Adam Bird

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Friday, 7 January 2011

Faithless not Hopeless

Searching for answers

Towards the back end of last year, I did something out of my comfort zone. I went to Church and completed "The Alpha Course" where I learnt a little bit more about the Christian faith. This year, I have decided to write more, so that's what my first weekly blog is going to be about. I didn't say this was going to be easy.

All my life I have had the spectre of Christian faith surrounding me. My mother, a believer in God but not a practising christian encouraged Jessica and I to learn all the stories, the doctrine and a hymn or two. We were packed off innocently to Sunday school each week like good boys and girls. We learnt about David and Goliath, Samson and his hair, Jonah and the whale, all those Old Testament stories which children the world over are told.

As we grew older, my dear Nan began to get further and further into the church, attended regularly and transforming her and my Grandad's lives. I say that with fondness, as they changed from people who were in trouble with the police, to sensible law abiding citizens. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. I didn't quite see it that way as a child on the verge of becoming a teenager.

Nan and Grandad had moved up to Northamptonshire to be closer to the church. I say church, as that's what we were led to believe, but any time spent online looking at "Jesus Army" the words 'cult' and 'caution' are not far behind. I felt at the time that my grandparents were being led away by the church and my relationship with them was suffering as a result. We'd have the odd summer stay overs, we used to write (yes kids, with a pen), but we didn't see them very often. Our visits would include a trip to the house in which the Jesus Army used to live, great huge houses in the countryside with people wearing tie-die clothing and blessing you as walked by them.

In all honesty, as an impressionable teen, it was quite terrifying! We had the one unlucky experience of attending a full Sunday service. People repeating choruses from songs over and over like incantations, others shaking and convulsing whilst screaming in an unrecognisable language (known as tongues). Bodies passing out around us under the hands of people praying. Jessica and I stood in the middle like two aliens from outer space wondering who the hell these people were and could we please have our grandparents back?

It would be too easy to say that my experiences as a child have shaped my belief as an adult, indeed, I am sure that there is a contributing factor somewhere. But too much water has passed under the bridge since then for me to hide behind those memories.

Whilst Mum always had this flickering flame of faith burning inside her, Dad was the polar opposite. He would laugh at her, take the mickey and generally act as an atheist without proclaiming to be one. I decided to take my Dad's side and didn't believe 'any of all that' either.

As an adult, that all changed. Mum who had started going to church more regularly with a friend from her office took Dad along with her one day and they both enrolled on a course which explored further the Christian faith - the Alpha course, which over the space of twelve weeks turned my Dad from a non-believer to a born again Christian.

I was invited to attend Dad's baptism, but declined. Probably unfairly. My view at the time was one of disgust. Dad had spent his whole life laughing about it and taking the mickey out of Mum, I wasn't going to go just because he had changed his mind! Again, that recurring theme, hindsight, bites you on reflection! Oh how we could change the world through hindsight!

At the time Dad was discovering things for himself, my Uncle Matthew, my Mum's youngest brother was making headway through the streets of Medway, doing some pretty special things with the area's homeless community and turning from almost a street preacher to a pastor of his own church, which became a home from home for the rest of the family when my Nan passed away in the early naughties.

It certainly seems that everyone around me is a person of faith and that I am indeed the black sheep of the family. Mum and Dad had asked me politely for years whether I'd like to enrol in that years Alpha Course. Every time I politely declined - until last year. I felt that I owed Mum and Dad a favour or two, everything that they had done with the wedding and the honeymoon and being awesome parents in general. So when they asked, I said yes! Mum's face was already prepared for a negative reaction, so it was quite nice to surprise her with a yes.

Alpha, a twelve week course, starts of with rather lofty ambitions, it markets itself as "Taking on the biggest questions in the universe" or "The meaning of life is _____". Each session starts of with a communal meal, followed by a speaker who each week speaks upon a various topic, from "Is there more to life than this" all the way through to "How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?". I had always suspected that the Alpha course was engineered as a mechanism for conversion. Get people who are fairly interested in learning more, feed them information, shower them with kindness and demonstrate the power of the church through subtle coercion.

In the end, I wasn't too wide of the mark. You are fed plenty of information, none of it fully lives up to the question that they use in the marketing, "The meaning of life is _____", well there isn't much of an option to choose from. It's Jesus or nobody, which isn't really what I wanted to hear. I was hoping for a little more rounded discussion but quite happily took on board what the people within our group were discussing, who were, each of them the nicest people you could hope to meet. Which again, probably didn't help my cause - maybe I needed an agnostic, or a Buddhist sitting within our group for a more rounded discussion. But as a conversion tool? I would be a little harsh if I said that it was used solely for that purpose. If you want to be, then there is plenty of opportunity to do so. But there is no pressure to get involved, or to even participate in the discussions each week.

I have no regrets going, I learnt a lot. The major thing that I got from the course was understanding finally where my parents were coming from. Why my Nan and Grandad made such a big commitment to uproot and move their lives away. But, crucially I still haven't found that missing ingredient which they all share. Faith. Ask yourself what I asked me. "Can you believe that there was once a dude called Jesus?" Yeah, that could be true. "Did that said dude, who went by the name of Jesus get crucified upon a cross?" Yes, again, in the realms of possibility that could work. Finally, "that dude, who died, and was locked in a stone tomb, did he walk out back out of it a couple of days later?" Erm... well exactly. That's where I get lost too, and that's the faith part that is missing!

Thinking about it all a bit too deeply, it would be easy to feel sorry for myself. After all, if they are right, Mum and Dad are off to a nice cushy everlasting party with the big guy, whilst I'm suffering heat exhaustion with the condemned.

To a lot of people, they'd be reading this and thinking, "So what?". A quote that you are reminded of during Alpha by CS Lewis (of Narnia fame), who once said:

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

A quote of which I tend to agree, which makes it all the more frustrating that for some reason I'm not seeing what everyone else is seeing, or should that be feeling?

At least Lewis didn't have the problems of family members who profess to be Christians, but singing off a totally different song sheet to everyone else. Whether that is down to misunderstanding teachings, or just personality disorders is open for debate. But how one Christian sibling can say to another, "I can't have a relationship with you as our churches believe in different things" is more confusing that the riddle about the bloke escaping from a stone tomb! Or how by becoming a member of a church means that you sign your rights to privacy away and have to watch where you park you car in case of being spotted outside the wrong persons house.

Confusions and questions will always remain, even for the most holy. The why and where of humanity will never be answered by us mortals, even with all the faith you can muster. So for now at least I have to find a happy medium somewhere. I have tried reading, I have tried listening and talking, but I'm no closer to sharing in with my parents faith. I wish to thank them for it, or at least Mum for when I was growing up who gave me my moral barometer which I will carry with me for life, and shall pass down to my children. I'd even encourage them to go with Nanny and Bampy to Sunday school so that they can learn the stories I learnt, although I will draw a line at any church service held within a school campus in Northamptonshire!

2 comments:

tschaka said...

Hi. Spotted your blog because of the reference to 'Jesus Army'. I liked your post, full of honesty. I myself am a skeptic who wrestled with the historical accuracy of a resurrection. I still don't have all the answers I'd like to, but I've found enough to convince me personally. Good luck with your search.

Adam Bird said...

Hi Tschaka - thank you for your comment. It's all about living the journey of life - I'll get somewhere. One day. Will have a look through your blog. Would be good to get an adult view of the Jesus Army away from my childish misconceptions!

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