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I also offer a Study Day on request in the Midlands area looking at John Robinson's classic book, 'Honest to God'. See below.
Imagine doing 'religion' differently. What would Christianity be like if we started from here? Take away the elements that we now know not to be true; like a God who intervenes in the world or that we are the centre of the Universe. Look upon it as a story about life and how best to live it - individually and together. Focus on Jesus as a real person who lived the same human life as we do. Accept that the Bible was written by people like us, and that beliefs and creeds hammered out 1600 years ago might not now say what needs saying. What's left? An exciting journey that actually makes sense to modern minds.
These weekly reflections, based on the Common Lectionary passages, are intended to support those who are still hanging on to attending (or even leading) Christian worship, if only just, because the conventional doctrines and beliefs no longer work for them. I also hope they will be an encouragement for those, like me, who hadn’t darkened the doors for years, to give it another try, if they can find an inclusive, open-minded and accepting welcome somewhere.
Here's where I'm coming from. Does it make me a 'Christian'? Probably not. Does it matter?
My reflections are like a film 'based on the book' or a screenplay 'inspired by real events', not just a carbon-copy of the original. This image is from Sri Lanka after the dreadful bombings. Jesus stands with us, here on earth, in our suffering, pain, loss and violence, not up in heaven watching. So my journey starts with Jesus when he was still remembered as a radical teacher, healer and prophet who lived on in people's personal/spiritual experience, not as the second member of an eternal Trinity.
We have to be prepared to reassess the content of 'Christianity', not just its presentation. I am not attacking it; I'm trying to re-imagine how it could be. Fundamentalism and so-called 'Biblical' authority are not the way forward, in Christianity or any other religion. That's like asking people to use the internet based on a manual designed for a typewriter! It might work for a few who are willing to set aside everything else they know to be true, but it just digs a deeper and deeper hole for them to disappear into. The overwhelming majority are not convinced. It's a stone when we need bread. Just the same old wine in recycled wineskins. We need something genuinely new.
I value the Christian past, especially great art and the music of composers like Thomas Tallis. I find Christian history endlessly fascinating and probably know as much about the Bible as most clergy! This is my heritage and I am not ashamed of it. I don't want it to die. But it will, unless it changes.
The past was contemporary at the time. What we see as traditional and unchangeable was once innovative. Our understandings always have to be revised in the light of new knowledge. Christianity has tried to put 'God' into a sealed box, all neatly tied up forever with Trinitarian string. 'There you are. That's God. Almighty. All-powerful. All male. Tick. Sorted'. That just doesn't work anymore. All our statements about 'God' are poetry and imagination. They do not actually describe any such deeper reality. The ideas are all our own creation. That's all they can ever be.
Diversity, including of beliefs, is to be celebrated not discouraged. We should be enjoying the complex harmony, not expecting everyone to sing in unison! Perhaps that's one reason why Cathedrals are showing increased attendance. For me, the music is an example of the thoughtful and uplifting approach that I find there. The faith journey should be like great music, with a variety of ideas and insights alongside each other. It can be challenging. But what glorious synthesis can be achieved in the end!
So why don't more people go to church? 'It's the impossible beliefs, stupid!' (Plus the fact that what goes on may be stunningly boring, amateurish and irrelevant). Religious language may still be useful, as long as we recognise what we are doing - fitting a spiritual framework entirely of our own devising onto human experience. Everything was understood in terms of a personal 'God' in the past: now we have to add a new scientific and more rational language. All 'religious' events are human events, not an invasion by the 'supernatural'. But we have to give people a vision. Questions still have to be answered, so they have to be asked first. Meanings still have to be discovered, but in ways that actually address real life in the C21st.
So we have to read our ancient sources and traditions in a new, less literal way if they are to be any help to us. The Bible has to be reinterpreted not just repeated. The gospels are not meant to be read as if they were newspaper reports. They are creative portraits of Jesus, woven to express each writer's faith in him. They each need to be understood in context, not stitched together to make a fictitious comfort blanket.
I recently visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. The centrepiece is a massive circular war memorial with two group sculptures. Each of them shows muddied and frightened figures gently bearing away a dead and naked man from the battlefield. A school party was there and one of the children asked her teacher, 'Is that Jesus'? The answer, of course, is 'Yes'. Indeed that was in the mind of the sculptor. That's how Jesus still lives, as we find that his human story echoes our own. That's the Way I try to follow.
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See ATTENDANCE for more information about my training materials and events. See below for FORUM seminars and conferences. I also WHITTER on education issues now and again: Current topic: 'How much should children be held responsible for their own attendance?'
But my HOME PAGE now reflects my other main interest. Can Christianity and its central figure mean anything to those who are not convinced that conventional ideas of 'God' and religion take us where we need to go as modern, thoughtful human beings? Can faith be radical, rational and inclusive?
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