Saturday, August 22, 2009

Belated thoughts from before and the theology of Kylie Minogue

Back to the idea of faith as a story. People have stopped passing the Christian Faith on. One generation thought they knew it but the next generation don’t know it. (“Why was the baby called Wayne? - As in A Wayne in a manger”). Well you don’t need to convince me, an R.E teacher, that people have lost the plot - literally. I am perpetually gob-smacked by what people don’t know: “How is it you don’t know this? Surely everyone knows this?”

“Why would I know where Jesus was born?”

“Sing me a Christmas Carol. Any line of any carol.”

“O little town of Bethlehem…”

“There you go.”


It must be true that the major obstacle to evangelism is Christians Steve tells us: those for whom being a Christian is mainly about me in a safe male/white/middle-class/straight/middle-aged (delete as appropriate – you get the idea) comfortable environment. There is a lack of a desire to leave our comfort zones and go where people are and to enable them in their turn to join and share that comfortable environment. How can people come to faith if we are not there with them doing the things they do so that they can see the Christianity acted out?

Well, yes, that is undoubtedly true but if I follow the idea that Christians are the major obstacle to evangelism I would also have to consider that man who stands with a microphone outside Marks and Spencer’s every Saturday morning declaiming to passers by that God is a wrathful and vengeful God and he will condemn the wicked to Hell for their sins.

I remember – I must have had some time to kill on that occasion – watching him for a while and the impact he had on the public. It seemed to me that as they approached him and came within ear-shot, they sort of hunched down and scurried by, only to slow down and straighten up once a safe distance had been achieved. He is to evangelism what Sarah Palin is to political acumen.

No one stopped and no one engaged with him, so I did. What the hell? I’m a theology graduate. I should be able to debate with this man surely? “Excuse me. I wonder if I could talk to you for a moment, only I’m not sure concentrating on God’s wrath and berating people with it is quite the best approach.”

He blanked me completely and, turning away, continued to shout, only more loudly this time, into his microphone.

I’ve not bothered since.

Evangelism isn’t “I tell you about Jesus; you convert; I dump you in church; I depart. Job done.”

One further thought that struck me was from a passing conversation with Dr. Bob and Stuart over coffee. Religious texts are very unclear in their message when they are distanced from their author. To what extent can we talk about the meaning of scripture today when the authors are no longer with us to be asked for clarification? Surely the best we can say is what the texts mean to us today even though we are not the original audience, nor in many cases the implied audience. A faith based on “This is what the text says.” becomes increasingly hard to sustain in a post-modern world. That, of course, needs to be juxtaposed with the idea that if the church’s views are the views of contemporary society then it can not be a missionary church because it has no message to proclaim. Someone said – and I wish I could remember who – “We have an eternal gospel, not an unchanging gospel.”

“Do not call people back to where they were: they were never there. Do not call people to where you are: you may not remain there. Call people to travel with you and the Holy Spirit wherever that may turn out to be.” I’d like to say that was my thought but it wasn’t. I had a margin note to google it. I tried. Google couldn’t find it.

“Could you speak up? I’ve not got my hearing aid in.”

“Now about that: could I make an alternative suggestion….?”

Dr. Bob had sciatica and was feeling in need of therapy. We walked into Whitby - well I did, he limped slightly - where he found a massage parlour and where, with some misgivings, I left him to it.

“I had the full Lutheran massage.” He confided. “She was Swedish.”

“You smell overpoweringly of coconut.”

“Yes. She used Malibu. Still I’ve no doubt it makes a better essential oil than it does an alcoholic drink.”

“How’s your back?”

“Who cares?”

I have been enjoying the residential very much. Being surrounded by supportive people is exactly what I have needed at this time because I know that I have been preoccupied this week. When Pastor Mark arrived for a pastoral visit I could have kissed him. He came straight from work and stayed for dinner, chatting to my friends and to the staff, some of who he knew from his time on the course some years ago. We sat quietly in the bar and talked, skipping a service so that we could have some time to ourselves.

I went to bed feeling affirmed.

We had a wonderful Good Friday service with the nuns in the Priory Chapel and a string quartet playing Haydn’s “Last Words from the Cross.” We came from there to lunch and the juxtaposition of Haydn with Kylie Minogue which some hapless domestic had left on in the kitchen. “I should be so lucky; lucky, lucky, lucky in love.” Is this a piece of post-modern Good Friday music? Is there an essay to be had on the theology of Kylie Minogue? Could I abandon my “Late onset lesbianism in the inter-testamental period” (subheading “Apocryphal Dykes”) research project, in favour of Kylie?