After Brexit

I’m struck by the number of people saying they neither expected Brexit, nor understand why people voted for it, especially as the people they had spoken to about it were voting remain. This seems to exemplify the network society we live in, characterised by small groups we elect to join which are made up of People Like Me. The challenge for each of us, and perhaps especially for those of us who work in community roles, is what to learn from this, and what we might do in response.

Name-calling has been used through the campaign and in the last 24 hours of reaction to the result. Behind that, it seems there is a deep-seated culture of estrangement and blame. Estrangement because, though we each desire community, we also fear community and being vulnerable with others. And because we do not know our neighbours, we can only blame them for what we imagine were their reasons to have different opinions to our own.

The problem I hit in my job time and again is that people don’t trust the Church; religion is the enemy, we’re told. People are estranged from it, and blame it for all sort of evils. The thing is, what I see from the reactions to this referendum, is that the reaction to the Church is part of a larger reaction. The culture of estrangement and blame has played a part in breaking our trust of all kinds of public bodies, and even local neighbourhoods: we trust only ourselves and People Like Me.

I am challenged to ask what I can do in response to this as the vicar of a parish. Unfashionable as it is, and often part of the problem as it may be, it seems to me that the Church actually has something really positive to offer to our nation, especially at this time. I am often struck by the way the parish Church can gather an extraordinary diversity of people in one community in a way few other places can. My own Churches in Reading are made up of people from right across the world, various ages, employed, unemployed, and retired, members/councillors belonging to Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, and Green Parties, sexualities and views on Equal Marriage, to name but a few. I wonder how we can share this in order to bring more people together, so that strangers would become neighbours, and neighbours become friends.

For example, we have a patch of unused land that we’ve turned into a community allotment. We’re also looking at how we might be able to bring people together to cook and serve lunch together each Sunday for and with anyone who wants to come. Of course, offering this is the easy bit; enabling people to take initial steps out of estrangement and blame to join in with a community that is as mistrusted as much as it is misunderstood, is far more difficult. But we’ve got to start somewhere, and the mood following the Brexit vote compels me to seek partners in building communities that will challenge and break down the estrangement and blame we’ve all become too accustomed to, and which hold us all back from being all we might be.

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Review of ‘Way To Water: A Theopoetics Primer’, by Callid Keefe-Perry

This review copy of the book was sent by Wipf & Stock.

In studying the idea of love, definitions can be offered; when one actually encounters love, definitions fail, sparks fly, one of which is poetry. Poetry is able to express the experience of love in a way that few other things can.

In studying the idea of God, definitions can be offered; when one actually encounters God, definitions fail, sparks fly, one of which is poetry.

In this beautifully-written book, Callid Keefe-Perry asks, ‘Why should we nurture the development of poetic sensibilities in theological discourse?’ My interpretation of his answer is that poetry makes the impossibility of theology, more possible. Theopoetics is a speaking of God, within the traditions of the church, but primarily out of an encounter with the living God. Its purpose is to open dialogue, poetically, with the traditions in and around oneself, the church, and the world. This is a wholly necessary enterprise, as too many professional theologians continue to miss the irony of their own endeavours, writing about the God who is for all people, in language so technical only the chosen few can understand what they are saying.

Theopoetics is not, however, about making things simplistic, or ‘plain’; quite the reverse. Keefe-Perry takes his readers through a wonderful collection of rich writing from Stanley Hopper and Rubem Alves, to Scott Holland, Catherine Keller, and John Caputo. He explains the complexities of this writing with ease and, sometimes even beauty, inviting the reader to go beyond this ‘primer’ to read the original texts.

His argument that sings from the pages is both a warning and a promise: to be wary of how language ossifies God, but also how language is essential in responding to one’s encountering of God. The language that is transformational is not institutional aphorism learned by rote, but embodied poetry that emerges from an open dialogue with the traditions and one’s contemporary context. As Churches continue to consume off-the-shelf courses in order to learn what to believe, Keefe-Perry’s words serve as a timely reminder to use such resources with care, if at all.

There is a sense that Keefe-Perry is writing very specifically for a North American readership, and specifically a Protestant one that is struggling with its sense of identity. His comments on preaching, worship and pastoral care all seemed to be aimed at the kinds of discussions that are going on in those communities. Throughout the book, though, I did feel that his direction of travel felt rather Anglican; even more than that, it felt like his presentation of an hospitable church that embraces uncertainty and humility was pointing toward the Church of England. It’s not often I get that feeling, and I wonder how such a comment sits with Keefe-Perry.

There was a sense that the sort of spoken and structural theopoetics being espoused, is that which the Anglican Church attempts, and fails, to live. Having thought that out loud, as it were, I began to realise the number of poets within the Church of England who have shaped the way we, as an institution, try to understand our encounters with God. Whether it is John Donne or Rowan Williams, the Church of England seems to be a Church in which the concept of Theopoetics deserves to thrive, if it hasn’t already been thriving for the past 400 years.

This book deserves a wide readership; having heard of deconstruction for so many years, it is possible to suggest that, with theopoetics, the Church may well find news ways to speak of the living God:

‘Deconstruction may well help to break apart damaging constructs of a coercive and idolotrous god, but it is theopoetics that wades into the rubble, not to build anew, but to sing of what might have been and what might yet be, encouraging others to imagine beginning again, nearby, and listening.’

‘Theopoetics is a method of encouraging exactly those moments when the strange reveals itself as familiar, when the gardener is seen as Jesus, and there is some momentary realization, eruption, and momentary in-breaking of the kingdom of God.’

Review of ‘Way To Water: A Theopoetics Primer’, by Callid Keefe-Perry, is published by Cascade Books. More reviews of this book will be published here, this coming week: http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2015/01/23/theopoetics-book-blog-tour/

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What I call God: What Miranda might teach us about the weakness of God

The Vicarage is on the edge of its seat; this is the year we say farewell to that Miranda off of the telly. We have loved following her and her bizarre, clumsy ways, her ridiculous story lines, and most of all, ‘What I call her mother’.

I love Miranda’s frustrated responses to her mother’s constant prefacing of obvious and universally-understood words with ‘what I call’. Rather ridiculously, this phrase helps me stumble upon the revealing of God at Christmas – though I recognise that may seem, initially, a bit of a jump.

You see, people do God at Christmas; well, if they don’t actually do God, they certainly do the idea of God. This is the time of year when people remember, think about, sing about, sometimes talk about ‘What I call God,’ ‘What you call God,’ What they call God.’

But what do you call God?

Sitting in prayer, I often become aware that the Idea of God, the being of God, is beyond the comprehension of my mind – yet Christmas is a celebration of God in flesh, God in the stuff that I can see, and encounter, and understand. Christmas is an invitation for us all to begin to explore again, even meet for the first time, the God who is behind and above what I call God.

‘What has come into being in him was life.’

There had been stories of gods becoming human before, but they were normally hero stories; but not so, this Christmas story. Here, in the Incarnation, we have God revealed in human form. Actually, it can feel like an all too-human manner. It is so earthly, so mundane a way that whilst it certainly makes God approachable, it perhaps disappoints or even scares us. What God is this, that can be seen and touched, that relies on an earthly mother, that is so easily threatened by a despotic King, that could so easily be killed? How can God be immanent, fleshy, vulnerable? Is that really what I call God?

What particularly stops me in my tracks about the revelation of God in Christ is considering whether this limiting of God in human form is neither temporary nor new for God. Rather, perhaps what we encounter at Christmas, that has been made safe by Victorian and Georgian carols, is that the God of the crib is not ‘What I call God’.

What the prophet Isaiah called God was one with a Holy Arm – I suppose that will smite the enemies of peace. In Christmas, though, this holy arm does not reach out to us through the strength of heaven’s militia, but wrapped in swaddling cloths.
Despite what the Jewish and Roman people of Jesus’ day called God, the God revealed at Christmas did not come to fix things on our behalf. God is not revealed as a cosmic Santa Claus who gives the good children what they want – much as we might want that to be the case.

Jesus lifted the veil that shrouded God in a way that was suppose to stop the powerful from employing him in their armies – which worked for a few centuries.
What Christ called God is not violent and does not come with military strength. Much to my surprise, the God of Jesus Christ is weak, dependent on others accepting an invitation to resist the lies of the strong and make our home with the weak and despised; a life that seeks the joy of the many rather than the pleasure of a few.

‘What has come into being in him was life.’

For life to be all that it can be, it must be free – free to grow, to be creative, to make choices, to develop. A life that has been planned and specifically-ordered by a bureaucratic God of terrifying detail and design can only enjoy or curse its preordained place in the cosmos. Similarly, an accidental life bears no need for responsibility for any other accidental lives and mutations; dog eat dog, unless every now and again you have a feeling of what I call charity. Counter-intuitively, only life that is seen to flow from such a weak God like that of Jesus Christ can be free, sharing the responsibility with God and all creation to seek the freedom of life for all.

Of course, this life needs to be nurtured, fed, given light. And on this, God has intervened in Jesus Christ, in whom life dwelt so fully, so beautifully, that his life still calls people today. Jesus grew up trusting in the Spirit of life so much that he believed, even in the times of terrible anguish, loss, and death, that nothing could not bring it to an end. That life was far more than just the material, physical thing that we all take for granted. Rather, life is something that endures; just as life was not something any of us chose but came from beyond us, so Jesus believed life would be held by God, even in and beyond death. I wonder if this was the faith that gave Jesus the ability to stand up to the autocrats of his own day, knowing what he would eventually face if he were to do so.

‘What has come into being in him was life.’

In Jesus, we are invited to see again What I call God and What I call life. Our lives can be frustratingly limited – physically, materially, mentally. Yet, seeing our lives through the One who is born this night, who is revealed in such weakness, invites us to see our life as a connection – a connection to others who also have life, and a connection to the divine, to God, who is not only the source of life, but is life itself. God’s Spirit moves through all life, and for those who dare to build on the promises of Jesus that life will endure even death, this Spirit will embolden us to be weak with him, and resist the strength of the scaremongers with their armies. Weakness, which any strongman masks with the might of wealth, muscles, armies, and success, turns out to be the very character trait that connects all of humanity, and God. Living a weak, vulnerable, undefended life that seeks friendship with the support of the downtrodden and the marginalised, turns out to be the beginning of living a fearless and flourishing life, and the darkness will not overcome it.

‘What has come into being in him was life.’

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God is not your trump card: a parable of the king’s servants

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a banquet for his son. He sent his servants to call all those who had been invited. On reading the invitation list, his servants were appalled to see among the numbers people in prison, known-gamblers, drinkers and drug-addicts, and disgraced politicians. Surely, the chief servant said, there has been a mistake. Our master has forgotten to separate the invites from the barred list.
So the servants burned the invitations of those who would bring shame on their master were they to attend, and invited only those whose reputations would increase the fame of their king.
At the wedding banquet, the king was confused as to why so few people had come, and asked the most junior of his servants. On hearing what had happened, the King took aside his son, asked him to leave his own banquet, and go and find those whose invitations had been destroyed.
Having seen the son leave, the servants became nervous, disguised themselves, and followed the son, in order to prove the unworthiness of the other invitees. They loudly mocked the son and those he was inviting to the banquet, so that no-one would follow him.
The more the son met with these people, the more they began to celebrate that they, too, were invited to the King’s banquet. The party did not wait until they could get to the palace; it began in the streets, celebrating with the son.
Realising they could no longer stop this, the servants retreated and formed a second plan. Whilst the son was touring the far country, they built a new palace – identical in appearance to the King’s, but just a few miles closer to the son’s procession.
The son and his band of followers entered the castle of the servants, where they sat at the banquet tables waiting for the feast.
“The feast is ready,” shouted the chief servant, “for those who are worthy.” And the servants gave the son his food, and served themselves.
The son complained that he could not eat while others remained hungry. So the servants took away the son’s food also. Seeing what had happened, the son tried to leave to raise his father. But the servants were cunning, and locked the son in their own prison.
The people, who had heard the son’s invitation and celebrated with him, felt tricked, and began to leave, until only a few remained who wanted to learn from the servants how they might become worthy.

Let those who have ears, hear.

In this morning’s epistle reading from Philippians, St Paul powerfully reminded the first Church that their oneness with God was not something to be exploited –
being a Christian has never been there for one’s selfish, personal gain.
Yet, far too often, Churches are places where people use the language of faith to conceal their prejudices and fears – which underlies the phrases of ‘I am saved and you are not’, or, ‘in order to be saved, you must become like me.’
Too often, usually without fully thinking it through, Churches offer courses in which people can go through a social lobotomy, so that everyone thinks, and looks, and vacantly smiles in the same way.

These are power games that do not belong in the Church of Christ, the one for whom equality with God was not something to be exploited.
From within humanity, God raised up Jesus, to show us all who we might be, as well who God is. In Jesus Christ we are shown a God, not who demands sacrifice or submission; rather, the God shown to us in Jesus Christ raises humanity from the dust to join in more deeply with the wonder and joy of being fully alive.

We can see this whenever Jesus sat and shared a meal with people. It’s extraordinary that when he sat with those who were sure of their own salvation and the damnation of others, he argued and told them to watch out for hell. Yet he seemed to seek out and enjoy the company of tax collectors, prostitutes, drunks, and others who were considered the lost, and told them they were going to be first in the Kingdom of heaven.

For Jesus, the eternal banquet began in the here and now, and all were invited. Any mention of hell was reserved for those who would seek to alter God’s invitation list according to their own priorities. And too often, that is exactly what Churches do. I’ve sat in Churches where salvation is judged on debt, sexuality, incorrect reading of scripture, wrong king of baptism… The list goes on.

This doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t care about sin; quite the opposite. It does mean, though, that perhaps we focus on the wrong sins – and deciding on who’s in and who’s out appears to be one of the worst. That might seem odd at first, but on reflection, deciding on who is in and who is out might be such a terrible sin because it puts human judgment in place of God’s wonderful grace that was revealed in Jesus.

The church is not something that can happen behind closed doors, for a private and elite club; even if it often appears to function that way.
The church is a public belief that in Christ all are God’s children,
a public hope that through Christ all may unite as one family,
and a public search that with Christ all may find a deeper sense of peace and truth.

Next week we launch a four year vision for our Parish. ‘Creating space for life’ is an attempt to use our physical resources to form public places that function like the tables around which Jesus gathered with people. Places to which we all can invite our neighbours and colleagues. Places where, we pray, we would see a deepening of human flourishing, including our own.

One of the five projects is to turn one of our Churches into a professional-grade theatre. This not intended to become a home to second-rate Christian theatre that would never get a showing anywhere else. The hope is that it will, quite simply, be a really good theatre. Sometimes there will be plays that will chime with the Christian Gospel. Other times, the plays will be discordant with our vision of the world. Both, though, should deepen and inform the outlooks of all who come, and stimulate rich dialogues in the post-performance bar.

Thinking back to the parable at the beginning, the end of the story is up to us. It is so easy to imprison the grace of God and become like those servants who built a Church of their own preference. As flawed an partially-sighted as we all are, ‘creating space for life’ is not intended to be a vision to bring more people in to become like us, but for us all to grow more deeply in the love and grace of God, and to live more fully in Christ’s resurrection life.

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Mixed doubles are an abomination

Apparently it was newsworthy enough for there to be a discussion on this morning’s Today programme on Radio 4 around Andy Murray’s decision to hire a female coach. At first, I didn’t really understand why it was a story at all, until it was explained that this was the first time a male player had hired a female coach. Listeners were told that this was a bad move because women’s tennis is a totally different game to men’s tennis. Not only that, but she wouldn’t be allowed in the changing rooms to give him a pep talk which, apparently, is the most important moment between a player and a coach.

Just as I was beginning to drift off and think about what I had to do for the day, one of the commentators caught my attention by revealing that it was, of course, perfectly acceptable for women to be coached by men. What? Had I heard that correctly? Apparently, I had. I thought they played ‘different’ games…?

What made this even more shocking to me, was that this double-standard was not picked up by the presenter, as if it was obvious that women had something to learn from men, but not the other way around. 

For many decades the Church of England has lived with all kinds of criticisms about the way it views women – often facing very tough criticism on the Today programme, with the underlying suggestion that the Church is out of touch because of its institutional sexism. Campaigners within and outside of the Church have been asking how the Church can uphold ancient practises from cultures where women were viewed very differently to the way they are now. Quite rightly. And because it is (eventually) beginning to listen to the prophetic truth of those complaints, it is changing for the better. Too slowly, admittedly, and not without enormous pain and damage having been caused; but it is changing.

It is worth noting that whilst the Church is striving to make radical changes to its structures (all of the dioceses that make up the Church of England are in favour of women as Bishops), other, much larger and culturally-dominating industries that shape our common social thinking, are continuing to treat women as the weaker, less-interesting, but prettier sex. Often when asked about women’s sport, people still seem to be able to say: women just aren’t as good as men. 

That was certainly the underlying narrative of this morning’s interview. And that in a sport that is positively egalitarian by the standards of other sports.

A top-earning male footballer in the Premiership, for example, can be paid £250,000 per week, and the average in that league is £25,000 per week. (BBC) Compare that to the newly-formed Women’s Super League, in which the very best players are lucky to receive £20,000 per year. I can’t imagine any other industry getting away with such a gender-based inequality without a well-deserved public outcry.

Of course, it is not only sport that teaches us who we are, and moulds expectations.

Around 200m cinema tickets are sold each year in the UK. Yet, of all of those films that watched in 2013, women only had around 15% of the leading roles.

In business, women hold fewer than 1 in 5 senior management roles – and that isn’t improving.

In politics in the UK, only 22% of the MPs elected in the 2010 elections were women.

According to a recent THE article, only 1 in 5 University Professors are women, and in some institutions that is 1 in 10.

The message comes through time and again: women just aren’t very good at doing stuff, and they’re quite dull. They’re terribly good at making babies, though. They can do that very well. Except for the ones who can’t; we don’t really know what they are for. Unless they’re pretty; we know what they are for.

I am so bored of living in *that* world. I’m sick of it. I’m fed up of people, mainly men, saying that women just need to prove themselves in the arenas of sport, business, media, religion, politics, higher education, but then not giving them access. Cultural institutions that refuse to develop in such a way not only impoverish themselves and our world, but demonstrate how they are being used to serve those who currently control them. Fundamental changes need to be made to our institutions so that the hopes of the young need not turn to sarcastic smiles that condescend: “You’ll learn.”

Whilst I will nag them to change, I’m not going to hold my breath while they weigh up the cost. I think it’s down to those who see the world differently, to live in the world that they see; in this case, accepting that gender is important but does not limit who a person can seek to become. In doing so, the stiff-necked institutions get the opportunity to see how ridiculous they are being, and change. This is why I think Jesus so often taught in parables; the new creation and life Jesus spoke of would not be ushered in through a political scheme or new set of religious laws. Rather, these stories invited people to imagine a new world, to take into their hearts a time when the category of ‘other’ and ‘them’ was obliterated, and there was only ‘us’. And as they imagined it, to begin to follow and make that world, whatever the cost, so that all could know that God delights in their existence, and desires the mutual flourishing of all.

And that is a world apart from the one where it is newsworthy for a man to choose to learn from a woman.

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NT Wright and Equal Marriage: “You really should watch out.”

More important to me than being pro- or anti-Equal Marriage, is that a person’s position is considered and respectful. I genuinely thought somebody of NT Wright’s stature would be able to do better than this. Whether deliberate or not, his tone is patronising and his reasoning is fear-mongering. Whatever conclusions the Church of England comes to regarding Equal Marriage, we need to be more grown up in our discussions than this.

He begins with Hitler and Stalin, throws in that gender and complementarity are cross-cultural norms ‘without any particular Christian presuppositions at all’, and ends with Tony Blair (the final point being cut off, was to show how the public can be fooled by politicians needing to get on the ‘right’ side of history).

And nowhere does he talk about love or covenant. Not once.

Equal marriage? “It’s a nonsense; like a government voting that black should be white.”

The clip can be found here:

N T Wright on Equal Marriage

Do you agree, or am I being harsh?

To be fair, I am not a fan of NT Wright’s Big Story approach to the Bible. I think it’s all a bit too simplistic an approach to the Scriptures. Seeing that being applied yet again is a bit tiresome. More than that, though, it kind of reminds me why I shrink back from such an approach – just as his Big Story seems to dominate the diversity in the Scriptures, so it seeks to dominate the complexity of human life. Everything has to fit into the Story. I’m not sure the God who made such a complex cosmos can really be contained so easily, nor the creatures that he made.

Thing is, alluding to Hitler and Stalin doesn’t help answer the question, but frames it in a context of fear. Especially when he uses phrases and words like “You really should watch out,” and “chilling.”

Also, if a Christian wishes to argue the case for complimentarity, they really shouldn’t try to do that by saying it is cross-cultural, because it isn’t. Nor that gender is ‘given’, because it isn’t.

Whether for or against, to brand Equal Marriage “a nonsense” is to forget that what is being discussed in the Church is not primarily an academic argument involving a Greek word in Romans. It is about people who were made by God, and whom God has called us to love. If we can’t remember that, then it doesn’t matter what conclusion we come to; the Church is already lost.

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Doubting Faith

The reflections of the fourth Gospel take us into a rich understanding of how faith was understood by the church communities that were being encouraged by John and his circle. 

As the last Gospels, it has a greater development, nuance, and sense of inclusion than the earlier ones. Whereas Mark’s is rather breathless and toddler-like in its excitement and use of phrases like “and then this happened… and then this… and then this…”, St John has had a good few decades to ruminate on the nature of the faith in Jesus Christ.

The passage this morning (John 20:19-end) raises some vital questions about the nature of belief.

It was the first day of the week, and the disciples had locked the doors for fear of the Jews. It’s important to note, though, that:

a. The disciples themselves were Jewish, too – but Jews who were questioning their inheritance through Jesus

b. At this stage, ‘Christians’ etc did not exist in the way that we think of them – the disciples would most likely number themselves among other the Jewish sects

c. The ‘Jews’ they feared were not only the authorities, but their friends and families, and perhaps (after Judas) one another, maybe even themselves, as they could not believe what they were thinking, and where those thoughts might take them.

d. Into that setting, Jesus appears through locked doors to instruct them in the way of life: Peace be with you.

‘Peace be with you’ was an encouragement, for sure, but it was also a challenge. It feels to me like Jesus was asking ‘how can you say you believe in me, and then meet behind locked doors? This was never intended to be a Kingdom with locked doors.’

The disciples, though, didn’t necessarily get that – in their awe-struck state, they missed point of the new world in which they had found themselves. It took another to voice for them all what was happening.

Thomas was not there on the first evening, and he was not going to trust the words of his friends for something so strange. A week later, then, the risen Christ appears to his disciples, this time with Thomas present, to whom Christ says: Do not doubt, but believe.

Except he didn’t quite say those words. My own preferred, but rather clunkier translation of the written Greek would be something like: “Do not be un-trusting, but be trusting.”

The difference may, at first, appear small and insignificant, but remember – this is the last Gospel written, full of reflection on what following Christ had become in the early days of the church.

To say, as the NRSV does, that either a person doubts or believes rather misrepresents the nature of belief. It suggests that doubt is wrong, and is a voice that should be silenced from the faithful believer. As if doubt is the opposite of belief. Such an understanding of belief, though, leads us into the sort of religion where questions are forbidden, where boundaries are immovable and set by religious authorities, and where people either get with the programme, or get out – the kind of belief that Jesus criticised and rejected as hollow.

The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty leaves no room for growth or change, no space to be changed by encountering other people and experiences. Certainty leads people to fear the views of others, as if other world views will poison or erode our own faith. Certainty leads us to lock the doors and meet in secret. It is not doubt that cripples faith, but an unthinking, unrealistic insistence that ‘God be the God I want God to be’ that cripples faith.

Doubt, however, does not cripple faith – rather it corrects faith. Doubt is what drives us to ask questions; doubt is what unsettles us to seek better ways of living and speaking; doubt trips us out of our comfort zones into a more realistic, complicated, uncertain view of the world. Doubt is not the enemy of faith, but its ally.

Doubt is a part of faith, of believing, because it allows us to refine what we say we believe. It is, perhaps, that kind of refining to which S Peter was referring in his epistle – ‘even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith… is tested by fire.’ This ‘testing’ is a ‘refining’ – it is not a test sent by God to see if you’re good enough – the God of creation, life and love, does not try to catch people out like the Greek stories of the Olympic gods suggested. This refining is how faith develops in the reality of life – that is, if we let it, if we don’t lock our faith behind closed doors, but allow it to be something that grows.

In this sense, Christ invites Thomas: Do not be un-trusting, but be trusting.

This is an invitation to something that is active, living, dynamic. The object of the invitation to be trusting is not in a set of principles, but in Jesus Christ himself. The form of that trusting that was being invited was not a memorising of rules, but was relational and human.

Thomas’ response to this invitation to trust was the very thing the disciples missed when Christ previously appeared to them – “My Lord and my God.”

It is perhaps significant that this trusting came out of the one who doubted and asked difficult questions, not out of the ones who locked themselves away in fear. 

This same invitation and challenge is made also to us – sure, you can lock yourself away in a Christian silo where what you believe is shared and goes un-challenged. But know that if you do, your trusting will not be given the opportunities to be questioned, refined, and grow; like a lake with no fresh water source, that kind of approach to religion soon becomes stagnate, and eventually poisonous. 

It makes no sense, actually, to attempt to keep the faith in the Kingdom of heaven behind locked doors, because this faith, this trusting, is in the one who takes no notice of doors and boundaries. It is faith in the kingdom of sitting at tables with drunks and prostitutes; the kingdom of washing the feet and deeply serving others; the kingdom that goes to the cross with common thieves (and worse); the kingdom that smashed open the locked door of death to show that it is not to be feared. This is not a kingdom that meets behind locked doors; this is a public and provocative kingdom that stirs people to see beyond themselves to a life that is beyond anything we dare even imagine.

Trusting in the one who initiated this kingdom actually demands us to doubt – especially in the world as we have inherited it. Trusting in Christ is to join with him who shook the boundaries and preconceptions of his own age to reveal a better world that was being missed by the unthinking, the unquestioning, and the fearful. It is not a safe path, and it will not be without pain and suffering. As with Thomas, though, if we can resist fear and comfort, and instead strive to overcome our own un-trusting, then we, too, may proclaim “My Lord and my God.”

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