The Real Divide?

I read a brief summary this week of journalists reporting of the debate in France as to whether abandoned churches should be turned into mosques.  The idea was raised by the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris and quickly shouted down by ‘Islamophobes’ according to one paper.  I think it’s a really interesting question as to how church buildings should be used in the sad situation that their congregation has depleted.  It raises a host of questions about the sanctity of space and the relationship between the spiritual and physical locations. But that’s not what struck me about this story.  It wasn’t so much the issue at hand, but how it was reported that make me sit up straight.

According to the featured journalists, the issue is a practical one: the church is declining, church buildings are empty, whilst Islam is growing and Muslims need somewhere to pray.  This seems a purely reasonable solution, and indeed it may be.  But here’s the final line of the summary:

Wouldn’t they [right-winger opponents of the idea] rather see churches serve a religious purpose, than be turned into shops and markets? A bit of “pragmatism” would be a fine thing.

What’s your reaction to that?

I’d genuinely like to know!  For me one thing stands out above anything else: the phrasing of the question shows where this journalist sees the real divide – not between Christianity and Islam, but between Religious and Commercial.  In this phrasing of the issue Christianity and Islam are not two different conceptions of the world, reality, and the meaning of life, but are rather two residents of the compartment of public life known as ‘Religious.’  They’re not claims to truth, but life-style choices or community groups.  To me this is a natural piece of logic from a secular standpoint.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not having a go at the journalist; this is not a judgement, it’s an observation.  It’s similar to the visitor to our church recently who described themselves as a ‘mongrel’ and said (in an friendly, not critical way) that all religions should be mongrel.  The assumption being that they all serve the same God so should just share from one another.  It’s a naturally secular view, one that’s incredibly common in our pluralist society.  In fact, perhaps the majority of people I meet as a church leader who are not yet Christian have an interest in God or the spiritual but don’t want to be, nor see the need to be, tied down to one specific religion.  Afterall, aren’t all religions part of the same category just like Superdrug, John Lewis, and Tesco are all part of the category called ‘Commerce’?  Can’t we just be pragmatic about this?

Yet if Christian beliefs about the existence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the creation of everything and the reality of sin; the salvation of Jesus through his death, resurrection and ascension; the reality of the Kingdom of God on earth right now; and the surety of Jesus coming back; are all true then these are claims that radically shape the nature of reality.  Christians don’t have a different hobby, we live in a different world.  The question for us is this: have we lost our confidence that what we believe may actually be true and do we live like it is?

The real divide is not between Religion and Commerce, but what world we think we live in.  What do you think?

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How do I know what to do when…? A simple suggestion for moral dilemmas.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/how-your-moral-decisions-shaped-by-mood_1.jpgIt is hard to be holy in this day and age or to even know what ‘being holy’ looks like.  Everyday we face choices and decisions that are far more grey than obviously right or wrong.  So how do we know what to do?

How do we know what to do when we want to stand up for our colleagues but don’t want to lie about their mistakes?

How do we know what to do when we don’t want to judge our friends, but neither do we condone everything they do?

How do we know what to do when we want to pursue a career using our God given gifts, but we’re asked to compromise on the way?

Compromise is the key word.  Rarely are we faced with obvious, cut and dry moral dilemmas.  We’re unlikely to be asked to murder someone or steal something just like that.  Rather we’ll be asked to fudge the edges of the law, take a tiny step towards the line but not necessarily cross it, to do something that makes us feel uncomfortable but we’re not 100% sure why.

Here’s an example that arose from a recent conversation: is it ok for Christian artists to use nudity in their art?

Surely Christians are called to be pure and to live as examples of that purity steering away from the lewdness that can so readily saturate the world we live in.  The idea of a Christian we know painting something explicit, for example, can be shocking.  Yet can it ever be the case that just such a shock is needed to get an important point across?  I remember the anecdote of a well known Christian speaker swearing during an address and then challenging his hearers: “You care more that I just used the word **** than that thousands of children are dying around the world as we speak”.  What if a painting was drawn that exposed the denigration of women in our society or championed the rights of those who suffer from domestic abuse?

It’s pretty murky waters don’t you think?  Yet I want to be bold enough to suggest a simple rule for any Christian trying to get a handle on how to navigate the moral grey we find ourselves in.  It’s a rule taken from the apostle Paul writing about similarly grey areas of his own day…

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

How do I know what to do?  By asking myself not just “would God mind?”, but “can I actually do this for God?  On His behalf, in His name?”

We have to realise that ‘Christian’ doesn’t just denote something we do at the weekends, it is a term that defines the entirety of who we are and so qualifies everything we do.  I am not a Christian, a lawyer, a son, an Englishman, and a student (fill in the list as appropriate to you).  Rather, I am a Christian lawyer, a Christian son, a Christian Englishman, a Christian student.  Whatever I do and wherever I am, I do it and I am there carrying the name of Christ.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51bC2APLFLL.jpgAn example to elucidate the point.  Vincent Donovan, a Christian anthropologist, studied an indigenous tribe (the Masai) in east Africa and wrote about it in his book Christianity Rediscovered.  It is actually his report of a neighbouring tribe that I want to share.  This tribe were a dancing people, every aspect of life was accompanied by different dances.  Once they believed in Jesus, the eucharist became a huge celebration and one accompanied by dance.  Yet it began to shape their approach to every part of life.  They discovered that there were some dances they simply could not perform at the eucharist – it wasn’t right to dance like that in such a remarkable moment of unity with Christ.  But they recognised that if they could not perform a dance at the eucharist, then they couldn’t perform it at all. The eucharist was not just something they did, it was an expression of a relationship that defined who they were.  They were people of the eucharist.  They were Christian.

http://www.irisglobal.org/gallery/gal/24%20June%202010/IMG_8408.jpg

The same goes for us, for every Christian in every place across this earth.  We are defined by our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s a relationship that doesn’t stop once we leave the church building but remains in every aspect of life.  Think of the main aspect of your worship whatever churchmanship you’re from: taking communion, sung worship, prayer

ministry, whatever it is.  Now, every time you want to know what to do ask yourself this: could I do this for God, in His name, and in that place of worship?

So, whatever you do, whether in business, media, religion, education, politics, healthcare, family, or art, do it all for the glory of God in the light of the eucharist.

A Humble NHS?

NHSLast post I reflected on humility as defined by James Ryle:

God given self-assurance that eliminates the need to prove to others the worth of who you are and the rightness of what you do.

Ryle suggests, from 1 Peter 5:5-7, that central to humbling ourselves is throwing our cares on to God.  Every concern, care and fear being hurled on to God who is faithful and powerful enough to handle them.  When we know that we are loved by Him no matter what and that He is in control no matter what, then we remove the need to prove ourselves or protect ourselves.  We become humble – secure enough to allow God to be in control and to serve others.  Once our eyes are lifted from ourselves we are able to see others to love and serve them.

Just before writing the last post I was reading an article about the report by Robert Francis QC on the appalling treatment of patients at Stafford Hospital.  One of the recurring comments made by many different people is that the pressure of targets and incentives increasingly displaces focus on compassion and patient care.  When doctors, nurses and managers alike are bombarded with ever increasing and regularly changes hoops to jump through and targets to meet, no wonder their attention and efforts are dragged from patient care.

I’ve seen something of the effects of this in a family member who for many years worked as a Health Visitor.  In their decades of service they saw an ever increasing and ever changing string of targets and goals alongside cost cutting moves that stripped resources and personnel.  Their desire to be compassionate and offer the best care possible became more and more stressful until it finally proved too much.  She recently changed jobs.

Now I’m not trying to attack the NHS and I am well aware that so many people receive great care.  But this is not a new concern that is being bandied around with fresh vigour in the light of Stafford Hospital. What struck me is that it demonstrates on an institutional level what also seems true at a personal level. Namely, that when we are forced to operate from a place of insecurity we begin to miss the most important things.  NHS services have to meet targets to receive funding to simply keep operating – there will be no patient care if there is no hospital.  Oftentimes, especially as a leader, we can live with a sense that, unless we meet expectations or make people like us or recognise our worth, then we’ll have no influence to do any of the things we know we are called to do.

The secret of personal humility is to recognise that we are already loved by our Father before we even move our finger; to recognise that He is control and we can throw every care on Him.  A person who can live from that place of security finds, free from the need to prove themselves or their actions, can begin to simply do what they are made and called to do.  They are no longer pulled in different directions by a multiplicity of cares.  What about an institution?

It strikes me that a similar solution is needed for the NHS.  Is there a way to give security for doctors, nurses and caring professionals so that they are able to do what they are called to do without constantly watching their back?  Obviously there is a need for accountability for the safety of patients and to ensure a good standard of care, but the constant need to prove worth and achievement cannot be helpful for those who are called to compassionate care.

I’m not a healthcare professional.  I don’t know exactly what this would look like.  But I recognise in the diagnosis of struggles in the NHS, God’s diagnosis of struggles in many people’s lives.  The way He designed us to live with Him is often a good basis to begin to imagine a new way for every level of society to function.

So, my question is this: what would a humble NHS look like?  To whom could a National Health Service throw it’s concerns and cares?