A curious thing happened around the time Michael and I got married. At this stage of life, it was observed that one of my idiosyncrasies was a penchant for making a new rule every day for others to follow. I don’t mind myself a bit of order, and so I prefer it if the people around me (including a new husband) do things how I like them done.
I wasn’t new to the craft of providing strong guidelines for people to follow.
When 17 years old, I wrote a manifesto which I insisted that my friends sign to prove their faith valid and active….and in line with mine.
I could ask you not to start bandying around words in your head like Narcissistic Dictator, but I may have got to you too late for that already.
I’ve been around church most of my life. I’ve done many strains of church – mega, conservative, second-world, warehouse, stained glass, wealthy, apartment, pente, secret, happy-clappy, miserable and “so Holy Ghosty” (as described by an enthusiastic attendee). Despite some major changes in my spiritual formation since completing my Manifesto of 1988, I have silently wanted to formulate new protocols for each of the churches of which I’ve been a part.
This hasn’t always been due to the personality disorder with which you have quietly diagnosed me.
I’ve had plenty of times in my life where my church has tied me up in knots. Maybe it was because the teaching from the stage felt less like a personal spiritual challenge and more like an ill cultural fit. Perhaps it was the terrible Sunday morning news of a large terrorist attack that didn’t get a mention in the service. Maybe it was the shops in the foyer of the church that were open for business before worship. Maybe it was the destitute couple in the street I walked past to get through the sanctuary doors.
I’ve lived and worked in an Islamic country in the developing world. Christian faith has a different shape there. More core, less fluff. There’s probably less room for fads to cultivate or maybe I had less language to detect the ‘styling’ of faith.
I’ve always found one simple filter to untie my ecclesiastical knots and help me keep the main thing the main thing: Is the message of the church good news for the woman in Africa who is sitting under a tree with her hungry kid? Are the words and beliefs I’m meditating on relevant outside my consumer-driven, first-world culture? Am I buying a spiritual aesthetic sold by the church as gospel sustenance?
I was once at a conference that gave out tiaras to all the women as a reminder of their ‘Princess’ status before God. So I thought about my woman in Africa. It was a mismatch. When I hear of ventures that marry the gospel with lifestyle or eating plans, I think about my woman in Africa. When you hook cultural ‘desirables’ up to genuine faith, it’s easy to make them both look a bit silly. Maybe a bit like an African woman sitting under a tree with her well-placed tiara.
The truth that women are valued by God and are heiresses to his inheritance is one for all ears to hear. The cultural medium of delivery can readily dilute the message, though, allowing our beliefs to build an annexe to accommodate the partialities of our culture.
I’m totally onboard with fads and trends. I loved a bit of exaggerated zeal for the loom banding craze. However, to ask the good news of Jesus to ‘tie the knot’ (so punny!) with a craft idea in 2014 is a mismatch well illustrated in the title banner.
I don’t think the solution is to (impossibly) remove ourselves from our given culture. We swim in it. Can we not just point a discerning finger at the core and declare Jesus is our total sufficiency? The fluff is a medium that can take its place a long way down the pecking order.