Norwich social worker and writer Ben Bell looks at the paradox that faith is ever-revolving and evolving, whilst remaining the same.
“I see a world, busy, confused, spoilt, sick, diverse, wealthy and impoverished, hungry, lonely and driven – going about its everyday business with those who are successful, enjoying a great variety of luxuries and opportunities and entertainment – and those who are not successful looking out with envy wondering how they are going to manage the basic necessities of life – all holding themselves in check to avoid being criticised, blamed, abused, misunderstood or shouted at.
I see the church broken and faulty and yet enjoying friendship, kindness, acceptance, insight, comfort, health, fulfillment and purpose. Not yet perfect but knowing the love of God. Not even confident of the love of God sometimes and yet seeking and finding. At best a band of friends on a journey, on a quest in which the goal is the Kingdom of God and its expansion also happens along the way.”
Madeline Light, Vicar of St Stephens
Life doesn’t always go smoothly, we have to run with the chinks and work through them, and not deny them, but overcome them so we can learn and progress.
There is something about the eternal circularity of life which I want to highlight in importance regarding beliefs which can easily become static and become institutionalised traditions or religions that do not invite the new. There is a paradox about God that he is always changing and always the same, like the sky. This points to the idea of the eternal; it is not simply a repetition, or in the fallen-fallible human idea of an endless series of good and bad or war and peace episodes. No, something transcendent, something ‘other’, is growing.
A sense of the eternal – heaven could be happening right now, I don’t believe there is this mythical time when we are all dead, of judgement – cannot reduce God to linear time, to a humanised father, to our limited, linear, humanly interpretative stories.
And surely being born again and having an old and new life must suggest something; something going on in the crazy, hallucinatory madness of the Book of Revelation, something of course beyond our comprehension, but something that making it into a neat little human story cannot possibly do justice to. And just as the last judgement could be happening right now perpetually (see title) couldn’t too the second coming? As surely this concept is related to our being born again, having new life. I just don’t think the literalism helps, I want more; more ‘scientific’, plausible concepts to make it more relative to today’s world, or indeed the world since time immemorial. It needn’t be hard. It’s not about moving with the times, it’s about (see title).
An end to linear, natural time in order for eternity proper to commence. Let’s begin!
To conclude this: God should not be limited to a constitutional framework (see Brian Mclaren ‘A New Kind of Christianity’ for more on this), no more than he should be relativized into an opinion-based humanising. We find him in the gaps.
There is a current interest in mindfulness in both the caring professions, and in Christianity – mindfulness is an Eastern Buddhist meditative practice. But it is helpful in various ways for finding contentment in the moment, controlling emotions and thoughts and so forth. This melding of Eastern with Western ‘styles’ seems positive – fundamentalist or constitutional Christians will no doubt think it is ‘dodgy’, and want to start another war! But no, I think there is something in it. Let’s begin.
It’s either new wine poured into old wineskins, or new wineskins? But what will happen when the new wineskins get old again?
‘A church which pitches its tents, without constantly looking for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling… We must play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, live by improvisation and experiment.’ Hans Kung
You see the Christian in you. Now see the artist, the individual in you. Because it’s not enough, how it’s been going, in my opinion. There’s not enough convergence, way, way too much ignorance and narrow, institutionalised thinking – no matter how ‘modern’ and free it may see itself. A building is a box; a world is a circle. Rainbows have lots of different colours. Let’s begin again for ever again
‘The artist is naturally spiritual because he is always searching for new beginnings’ Anselm Kiefer
‘And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying, and always being restored.’ T. S. Eliot, Choruses from ‘the Rock’.
Ben Bell works as a social worker and writes fiction that covers themes of faith, conflict and personal journey. He attends St Stephens Church, Norwich. His latest book, ‘Bookcase’, by Ben Bell is available via online retailers.
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