Lately I have heard about people who have had bad experiences with those whom they have met on ‘on line’ dating sites. Others have been the subject of trolling, or other bad behaviour via social media.
I was particularly interested in this phenomenon, because I met my present wife on the Internet. While looking, though, I restricted myself to sites, which were dedicated to Christians. Being a priest made this easier, because I needed a potential partner who would be able to share my priestly life.
Most of my friends in Facebook are also either Christians, or associated with the Church in some way. I have not been the subject of bad behaviour there either.
I might think “How Lucky” not to have to suffer such things, but I also think that there is something about being a Christian that lets me say “I do not want to go there”, which builds in a degree of safety into life.
This is not to say that I have not had my “Wild Days”. I have: but even in those days, I think that there were some limits, set by being part of the Christian youth scene, that protected me.
I can think of the fact that, although I smoked for a while, I did not start till very late, which I think protected me.
There is an old saying that says ‘Every young man must pluck three hairs from the beard of the devil’, but this plucking is done within safe limits.
I remember as a young man, I sent to see a spiritual director for a long time. He said to me that I had been living my life within too narrow a set of limits, and that I should explore more things.
I did do this, and I got into some trouble too, but he was always there to guide me, and to help me to live with the mistakes that I made.
Being a Christian does not mean being a ‘goody two shoes’ but I am glad that the natural boundaries of Christian life have served to provide some safe walls within which to live life.
This does not mean repressing the passionate side of life either. I remember as a young person being admonished for being too ‘wild’ by the quote from Philippians, They would say to me Paul, “ whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things.”
Well I was so full of passion and feelings that had not been ‘allowed’ I did not think that these feelings represented what was ‘pure, true, lovely and of good report’, but now I do. It is of ‘good report’ to be pure in anger at injustice. It is of good report to be aware of sexual feelings. It is of good report to be ‘purely sad, it is of good report to be purely joyful, and to want to just ‘go’ as I often did on my bike. Like Eric Liddell, I have wanted to say ‘God made me, and God made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure!’
So some Christian advice serves to stop the flow of energy into life that can be ‘pure and true’, even though it might not be terribly ‘nice’.
On the other hand, I am grateful for some of the limits that have been set on my life by being a Christian, that have kept me out of harm’s way. I don’t necessarily want to go there!
And there is another aspect of Christian life for which I am grateful.
When I was growing up, I as part of a movement called “Christian Endeavour”. There, we would have to present ‘papers’ for our peers, from a very early age. I still have the text of one that I delivered when I was nine!
Being asked to do this meant that we were being trained to speak in public. We were being trained to make meaning from the bible. We were being trained how to but together the circumstances of our own lives, with the bible stories that we read, and to ask “How does the one inform the other”
These are skills that have stood me in good stead as a priest, but they are also skills that everyone could benefit from.
I think about the way much of modern life(like art) has been separated from the traditions of image making in the Church that give meaning to life. Now art is just about form and shape and individuality. But the great pictures connect us not only with our on lives, but also with the bigger story, of which our lives are a part.
The same is true of Bible stories. They provide a great canvass of God’s action, against which the smaller story of my own life can take place, and within which it can be located. I find great security on the sense that I am ‘held’ by the story of God, within which I live.
So being Christian has its benefits! Apart from the obvious benefit of knowing my life to be hid with Christ in God, I can also enjoy the ‘side benefits’ of having been kept safe by some Christian boundaries, and for the skills, that being a Christian teaches me, which otherwise I might not otherwise know.