I am still on the theme of newspaper headlines. Today’s is from The Daily Telegraph of 5th September this year: “Britons have given up on the Church – we’d rather worship ourselves”. The second half of that might seem slightly harsh, yet so much of the focus in social media and the obsession with selfies, might suggest there is some truth here.
The Christian faith resolutely challenges us to look outside ourselves and focus on the needs of others. It is an effort and most of us struggle with it – the old school report could apply to most of us – certainly to me – “could do better”. But I suspect the most important thing here is that we know what should be our direction of travel – trying to live with others as the priority. The direction we are trying to travel is important – because it sets our priorities, aims and goals, our awareness that we don’t sometimes manage it, and a way we judge our achievements.
So, a society where self is allowed to be first will end up with different individual goals, reflection and achievement than one where people are trying to put others first. I suspect this difference is behind a qualitative change not just in relation to what is happening to the church but to many groups trying to build up community.
There is a danger, of course, in what I am arguing for here: by putting others first, there is the possibility that we ignore our own needs or even allow ourselves to be hurt by others – and in the mix low self-esteem can become a reality, which can lead to a lot of grief.
But here, as well, I find the Christian faith to be helpful. Nowhere does the bible say I should have low self-esteem: firstly every individual is of worth and value to God, (which is why the Judeo-Christian tradition is the foundation stone of western human rights understanding); and secondly, yes, I am called to love my neighbour – but, “as myself”. That is the starting point and is the context to having the confidence to reflect and admit that I do get that calling to love my neighbour wrong, whilst knowing I am loved and forgiven and freed to try and do better.
As I keep trying to say to people, the Christian faith is not about believing a million and one strange facts before breakfast, but actually gives a real experiential way of trying to live a full and rewarding life.
The final bit of this jigsaw is I believe God’s love can help me in my daily attempts – not in a magic way, one prayer and suddenly I’ve been promoted to sainthood; but as a life belief and challenge that we can grow into being more loving people.
One of the lovely things for me is opening Slindon Parish church every morning. The stillness is beautiful. I don’t stay long, but after opening and before leaving and thinking for a moment of what’s planned in the day ahead, I always say one of the short collects, (special prayers for the day), slightly amended:
I thank you God for bringing me safely to the beginning of this day. Defend me in it and grant that this day I fall into no sin or run into any kind of danger, but that all my doings may be ordered by your loving kindness and that I might do what is right in your eyes. Amen
I can think of worse starts to the day.