Last night I was talking to a bunch of prisoners. A couple of them pointed out how truthful I am. I had just confessed at length to two of them that I had found out since last week that a word I had used in our game of Scrabble wasn't in the (newly-purchased-to-prevent-future-disagreement) Scrabble dictionary, and that one of them had been wrongly denied a word that was in fact IN said dictionary. I have still got sin to battle, and don't pretend to perfection by any means but it is true that I don't tell lies, and haven't done so for years, maybe decades. So, for fun, I explained to them very solemnly that, "You know how some people are compulsive liars? Well, I suffer from compulsive honesty". This produced a great reaction across the board, a mix of hilarity, horror and real pity! One guy said, "That's really awful. That's a very serious disability. You should be able to register as disabled and get benefit for that".
Today I was reading the newspapers online, as I do. (I'm far too tight-fisted actually to buy a newspaper when you can get the news for free on the internet.)
Anyway, I came across this article about Bishop Richard Holloway's new book. It was the prisoners' lock-up time and I had time to kill, so I read all the comments too. As usual with comments on religious articles there was plenty of ignorance and even more nastiness evident among them. I can cope with that, though. And, in fact, I do think that it's very important for mature Christians and particularly Christian leaders to research the way in which we as Christians are seen by atheists and others.
Here is what struck me as I read about Richard Holloway's new book, and also as I read all the comments online:
Whilst sharing doubt is of course admirably honest, and will resonate with people in congregations who also are feeling those doubts, is there an argument for not sharing our doubt, or only rarely and in a minor way? Can sharing our doubts be self-indulgent sometimes? Is it helpful for the upbuilding of congregations and people we are called to lead? And what, if any, is the point at which a minister's faith would be sufficiently diminished that to stay on would effectively be taking money under false pretences?
I'm, not, by the way, intending this post as an anti-Holloway rant. Far from it. I have no personal ill-feeling against the chap AT ALL; I'm sure he's very affable. I just want to express here the questions that have occurred to me.
My own inclination is that part of being a leader in the Church and helping to "upbuild" a congregation is to shine like a light in the darkness (as both Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and Paul in the book of Philippians put it). This involves modelling, with God's help, a life of faith and trust and closeness with Him. I have known periods in my life as a Christian, which began in earnest back in 1979, when I've gone through wee desert periods. In those periods, I've never once doubted the existence of God, but I've not felt his nearness. These have all turned out to be good for me in the long run, though
Some argue that "the opposite of faith is certainty" and it is true that belief in the existence of absolute truth is very unfashionable nowadays. I have no allegiance to fashion though, and I just don't believe that it is true that "the opposite of faith is certainty". I am more of the view expressed in Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."
On a continuum between certainty and uncertainty (which presumably all would agree are opposites) it seems to me that the point of faith is that it is much nearer the certainty end than the uncertainty end.
I think doubt and crises of faith suck the life and joy out of people. They are negative experiences, generally. Experiences that suck the life and joy out of people, and negative experiences, are, it seems to me, not the work of an all-loving God. Their origin is a whole lot more sinister.
A wise man, JC, once said, "Feed your faith and your doubts will starve to death". I agree. No, it wasn't that JC. I mean Johnny Cash!
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902).
I was encouraged this week by a prisoner (who's an atheist) telling me that I absolutely live what I believe. What a lovely thing to say. No doubt I don't actually always do so, but I do try and it's so lovely when someone notices. :)
Living what we believe is part of integrity, isn't it? Integrity is a trait we value in people. Integrity is a trait we absolutely look for in those in authority over us.
Today, I've been feeling very frustrated over various issues to do with lack of integrity.
(1) I'm not a football fan really (I support Airdrie United, after all and I know about football as much as I, as a Status Quo fan, know about music), but one of our leading Scottish teams, Glasgow Rangers, has been hugely in the news because of its financial troubles. If you don't know about it and you want to, google it. There are way too many articles I could point you to; the whole thing has been keeping journalists going at full tilt for a week or two. Suffice to say, something stinks in the financial wheelings and dealings at the centre of it all. Big time, it stinks.
(2) There's also the wee fracas that broke out in the bar at the Houses of Parliament last night. By the way, most workplaces aren't allowed a bar on their premises - how come those with power at their fingertips which the rest of us will never begin to have, are allowed alcohol in their workplace? Here is the story, for those who don't know.
(3) Rupert Murdoch, whose mess at the, thankfully now defunct, very seedy News of the World, is still being sorted through at the Leveson Inquiry, seems to be free to produce a new newspaper starting this weekend. Free press is a great thing, of course, but the price is quite high, it seems.
Actually, when I think about it there are way more than 3 things which frustrate me in this way. Lots of stories about bonuses payed to bankers who have brought about the credit crunch, and many other things all add to my frustation.
Those of us who work in PrisonWorld, not just chaplains, want to help prisoners to start to think along the moral and pro-social lines that will endear them to, in the first instance, the parole board, and then, more importantly, society. We really do want them to start thinking morally. We want them to start thinking of a possible future life that is lived within the laws of the land. We want them to stay out of jail, for goodness' sake!
It's ten times (or fifty times, or, I don't know...) harder for us to proclaim a message of moral living when at the heart of "Rich-and-Powerful"-world, corruption seems the way to go. Seriously you leaders, GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER! Please. Thank you.