Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Clinging to the Rail

Once upon a time there was a clergyman. Let's call him Thomas. He was pretty adaptable. Could put his hand to most things and do them OK. As it happened he had trained at a time when pastoral education was moving away from the jack-of-all-trades minister and towards the specialist. So he specialised. He became an ordained youth worker. He often joked that if full-time youth ministry had been invented in 1984 he might have become one of those but he endured ordination in order to specialise.

On the way through the next few years, the 400 funerals, 100 weddings and who knows how many baptisms, the several hundred talks and sermons and Bible study groups he found lots of jobs coming his way and he adapted to them. He still did youth work a lot and ended up knowing quite a lot about it although found himself frustrated that somehow it had all been for the benefit of just a few young people who would eventually change the world without him getting any credit because, well because we all like credit. One of these young people once described his youth-work technique as '...asking a lot of questions and never answering any of them.'

Eventually, tired, ill and frustrated he crawled to the edge of the Christian community and found a little bit of it to help and, in trying to help, it helped him to be less tired, less ill and less frustrated. Somehow the people with faith the size of freeze-dried, mustard-seed shavings appreciated the existence of someone who helped but doubted. Someone who said 'That's a good question' rather than told them the answers. Not as technique but because he didn't know because faith is not knowing.

He sat at his desk. He tapped at keys. Everyone liked what he wrote except the ones who didn't. Some entered into dialogue and were as helpful as helped. Others had words with other people and never with him because that is what people with faith the size of several mustard seeds tend to do.

Thomas wondered what to do next. Is every doubt couched as certainty a lie? He sat and pondered whether faith that is certain is neither faith nor hope, and whether faith that is no more than mustard-seed DNA is going to register as faith at all. And if that means he won't be saved he has misunderstood grace all his Christian life. He will head for his perpetual torment flicking a V at the God who did that to him. And if there is no 'being saved' he has lost nothing. His atoms get spread around and maybe reconstitute themselves as part of someone with more faith and nobody laughs at that except him and now.

Like a child in the swimming bath for the first time Thomas had spent too long clinging to the side. Genuinely unsure if he knew how to swim he turned towards the middle of the pool and prepared to let go of the rail pondering that in John 3:16 it says that to have eternal life you only have to believe in Jesus, not in God. Is God the rail? Clinging, clinging, clinging...


Andy said...


Wow, you write some amazing stuff, and like every good story, I want to know how this story ends!

One of my favourite quotes:

"The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty" - Anne Lamott

(but then, shhhhhhh, I'm a post-modern, so I would like that)



Caroline said...

I think that I'd like Thomas..

... and that I'd learn a lot with him