RELIGION, CHURCH or GOD?
Religion can be a menace. It is rightly criticised for sometimes causing division and even conflict.
Church may not be quite so bad - but it can be boring and out of touch. Alan tells me that congregations over Christmas were up by about 20%. So it is not all doom and gloom as the media keep on telling us. However most of our worship is one way communication, but some people like the opportunity of responding and would like time to talk, question, think and comment. Our wordy liturgy does not allow time for that.
God and Jesus can be very exciting, as we try together to discover who they really are. Our ideas of God can be disastrously wrong. The Jews were taught to call him by the mysterious name of Yahweh, meaning I AM (or perhaps better I WILL BE) The criticisms voiced by Richard Dawkins in his provocative book "The God Delusion" may be misguided, but that is understandable, in the light of what we Christians often say or do. The impression created by parts of the Old Testament does suggest that God can behave as an unreasonable tyrant. We need to understand that God only reveals what he is like slowly, as we are not smart enough to take in too much in at one go. I used to shout at my children "NO!" on occasions when they got too near the fire (an unreasonable tyrant?). Later on when they were older I was able to explain things better and in more detail.
Christians believe that if you want to know what God is really like you need to look at Jesus. Jesus himself claimed, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14 9) Or to quote a former archbishop, Michael Ramsey, "God is like Jesus and in him is no unChristlikeness at all."
Last year some of us discovered more about Jesus by looking at the Gospel of Mark, the shortest and the simplest of the four gospels in the New Testament. These small groups allowed people to talk, think and argue.
This year we shall be carrying on our voyage of discovery based on the booklet that is available free in all the churches in the benefice, "What can we believe these days?". (You can also download it from the home page of our Winterborne and Milton Abbas benefice website.)
During March there will be small groups in our villages and we hope that it will not be just church members who come along, but also anyone who wants to find out more about Jesus, and the God that Christians worship. We do not mind if you disagree with us, we do not always get it right. We might all get surprises - indeed I rather hope we will!
Full details of these groups will be published in the March Valley News.