It usually has an audience of around 20,000 – pretty impressive. They say: “Our mission is to create spaces, like festivals, where art, faith and justice collide.” It’s a combination of food, drink, Christian teaching, discussion, drama, art, music, dance and poetry. Lots of pretty big-name bands have made an appearance over the years – usually the kinds of artists who lay claim to spirituality in some way – like Billy Bragg, U2, Moby, Sixpence None the Richer, Asian Dub Foundation, Ron Sexsmith, Bruce Cockburn and The Proclaimers. I’ve never been, as it’s my idea of hell. The husband-unit went last year and had a jolly old time drinking ale in the Arms of Jesus (really – that’s the name of one of the beer tents), but he admits himself the best bit was just being with his companions. I stayed at home, drank cheap wine, watched terrible films and generally enjoyed myself immensely, mud and noise-free.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think Greenbelt is a great idea. It’s just not, in many, many ways, my cup of tea. I love all of the things it comprises – Christians, non-Christians, food, drink, Christian teaching, discussion, drama, art, music, dance and poetry. I just don’t like them all together in a big crowd. And I really don’t enjoy the vibe of tortured post-Evangelical that follows it around. The culture appears to have an air of “here is finally somewhere where those of us who don’t fit in to “traditional” churches can finally fit in!” Maybe that is unfair. Speaking as a perpetually disillusioned soul who has genuinely failed to fit in anywhere, I feel okay with making this comment.

In some ways it is unclear what kind of a Christian I really am. I like a bit of worship from all the traditions, really. Thankfully, as Christianity is not a product that I consume, I neither have to select and deselect the bits I do and don’t enjoy, nor do I have to craft and create the kind of community that I would find ideal and that would carefully shave off the bits of doctrine or culture with which I am uncomfortable, leaving space only for those just like me. Because that would be shite, and it would have nothing to do with the Gospel, in which I still passionately believe.

People on Twitter go crazy retweeting quotes from popular speakers at Greenbelt. These quotes are invariably pseudo-spiritual sound-bites from post-Evangelical teachers. Sorry, but it’s true. I’d give a dozen specific examples, except I don’t want to get into a war with other Christians (sadly we’re known for our notorious war-mongering and mud-slinging). These quotes more often than not make me puke with annoyance at the total lack of depth and genuine meaning. And I shudder at the term “post-Evangelical”. Why a movement would define itself in terms of what it is not breaks my brain. Reactionary beliefs are empty beliefs – that goes for both the spiritual and the unspiritual. This is coming from someone who has actually rejected the label Evangelical for myself, but gladly acknowledges its value and history and its importance to the whole Body. I think Christian Orthodox is about the only label that works for me, although lots of people of the same genre would class me as a liberal (…you just can’t win).

Anyway, what’s the point here? you ask. The point that I am slowly making is that the point of life is not to find a community into which we can fit comfortably, at least not for the person looking to follow after Jesus. Nor is it to become so open-minded that there’s no space left in the brain for actual learning and actual conclusions. Nor is it to keep hunting for that elusive thing that will finally make us feel okay or belonging or whole – people, we were not made for this world! We were told that from the beginning. If this world fails to satisfy our deepest hungers, why would that be surprising?

Forgive me if this all sounds a bit nihilistic – that’s not my intention (although Ecclesiastes has been known to have a Nietzsche-ian bent) . It’s more of a first principles issue. What do we believe, and why…and are our reasons why – good enough? And how is it lived out? Therefore, if one finds oneself mysteriously drawn and compelled by such post-Evangelical suggestions as “it’s time to start thinking with your soul,” one might pause for a moment before retweeting to acknowledge that your soul, whatever that might be, does not have a brain, and therefore simply cannot think. One’s soul certainly needs attention, but allowing it to think simply means nothing. I’m fully in favour of a holistic approach to loving Jesus, but a holistic approach means not only looking to new and progressive ways of expression, but also engaging, perhaps for the very first time in our generation, with the saints that have actually done it right in the past. Namely, not us. Sometimes when Christians of all their kinds get together, if the focus shifts away from the Triune God and the saints who have loved Him, and back to us, it all just sounds like mutual ignorance. Remember, being “true to ourselves” is a hell of a lot more Oprah Winfrey and Elizaeth Gilbert than it is Jesus Christ.

But that’s probably just me.


a short note on violence and non-violence

August 21, 2012

I have kicked and struggled my way towards accepting pacifism. It is not a rational position, although one reaches it rationally. It is fundamentally a spiritual proposition rather than intellectual one. But, I am digressing already.

When I was a child, I had a vulnerable older brother who was bullied physically and verbally a lot. Possibly as a result of this, my parents taught me from my pre-school days that if anyone were to hit me, I was to hit them back twice as hard. The twice as hard bit was important. This strategy worked extremely well for me and I rarely had any trouble.

It was a morally wrong way to live.

This morning I was walking to work when a crowd of still-drunk male teenagers began to approach on the horizon. They were wearing tuxedoes. It is the wrong time of year for debs balls, so I can only assume it was a post-Leaving Cert result graduation party. It was just before 8 in the morning and the party clearly was not yet over. One of them had a stack of free Metro newspapers in his hands (stolen, I suspect, from the friendly woman at the train station who dispenses them every morning). At a distance of about twenty feet, he called out to offer me one. I politely refused (ah the Metro, the great leveller, that I never read). He began to insist and as we drew level, he changed his course and began to actually follow me, continuing an unrelenting stream of slightly sinister Mrs. Doyle-like shenanigans. I lost patience, stopped, turned to look him in the face and said loudly and clearly, “FUCK. OFF.” He did so. Result.

And this is why non-violence is at even the smallest level is difficult. It is, temporarily at least, effective.

Doesn’t stop it being wrong, though.

why i hate talk of ‘leadership’

August 19, 2012

In the odd subculture of Irish evangelicalism, the buzzword of the minute is leadership. Its buzz, sadly, is lingering long. The reason the church is in decline? The answer’s not sin, or hypocrisy, or apathy, or lack of discipleship, or obsession with cool, or rampant materialism and greed. It’s all down to a lack of leadership apparently. There are regular conferences on how to encourage church members into leadership, on ‘leadership development’ and on how to manipulate young people into becoming leaders in their communities. The church takes advice on this topic from literally anywhere that will offer it, but seems to be a bitch (in particular) to the business and corporate world, imagining perhaps that if the church can imitate the success of ‘big business’ then it might gain a little cultural cache or social capital.

If you want the church to be respected by the world around it then you’ve lost the plot entirely.

Frankly I consider all this talk of leadership to be bullshit. The church worships a God whose leadership was demonstrated in his willingness to wash the feet of others, eat with prostitutes and ultimately hang on a tree, battered and bloody, begging for an alternative. His leadership was demonstrated in his willingness to place last. His leadership was demonstrated in self-denial, teaching and rich relationships.

Being a human being means that life will be dirty, messy, sad, hard and yes, complicated. Being a Christian does not need to be complicated.  Being a Christian means that in the middle of all the absolute shit, you relentlessly love God and love others, and everything else can go to hell.

Don’t get sucked into conversations about ‘vision’ and ‘strategy’ and any context where your church is referred to as an ‘organization’. Instead get sucked into permanent relationships with saints who will challenge you by their integrity and love you by their presence. Get sucked into the scriptures. Get sucked into repentance, humility and allowing your decisions about your money and career to scare the crap out of you. Get sucked into coming last and if you just can’t help but win everything, at least share your winnings with the losers.