Well I finally wrote the article that has been burning in my heart about racism. A few thoughts about this. On one hand, there were so many more things that I could have said. The truth is that I have been noticing things and I have so many of my own unattractive experiences to relate that I now have enough material for a whole new blog, not just a single post. On the other hand, I am also very aware from past experience that “venting” in this way will just make me angrier and angrier until the point where I am just a living, walking, expression of anger and bitterness. So by the grace of God, I am not going to go there.
Furthermore some thoughts flashed briefly into my mind making me think that my “Mysterious Prayer Supporter but I think I know who you are” has been praying for me again. If you are reading this, Mr Prayer-Supporter, it occurred to me that we have now come full circle, in that it was on this subject of racism that I first “felt” your prayers (and deduced who you were). If you are reading this, I really hope that I am not trying your patience, and I thank you for continuing to pray for me so faithfully despite the extent to which I struggle with these issues. I honestly cannot express to you how grateful I am for these prayers. It has reduced me to tears so many times (like now!) to think that someone would so graciously invest his time and his understanding into my life.
I equally can hardly express the impact that has been made on my life and my understanding over the course of the last year which I attribute to your prayers. So many things that I have been struggling with, trying to understand – have all just fallen into place in my life and my understanding. Things that have made me feel insecure or inadequate as a human being for so long. A year ago I was happy with my life and with my relationship with God – but I was still crying out to Him in desperation about a number of things. And in the course of this past year so many of these issues have been dealt with.
Could I be wrong?
This is what I ask myself very often. Could I be wrong about this whole prayer thing? God has clearly been doing some amazing work in my heart, and it is ultimately to God, always, that I owe all gratitude for everything. What if there is no human pray-er who has been working alongside God for some of these things to happen in my life, what if it is “only” God? Well to be honest, that would show me that I have to practise more and immense gratitude in my heart towards God. Because God is always so good and is always there then it can be easy for me to take Him for granted, and act like He is the lesser party in all of this. Everything that I have comes from God! Even if someone was praying for me as graciously and faithfully as I hope, even that would be from God! It would be such proof that God loves me so much, that He has even raised someone to be praying for me! All the same, I hope that I am not wrong! Perhaps what I need to pray is that God would conclusively reveal the identity of this “Mysterious but I so know who you are” person so that I could at least thank him…Perhaps a few other prayers might result (or emphatically not result!) from knowing his identity, but perhaps that is an issue for my other blog! (Obviously no-one would believe me if I pretended that I was not already praying optimistically….)
So thinking then about this article that I wrote about racism, these were the issues that flashed so briefly into my mind (before they were sadly overtaken by further angry meditations on the subject).
Firstly I would like to say that I have no time for guilt or shame. I think that these are time-consuming emotions which achieve absolutely nothing. If you have been guilty of some of the racist conduct I wrote about in my post, then please confess it to God, repent, forgive yourself as necessary, and change! You honestly do not need to make a big elaborate confession to me. I have personally done or thought things which are far worse that anything I described in that article and I have had to repent, forgive myself and move on. That is what we all have to do in our ongoing battles against our sinful natures.
Additionally, the Spirit of God revealed to me, possibly through the agency of this Mysterious Prayer Supporter’s prayers, that I am such a spiritual snob. I cultivate snobbery regarding my prayer life and my intimacy with God in a way that is simply alien, foreign and repugnant to me in every other way. I have known this for ages, of course, that I feel better than other Christians who are not as deep in God as I am. However, it was only as those thoughts flashed into my mind that it occurred to me that this is actually snobbery, nothing less. This is an issue I struggle with, because of the issue of personal responsibility. And yet the truth is this: if I do cultivate a deeper relationship with God than other people, it is not because of me, it is not something that I can take credit for. Rather it is all by the grace of God. This is especially difficult to remember when these people’s relationships with God lead them to demonstrate things like racism. I can state with all conviction that the racism that these people demonstrate is due to their lack of true intimacy with God; the failure to consistently bring their hearts before God to be examined by His Holy Spirit. And then it is so easy for me to get puffed up in my own heart and think “Well I’m not racist! If they prayed as much as I do then they would not be racist either!” And this is all the more true of course because I am the one who is the target of this racist behaviour. It is not as if I am looking on, watching them act in a racist way towards someone else. But all the same though it is snobbery, and God detests snobbery, and it is something that I have to deal with in my heart. I am not better than anyone; my sinful nature is just as capable of dreadful things as anyone else’s; it is only by the grace of God that God has rescued me from making many silly mistakes (like racism) by giving me such a grounded Christian upbringing.
Ironically, my snobbery is never directed at non-Christians, but only ever at Christians, and only when they act like they are better than me, at which point I almost always fall over myself to demonstrate quite emphatically who between them and me is almost invariably vastly superior by any authentically Christian metric available. And yet the truth is this: they are not better than me, but I equally am not better than them; as Christians, grace is what keeps us all afloat. By the grace of God, whenever I next come across this unspoken challenge of superiority, I pray that God will give me the humility to refuse to participate, but to rather present myself as enabled and empowered only by the grace of God. If you manage to excel over me by your own innate power or strength, then congratulations to you. Everything I am is all about the grace of God.
Secondly, it occurred to me that the Church at large is essentially a sophisticated subset of “non-Christians”. I hope that this does not appear to contradict or cancel out the point I have just made about grace. On the whole I just cannot see these people as Christians. I just cannot relate to them as Christians. The kindest thing I can say about this is as follows: Jesus asks “Who are you to judge another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls”. So ultimately the question of whether these people are Christians or not does not rest with me, but rather with God. So as far as God is concerned, He might accept them as valid Christians, and accept them into Heaven, and I hope with all my heart that that is what will eventually happen. However as far as I am concerned, down here on earth, interacting with these people, and expecting any kind of authentic Christian partnership from them is a waste of my limited resources of time, and it actually hinders the work that I would want to do for the Kingdom of God. It is more efficient for me to quietly leave these people to one side, and to seek Christian interaction or partnership from other people who more accurately represent Biblical standards of faith. However these “inauthentic” people represent the vast majority of “Christians” which means that practically speaking I ignore most of the so-called “Church”.
And then it also occurred to me that these “inauthentic Christians” will require even more grace and humility than people who are not Christians at all…because at least people who are not Christians know that they are not Christians. These inauthentic Christians are to all intents and purposes not Christians but they think that they are Christians, and they use their lying Christ-less standards to assert their supposed Christian superiority. It is precisely because they think that they are Christians that they assume that they are better than me. From experience it would be extremely imprudent of me to try to relate to them as Christians. However I must still relate to them as people. And God says I am to love these people. Suddenly, I feel like the Apostle Paul that I must be called to the Gentiles, or non-Christians. I just find them so much less complicated to deal with, than people who are supposed to be Christians, but are not really, and who then have the temerity to assail me unendingly with their non-existent Christian superiority. But all the same I will love them. I need to adopt a very deep-hearted commitment to love and patience and grace, specifically for the sake of Christians. I always assumed that Christians should require less love and grace and effort than other people but now I see that they require far more. With other people I can simply avoid individuals whom I don’t like. In church we are all thrown together, week in week out.
Something else I was also thinking is that I might be judging churches unfairly, relative to non-christians. The way a church works means that we are all thrust into this box, essentially, where our characters can clash against one another endlessly. As Christians we need big, big grace to deal with one another, to be patient, to not write angry ranting blog posts! All the same, I don’t want to have any further interaction with these churches whatsoever. All the same I am grateful for the lessons learnt. I would have preferred not to learn them in such a painful and time-consuming way. However I am looking forward to the future and being able to apply the lessons in my future interactions with Christians and with people generally.
Thinking once again of the person who might have been praying, once again I would like to thank you; thank you so much for being the instrument or “vessel” that God is using to bless me so powerfully, and God bless you so much too!
Added Sun 8th March:
1. This is something that has just occurred to me now: perhaps it is unfair of me to refer to this vast majority of Christians as not being real Christians. Perhaps it would be fairer to distinguish between Christians whose understanding of Christian commitment is similar to mine, that is, people I used to call “sold-out”, people who believe that the Christian life is all about giving one thousand percent to strive after God… and all other Christians.
2. This is something that occurred to me a while ago after writing the main article above, but I have not had time to examine it in detail: Regarding the issue of churches which are lukewarm and saltless enough to let all manner of ungodly characteristics fester, the real culprit can often be identified as or traced back to…money! To put it very very simply, if a pastor is dependent on financial support from his congregation, that in itself would make it very, very difficult for him to stand up and call out negative traits and speak sufficiently firmly about the need to cast off ungodly attitudes; to call a spade a spade. Otherwise the risk is always that people will leave, taking their financial support with them. So because of that reason, if nothing else, the tendency will be to downplay issues, to overemphasise grace at the expense of hard-won righteous and holy living, to (falsely) tell people how great and how amazing they are, and how pleased God is with them; to make people feel “comfortable”. (If you are living in wilful disobedience to God, then no matter what your pastor says, trust me, God is not pleased with that!)
Additionally, it is almost inevitable that people will be recognised or given positions in such a church (that is dependent on financial support from the congregation) according to their financial support for the church, rather than their true commitment to Christlikeness and holiness and pursuit of Christ, otherwise once again if these biggest donors feel underappreciated or underrecognised, the tendency is that they will once again leave, taking their all-important financial support with them. So then you could enter such a church and find all manner of spiritually immature people holding all kinds of very important positions which actually do require people to be spiritually committed and determined and very very holy. To me it is almost inevitable that this will result when a church is dependent on financial support from its congregation. And yet this is the reigning model in practically every denomination. This I believe is one major reason why the Church on the whole is so devoid of true Christlike character and power, and why I personally have collected so many horror stories across such a wide spectrum of churches and gatherings.
From henceforth I am going to avoid this church model altogether. What a church might look like if not based on that model, how they might alternatively finance their requirements, or how the pastors might be financially supported, I honestly don’t know. I definitely understand that pastors need to be able to live and pay their bills as surely as other people do. What I do know is that this church model resulting in church as we know it simply does not work.