WoMan the barricades

Family life

“As Christians, we are always at our most comfortable when we are with other Christians. We can’t be comfortable with those who don’t share our faith.”  

That’s an assertion I heard the other day and it annoyed me.

I’m married to someone who isn’t a Christian, lots of my friends aren’t Christians, a great many of the people I meet each day might write CofE on an official form, but if asked, wouldn’t claim to be Christians. I am hugely and ever-increasingly uncomfortable with a number of assumptions about what it is ‘not’ to be a Christian. It doesn’t make people less human, less caring, less concerned for their neighbours. Yes, many people who are not Christians are uncaring, unkind, thoughtless, selfish bastards. But they don’t have a monopoly on those characteristics, any more than Christians are all caring, kind, thoughtful loving people.

But the underlying problem is much worse than assuming the characteristics match the label. The very lovely person who made their assertion didn’t realise it was their  assumption, their version of truth. They thought they spoke the truth. It’s an attitude that I had never encountered until I went to University and met differently flavoured Christians. They were the ones who came from good Christian families, had Christian friends, went on Christian holidays to Christian events, and worried about me when I cheerfully indulged in all the fun I could, much of it with heathens. To be fair, the Christian Union mob were quite worried that I joined CathSoc (mostly Roman Catholic) and went to events held by both. My Mum asked why I hadn’t joined AngSoc (mostly Anglicans) instead, and was I think relieved when I explained that CathSoc had a bar.

I was bemused that one set of Christians thought I shouldn’t associate with another set of Christians. (CathSoc didn’t mind one bit.) I was even more bemused when they cautioned me against speaking to and associating with unbelievers. To my mind we are all God’s children, beloved by God. If I take seriously the call to “Go and make disciples of all the nations” then it’s hardly going to work if I sit in a (freezing) cosy church with other (freezing) cosy Christians talking about how awful it is that people don’t understand us. We could man the barricades, pull up the drawbridge, and then complain bitterly that people ignore us, but frankly, that’s what we’d deserve. 

Alternatively we could get out, be part of our communities, live our invitational, hospitable, welcoming faith as part of our lives. We could fall in love, make friends, form relationships of different kinds. We could find God in all those things, and point out God and God’s love to others. And if they show interest, we could welcome people to share the formal, corporate parts of our lives with God, and help them to understand why we bother. But that does rather involve being with people of different beliefs and being prepared to be challenged, laughed at, told we are wrong, scoffed at for our delusions, or just gently reminded that we are irrelevant to a good 90% of the UK population.

So, by all means, man and woman the barricades. But don’t expect me to help. If you prefer, let’s browse down the shop or lurk in the library or quaff in the pub or chat with people, or bake (or write a sermon, or do admin, or enjoy a meeting about drains). We’ll be laughing or trying not to cry, filled with awe at the things people say about God when they are given permission to talk in their language about the God that they experience. And through it all, we can pray for ourselves and our fellow humans, which ever barricades we are behind, and whatever assumptions we are making.

21 responses to “WoMan the barricades

  1. I am sure you have heard me say before that generally I am more comfortable with those that don’t share my faith than I am with those that do… I know I certainly find those outside of my faith are the great encouragers of me in the work I do – even if they think its a load of codswallop and disagree with me…

    • I have the same experience. When I’m hanging out with ‘environmentalists’ , who would mostly never come to a church if dragged by a large horse, I find them far more open to he fact I have different ideas (and they are fascinated with the person of Jesus). I find my christian friends are very worried about this because they think that I’ll be ‘influenced’ by these dangerous environmentalists…

      BTW, Claire, I wonder of these christians were more worried about you hanging out with ‘heathens’ or that you were having fun…

      • Yes, I know what you mean about people being open to hearing other ideas, especially those held with integrity.
        Lol I think they were worried about both!

  2. It seems to me that once we label ourselves in some way, we immediately alienate half the population. Perhaps it is better to simply talk to ‘people’ and not one brand only.
    After all, what we deem to be the ‘right’ way to look at life is bound to have an opposite view held by those who ‘ know’ they are right.
    Hold fast to your own view but don’t expect the rest of the world to share it seems to be the best solution.

    • Very true, Ray – and of course I live with my own set of labels and assumptions – some of which I don’t even notice until someone else points them out.

  3. Hurrah! I’m not the only one who always feels most comfortable with people who don’t believe (“officially”) in Christ. Apart from your good self, Claire, of course! 🙂

  4. Brilliant :-)!! And one of the reasons why I/we try and encourage people not to live in a Christian bubble online either … although there’s a place for some of those activities – though I’m giving the freezing buildings and the meetings about drains a miss if you don’t mind 🙂

  5. What an utterly brilliant post. Bang on the mark – and I’m pretty sure* that if Jesus returned to the world right now, he wouldn’t be in my church or yours – he’d be at the the food bank, drug advice centre, at a football match, or simply down the pub.

    * My assumption only, of course…

    • *My assumption too – if you cover the football, I’ll check out the rugby 🙂 And hopefully between all of us, we can get just about everywhere.

  6. Of course we are always going to be more comfortable with those who share our beliefs, assumptions and (sub)culture. But it is unlikely that any of us live entirely within a single sub-culture and most of us learn to move between them without too much of a problem.

    The thing is – Christians are not called to live “comfortable” lives. We learn and grow most when we are challenged about our assumptions and thought-patterns, and when we in turn can challenge others in an open way. But learning and growth both presuppose that we will change, and the gospel is all about change and transformation. We are not yet the complete article and we need to be putting ourselves in situations and with people who will do more than simply reflect back to us our own opinions and prejudices. In all these things there is no substitute for building relationships.

    • It is all in the relationships. However, the sub culture I share with many of my family and friends simply doesn’t contain Christianity as its major component so far as they are concerned. I’m trying to challenge the assumption that every relationship we enter must have Christianity as its major shared bedrock – it doesn’t. I think I may be heartily agreeing with you!

  7. Hi Claire!

    Are you *sure* you weren’t at my Uni the same time as me?!

    Constantly being called to be missionally-minded (of the evangelistic event variety), while also “being in the world, not of it”, “not yoking oneself to an unbeliever”, and deliberately making it difficult for those of other “suspect” flavours of Christianity to be full participants of *our* group by changing the voting-membership rules, making it impossible to develop a common experience and vocabulary base (both with target audience and with potential mission-partners) with which to be missional. And heaven forbid that your conversion process was anything other than a Pauline event!

    “Bemused” does not, and did not, come close.

    • I didn’t get that tied in with the campus Christian Union, Hall CU was a ‘slightly’ more relaxed affair (though it didn’t seem so to me at all) in that we didn’t have voting or membership rights (although of course, everyone else might have!!). But the theology of both was similar. The experience was probably good for my soul. Eventually.

  8. Thanks so much for this, Claire. I suspected you might have something to say about this after your recent comments elsewhere!
    Having lived & moved in the ghetto-like circles that you allude to for some years, I can say – with hindsight – that the discomfort is almost entirely self-generated & self-defined. As for me, I’m increasingly with Jesus (and everyone else?) in the pub, talking about films & music, sharing curry nights and being who I am warts & all. I too find myself more comfortable away from a rather intense Christian/church hothouse.

    • I think some of what is going is ‘bolstering up my beliefs by being sure everyone else thinks the same. I must be right, and look, everyone else I know agrees too.’ But that is possibly far too simplistic. Either way, I’ll see you in the pub, Simon!

  9. There’s so much I could say but I’ll try and keep this short
    1) = memories of college where I didn’t join any soc, simply attended my local Anglican church (Church of Wales), attended a homegroup but mostly hung out with a wonderful bunch of ‘heathens’. I value all those friendships sooo much now, and yes, my atheist friends are among the biggest supporters of my journey in ministry. One of the joys of social media is that it is easy for all these friends to share my journey!
    2) = current life. You know I’m training for ordination – and that I’m not comfortable with the experience; and I think part of this ghetto-ising of us Christians may be part of the problem; I’m simply not getting out enough with the people who matter. I know that this is only for a season, but I’m coming to the conclusion that the expectation & need to we drop our outside interests and other Christian commitments is part of the problem – we cut off from the umbilical chord of being fed by both the contexts we are called to serve; those inside the church who aren’t ordained, and those outside the church who need to see some image of the church that they can relate to because they know you.

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