Sometimes I find it really hard to explain things clearly which can then sometimes lead me to doubt if I really believe that thing.
For whatever reason I’ve always believed that if I really believed something was true I should be able to explain it clearly and concisely.
An example would be if someone came up to me in the street and asked me to explain why I believed Christianity was true.
If some did that I would be tongue tied and fumble about, be incoherent and stumble along. Then afterwards I’d be beating myself up for being unsure about my faith.The same for other big things I might believe. The stumbling along always seemed to me to be a weakness.
But reading a little bit of G.K. Chesterton yesterday morning in Galway I realised that the stumbling and stuttering might not be a case of being unsure but a case of being completely overwhelmed by the complexity of it all. And the complexity of it all is what convinces you that is completely true.
‘The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.
There is, therefore, about all complete conviction a kind of huge helplessness. The belief is so big that it takes a long time to get it into action. And this hesitation chiefly arises, oddly enough, from an indifference about where one should begin. All roads lead to Rome; which is one reason why many people never get there.‘
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
There is a piece of graffiti along the canal in the city that just says ‘Don’t be Scared‘. Don’t be scared is advice that I’ve always found hard to take heed of.
I’m scared of multiple things.
Men seem to either not get scared or else seem reluctant to vocalize the fact that they are fearful of things. Perhaps to admit that we are scared is to say that we don’t have a clue what to do and it puts us in a place where we have to admit that we need a miracle and that we’re not really in control of anything. We’re not sovereign, we’re not God. We don’t really like that.
Yet so many men seem to not stumble at the things that make me stumble that I sometimes wonder if I’m a faulty model in that I don’t seem to work as reliably as the others. They don’t choke at the vital moments or go missing when needed. Or so it seems.
Perhaps that it why I’ve had this tune by Bell X1 in my head. It seems to vocalize some of the fear of living that I feel.
Will it be a fireball from the sky?
Or will we all take to the bed
Laid low by a new pox?
Or will the wrong guy get the codes?
Whose arms will I seek?
Whose eyes would I meet in the final throws
And say it was good to be human?
To be a human with you here
The world is a scary place and then end will be nigh some time. We can’t keep on running from it. Whose arms will I seek? Whose eyes would I meet in the final throws?
What is wrong? I’m naturally scared.
I’m naturally faint hearted.
I’m a natural hider.
I am scared and don’t know how I can cope.
I am afraid that I am not going to be strong enough to cope.
I want to control things as I’m not sure how I will cope if I don’t control things.
But I can’t control things.
I want everything at my own pace and on my terms.
I am wary of trusting you.
How do you trust?
Yet I don’t know what else I have got.
I resent that I might only trust because of lack of better options.
I don’t want to be lukewarm in my faith.
I want to know that this isn’t just a tribal story amongst tribal stories.
I want to love you for the right reasons.
I don’t want religion or to pretend.
Sometimes while sorting out the study I’ll find a notebook of some doodles I made on New Years Eve 2008, a time of uncertainty in our lives. We didn’t know if we would be moving back to Belfast or Northern Ireland from Dublin, whether we where coming or going.
Well to cut a long story short we did move and now 4 and a bit years later, I’m starting to feel the same again, except probably worse.
We might be moving on, or will be moving but we don’t really know when or where we’re moving too. Things are uncertain. I know that things are always uncertain for everyone, we never really know what is coming around the corner so in a way we should just take each day as it comes. But it’s not that easy. This whole church business seems to add extra angles that other people mightn’t have to worry about. Is that right?
So I’m feeling really unsettled. How long have we left here? Where will we be? Some probably think it an exciting thing but to be honest that wouldn’t be the thought that first comes to mind. It’s a bit scary. Maybe I should embrace the change or enjoy the ride. If only things were that easy!
I was feeling so rough yesterday morning, somewhere between a head cold and the flu but at the same time I couldn’t face staying in the house as that would have made me feel even worse.
So I jumped on the bus and went into Belfast, passed by church after church up the Lisburn Road and tumbled out at St George’s Market for 10am.
When you grow up in the sort of Christian home that didn’t do any shopping on the Sabbath, that didn’t watch TV on the Sabbath, that went to multiple church services on the Sabbath there is a certain amount of guilt from not going to church on the Sunday morning at the age of 34.
I don’t hear my parents tutting anymore but there is a certain feeling that you are ‘backsliding’ as you drink a coffee by yourself on a Sunday morning at the market instead of rigidly sitting in a grid formation looking at some elderly mans head dressed in a grey suit making a passing attempt to sing a hymn from the 1800’s. Also, I’m married to a minister so how does that look?
I was wondering what to make of this all yesterday morning as young foreign students met each other outside the Europa for a coach trip away, as artists sold their hand made cards in the market, as older gentlemen drank their coffee and read the paper in Cafe Nero.
You wouldn’t believe how stressed it makes me coming to church on a Sunday morning. Or maybe you would if you have a similar experience.
I sweat like mad with the type of sweat no deodorant can handle. Its not your normal almost sweet smelling sweat from a game of football say or a brisk walk, it’s the type of sweat from doing a presentation or some test of endurance. Why is that? It supposed to be meeting with friends or a community that loves each other. And I know people are lovely and loving but broken as well. I know this yet it seems like an ordeal on Sunday morning. Why do I feel so tense? Why the sweat? Why the having to drag myself along?
This is why I didn’t turn up yesterday morning. Feeling below the weather I couldn’t face it for whatever reason.
The imagery from this classic creepy ad from Apple was on my mind a bit as well.
It’s a bit of an ugly ad, it creeps me out.
But that is maybe because it touches a nerve. Or it reminds me a little bit of my church experience and something I keep on imagining, through multiple sermons.
I often be sitting in the service and my mind starts wandering. Suddenly I see a football being crossed in from the other side of the church and I rise up to connect with a sweet right footed volley that ripples in the back of the net. Goal!
I’m not sure what all of that means. Or maybe I’m too tired to explain it.
I know that I am often cranky at ‘the church’.
My local church wherever they have been or are, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the local church, the world wide church. I’m a very ecumenical man in my crankiness.
This crankiness seems to be in the family genes a bit from conversations I’ve had with family members, this frustration with the way things are and have been. Some of the crankiness is perhaps legitimate.
I know that holding on to anger is not a good place to be, that being cynical and frustrated with church is not a good place to be, but it’s hard to move on from it sometimes.
There are probably lots of different reasons for the crankiness levels and all those reasons are playing off each other at different times but I reckon the main problem is that I take out my frustrations, my disappointments and anger with God in my own personal life out on the church. When I say personal life I also mean things like ‘Why hasn’t this worked out, I’ve tried so hard?’ or ‘Why does this keep on happening to this person?’ or ‘How could you allow this genocide to happen?‘
I can’t see God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit but if the church is somehow ‘the body of Christ’ something which I can see that with my own two eyes, and hear with my ears and experience in my ordinary week then maybe its not surprising that my complaints and frustrations with God are projected on to the next best thing, the church.
Perhaps specifically this might lead to extreme grumpiness with a minister, a priest or pastor because we assume that they’re the professional God people and if anyone should know what God is up to it should be them.
Everybody who knows me knows that I’ve a bit of miserable sod the past few years.
I’ve wanted things to be a bit easier than they’ve been,
to not feel like I’ve been in exile or what have you,
but things have just clunked along with feet of lead, or feet of clay, perhaps one foot lead, the other clay.
God has seemed silent or a figment of my imagination, a fairy tale sometimes because where is he in the ordinary day. It is my own fault as well of course, I haven’t done things that would have helped.
Yet I have no shame in saying that I’m weak. I needed help to do things I that I don’t find easy to do and God seemed silent. H____ quoted C.S. Lewis in her sermon a few weeks.
“When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”
I’d feel embarrassed or ashamed to call my experience suffering compared to what I know others have had to go through and are going through. Yet it’s this feeling that God has somehow left the building that is wearing me down and making me cranky. Of course it’s not all about meeting Jesus in the rose garden but it all just seems to much weighted towards struggle and lacking in the miraculous.
I guess that I’ve been reflecting on this stuff a bit as we think about what is going to happen next. It worries me a bit having so much crankiness fuel stored up in the tank for the road ahead.
The flag situation is complex but maybe that’s because we’re not dealing with something we can untangle by ourselves with some bright political thinking, like sitting down with tangled up Christmas lights and getting them eventually straightened out again and up on the tree.
Maybe we’re dealing with supernatural forces that blind people or have our eyes blinkered by the kingdom of darkness and we’re powerless to stop them and our call is to overcome them by suffering?
We can’t untangle the political Northern Ireland Christmas tree lights all by ourselves and if people are as broken as we’re told they are in the Bible then we never will.
I guess that wonder how society can be so dark when we think about how many churches and Christians we’ve had and still have, even if the numbers are falling.
Part of me wonders how things seem quite so dark. But then maybe we just don’t realize how dark the human heart is. Is your heart dark? Mine is despite all the faith stuff. If a church has someone like me in it then it shouldn’t be so hard to see why we haven’t been peacemakers.
I guess that my take on why things are so dark is that many of our politicians (just like any of us) like the power and want to be in control. They don’t want the power stripped away because they are fearful of what would happen then.
The loyalists/unionists/whatever the correct definition is are fearful because they are seeing that things are slipping away from them, the balance of power which they enjoyed for decades is ebbing away. Suddenly decisions are being made that would never have happened in the good old days.
It’s all very Lord of the Rings with people looking to hold the one ring that would bind them all.
I want to be in control and cling to power as well of course.
Not being in a position of power means that you’re not in control and you have to trust God to be your refuge and strength.
That is a hard place to be in though because it makes you ask the question
‘Do I really believe this stuff or is it just fantasy?’
The answers might be scary because of the weakness of my faith. If something happened because of something would I trust God, would Jesus be enough?
I’m afraid to find that out sometimes so cling to my own sense of being in control, trust my own way of doing things.
I’m not sure about Christian display power, or what power means from a Christian point of view. There are a group of Christian planning to pray outside Belfast City Hall on Saturday morning. I should like this because we’re witnessing to a counter-cultural way of doing things and it seems like a really good Christian response to the darkness.
Yet I still feel a bit weird about it truth be told.
Is it like we’re going to try and prove that there are more of us Christians that those who would disrupt our peaceful society?
Are we trying to show how powerful we are compared to the darkness?
I’m not sure why this makes me feel uneasy. Praying is good,praying for peace in our land is good as well.
But what does praying for peace mean?
Will our land be peaceful if we pray that the loyalist rioters go back home and the dissidents disband?
That would be great but if that happened we still would be far from having a peaceful society.
What about the economic war for instance? How many lives are being wrecked and prevented from flourishing by the advertising on billboards beside the flags. We have divided society into labels like ‘shirkers’ vs workers’ or ‘skivver v striver’ and how much harm has that done? Does greed up the Malone Road offend God just as much as some teen with limited opportunities and throwing a brick. The message might be that the kid just needs to prove himself and pull his socks up, change his ways and start competing.
Not sure what is bothering me, it’s great people are praying for peace. But I guess that if we think that the only violence and trouble that is inflicting Northern Ireland are to do with Union flags or sectarianism then maybe the devil has pulled another trick out on us. Maybe that way middle class people look down their noses and sneer, or patronize is just as bad.
My faith is on unsteady ground at the moment, everything seems so unsure about it. Things play into it and for the life of me I don’t see what makes Christianity ‘special’ sometimes. The flag protests this week played into that because here I am sitting in an area with so many churches, church upon church where people like me have been encouraged for weeks, years, decades to worship God and yet what difference has it made to our society? What difference do I make to the world?
We seem to specialize in wars over the way we do the catering in the church hall, like should we use the china plates or paper plates, or who gets to use what room, or in being ‘pastoral’ at the expense of never changing things around. So we have to bring people along with us slowly slowly, gently gently. Of course we do, but maybe we don’t? Maybe we just need to say, no, this is daft and there is no need for it any longer.
Anyway, I don’t know how it is we have so many church buildings and so much Christian in general yet we seem so lead footed and faith clumsy. What difference does this make to life, what makes us ‘special’?