Saturday, 19 January 2013

What does Church look like?

I have to start this with an apology. This is one of my 'things'. It is something that constantly winds me up. I don't think I have blogged this, but I am sorry if I have.

If you were asked to draw a Christian, I wonder what you would draw. Would they be a man or a woman? Black or white? Would they have a beard? Would they wear socks and sandals? Would you draw them with a bible in hand, ready to start bashing people with it at the drop of a hat? Some of those options may seem a little weird, but with my perception of the stereotypical Christian, you'd need to seriously consider those options.

I am, however, almost certain that you wouldn't draw someone under the age of about 50. Why? Because when was the last time you saw in the media someone under the age of 50 openly talking about God and the Church as something they believed in?

Admittedly, I can remember the last time I saw this. It was on the BBC Songs of Praise first broadcast on 13th January 2013. But before then? I can't remember.

It seems to me, that Christians are portrayed in a certain way, and if you don't fit the media's perception of a Christian, they don't want to know. I sometimes feel that this is an attitude reflected in the Church as well, if you don't fit, then don't try because we won't change.

I'd like to share what I perceive to be those 'certain ways' held by the media. I think there are 3 stereotypes, and occasionally the lines between them are blurred to create 1 super Chrisian. So I guess that really makes 4, but who is counting?!

Number 1: An elderly (usually woman) who has always been a Christian, and the church is her life. She spends all her time doing flowers at the church, and whenever the vicar comes around always gets out the best china to serve tea and cake on. They will probably also think they are better than everyone else, and have a bible verse to quote for any situation that makes it clear that they are better off for knowing God. (Think Dot from Eastenders!)

Number 2: A very evangelical black gospel singer. They believe that if you don't believe in God, you will burn in hell, and have no problems telling everyone that. And when they are depicted, they never meet anyone who is a Christian, but less evangelical. Because Christianity doesn't have any meaning to anyone these days. So we are all condemned to burning in hell!

Number 3: The vicar. A white, near retirement single man. Who always wears a suit. I think maybe his pyjamas are a suit too!

Now, I appreciate this is very judgemental view on things. But when do you ever see anything different? Even on the aforementioned Songs of Praise, the congregation was predominantly white, over 50s. And most of them were dressed in their Sunday best. There was the occasional glimpse of a child, but I don't think any of them were over about 12. And I'm certain that some of them were in the congregation with their Grandparents, and not parents. I will say, that there was at least 2 children their with who I assumed was their Mum. There was also 1 man, who was their in his rugby shirt. But everyone else was dressed up. Their were very few, if any, people who weren't white. And the ordained person who said a prayer at the end? A white, nearing retirement man (sorry if you are that minister and I've just over estimated your age!) who was all gowned up.

Yes, this is all very judgemental of me. But if I am judging the church to be like that, then people like me outside the church are thinking that too! And if programmes which are supposed to portray the church portray it in that way, then what hope has the church got?!

Songs of Praise did share some new churches, and churches that were growing. Which was great. But they didn't base that particular programme in those churches, they just made up some of the stories between the songs. I know that Songs of Praise have done programmes from these churches before, but they are always billed as 'forward thinking' or 'contemporary' churches. They are not! They are the churches of today. Maybe the churches that aren't like that are just backward thinking?

Christians cannot be easily identified from looks alone. Take a trip to your local high street. All of the people you see there, and on your journey to and from there, could be Christians. You cannot know for sure. Anyone of them could be in ordained ministry in the church. You cannot know for sure. You cannot identify a Christian by looks alone.

So come on, let's challenge this.

To the media officials - how about looking for a better representation of Christianity?

To the people who write soaps and the likes - how about mixing up the stereotypes a bit?

To the church - how about challenging the stereotype of how we look? We teach young people stereotypes are bad, so why do we let this one go un-challenged?

This is what just 1 Christian looks like. Does that fit with what you perceive of a Christian?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New year, new you?

Happy new year! When does it stop being OK to say that? Anyway, that's not really what I wanted to write.

We have this curious tradition of setting new year resolutions. The end of December/beginning of January is the time when we look back at the year that has been and evaluate it. And anyone who has ever done an evaluation knows that you always conclude on how you could have done things better. And so January sees seemingly everyone declaring how they will make themselves/their lives/other people's lives better.

I haven't made any resolutions this year. I am one of those people who takes the line of "Well, I'll just break it/forget about it by February, so why bother?!" And right there is what I want to talk about. Excuses.

I find it all too easy to make an excuse. I think the best one I ever came up with was when I was at college. I missed my train (Sorry Mum!) and so was late to college. But I found an amazing excuse leaving my lips as I walked into the Biology lab - "Sorry I'm late, my bicycle chain broke." I'm not sure if the teacher actually bought it, as he was quite sarcastic and replied "Remember that one, it is a good excuse!" But still, it got me out of the horrid truth!

I've also come up with some pretty naff excuses in my time. Like the time I cut a chunk of my fringe out with some scissors. I told my Mum I didn't think they would cut my hair. I was pretty young at the time, so I'm not sure if I actually believed it at the time or if it was just my attempt at an excuse for putting scissors to my fringe. Needless to say, my brother and sister thought it was hilarious, and Mum wasn't too impressed.

But quirky stories aside, I find it all too easy to come up with an excuse not to do something. I have a pretty good excuse for most things at the moment - looking for a house closer to work. However, when I've done that I'm not really going to have anything to hide behind. For years, people have always been saying one thing to me, and I've always rattled off an excuse - I'm too young, I've not done my local preacher training, I need life experience and so on and so on....

I'm fast running out of excuses. Soon all I'll have to fall back on is my tried and tested "Sorry, my bike chain broke". But I don't think that is going to cut it somehow.

The truth is I should make a new year resolution. And that is just to get on with it! Stop hiding behind excuses - now isn't the right time, what if I get hurt again, what if they don't want it to be more, what if I end up alone, I need to sort this first, I'm too busy at work. Yes, I can come up with an excuse for everything, but now is the time to stand up and not hide behind an excuse.

2013 will be a wonderful year. My faith will be deepened, I will learn more about the God I love and trust, I will be truthful to people including myself and God and because of these things I'll be a better healthier person.

What is the excuse you use most? I challenge you not to use it in 2013, and lets grow together!