Friday, 17 February 2017

Different Kinds of Faith

Last Sunday, I attended an extremely thought-provoking service. One of the best features of Methodism is that we get lots of different preachers coming through, and last Sunday’s preacher was one that I hadn’t heard before. I say I found the service thought-provoking. It was. It just wasn’t enjoyable.

Part of the problem for me (and the following is nothing but my own narrow view, coloured by my prejudices and preconceptions) was that her faith seemed so incredibly sure. It was solid, towering. It was in fact not faith but certainty. You could have bounced rocks off it. (I may have been tempted to…) Perhaps it’s something retiring, humble and excessively British within me, but I react badly to such overt certainty, such sure knowledge that God’s on side and will do what’s needed. I raised an eyebrow when at one point she suggested that we should ‘tell God to go ahead of you this week’. In my universe, God is asked, not told.

She was able to assure us that although she is a trained local preacher, she is nonetheless (and presumably to our great surprise and relief), a ‘sinner just like you’. I’m sure she meant it in an encouraging and genuinely humble way, but it possibly lacked in the execution.

The other major hurdle to my enjoyment of the service was that she came wielding a guitar. Past traumas mean that the sight of a preacher picking up a stringed-instrument bring me out in shudders and flashbacks. The only thing worse are the words ‘Now this next hymn comes with actions’, which are to me as salt is to a slug. Her brash, forceful, noisy, solid, certain Christianity struck me as uncomfortable and distasteful.  Realising this reaction within myself is what prodded my thinking apparatus into movement.

The service was thought-provoking in that it forced me to consider my own case. I am aware that my faith is occasionally lukewarm, shy and intermittent, and often (if not usually) fails to take centre stage within my own life. However, although I am not necessarily satisfied with the confidence of my faith, I am entirely happy with the style. I don’t pretend to be charismatic in any sense of the word; I am not one of the great evangelists. The closest I get is the inherently passive activity of writing this blog. As a result, I look askance at anyone who is, and suspect that they are ‘doing Christianity wrong’ in that they are doing it differently to me.

As Christians, we find ourselves in the odd position of being told that our faith ought to be solid and sure, unfailing, unflinching, at the same time as hearing that ‘certainty, not doubt, is not the enemy of faith’. Our faith should be absolute, but stop short of knowledge. Shouldn’t it?

The Church is a broad, deep, wide beast, with plenty of room in it for all kinds of people. If I pride myself on my retiring, unassuming faith (if that’s not a ludicrous contradiction to start with), I can hardly look at others and think they are not doing things as well as myself. There is also the unpleasantly strong suspicion that my own dislike is born out of jealousy for the strong, confident faith that this women displayed. I have written in the past about my own internal struggles with whether or not to ask people not to blaspheme in my presence. On Sunday this woman proudly stated that she did not permit blasphemy in her office. My own quiet, unassuming belief, steady though it is, must surely be shown up in contrast to such a confident, public Christianity.

It is not the strength of my faith that concerns me so much as the manner in which it is shown. I don’t necessarily wish to emulate the style with which she evinces her religion. I’ve already said that I find it a little distasteful. It is the confidence, perhaps even the unshakeable certainty that I am envious of. At the same time, I wouldn’t wish to replace my faith with knowledge. I’m not sure if this contradiction makes me deep and complex, or just irrational.

I comfort myself with the idea that the body has many parts. No doubt the foot thinks the eye is a very poor foot; the hand must seem to discerning spleens like a very poor spleen; the tongue a most inefficient ear to ears everywhere. Last Sunday’s preacher might well be (or at least believe themselves to be) the voice-box or hand of the church, but there must be room for less visible organs too. If that makes me the gall-bladder or the left buttock, then that’s fine. The body needs those just as much as a voice box or a hand.

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