CHRIST FOR TODAY?

ANOTHER SENIOR CLERIC pronounced on the subject of “gay marriage” today. I wasn’t impressed. It’s not that I’m never impressed by people who hold opposite views to my own. I often am. I celebrate diversity. But clerical pronouncements (my own amongst them) are sometimes so … inarticulate. Failing to state a half-decent case. Courting flippant, dismissive “silly old buffer” responses. This is not good news. It’s bad news. And I need to turn to the words of more articulate teachers of faith for a bit of encouragement at times like these. Dave Tomlinson is one such. I found his book Re-enchanting Christianity quite irresistible after only the opening words of the Preface:

Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.

Lenny Bruce

Dave Tomlinson really cares about that fact. As I do – delighted that people are “going back to God”, but shattered at times to observe that the Church seems bent on encouraging their departure! The Church needs people (yes, of every race and creed) who’ve “gone back to God”. The Church is utterly dependent upon God’s being – upon Life’s being – infinitely so much bigger than our petty squabbles and heresies.

Thankfully there are growing numbers of people in the UK – within and without the Church – who recognise the value of deeper engagement and dialogue. This is where growth and development occurs. Oft repeated religiously entrenched positions on virtually any subject under the sun are no longer granted automatic place in 21st century hearts and minds. And therein lies hope, I believe, for the future of our humankind … hope for our learning to live peacefully together, hope for our continuing to think, and grow, and learn, and perhaps even to pray together. A dozen conversations since the recent discussion between Professor Richard Dawkins, Sir Anthony Kenny and Archbishop Rowan (see below) have delightedly celebrated all that they revealed they held in common. I believe that Christ For Today (and everyday) celebrates such common ground. And I want to ask, as Tomlinson’s chapter 6 asks: “Who is Christ for Us Today? A question that never stands still”. Here’s the opening paragraph:

In a conversation with Gandhi in which the Mahatma had extolled the virtues of Jesus, the missionary E. Stanley Jones asked if he had ever considered becoming a Christian. ‘I love your Christ,’ Gandhi replied, ‘I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.’ Apparently, Gandhi’s rejection of Christianity stemmed from an incident when he was practising law in South Africa. He had been attracted to Christianity and studied the Bible and found the teachings of Jesus particularly appealing. But when he tried to attend a church service he was barred entry and told: ‘There’s no room for kaffirs in this church.’ Gandhi left the church sorrowful, and determined never again to consider becoming a Christian.

Dave Tomlinson goes on to say that a re-enchanted Christianity is a lived Christianity. “Ah, but that’s exactly what I’m trying to do, exactly what I’m trying to live,” mumbles the old traditionalist. “Two thousand years of tradition. That’s what I’m handing on.”

I’m driven though, for my part, to ask whether it’s a lived – an alive – Christianity we’re interested in? With Dave Tomlinson I want to know Who is Christ For Us Today? What would Christ, what does Christ – in and through “Christ’s body now on earth” – say? Who and where is Christ’s mouthpiece? Does anyone seriously believe that Christ For Today speaks only through the microphone of Magisterium, Synod or legislating body? Or does Christ For Today say what she / he has to say through life – through unfolding Wisdom? And how might we learn to be as concise, as succinct, as articulate as Jesus of Nazareth is said to have been? And then, leaving hermeneutical skills aside for a moment, may we ask did Jesus of Nazareth ever legislate against love? Or would our Christ do so today? If Jesus of Nazareth was invited to interview in John Humphrys’ studio what would Christ For Us Today say? We ought – in our pursuit of growth – to think afresh, to meditate, contemplate and pray, because these are important, live growth issues, today. And – while people stray from the Church – the issues themselves won’t go away.

GOD IS NOT A CHRISTIAN

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ARCHBISHOP TUTU’S new book God is not a Christian¬†was published on the 6th May. I’ve only just spotted it but will speedily make up for the lateness. Here’s a snippet:

Surely it is good to know that God (in the Christian tradition) created us all (not just Christians) in his image, thus investing us all with infinite worth, and that it was with all humankind that God entered into a covenant relationship, depicted in the covenant with Noah when God promised he would not destroy his creation again with water. Surely we can rejoice that the eternal word, the Logos of God, enlightens everyone — not just Christians, but everyone who comes into the world; that what we call the Spirit of God is not a Christian preserve, for the Spirit of God existed long before there were Christians, inspiring and nurturing women and men in the ways of holiness, bringing them to fruition, bringing to fruition what was best in all. We do scant justice and honor to our God if we want, for instance, to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was a truly great soul, a holy man who walked closely with God. Our God would be too small if he was not also the God of Gandhi: if God is one, as we believe, then he is the only God of all his people, whether they acknowledge him as such or not. God does not need us to protect him. Many of us perhaps need to have our notion of God deepened and expanded. It is often said, half in jest, that God created man in his own image and man has returned the compliment, saddling God with his own narrow prejudices and exclusivity, foibles and temperamental quirks. God remains God, whether God has worshippers or not.

An ordinand asked me, ten years or more ago, “why do you think Desmond Tutu is always smiling?” I answered at the time “Because he’s a big, big man” … and today this snippet affirms something else I’ve often said of him … “who has a big, big heart”. Gandhi was indeed “truly a great soul”. So is Tutu. Any human being would do well in seeking to emulate both. And I’m ever ready to say and to pray “Thanks be to Thee my Lord Jesus Christ for all women and men of goodwill.”