Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Way of Tears

Around 40 years ago I was having a conversation with one of the then leaders of the charismatic movement, John Richards. We were discussing the place of feelings and emotion in church and in particular the feelings experienced during worship. Somehow the conversation got on to the subject of tears and the way that worship sometimes evokes tears. I mentioned to him that there was a famous article (for me at any rate!) on the subject of tears in the early Greek Fathers. I sent him a reference to this article about tears and spirituality. For my effort, I found that our conversation was mentioned in a footnote for an article that was written by John shortly afterwards.

I mention this conversation because one of the positive features of the charismatic spirituality for me is that there is a place for expressing feelings. So often Christianity is seemingly presented as being about a dry adherence to a number of statements about God and what he has done. A mention of tears within Christian experience is able to take us well away from matters of intellect into the realm of feelings and the heart. The popularity of endless repetition of choruses (something we criticise in this blog), can be seen to perform the function of stirring feelings. But clearly the evocation of feeling and tears within an ancient spiritual tradition will undoubtedly be something deeper than this. All of us share having our human feelings aroused through participation in music or drama. This is a daily part of the way that life is enriched for most of us. How often these feelings rise above what we would call superficial sentiment is another question. In practice, we are all aware of the difference between a merely pleasant sensation and a profoundly moving experience which may change us at a deep level. In addressing the role played by tears for these early Christian writers, we are clearly moving to a place much more significant than anything we normally experience.

The tradition of a spirituality beginning with an experience of tears goes back to the early centuries of Greek spiritual writings. An author known as Isaac the Syrian, writing in the sixth century, believed that tears were the sign of a spiritual breakthrough. He said of the mystic way that when ‘grace begins to open your eyes so that they see things in their essence, it is then that your eyes begin to fill with tears’. St Simeon the New Theologian, an 11th century writer based in Constantinople, speaks of a vision that he had. Writing of himself in the third person Simeon says that when he came to following a vision, ‘he was prey to joy and amazement …he wept from the bottom of his heart and his tears were accompanied by sweetness.’

When these early Fathers speak of tears, they are not talking about sobbing or any contraction of the muscles. They are referring to an outpouring of deep feeling which they perceived as spiritual in nature. Most of us will have had experiences, perhaps spiritual in nature, which has brought us to the point of tears. Sometimes something takes place which is of great beauty, such as a moment of reconciliation between two people. Perhaps it is the climax or moment of triumph for someone after months or years of effort. It was hard not to feel a lump as we watched the athlete helping another runner over the finishing line at the London Marathon at the week-end. Such tears represent are being moved something profoundly beautiful. In the same way, the monastic tradition in the East recognised that tears might be experienced by a Christian as they come forward to receive the sacrament. Indeed, Simeon suggested that ‘no one should communicate without tears’.

Tears in the face of beauty or wonder are also to be placed alongside another cause for weeping as understood by the Fathers. These are tears of compunction. This last word is not a commonly used one in English. It refers to the way that we recognise how sin and evil doing have polluted our human identity. Compunction is the sorrow we feel as part of this sense of repentance. In a powerful metaphor, Simeon describes how the tears of repentance help to water the dry earth in which we try to grow our virtues. Such a moral reformation is accompanied by a successful warding off of demonic attack as well as developing the humility to live a good life. To quote from Simeon’s writing, ‘it is an inexpressible marvel that he whose eyes shed sensible tears washes his soul spiritually from the mud of faults; that that which falls to the ground burns and crushes the demons, and renders the soul free from the invisible bonds of sin.’

I realise in revisiting this long-forgotten tradition within Christian spirituality that it provides a strong antidote to a temptation to exercise manipulative power. Even if a tradition of tears as part of Christian spirituality seems strange to us, at least we can begin to see within it an utter humility and refusal to control. The one who weeps before God at the beauty of his presence or the one who feels deep sorrow for their sins is never the one who longs for power. In this rapid description of the way of tears. I would like to suggest that there is one further area for recognising the possibility of spiritual tears which Simeon does not speak about. In a world which is full of suffering, homelessness, slavery and sudden death, to name a few, it is hard not to be touched emotionally by the sheer volume of the world’s pain. I wonder if our intercessions might not, at least on some occasions, allow to feel deeply in our acts of identification with our objects of concern. In summary, is not truly felt intercession an occasion for tears, at least sometimes? Should not our caring for the world be an invitation to weep for that world? Because we know so much more about what is going on in the world our compassion should in theory be so much greater. Tears may have no value in themselves, but they do have the effect of opening up the heart to greater awareness and sensitivity as to what is going on in ourselves, other people and the wider world. This heightened sensitivity is surely needed in a world that shuts itself off from pain, fear and reality itself. The way of tears, as taught by the early Fathers, may be a path that Christians can learn to follow. This in turn may help to melt the hatreds, the power games and the exploitation that infect our churches and wider society. Compassion, the ability to suffer with others, both near and far, is something that Christians need to experience and then teach to all. Tears of compassion along with tears that lead to humility are important gifts to be offered to our world where such things are not apparent or easily understood.

Why do clergy sometimes abuse their power?

Specific Object
This blog post appeared over three years ago and received quite a lot of comments. I think it has stood the test of time and is worth reprinting (with some minor alterations). Hopefully it will now be accessible to many of my newer readers who have not engaged with this question before. More probably they have not wanted to ask what is, after all, a fairly uncomfortable question.

This blog is concerned with many examples of abuse that happen and have happened in churches up and down the land (not to mention across the world). I am concerned not only by the fact that it happens but also to offer some reflections as to why it happens.

The word abuse is one that is most often associated with sex and indeed sexual exploitation with members of the congregation or pastoral clients is unhappily fairly common in the church. I leave the abuse of children to one side because although it does happen, its occurrence is dwarfed by the incidence of so called ‘affairs’ in the church. Estimating from guesswork and some American research I would maintain that while one clergyman or minister in forty may have sexually abused a child, up to one in eight may have behaved inappropriately with an adult member under their pastoral care. A perusal on the Web will produce some confirmation of whether my figures are more or less accurate.

While abuse of power with a sexual dimension happens in the church (and I will return to this topic in another post), more common is the simple use of power techniques to bolster up the flagging ego of a Christian leader. My studies have suggested that power is abused in a church setting for one of three reasons. These are sex, money or the desire to make the abuser feel important. When we talk about power abuse in church, we are normally talking about the third one of these. It is a phenomenon which is similar to bullying by children. Why do children bully? The short answer is that often they have damaged self-esteem. The use physical threats or dominating behaviour is a means to obtain a sense of being important. This being important temporarily relieves their inner sense of insignificance and not mattering to others. Clergy also play the power game in their congregations in rather more subtle ways than children in the playground. The fundamental reasons for doing it are the same. For whatever reason, clergy sometimes have a crisis of confidence and experience threats to their well-being. The reason for this may be located in the individual’s remote past or it may be a consequence of demoralising conditions of their work in the present.

The abuse of power by the clergy can take many forms and readers of this blog will have their own stories to tell. The abuse of power is often accompanied by a constant reminding by the clergy-person of their ‘superior’ status or education. The clergy who have extra titles may insist of having these used on every occasion. Often clergy will only want to associate with the socially significant among their congregation and ignore others of less importance. This need constantly to be in a superior place to the people ‘below’ them can be seen on examination to be an expression of inadequacy verging on paranoia. If it were not hurtful to those affected by it, it could be almost seem as comic. But being subtly put down by a ‘superior’ person is never funny and congregations where this happens are unlikely to flourish. But just as the abuser may be a victim in some way of the past or present and finds it difficult to change, so the abused find it difficult to walk away because they do not know how to reclaim their power.

Cathedrals Working Group

Around 60 years ago in Canterbury Cathedral a notice greeted visitors as they entered the building. A request was made for them to make a generous contribution to Cathedral funds. The notice pointed out that Canterbury Cathedral needed £1500 annually to cover the shortfall in its income. This worked out at around five pounds a day. Even allowing for inflation this seems to us a tiny sum of money. Visitors were in fact fairly few in number in those days as continental tourists could not then afford to visit Canterbury. I have no doubt, nevertheless, that the generosity of the visitors easily able made up this modest deficit

Moving back to today it is quite clear that all cathedrals in England are currently encountering massive financial burdens. These, sometimes running into millions, are crippling for those who have responsibility for caring for these buildings. Some cathedrals, like Canterbury, have successfully implemented a visitors’ charge for all who come to see the building. Visitors to Canterbury Cathedral today number well in excess of a million in a single year. Thus, even the huge capital projects for restoration can be managed with a reasonable hope of success. Other cathedrals which lie well off the tourist circuit, like Peterborough and Exeter, struggle to raise necessary funds. In recent months, we have heard of the difficulties of governance in both these establishments. Both deans have had to resign. Financial problems have played a major part in the crises that these cathedrals were going through. Clearly there were also personality clashes. It is perhaps inevitable that people will fall out when difficult decisions have to be taken. Making individuals redundant or selling off assets are clearly paths to be taken only after a great deal of possibly acrimonious discussion.

In the past two weeks, the Archbishops have set up a Cathedrals Working Group (CWG) to look into all the issues around governance and organisation of cathedrals. In the background is the often criticised Cathedrals Measure (1999) which attempted to put onto a new footing the way cathedrals are run. The main change brought about through this Measure was to require all cathedrals to employ lay people to manage many aspects of cathedral life. In particular, it was recognised that expertise in financial matters was required. A Chief Executive figure had to be appointed for every cathedral. Cathedral Councils were also set up with the Bishop of the Diocese present in a non-voting role. The Cathedral Chapter, the Dean and the Canons, would be left to be responsible for the worship and the pastoral care of the congregation. Clearly the divisions of responsibility within cathedrals has not been without potential tension and friction. In a previous blog post I pointed out that requiring cathedrals to have these multiple foci of power would result in problems. I have only indirect knowledge of how the divisions of responsibility in cathedrals works out in practice; clearly human relationships will be a key issue and this will involve a need for constant diplomacy by all concerned.

The published reports on Exeter and Peterborough Cathedrals both raised many issues of governance and personal relationships in these institutions. In a set-up where there can be up to four competing centres of authority, I find myself asking why no one talks about this issue of power at a very early stage? Power is like many unspoken topics; it is there but no one wants to describe and analyse it. No one, as far as I know, has ever examined the way authority works in a cathedral from a psychodynamic point of view. When people accept positions of responsibility and power, they will inevitably bring to the table their own personal foibles. These may well become exaggerated by the exercise of the authority role. From my own reading, it seems that in many leaders there is a chance that some will go on over time to develop increasing narcissistic tendencies. Such characteristics will make life for those below them utterly miserable. It would appear that most commercial organisations are alert to this possibility of bullying and obnoxious behaviour and have procedures to deal with it. In the church and other voluntary organisations, the culture of niceness prevents many people calling bad behaviour by its proper name. When an individual with a frustrated ego accepts the role of a manager, it may be a recipe for disaster in that organisation. Why do not people talk about the psychological issues among leaders in places like the church and which commonly cause so much unhappiness?

Looking back over my career in the church, I would many times have welcomed an open discussion about personal and psychological issues connected with my work. In particular I would have welcomed a free exchange over the issue of relating to a Vicar when I was a curate. If the Vicar had said to me, for example, that there will be some issues where I have full authority because of my greater experience. There will be other matters where I welcome your opinions and insights. That will allow us to have an open and free discussion so that we can make a decision jointly. That would have been a path to liberation. If there had also been an open recognition of the fears and tensions that were unspoken and existed on both sides, that also would have been tremendously helpful. But neither thing happened. The Vicar curate relationship for me was very much the parent-child relationship with little recognition that I had anything to offer in spite of five years training. I suspect that many of the tensions which occur within cathedrals, whether between Bishop and Dean or within the Chapter are like this. Individual egos, some of them badly corrupted by over-rapid access to power and authority, are normally unprepared to examine the power dynamics that will always exist in institutions. Would that people could really speak freely about what they feel and think about personal interactions within an institution. Everyone should be able to speak openly when they are expected to work together in harmony.

The expression ‘speaking to power’ is one that is now being much discussed in the context of politics. What I would wish for the Cathedrals Working Group is that they began a serious discussion about the way that power dynamics operate within large and somewhat unwieldy institutions like cathedrals. I would also like the emphasis on training of senior figures in the church to include a much greater understanding of how power dynamics in institutions function. Relationships can so easily breakdown when power games are in operation. Many people do not know how to separate their sense of personal self-esteem from the responsibilities they hold. Defining the ‘self’ by the position of power that is held is neither healthy nor conducive to good relationships. On a slightly separate point, I cannot understand how the Archbishops in England can expect a working group to produce an adequate report with a time-limit set for the end of the year. The issues, the evidence and the stories that they will hear will take them considerable amount of time. I fail to see how they can digest so much material and bring it into a coherent form.

2018 will see the published report. It will be interesting to see whether the group is able to do justice to anything of this issue of power within institutions. They may of course leave it as the unacknowledged reality which no one wishes to unpack properly for full analysis and understanding.

Salvation and Starvation

From time to time a visual image comes to me which illustrates an issue in theology. Recently I was watching an episode of the historical drama The Last Kingdom which explores England in the 9th century. The Danish stronghold of Durham was being attacked by soldiers loyal to the Saxon King, Alfred of Wessex. I began to reflect on the physical issues connected with castles. Many, like Durham, stand on a hill. Those inside the fortress can look down on their enemies and have a tremendous sense of power and security. There are just too many difficulties for these opponents ever to be a threat. But, as we all know, a castle on a hill has one fundamental weakness. The strength that protects it is still very vulnerable. It needs to receive food, supplies and reinforcements from the outside. During a siege this is difficult or impossible. The salvation or safety of the castle walls may turn into a recipe for starvation if the enemy successfully surrounds you and cuts you off from contact with the rest of the world. Walls that keep you safe also cut you off from the wider world.

A comparable situation is to be found in some of the challenging cities in Britain and America where gang warfare is rampant. Members of a gang may take over an area of the city and have control over such things as drug distribution or protection rackets. They will feel extremely safe in their own territory. The problem is that the security they feel is matched by the inability for any member of their gang to leave the area. Outside the safe-zone they are in danger from a rival gang. Security in one geographical area changes into exposure to danger when one goes outside its boundaries. What safety gang members enjoy in their own territory is balanced by total insecurity in places outside their area of control.

Another area of life where security in one part of life is complemented by extreme vulnerability in another is in the possession of great wealth. Many people celebrate wealth, not for what they can buy, but for the security that they feel when they have it. Possession of wealth does however, seem to create many problems of its own. The rich are not exempt from illness, family breakdown or tragedy of various kinds. But there is one notable but avoidable misfortune that many rich people seem to encounter. Many wealthy people have the belief that their good fortune and money makes it necessary to be isolated away from average people. They and their families do not need to mix with ordinary people and do ordinary things. The social life of the very wealthy seems to centre around attending parties and gatherings where they will meet people like themselves. One of the great disadvantages of this kind of social whirl is that not infrequently the rich also find themselves caught up in a need to impress other rich people. Subtle pressure will be maintained to force them to drive a suitable make of car, go to fashionable resorts and generally wear openly the badges of ostentatious wealth. The brief exposure to this kind of life that most of us get through reading the colour supplements of Sunday newspapers, suggests that there is a great deal of effort in maintaining such a lifestyle. The vulnerability of such wealth seems to be twofold. First of all the very rich find themselves caught up in a round of expected behaviour which, on the face of it, appears exhausting and of little value to anyone. Secondly the rich, by opting for a narrow social circle may miss out on any exposure to the full range of people who live in our society. This may not appear to matter for much of their lives. Nevertheless, the inability to relate socially with people of every background is an enormous handicap for wealthy people as they enter old age. The education for mixing with people of all types which is encouraged among Christians, is borne out of a desire to help and serve people right the way through life. The security that wealth and position may have offered for so much of their lives (along with social distancing) has now become a social handicap. Instead of their old security and strength, the older wealthy person may find only unhappiness and loneliness. Like the soldier in a well defended castle, a former sense of safety and impregnable strength gives way to starvation for ordinary human contact and the lack of skills to achieve it.

The words safety and salvation come from a similar root. All of us want such security and safety but it is important to be aware how being safe may sometimes make us extremely vulnerable in another area of life. Some branches of Christianity spend a lot of time assuring their followers of their safety and salvation. The ‘saved’ individual is assured that he/she has done all that is required to be acceptable to God in this world and in the next. This kind of teaching for me is extremely dangerous and is likely to create a kind of religious smugness in the individual concerned. Anything that suggests that I have arrived at a place of safety in this life is almost certainly a false claim. I for one do not spend a lot of time thinking about my achievements, whether personal or professional. I am far more focused on the tasks that lie ahead of me. Do I have the energy, mental or physical, to accomplish these? I find it a much healthier outlook to think of what God wants me to do in the future rather than whether I have already achieved a particular status in God’s eyes.

At this time of year, we contemplate the Passion of Christ. There is one particular phrase in the Passion narrative which suggests that a desire to dwell on an ‘achieved salvation’ is unhelpful for a Christian. It is said of Jesus in John’s gospel that he loved his disciples ‘until the end’. There was no pause in Jesus working his Father’s will. We cannot imagine him sitting back to enjoy the status of ‘being saved’ No, Jesus saw his life right up to the end as being one of service and love for his followers and disciples. For him there was no place of rest or safety; there was no security or a place to hide. There was only the continuous path of obedience to his father, fuelled by his trust and perfect confidence that God would care for him in life and in death. Perhaps the Passion story has this to teach us as well. We cannot ever expect to find complete safety or security; all we can seek is to know and follow the path that God calls us to walk in this life.

Towards an understanding of Healing

Over the past few weeks I have been putting together my thoughts on the topic of healing. It is now 31 years since the first book of mine on this topic was published. In the intervening years since 1986 I have had plenty of opportunity to think and read further on this topic.

The fact that I am trying to produce some fresh ideas on the subject now is connected to the fact that I am due to give a paper on healing to the International Cultic Studies Association conference at Bordeaux in twelve weeks. I have chosen the topic because there seems to be among many students of the cult scene a great deal of scepticism about whether non-medical healings ever occur. Many, if not the majority, of cults and charismatic groups practise some form of healing ritual. To write them all off as trickery or placebo does not do justice to this widespread phenomenon. The problem for many commentators is to reconcile two facts. One is that you may have an utterly unscrupulous cult leader who causes a great deal of harm to his/her followers. This same leader also appears to have a potentially valuable skill. This is to enable on some occasions dramatic reversals in mental or physical disease. Long-term readers of this blog will know that part of the appeal of Michael Reid at Peniel in Brentwood was the fact that he claimed to be able to heal people. Acceptance of these claims had a great deal to do with the way that many stayed loyal to the church when the utter dysfunction of the leadership that Reid offered was clear to all. It is also apparent from the investigations of journalists that at least some of these miracles were faked. I have, however, no reason to doubt that at some point genuine miracles may have taken place. Healings and miracles seem to happen whether or not the agent of such events is holy and morally honourable.

In the paper I am writing I am trying to explore what I believe to be the mechanics of healing. To do this I am looking beyond the boundaries of might be described as religious or indeed medical healings. When we look at what is being accomplished by medical science, we see one enormously important dynamic at work. This is the natural tendency of the body to try to repair itself and return to an equilibrium of health. When I talk about healing I am referring to any of the settings created by religious, medical or psychological means that may enhance the self-healing potential of the human body. Some of these healing environments can in some circumstances lead to something dramatic and even miraculous.

The most basic form of healing is that which takes place naturally in a baby bonded properly with his/her mother. In this interaction, we see all the essential ingredients of a setting which will promote healing of a kind that owes nothing to medicine. In the first place, we have touch. Then we have an almost psychic communication between mother and child. Although we talk about love to describe this bond, there is in fact a virtual fusion of two personalities. The one appears to sense and anticipate the moods and pain of the other. When the toddler experiences a fall and rushes back to the mother for comfort, we see how there is an almost miraculous relief of pain as the mother embraces the child. The mother through her touch and bonding is providing all that is needed to relieve and soothe the child’s pain.

My paper is going to explore the theories of one Heinz Kohut who was active in the 60s and 70s in the States. He was a proponent of what has come to be described as Self Psychology. This is a theory that describes how some people miss out through a failure of bonding with the mother. What comes to be lacking in the affected adult is a secure sense of self. Psychoanalytical treatment is needed to give back to the individual something of what they are lacking through these failures in parenting. This deficit in maternal care especially has left the child, and later the adult, fiercely hungry for affirmation. Such people are described by Kohut as narcissistic, people who crave the attention of others. In describing the way such people should be treated, Kohut speaks of the role of the psychoanalyst as being like a parent for the deprived individual. Therapy in short is a kind of re-mothering process.

How does this help us to have a model for healing? Kohut has described a kind of merging of personalities as being crucial to the repair of a faulty upbringing. A similar merging of personalities appears to occur in many healing encounters, especially in those which involve charismatic and high octane healing events. People fall to the ground and engage in what may only be described as primal behaviour. There seems to be, at least sometimes, a kind of speeded up version of a resetting or recalibrating of relationships that had been lacking or faulty in the past. Kohut had described in his books the way that a narcissistic individual may, as a child, have failed to make a normal identification relationship with an adult. The charismatic encounter seems to allow such a powerful identification with the leader to take place. Regardless of whether that leader is a person of integrity, the sick person may, in making the act of identification or merging with him/her, activate powerful mechanisms of healing within themselves. When something mysterious happens in the depth of the psyche, it can be immensely powerful and at the same time hard to understand. We do know that the body does have a remarkable capacity to heal itself. Sometimes, in an almost random way, that capacity is activated by external events and able to work effectively.

Cult leaders and charismatic ministers are seldom the most reliable of people. They will be very quick to claim credit when a miraculous healing takes place. A lack of wisdom or insight in understanding what has been happening may go on to damage the individual. Thus, the newly healed will perhaps be prevented from experiencing this healing properly. A leader may also claim inappropriate spiritual authority over the one who has experienced a measure of healing. This may enhance the self-conceit or narcissistic tendencies in a self-proclaimed ‘healer’. To become bound unhealthily in this way to a cult leader will prevent the healed individual being released to live their life as a free individual.

There is of course further detail which I shall be exploring in my paper at Bordeaux. I wanted here to convey a flavour of what I want to present. To summarise, two essential ingredients for healing to occur will be in place every time someone recovers health. The first is the power and the potential of the body to regulate itself and secondly, we need an optimal setting for this to take place. There is, as we have suggested, a wide range of these. Christians with their insight into such things as forgiveness, reconciliation and love, possess a whole range of tools which can foster the possibility for healing to take place. The contribution of charismatic Christianity is to reach what I call the more primal aspects of the personality. These sometimes can be activated in a way that reaches much deeper and more powerfully into the areas of ill-health. There is so much more to be said. Perhaps in what I have conveyed is sufficient to show that healing is never a matter of one person doing something to another. It is rather, providing a setting in which the inherent healing power of the body can be allowed to be given expression. Sadly, this is not always allowed to happen benignly. The act of healing can sometimes provide the setting for the worst expressions of power abuse.

Horizons and curiosity

Many years ago, I was Vicar of a group of small villages in Herefordshire. Next door to our Vicarage were two small cottages belonging to a nearby farm. In one of them there was a young couple who were local to the area. The young mother in the family had been brought up in another village nearby and her parents were still living in one of the local authority homes in that community. This next-door cottage where the couple lived was in a state of disrepair and the young mother would often complain about it. Her solution to the problem was to be allocated one of the houses in the road where she had been brought up and where her parents lived. This ambition to move three miles, back to the place where she was born, seemed to us a very restricted kind of ambition. The possibility of an alternative future to this hope was simply outside the boundaries of her imagination. This limited sense of what was possible was also characterised by her inability to be curious about her general surroundings. Both our Vicarage and her cottage had a glorious view of the Black Mountains on the edge of Wales. In a conversation with my wife, this young mother revealed that she had barely noticed that these mountains were there. Still less was she interested to know what they were called. It was sad that this young woman was completely lacking in curiosity and imagination about the world beyond her front door. She did not seem to want to find anything new. Rather she was content to remain in the familiar and known.

Many people live within constricted boundaries, whether geographical or psychological. They may never have moved far from familiar surroundings whether home or family. As a result, their imaginations may not have been stirred to seek or discover what is new or unfamiliar. Clearly, a limited education may contribute to a narrowness of worldview. Equally there may be some psychological factors which may inhibit a person moving out of the familiar to face the new and unknown. It is hard to imagine our former neighbour ever providing a challenging environment for her children to grow up in. It is also hard to see how this restricting cycle of narrowed expectation might be broken so that a new generation would learn the things that are possible when imagination and curiosity are given full rein.

I mention our former Herefordshire neighbour as a way of introducing the thought that many Christians are kept trapped within extremely narrow boundaries on understanding and belief. Their membership of the church has done absolutely nothing to inspire learning or curiosity. They have been encouraged to believe that the important thing is to seek safety in this world and in the next. This will involve not questioning anything they are taught and certainly not straying into areas of discussion where they might be challenged to think for themselves. When I speak about fundamentalist attitudes among Christians, I detect a kind of fearful conservativism and obedience to a trusted authority. Christians are encouraged to feel fearful of a world that might involve imagination and the discovery of what is new. The result is that curiosity is completely suppressed. Without this curiosity and a longing for newness, there will only be, to my mind, something stale, repetitive and ultimately boring. In the last blog post I spoke about churches which entertain by the singing of familiar choruses and songs. The predictability of this kind of worship is reassuring but in another way, it may be responsible for mental stagnation. For me the thought of Christian experience consisting of a formulaic repetition of a particular style of music feels me with dread. I am reminded of the sight of wild animals in a zoo, pacing endlessly around the confines of their cage. Most people recognise that while these animals are safe and fed, they are completely unable to fulfil anything of their potential to be free and fulfilled. I repeat, my objection to much conservative religion is in this fact that it so often fails to encourage any sense of exploration and discovery.

In this blog post I leave my readers with this question. Is it right to destroy a sense of curiosity in a Christian in favour of giving them something safe, predictable and ‘sound’? Should we not rather encourage him/her to see the Christian journey as something exciting, unpredictable or even dangerous? By limiting the spiritual horizons of a new Christian for the sake of safety there seems to be an act of betrayal being perpetrated. So often safe conventional teaching seems to lead to a place which the faith is made something banal and even boring. Can we really expect a Christian to remain engaged with this faith, when all he/she is being offered is an endless round of bland choruses and banal cliché-ridden preaching? The choice that a Christian is being given is perhaps between a path of challenge and a path of safety. Those who only follow the path of safety in the Christian life, by never deviating from a strict adherence to authority and doctrinal orthodoxy, do not seem to find ‘life in all its fullness’. Those who follow the path of challenge do discover something far more adventurous and risky. They have the adventure of moving out of the well-trodden paths of safety and conservative thinking. In making this contrast I am reminded of what Jesus said about losing life in order to find it. Perhaps losing life at one level is to a readiness to risk all in allowing the Christian faith to challenge each of us to follow the path where curiosity, imagination and our sense of adventure may lead us.