Friday, 22 March 2013

Lent for Extroverts 33: At home?

How far do you feel a sense of belonging in this life?

I think it was TS Eliot in Murder in the Cathedral, who wrote 'Here is no continuing city/here is no abiding stay (I only know that because we had to learn it at school, and I went to see it at Guildford Cathedral when I was 15). It refers to the NT idea that our real home is in heaven.

But I've read my NT Wright and I'm quite attached to this earth actually, and looking forward to the day it's renewed, to the time when we get to enjoy the different skins, the imagination and drive, the great schemes and dreams, without the late trains, litter, bombs, terminal illnesses and regulations concerning Churchyards.

We can belong on so many different levels. When we feel we no longer belong, that's when we need to start worrying. Although I suppose it depends who you think is spiritually in charge right now. If it's Satan, 'the prince of the air' (as we are led to believe in his final temptation of Jesus) then you will definitely not feel a sense of belonging; but if 'the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof', you will look around at everything provided for our enjoyment and feel right at home.

I felt at home today on a number of levels, travelling to the London Interfaith Centre for a day on interfaith dialogue organised by the United Reformed Church. Kilburn couldn't be more different to Whitchurch but I loved the buzz up Salusbury Road, NW6, and enjoyed feeling at one with Christians from a different denomination. And it has to be said, their buildings are generally a lot warmer.

The day challenged me to ask 'how at home am I with people not just of a different style of Christian faith, but with people of a different faith altogether?' I have to be honest and say that I feel very at home with the idea of fellowship with a Jewish believer - sharing the Hebrew Scriptures etc.; slightly less at home with a Muslim believer, but still content that we will have much in common (perhaps a lot more than I would have with a secularist). When it comes onto the non-Abrahamic faiths, my ignorance and lack of experience would make me feel more guarded. And rural Oxfordshire C of E ministry does not tend to expose me to many from the BaHa'i faith.

Writers like Kester Brewin and Jonathan Sacks (left) remind me that the hesitation is all in my head towards the person whom I  perceive to be so different to me. How we treat 'the other' is a gold plated test of our willingness to be like Jesus. His track record is unsullied. In the final analysis, when the earth heats up beyond our capacity to endure the freak weather and other cataclysms, I suppose we'll finally realise we all belong to each other by virtue of living on the same planet. What a thought.


  1. It's easy to feel that you don't belong within your own faith or tradition when you mix with those of a different tradition. Been there, got the t-shirt.

    I come with a label of Liberal Catholic, so getting a thorough does of Evangelicalism (if there is such a thing) caused me a little disquiet, particularly as the theme was SSM on a course on pastoral care. As an Anglican, I'm not much used to challenging someone formally for their sinful lifestyle (it's not our style) so found that edgy line quite uncomfortable.

    I'm sitting there gritting my teeth, while most of the others are nodding in assent. Suddenly, it became a lonely place to be that particular session, one among many, where the teaching was thorough, grounded in scripture and which did much to inspire my Liberal Catholic tendencies to wonder if I had misjudged the situation. Perhaps I had taken it to heart instead of head (and thinking theologically and reflectively as my once DDO was fond of telling me) or I had actually misheard what I was being taught.

    But the written course material confirmed that what was being taught was what they meant. I've had time to reflect on it and realise that being taken outside my comfort zone was necessary for growth and understanding that mine isn't the only viewpoint in the church(es) and it is one among many, each of which will have elements of the truth, I need to use the proverbial three legged stool to work it out for myself, what I understand and believe.

    I can see that I belong as much to the Evangelical tradition (as in the Early Church) as the Liberal or Catholic tradition that I'm comfortable with. I just need to keep an open mind on those things that disturb my conscience and learn to live with the differences. Thanks be to God that his grace gives us the forgiveness that allows us to live and love each other, despite our differences.

  2. I think it is very healthy to be exposed to things outside our comfort zone, but I noticed on my training course that some people reacted to this by becoming defensive, while others were content to be 'pushed'. It's healthy to be challenged to think 'why do I really hold that viewpoint?'
    Thanks for your comments. Took me a while to respond as the mosaic view I had on the blog was obscuring the comments!! Have changed it now:)

  3. Neat pretty packages tied up with string... This is not how most people really do theology. From the outside it may seem as if these things we label as evangelical, liberal, catholic, charismatic etc. are neat and tidy, but the reality is that very few of us actually buy completely into anyone else's theological packages - even if these labels once worked that way. Although I have come from an evangelical background and attended an "open evangelical" college, some of my views would be described as "liberal" by my evangelical friends (though probably not by my liberal friends). I enjoy Catholic liturgy and some of my personal devotional practices would probably be frowned upon by (some) evangelicals. So I get SOOOOOO annoyed by others who stereotype - naming no names today :)

  4. It is excessively annoying, yes!
    But I used to be like that!