We were driving north to Pittsburgh after a memorable four days with the people at Christ Church, Charlottesville. Jacqui commented:
“Well, they are very like us – and very different.”
I knew what she meant. Yes – very similar, especially in our understanding of the Gospel and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We hold shared values and a common goal of sharing the Kingdom. But also very different.
I was reflecting on this, when we (i.e. Jacqui) decided we needed to stop for a break. The obvious place came into view at Harrisonburg Crossing – Barnes and Noble, a large bookstore. Not for the books but for the Starbucks, toilets, free Wi-Fi, easy parking and above all, air-conditioning.
Approaching the gents I was surprised by one very large display, so much so that I took this photo – which I attach. This featured books, on both sides of the bookcase, presented unashamedly as “Christian Inspiration”. Here were more Christian books than in any bookstore in our own country including Church House Westminster.
Yesterday I checked the equivalent stock at Waterstones in Ormskirk – a much smaller shop, of course, But even so, religion is given just one puny shelf of 24 books under the heading Reference. Just 13 of those books were Christian along with four Bibles.
Alongside was a whole case entitled Body, Mind, Spirit – I think eight shelves, all devoted to New Age spirituality.
What was even more galling was that there were eight so-called “bibles” – a tarot bible, Wicca bible, chakra bible, crystal bible and so on.
I’m not sure whether Waterstones have a particular agenda or are just responding to market forces but the contrast between our two cultures could not be more graphic.
But why? Why is the Christian life apparently so marginalised, in a land where we don’t do religion? (Actually, from Waterstones’ perspective we do religion, every religion that is except for Christianity!)
Why do I feel so uncomfortable reading my Bible on the train? Why do so many Christians feel that we need to keep our heads down? I really don’t know but it does affect the way we operate as a church.
Jacqui was explaining to Paul, the Rector at Charlottesville, how we promote our Alpha course representing a substantial investment in time and energy. We do well to welcome 20 new people and yet, as he agreed, the equivalent in Virginia would pull in over 100!
And yet Alpha, so successful in North America, originates from our own culture. This Christian introduction course has managed to take root and flourish in our stony ground. Maybe that is why it has such a fruitful ministry worldwide.
This gives us hope, a measure of encouragement. The apostle Paul, no stranger to powerful and institutionalised opposition, writes to the Corinthian church: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
So we simply get on with it, in living the Gospel “in and out of season.” It may be out of season in our own culture at the moment. But this is how God works best, the fundamental principle of the Christian life.
For Paul continues “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Then we have no alternative but to rely on the Holy Spirit. This does seem the way God prepares to work, through our weakness.
Jesus told the disciples “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
The good news is that with Jesus working through us, we can do all things!