Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Who do you say that I am?

What is a Christian?

It really depends who you ask. Some say that being Christian means following Jesus. Some say it means worshiping Jesus as Lord and King. Some say it means acting with love in the world.

Am I a Christian? Again, it depends who you ask. I don't suppose God minds much either way what I call myself.

There are people who would classify me as Christian based on my spiritual practice: I pray daily using Christian prayers and I attend church most weeks, though not on Sunday mornings as is traditional. But I don't think that going to church makes me a Christian (where did I read that line about going to the garage not making you a car?), and I don't think that using Christian prayers or prayer structures makes me a Christian. I do think that such prayer can be transformative and over time it may transform me into being Christian (or more Christian, if you think I already am). That's a risk I'm willing to take, if it also makes me more loving, more compassionate.

There are people who would classify me as Christian because on some level I am trying to engage with God, to discern God in the world, in a Christian context. There's a lot of Christian doctrine that I don't believe or can't relate to, a lot of detail that I am trying to understand and really failing to grasp most of the time. But I don't propose that one has to understand all the doctrine to be Christian. Wanting to understand it may be a considerable step.

But... I am not trying to understand God in a Christian context because I think that is the only true or valid context, but rather for more pragmatic reasons. I tried elsewhere. I got so pissed off with Christian doctrine and the hypocrisy I saw in the Christian church that I up and left for ten years, and looked elsewhere. It didn't work very well. I learned that all religions have doctrine with which I will struggle, all faiths have a motley assortment of adherents, some of whom are perhaps more spiritually astute than others. So I'm trying to understand Christianity because it's more convenient than trying to understand another faith. It or some variation of it is the dominant faith in the culture where I grew up, it is the established religion in the country where I live, and though I will need to learn a lot to get close to understanding it I have a head start as much of the worship and study materials are already in English and easily accessible. I need to consciously acknowledge and discern God in my life, but every lens I can look through is speckled or tinted or just plain cracked. I may as well use the lens that is closest to hand. I need to talk to God, to worship God, but I'm not very good at finding the right words. I may as well use the same imperfect words as the established church in this country, and hope God will, in mercy, know what I mean.

Some would use creeds as the ultimate earthly test of whether someone is Christian. If Christianity were a faith only of belief and not of practice then I might agree with that. But I don't fully agree with any of the Christian creeds as I currently understand them. And I've always been of the opinion that what you do or attempt to do is more important than dogmatic adherence to a set of rules about what you may or may not believe to be true.

There is a song, most of which I can't remember the words for, but the chorus ends "...and they'll know we are Christians by our love." By our love.

I fall short there, too. I'd love to love the world more. I am growing in that, every day, every hour even; as time passes my awareness of God's love mostly increases and my love for the world seems to increase in parallel with that. But my actions don't reflect that as they could. I try, and fail. If being a shining example of God's love in the world is what it is to be Christian, then I desperately want to be Christian... and I know I'll never get there, I'll never reach a standard high enough that I don't feel I have a lifetime of work ahead of me. But it's worth trying anyway.

If wanting to be a shining example of God's love in the world, if trying to do that and failing most of the time but trying anyway, is what makes someone Christian, then I already am.

I still don't know where that leaves me with taking Eucharist! People like their labels and rituals. But with all due respect, that seems like a small doctrinal detail if I've the potential, the opportunity, to act for and with God in all of life. Maybe I'll change my opinion on that if my understanding of sacrament changes, but if loving action isn't an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace then I don't know what is. As it's a small doctrinal detail that some people take very seriously, though, I'll abstain until I have a better understanding.


Kathryn said...

Song - may I refer you to the best invitation I've encountered - from Iona, predictably
This is the table not of the Church but of the Lord.
It is to be made ready for those who love him,
and who want to love him more.

So, come,
you who have much faith
and you who have little,
you who have been here often
and you who have not been for a very long time,
you who have tried to follow
and you who have failed.

Come, not because it is I who invite you:
it is our Lord.
It is his will that those who want him
should meet him here.

I dont think you should hesitate...

Song in my Heart said...

Thank you, Kathryn. That is indeed a beautiful invitation.

I have no hesitation at all in wanting to love God more--though that seems to keep going without my input, anyway, extending outward in a spiral fractal pattern until I think I might burst and then growing still more.

I'm not sure about the Eucharist being any more (or less) sacramental than the rest of life. But I recognise that humans often do better with ritual to elevate and sanctify the everyday, that taking communion is a sort of "practise run" for seeing what is holy in all things. And maybe that has value for me, too. Maybe it would help. But maybe it wouldn't.

I suspect the Church has got the wrong end of the stick on this at times, that God does not turn any away from the table on account of small details such as not being communicant members of a Christian church. But on the list of "things I'm willing to ruffle feathers about" it's very low. If I'm right, every time I eat something and remember that Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of me" I am taking communion, every time I receive anything in this world and remember that it comes from God I am taking communion. The Church can hardly stop me. It has no monopoly on access to God. While I would like to participate, while I might find it meaningful to do so, I do not _need_ to, not enough to bother trying to twist my beliefs to become a Christian by some definition I don't understand, not enough to challenge the established Church.

If I'm wrong, if the Eucharist has some absolute, innate holiness that sets it aside from life in real terms and not just human ones, then it's quite a bit more serious. In that case I should refuse to partake until all are truly welcome. If God's love is unconditional and God's sacrament is a way of receiving God's love then limiting access to that on doctrinal grounds is, in my view, not very representative of God in the world.

Most likely? I am working with a flawed, incomplete definition of "sacrament". So I'll try to learn more and if I change my understanding, what the church calls sacrament will still be there.

Kathryn said...

ooooh........I love the way you think So wish we were within deep conversation over glass of wine range. I wouldnt want to disagree with any of this: I think you are right (if I read you correctly)that the Eucharist is a lens thsat enaables us to focus on the holiness of all God's creation...& I'm very sure that the church has it wrong in puttiing up fences around the table..
Do you know the hymn by Shirley Erena Murray "For everyone born a place at the table" - it pretty much sums up my theology of Eucharist & has a wonderful refrain
"and God will delight when we are creators of justice & joy"
Amen, say I

Song in my Heart said...

So wish we were within deep conversation over glass of wine range.Well, Gloucestershire is not all that far from London. I'm not making any travel plans until after I get the rest of my degree out of the way but it isn't inconceivable that we could meet at some point.

I think you are reading me correctly, and I feel surprisingly relieved about it. Maybe I'm not such a heretic after all, or perhaps we all are.

I don't know that hymn by Murray - do you know which hymnal I might find it in? I seem to have been inadvertently collecting them. After my degree I look forward to having time to read them; meantime it's useful to have my own copy with dots when I go to churches where the congregation is expected to use words-only editions.

"and God will delight when we are creators of justice & joy"
Amen and amen to that!