Earlier today, someone asked me what I thought it meant to be a Christian. Oddly enough, I’ve never been asked that before — at least, not quite so bluntly. I have views about how theology must fit the reality of our animal existence, and I will set them down in print when I have worked through some of the issues they raise. But for now, from a practical point of view, here’s what I think ‘being a Christian’ involves.
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly.
Love your neighbour as yourself. This doesn’t mean letting my neighbour walk all over me. It doesn’t mean that I should approve of my neighbour evading responsibility for his or her own action or inaction any more than I should evade responsibility for mine. It means expecting of myself no less than I expect of others. It means expecting of others no more than I expect of myself. It also means:
- Don’t do to others what I wouldn’t like them to do to me.
- Condemn not that I be not condemned.
- Examine the plank in my own eye before I even begin to comment on the speck in someone else’s.
- Don’t compete for the best places at parties.
- Pray in secret not for show. Indeed, don’t do anything for show.
- Openness — let your light so shine … as a city on a hill, a lamp on a stand.
- Watch for the signs of the times. Use your nous. To stand in front of an oncoming car expecting it not to hit me is stupid. Newton’s first law of motion still holds (he thought his most important role in life was as a Biblical Scholar).
- Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no — anything else is evil. (What about diplomacy?)
- Do not treat people with partiality, for God is no respecter of persons … you have one Father and you are all sisters and brothers. Everyone. Not just members of your family, your tribe, your race, your denomination, your opinion. Everyone. Including those who hate you.
- Love one another as I have loved you. Thankfully, loving does not have to mean liking.
I fall short on them all. I’m human therefore I make mistakes. The psychological authenticity of Jesus’ message sustains me—sometimes only just—in my priestly role. I suppose what this role boils down to is: encouraging people to confront reality by living in the present (e-ternity, ec-stasis), free from the burden of the past (forgiveness), feet planted on the ground (humility), eyes and mind looking all round and beyond (others and otherness). Some of the doctrine we’ve inherited was written by and for a pre-mediaeval view of the universe. Some of it reflects the pyschological obsession of the writer. Some of it has passed its sell-by date. Much of it is poetic imagery. Nearly all of it expresses deep psychological truths.
The questioner asked me a second question: do I believe every word when I say the Creed. What a question. Watch this space.