27 October, 2010

A Different Kind of Jesus

I have just finished reading 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' by Philip Pullman. I really reccommend it if you have a couple of hours (it's that short). Knowing that Mr. Pullman is famous for his atheistic view point I was perhaps a little wary, but he is also a gentleman and doesn't seem into the point-scoring that other books have aimed for in the last few years. He also doesn't pretend that it is a text book - it is a piece of creative writing, even if it is his view point. The book is a re-telling of the gospels where Jesus and Christ are twins with conflicting personalities and it's a poweful and fascinating read.

Having said that, there are obviously things that Christians are not going to agree with (not that that justifies the hate mail that has been sent to him in any way - shame on the "Christians" who sent it). The clear suggestion is that Jesus was created into a Messiah by those who wrote the history afterwards and the question is raised as to why a loving God wouldn't make more effort to communicate with His people.

But it is not these things that stick with me (after all, most Christians will have struggled with these issues and worked through them at some point if their faith has deep roots). It is the Jesus that Philip Pullman portrayed that sticks with me. For he is not just the nice teacher that he is often made out to be. This Jesus is more like the Jesus of the bible than almost any other I've read about: controversial, radical, uncompromising. He tells people to give away their possessions and to love unconditionally and he means it. He is a man with enormous spiritual authority. And some of the things he says about church we would all do well to listen to.

The Jesus of this book does not want a church that builds fine buildings and creates a priesthood that somehow has privileged access to the scriptures. He is frightened that the church will end up killing people for their beliefs, declaring war on other nations and covering up atrocities committed agaisnt children and the weak. He fears that people will be told what to believe by priests and that the church will become a web of secrecy and fear. The image he creates of how church should be instead is something entirely different - not something perfect, but something that tries to reflect a better Kingdom by loving unconditionally. So I'll finish with my favourite bit of the book:

Lord if I thought you were listening, I'd pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor and powerless and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should not condemn, but only forgive. That it should not be like a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with it's roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place.

25 October, 2010

So Here We Are...

We've done it. The husband and I have taken the plunge and left city life for life on Dartmoor. I suppose it would have been easy to have fooled ourselves that village life would be a 1930's rural idyll, where everyone uses wicker baskets to collect their bread and the butcher's boy wraps up your sausages in brown paper. It would have been even easier to chicken out altogether and believe the scare stories that there would be nobody our own age in the village, or that we wouldn't be able to cope without the full quota of shops. But this is not the 1930s, nor a city-dweller's worst nightmare. It is just another, different way of living.

It all comes down to a question of priority. As I walked through the quiet lanes on Friday, climbing up on to an iron age hill fort, looking across amazing countryside to see church towers nestling in the valleys and castles poking out of the trees, I wasn't that worried that it is a bit of a distance to the nearest Tesco. In the morning, when the sunlight pokes its way through the mist on to the sparkling frost on the hills beyond our window, I don't mind that we have to drive a few miles to get petrol.

I am not naive enough to think that when we are snowed-in and have to rely on neighbours in their landrovers to bring us supplies, I won't long for gritted roads and nearby amenities. We may be getting deliciously used to the permanent smell of bonfires, crisp air and crystal clear tap water, but it may take longer to get used to having just a handful of small stores within walking distance (although to be fair they do provide all the essentials to survive!). There may be moments of weakness where we would value convenience over beauty and I know I will miss friends from the city more, not less as time goes on. But if we never did anything that wasn't perfect then we would never do anything at all.

God has provided everything we could want. Not just everything we need, but all the extras as well: friendly people close to our age, neighbours who bring homemade goodies round and explain the complex recycling system, a welcoming church and views to get lost in. Most importantly, He has given us a sense of peace and belonging. He meant us to come here and if we ever doubted it, we were fools. Thank God that He knows best!