The dangers of bringing a plus one to church

Christmas, as many ministry teams tell their congregations, is the time to invite non-church goers along to church. I’d done just that. As I sat next to my guest, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit excited. It had been a lovely welcome, everyone had been friendly and gracious. The kids’ minister had us in laughter, the prayers were lovely and inclusive and the music was vibrant and upbeat. My guest smiled over at me. “Nice that it has a relaxed vibe,” she commented.images.jpg

And then the sermon started. Halfway through she glanced at me and whispered, “What’s this all about? I don’t get why this God of yours is all about punishment and judgement.”

I’d been feeling pretty bummed out about what I was hearing too. Not because it was a ‘bad’ sermon. But for the average person who may have wandered back to church after a long time away? I understand why she asked what she did.

Whilst I knew it was a bit of Old Testament scene-setting in order to relate the gift of Jesus at Christmas time, there’s enough of my ‘before Christ’ (BC) PR persona left to recognise a message totally missing its mark. God & Jesus lost in translation.

You see, the sermon didn’t close the loop. It set the scene, but didn’t make enough of the climax. Jesus, grace and joy deserve an ending of fireworks. Not a damp squib that leaves the listener with echoes of brimstone.

When will pastors understand that the church has done such a disservice to G&J over the years – has lost them so often in translation – that a newcomer is going to hear the ‘negative’ stereotypes one thousand times louder than anything else? You say ‘sin’ and ‘punishment’ and ‘obedience’ three times in a sermon, then please make sure you are saying ‘love’, ‘Jesus’, ‘free gift, not works’ and ‘grace’ at least ten times each to balance it out.

It’s basic message adoption principles: our brains are wired to hear the negatives, so offset each one with at least three positives. Please. Just in case there’s a brand new visitor cautiously finding his or her way back to church that day.

Please don’t pre-suppose knowledge. You may have 99% ‘old faithful’ in the pews, but that 1% newcomer who really needs to get the message – they may not be ready to unpack it. Forget the cliff-hanger sermon series for the next week – because they may not come back. I understand the power of a sermon series, I do. But build it well. Let each week stand alone. Remind, wrap up, and make sure you’re covering off on the grace, goodness and joy each time. Just in case.

I tried to do a fast crisis PR repair job for G&J in the car park before my friend climbed into her car and drove away. But how do you explain it’s a misconception when a 20-minute sermon ‘sort-of’ reinforced the misconception?

I can send her this link, and this one, and this one, all of which I hope explain the real, close, loving relationship God seeks with us, from my own personal experience.

I can try to explain that when the word obedience is used in a sermon, it isn’t because we have a growling, arrogant, up-Himself, punishing God who demands our grovelling to feed His gargantuan thundering ego saying, “I MADE THE WORLD, SO OBEY ME, PRAISE ME, AND GROVEL BEFORE ME, MINION, OR ELSE!”

I can explain when God talks about obedience, it is from the context of His not being human, but of Him being God. He is so much larger, wiser, holier, cleverer and smarter than I. Because He’s God and I’m me.

So being obedient to his precepts means I submit to Him being just that: larger, wiser, smarter, cleverer, more lovely and amazing. By submitting (being obedient) I relax in the total and utter security that He has my back. That He gets the agenda far better than I do. That He loves me with a breadth and depth I cannot imagine, and He only wants what is best for me. So given He has my back, I can relax and trust Him implicitly. Why would I resist (be disobedient) when the other option is me trying to go it alone and quite often making a mess of it?

Of course it means I have to humble myself. Take a hard look inward. It requires growth.

So where does this leave me sharing what I’ve learnt about G&J? I often only get one shot talking about this ‘Jesus loves you’ business with someone. Whilst it’s always God’s will not mine, I really do want to facilitate the best introduction possible.

It takes guts for me to spill my heart to a non-believer. I risk ridicule. I have horrible images of being seen as some shiny-suited, dodgy TV evangelist. I have to be ready to take tough questions on the chin. Yet that’s OK because G&J have my back and for every snigger, for every person who may scoff at my faith, there may be another who unexpectedly finds peace and hope and love.

Pastors, please be aware, for every guest one of your church members brings through the door, they’ve most likely spent weeks before praying, laying the groundwork, having coffee, gently unpacking their guest’s misconceptions of religion and trying carefully to get Jesus front and centre. Anyone who’s doing evangelism well isn’t spraying and praying out a scatter-gun of church invitations. It’s a hand-reared, personal pitch.

So if you’re standing on stage preaching and people in your congregation have invited new guests along? No pressure, but please don’t stuff it up.

Now, all my readers who are pastors may leap to their own defence by citing the great sermon postscript: “But we always say, at the end of each sermon: if you’re new here today, have any questions about what was in the sermon, or want to talk to someone about Jesus and his great gift, come and see me or xyz on the ministry team.”

I’m sorry, it’s a terrible engagement technique so please don’t think it covers you for any sermon misunderstandings by any new listeners.

There’s absolutely no way I’d have wandered up to a stranger my first day in church, especially if my head was overflowing with their sermon’s berating notions of sin and punishment, and asked to discuss it further. Like my guest at Christmas, I’d have been sprinting to the car park as fast as my legs could carry me.

Maranatha in the mirror. Hosanna

Is regards to worldly horror, is Paris any different to drowned refugee toddlers? To the bombings in Beirut? No. Only a few short months ago, I struggled with the horned mother trucker after a small boy washed up on the beach. Paris, however, has delivered me a new clarity. That light will overcome.

What changed? Well, I had a decidedly trippy God encounter in church (good place to have it) on the Sunday morning after the news of Paris.

There I was, singing away to Hosanna. Dancing a little, which is my thing. My palms may even have been tempted up past my elbows thanks to some excellent drumming and vocals from the musicians at the front. images-1

Recall my journey to G&J: UK-born, Church of England schooled, Christian hangover via new age agnosticism into Sydney Anglican.

It’s an odd mongrel path of faith, not least because I combine British stiff-upper lip with a willingness to pay attention to the songs, signs and symbols that God shoves at me.

As I sang the Hosanna lyrics it all got terribly ‘new age’ in my brain, but really was what the SAP would call holy spirit action. I describe it as God getting cellular because, with a type of bone marrow certainty, He suggested the following as I sang each line:

I see a near revival, Stirring as we pray and seek….. “

God: Phil, the bombings in Paris, Beirut and beyond, the sight of persecuted refugees, of drowned toddlers, they are the pivotal moment. Stirring you and others as you pray and seek.

“Break my heart for what breaks yours..”

God: Phil, this can be the moment that every heart gets broken by what breaks Mine.

“Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause..”

God: The moment that every Christian begs to be filled with My spirit and turns themselves fully over to My Kingdom’s cause. Phil, what would that look like?

Me: Well, frankly God, as You can see, it literally looks a bit messy (as by this point, my stiff-upper lip has given way to a sort of smiling, sobbing, saline but still joyful singing). But I know what You mean.

It would look like Jesus had come. To all of us. Through all of us. Pretty powerful, don’t you think?

“I see the king of glory, Coming on the clouds with fire.”

Since Paris, you may have seen the phrase ‘Come Lord Jesus Come’ a lot on social media. For those not in the know, this is from Maranatha, an Aramaic word that means “the Lord is coming” or “come, O Lord.”

Christians use it as a reminder of the hope of the coming of the Lord. In the days of the early church, “Maranatha!” became the common greeting of the oppressed believers. Now it reminds us to keep our eyes on the eternal things of the Spirit.

Early followers of Jesus knew there would be no peace because Jesus had told them so (Matthew 10:34; Luke 12:51). But they also knew the Lord would be returning to set up His kingdom, and from that truth they drew great comfort. They were constantly reminding and being reminded that the Lord is coming (Luke 21:28; Revelation 22:12). Jesus taught several parables on this same theme of watching and waiting and being prepared for His return (Matthew 25:1-13; Luke 12:35-40).

So my blogging and asking God for one more day after Paris had a few UHT Christians giving me gentle guidance. Who was I to ask God to delay the second coming?

Respectfully,  I am on the same page as God on this one. It’s His will not mine, His timing not mine. Yet I figure he knew what he was doing when he called a feisty, questioning, direct-marketing, try to sell ice-to-Eskimos, PR personality to Christianity in her forties.

I’m fairly sure He knows I’m always going to push for a few response rate campaign extensions on the Great Commission. Every teenager daughter pushes her Father for just a little extra; I am open and honest with my Abba the same way.

Maranatha may remind me to keep my Christian heart and eyes on the eternal things of spirit and not be soul-swiped by the atrocities of drowned toddlers, bombs and cowardly terrorism. Do I long for him to come on clouds of fire to fulfil my heart ? Yes. But I am human. I have friends who are oh so close to getting to know G&J better than they ever have so I’ve got to be selfishly frank: I’d hate for them to miss out.

So I prayed for one more day after Paris. To keep treading the path and let Jesus spirit fill me so I can try, in my human stumbling way, to do what he would.

As I read vitriol on social media, of trending hate towards Muslims, I believe now more than ever it is Christians especially who need to shine a light in what could become a terrifying darkness. To look in the mirror and pray maranatha:

Come Lord Jesus, Come – fill me. Give me the strength to do what might be tough and hard. To stand up and defend others and not join in the call for eye for an eye. To gently challenge those who may confuse religion with Jesus, who say we shouldn’t even #prayforParis – pray for anything -because prayer is connected to religion and religion causes war.

To be the difference: between man’s twisted religion of rules and Jesus’ actions, teachings and love. To stick to the ultimate two: To love the Lord with all my heart and my neighbour as myself. To not keep quiet when people try to tar that with religious fervour.

To let me pray to You first, then act. To pray for wisdom for leaders, healing for the broken-hearted, and understanding for all. That the love and compassion of your son may be seen in the darkness, and that we remember that his light always overcomes.

I ask this in Your son, Jesus’ name.

Amen.

 

God’s Yellow Post-It Notes

The joy of Christianity was probably my least-expected discovery. Perhaps it is the freedom that accompanies the realisation that you are absolutely, totally loved and there is nothing you can do to change it. No matter how many times you trip up. There isn’t any kind of ledger to tot up. No need to pressure yourself over good deeds minus bad ones that leave you with some net score. Just remember you are precious, you are loved, you are not alone. The grace of Jesus and the Gospel in a nutshell. Blank yellow sticky note block isolated on white background

Then something else crept in along the edges that left the joy behind.

Awe. At the size and enormity of God’s love and grace. It is the awe that regularly fells me. The shock and awe WOW moments that explode and side swipe my heart. Knee buckling, falling down awe. THAT I never expected.

Take my messy past weeks. God and I were having a few issues. Religion and I were having a few issues. The right to bake cake. In the midst of all this religious overwhelm I forgot two important things:

God. Worship. I was desperately trying to get my exploding head around it all, forgetting that I’d never manage that because, well, religion has a jumbled mess of flawed humanity at the centre of it.

I was using a lot of my messy Psalmesque, vodka cruising style slanging laments at God. Stomping ungraciously, asking, “What are You doing? Where are You?”

I have become used to some fairly explicit answers from God but in the week after Easter, as I dived into work before planning a family trip away, I felt more like solitary echoes coming back to me. My God-frequency was on the fritz.  It wasn’t pretty. A series of 3am wake-ups, vivid dreams, and jumbles of blog post ideas and questions flying around my head. The SAP has commented that watching God and I is often like watching a cage fight. He isn’t far wrong.

I often pray that God will pick a really noticeable voice like Manuel from Fawlty Towers so I’m sure to know it is Him. Yet there is a pattern to how God communicates to me. First a insistent pressing into my head. Then a more relentless shoving. That I managed to ignore twice in three weeks because I was so busy being busy and letting my head explode over cake gate.

I recognise that shoving insistence. At one point I actually said aloud, “Yes, I know, I’ll get to it.” And didn’t. Yet, lovingly, God served me the elegant solution I’d been too busy to get to for seven days before. I apologised…..

….and less than two weeks later the same thing happened again. God pressed. I told Him I’d get to it. He shoved. I told Him I’d get to it. And once again He delivered a loving, elegant, caring solution – despite my short-sightedness and willingness to ignore Him for the week prior.

Hindsight is wonderful. So I humbly apologised because, whilst I was diving headlong on my merry way, stressing how I was going to do something, God quietly delivered me the solution. I could have saved myself a week of overwhelm had I listened the first time. So that’s why I get awed. Because in His position I’d be throwing me around the cage-fighting enclosure, thoroughly impatient with my inability to get with the program. But, similarly with Jacob (Genesis 32:22-32), He happily lets me wrestle and waits patiently for me to get it.

I don’t call any of this miraculous. For me, miracles are the roll up your mat and walk variety. These are love notes. Like the yellow post its I sometimes hide in my children’s lunch boxes to remind them that I love them, miss them and please can they eat all the cucumber and raw carrot sticks before the cookies.

“Be as impatient, stubborn and hard-headed as you like, Phil,” God smiles. “I love you and will wait for you to understand. And if you keep missing the point, then I will still gift you the solution, despite your ignoring Me, despite the angst and pressure I see you putting on yourself, despite how I wish you wouldn’t. I gift this to you because I love you. Draw closer.”

And the final yellow post-it note, that shoved into my head as I finished this blog post? This is what it says:

Phil, the only opponent in this cage fight is you.

Love,

God.

Dear Lord, not another Stephen Fry post

tumblr_inline_n3hkivssgi1qgp297Stephen Fry’s recent challenge to God at the pearly gates sent him trending all over social media. As a new Christian and a writer/journalist, the responses and posts had me acting like an alerting meercat on speed.

I was enthralled by the arguments bellowed to and fro between atheists and Christians. Some, I happily pondered. Others? Well, some of the UHT Christians (those who have been at this a long, longer life than I) and atheists need to take a Xanax. No wonder people look at Christians strangely when what I read had echoes of two toddlers in a sandpit arguing over whose toy truck is better.

I have joked since the start of my Christian journey that I’ve always believed God and Jesus needed a better PR agent, but that I never expected they’d hunt me down and challenge me to take the job. Seriously, there’s some personal branding work required.

No, I’m not going to start the ‘to and fro’ arguments back and forth here. There have been enough. Yet as a journalist I am going to call UHT Christians on one argument that some latched their teeth into and really niggled me. Namely, Fry can’t challenge God on bone cancer in children because, as Fry is an atheist, he doesn’t believe in God. Simplified, some in the Christian community are saying he can’t have it both ways. Yet they are missing a significant point.

Fry answered the question posed by Gay Byrne: “Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and are confronted by God,” Bryne asked on his show The Meaning of Life. “What will Stephen Fry say to him, her, or it?” There’s little point having a Christian argument that Fry, as an atheist, can’t have an issue with God because he doesn’t believe God exists. Byrne posed a hypothetical. Fry answered. The biggest error was Byrne failed the golden rule of interviewing: never ask a question you don’t know the answer to.

Look at the footage (please google, I’m so saturated I can’t even link it). Byrne is horrified. As an interviewer he handles it terribly. Fry was able to hit the ball out the park. I suspect the show’s producers were expecting Fry to brush off the question – “I’m an aethist, so that question is redundant” – or perhaps secretly hoping he’d say something witty such as: “Oops, looks like I made a mistake. You do exist,” leaving them with the opportunity to pepper social media with headline soundbites such as, “Atheist Fry Admits He Made A Mistake Over God.”

An interviewer worth his salt would have challenged Fry and introduced the topic of sin. Whether Fry believes in God, the Fall, and the saving grace of Jesus’ death and resurrection or not, that was the precise moment to bring it up. The door opened for Byrne to step through with the Christian viewpoint: that pesky apple and the serpent. God’s intent was not bone cancer in children, but health, joy, ease and grace. Which is why He bothered coming to earth as man in the New Testament.

Imagine where the interview could have gone if Byrne had grabbed the opportunity to talk to Fry about Jesus’ resurrection, forgiveness, grace and saving souls one at a time. With a mind like Fry’s, that would have been an interview to behold.

I am also offended that Fry is accused of being disrespectful. ‘Don’t talk to God like that’, some of the posts bluster. Yet, atheist, new or UHT Christian, why wouldn’t you ask some seriously pointed questions of God? Isn’t that the point of faith, that you can rail at Him (as I’ve alluded to before in vodka-cruiser style slanging Psalms), and draw closer to Him in an incredibly personal relationship? This is a God ‘who sings over us’, who’s like the Father with the Prodigal Son, who rejoices in heaven when just one of his lost sheep come back to Him. A God who loves that much isn’t going to be offended when you ask him a few curly, even disrespectful questions. Parents of teenagers have insight into that!

Give me an opportunity to sit next to God and Jesus on a long-haul flight, and I’d be asking some serious questions too. Whilst I happily glorify Him for love, care and the pretty astounding personal stuff delivered into my life in the past year, it doesn’t mean I’d sit there in dumbstruck awe eating my economy peanuts (I know God and Jesus would fly coach, the New Testament writings about hanging out with the poor and the oppressed pretty much applies to economy and the leg room on a long-haul flight). There are certain things I’d love ‘from the horse’s mouth’ clarity on.

I would have preferred Byrne to elevate the conversation. Whilst I have spent some of the past week overwhelmed by the posts and counter posts that Fry’s comments sparked (I’m a glutton for research), there’s one thing I totally agree on: Apologising on BBC Radio 4’s the Today show for any offence he might have caused Fry said: “I’m most pleased that it’s got people talking. I’d never wish to offend anybody who is individually devout or pious and goes about their religious ways, and indeed many Christians have been in touch with me and said that they’re very grateful that things have been talked about.”

Hear Hear. Perhaps Stephen Fry would care to join me on my next long-haul flight? We can share peanuts.

All the responses to Fry’s interview had me alerting like a meercat on speed.

Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble. But joyful? Let’s give it a go.

Is it me, or does Mac Davis remind you a little bit of Bobby Ewing from Dallas (the original series)? Whilst not a music style I usually gravitate to, the opportunity to put this song title and Kenny Rogers in a blog post was just too good to resist. Kenny Rogers. My primary-age soundtrack. My folks knew how to rock it.

This post I really want to get away from sinning, again and again and focus on the fun stuff. The joy.

The SAP would have you know that his Christian fun includes gun totin’, 4WDing, game hunting and head-banging at the front of U2 concerts. But who’s going to believe that of a man of the cloth? I reckon he just says that to see if he can shock people. I’d lay money on him instead being a chai-sipping quiet soul who pops along to the Symphony Orchestra and discusses ways to help the Green Party. Whilst wearing sandals.

What I realised about my exposure growing up was that ‘religion’ was painted as serious stuff. Which then slips into people taking themselves too seriously. Instead, I’ve learnt that it’s perfectly fine to not take yourself seriously at all (which is a big tick in the plus column) but instead take Jesus and God seriously. Meaning it’s OK to tumble into the 8am Sunday service with your netball training gear on, cap shoved over electric-shock therapy hairstyle, with a takeout coffee cup clutched firmly in your hand. I recall the pastor’s wife smiling in delight: “I wish I’d had time to grab one of those,” she told me. See, not serious. Not expecting me to be anything other than me. What a joy!

Worldly joy is an odd thing. Sometimes we think it’s found in the bright shiny car. Or the right postcode.  Credit card debt in society is mounting as we look externally to fill ourselves up with clothes, shoes (well, actually, shoes are a religion for me) and all this consumable stuff. Yet true joy is tied to our internal landscape, not what we have. And joy is intrinsically tied to gratitude. You can choose to be thankful and joyful or you can choose to be ungrateful and unhappy. Christian joy appears to take it one step further.

I wonder, is that why Australia is slipping down the happiest nation list? Why depression and anxiety is on the rise? Have we forgotten to be joyful for, and humbled by, all that we have?

Grab the joy

Since deciding I’d get stuck into Jesus research, I have been struck at how much joy I am able to acknowledge in my life. Music sounds better (even Kenny Rogers) and there are fewer internal ripples.

The SAP posed a challenge during a sermon recently, based on Jesus’ activities in the New Testament. To ask, “what would Jesus do?” (WWJD) before we reacted. Patience, humility, joy in God — all such qualities spring to mind. So, quietly, each time a curve ball of life zinged past my head, I’d ask ‘WWJD?’. An interrupting child when all I want to do is read my book? Marriage irritations over the way the cutlery has been put in the drawer? A client who just didn’t ‘get’ what I was trying to achieve? Stuck in traffic? Well, actually, on the last one I did wonder WWJD and hoped ascension. A neat bit of levitation to make it to the meeting on time…

Religion over the years has painted God as an Ogre and Christians have a reputation as the fun police. A few words from the SAP here: “But it’s almost the total opposite. He’s made all this great stuff for us to enjoy. He just doesn’t want us getting to the stage where we love the gift – but ignore the giver, because by then, the gift has become our god – and the joy the gift was meant to bring gets washed away.”

Christianity reminds us to be humble and gracious – and to follow the lead of someone else. To ask WWJD and adjust our nature accordingly. Have fun. Step into the joy. Love and cherish all the gifts. But don’t forget who gave them.

Yet humility doesn’t mean doormat. No need to lose the chutzpah. Seize life by both shoulders and give it the biggest, lip-smaking MWAH! you can imagine.  Suck the marrow out of it.

On that, I’m taking a break from the blog whilst I do some marrow sucking of my own. Technology free. Yes, I’m heading to a convent for a week, with a vow of silence. All in the name of research, dear readers 🙂

Joy & blessings, back soon!

It’s a, it’s a, it’s a… it’s a sin

Disclaimer: This video was chosen ONLY because of the catchy tune and title for creative purposes. The use of this video and the subject of this blog should not be construed as any commentary on the sexual preferences of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Or monks in chains. So no-one get your knickers in a twist.

That I have to write the disclaimer above shows just how explosive this small, three letter word is. In a second disclaimer, I’m wandering around the reservation on my own here. Possibly going off-piste. This blog is what I’ve pieced together since this began. I didn’t ask the SAP to do a sense-edit before I published because I wanted it to be a bit raw and messy. And to be as close as possible to how I – as a newbie – have uncovered it. All the errors here are my own.

Sin.

Straight away, all those notions of heinous wrong doings. I think this is why Christianity is so confronting because no-one likes to be told they are sinful, which is essentially what Jesus is recorded as saying in The Bible. I remember hearing it in church and immediately my back went up. “Here we go again,” I thought.

Fire and brimstone preaching and bible thumping has caused the church a serious image problem when it comes to sin. It either offends the non-Christians (NCs) (“I’m no rapist/murderer/thief” – insert your preferred style of sinner here) or causes Christians all sorts of comparison problems (“Well, I’m not as bad as her!”). It also contributes to why so many NCs think they are going to be judged by Christians and be found lacking.

I think most of us have got the idea of sin all wrong. 

Sin, as defined in the original translations of the Bible, means “to miss the mark.” The mark, in this case, is the standard of perfection established by God and evidenced by Jesus.

So, based on that, the ‘equation’ I came up with is:

I’m not God or Jesus. The only way to NOT miss the mark is to BE God or Jesus. I am patently neither. Then I have to conclude: I’m a sinner.

Say that line a few times. It gets easier. Imagine it’s like an AA meeting.

(Sorry, SAP, if you are now pulling out your remaining grey hairs. I’ll give you a blog post to set the record straight if required. A really small one. Like one of those ‘notices of retraction’ that no-one ever spots in the newspaper).

Now, get ready for the next twist.

No matter what we do, we’re still sinners. Whether you give to charity and go to church each Sunday, or whether you go out on a megalomanic serial killer spree. There is no difference.

Now all the NCs (and possibly Cs) are up in arms. “How dare you compare me to a serial killer?” you yell. Build a bridge and get over it with me. Because much as I hate it (ego, ego, ego), God doesn’t have a sin barometer. Sin just is. There’s no measurement of it. 

If this was a poker game, it’d be feeling like a pretty crap hand, wouldn’t it? Which is why I need to get to the Christian equivalent of a Royal Flush.

Jesus. The lightening rod. The uber-blog post. The central tenet of Christianity.

Distilled down, if you trust in Jesus then all your sin is taken away, all thanks to his crucifixion, resurrection and grace.

Mind-blowing. Rather than try to rationalise it (nigh on impossible) I had to surrender, run with it,  and see where it led. Because of that commitment I made at 3am to God, to step up to the plate and sort out my ‘baggage’ around Christianity. Otherwise I’d still be stuck unhelpfully stereotyping ‘religion’, ‘church’, and ‘sin’.

Rather than being a struggle, accepting the gift of forgiveness and grace is meant to be easy. But I had to put all that ‘Christianity’ baggage down first, so I could free my hands to grasp it.

“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” – Timothy Keller.

Pride (In the name of love) of Lions

Another hangover from ‘church’ and ‘religion’ was my (limited) exposure to churchgoers who struck me as, how can I put this politely? Well, not quite ‘present’. I can’t lay that all at the feet of the church though, as I’ve had plenty of exposure to new-age spiritualists who would spend so much time looking at and chatting with angels and spirit guides to the left and right of my aura, I’d constantly look over my shoulder to see who else was behind me when we had a conversation.

While it seemed quite appropriate for spiritualists to have their ‘head in the clouds’, when it came to Christians it made me think about cults. Blame Karl Marx. All that opiate for the masses stuff. Think of the stereotypes: if you’re sitting in a pew each Sunday, you’ve left your brain out in the glovebox of your car. If you’re a Christian, it’s like you’re believing in Santa and the Tooth Fairy.  But if you’re a wiccan, or enamoured with Gaia, that’s perfectly acceptable.

Thrown to the lions

I’ve noticed on this journey than non-believers seem to think it’s perfectly OK to challenge Christians on their ‘magical thinking’, yet the same amount of bias rarely appears to be thrown at believers in other faiths, be they historical or new. rc-camera-buggy-meets-a-pride-of-lions-008

Since setting off on this pursuit, I’ve had both funny and hurtful conversations. Been on the receiving end of 2UE style rants. Jawdropping, goldfish gasping silence when I casually mention I’m off to church. Surprised friends giving me books such as Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion‘ – to try and balance my mind, perhaps? They would be apoplectic if I lent them The Bible. Why? Because if a Christian suggests someone read The Bible, the non-believer typically assumes the Christian sees them as somehow ‘less’. The immediate response is, “I don’t f-ing need saving.” I’ve done the same myself: “How dare you? I don’t need you to pray for me!” Yet meditating on and sending love & light to friends has been acceptable in the past. Figure that out…

Forget opiate for the masses. This is not a journey for the faint-hearted. Particularly at 40 (something) years of age! I’d quite enjoy a shot of something to take the edge off because, wow, Christianity digs into my pride. images-4Particularly given how much stock I have put into yoga and non-attachment over the years. I hadn’t packed that pride down quite as effectively as I liked to think! I know how things should be done, I can make my own decisions over what is right and wrong, and I can damn well do it on my own, thanks very much.

I did not want this. I did not seek it. Some of the time, I’ve been bloody annoyed about it. The SAP has been told to go himself and fornicate under carnal knowledge as I’ve pulled this apart. But I couldn’t ignore it.

I’d already read plenty of books against. But it makes me a pretty woeful journalist if I didn’t spend some time exploring the ‘for‘. I’d never bothered with the other side of the argument before, intellectually or emotionally. You reckon’ my aethist friends are surprised? How about me?! In the early weeks this agnostic veered between horrified and, well, more horrified.

As for pride? It came round and bit me. As one of the things I take the greatest pride in is being ruthlessly honest with myself. I have a near-sadistical bent for shining the light on my darkest corners.

Accepting does not mean abdication.

My brain is firmly engaged. Because to do this, really do this, means excavating pride. To turn the other cheek. To love. There are far, far easier choices I could make. Crucifixion, anybody?

So why keep going? Well, I like the person I’m evolving into. It may be mystical thinking to some. Yet I cannot deny the ease, joy and trust that has welled up. Do I find myself shaking my head? Each and every day. But more often now in amazement rather than disbelief. It’s precious and surprising.

For the lions, both gentle and rough, I’m not blogging to change minds. Nor am I blogging to convince anyone that this is a journey they ought to be on.

I started this because I communicate best when writing, and it gave me a spot to ponder and process. I share it publicly because if there’s one reader seeking something spiritual beyond Dan Murphy’s, and has failed to find solace in new age, I wanted to give an insight into a choice that, I now realise, has suffered from some woeful misconceptions.

Please notice the word choice. You may not seek solace, you may be just dandy with the selection at Dan’s. And that’s absolutely fine too.

Evangelical stereotyping is a blog post for another day 🙂