20 things to spot when observing Christian relationships

** WARNING – this post may lead to introspection**

If you spend enQuick-Easy-Valentine-Day-Treatsough time among Christians, especially those who are single and dating, some of these may be very familiar:

  1. The person who needs to be in a relationship just that little bit too much. Whenever an eligible boy or girl turns up on the scene they are the first to latch onto them, in the hope that maybe, this one, will be the one.
  1. The flirting butterfly. Every person is a target, they flit from one person to the next, pulling their best moves to impress the person in front of them. When one person rebuffs them, or often before they have the chance, they move onto the next. It’s not so much a relationship they are after but the affirmation that their flirting leads to when someone laps it up.
  1. The one who leads them on. They know they’re being flirted with, they enjoy it, they are the ones who lap it up – it makes them feel good. They’ve no intention of it going anywhere, but to turn the flirter down would mean turning down the attention. So they let it carry on.
  1. The one who seems above romance and relationship. They breeze through life as though attraction and emotion are unknown, they are busy in their own life. As far as anyone can tell they are attracted to no one, and no one is attracted to them. Except the person who is attracted to them but has no idea if they even notice.
  1. The one who is waiting for God to do it. They’re not exactly content in their singleness, because they’d rather be with someone, but they are trusting in God. This means they don’t do much on their initiative and are inclined to turn down offers if God hasn’t told them that it’s the one.
  1. The amazing girl who all the other girls can’t understand why no guy asks out. You hear the gasps of exacerbation and bemusement at why such and such hasn’t been asked out on any dates recently (or at all). This is likely to come with the tacit suggestion (and sometimes explicit) that you might want to rectify this state of affairs.
  1. The guy who doesn’t ask girls out. It’s not that he’s not interested, he is. It’s just he always finds a reason not to ask out the girl who’s occupying his thoughts. After a while he tends to decide he’s not that interested, or she’s not that interested, or sees she’s now with another guy.
  1. The married to Jesus one. They are so in love with the Lord, and he fulfils all of their needs. Until hot guy asks them on a date.
  1. I need a hero! They are just desperate for someone to fall in love with. Someone who is the right height, with the perfect colour hair, that compassionate but confident temperament who will sweep you off your feet without coming on too strong. Other than that, they’re off the market.
  1. The naïve one who everyone likes. They don’t know it but they have a legion of admirers. Guy after guy has a thing for her. All the girls wait around hoping she will be the one he picks. But it doesn’t happen, they seem immune to the volley of attraction they provoke.

    © April Killingsworth

    © April Killingsworth

  1. Friendship dependency. It starts with them hanging around and becoming friends, and being Christians they know that even if they were in a relationship with someone (not necessarily the friend in question) they wouldn’t get much more out of it then they do as friends. And they enjoy their friendship and lean heavily on it for emotional support. So friendships act as a buffer making crossing the Rubicon towards a relationship that bit less appealing (you know, they might get rejected and all that). This can lead to…
  1. The couple who aren’t a couple. They are categorically not going out, they are friends, they spend time together. Plenty of people think there must be something going on, but they’ve never even talked about such an occurrence. That would be awkward, and after all they’re not really attracted to one another. Problem is, getting a plus one to a wedding is even more awkward. But this is different to…
  1. The couple that will be a couple. Everyone can see it (apart from me), the friendship, the chemistry, the attraction. But it goes unspoken. Maybe they’re nervous, fearful of rejection, uncertain of the reciprocation of feelings, but they hold back. And everyone, the everyone who sees this as inevitable, hold back because to do otherwise would be meddling. Instead they just talk about it. And when they do they either become…
  1. The couple who want to convince you they aren’t a couple. Maybe it is early days in their relationship and they don’t want to be public about their growing amorous affection. They arrive separately, are distinctly detached in the post church mingle. But it is just a little too studied, a little too planned. Or…
  1. PDAs, alternatively known as: The couple who want to convince everyone they are in love. It’s all about the Public Displays of Affection. One minute they were single and the next inseparable. I’m all about showing your significant other how much they mean to you, but in church, during the sermon on atonement, really? I don’t think that’s what ‘his wrath was reconciled meant’.
  1. The couple who were a couple. They were going out, you knew about it, most people knew about it, but now you’re not so sure. It’s been a while since you’ve seen them together but maybe that’s just because one of them has been away. But because we don’t gossip no one talks about their break up, it just glacially filters through the ecclesiological eco-system hopefully in time to cut off another awkward plus one wedding invite.
  1. The Christian festival couple. In a blaze of camping induced romance they find the love of their life. They commit to each other 4EVA. The messages pass back and forth (in my day text and email, probably fb messenger, whatsapp and snapchat these days). But slowly it fades, until they embarrassingly bump into each other next year in the same showground having not spoken for months.
  1. The girlfriend (and sorry to be gender specific) who can’t do anything without their boyfriend. Being in a relationship mutes independent thought and the previously confident lady is a shadow of her former self.
  1. The over protective boyfriend (again, see above for apology). You get within a few meters of his girl and he’ll come alongside her and bring the conversation to a close.
  1. The wannabe matchmaker. They have a pairing for everyone, they think they’ve got skills in who suits who, and want their friends matched up pronto. Except, when it comes to it, the matching plan never hatches.single contact person

What about, a friend asks, the normal Christians, who are confident, honest, and not playing games?

Married.

What have I missed? What should be in the A-Z spotters guide of Christians who are single, dating or getting into a relationship (provisional title)?

In which I ask you to donate to Tearfund

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Over the past week I’ve written a lot about my time in Cambodia with Tearfund. This is my sixteenth post, with half of them being here and half in various places across the internet.

And in most of them I’ve ended with a line letting you know how you can keep up with what we’ve been doing, and how you can give money to support Tearfund’s work.

That was always an explicit part of this trip: to visit one of the communities featured in Tearfund’s See For Yourself initiative and tell the stories to help bring them our reader’s attention and encourage them to be part of an initiative where each month they get a prayer update from the village, and every few months a video update.

It’s also been the only part of the trip I’ve found even slightly stressful. The rest has been busy, new, unusual, unexpected, warming, and hot. But the target of getting people to sign up to give money is not something I’m used to or something I find particularly easy.

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I’ve felt uncomfortable writing lines asking people to give, I’ve felt worse when I’ve added them to posts on other people’s blogs.

And yet I am fully convinced of the value of the work supported in Cambodia. I haven’t got the least bit of hesitation in saying that. Perhaps it’s just me being a bit English but I want to preface it by saying: “I’m really sorry for the inconvenience, but if you wouldn’t mind, and if you do, don’t worry, but if perhaps you might be able to, could you possibly give Tearfund some money?”

13354971775_15ed75af35_bWhile I have been here I have seen the people trained, and the projects that have come out of the training. There is often scope for material donations, for wells, for toilets, for classrooms. But the commitment of this programme to people and investing in them, and doing so through the church which will remain, rather than a charity which might move on after a few years, is both obvious and exciting.

Tearfund are supporting work that makes a difference, and doing so in a way that is sustainable, and centred on the role of the local church engaging and changing its community. And your money can make a difference to communities who struggle to feed their families, who are placed in crisis when their chickens die, or the market pays a poor rate for the pig they’d banked on supporting them. It can prompt churches to lead the way providing education, raising awareness about healthcare and improving savings for the whole community.

As I prepare to return to the UK tomorrow, please support Tearfund. If you give as part of this initiative you’ll be able to keep up with the people we met this week, and hear about the impact your support is having.

To give online go to www.tearfund.org/bloggers and hit the button in the banner image.

To give by text just text HOPE TODAY to 70444 – the first 60 to sign up to give will also receive a print from my talented fellow blogger Rich Wells. This will subscribe you to give £3 a month to See For Yourself, Tearfund.  It will be added to your mobile phone bill and Tearfund receives 100% of the money. This subscription service will cost £3.00 per month until you send STOP to 70080.

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A Lidy bit of action

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Today we met Lidy. Around the back of the church he is part of sit large water carriers branded with the name of the international charity that provided them. That charity has now left.

I say this not to make another charity look bad, because we were told they’d help train villages up in fish rearing, pig rearing, insect rearing. Yes, they rear insects here, they’re quite a delicacy (I ate a few myself yesterday). I say this because no charity can stay for ever, and if they did that would be a bad thing.

Lidy is only twenty and is the umoja facilitator for his church. Over the past year a group from the church have come together to ask what their community needs.

What a previous aid organisation had begun to do was encourage the local community to be a part of the development they were delivering and have an investment in the animals they were rearing. Umoja takes this a step further, it is for communities to take responsibility for the needs they identify.

For Lidy and his church the needs of their community were:

    1. Education
    2. Health
    3. Financial problems
    4. Spiritual need

On the inside wall of the church is written their vision statement. They want to increase the size of the congregation, they want to raise up leaders, they want to improve life for the community around them and along the bottom written in English it says: ‘Love Jesus Forever’.

This is a church taking responsibility for the place that God has placed them, they have recognised the needs around them and they want to do something about it.

Many members of the church are part of a savings group, where they invest regularly and from which they are able to borrow if they need to. It costs money to travel into town to use the bank, and the interest rates make borrowing money an expensive activity. I was reminded of churches in the UK setting up credit unions to offer an alternative to pay day lenders – maybe things aren’t so different here.

Lidy’s church is looking to set up a crop growing project and perhaps restart some pig rearing. These will both happen on the church’s land.

Before we left the church we got into a bit of impromptu volleyball over an electrical wire with a couple of the kids that had gathered round to watch. Whether it was projects to serve the community, or a place for kids to play, this church was looking to be somewhere for the whole community in years to come.

After one year they’ve barely started and the work Tearfund are involved with is delivering change through investing in people, like Lidy, who will not leave after their programme is finished. If you want to support Tearfund train more people like Lidy find out how you can at www.tearfund.org/bloggers.

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If young people don’t go to church, what should we do about it?

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What can the church do about the crisis of young people and the church, and what should it do about it?

There are young people in churches up and down the country, but there are less than there were, and they tend to go to certain churches. So why do they go to some and not others? What do those churches which are growing do right, and what do others do wrong? Or, is it that those churches which are growing are selling an easy faith which may swell the attendance but weaken the body of Christ?

We could get all the young people in the country into a church building on a Sunday morning and miss the point.

The reality is that many young people stop going to church. The Titanic drowned with a fatality rate of 68 per cent. That’s about the same rate of attrition of young people from the church.

A friend introduced me to the difference between something being difficult and it being hard. There are many things which are hard, but not difficult, for example, it is hard for me to ask a girl out, it is hard to admit fault when you’re responsible for something going wrong. These things are not difficult, they’re hard. And maybe church should be like that. Maybe it should be a challenge, something that takes effort, not laden with obstacles and complexities to weave through and overcome but a hard thing to do.

In the West Wing Josh and Toby are in a bar after getting left behind by the campaign motorcade, they talk to a chap worrying over paying for his daughter to go to college – the stock market had taken a tumble that day. It should be hard. I like that it’s hard. Putting your daughter through college, that’s-that’s a man’s job. A man’s accomplishment. But it should be a little easier. There is a value to something that is hard that is missing if it doesn’t require effort. (We’ll ignore the gender stereotyping.)

Our approach to getting young people into church has bordered on the, if we try hard enough we’ll get them into church without them ever noticing it’s church, and voilà! we have success.

The gospel is a challenge, the cross is a stumbling block, the life of a disciple is not a promise of an easy way ahead.

Some terms need clarifying, principally, what is meant by young people? Traditionally this would mean those below 18, but it’s now a term without clear boundaries and reflects the onset of adult adolescence across society. This matters because the stage of life that people would previously been at in their early twenties is now rarely the case. Far fewer are settled in a career, married, and starting a family, and this affects their relationship with church. Young people usually refers to those up to 30, and in church context sometimes includes them quite a bit older than that. It also usually applies to single people regardless of age over and above married couples and those with children. Youth becomes a synonym for flexibility and in turn understood as a lack of commitment.

Secondly, are we interested in getting people into a church building and sitting through services, or helping people follow Christ? We’ve done too much of the former and not enough of the later.

We’ve tried to be culturally relevant. And we find that culture changes. We’ve cropped our services of the bizarre and our beliefs of the baffling. We’ve heard the cries and criticism levelled against the church and there’s been calls from within to dance to their tune. If people don’t go to church because of this or that (judgemental, hypocritical and bigoted usually cited as the unholy trinity) then if we change surely they will come.

But Andrew Evans makes a good point, where are the flocks of young people heading to those churches and faith communities which have jettisoned much of Christian teaching to be more like the mores modern society apparently demands?

I do not want to be dismissive of the critiques with which the church is charged. They are serious and often based on very real experiences and observations. The church can be hypocritical, judgemental and bigoted. But I don’t think they’re the full reason many stay away from church.

I think they play a greater role in explaining why people might have stopped going to church, when the picture of Christianity painted by the church manifestly fails. When it is wrong, when authority is abused, when being right is the most important thing. In so many places in so many ways the church falls down in its role as Christ’s bride. It does a disservice to the God it represents.

If the church changes to what it thinks people want it to be then it loses its foundation. It becomes nothing more than a religious themed social club.

Before the church decides to adopt this or ditch that in an effort to attract more people or cling onto those drifting off the edge it has to first know what it is that it wants people to join or remain a part of. Otherwise it is a catch all for whatever works best.

The church is a people transformed by the grace of God and called to serve Him and make him known. The church is to be the agent that helps bring about heaven on earth, to rend open the curtains of darkness and find a way for the light to shine in. We don’t do this by throwing a blanket over the lamp just in case it blinds someone.

We need confidence in who we are, and what we’re called to, and then we can shed the extraneous baggage that is a barrier to people coming to know Jesus. But if we start jettisoning with our focus on people liking the church, or increasing attendance at services, when people reach the curtain to find out what is behind, it could be a bit like the Wizard of Oz, with a faith castrated and a god shrunk to the size we can understand and enjoy.  

Church: a place, a people and a purpose

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Every Sunday afternoon I cross the Thames, usually over Millennium Bridge and walk into a conference centre. Some weeks I’m away, but I can’t remember the last time I missed a Sunday I could make.

I go to church.

I walk into a crowd of a few hundred people, more than I can ever know, even their names. And yet, it is the place that I am known. There are people who know my fears, who know my doubts, have seen my failings, have heard my anger. And those who’ve seen me kind, watched me excel, encouraged me to grow, pushed me outwards, upwards, and delved into the places I would choose to keep to myself.

Church is home.

It’s not always easy, it’s frequently hard, painful, annoying, boring, it exhibits all those dreadful traits, the ones we have ourselves but expect the church to be above. For the first eighteen months I went to this church I would arrive as the worship team struck the first chords and slip out as the ministry team offered prayer at the front. I was leading a small group for most of this time, I had responsibility, I welcomed people into a place and into a community that I didn’t feel welcomed in.

Some essential caveats to begin with. I know the church is not about buildings. I grew up in a charismatic congregation began by students in the 1970s, and which my parents joined soon after, it met in schools, colleges, graduated to a lecture hall in Southampton University before buying the old Methodist Central Hall in the city centre. We held a church picnic when the purchase was completed, all I remember was playing hide and seek and finding a nook to hide in the huge organ soon to be ripped from its setting. Continue reading

Knowing when it’s time to leave

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I’ve been part of four churches in my life. I’ve visited many more but I’ve only ever changed church when I moved city.

From birth to 18 I went first at my parent’s bequest and then under my own intent to the same church, it moved venue, morphed form, but it was the same church. It never crossed my mind that I would leave it but for the reason I did. I moved nearly 200 miles north and very quickly found the next church which would be my home while I studied. There was a year in London which I’ll come to soon, then back to Southampton for a couple of years at the church I grew up in, and back to London with over five years in the bank at my present church.

And in only one phase of my life have I thought seriously about leaving church because of something to do with it rather than my circumstances.

Recently I’ve had quite a few conversations about leaving church. It’ll crop up in different environments, some who I know well, others I don’t. Some go to my church, others might end up coming there. I also remember several in the past with people who had left my church and were going elsewhere or not really going at all.

After I graduated I moved to London. Having grown up in a church there was always an element of familiarity about the congregation, and at university there was the safety of crowds as we visited churches and decided which we would be a part of. There were special activities for students, special groups, courses, socials, buses laid on to get to campus and back. There were lunches and bouncy castles, worship nights and designated pastors. I was catered for.

And then came the prospect of walking into church alone, searching for a place of worship I would fit into, a place I would be known and know others. I went to a service I liked, a location that worked, one with friends and they were three different places. I opted for the first, a place a little distance from home but most familiar in style and substance. On paper it was a good fit. And yet, a year later I left London and my exit from church required no send off, there was no point of departure, I had already drifted far from the church, my attendance on Sundays required only the vaguest excuse to slip, and small group was a tyranny of small talk among people I never got to know.

It was a church I should have left earlier. Back in Southampton I felt at home, I felt like I belonged and I feared returning to London. When I returned to the capital in the summer of 2008 finding a church where I could settle was the most pressing of my anxieties. I had the same dilemma, the same lonely sense of walking into a crowd. For the first year, even as I took on responsibilities and leadership, I walked in and walked out, I connected occasionally with individuals but church was a difficult place. It was not home.

I don’t know when it changed but I know what happened. I turned around and realised that the people I worship with on a Sunday, the leaders who’s authority I respect and the friends I spend time with, times of prayer and times of pranks. I realised these people were the ones I wanted to be walking this road with.

Leaving church is not a question of doctrine or principle. It is at root a pastoral concern. There are good and bad reasons to leave church, and behind each good reason can be bad motives, and behind each bad reason a strand of good.

I first heard about “5 really bad reasons to leave church” when Hannah Mudge responded to it. Her substantive point is one I agree with, this has to be about responsibility on both sides, that of the pastor looking after their congregation and those attending looking for something more than the next thing to consume to make them feel better. Relevant reposted it and even more people were talking about it. 

Of his points, on not agreeing with everything taught, I have little to add, although it does pose the question of where does this end? Should we accept any amount of disagreement with what is taught? Sarah Bessey poses the question whether egalitarians should attend complementarian churches and presumably a similar question would work in the opposite direction.

His point about size is lacking in any nuance, big is not always beautiful, and nor is it always preferable to small. I don’t think it’s good for churches to despise growth, or go out of their way to avoid getting bigger, and I like big churches (by UK standards), but there are many valuable things about smaller congregations his comment ignores.

On conflict, again this is a point that requires nuance and we get a little bit. Conflict is a fact of life but there comes a point when it is detrimental to the life and ministry of the church and its members. If and where it can be resolved that is to be welcomed but it shouldn’t be held out as an an elixir that will one day come.

His other two points are basically the same, congregations are too consumerist and leave when they don’t get what they want. This is a problem that is legion across out culture and he is right to point it out. At the RZIM training day on Saturday Michael Ramsden addressed this point, when we treat church and its component parts as something we can use we devalue it. When we are only in it for what we get out of it we deprive the relationship of the very thing that makes it a relationship. When we do not connect, with God and others, when we do not commune, we use. And when a relationship becomes about use and what we can get out of it we start to question the purpose of the relationship in the first place. It’s an important point he makes and a challenge the church has to address.

But he overstates his point and misses the other side of the story. For each of his reasons there could be good motives behind them and bad motives. Leaving church is a pastoral issue and one not best dealt with by criticising people for consuming church. Otherwise the congregation becomes an object of use for the pastor and not a people with whom to connect. It can sound, as Hannah Mudge noted, rather like asking someone to stay in an abusive relationship.

Leaders of churches have a responsibility to listen to their congregation, if people are leaving, then maybe something needs to change. There is a responsibility on leaders to do more than tell their congregation to suck it up and stop complaining. Telling the congregation they can listen to podcasts if they’re not getting enough teaching suggests maybe teaching in a church service doesn’t matter that much. We should seek to serve the church and not just be served, but we should aim for more than that. We should search for a church where it is home. Where we treat one another as family. Where we grieve when one another leaves. When while we may give to the child who only comes to visit when they need bailing out of debt, we long for so much more.

Church cannot be about people stifling their criticisms or using the internet as a permanent addendum to the Sunday service. It must be about where frailty is welcome, from the pews and from the pulpit. When the teaching can be improved and the service strengthened. When size and shape are methods and modes and not metrics of success.

Church should be a home with all the honesty and the struggles and the tensions that any family has.

I never really criticised the church I was part of for a year when I first lived in London. I didn’t care enough about it. I wasn’t in relationship with it. I was consuming but not connecting. When we connect we care, and when we care we want to see things grow closer to how they ought to be.

UPDATE

It’s been pointed out that I don’t answer the question I pose, when is the right time, or the right reason to leave church? I think that’s because I don’t know, for me I know in hindsight I should have left one church earlier, not because there was anything particularly wrong with it, but because I wasn’t connected to it. But I can’t give you 5 reasons why you should leave a church. I think leaving a church is a hard thing to do, and often involves letting go of relationships. Ultimately, I think churches should be positive about their members going elsewhere if that will enable them to grow closer to God and into greater likeness to him. There’s a tension between listening to concerns, being committed to the mission of the church, and being willing to let people go. Also, there is departure that is about going onto something new, and departure that is about getting away from something. Both in their time have their place but are two quite different situations to address.  

Seven fears that stop me asking girls out

© April Killingsworth

Two years ago I wrote a post “why guys don’t ask girls out”. This is a different post, it’s what stops me from asking girls out. Not why guys don’t, but why I don’t.

It is simple to slip into the abstract when writing about relationships, find the generalisation, the concept; the easy way out. It is also tempting to use other people’s stories, to aggregate examples and form a trend that is straightforward to talk about and respond to.

If you look at most of what is written about relationships that’s how it works. What is the problem, and what is the solution? It’s the mentality of glossy magazines and trendy bloggers, and we look for solutions because we think that if we have a list of things to do to solve the problem that’s the same as having it sorted.

… we look for solutions because we think that if we …

The other day Emily Maynard tweeted that if she were to write a book it would be called “I Have No Idea How To Fix Your Life And It’s Weird That You’re Looking In Books For That.” Continue reading

What do single Christians want their church leaders to do?

SinglenessTonight I went along to a Christian Connection event reporting back on a survey of 3000 people, mostly users of their dating site, about singleness and the church. David Pullinger analysed the data and presented results focusing on what single Christians appreciated about church, and what they found difficult.

The results are still being finalised, and more formalised reporting will come in due course, and some of the results have already been reported. But a couple of comments immediately stood out.

  • Only 1/3 of single men aged 30-44 socialise with their friends at least once a week. This is a significant drop from those younger than this and is not matched by a similar decline among women.
  • Single women often find married couples reticent to offer hospitality, and this seems to be related to a perceived threat to their marriage. Single women often work, don’t care for children and as a result often find they have more in common with the husband than the wife. I’m fascinated to look into this more and eagerly await seeing the data.
  • And there was a list of twelve things single Christians would like their church leaders to do, in order of importance…
  1. Give talks about singleness
  2. Organise or enable social and fun activities
  3. Hospitality
  4. Provide models of singleness
  5. Pray personally or in the church
  6. Be inclusive in all church activities
  7. Organise or enable single groups
  8. Be in contact, through phone, email or text
  9. Provide or facilitate practical help
  10. Provide practical help in finding a partner
  11. Knowing and recommending singles events
  12. Seeking the single person’s viewpoint

It’s an interesting list, and some I certainly agree with. But in all of this I had a recurring question, is there a danger of entrenching an identity of singleness, and possibly as a result seeing identity defined by the absence of a partner, rather than the many other things which make up the individual’s character.

Is singleness something which should be seen as an identity? If you’re single is it a label you use or appreciate? Or do you think it can do more damage than good?

Vulnerability hangover

You lay it all on the line, you write until you bleed. You throw every ounce of the aches of your heart onto the page.

Long words do not impress. Vain self image does not fool anyone. Writing that seeks only to serve your self is a window to your soul. But how often am I tricked into thinking that if only I can find the right formula of words everything will be okay? How often do I want to set everything straight with carefully measured lines, and compassion bleeding onto the page?

Words can make a difference. Words, arranged in a form to provoke emotion; words, designed to force the hairs on your arms stand on end; words, that convey far more than their simple meaning. Words, that drag the beating, screaming, reluctant, truth out of the dark and into the light.

When I write I want to write with integrity and I do not want to hold back. I’ve written about this before elsewhere – it’s the process of stripping away the layers that shield us from the affrays that bombard, but also hide our identity behind their strong defence. We get so good at protecting ourselves, I get so good at protecting myself I forget what it is I am trying to shield from the storm.

I lift my eyes and wonder what I have been fighting all along. I wonder what I have been fighting for. I wonder, what is left of the heart that cries.

Last week I first heard the term ‘vulnerability hangover’ – I can’t remember from whom, and then I encountered exactly what it meant. I posted some raw thoughts, after waiting most of the day agonising over whether to hit publish. But the next day it hit home. I had written that I didn’t feel like going to church, and yet I was due to walk through the doors in a few hours time. I had already decided that I would feel the eyes piercing into my soul as I sat or stood, as I lingered and listened, as I paid attention, or paid lip service to the norms.

The vulnerability that had fuelled my words would not leave me alone. I spent most of the day before heading to church in a daze, I wrestled with why I was going – was it simply to keep up appearances? The kind words of many, both in public and private, convinced me that I was right to say what I had said, but that did not make walking through the doors any easier. In the same way I want the words I write to accurately convey what I am feeling and doing, I likewise want my actions to match the words I write. I do not want to simply promote a facade of vulnerability that only adds another layer to my distorted self-image.

I had a vulnerability hangover. It took away any words I might have to share, I tried to talk to a few people but I was spent. I had no appetite to write any posts this week.

Jesus safe tender extremeFor most of this week I have had a simple refrain from an old hymn in my head. It provided tonic for my soul. I first encountered the words in the final lines of a book by Adrian Plass, ‘Jesus – Safe, tender, Extreme’, I didn’t remember the context until I pulled it off the shelf to check I’d not distorted the lines in my mind. He closes his book talking about a friend who has recently died:

Do I have a 100 percent belief in her resurrection and eternal life? I have a 100 percent desire to have that much belief. I have a hope that burns inside me, It sometimes flickers. I have been promised that one day I shall go home to the Father’s house. I guard that promise, but occasionally I forget where I have put it. I have a love for Jesus that has survived all the obstacles and pitfalls that have threatened to distract me from him since I was sixteen years old. I have in my heart the words of a song that continues to comfort me today as it comforted me then:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in his wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of his glory and grace.

I think it’s going to be all right.”

I have nothing more to add. Except to say, the refrain isn’t all there is to this beautiful hymn.

 

Virginity and Christian expectation

Last week I nearly didn’t go to church, I was bored of all the same words spoken. I was frustrated with the expectations and event management. I had had enough of having enough. I got annoyed with the words that people spoke, and found objections to the smallest of things. There was something deeply out of step, and going to church only made that worse.

Tomorrow I will walk through the doors again, partly out of habit, and partly out of a determination not to let my disenchantment beat me, partly because I still believe the church to be a good thing. But also out of pride.

Out of pride that I don’t want to let my guard down, I don’t want people to know that everything is not quite a-okay. Slightly defeated by writing this post.

I feel as though I have an image to protect. That of the sorted Christian. The one who doesn’t have doubts or struggles, the one who knows which verses to quote at which point, who knows the right point in songs to raise their arms in worship. The one who knows just how much sarcasm and cynicism about church culture is acceptable.

This is probably the most vulnerable thing I have ever written, I can write about relationships and keep that at arms length, I can write about being single, even in deeply personal terms and manage that. I can throw a dose of humour into posts about dating, I try and find the seems of compassion when addressing controversial topics. But on this I have no guard, I am deeply exposed.

Zoe Sanderson has written this week that: “God is big enough to handle our questions, but in my experience churches often aren’t”. When we have questions and doubts church should be a place where they can be wrestled with in all their raw, uncertain, honesty. They shouldn’t be made into abstraction, and they shouldn’t be shunned out of fear they may cause others to question or undermine the values and beliefs of the church. When the church is afraid to listen to questions it loses the right to try and answer them.

Shame is different to acknowledging that something is other than the way it should be. I do not think my attitude towards church is a particularly healthy one, and I would prefer it to be otherwise. However, fearing speaking out about those doubts and problems because shame may be the result is a far worse situation. I worry that promoting too perfect a vision for how something should be creates a culture that silences uncertainty. And this can make the church the last place people turn with their doubts. Continue reading