Thursday, April 13, 2006
Giles Fraser in Comment is Free, on English Christianity - from the Puritanical to the laughable and back again
Easter marks a kind of new spiritual year for Christians - not officially (the Church calendar starts at Advent) but in terms of expectations. From the beginning of Lent onwards, everything is focused on watching, waiting, meditating and expecting.
And that's good, and I find it helpful. In an age of instant gratification, in my restricted little world of non-stop commentary from television and music and pointless chatter, what better than waiting for something much deeper?
So I try. I really do. It's just that, well - I'm not good at waiting. "You want everything yesterday," my mother has been saying since I was four. A small illustration of this: I tried to give up chocolate and alcohol for Lent this year. I got drunk after a week, while the chocolate fast lasted until the week before Palm Sunday when I gave up entirely, on the grounds that it was very nearly Easter anyway wasn't it. Is holding out for delayed gratification worth the trouble? On a larger scale, this lack of patience occasionally seems like a good thing, when I throw myself into things with huge commitment and determination (which lasts about two days before I move on to something else). Still, it gets in the way. I can't watch and wait when I'm running around being busy, constructive and highly effective. See the story of Mary and Martha for more details...
But wait, I object, like the social constructivist that I pretentiously think I am. Surely I'm just a product of my society. Let's face it: we live in a world where such concepts as waiting patiently and seeking something deeper are less than popular. And yet, too many experiences with not-quite-mainstream churches, including everything from the slightly weird to the very disturbing, made me wonder if society's constant search for instant gratification is reflected in today's Church as well. A 'God-lite' approach, what Giles Fraser calls the "entrepreneurial model", the church of a free market society, where congregants want quick answers, quick fixes, quick experiences - all of which can end up feeling just a bit shallow. If God is so easy to to find, is S/He really worth looking for?
Which is why I think that Giles Fraser both has a point and misses the point. People are still seeking, despite the decline of the 'traditional' English church. That's why ultra-modern churches are suddenly doing so well. Yet these black-and-white approaches to spirituality may not go as deep or last as long as they promise. God, however (indeed, if) you imagine or encounter Her, is not a God of quick fixes.
That's why I worked on going a bit deeper this Easter. Well, as deep as a manic depressive with a short attention span and a low boredom threshold can go. And between the brief points where I actually managed that, I even got over a few 'God-lite' moments at my own, fairly evangelical church by remembering that I do not know everything yet. (I'm a post-evangelical Christian. We really, really like to think we've reached enlightenment.)
You see, I think that people are clever enough to realise that, if they're seeking Something, then what they're looking for is not just a quick fix. Even if they don't find what it in the traditional, they'll soon know if they're not finding it in the corporate. Of course, if they are finding it there, great. But I don't share Fraser's sense of doom. After all, God is bigger than us.
Just as well, really.
Here is a related reflection that made me think.
And because I never think of anything first, I've just seen that Maggie Dawn has much more eloquent thoughts than mine on watching, waiting and fulfillment at Easter.