A Quieter Christianity

A reader writes:

Though I enjoy your blog, I tend to pass over the many posts you do on Christianity and the meaning of Christian faith, being neither a Christian nor a person of faith.  I tend to associate Christianity with people like Sarah Palin.

Last weekend, I found myself for various reasons in York, England, and while sightseeing stumbled into the Minster in the middle of an ordination ceremony.  It was a revelation, in its way, as an education into what Christian faith can mean for believers. The most impressive lesson for me was about what one might call the "quiet" of Christianity.  It seemed -- at least to me, as an outside observer -- to be an intensely personal faith and not the kind of carnival tour "Christianity" barked by the American right.  

So I think I have a slightly better appreciation for the discussions in which you engage, and I thought you might find some grist for the Daily Dish mill in what follows.

On the Archbishop's website (naturally!) one can read the personal stories of the new priests, and this one -- the story of the Reverend Matt Martinson -- really struck me as demonstrating what Christ can mean to the believer:

"My father was an alcoholic and a drug addict, and used to knock me about. Inevitably...it was join the army or go to prison. The army didn't work out, and eventually I came out of the army and ended up taking drink and drugs seriously. My life became violent...and I ended up sleeping rough in York. I progressed into the criminal scene, and ended up in a real mess.

"It was at that point that I made a deal with God. I said to him, 'If you get me caught alive, I will bow my knee to you', because at that time I was getting involved in armed robbery, and with the firearms issues the violence was growing, and it was a very dangerous world. I'd come to the point in my life when I'd had enough, I couldn't take any more. I tried to commit suicide, but it didn't work.

"God got me caught alive. When I was caught, I was put in a police cell up in Carlisle, and instead of being interviewed straight away, I was left in the cell. I heard God speak to me – not audibly – and say 'Make a choice'. And I knew then that that was one of those eternity moments, and I had to choose whether I was going to accept God or not. And I just said 'Yes.'

"Coming out prison was hard. My whole life changed. One of the chaplains broke the rules, and allowed me to stay with him, but the adjustment coming out was just horrendous. I got work with a marquee firm, putting up tents. It was a great job, but I wanted more of God. At that time I was going to Christ Church in Bridlington, where I met my future wife, Haley. Our eyes met across a crowed pew! We've been married for ten years now, with a little boy called Seth.

"God spoke to me when I was in prison, and told me 'Someday, you'll be an ordained vicar'. I laughed! But this sense of calling just kept growing, and through all I've done, it's progressed to where I am now. Seeing the fruition of that calling is just – wow. God still takes my breath away."

What I found so affecting about this is the absolute lack of militancy in faith -- of the kind we associate with Islamists, jihadists, and the Taliban Right in the U.S.  This is his Christianity -- not one he assumes he can simply elaborate to society writ large.  And in that way it was refreshing indeed.  I don't suppose one would ever see it catch on here, unfortunately, but at least it allows -- indeed, compels -- me to paint "Christians" with a more sophisticated brush.

I am grateful for my reader's open mind; and I certainly hope the Dish can be a forum in which a more confident and less neurotic Christianity can be explored. That's one reason, by the way, I refer to Palin's politicized Christianity as Christianism. Not because I loathe Christianity, but because I want to make it clear to non-believers that the religious right is not all that Christianity is. This is not proselytizing. It is about explaining why reasoned, intelligent human beings in the modern West can and do find the message and the person of Jesus integral to our lives.