Thursday, March 22, 2012

On Christians Being a Hindrance to Faith



You make it sound easy
You say just hold your hand out don't you
You just hold your hand out don't you
That hope never leaves you
'Cos a light shines on that helps you to steer
Makes everything clear
(Well it might)
Well it might in your world
(but it doesn't)
But it doesn't in mine
(I've been stumbling)
I've been stumbling in the dark for years
And the light just made me blind
You say it lights every pathway
Shows me how to live life
For the rest of my days
For the rest of my days
(But I can't)
But I can't put my faith in
(Your words)
Your words and demands
(I believe)
I believe in God alright
It's folk like you I just can't stand
You don't have to try and scare me
To reinforce my faith sir
'Cos I know that one day
I'll stand before my maker
(And it I'm found)
And if I'm found wanting
(When my case)
When my case is heard
(It'll be)
It'll be by the author
Not some interpreter of his words

Edinburgh's Craig and Charlie Reid, better known as The Proclaimers, are perhaps best known in America for their 1988 song, "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," featured in the 1993 film, "Benny and Joon."  That is indeed a great song, but they are emphatically not "one hit wonders." Despite toiling in relative obscurity (at least on this side of the Atlantic), they have continued to produce a steady stream of intelligent, melodic, post-punk roots pop, with a 9th studio album, "Like Comedy," set to be released in the UK this May.

What has always struck me about the Reids' work—similar in many respects to their fellow Edinburghian Ian Rankin's John Rebus novels— is the Christian heritage and symbolism that often runs only slightly below the surface of their songs.  At times it even bubbles up to the surface, such as in their gospel-flavored "I Want to Be a Christian."  Indeed, Craig Reid has even gone on record to say, "I don't see myself as a particularly religious person, and I wouldn't call myself a Christian. I am almost convinced by Christianity, but I have too much doubt to call myself a Christian."

What—and I am not ruminating at the ultimate, theological level here—holds Craig back?  As one who has been around the block more than a few times, I have my suspicions that at least part of it has to do with how Christianity restricts human freedom to do whatever one wants whenever one wants to do it.  As a fellow rebel, I feel this tension daily.  But this brilliant song, "The Light," shines a searching beam of light elsewhere.  And we who self-identify as Christians must take what he says with deadly seriousness, for I suspect that this issue lies behind much of the contemporary backlash against the West's Christian heritage: "I believe in God alright/It's folk like you I just can't stand."

I have a confession to make: I get it ... and I resonate with what he says.  I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember.  I have lived my entire adult life in the conservative Christian meccas of Dallas, Texas and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Yet I often continue to find myself more comfortable in the company of the folks among whom I was raised in more "secular" Philadelphia.  I have studied and worked at both Christian institutions and "godless" secular firms and factories, and I see little difference in how people act and are treated in any of them.  And this is a scandal of momentous proportions.

Perhaps I am being unfair.  Perhaps my impressions are skewed by divergent expectations.  After all, no one expects the world to live according to Christian standards of justice and love.  But didn't Jesus say, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35)?  Frankly, as one who has received the "left foot of fellowship" because I "didn't fit" an institution's "conservative" ethos, and have witnessed similar treatment of friends in church "ministries," I just haven't witnessed such Christian love in action very often, despite pompous and grandiose claims to the contrary.

The litany is potentially a long one: self-righteous hypocrisy; single-minded focus on sexual sins to the neglect of pride, greed, worldly ambition, and lust for power; dearth of compassion; blind nationalism and confusion of a Christian worldview with the political platform of the right wing of the Republican Party.  More could be listed, of course.  But the one the Reid brothers focus on is paramount, namely, simplistic thinking that fails to take ambiguity and mystery into consideration when constructing one's worldview: "You make it sound easy/You say just hold your hand out don't you/You just hold your hand out don't you/That hope never leaves you/'Cos a light shines on that helps you to steer/Makes everything clear."
Well, it is and it isn't; it does and it doesn't.  The call of the gospel is an uncomplicated one, but response to it is certainly not easy (indeed, as a Calvinist I would assert it is impossible apart from the Spirit's effectual call).  And the cruciform path it calls us to tread certainly is one fraught with pitfalls, as a result of which one must count the cost before signing on (Luke 14:25-33).  Furthermore, the knowledge of God we gain through Christ and in Scripture may be true knowledge, but, as St. Paul explicitly asserts (1 Cor 13:12), we only see dimly and know partially this side of Christ's parousia.  In other words, we live in hope and by faith.  That is why acting as if we have all the answers and pretending that all is simple and easy is both disingenuous and deadly to mission in a world whose complexity and ambiguity are becoming clearer by the hour.

The Reid brothers' sentiment is one I hear all the time in today's world.  We who claim the name of Christ must repent and learn to adorn the gospel more effectively.  Most of all, however, we can pray that "God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,'" would, as he did to St. Paul and to all of us, "[shine] in [his heart] to give the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6).  Only then will the light that thus far has left them "blind" penetrate their inner being and enable the scales to fall from their eyes.
 


 

6 comments:

  1. Looks like you're impressed with yourself and your education, when in fact this review of this song is horrible. All that education, and this is how poor a Christian analysis that you have? How sad to think you taught for Christ to our young people. This song is simply the work of a non-believer, who looks at people rather than Christ. It's obvious they need to change their focus. People will never be perfect. From what we see of your Christian life, you would be one in the bad column. This analysis is very childish, poor, wrong from a mature Christian standpoint. It appears you too need to learn to look to Christ and not at people and the world as your guideline. I beg you to do so. He awaits, and will show you a better way.

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  2. Looks like you're impressed with yourself and your education, when in fact this review of this song is horrible. All that education, and this is how poor a Christian analysis that you have? How sad to think you taught for Christ to our young people. This song is simply the work of a non-believer, who looks at people rather than Christ. It's obvious they need to change their focus. People will never be perfect. From what we see of your Christian life, you would be one in the bad column. This analysis is very childish, poor, wrong from a mature Christian standpoint. It appears you too need to learn to look to Christ and not at people and the world as your guideline. I beg you to do so. He awaits, and will show you a better way.

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  4. Thank you that truly inspirational in the sense l work with many struggling to begin with the faith journey,this song both challanged the non believer and those like myself with faith,you got it correct here my friend it's a struggle and the lyrics have that honesty thanks for your scribes
    kevin_wllr@yahoo.co.uk

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