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La Noche Oscura – Why?

February 25, 2010

 

January 12th  2010 – Sheffield, England, UK

It is New Year’s Day 2010 and I sit in the warm comfortable environment of my brother and sister-in-law’s conservatory. Snow falls outside and we are surrounded by the black of a winter’s evening, softly illuminated by the diffused artificial light of carefully placed table lamps.  The scene is a model of thoughtful interior design and modern good taste, I sit across from my laid back brother on the same contemporary, soft olive green sofa. As we talk, I lean forward with a earnest attempt to raise an important issue, perched on the edge of the couch. He lies back into the enveloping cushions thoughtful, engaged in the discussion with his older brother, but reserved. He is dressed in the subtle, casual, relaxed dress of our peers – a pale yellow sweat top – with designer logo – I don’t know who the designer is – smart, but casual jeans and no-doubt another designer t-shirt underneath. I admire and in a discreet way envy the way he wears his material wealth at ease. He is not ostentatious or pretentious, simply, very tastefully and stylishly adorned. I don’t resent my brother’s wealth. I am happy for him, but as a Christian it presents me with a problem. In the face of someone who has done so deservedly well within his career and industry without religious faith, the question arises in my mind and no doubt his too – why does he need faith in God? The cherished golden prize of Evangelical faith – a personal relationship with Jesus – why would someone so clearly accomplished, thoughtful, sensitive and emotionally well balanced need anything else. I quickly feel an internal and disquieting sense of self-doubt and incongruence as I attempt to engage my beloved brother, my best and very closest friend on the topic of religion and faith in God. I sense I am on the losing side of the battle and quickly feel myself sliding backwards, sucked, uncontrollably into a swirling pit of religious eccentricism together with all those hundreds of spiritually partially-sited Christians I have known over the past who have made me feel ashamed, not proud to call myself a Christian. Internally, I martial my energies, I swallow my impulsive reactions to speak out the Truth as I as a devote believer have been educated to believe are the dogmatic and formulaic answers to my brother’s resistance. At least in this respect I have grown up since my early days as a Christian and have learnt a little manners, a morsel of gentleness and tolerance when in conversation with those to whom my religious beliefs are no more reasonable than the Vulcan culture of the inimitable Mr Spock from the sixties and seventies TV series Star Trek.

I am quiet and I try to listen, to empathise, to make sense of my brother’s world. He is so precious to me, so thoughtful, so kind and generous. In many ways he embodies so many of those characteristics which Christians associate with the maturing disciple of Jesus – patience, love, gentleness – virtues I myself after nearly fifteen years of involvement in the Church still struggle to embody. I am also aware of how so many convicted religious believers have hurt me in the past, how they have talked to me as if what was central in our friendship or relationship was a mental agreement and verbal assent to a specific position on some periphery doctrine of the Church – the theory of Creation, the significance of adult baptism over child christening, the importance of viewing all religions as of equal value in ‘saving the human soul’; or contrariwise the insistence that all religions including many Christian traditions be rejected as having salvific value and the repeating of only a narrow doctrinal position being of value. The arguments have been many in number and depressingly unoriginal or insightful to the core problems with which I and so many people fundamentally face each day – essentially – how can I survive and prosper in this earthly situation while living a moral life and caring for my fellow human beings?

I stay quiet – I know how easily I could put pressure on my brother to ‘believe’ my religious point of view. I know that I am far from the loving and caring friend and brother, my brother needs. I try at least to appear on the surface that I love him without condition – wouldn’t Jesus do the same? My mind rattles off a thousand theological answers, but in the pit of my stomach and in the depths of my heart – isn’t that where the Jewish people believed was the centre of a human’s being? – I feel it is better to lose the argument than win it and alienate one of the few close friends I have in my otherwise quite lonely life.

We reach a crescendo – Jonathan leans forward, takes his hands from behind his head and half raises them in front of him. He looks at me with the kind of seriousness of someone who cares about you, but feels that you are somehow blind to the point – the central issue at stake. In a soft, but exasperated tone he says to me:

“David, why when I don’t have time in my life after work to do the six things that I really want to do with my life:

Look after my wife,

Ride my bike,

Manage my house

Go windsurfing

Do some photography

And play on my computer…

…would I want to go to somewhere once a week to be with people I have nothing in common with?”

The question penetrates my otherwise protective religious shield and enters into my soul. In my heart, I feel great sadness and in my mind I have at least ten good, solid Christian answers to give to that question, not least because: you need God, you are a sinner, you need forgiveness, you are selfish and the world does not rotate around you and your fulfilment of your wants…because you will go to hell after you die, if you do not accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. I know the Truth of the Christian message, in my own haphazard way I am an expert apologist for the Christian faith, but I don’t say any of these things…I say nothing and let the question hang in the air…and in spite of this giant block between us – two people, two brothers as close as can be, but otherwise on opposite sides of a chiasmic religious divide – I feel a warmth of mutual understanding being given birth in the cosy and aesthetic shelter of my bro’s conservatory. I stay quiet and give in. I know the religious reasons why a person should attend Church and I am deeply invested in them, but as Jonathan’s passionate presence permeates my thick Evangelical leather hide…I consent. Why indeed? Why indeed would you want to go to a place once a week where you have nothing (apparently) in common with the people there? Yes, I agree, why?

And in my own soul a kind of spiritual/chemical metamorphism takes place within me – I picture myself in half a dozen churches I have attended over the last few years and think of my own alienated often dysfunctional relationships with the Church as an institution and I ask myself the elephant in the room question that my brother so insightfully put – why do I go? Why would anyone go of my age or younger?

The heading for this post is: La Noche Oscura – Why? In a way the above reflections have been an attempt of mine to obliquely answer the question of why set up another religious organisation or write another journal?  I think after many rewarding, but often painfully difficult years of trying to be a faithful, thoughtful and passionate Christian in contemporary society, I feel that the question my brother articulated so incisively is the central question that the contemporary church and modern-day Christians need to robustly answer. I believe they need to answer this question for themselves as religious followers of an ancient historic figure who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. I believe the church needs to answer it for the integrity and health of it’s innermost being – lest it become a archaic, irrelevant, corpse of an institution having lost sight of its ultimate scope and become attractive on the outside, but essentially ill, sick and diseased – yes, rotten and decomposing on the inside. Was it not after all Jesus who compared the religious leaders of his day to a beautiful, graveyard – appealing from the outside, but within a tomb for dead peoples’ bones. Yet, I also believe that this is a question that needs to be answered by Christians and the Church for the benefit of those good, normal people who live by and large in a secular society who very simply do not understand the relevance and significance of religious faith – in particular, in this case Christian religious faith – for their every day, practical lives. My deepest fear as a Christian is that I might invest my life in a religious tradition that preoccupies itself like a emotionally and psychologically stunted child with its own obsessions and neuroses while the rest of the world have to get on with the demanding pressures of the world without access to the great rivers of love and wisdom that the spiritual traditions of the past can teach us about. I fear that many people do not reject God, but do not understand God, and therefore leave religion well alone in search of more accessible ways of making sense of life and alleviating existential pain.  This is contrary to what  much contemporary religious teaching would espouse that people don’t get involved with religion because they are inherently selfish and ‘sinful’. It is also contrary to the view of popular neo-atheists who claim that belief in God is nonsense and useless and should be avoided all together.

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One comment

  1. Your observations about the ‘Glory and wonder’ of aspects of both secular and religious life, is refreshinging. You seem happy and I find the tone of the blogs uplifting. There is a new kind of joy to be experienced which had seemed to be lost. Thanks for that.



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