So just to remind you we’re in a brief four part excursion from the main series on fasting. Connections will be made later on. What triggered this off was a sequence of thoughts and events on Tuesday that compelled me to write this series on nothing special. In the last entry I shared my journey from being a religious bigot completely close-minded to the ways of Christ outside my own tradition to one with a more considered approach to different expressions of Christian faith. Although I had reservations about the YMCA’s Christian ethos, I’ve got over it to be able to work where I am and forge decent relationships with others who have helped me develop that more considered position.
Now as I continue please bear in mind the disclaimer put to this whole series in the last post. Go on remind yourself of it, before you get upset and want to haul ass … metaphorically. Done it? Good. There, can’t say I didn’t warn you.
One of the most precious experiences to me in my time at the YMCA is knocking about with my counterpart in the Burton-on-Trent YMCA, Peter Orton. When I first met him I thought he was a freak. Now having got to know him a little better and spending some quality time with him on all manner of things I have come to the conclusion that indeed he is a freak. This is cool with me, though, because I can relate with a freak. I can relate with someone who doesn’t neatly fit in the categories and classifications that we have for people.
His rejection and alienation from even mainstream Christianity has made him an endearing and intriguing figure to me. As I’ve got to know him I’ve loved him all the more for his ability to come at things from leftfield and challenge the status quo.
I do not agree with his theology completely and some of it has left me baffled and confused as to who he thinks Jesus is. Sometimes I’ve thought he’s quite clearly barmy and holds views that could not be compatible with the Christian faith made clear in scripture. For all that there is enough of a shared passion to see Jesus made known to people who don’t know and get an aesthetic culture obsessed with looks and ethics to go beyond and engage with the spiritual.
At this, Pete is a past-master and is so much better than other Christians I know who can talk the right doctrine but have no track record with the actual mission aspect of this gospel to reach those who do not yet know with the good news. Pete’s reputation in his community as an ‘angel of the streets’ would be quite something if it came from the safe nominal Christians, but is all the more remarkable as the title comes from Muslims who have seen him action showing compassion to those in need of it.
Pete is for real – he’s an open, honest, fumbling, bumbling, flawed, inspiring, intelligent, considerate follower of Jesus Christ. My relationship with him sums up a lot of my newer approach to engaging with believers whose version of following Christ differs from mine. I have a choice – embrace where I can and befriend, or write off and distance myself from associating from such … freaks. The latter option is the easiest and to be fair in some cases it is the best policy because sometimes the freaks are actually more interested in being freakish than in bringing Christ to people’s attentions. That’s when the doctrinal divergences play a bigger part in things because it’s not just a disagreement among brothers it’s a disagreement about Christ Himself where the outcome is of no great concern to one of us (i.e. the outfreakishly freaky freak).
In the meantime with the humility to acknowledge that I am not omniscient and with the unity of the Spirit at stake I don’t batter my brother in the Christ with our area of difference. Where we can fellowship, we fellowship and where that no longer remains possible we part amicably. I’m not sure if I would have had the personal capacity to love Pete five years ago as much as I love him now, but I’m glad I can as he has helped shaped my love for Christ and widen my appreciation for all things to do with Christian spirituality.
Now the context developed in these two parts are important in considering the nature of the theme on nothing personal. The deal at the heart of Christian mission is not getting people doing good things or saying good words or appearing in the right gear. It’s about being reconnected with the Creator of all mankind and living life from that connection so that good speaking, acting, thinking and relating is sourced out of a complete devotion and solid connection to God through Christ by faith. That affects things on a holistic basis from the inside out. The alternative to that is what we’ll explore in the next entry – don’t miss it, I implore you.
For His Name's Sake