Did this world make itself? Maybe – but hardly. Did I go through this illness alone? Perhaps – but in the midst of the depression of it, something outside myself sustained me, nevertheless. Has my hard life been without joy? Not completely – and sometimes, in the midst of the worst of it, I have known peace and strength greater than my own making. Have I never known the presence of God? No, in fact I have sometimes known it with consuming awareness.
Joan Chittister, Essential Writings, 101.
I wrote on the ‘feminisation’ of the church earlier, and why I disagree so strongly with such an analysis. Over on “Meet Jesus at Uni” blog, Tamie has a superb contribution to this debate, writing about Tanzania and how, despite their touchy-feely male culture, men STILL don’t go to church.
The contention of the ‘Why men hate going to church’ movement is that church has become feminised. From David Murrow’s website:
With the dawning of the industrial revolution, large numbers of men sought work in mines, mills and factories, far from home and familiar parish. Women stayed behind, and began remaking the church in their image. The Victorian era saw the rise of church nurseries, Sunday schools, lay choirs, quilting circles, ladies’ teas, soup kitchens, girls’ societies, potluck dinners, etc.
Modern day church activities are ‘an emotional hothouse’ and focus on being ‘verbal, studious or sensitive’, none of which are ‘natural for men‘. You’d hardly call this science – even social science is a stretch – but much of it seems to resonate with men and so Murrow gives some suggestions for manly church. Laying on hands during prayer is a no-go: men need their space. And…
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I’ve been re-reading a paperback from the 1970s, Inward Stillness by George Maloney, a Jesuit. For Maloney, God’s silence is not an illusion nor a temporary state. Nor is it even something to be mourned: it is the way of God in this world. Not an empty silence, but a silence filled only with one Word.
It is the struggle in faith to accept the silent love of the indwelling God… When we in silence hear God’s silence through faith, we come into the presence of a dynamic God, acting and loving within us. (19)
God wasn’t silent at a church I used to go to – not for the others there. God had something to say about everything. But I don’t know how much they heard God in the silence.
I am not good at silence, and so many of the spiritual masters emphasise it. I’m addicted to the radio, to iTunes, to keeping the silence at bay. Maloney would say that when I do this, I am keeping God at bay.
But this idea that silence is the mode of God’s work in the world…
I can’t imagine Paul saying that, or even Jesus. I can imagine Qoheleth saying it, and Job, until God shows up.
I need to understand better what Maloney means, but his words read wise to me, and I know that he is right that cultivating silence is good for the spirit; if it doesn’t allow us to hear God silence, it may allow us to hear God’s voice.
I don’t know about conferences. Not easy for the introverted. Not necessarily natural for the bookish.
To read someone’s book at length and then respond in writing feels right. But what about if you’re in an audience of a hundred – or a thousand – and asking a question (usually making a comment) is more like contesting a mark in football?
Every couple of years newspapers will run a feature article on hip young Christians and the rise of megachurches. Alas, today’s story, "JC and the Cool Gang", in the Weekend Australian Magazine, doesn’t break much new ground. It stays at the level of amazement or amusement that there are Christians who have combined mainstream youth culture with pentecostalism/ evangelicalism. The focus of the story is a young couple, Erica and Jim Bartle, he an extreme sports evangelist (‘extreme sports are an excellent way of capturing kids’ attention’) and she a former fashion journalist for a ‘glossy young women magazine’.
Some critiques of a ‘cool’ gospel are briefly offered, but I would have liked to have seen more. The public might be interested by an exploration of some of the challenges facing the evangelical church today – the tension between faithfulness and contextualisation; the polarisation between three broad factions: conservatives who reject postmodernism and doctrinal shifts to the ‘left’; the postconservatives who are theologically left; and the ‘mainstream’ who are theologically pragmatic and culturally corporate.
One could read the story and come away thinking that evangelicalism was a new phenomenon of the last twenty years, and that before that there were only old-fashioned Anglican and Catholic churches. The transformation of Baptists and Assemblies of God (to name just two) from old-fashioned evangelical to a mix of the factions I mentioned is a more nuanced and interested story. And Anglicans and Catholics have never been uniform. A discussion of the strength of Sydney Anglicanism would have complicated her story in a good way.
But I’m hoping for too much – journalists have to try to get on top of a new topic each story and they’re never going to please people on the ‘inside’ of those stories.
Two random thoughts, which don’t touch on theodicy or climate change or the things one should be thinking. Both are observations, rather picky ones, but meant merely as things I find interesting, rather than criticisms of Australians.
1. I see and hear and read again and again the declaration “Bricks and mortars can be replaced, but humans can’t”, or variations. It’s a logical thing to say. Perhaps it’s the only thing people can think to say in such a situation. Of course, with my low tolerance for cliches, I tend to groan when I hear a politician or spokesperson say it, but I aim to feel more compassion. I heard a lady say it twice on the news last night as she showed a reporter through her flood damaged home. I began to wonder if it was almost liturgical, a declaration of belief. It’s a good belief to get back to. At its core, even if the articulation is overly familiar, its message runs counter to the way the consumerism in our society makes us so orientated toward objects.
2. Interesting to hear both reporters and politicians to speak often of the ‘Australian spirit’ in getting on with life in the face of disaster. I wonder why resilience is claimed as a particularly Australian trait? In what sense is it an ‘Australian’ spirit rather than a human spirit? The people of the two-thirds world seem a lot more resilient to me, because bad stuff happens to them a lot more regularly, and they just get on with life too. I wonder if our national identity and pride become a source of comfort in times like this?