// hope

Parts of this might become a part of “thoughts from an average Christian” in the next chapter. We’ll see. Normal blog service should resume in the next few days, I’m just getting back on track after the summer break.

* * *

The other day I was at this seminar with a bunch of 14-18 year olds from the youth venue where I was working, and we were talking about evangelism. We sat around telling each other our testimonies in a minute, and after I’d heard seven or eight, my own included, something felt… missing. It was hard to place it, but there was definitely something distinctly off about the whole thing.

And then I realised what it was. None of us – not one – in our minute summaries of why we followed Jesus, had talked about Jesus. At all. We had talked about Christianity, becoming a Christian, and other Christians who we remembered had helped us, but nobody mentioned Him. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have noticed it if another writer hadn’t pointed it out before me, but once you see something that, it’s hard to feel anything other than this was not the way it was supposed to be.

It got me wondering what we are selling, if we are not selling Jesus. We are selling a brand, then, of people who do particular things and go to particular places on particular days and take our holidays on the same campsites. But a brand never changed anybody’s life. It’s like choosing between Coke or Pepsi, MacDonalds or Burger King. Nobody ever started a war over these things, and for good reason. They are not that important.

Once, back when I started out, I thought that a brand could change the world. If it was cool enough, and well enough presented, then it would appear to be a better option than the others out there and people would choose to believe in Jesus. I really believed it, and I believed it for quite a long time, too. I brought my friends to church, occasionally, thinking they would be impressed, and they weren’t, so I figured that we just needed to find somewhere cool to go instead, and they would come.

But people are clever. They can tell from a group whether or not it measures up to the claims that it makes about itself, especially if that group is promising to change your life. They will look at who you have been changed into and see if they want that. Lots don’t.

I had a friend at University who I tried out brand-Christianity on, and she called me on it. She asked me if my life was quantifiably better as a result of being a Christian, and I couldn’t honestly tell her that it was. She pointed out that, at least through her eyes, it seemed to have just made my life worse, had made me more anxious and more stressed on top of my other concerns, given me a whole range of other commitments that I didn’t have time for. And the thing was, she was right, kind of. It had given me more to worry about. I already had enough on my plate without more to do. I didn’t have an answer for her at the time, and I’m not sure that Christianity did either, although that didn’t stop it from trying.

I didn’t realise it until six months later, when the two of us had argued about something and were no longer speaking, but what I should have told her was that I wasn’t sure that it was even supposed to make our lives quantifiably better for now. Don’t mishear me on this. Jesus came to reconcile the world to himself, after all, and there is so much truth in the fact that we are called to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth now, not just wait to fly off to heaven when we die. The Christians stole that bit from Plato, for the most part. And there are real examples of healings and miracles today, of God intervening in the world in dramatic ways.

That said, though, Paul did tell the Corinthians that “if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Brand Christianity is slowly building an empire, and it’s now possible to live within a cushion of Christian stuff (books, music – even films, lately) with its own series of issues and rewards to such an extent that it becomes your life. Dress right, act right, go to the right seminars, read the right books, talk in the right way. But it’s not supposed to be that way, is it? Christ is supposed to become our life, not Christianity.

Being a Christian is never going to change the world. Knowing Christ is. And I realise that there shouldn’t be any distinction between them, believe me I do, but technically there is one, and it’s now increasingly possible to do one without the other.

When my friend asked me if my life had become quantifiably better since I became a Christian, I couldn’t tell her yes. I had more friends who were dealing with huge issues and struggles than I had ever had before, and I was involved with some of those people at a deep level. I had more responsibilities, some of which kept me up at night. More was expected of me from those around me. I mourned with those who mourned and rejoiced with those who rejoiced, but it seemed like there were more people mourning than rejoicing a lot of the time.

When she asked me, I should have told her that I was more fully alive than I had ever been before. I felt more acutely the fallenness of our world and all the brokenness that was its consequence, and I longed more desperately for the redemption of all things. I should have told her that now I lived a life of hope, not pretending that life was okay right now but acknowledging that things were not right and letting them be restored by someone who was capable of doing that. Told her that all of us who sought to follow Christ lived a life of hope, and sought to bring hope into the places where there was none, sometimes by our mere presence alone.

I should have told her all of these things, but I didn’t. I stammered out an answer that went something along the lines of how I had great friends, good community, purpose and support networks and so on, a very secular list of benefits. I should have pursued reconciliation when things fell apart, proved that this life is a life of hope, that broken things can be restored.

I believe that a better world is possible now, but I’m not always sure that it is going to happen within the bubble of brand Christianity. That stuff came from a good motivation in the beginning, admittedly, stuff like running businesses along Godly principles and from seeking to stand apart from a seemingly corrupt secular world, but now it serves less as a model of hope so much as a model of detachment sometimes.

I hope for a better, purer world. One where I can breathe again. And it is coming, and it is there, even if you have to hunt for it sometimes. Because this life is not the end. And praise God for that. Because if it were, we would be to be pitied indeed.

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