I’ve not got anything good to say

Of late my thoughts have been focused too much on current events and politics. I do not want to write about those things because I think even thinking too much about them can be corrupting to the soul. It would be worth the thought and the corruption if I had any say in the way events unfold, but I don’t and it’s probably for the best because I am not qualified to pontificate and even less to act. But this is why I’ve not written much, the things I’ve been thinking are not good to write.

I am a bad person when it comes to politics, I become far too engrossed by the competing factions and the games they play to take each other down. I find the whole drama fascinating and I get a great deal of intellectual satisfaction from trying to figure out what is going on underneath the surface theatre, from considering who is sincere, who is not, who is outright lying – and in all cases why and how it relates to everyone else. I know the futility of my caring, yet I continue to care. I know that I am not smart enough or knowledgable enough to really judge a lot of things, but if anything that just makes the challenge more interesting. For me it’s a fun intellectual exercise, while for other people it is their lives or their livelihoods. For me the drama is thrilling but for people that are directly effected by it, it must be terrifying. When I was a child I was always so excited by talk of war on television, I sat at the edge of my seat, hoping for escalation, looking forward to the exciting new stories that would come tomorrow. Thrilled and mesmerised while people died, while people were tortured, while homes and businesses and whole economies were destroyed.

I still feel that way. Even though I know it is a terrible way to think and feel. People might say it is because I am spoiled, because I have never really suffered, because I don’t know what war and death and suffering really mean – and they are probably right. Sometimes I wish I could find out, because I don’t want to be evil. I don’t want to feel bloodlust or take pleasure in other peoples suffering – nothing makes me so ashamed about myself as this. It is wrong.

Maybe one day I will find out and regret, maybe I will have to really suffer to find repentance.

But maybe I will never repent – in my heart as opposed to my head – that is what terrifies me. What if I never conquer this part of myself?

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Revelation 3:16

“What should I have to give thee! Let me rather hurry hence lest I take aught away from thee!”

Will it suffice to go to the altar of the Lord bearing an offering of honest doubt? To approach with hope mingled with fear and uncertainty? Would it be better to be cold than lukewarm, knowing I know not? Is this honesty not better than a lip service without heart service?

But then would I give up my doubts if he offered to relieve me of them? If an angel came before me tomorrow and said “only say the word and you will have the simple faith of a romanticised peasant!” – would I accept then? Maybe if he came tomorrow, never if he came today. Do I not take great pride in my “sophistication”? In uncertainty, in “knowing I know nothing”? Does it not make me feel a certain kind of superiority to others who are all too sure of what they think and where they stand.

Worse still are my designs for the hoped for God. The mental construction of God as a tool, for self improvement, for social control, for comfort in the face of a cold hard universe and for hardness in the face of a soft mushy culture. Doubt is one thing, manipulation another.

How to approach religion after the enlightened deicide? That darkest of night where hope yet lives. When Zarathustra was alone, he said to his heart: “Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that God is dead!”

Perhaps the saint had indeed heard? Did He not thus conquer death? Maybe the saint knew no grave could hold Him.

 

 

On Becoming Christian

I was not baptised as a baby, and I did not grow up in a Christian home. When I sought to become a Christian, I first sought to get baptised. I didn’t really think about what would come after that. I mean I did, but I had no idea how to picture it (I pictured it with me being a lot less doubtful and sinful than I really am) and I was driven forward by the desire to become something I knew I wasn’t.

Having been baptised and chrismated, am I now a Christian? I am going to say – n0… sort of.

Well, one thing I didn’t really think about is that to be a Christian is not just to believe in this or that (to affirm that Christ rose from the dead). Ceirtainly without that there is a sort of emptiness to it, but that is not it. To be a Christian is to live in a particular manner – to pray, to live in the sacramental life of the Church, to give to the poor, to support the weak, to resist evil, trust in God – and do all that in a very mundane, everyday way. In a sense to live as a Christian requires fully “re-enchanting” the mundane universe in which the atheist me was brought up in. It means the discovery of the meaning of the word “sacred” and the sacralisation of life itself.

Which is great and all, certainly sounds great – but… well, how do you live like that? Everyone brought up in a Christian home, even from very dubious denominations, has a pattern of life which to a greater or lesser extent models that form of life. For sure some more than others, but I have no such pattern of life. I have no model to base it on – except things looked on from afar, or romantic idealisms promoted for various purposes, or the images in old films perhaps. If I happen on one day to wake up with the grace of gratitude to God for the joy of life and the morning, I have no way, no pattern on which to express such a feeling – and trying to create my own patterns feels in this weak, uncertain stage of my Christian life – feels dangerous and distancing, like a 2 year old trying to create its own language instead of speaking the language of it’s parents.

I have no parents, well I have biological parents, and I also have godparents – but they are each on other sides of the country from me, and they would not serve the role I need them for. Because parents live with their children, they in the beginning guide their children every moment of the day, until their children are used to days and used to nights and so need less guidance.

In order to become a Christian I need someone to tell me what to do. I can’t deal with suggestions, I can’t deal with simply seeing things from afar. Suggest something and I will find every cowardly excuse not to do it, I don’t want people to get the idea I am a “try hard” – even if I’d very much like to be. Let no-one mistake me for one of those dreadful people who attempts to be pious! Let me be gruff and rude and weak, it’s much more comfortable and it doesn’t offend people half so much. As for things seen from afar – I don’t even know if I am allowed to do those. Might they not be reserved for people who are better than me, or from some other culture, or whose parents made them do it when they were children? Those things cannot be for the likes of me…

I am not used to days or nights as a Christian, left to my own devices I will simply revert to days and nights as a nihilist – because I know how to do those very well indeed. This is a difficult dilemma in our culture because most movement goes in the other direction… from Christianity to nihilism (usually via some variant of humanism). I wonder if people going in that direction find it as awkward as this one. But they have the whole country to model themselves on…

Prude

Sex. Even the word disturbs you slightly. You don’t know why, you can rationalise backwards, devise neat little psychological theories about your childhood. But there is something that cuts through those stories and tells another.

Because you are as prudish about God as you are about sex. You feel as uncomfortable attempting to pray as you do thinking about uniting with your lover. Prudishness is the same, one and other. It is the same as Adam and Eve in the garden, you realise you are naked.

Standing vulnerable before God, standing vulnerable before your lover – how different are they really? But how much more vulnerable do you find yourself before God than before your beloved? How much more hushed the tones as you strain to speak.

Oh for a crowd to hide in, or to run like a child behind the legs of your mother, holding tightly to her hand and peeking through the gaps of her fingers, as if no-one could see you there.

Even for all that, you don’t really want to be alone… why else would you be peeking?

Tears Falling

When the family breaks up, the child is alone. He has a mother and he has a father, but his love for his mother induces guilt for the love of his father, and the love for his father bristles painfully due to the protective feelings he has toward his mother. So he is alone. There is only jarring disunity – and the self.

“Why can we not all be one again?” he thinks, “why can we not eat together, sing together, love together – as once we did?”

Must everything fall apart?

Maybe later he tries to resolve the wound by severance altogether. He rejects half of himself and clings to one story about his past. “I never had a father” he says. But the pain is obvious. The wound remains. Every day is a confrontation with that which has been severed. There is no completion without the whole, without mending the broken bond, the self made from two. The more anger at the wound, the deeper perhaps the severance, the more insistent that there must be one to blame, to hate, to expel from the self – to be whole again, but lesser.

Your mother and father lurk within you, and no amount of hate can purge them. There is only one way to heal the wound, to forgive together, love together, eat together once more.

And some wounds will never be healed… only pray and dare to hope that this one is healed, because some wounds, though longstanding and septic, still are.

In the First Person

Up till now I’ve written this blog in the second person and largely used it for a venting ground for my angst. I will continue to make posts of that kind, but a new year comes with a new approach and I have decided for various reasons to include less morose posts in the first person.

Last night I heard about proposed changes to the baptism in the Anglican Church which are currently being trialled. I have scoffed at these changes (not very Christian of me I know) and gotten a lot of amusement from the absurdity of the Anglican Communion at once trying to be a “Church” and at the same time to be genuinely on the same page as the largely atheist UK population, because the Anglican Church has a civic as well as a religious role.

Standing outside from it all, because regardless of what religious associations I have, I am about as lukewarm and uncommitted as they come, Anglicanism appears tragic. You cannot really be all things to all men, at least not in the way they intend – and in the course of trying they fail to do something, and that something is not just the something of accurately representing small ‘o’ orthodox Christianity, something they may no longer care to do anyway.

When I looked up the quote to “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” the internet was adamant that the quote was from Banksy. However in my memory I am very clear that it was used long before Banksy was born by G.K. Chesterton. I am not saying he was the originator, but he definitely said it. If the Church is to be anything at all of value to society (I am talking now of it’s role in civic society) it must be able to do this. Christ can certainly do that, Christ was not respectable, yet he was the most respectable person on earth.

Do you think the semi-atheists going in for a baptism who are offended by words like “sin” and “submission” and “repentance” and the “devil” are disturbed? I don’t doubt some of them might be, but a lot of those people are exceedingly comfortable. Comfortable in themselves, comfortable in their notion of their place in the world. “Sin” say the instigators of this “is just conceived of as a sort of naughtiness”, having a bit of sex or eating too much. Does changing the wording to “reject evil” instead alleviate this – in both cases they have no conception that evil has anything to do with them. How easy to say you will reject evil when you could not possibly consider that evil lurks in your heart.

If this were the real reason, to make people understand, telling them to reject evil will not help. They at least admitted between giggles that they have “sinned” even if that meant having one too many cream pies. How many of the “unchurched” (or maybe even the churched…) would really wholeheartedly admit that they have done evil? It’s true that it’s a stronger word nowadays, but that makes it all the easier to “reject”, it has nothing to do with us. It would be like asking a Russian man to “reject” homosexuality – he already has a repulsion for it, and he is already sure that it has absolutely nothing to do with him.

Sin works better, we recognise that we might have one too many cream cakes, but we never stop to think about what it means to eat more than your fair share in a world in which people still starve. To raise prices with demand for goods for which you have no need. We might recognise we have a bit of naughty sex but we don’t consider the complex relational, emotional and at times physical consequences that we engender. And then as we think more deeply about the social world in which we move and all the little acts of evil – a hurtful glance, or a flattering word to win our way – we may never find our way to the kind of evil that really sounds like “evil” to us. Because surely evil has to be big? Evil can’t just be persistent selfishness right? I mean – if I don’t look out for number one, who will? I’ll give £500 to charity once a year because it makes me feel good and I can spare it and I am sure that it’s a good cause, but I wouldn’t give the coat off my back to someone shivering on the streets. I paid good money for that coat, and more than the price I need my coat. If someone dies tonight out in the cold, what is that to do with me? Am I my brother’s keeper? He is probably an alcoholic anyway, he’d probably just sell the coat for booze.

Do we see evil there? Does the modern connotation of the word really extend to all the little acts of callousness, the constant deadening of our hearts that almost everyone does? When the godparent says he rejects evil, will he consider that means to reject all these attitudes? Will the word “evil” make him uncomfortable?

And if it can be taught, that every day he far from rejecting evil, curls up in joyful embrace, kisses evil’s neck and permits evil to playfully tease him and sooth him and keep him warm, could he not be taught the same using the traditional word “sin”? If teaching is required either way, why change the wording? After all sin is something that whether they diminish it or not, people recognise as about the self rather than external. There is a word that works fine to talk about the external aspects of evil, the temptations and the tricks that seduce us into doing wrong – that word is the “Devil”.

As for getting rid of the word “submit”. Where can one even begin? Heaven forfend that any of Britain’s spoiled and entitled children be forced for even one short ritual to consider the possibility that there is someone of more importance than themselves to whom submission makes sense… let not any mere priest challenge our dear little ones from their pedestal atop which they rule the universe. That simply would not do. They are very comfortable up there and would only make the most dreadful of bawling noises if they were asked, with even the most gentle and unchallenging of language, if they might not consider perhaps, getting down.