The Christian church was a large part of my life as a youngster. It is no longer and where bitterness could have set in at the disassociation from society, the time wasted in fairly fruitless activities or the bullying that sometimes happens (because the structures facilitate that kind of thing), instead I have just accepted these and hoped to learn from them (i.e. learned not to perpetuate these things myself).
It’s not so much what they teach that is the problem for me. It is the culture that keeps me away from churches at large, however that’s a topic for another day. The teachings from the pulpit are very often insipid but good, helpful things. Of course there are sometimes problems with teachings, and denominations and kingdoms have been built and destroyed over these disagreements. Those flyaway things I don’t want to get into here. It’s the essentials, in particular one little verse which basically sums it up for me:
The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Now, that is a nice thing to say, isn’t it!?
For me this sums up something which I hope never to toss out. It is the regard of the person as a complex, multi-layered vessel for degrees of varying behaviours, attitudes, thoughts and emotions – sometimes contradictory in themselves. The Christian bible talks a lot about struggling with oneself and this is something that I don’t just ‘agree with’, in fact, I see it ring true, from personal experience and as I look at the world around me.
The world I see is one where limitations are being discarded for the sake of freedom of expression, freedom of activity, freedom to ‘be’ (whatever that means). The world which appears in the annuls of history from say Edwardian times is one that appears strict and structured where self-control is the ultimate form of self expression. The pendulum swings. We are perhaps living as close to Roman times since…the Roman times. Perhaps the pendulum will swing the other way yet again – I can’t see why it wouldn’t, particularly if we fail to walk in the balance of uncertainty.
I actually think both are merely forms rather than any true essence of what human beings actually are. They are just two extremes along a spectrum of possible behaviours. And the Christian bible reminds us that behaviour does not always make the person, that it is possible to struggle within and still remain ‘authentic’, that thoughts and feelings do not have to define us, instead we can utilise one of our many layers to have complex, inward discussions with ourselves and others.
Historically human beings seem pretty inept at walking in a balance. The pursuit of happiness does not often equate to happiness, sometimes it is the walk through ‘the valley’ (another biblical allegory I find beautiful and supportive and, again, ‘rings true’) where we can find – if we are geared to look for it – the most blissful happiness of all.
The biggest lesson I find within Christian tradition is that of uncertainty, this is something which I think we do need to acknowledge better than we do. But we don’t. Instead we legalislate things in a black and white fashion, mistakenly believing that everyone must think the same things as everyone else in order to have a safe and happy society. We even, absurdly, have legislated two opposites of activity within the space of 100 years. If we’re doing an about turn on things we once thought were certain truths, well, what is that telling us?
The fact is: we don’t know a hell of a lot. We think we do but we don’t know. Here is the attraction of religion. It’s ok that we don’t know, we know the guy who does. But for all its moralising, religious teachings do sometimes hit the nail on the head.
That verse is one of those times for me. No matter what the condoned activity of the day is, we can always choose to exercise our character in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc. and so on.
It takes the third way, the option that was not on the table, that was not legislated for or against.
So, I may have wasted a good chunk of time in my youth in worship services and trying to drum up some kind of emotion in a cultish church (I’ve been to a few of those, but not all are like that). I don’t have much to show for that time (except for several lovely friends), but I do have a perspective which I would never want to lose, that of the third option. The unspoken. The multi-sided way.
Because the world is not black and white.
I suppose that’s an unexpected thing to get from a youth spent in church.