Friday, 9 July 2010

Shades of Colour

I recently stumbled across this cartoon on the naked pastor's website (I discovered this via Lesley's Blog, which I discovered in turn, thanks to David Cloake at The Vernacular Curate):

This picture made me want to smile and cringe at the same time! I have to say, with some shame, that this is a phenomenon I can relate to, although for me the timeline has been (and I think to some extent still is) less straightforward.

I instantly want to contrast this picture with the words of Jesus, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full", or according to the New Living Translation, "My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life".

Where have we gone wrong? How did the words of Jesus, above, turn into this picture?

Obviously this picture is not true for all believers, or for all converts to Christianity, but religion often does seem to have this sort of effect on people. Evangelical Christians often don't like the word "religion" for this reason, but what they (we?) are offering often doesn't seem much different!

"Black and white" can mean monochrome as in boring, or it can mean definite, rigid and uncompromising.  I think these concepts are often related.  "Definiteness" however, is one of the things that often attracts people to Christianity - that sense of re-assuring certainty in a perilous and uncertain world.

I remember one of my church leaders once admitting that life isn't always black and white. When faced with a difficult choice or situation, there often isn't a straightforward "right" or "wrong" answer. Instead - we often end up being faced with "shades of grey".  I remember recognising this as true, but also feeling a little short-changed - in response to my desire for strong-minded clarity, I was being rewarded with a drab and unappealing mushy grey!

Since then I've had a bit of a rethink.  The problem with black and white is that the rigidity often seems to be imposed from outside.  These are the rules and you must stick to them - whether or not you understand why.  This is OK and sometimes necessary for children - and to some extent we are all still children - but I think God's desire is for us to become fully mature adults, understanding the rules, but more importantly being motivated by the things that caused the rules to come into being in the first place.

The problem with rules - even good ones - is that they never apply perfectly to every situation, because life is more fluid and dynamic than that.  This is why we have such complex legal systems, and no matter how many laws you make and how complicated they are, people will always find a way round them if they're determined enough.

Someone who lives by the heart and spirit of the law though, rather than by a rarified code, will be able to adapt to new situations and respond appropriately.  This requires creativity and ingenuity, but channeled in positive directions rather than destructive or self-centered ones.  The results are likely to be beautiful and surprising.  And suddenly we find that instead of black and white, we have shades of colour,  rather than shades of grey!

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