There's a saying that you shouldn't talk about religion or politics. I can't stand it.
People say it because they can be tricky subjects that cause arguments and tension, so it's best to steer clear. That of course is based on a couple of ideas:
1. There's nothing to discuss because everything is fine and we're all in agreement, which never held much water but has been well and truly sunk by Brexit.
2. Alternatively that we know it's not all fine and we don't all agree but there's absolutely no point talking about it (and things maybe getting a bit awkward) because things will never change. I'm not buying this one because life is full of choices and history at any level is shaped by good and bad choices.
Personally I'd rather have the discussion, even it gets a tad fractious, if it means there are some better decisions made and life gets a bit better as a result.
So I'll be talking about religion and politics, because they matter.
More specifically I talk about faith – as a transformative relationship with God, not as a system of thought or behaviour – because I believe it has the potential to sort out the mess one life and situation at a time.
I talk about faith because faith has changed my life. The trickis to talk about it in the right way – and that is where and I and the church as a whole tend to mess things up spectacularly.
We go to extremes because we are led by our instincts, not by God's work in us. One extreme is to mostly say nothing because we fear making a hash of it, muddling our words up and causing offence. This fear is misplaced – take praye,r for example. In my experience if we offer to pray for people they're not offended. They may be baffled but they appreciate the thought.
The other extreme is giving out a good old -fashioned Bible bashing where we assault people with our beliefs. Regretably I've handed a few of these out but at least that was in a past millennium. The problem with faith tirades is we've stopped thinking about the person in front of us. They are just a recipient of information. We're not listening because we're too busy ramming the gospel down their throat to stop and see how it might actually relate to what's going on in their lives.
This is the problem I have with people who share their message by standing and preaching in town centres. There are guys who do this in the centre of Sheffield regularly. They have microphones and a speaker and they tell people the truth about Jesus. They tell people Jesus has died for their sins, which I wholeheartedly believe and that they need to turn from living for themselves and follow him, which I think is spot on.
So what's the problem? The problem is that no-one is listening – and these guys aren't there to listen to others. It's not a dialogue, it's a diatribe. The preachers can leave satisfied that the gospel has been preached but I doubt that anything useful has been communicated. Or rather, what's been communicated is not 'Jesus loves you' but 'I'm going to tell you what to think by shouting at you as you walk past on your way to buy a sandwich.'
Hands up who wants to be shouted on their lunch break. Hands up who's likely to reassess their belief system because someone shouted at them on their lunch break.
The other week there was a young chap in the centre wearing a placard saying 'Wake up Satan's brainwashed cattle'. I thought this was a bit unfortunate and was concerned for his well-being. One of my council colleagues thought it was so hilarious they tweeted it.
For me it helpfully crystallised my thoughts on how as Christians we share faith. Here's the thing – if you are Satan's brainwashed cattle, are you likely to be roused from your brainwashed state by being informed of it via a sandwich board? I think not.
While I think there is a logic to the gospel, that it makes sense of our messed-up human condition, I think people need more than to be informed. I think people need to see the power of Jesus to change lives. The most effective means of that is tfor hose of us in the church to put it into practice.
I talk about faith because it has changed my life. It offers the hope and help I need to live day by day. I'll keep writing about it and I'd love to talk with anyone who wants to know more. And if you do I promise to listen.