why this man struggles to go to church sometimes

That article in Reach Out magazine about men not coming to church anymore got me wondering why men aren’t coming to church anymore.Then I thought:-
‘I haven’t a clue, I’m not even sure that men aren’t coming to church anymore….but as a man who sometimes struggles to come along on Sunday mornings so why is it hard for you?’

1 I am a bit of a day dreamer, my mind tends to wander and wonder. It did during school, university lectures, any talks that go beyond 5mins. I find it hard going to the cinema to watch a film the whole way through (unless I have an intense interest in it for whatever the reason).
So the reality of sitting down on a seat or pew voluntarily for at least an hour every Sunday morning is a challenge because I just have to sit still and just listen (apart from the singing).
My favourite recurring vision in any large church building is a football being crossed in from somewhere near the pulpit and me catching it with a perfectly timed right footed scissor kick volley which bounces of the wall. It often happens half way through a sermon. That is typically what is going on in my head during a sermon, any sermon.Back in my teens I imagined the building upside down and what it would be like to walk on the roof.

Interestingly I’m reading a book at the moment (Thinking Slow, Thinking Fast by Daniel Kahneman) that was making me wonder if there is something about a typical Presbyterian church service that demands we use parts of our brain that we don’t use that often during the week? Or in other words what ever happens on a Sunday morning worship doesn’t seem to engage all parts of your humanity but rather seems rational and about using your mind.

2 Hymns and praise songs are hard sometimes. I never  really sing during the week. Does anyone sing during the week?
Perhaps I’ll hum along to a song under my breath. But I’ll rarely if ever ‘mean it’ and it won’t be coming from deep in my lungs. Then you walk into this strange building on a Sunday morning where you are expected to sing out and with enthusiasm to God you can’t see. Singing is a foreign activity to me (and this is coming from an erstwhile singer-song writer who tried to write songs at one stage and sing them…).
That is before we even begin to think about things like words or tunes, how the actual music sounds. So I struggle with the amount of singing we do at church.

3 I’ll cut to the chase and say that I often just wonder if it is actually all true. At the end of the day we’re worshipping a man (who was fully God) who we’re saying rose from the dead and is God and created the Universe and who is King of the Universe. We make such mind blowing claims on a typical Sunday morning yet the whole church thing just trundles along as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The doubts about whether it is true are especially bad on weeks when I’m looking around at the state of the world and wondering how a loving God could allow this or that to happen. Perhaps this has intensified with the online revolution or live TV in which bad news can be on  a 24hr cycle. Perhaps I’m more depressed by hopelessness or something and then you go into some weird building to close your eyes and pray to God you can’t see. Which is apparently the best solution to the untold suffering from war or natural disasters.

4 This is probably related to No1 but when you go to church you are putting yourself in a position in which you aren’t in control, and you are doing this voluntarily. For example I might spend a lot of mental energy trying to block out the noise of a baby screaming, on trying to be graceful to the mother who is letting the baby scream because you know that she is tired and struggling in life. You voluntarily go to something on a Sunday morning in which there are people who might rub you up the wrong way or who are a bit boring (in your opinion). If you feel like you’re not in control of your life with regards to work or family and then you have a Sunday off are you going to be willing to go to something voluntarily to sit and not be in control in some strange looking building? Maybe you might prefer to go fishing or read the Sunday paper and have croissant. There are so many things in life where people don’t feel in control are they going to voluntarily submit to another thing that might make demands on them? Like you might be tired from your normal 9-5 job and then you find that your church are saying that you have to do more and get more involved in visiting or volunteering and that sort of thing.

5 Sometimes our talk in Christian circles often seems to be abstract and not based in the real world. Or it ignore vast areas of life that you might consider really important.  How do you apply scripture passage from 2000yrs ago to computers and smart phones? Does Jesus have to say about economics? What about climate change?

6 You don’t feel like you can be yourself. You feel like other people aren’t being themselves either.
At the same time you might be scared if people are themselves because you’re not sure what that might mean in terms of what you should do as a Christian. What if they tell you they are struggling financially or with some addiction?Would you be willing to support them and that sort of thing? If you’re tired and all over the place, or feel you ready know lots of other people like that or have neglected friends you already have the prospect of more and more people coming into your life with more and more needs seems daunting.

Those are 6 struggles I  have with coming to church. Do you have any?

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men

Has anyone been reading these articles in Reach Out magazine about men and church?I’m starting to question if I’m actually a man because I don’t recognise the traits of manhood that are being described.
‘Men and young adults are drawn to risk, challenge and adventure’ – I’m not

‘Most congregations offer a safe, nurturing community, in an oasis of stability and predictability.Studies show that women and older people gravitate toward these things.’

 

I am a 36 yrs old man and am attracted to the idea of a safe, nurturing community. An oasis in a world that is the opposite seems like something valuable, I gravitate towards it – does this make me a woman or old?

 

the Word

If I am being honest then I am wrestling with what I think about  the Bible and phrases like ‘The Word of God’.

I just don’t know if I have the same conviction that the Bible is the fully authoritative Word of God that many  believers in the reformed, evangelical, Presbyterian church I am most familiar with seem to have.

Or to put it another way, I am just not  sure why Jesus is called ‘the Word’ in John’s Gospel while we also call the Bible ‘The Word of God’. Is Jesus the ultimate Word of God or is the Bible?  Or when a minister is preaching the Word what does that mean? What do courses like ‘Handling the Word’ mean? Is it more important to know how to ‘handle’ Jesus or the Bible? Are they the same thing?

The first time I remember wondering about this sort of thing was at a youth work conference about 10yrs ago called ‘The Bible Centred Youth Worker’.
There was and still is something about that title that rankled with me because it seemed to be focusing on the wrong thing. In my mind it seemed to make much more sense for it to be called ‘The Christ Centred Youth Worker’ or something like that because it was all about Jesus.
Was the ultimate purpose of  a church youth worker to be ‘centred’ on Christ or on the Bible? Was my goal to get young people excited about the Bible or Jesus?

I got thinking about it a few weeks ago when picking up a book called ‘Discovering Biblical Equality’ in a 2nd hand book shop in Cork. I was excited to read it but something about the first line in the preface put me off:-

‘Discovering Biblical Equality is the result of a collaborative effort of evangelical scholars united here by two convictions: that the Bible is the fully inspired and authoritative Word of God..’

I am just not sure that I am on the same page when it comes to what I believe about the Bible.
Is Jesus the fully inspired and authoritative Word of God or is it the Bible? A hymn I’ve sung many times says:-

‘You’re the Word of God the Father, since before the world began’.

Is the Bible the same as Jesus? Could we sing that hymn about the Bible? It’s the interchangeability of the phrase that confuses me.

I was wondering again last night while flicking through a  PCI ‘What is a church member?’ leaflet. According to it:-

‘ Believers trust Jesus Christ with their lives. This involves believing truths about him and having a personal relationship with him. The Bible, which Christians believe is God’s Word…’

Well that is just it, I am not sure that I believe that The Bible is God’s Word – so does that mean that I’m not a Christian? I believe that Jesus is the Word but I’m not sure that I have to believe that the Bible is God’s Word to be a Christian.  Do I have to confess the Bible is Lord to be a Christian?
There seems to be a reverence and respect for the physical book of the Bible that goes above Christ. It seems to be more important to understand scripture than Jesus. There is that bit where Jesus tells the Jewish leaders:-

’39 You study[c] the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

 

Another thing that I often wonder about is that verse that always got wheeled out in discussions about the Bible from Paul’s letter to Timothy:-
‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

The way that I see that verse is that Paul can only have been talking about the Old Testament as ‘all scripture’ as the 66 book of the bible didn’t exist.  So why was it always quoted at me as if Paul was referring the 66 books of the Bible? Should we not have heard a lot more sermons and talks on the Prophets for example if all scripture was God – breathed and Paul can only have been talking about the Old Testament?

 

 
I

distances have been shortened at an astonishing rate…

‘Fast and cheap transportation has been one of the main products of the Industrial Revolution. Distances have been shortened at an astonishing pace. Day by day the world seems smaller and smaller and societies that for millennia practically ignored each other are suddenly put in contact – or in conflict. In our dealings, in politics as in economics, in health organization as in military strategy, a new point of view is forced upon us. Somewhere in the past people had to move from an urban or regional point of view to a national one. Today we have to adjust ourselves and our way of thinking to a global point of view.’

Carlo Cipolla, The Economic History of World Population.

church

That paragraph is lifted from a book first published in 1962, over 50 years ago.

It struck me as  I feel like I’m constantly having a new point of view ‘forced’ upon me through the ‘fast and cheap transportation’ of people in our church. Not that travel is cheap. But it used to be that once people left Ireland the likelihood was that they wouldn’t return. Now people routinely fly back and forth from places like Australia or the USA. We hop on Ryanair flights with little thought.

It allows tourists from places like China to appear here on Sunday mornings (as they did this morning).
It brings students from South America or Europe to the university or to study English. It brings doctors or nurses from Asia to work in the hospital, it brings people who just want a new start in life and choose  the west of Ireland.
It allows some to flee their countries as they are in grave danger and they end up living in direct provision accommodation. Their travel isn’t cheap or choice taken lightly but in less than a day they can leave somewhere in Africa and be thrust into life here in Ireland. That movement of thousands of miles in a day is a relatively new phenomena in terms of world history.

Sometimes I like having a new point of view forced upon me because it adds angles on life and brings a better understanding of the planet we live on  but other times it leaves me exhausted. How am I supposed to understand culture when there are so many cultures to understand? In our church there are so many differentcountries and tourists passing through that I find it hard not feel like I’m being overwhelmed.

As I’ve probably mentioned before world events that used to seem so far away now seem close and sometimes that makes me wonder how to say sane.
A ferry sinks in Korea, suddenly you are aware of the Korean in the church.
A Malaysian plane goes missing, suddenly you are aware of the Malaysian in church.
Boko Haram attrocities make you wonder about the Nigerians in church.
And so on.

Someone in church recently asked for prayer about the Ebola outbreak in Guinea as they are worried about friends and family. Years ago I would have watched something like that on the news and thought that it wasn’t my problem. Now things like that seem like they might be my problem because they are a problem for a brother or sister in our small church and we are to carry each others burdens.

Growing up a Presbyterian in Northern Ireland you were usually aware of  the hurt caused to certain people in your congregation  because of terrorists and ‘The Troubles’. Usually you are informed with  knowledge and understanding that allows you interact with the person as you know the culture and have lived through the bad times as well. You can read read body language or between the lines. It can help you deal sensitively with the person.

Yet I feel that I don’t have any of that basic cultural understanding of the vast majority of people in my church. If I was talking to someone from Lisburn over tea and coffee I think that I might be able to read between the lines if they say something. With someone from Nigeria I struggle.  Language can be hard sometimes. I mumble a lot and speak quickly. If you are an English student from Korea you will struggle to understand me.

That is without considering the cheap and instant transportation of virtual people and their tweets and causes, their issues and campaigns. And they’re not virtual people of course, they are real people with real concerns and passions. So as a Christian should I love my global neighbour and try to take it on board and try to become world Christ like in my response to how LGBT are treated in Uganda?  We should pray for the Turkish miners, the Crimea, Syria, South Sudan etc.

It has made me a bit world weary with some stuff.

The distances might have shortened at an astonishing rate but my brain and soul isn’t a computer. It needs time and space to reflect. In a small church like ours that seems to literally throw and churn up new people all the time from every corner of the world I don’t know how sometimes. I can’t save the world, yet in a small local church how do I love my family when they are so diverse and foreign to my understanding?

scorn

Unfortunately I’m becoming such a cynical, sneering scornful person especially perhaps with people in church or my particular denomination.
It is a horrible way to go with people (and myself) as Jacques Ellul reminded me last night.

Help me change.

‘To scorn is to condemn the other person to complete and final sterility, to expect nothing more from him and to put him in such circumstances that he will never again have anything to give. It is to negate him in his possibilities, in his gifts, in the development of his experience. To scorn him is to rip his fingernails out by the roots so that they will never grow back again. The person who is physically maimed, or overwhelmed by mourning or hunger can regain his strength, can live again as a person so long as he retains his honor and dignity, but to destroy the honor and dignity of a person is to cancel his future, to condemn him to sterility forever. In other words, to scorn is to put an end to the other person’s hope and to one’s hope for the other person, to hope for nothing more from him and also to stop having any hope for himself’

dry wells

I am  tired despite returning  from a holiday at the beginning of the week.
We have family that live near Almeria and I had never been out to see them and where they live. So this year (and thanks to a kind Christmas present) we flew over to the south of Spain on the new, improved, nice and caring Ryanair for a week. Which is how we ended up spending a few nights in a nice Spanish village

This time last week I was walking around the beautiful Spanish village of Mojacar on a holiday.
If that sounds lovely you should also know that a fight with your wife is still a fight with your wife no matter if it’s a lovely village and knowing that you’re spending money in something that you don’t do very often but having a fight instead of making the most of it can make you pretty miserable.

So although it was nice to be away I’m knackered and didn’t find the holiday relaxing. Heat tires me and my inner Presbyterian couldn’t get the hang of the resting in the afternoon business.  I never got the hang of when you are supposed to eat lunch and dinner. The language as well.

scandanavia0005
That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Spain and seeing where my nephew and niece live because I like seeing new places. Some might think that the endless acres of plastic greenhouses that supply Europe with tomatoes and watermelons are an eyesore but I find them interesting:-
Where are the getting the water to grow watermelons in the driest part of Europe? Are they going to desalinate seawater and use it? How is climate change going to effect this area and how is that going to effect my sister and brother-in-law. my nephew and niece?

Then  it starts boiling over into the problems with the world:-
How do people work inside those greenhouses in what must be phenomenal heat? Are the migrant workers treated fairly? Do you realise that flying on your Ryanair flight on holidays is contributing to climate change here in Almeria? 

The one thing I really wanted to do over in Spain was to see new colours and draw new things, to feel a surge of inspiration surging and to be creative again. I feel like any wells of creativity that I had have dried up, a bit like the countryside and river beds around Almeria. But I felt uninspired and too awkward to create. No paints, no markers, no skill.

On the way home from the airport I was complaining to H about the way people act on Ryanair flights. ‘There are schoolgirls having to walk miles each day to get clean drinking water and then there are 50 yr old men who throw their dummies out of the pram when an air hostess moves their hand luggage a few metres away to section 29A’
 I said ‘People are so fortunate to be able to go on holidays, they should recognise this and stop acting like they….etc etc.’

Of course I was doing the exact same the whole holiday, moaning about the heat and my lack of ability to order a tapas without embarrassment. There a kids sleeping in refugee camps tonight and I’m having a meltdown because I have to sit under a sun shade and it’s making me sweat. Saying that out loud seems to make perfect sense. I need to get a grip.

Yet I’m tired as well. And I also think that saying things like ‘We should get a grip because we have it pretty good compared to so many in the world’ is a bit arrogant (?) in a way or perhaps untrue. It sounds as if we’re not really that sick or needy and screwed up and under the thumb of oppressive systems which as a Christian I don’t believe. ‘The World’ or Kingdom of Death or however you want to phrase the way Satan works against us is an ever present reality. Just because I don’t live in a country that persecutes or oppresses Christians by throwing them in jail doesn’t meant that we’re not oppressed. Like the sense of hopelessness that I get from absorbing the ways of the world does a pretty good job of robbing me of vitality for life or for serving.

I was thinking about this sense of hopelessness  or why we complain in the face of so much privilege while reading Jacques Ellul.

‘One can prove to the members of our modern societies that our ancestors never enjoyed this much means, freedom, happiness, well-being, available opportunities, long life, culture, pleasure, leisure, communication, and dialogue, but one will never convince the person in our modern society that he is living in a little paradise’

Also:-

‘In the most pacified and guaranteed society which has ever existed, man is living in uncertainty and growing fear. In the most scientific of societies, man is living in the irrational. In the most liberal of societies, man is living ‘repression,’ and even hyper-repression. In a society in which the means of communication are the most highly developed, man is living a sort of phantasmagoria. In a society in which everything is done to establish relationships, man is living in solitude…’