Friday, 20 July 2018

Leaving the Past Behind: Christian No Longer

It isn't always possible to feel innocent. It's always possible to become innocent.
For a couple of years I identified as a progressive Christian. Progressive Christianity is a broad church, with as many meanings as adherents, but for me the essence was the understanding of the teachings of The Christ (particularly as explained by John) that God is love. And all the rest is window dressing. The Bible is a library of books written by fallible humans over thousands of years. It is full of beauty, horror, contradictions and myths showing part of the unfolding of the relationship between humanity and the divine over the span of its authorship.

Unfortunately the term Christian comes with a lot of baggage, both my own and other peoples'. To most people to tell them that you're a Christian is to tell them that you ascribe to particular patterns of behaviour and beliefs, some of them ridiculous and some of them awful. I no longer want to be associated in any way with the horror perpetrated in the name of Christianity.

The bottom line is that everyone who identifies as having faith has their own religion. Their own particular way of believing based on their own experiences and personality. So even if you think you're pretty orthodox your faith is personal.

So I believe what I want and I call it what I want. I don't know what I call it but I don't think calling it Christian any more is helpful to me, and whatever I believe it's so far from what most people call Christianity that I don't think it's helpful to other people either.

I still find transcendent experience in the worship of The Christ. Christian worship, at its best, is a wild and abandoned adoration of love. A revering of love as sacred and holy. A recognition that the highest love is sacrificial, a life laid down in the pursuit of transcendent beauty that can be found anywhere and in anyone if you know how to look.

I'm still fond of saying that the only part of the bible anyone really needs, and honestly the world might be a better place if this was all we had, is to be found in the first letter of John. Chapter four and verses 7-9 or something like that.
Dear children, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves knows God, and is born of God, because God is love.
So wherever love is at work that's God at work. Because God is love. Love is my God. I love love, I adore love. Worth living for and worth dying for and nothing else comes close. And love *is* everywhere, so God is everywhere. Hidden in plain sight.

So, your mission and my mission, should we choose to accept it, is to help people believe in love again. To have faith in love. I believe with all my heart that love heals, love saves, love transforms and love wins. People lose hope, and lost hope makes people bitter and hard. Demonstrate that love is real, that love works. No point in talking about it, that counts for nothing. It doesn't even matter what you believe. What matters is how much you love. Jesus even said as much, according to the gospels.

Matthew 25, verse 34 on. Look how little is has to do with what you believe or think you believe.
34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
41“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.g 42For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
45“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
I've removed the word "Christian" from most of my public profiles. Having identified as a Christian for almost all of my life that feels like a big deal.

Despite all the problems of my last church they taught me something beyond value. The understanding that the teaching of Christ is that the kingdom of heaven is now and that it's found in shared lives. That's still good news and it's still worth living for.

Just over a year ago I wrote the following about my faith and how I see God. I still believe.

I wrote up some of the parts of the Bible I particularly revere and find beauty in:

I love you. I love God in you. 

""Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die" is a conflation of two biblical sayings, Ecclesiastes 8:15, ‘Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry’, and Isaiah 22:13, ‘Let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die.’"

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Chasing the Dragon

Your greatest work of art, of course, will be yourself.
Heroin, like most of the other strong narcotics I've tried, had no effect on me the first time I've tried it. Until my naivety was crushed along with my spirit my only association with heroin was watching the Zammo from Grange Hill (a BBC TV kids program) descend into addiction, eventually caught with smack in his calculator when he wasn't even going to a maths exam! Zammo chased the dragon and got a smack on the nose was the graffiti found in Grange Hill school the next day.

Like Zammo I chased the dragon, and it did nothing the first time. Chasing the dragon is vapourising the heroin by heating it on tin foil and breathing the fumes with a funnel usually also made of foil. The first time was with the friends of a girlfriend in Cambridge. She was a lovely hippy called Sharon, and as far as I know is the only woman to ever flee a city to escape me. She ran away to Manchester. True story. This was all a long time ago.

The second time was with a beggar called Jesse. He had long dreadlocks and a large good natured Alsatian dog. He wasn't homeless as he had a bare room in the YMCA hostel in the centre of Cambridge. It was there I chased the dragon with him. I was mad and homeless at the time. I thought I'd been enlightened and was the archangel Michael. Ah well, it's a way to pass the time.

We smoked the heroin together and then went out into Cambridge city centre to beg. He stood on a street corner and I sat down on the pavement and closed my eyes. It felt like the pavement folded over me and the world ceased to exist. Along with all my problems and the weight I was carrying. I was floating over mountains of evergreen trees. The mountain and the trees were the green of green screen monochrome computer monitors. I floated merrily.

I can see why it's so addictive. I did follow Jesse around again in the hope of more heroin but he left me looking after his dog and then shouted at me for losing him when he returned.

Not long after that I was picked up by the police and taken directly to Bedford prison for breach of a civil injunction, undoubtedly saving me from heroin addiction in the process.

But that's another story.

"People think they're so grown up. Why would you ever want to grow up? You can be smart and sensible without having to do that."