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.