Here’s the blog-post that got me thinking:
I hear what the writer is saying…I think. But I don’t ‘get it’.
On several levels.
I expect to be corrected. But here’s where I’m coming from:
The mention of ‘spiritual snobbery’ feels to me to be the accurate one, possibly. Ok, I’m not a ‘preacher’. Why not, particularly given that a lot of friends and colleagues seem to think I could or should be a ‘priest’ of some kind? Because I don’t think that I believe in preaching in the ways that the above blog-post implies I ought to. I think many things. I believe many things. I believe that many of my thoughts & beliefs have come to me from beyond me. As far as I’m concerned, I ‘wrestle’ with the texts. Over and over, and over: and find new things over and over, too. But nowhere in who I am do I find any kind of suggestion that I have found something in amongst that wrestling that I have a right to ‘preach’, to announce it to listening ears, proclaiming it as being ‘from God’. I also happen to believe that I do have some idea about how to breastfeed and how to rescue your carpet from candle wax and how to do my day job and how to guide my kids through life, at least from my point of view. But I don’t have any delusions that my beliefs/opinions/findings/instincts in those things are of certain benefit to anyone else, or that I have a right to impose them on them.
Don’t get me wrong: I love being preached at! Hypocritical though that may be, I’m a serial consumer of sermons. I get a lot out of them. I value them. I even occasionally enjoy them. But even so, I would argue that I don’t necessarily ‘believe’ in them. I don’t believe that the preacher is a messenger from God. That isn’t to say that I don’t believe they can act as a conduit for whatever God wants to say. I just believe that God does that in spite of the preacher’s words, rather than because of them. God shows up because God shows up.
But to imply that some preachers are offering something more than their own personal experiences of the text worries me. That does seem like spiritual snobbery: that they, somehow, have found a path to ‘hear’ God reliably and relatably, which is something I have never managed to do, despite a lifetime feeling I ought to somehow have had those ‘direct’ experiences (thanks to a childhood squandered in various incarnations of the Pentecostal tradition). Am I somehow less, somehow failing, somehow so sinful that God won’t share with me? By this definition, I can never be a ‘preacher’ (that may be just as well!). And yet here I am, blogging.
Yes, I do get the irony. Why am I bothering to write here? I write for me, if I’m honest. I write because/when I’m angry, more often than not. I write as a form of prayer. I write as escape, and certainly as part of my process of ‘wrestling’. I don’t seek readers. I don’t have readers very much. By taking the pulpit, a preacher takes responsibility for the souls and spirits and mental health of the others in the room. I admire those people hugely. I’m just glad I don’t have to pretend to be one of them.
Interestingly, I do believe in worship in a wider sense. I feel very deeply that collective singing, reading, praying, talking, sharing (and yes, story-telling, though to a lesser extent) are extremely important; important to community, to faith, to soul-growth, spirit-growth, and to ‘church’ (both that which church is and that which church ought to be). I believe in the value of the ecstatic in worship. I believe God comes to us in those ways. I believe the Spirit can speak through those cracks. I believe that shared proclamation like that can change people’s hearts and minds and let God in. And here’s another thing I do believe in: teaching. I believe God has representatives among us – those we call teachers. Evangelists. Fellow travellers. ‘Faithful’, in Bunyan’s parlance. I believe there are a great many people who can teach me a great many things. I sit at their feet, just waiting to hear the words drip from their mouths. I believe that God will speak to me through them. So what’s the difference?
I’m less clear here: not because things are unclear, but because I don’t trust myself. I feel as though I am influenced on this by a whole bunch of negative stuff I wish I’d never had to encounter, and I’m finding it difficult to unpick which are the things I learned in those dark teachings and which are things I feel ok to trust.
Hmm. This is hard. I think I’ll have to come back to it, perhaps. The more I write now, the further from my faith I feel. Maybe God’s doing that. Maybe I’m on a wrong path. I just know that I got angry reading the post. It made me feel that I wasn’t allowed, valued, Godly, because I don’t have those experiences. This is an old familiar feeling. I have absolutely no doubt that this is exactly not what the blogger was intending. I just wonder if he’s forgotten that it’s different for other people sometimes.
I am a huge fan of the Matrix trilogy. I will no doubt write about it in due course. I think that the trilogy represents a real, important exposition of contemporary culture and faith, and effectively functions as a (some might say posthumous, though I would disagree) manifesto of postmodernism. But more of that later; the relevance of it here is that, in the early stages of the first film, the hero, Neo, is woken by words from an unknown source, which tell him, amongst other things, to ‘follow the white rabbit’. He is then visited by some people with whom he is acquainted, and, as they invite him to go out with them, he notices that the woman, named DuJour, has a tattoo of a white rabbit on her shoulder. This is what convinces him to leave his home and embark on the path that leads him to fulfil his potential as humanity’s saviour (just as Alice followed her white rabbit). My point is this: DuJour appears only for a few moments, she has only one word to speak (“definitely”), yet she is anything but incidental to the action. Her presence, her being herself in the right place at the right time, speaking through her very existence, is what enabled the whole adventure to take place. Without DuJour, small and virtually invisible though she may seem, none of what follows can happen. This seems to me to be the nature of God’s calling: we are each called to use our individual gifts, in whatever ways seem right, to make a difference, to make things happen, to bring about change for the communal good. This is DuJour’s role. This is your role, too, and mine: I don’t know exactly what my calling is, what will be required of me, what I might achieve, but for the time being I intend to endeavour to speak my words, to validate my own unique viewpoint, and to do as many as possible of the good things that only I can do.