unique images of God

I have had loads of conversations with different people in different settings with people recently and, amazingly, these conversations could be summed up in the question of: ‘what is christianity all about?’ The conversations have mainly been with those that have rejected Christianity, and maybe all institutional religions, but I have also found myself talking about this with a few Christians.

These conversations have quickly turned to asking the question of whether Christianity is about a set of rules to follow or more about a lifestyle or a journey. One such conversation was started by someone holding a postcard from the gathering. The person was intrigued that we should use a labyrinth as a symbol. As we chatted she shared her belief that Christianity was so obviously about a set of rues that had to be strictly followed. She shared that churches she had attended were all very clear on this. When I asked what she meant she replied something like ‘well to fit in you needed to agree with everyone else.’

I shared that as the gathering we use the labyrinth on our card as we believe that Christianity is more about a journey and lifestyle than it is about set rules or doctrine. Although we travel the journey together we believe it is wrong to think we should all travel at the same pace or be in the same places or necessarily believe the same bits of doctrine as Christian faith is wider than any ‘tradition’ of church – there is freedom, too, to just dwell at certain places on the journey for as long as people want to. Jesus came to fulfil the law which means it is now something we respect but no longer governs what we do(a bit like a guardian/teacher figure – I preached on this a little more here last week in the cathedral). The focus now is on a relationship with God rather than a set of rules.

We also chatted about my belief that Christianity is about love and compassion rather than doctrine and that Christian communities, like the gathering and church, should be the ones that actually change as people join them, rather than the community expecting or giving the impression that people need to change before they can fully join. If we are all created in the image of God, then the very fact that we are unique human beings means that we all carry something unique of God within ourselves. If we expect people to leave their uniqueness at the door of our gatherings then we are merely depriving (1) ourselves of understanding more of the God that we say we are trying to discover and (2) others of helping us to understand more of the God we wish to follow.

This conversation with this woman was not a one off. Over the last few months, in various guises, it has been replicated time and time again in conversations with male and female, young and old. When the language turns to christian spirituality, acceptance, compassion and journey a spark of interest appears, but it soon extinguishes. Somehow the church, christians such as myself, have portrayed christian faith not as freedom to love and live as it is, but as a set of rules, of strict doctrine, that controls and directs. People have the idea that the church simply wants conformity as conformity is easy to control.

I’m not sure what we can do about this though … as there does seems to be some truth in this observation.

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5 thoughts on “unique images of God

  1. Hearing what this woman had to say, a belief shared by so many people, initiaaly made me angry but as I think about it more, it just makes me feel sad.It's like you were saying in your sermon (which I loved by the way – Jesus the rule-breaker FTW!), I think the prospect of living with a faith where there are no rules must be a terrifying prospect for some and in that respect I feel sort of blessed. My upbringing and my personal experiences with faith and God have left me with a freedom to try and live as Christ-like a life as I can unihibited by what I should be doing, how I should act but rather do what feels right in each passing instance, taking the time to consider WWJD.Yet conversely, this freedom I have makes me feel unable to call myself a Christian because I don't follow a prescribed set of rules, that the Church looks down on e for the way I choose to live my life.It's a double-edged sword really isn't it.

  2. Deadpan (if I may!),I think you are right – it is very much a two edged sword, which frustrates and saddens me. I do, however, think you have a better understanding than many of what Christian spirituality is all about – and you, more than many, really ought to feel able to call yourself a Christian because it is all about living a Christ like life …. It actually brings tears to the eyes to think that people's narrow outlook causes you to feel looked down onmaybe Christian is no longer a helpful label … as you seem to have grasped what being a disciple of Christ is all about and Christian was the name given to those earlier followers of Christ – maybe follower of Christ is better … who knowsbut as we agree Christianity is not about a set of rules but about following the example of Christ then it does not really matter what others think … we are Christians! lolthanks for your post …. and look forward to catching up sometime

  3. “Catholic – of interest or use to all; universal” The Concise Oxford Dictionary, Eighth Edition (1991)Twenty years ago, I took communion on the Good Friday at an Easter Retreat. I took communion on the Saturday too. Then, there was an announcement ‘The Bishop is coming tomorrow to conduct the Easter Day Service. You cannot take communion unless you are a confirmed catholic. Sorry, we do not agree with these rules, but we must tell you to abide by them tomorrow.’Many people in our ‘ecumenical’ prayer group were very upset at this announcement. However, the word ‘upset’ didn’t adequately describe the tears of despair. The catholics and non-catholics alike cried. The sensation of loss at what we had all lovingly built up between us until then was acute. I felt strongly myself at the time that the rules had divided me from God and put me in hell. I vowed never to be confirmed. I would never uphold the division which I perceived belonged to the organised church. Communion meant joining either one club or another, and IT WAS WRONG – we were all together in this God experience sharing thing.Recently, I came to realise that this objection was valid, BUT I had forgotten why I had wanted to break the rules in the first place. My resentment had dissolved and I was confirmed, on Easter Day! I forgot my anger and remembered that thirst and hunger. This was therefore cathartic for me, but I still have regret at what occurred. I still think it was wrong. I still think that rules should not divide us from our Christian brothers and sisters and it shouldn’t divide us from God. Having spent twenty years on the periphery of Christian life, I now ask myself what I will do about this issue.

  4. Thank you for your comment.This is a very sad occurrence and illustrates well what happens when people get all het up over, and focus on, rules rather than lifestyle and the meaning of 'the law' which Jesus has now fulfilled.It pains me to think of you and those other people excluded from the lords table – the very table from which even Judas was welcome … Jesus always challenged those in authority when they stopped people coing to him … we will never know for sure but I wonder whether he would have challenged this particular catholic bishop who, in the same way of the misguided disciples, was depriving people of Jesus' presence in their lives.You are right – rules should not divide and although you seem to have resolved this I wonder whether the others who were hurt as well have been able to … for that we can only trust God.Clearly I don't know who you are or where you are – but I wish you well and hold you in prayer as you consider what you do next.May God bless you in your thinking ….

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