awkwardly christian – in the Age today

I wrote a faith piece for the Age today… [a friend from the UK emailed to say that he’s read it online, but i can’t see it there. i’ll paste it below ].

I haven’t written for the paper for a few months – i’ve been writing for other things – but coming back to this feels really good. I think the Age is my favourite audience. The piece is a bit clunky, and quite possibly a bit too honest, but so be it…

Last Thursday I spent time with some of the men from Port Philip prison. I go into the prison a few times each year as part of my work, and while it’s a very transient population there are always a few men who I see each time I return. When I arrive they’ll come up alongside me and ask ‘Do you remember me, miss?’. And when I leave they’ll do the same. ‘Don’t forget me, miss.’

Every visit to the prison converts me. I’m reminded that the assumptions by which I live my life outside are the product of privilege. What I so glibly think is achievable, for both humans and any God I can imagine is beyond hope inside. Sometimes love doesn’t conquer all. Sometimes justice doesn’t come. There are some places hope can’t exist.

It’s made me an awkward Christian – bad company, I fear, in the circles of faith. If truth be known, by most definitions, I couldn’t be called a Christian. I’m not at all convinced by the being of God, though the event of God – the actions and transformations that have been traditionally attributed to God – entice me. But much as the label ‘Christian’ doesn’t fit, I’m loathe to give it up. It’s not for nostalgia, it’s certainly not because I’m superstitious, it’s not even because I have a need to belong or be part of a group. It’s because I need to be held to an expectation that is way beyond myself, and I’m compelled by the expectation that Christianity has of me: that I will live as though everyone can begin again, and that I will act as though the impossible might one day be true.

Christianity has often been confused with a moral framework, a divinely auspiced golden rule. But at the heart of Christianity there’s something much more radical than simply doing good to another in the hope that will be returned to us. There are some people it isn’t humanly possible to forgive, and some redemptions will always be too hard to contemplate. When I go inside the prison I’m confronted with those things that are beyond human resolution, and I have to make a choice about whether I will give up on someone, or if I’ll believe there is a story of grace and forgiveness that goes far beyond my feelings and responses to any individual. Christianity, with its ancient story of what brings life to our broken world, holds me to a commitment to treat the most dehumanised and the most despicable with grace and compassion. Even though I mostly fail at the task, it calls me to do what I can to re-member, to bring back into the world, those our society would rather forget.

I’m sure there are those who can live with such beliefs without faith, but I know I can’t. Calling myself Christian holds me to what I find impossible, irrational and unreasonable. It’s what makes me able to go back into prison, and to look the men there in the eye when they ask if I’ve remembered them. It means I can tell them that I’m trying the best I can.

6 Comments

  1. Sue

    Wow. Never too honest – only for the author is it too honest 😉 The honesty is *always* a blessing to somebody else. This piece has just floated me up this morning, thank you for going there (both on the page and on your feet 🙂

  2. “Calling myself Christian holds me to what I find impossible, irrational and unreasonable…” Thanks Cheryl, good to see you in the Age again.

  3. “it’s made me an awkward Christian – bad company, I fear, in the circles of faith. If truth be known, by most definitions, I couldn’t be called a Christian. I’m not at all convinced by the being of God, though the event of God – the actions and transformations that have been traditionally attributed to God – entice me. But much as the label ‘Christian’ doesn’t fit, I’m loathe to give it up….It’s because I need to be held to an expectation that is way beyond myself, and I’m compelled by the expectation that Christianity has of me: that I will live as though everyone can begin again, and that I will act as though the impossible might one day be true.”

    I loved this. I have felt bereft lately by my lack of attention to my own reasons for doing things, the underlying beliefs for my actions. The world spins off its axis when I lose that focus. Yours is the kind of company I need to keep Cheryl. xx

  4. being held to a way that is beyond myself is an important part of the life of Christianity for me too. Thanks for your very well articulated insights into life and faith, once again.

  5. craig

    my teacher stanley h said that he was willing to declare himself a pacifist so that a community (of faith or otherwise) would require him to live up to it. for him and me its about learning from a narrative to live differently among a community of people who are also formed by that story. i’m intrigued and provoked by the notion that different views of that story might also shape how we live it.

    another excellent article btw

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