Open Handed Faith ‘part A’

Many of my friends attend church and many don’t. Some of you would never be caught dead in a church…except…when your dead? My experience with church has been on either end of the spectrum. If you have read my book ‘Growing Sideways’ you will know the church has been full of compassionate people that have stood beside me in the most difficult times and I will always be indebted. You will also know the church was the most destructive force I had ever faced, particularly in my early years.

Along with an enquiring mind, these experiences are what I draw from as I wander through vast fields of thought and stare deeply into the dark. I have the hope that good things will continue to come from my life experiences and that is what drives me to continually pursue the detail in my story.

When I refer to the church I am mostly referring to the institution and not necessarily the people. I have spent many years processing the past and naturally because of that, I have investigated and questioned much about church life with the hope of making sense of my history. For me, asking a question is not a sign of disrespect or lack of faith, it is a demonstration of affection and belief. If I simply dismissed something and gave it no further thought then I would be indifferent and disconnected.

I am drawn to transparency, particularly in large organisations, I admire anyone who can take something complex and keep it straight and true – the temptation to brush over the hard questions is a powerful force and anyone who pulls it off should be celebrated. I remember when I was no more than 7 years old and got busted for stealing from the local corner shop. Distracted with the thrill of stuffing my pockets with every chocolate variety displayed on the shelf, the shop keeper snuck up behind me and growled a throaty, “got ya” scaring the absolute crap out of me. Instinctively I slipped out from his grip and ran home like a freaked out Easter Bunny losing the stolen chocolate from my pockets with each stride. What didn’t bounce out from my pockets was discarded into the gardens of the houses I ran past on my sprint to hell! By the time I got home I had nothing left to show for my new found criminal life. Somehow my mum found out what I did – mums have eyes everywhere! One of her discipline strategies was to send me back to the shop and pay the shop keeper for all the chocolate I stole. Oddly I found the experience strangely satisfying as it offered me relief and as sense of resolve. Instead of allowing me to strike a defensive pose or deny what I did, my mum gave me a gift by making me come to the table open handed and it changed me.

When people around the world ask the church a question, particularly a moral one, sometimes the institution is positioned in front of the enquiring mind as an immovable and indisputable object, but what is often in question is a persons behavior or an interpretation behind the religion, not the religion itself. Behind the institution are usually ordinary people with ordinary lives just like me – they are just as susceptible as anyone to pride and multiple agendas. It makes me want to respond by figuring out what are the right kinds of questions that need to be asked so I can contribute positively.

Some of my friends who don’t profess a Christian faith confide with me how exhausted they feel by what they see as the overuse of the bible to justify a certain action or behavior. In truth I have done this myself by deciding on a philosophical perspective first then using the bible as a device to support my view – I am not proud of that. My views have changed dramatically over the years and interestingly I could use the bible to support those new views just as convincingly. It highlights the point of this blog entry. The bible can be used to support all sorts of things because people will naturally interpret through the many filters that create their unique perspective on life.

If I were to offer an observation…I would say the pressure from scientific and theological minds have encouraged a relentless pursuit by the church to quantify and qualify all aspects of the bible so any discrepancies won’t challenge its infallibility and I think that it has been to its detriment. At times I feel defensive for the church when expectations encourage it to offer a definitive view on all that is pertinent to today’s life. I wonder if that was ever the churches role in the first place.

Within the Baptist churches alone there are hundreds of different denominations world wide offering contrasting views around the interpretation of the bible. Within the greater church there are even more varying views. I genuinely wrestle with the fact that the bible has not produced one unified church and that for me proposes some interesting questions. If the thousands of different denominations can’t agree on one definitive view on the bible, is it possible it has pluralistic opposing views within itself? What does it also say about the purpose of the bible? If one of the roles of the bible was to bring people towards one truth, has it done a good job over the last 2000 years?

Often when I offer thoughts like this I get concerned that people will hear me as just another bloke with an opinion, a computer and a blog site. I can understand that. What I hope to do is read the temperature probe and simply say out loud what the reading is within the room where I am standing. I feel compelled to push and pull the conversation with the hope it will encourage open handed discussions. I will write a ‘part B’ to this blog and go a little deeper, I hope you will keep tracking with me and read the next instalment…

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