The Gentle Art of Self Perpetuation

Have you ever wondered whether our government exists to serve us or itself? Do the politicians really need us, the people out here in the real world? Or is all that bureaucracy and red tape a self perpetuating machine? ‘We’re busy’ it seems to say, ‘with expenses to claim and bankers to pay; we don’t have much time to bother with you.’ Sometimes, the government seems to be simply running… the government.

Have you ever found yourself standing in a large electrical/PC type superstore, boxes in hand queueing at an unmanned checkout? Have you ever felt that you’re being a bit of a nuisance, wanting to pay for your stuff? After all, the poor staff, scurrying busily about their business, have things to do; they don’t have much time to mess about with customers; they’ve a shop to run.

Does your personal computer serve your needs, or is it serving itself? I’ve just had to buy a new PC and have spent almost every waking moment since installing, uninstalling and reinstalling programs, and waiting for the PC to restart to complete each modification. In between, I’ve had to deal with viruses, hijacks and other malware which some sick people seem to find enjoyment in foisting upon us. Whilst I’ve been busily doing this (no time to work!) the latest PC operating system has been following its own agenda, running to maintain itself. Pop ups appear at random, telling me what something/someone is doing or attempting to do, along with what I can’t do; ‘You must be logged on as an administrator to do this; access denied.’ (There’s almost an unspoken ‘So there; yah!’ hanging in the air). The machine defaults automatically to updating its operating system to the point where it can even download patches and restart the machine itself whilst I’m in the middle of doing something! It’s like it’s saying; ‘I don’t need you; I’m here to run things, keep out viruses and field dodgy emails (‘would you like to earn $500 dollars per day?’).

So you’d think that a quiet morning in church would help me feel part of something worthwhile. As part of my research into a new certificate course for the college, I’ve been visiting various different churches to see how they worship our God. As a complete contrast to my experience at the Abundant Life Centre in Bradford recently, I decided last Sunday to attend a Roman Catholic service. Nobody was there to greet me on the door, and I wasn’t given any book(s). I thought maybe they used an overhead projector.

I sat on a long pew near the back of the huge building. The statues around the sanctuary were covered in purple cloth (for Lent presumably) although smaller statues and carvings along the walls of the nave were not covered. An icon of St. Paul was propped against the pulpit. Apparently, it was spending two weeks in each church in the diocese (and was okay to be left exposed).

The service began with a hymn and now I noticed that some people nearer the front did have books; hymn books, and that there was no OHP. It was too late for me to get out to find a book, as I was now boxed in on the inside of the pew which ran up to the wall. However, I needn’t have worried. None of the folk around me had books, nor did they sing or join in the liturgical responses. In fact, to say there were probably 150 people present, I could hardly hear any singing or responses whatsoever, even from those who did have books. It was exactly like being at a funeral.

I’m sure I could go to many RC churches and have a very different worship experience. But this particular experience left me wondering. I’d seen much genuflecting and self-crossing; the incense had been swung, the chanting had been duly performed and the bells had been rung at the required intervals (sometimes so enthusiastically that it sounded like a fire alarm, making me jump). Yes, all the rituals had been performed, but I was left wondering who or what it was all for. Of course, only God sees into the heart and maybe there was worship going on, but there was no outward inkling of this; no evidence of joy, praise or thanksgiving. And I was left wondering – not for the first time – whether some parts of the Church might not have become rather like governments, electrical superstores and PCs. The rituals continue but the original point of the exercise seems sadly to be lost in the mists of time.

  1. This is a sad tale, Chris.

    A lot of people still go to church because they can’t imagine not doing so. They know that much of what they were brought up to believe and what they declare they believe in the creeds is no longer believable, yet they are still in their hearts Christians and long for their churches to address these problems. Unfortunately too much of Christendom refuses to do so and I count my own church among the failures.

    Until churches are willing to actually face the problems presented by the creeds, the trinity, the transfiguration, the three tiered universe and various moral issues, there will be dreary services of the kind you experienced.

    It is unacceptable to brush off people who can’t help but question their churches dogma, or to chide them with lack of faith.

    They are not well thought of on this blog, but I have found the writings of Karen Armstrong and John Shelby Spong to be helpful. The latter’s writings have made it easier for me to remain a Christian and an active member of my church. I recommend them to all who want to stay but find it painful or impossible.

    Unless churches are willing to face these problems and deal with them honestly, they should not expect to survive.

    Sincerely, Peter

  2. Chris Lazenby

    Peter
    Thanks for your kind comments. You’re right, Karen Armostrong and Jack Spong are not talked about much in our college; to be fair, this is because we are an evangelical organisation. But in our teaching modules (certainly after the first year) students are not cushioned from the many and varied ideas which are out there; most of them would be able to tell you all about Bultmann, Barth etc.

    I haven’t read much of Spong’s work, just odd quotations in the press etc, though I have two or three of Armstrong’s books on my shelves which are interesting.

    Though I couldn’t go along with either of these people in many areas, I do agree in principle with the points you’re making. Much of my own Christian journey has involved facing up to difficulties (scriptural, theological, philosophical) head on and not trying to pretend problems don’t exist. However, I’m always trying to reconcile difficulties with orthodox belief, whereas people like Armstrong and Spong (sounds like a comedy act!) seem quite happy in many places to cast this aside.

    This said, I’m glad you’ve found their writings helpful and that this has helped you hang on in there.

    God bless

    Chris

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