When I was in the 6th Form I was part of a really close foursome of friends. They would often come round to mine and one friend, in particular nicknamed Dodds, used to give me a load of stick for having a record collection that consisted of just one album! It was The Police’s Greatest Hits. Despite having a Buddhist Dad, Dodds was very interested in my Christian faith and he started coming to church with me. Being the school joker, he was incredibly well-liked and popular and he amazed everyone when having made a commitment to Christ he gave up smoking overnight without any cravings or relapses. It was a fantastic testimony to the power of God to heal and set free. Not long after though tragedy struck and he was killed in a car crash on holiday in Spain. We were all devastated and I had the painful task of breaking the news to other friends and teachers. My one consolation was that I knew he had a saving faith and I looked forward to a day when we would be reunited.
I was reminded of this afresh this week when I was asked to reflect on when it is I experience the spiritual in popular culture. I was able to think of quite a few examples such as the natural history programme ‘Earthflight’ and songs like ‘You’ve got the love’ made popular by Florence and the Machine. But I think I surprised my questioner but saying I also found watching ‘Strictly Coming Dancing’ a spiritual experience! And this is where I go back to my friend, Dodds. After he died, I was invited by his parents to choose something of his to remember him by. Because of his teasing, I chose an album. It was by Sting, the lead singer of The Police. The song I like best from this record, ‘They Dance Alone’, tells of the silent protests by the mothers, wives and daughters of Argentina whose loved ones disappeared under the reign of Pinochet and his military Junta. They campaign to find out what happened to their men folk and be able to mark where their bodies lie. The song’s repeated refrain is, “one day we’ll dance on their graves, one day we’ll sing their freedom, one day we’ll laugh in our joy”. They look forward to a day when they will celebrate the lives of their loved ones and they will dance.
I to look forward to a day when I will dance. Dance again with the friend I lost. Dance with my Saviour. To celebrate with every fibre of my being at the wedding of Jesus and His church! “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb”, it says in Revelation 19 verse 9. So whether I am moved to shake my booty by the exuberance of the Samba or the desire for intimacy in the closeness and tenderness of a waltz, ‘Strictly’ reminds me of the hope I have and reignites the desire to ensure no-one is excluded from the end of show party to end all parties!
One of the most depressing sights in the New Year is the queue at customer services as people wait patiently in line to return their unwanted Christmas gifts. It always strikes me as sad that so many of us can’t wait for the shops to open to get cold hard cash for the presents we received that disappointed. How many of them were chosen with thought and care only to be rejected, I wonder? Yet I am just as likely to participate in this post Yuletide ritual as the next person. This is despite having been taught by my father that it is not enough to get a gift, you actually have to receive it. That means using it, wearing it, showing the person who gave that you enjoy the item they specifically chose for you.
This week I have been reminded that faith in God operates in much the same way. He offers us the gift of Himself and we are free to accept it or say thanks but no thanks. For Vincent Donovan, a Catholic evangelist to the Masai in Tanzania, it came as quite a shock when a community he had invested a year of instruction in politely but firmly refused this invitation (Christianity Rediscovered p. 107). But like any relationship, love cannot be demanded or manufactured. Revelation goes hand in hand with vulnerability and the risk of refusal.
However, to accept God is to believe in Him with our minds, trust in Him with our hearts and live a life that reflects His concerns with our actions. This is not a one off transaction. American theologian Steve Bevans says in his book ‘An Introduction to Theology in a Global Perspective’, “What the interplay between God’s offer of self in revelation and our acceptance of God and subsequent gift of ourselves in faith open up is the possibility of a life lived in God’s presence, a life that (requires) deeper reflection and prayer as we experience God’s presence and challenge in our lives (p. 31).”
If this on-going relationship of faith is to be real and dynamic we will want to know more. An essential aspect of our humanity is the need to understand. To find out who we are and how this relates to the God we know personally. About the truths we assent to. Where have they come from and what relevance do they have as we go about our daily lives? How do we express faith both individually and corporately and where is this located in the tradition? There are further questions that arise out of the challenges of our lived experience. What is the purpose of prayer? Why don’t I always get the answers I want? Why do good people suffer? Does God care? To what extent does He intervene in situations where we long to see change? It is as we begin to engage with these questions that theology happens.
Maybe I am just getting old and should get out more, but this seems exciting and stimulating to me! Not at all what I thought it was. So rather than taking back God’s gift of Himself as revealed in Christ for a refund or even packing Him away with the Christmas decorations until next year, I want to receive all that He has for me and be willing to offer all of myself in return. If this means grappling with the questions that haunt me, then bring it on! My prayer is that of St. Paul for the Ephesians, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give (me) the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that (I) may know Him better. I pray also that the eyes of (my) heart may be enlightened in order that (I) may know the hope to which He has called (me), the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe (1:17-19).” If you said ‘Amen’, then I suggest you will be doing some theology too!