“With hindsight, some could see why things had gone wrong and recognized they had been hard to work with.”
Ruth H Perrin, Changing Shape, The Faith Lives of Millennials.
Ruth Perrin’s book studies the experiences of emerging adults who, when they were teenagers, described themselves as Christians. Given that I’ve met a number of people who are now ‘ex-church’, I was particularly interested in the chapter about ‘the disenchanted.’
She found nearly all the ‘disenchanted’ millennials she interviewed had been strong contributors to their churches. But then that was derailed, and the fallout was deeply damaging.
In retrospect, some could now see how it happened, however as Perrin writes: “had they been better managed, or had communication been clearer, events might have turned out differently.”
Her study focussed on the cost to the individuals she interviewed, but the wider opportunity cost was undoubtedly huge.
At least, it was for me.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 3, Day 7: Cause
I once took some spikenard to church.
The oil had lost much of its pungency in the 10 years since I had bought it. And I only had a 5ml bottle. But it was still plenty strong enough.
It was two weeks before Easter, Passion Sunday. And by “passion,” I mean “suffering” – because that’s what the word originally meant in Latin. That Sunday, and the two weeks that follow it, are when the church remembers Jesus’s suffering and his death on Good Friday.
The Bible reading was about a woman called Mary (not Jesus’s mother). She had a pint – note: a pint – of spikenard and poured it over Jesus’s feet (John 12:1-8). People criticised her saying it was a waste of a year’s worth of wages. But Jesus defended her; he said she was preparing him for his burial.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 3, Day 6: Fragrance
“Remembering you were lucky is what keeps you humble.”
‘Luck’ wouldn’t be my choice of words, but the point was well made. I was listening to a man of colour speaking about what it took for him, as a BIPOC, to succeed. He had needed to work hard and persevere (more than his white peers), but his success was also partly beyond his control.
He recognised he had needed help from the outside – and he didn’t want to forget that. Instead, he made a point of ‘holding the door open’ for other people, who hadn’t yet made it like he had.
I often think of the phrase ‘there but for the grace of God.’ I’m so very conscious that I would not be where I am, able to do the things I’m doing, if God had not been doing things for me, unasked, behind the scenes.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 3, Day 5: Humility
Can the things we own begin to own us? Maybe. But that’s not the whole story.
I get frustrated hearing untargeted attacks on all things material. We are physical beings with tangible needs. Maybe we can live without some of the things we own, but that doesn’t mean they’re sinful or bad, or ‘not God’s best.’
That said, I’ve tried to get better at choosing the things I buy. I think through their purpose and research beyond the marketing hype. I resist ‘value for money’ if it means I’ll over-consume, and I think about where it comes from and where it’ll end up.
Even so… I hang on to some things for too long.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 3, Day 4: Transience
“I wonder if I have the capacity to manage something so overwhelming.”
Crystal Pite, choreographer.
The Royal Ballet’s production of Flight Pattern is about the experiences of refugees. Its choreographer, Crystal Pite, said the ballet was her way of coping with events happening in the world.
I went to the cinema live-stream in 2019. I was determined to see it after hearing the principal, Marcelino Sambé, speak about his experience of dancing it.
He said many of the ballet’s movements were things that Pite had observed in refugees. So he would bring his hands to his face, rub away and stretch his hands as far from himself as possible. Refugees are, he said, trying to remove their situation from themselves, from their skin. A lot of their movements are triggered by pain.
In dancing his part, he felt a lot of anger, and a sense of helplessness.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 3, Day 3: Overwhelmed
“I’ll give you countless amounts of outright
Acceptance if you want it”
Alanis Morissette’s song ‘You Owe Me Nothing In Return’ articulates a lot of what unconditional love looks like.
It refrains again and again how the person she’s speaking to owes her nothing. It’s not that what she’s giving isn’t valuable or doesn’t come at a cost. But she gives without expectation of repayment, saying, ‘This is the only kind of love, as I understand it / That there really is.”
In an interview she explained the song was about wanting for other people what they wanted for themselves, but without sacrificing her own life and beliefs. She said supporting people in their choices, whilst being honest about her own choices – even if they were different – was the ultimate loving, healthy interaction.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 3, Day 2: Judgement
Let’s talk about priesthood.
You may have noticed that the ‘Faith in Grey Places’ logo is a staff with leaves and flowers. It’s a reference to the staff of the first Israelite priest, Aaron, who was Moses’s brother. The story goes that when Aaron’s position was challenged, God made Aaron’s staff bud and produce almonds.
The role of the priest resonated with me when I first fully read the Old Testament. I was filled with a sense of awe for God and an aspiration for right living. And I couldn’t get over it.
My reaction was unusual. Many Christians are discomforted by the animal sacrifices and laws about ritual purity. The whole system seems built on exclusion, rather than inclusion. Plus, a number of priests in the Old Testament were thoroughly corrupt.
Don’t get me wrong, these concerns are valid. But, for whatever reason, they aren’t what I took from the text. Instead, I saw a God who deeply desired intimacy with his people, and mapped out paths to make that possible.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 3, Day 1: Priesthood
I was contemplating what it must have been like for Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist. She went through childbirth in her old age, knowing she would not live see her son minister and having to wrestle with the religious and political tensions of her culture. It can’t have been easy. This is an imagined letter written from Elizabeth to Mary (her cousin and the mother of Jesus), inspired by the events told in Luke’s gospel chapter 1, verses 5-25 and 57-80.
By the way: this piece was so popular when I first wrote it, that I wrote a sequel: a monologue from Mary’s point of view when Jesus is 12 years old and they travel to Jerusalem. If you like this sketch, be sure to read that one too: Skandalon: Mary teaches the boy Jesus.
Elizabeth, a delighted mother whom God has mercifully remembered in her old age,
To Mary, my dear cousin and blessed mother to be,
Peace be with you.
It seems but a day since you returned to Galilee, and yet I know it has already been some three months. Please forgive me for taking so long to write to you.
Continue reading His name is John: Elizabeth writes to Mary