Monday, October 12, 2009

The Church-going Habit

Two advantages of going to church (or going back to church, as the case may be) from Mark Vernon, in his comments on Back to Church Sunday, in a recent Guardian article.

A first is a community. Paradoxically, community is vital if you want to work on yourself. It is only with others that you can properly take the risk of not just reading about ideas but making them your own. That's why visiting art galleries, or listening to music, isn't really enough. It's too passive. Instead, as any educationalist will tell you, an active stance is required. Hence, a rich learning experience doesn't just involve studying, but writing your own work and reading it out to others too, in preparedness for their critique. It's rather like the risk an artist takes, or a writer of blogs for that matter.

It's also why educational establishments are highly ritualised, shaped by ceremonies and etiquette. The first universities in the west, like those at Oxford and Cambridge, took that from the medieval madrassas. They were places designed to leverage the business of studying together in order that it might shape lives. An engaged community is a crucial asset.

A second advantage that the church-going habit can exemplify is the very desire to be changed at all. Of course, many who go to church do so for the opposite reason: they fear the "changes and chances of this fleeting world" as the old prayer has it, and see the church as a kind of conservative refuge. However, I went to Greenbelt for the first time this year, the liberal Christian festival, having been invited to talk about agnosticism. What struck me was how open folk there were to ideas: they put themselves on the line when they engaged with what was said. They weren't defensive, but rather desired to see whether they might be changed in the process. This must be one of the positive aspects of a thinking evangelical faith: such evangelicals believe in the power of words, because they believe in God's word; and they believe the power of words is transformational, because they believe God's word changes everything.

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