In a few days, I’ll be working with some churches, using the recommended passages for the Week of Prayer for Unity. I’ve written before about how current conditions undermine almost all our polite hesitation about getting on with the project of Church Unity, seen as setting aside most of what gives our members the excuse to see each other as something short of ‘real’. We really have not come close even to the Lund Principle (to be prepared to do everything together other than what deeply held conviction forces us to do separately). despite it being reverentially enshrined even in some recent documents. By the nature of the documents, it doesn’t; filter down to ordinary-worshipper level. It you stood up on Sunday and asked for a straw poll on who had a clue what the Lund principle is, I’d be interested in the result.
CTBI, [ Churches Together in Britain and Ireland ] passing on the collaborative work from the World Church, have made available material encouraging us to look at the narrative of the sea-voyage in captivity of Paul, at the end of Acts, including the shipwreck.
It’s a ripping yarn, and full of lots of nautical jargon, though the overall image of ‘all being in the same boat’ is perhaps the most pastorally useful. When we’re so obviously all sharing the same planet, our ‘Common Home’ , there’s nowhere else to go away to to sulk. Likewise, the comforting complacency of some early Reformed missionaries (‘if they don’t listen, they must be damned anyway’) falls apart, because, however good your advice, you have nowhere to go to find someone more receptive. Any rattles intending to be thrown out of the pram land back in the pram. And if they’re consigned to oblivion ( as Ezekiel realised) so are you!
I’m noticing in the terribly sterotypical attacks on Greta Thunberg (white, privileged middle-aged men in the forefront: it’s so tediously predictable!) a desperation to expose her in some way either as ignorant (which doesn’t work: she refers us to the scientists, who aren’t!) or hypocritical. This is not only nasty, it’s grasping at straws and also, pointless, because, even if you might feel picked on, we really are all at fault: it is all but impossible to take part in Western civilisation and not contribute many times the carbon footprint ( for instance) of someone in Rwanda. We are so tied up in it, the plastic thread runs through every fibre of our being. And yet nice kind gentle Christians (the ones who think Jesus only ever told you to be like doves) are terrified, disabled and intimidated when the accusation of hypocrisy rears its head.
When Jesus was being needled by Satan in the (wildlife-filled) wilderness, our Lord had the presence of mind to resist a string of inappropriate twisting of the Scriptures of his people. Since the devil departed ‘biding his time ‘, it’s not unexpected that Jesus own words, which have become our Scripture, get the same treatment.
One of the most viciously mistreated is the one about hauling the log out of your own eye before the speck out of your neighbour’s .
Oh dear. I ate a vegan burger cooked in meat fat. Heaven help me, I drove to a meeting, because I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to be there when my children got in . And the brown paper I ordered online to pack my Christmas presents in came packaged in a large box and wrapped additionally in plastic… surely I must be a hypocrite, and therefore have no business telling anyone what to do, especially if the change I’m looking for costs them some commitment, money – or worse still – consideration for the planet.
The interpretation of the Gospels is always contextual. Indeed, if you’re desperate to find contradictions, you can.’ If they’re not against us, they’re for us’ set in context, will actually be complementary to ‘If they’re not for us they’re against us’. Because there are different applications.
Of course there’s still the risk that you can make Scripture say anything you want it to, but in this instance: what would be best for the planet:? That I say nothing and let people get blithely on with a lifestyle consistent with global crisis, because I can’t say or do anything until I’ve completely, as an individual, cleaned up my act? – Or humbly and lovingly, nonetheless inform and suggest, whilst openly acknowledging how far I myself have to go BECAUSE WE’RE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT.
Or we have been sold on the idolatrous falsehood that nothing is worthwhile unless it clearly and demonstrably solves a problem. Or like Isaiah, before he was zapped by an angel, we imagine that being people of unclean lips amongst a people of unclean lips, and burners of fossil fuel amongst a fossil-fuel-burning people, we’ re off the hook. “Not at all,” says God.
The Alcoholics Anonymous experience begins with the recognition of identity . “I’m an alcoholic”. From which point grace and peer support take over, even through stumbling and failure. In that sense, I’m a hypocrite, so the only way is up! I’m not spotless, so the odd stain won’t make that much difference. But I do my best, and hope that others might too.
God needs all the hypocrites God can get. We’re all in this boat, and there’s a big storm coming. That’s not God or Greta getting at you.
Happy New Year: and don’t just be doves: be more snake!