The swell approaches the rocky shore at an angle, about 45 degrees, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. Instead of being absorbed by the shore, it bounces off, also at an angle of around 45 degrees. The boat making its way along the shore has to maintain its course while managing two swells, and this can be awkward, especially when they come from astern. The helm demands a firm hand in order to keep the course and to avoid having the boat thrown into a possibly dangerous position.
I recall such a situation sailing a 14-foot dinghy towards Kyle of Lochalsh and following the shore of Skye from Pabay, eastwards. In my case the wind and the main swell were from the west.
But our culture is doing much the same thing to us as a church. There are violent surges of opinion and of conspiracy theory, coming from both the right and the left wing of our politics and culture. Each demands a level of commitment that as Christians we may not feel comfortable in giving. Each demands a certain level of uncritical acceptance, and yet in the church for generations, indeed since the day of Jesus’ resurrection, we have always had to deal with a certain level of scepticism towards us and we have always had to maintain a certain level of detachment towards our surroundings.
If we are committed only to our society as it is then we may well be attracted by either the right field or the left field of our culture. If there is nothing else, then maintaining any kind of objectivity will indeed be difficult. But it we hold first of all to our faith in and our relationship with Jesus Christ, then there is an alternative narrative to follow and in this sense the church has always been a counter-culture, even when established by law and with its own power structures and administrative procedures.
But the gospels present Jesus as the light of the world: the light shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not. Psalm 119: 105 says ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’ I read this as saying two things – that the word of God is both the light of our final destination in life, and the lamp that lights up our footsteps as we follow that path. A comfort that banishes the fear of death and which assures us of sins forgiven, the utter commitment of God to us, taken to its extreme in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Yet it also offers us a daily guidance and teaching in our attitudes, relationships, priorities and commitments. It is the tutor for life that we find in the scriptures and in the community of those who seek to follow them. It is ballast in troubled waters, and a firm hand on the helm. It is the comfort that even in confusion and adversity, we are never abandoned and we know perfectly well that earlier generations of the church have had to deal with the severest opposition, and are dealing with it now in some parts of the world.
So yes, the rumours may be extreme and the anecdotes and personal interest features may be harrowing. They may feed our imaginations and fears. The statistics may be partial and misleading and the leaders may be evasive in their answers to well-crafted questions. But we do not have to be defined by these appearances. It is in such times that we are called to be lights in the world, offering a different kind of narrative, and an alternative sense of values. These days need not demand heroic actions or dramatic gestures. A simple and practical faith built on a solid foundation will offer a more assured sense of direction and of action. There is no need to trivialise or undermine the fears of others for they will have their own sense of risk. There is no need to get into tedious arguments with those committed to their alternative narratives and conspiracies.
It is far more a matter of ‘Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount on wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’ (Isaiah 40: 31)
It is the very turbulence and uncertainty of the times that encourages us to hold fast to what we believe, and to be those cities set on a hill.
Every blessing to you all as you determine to hold on to what you know to be true.