This weekend has caused a profound shift in my perspective of my own faith and the organisation to which I claim a long membership. It is a tectonic shift caused by the best of things and the worst of things - the latter being the stuff of global headlines even now.
I have slowly come to realise that there are very different kinds of Christians: the ones for whom faith is life, and the ones for who whom faith is a soap-box. There are those who let their faith shine through them and their lives, and others who use faith as a Tyndall Beam in order to project their needs upon the world. The latter disposition, at best, yields a few wonky outbursts (perhaps this is one of them). At worst, it results in the death of the innocents.
In my last post, I shared a moment of Shona praise. In other posts I have talked about the deaf community. Both communities, the deaf and the Zimbabwean, have taught me considerable lessons about my own faith. The deaf community has taught me so much about communication, the Zimbabwean about unbridled and unfettered trust in love. Both cause, I am sorry to say, standard Western Christianity in many of its forms to seem petty, self interested, self-important and as relevant as a Beta Max Video player.
Some have spoken of Christian persecution, as it is found in Britain. As far as I can see, that amounts to strictures surrounding work-apparel and directives about using faith to impose a theology upon others in their lives. Real persecution is to be found in the lives of Christian men and women from Zimbabwe who, because of their faith, have had to leave homes and family behind, often never seeing those loved ones again. Because of their faith. Where funds were limited, the Christian men of Zimbabwe sent their women and children oversees to safety, and in more than one case that I know of, have died before the reunion. Because of their faith. Only in that context do I see true persecution, not in the affronts to middle-class choice that we bewail in the West. The astonishing thing, though, is that a drop of their worship expresses more joy and gratitude than a bucket of our own worship (in any of the brands it is available in). Some of the British Christians who attended the Shona Mass on Saturday commented upon how "poe-faced" it made us all seem. I couldn't disagree. Exilic Zimbabweans regard their removal and separation from their homes as a new calling from God, and embrace it in those terms. Perhaps this is why I can't get super-heated about pieces of paper, I just don't know.
And then of course we have this man, Anders Behring Breivik, the man responsible for the murder of 85 young people in Norway in a kind of 'social conservation' exercise. He did this, it seems, because of a wildly mis-guided set of views informed, among other things, by ... his faith. His brand of faith is labelled as 'fundamentalist', 'right wing' and 'conservative' - none which is reason enough to end the lives of others. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first such terrorist act in the name of Christ in my lifetime at least in the West.
In the middle of all of this, I have a a renewed sense of being a bystander. I have also written elsewhere about being a bystander, and the responsibility that we share (the Holocaust is one such arena where the place of the bystander is important). I watch Norway and the events there; I find joy when I am taken from Western 'nice' to the untainted praise of exiles. I put these things together and I gain a new perspective on my faith. On one hand we can abuse and insult our spiritual leaders with impunity. On another, a man is killing on behalf of the Head of our Body. One community would give up everything for the church ... everything. Another community light their bonfires and dance around the glowing embers of a church that they claim to love. There is an impossible imbalance in all of this that I struggle with.
Today, the Body of Christ is different. We cannot be the same as we were before the Norwegian killings. What we have is a treasure in clay jars - jars that we beat with rods in our own hands, or else we stand by and watch others doing the same. Christians must now stand together and remind the world once again that we are a people of love, tolerance, embracing people of all races, whatever their differences to us - and a people of joy and praise, of song and worship - in all circumstances. If we do not, the consequences are on our heads.
God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.