Monday, December 15, 2008

Following Jesus Doesn't Work

Greg Boyd is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. His book last year, Myth of a Christian Nation was one of the surprise successes over here in the UK (for a book so focused on the US). In this article he starts by recounting the story of a woman he encountered:

I met a middle aged woman one day who told me she had given up on Christianity. “It just didn’t work for me,” she said. My response was: “What on earth made you think Jesus was supposed to work for you? The truth is that you were supposed to work for him.”

The language we use so often betrays us, as it did here. He continues:

It seems that many assume Jesus is supposed to be our personal magical genie who grants our wishes, at least some of the time. Such a magical view of faith is catastrophic, for people abandon what they thought was the Christian faith when it doesn’t work. And worse, people think they’re embracing the Christian faith when it does.


How often have I silently thought this. If I pray enough, give enough, do enough good works etc then life will be okay. If I care about the poor enough I will always have a home for my children. In the end, Jesus does not promise these things - at least when you look at the experience of those who follow God in Scripture. Greg points out the experiences of Mary, the mother of Jesus (who despite being 'favoured' had to watch her son crucified and die a painful death) and John the Baptist, left to languish in prison and suffer some serious doubts.

We, here in the western church, seem to expect an easy life as a 'right', conveniently forgetting scriptures such as,

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (1 Tim 6:8)

Greg expresses it this way:
To follow Jesus authentically is to die to everything the flesh-self holds dear, whether we actually lose them or not. We must die to the quest to avoid of pain and inconvenience; die to the quest for pleasure, power and fame; die to the security of our homes, family, friends and nation; and even die to the certainty of our opinions. Every attempt to gain a personal sense of worth, significance and security by what we do, what we accomplish, what we acquire and who we impress must die.

In the end, to follow Jesus is to lose my life. I would like to do that - I just sometimes wonder if I can.

Jesus commands this much, not because he is mean, but because he is more profoundly in love with us than we could possibly ever imagine. And he knows that it is this false, self-centered way of living that is keeping us from true life. When we have truly died, we discover this. To be free from the self that is addicted to the question: What’s in it for me? is to be truly ALIVE and free.

It is to enter into the kingdom of God.

But, as Jesus always taught, you can only find this life if you complete loose your life.
If you’re focusing on this life, here and now, following Jesus doesn’t “work” and we should stop telling people that it does. But if we’ll die to the attempt to make things “work” for us, we’ll discover a deeper LIFE that no longer cares about what does and doesn’t work for us. We’ll discover the LIFE of the Kingdom.

I couldn't say it any better myself - I only hope I can live it!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Modern Life is Rubbish

I have spent most of my adult life feeling removed form the world around me. I looked at the messages and expectations of the dominant society within United Kingdom and I just said to myself, “no thanks”. Apart from a very sad period of about 2 years when I was seduced by the idea of wealth and success (and failed fairly spectacularly!), I found the whole way of living in the modern world so removed from what I see in the gospels.

The thing is, I don’t want to make peace with the world because, as Damon Albarn so eloquently put it, Modern Life is Rubbish. If my life is based around the concept of get a job, get a house, get married/live together, get a bigger house, get a conservatory, get a new kitchen, remortgage to pay off the credit cards, get a pension, retire, die, then kill me now – I DO NOT WANT TO LIVE LIKE THAT. I have tried to reason through some of this and find a balance, but in the last four years it has got even more clear that balance can be enemy of change, that balance can just be a synonym for accommodation – I do not want to accommodate the corrupt, selfish, blinkered, shallow and debauched value system that I see around me. So – here are the things I am working through:

What’s the big deal with property and consumerism?

Because of a whole series of circumstances, we do not own a house. This used to freak me out – I bought into the idea that I needed to own property (or actually rent it from a bank until I hoped my endowment could pay it off in my 50’s), and that I was in trouble because I didn’t. About 2 years ago (just as house prices were going through the roof), my bank begged me to take out a £220,000 mortgage – they even sat me down and offered it to me without me asking them. Looking back, the payments and house value would have left us in a terrible situation, adn I am thankful I didn't take up their offer. I would have been working to pay the mortgage and bound to it – not free to make the right decision for my family. Everything would have been coloured by the need to pay the mortgage.

The problem is that our economy is based upon the need for continual consumer spending, and the main driver of wealth creation for the last 16 years has been property. People would find equity in their house and either see it as a pension and put less into a plan, or release it to enable spending directly. Either way, our economy is now seizing up because of the lack of house sales.

I do not accept the premise of the consumer economy. If our society needs retail spending to grow then the system is wrong. I’ll repeat that – THE SYSTEM IS WRONG. I do not want to accommodate the consumer society – I want to change it. I want to live differently, and to raise my children to live differently as well. I will not conform to this. I will find a better way to live – one more in harmony with the teaching of Jesus – principles of justice, mercy, righteousness, truthfulness, generosity, sacrifice and mutuality.

But won’t you look a bit weird if you try and not live like the rest of society?


End of paragraph.

But seriously – SO WHAT. Since when has ‘fitting in’ ever convinced anybody that there is a better way to live. If I can learn from others who are exploring this, and if I can start to live in a way that embraces the value above, I have to. I feel an imperative not to let these feelings drift until I get to my old age and regret living in-between worlds, feeling the tension of rejecting one set of values but not fully embracing another.

I know that the logical end of what I am suggesting looks very different from the individualistic way that we live now, and that it challenges the roots of our society. That both repels and attracts me in equal measure.

So what does it look like?

I don’t know. I look at some of the excellent examples that have found a different way to live, such as The Simple Way in Philadelphia, USA and the Northumbria Community in the UK and rejoice in what they do. But I want something that works here and now in Shrewsbury, Shopshire, with the people I know. I want something that I can do now.

This is just the start of my conversation, but I will continue to blog and work this out.

What are we here for?