Two types of posts get read a lot on this blog. Those about relationships and those addressing current political or church issues. So when I write about dating or singleness or Mark Driscoll or women bishops my stats page is suitably satisfied. When on the other hand I take a more rambling approach to writing, the readers do not come flocking. I suspect this is one of the latter.
It is also probably worth explaining at this point what happened to the endeavour I had provisionally titled ‘The centaur and the heir’. It was my attempt to write a novel in 30 days, 50 000 words from scratch onto the keys and into some semblance of a novel. I could try and sugar coat it and put it in diplomatic fashion but basically I failed. After ten days I was a few thousand words behind schedule and with a mostly free Sunday ahead of me I could have spent all my free time writing and given myself a boost. I had also rather shamefully posted the first two chapters of the work so instead of clarifying my abandonment I slipped quietly into the night. I decided I had other things I wished to do with my time. I took the choice to fail. It’s not often we make a choice so consciously as that, but I realised that while I was deciding to fail, I was still not entirely sure what is was I was failing at.
My novel would never have been published, not even in my most remote and wildest dreams. It was a work of fan fiction, an effort to hark back to the Chronicles of Narnia and explore what became of Susan Pevensie after her family’s death. I had lost the plot quite literally, I had no idea where it would go next, a vague concept I wanted to pull through the whole story but the characters were weak and they asserted no direction on the page. I had a handful of readers who had taken in the first two sections, but their engagement was not enough to keep me going. Nor was the brute stubbornness that had propelled me through the same endeavour last year enough. I had proved I could do it, proved I could write an inordinate number of words that made very little sense, read by even fewer and done so at a particularly busy period of work.
I simply had no reason to go on writing.
And sometimes that can be a lesson we face in so many parts of life. We want something to whisk us up and propel us forward. We want the glorious crusade, the righteous campaign, the infusion of meaning into a life otherwise droll and predictable. We don’t want to just carry on because we think we ought to carry on.
Sometimes in church life it can feel like a massive effort to keep with the programme, to show that you are on the same page as everyone else. Sometimes it can be a spiritual equivalent of keeping up with the Jones. We want to be as mature as everyone else, we want to have the same experience as everyone else. When we see others having prayers answered we wonder why ours are going unmet.
I see the doubt in my own mind and think others are plagued by the same lingering thoughts. But there is one particular doubt I want to zero in on. I doubt that there is purpose and meaning behind what I am doing. In the world in which I spend most of my time much is made of calling and vocation: of what you are doing with your life to serve God. And I feel I have none. I can scrabble around and cobble together something approaching a spiritual sounding narrative, but it is really little more than a projection of where I have come from and where I am currently at. It is all I have.
I hear exhortations to have plans and goals, and strategies, ideas of where you want to be in ten years time – and this is in church not a job interview. I hear the calls for a vision of what your sphere could look like if the kingdom of God was to break in. Except I don’t know what my sphere is and I don’t have a vision of what it might look like.
I sometimes think, if only I had something to commit myself to, a passion to throw my weight behind, a mission to get lost in, a conviction that it is this (whatever this might be) to which I am to spend myself. But I don’t and therefore I leave myself with two options. Well three if I include giving up. But unlike writing a novel in a month this isn’t something I want to pack in. At least, I hope not. So my options are either to fake it until I make it, to conjure some vision out of thin air, construct it on the back of what I do and what others might expect me to be passionate about. Or alternatively to get back to basics.
When I put it like that it seems like a no brainer, of course the basics should win over being a fraud, but I’m not so sure it’s that simple. Maybe part of the going back to basics is doing what I am doing right now as well as I possibly can. Going back to basics means not over complicating life. It means not looking for something that isn’t there. It also means stripping out the extraneous elements that combine together to create a noise through which we cannot hear the movements and melodies that lie behind our lives.
It means for me I need to stop worrying about not having a ten year plan. It means not being ashamed by what I am doing or not doing. Rescinding the relentless rhetoric towards bigger and better, onwards and upwards, letting go of the need for validity and worth in what I am doing or where I am going. There is a lot that I can do, or stop doing.
And I want that to be the focus of my attention, but there’s also a slight critique I want to make of the language, tone and rhetoric used in churches. I get the desire to cast vision, to get people caught up in where you are going, to inspire them to hear their own call. But does it run the risk of encouraging people to fake it until they make it? They see something that looks good so present themselves in a spiritual light and hang a personal vision off that prefabricated script? Does it lead to a conformity with the corporate vision by accident rather than design? Does it stifle innovation while actually seeking to unleash it? I don’t know. But I’ve felt the pressure to conform, and to find something which I do not at the moment have.
It’s a concern I have with all areas of the Christian life, if we place the expected and modelled level of behaviour high without an equivalent modelling of grace, we run the risk of encouraging a fraudulent faith because the fear of not performing up to the expected standard becomes too strong. And when faith comes down to performance it may be time to bring the curtain down, send home the cast and rewrite the script.
I don’t want to glorify messing things up or not having a clue. I don’t want to privilege doubt over faith. But I want to be honest that all these struggles exist and not present too perfect a picture.