Why would you want to ‘Cope with the Church’?

One valid criticism of my book How to Cope with the Church https://tsw.createspace.com/title/6534903 is that it assumes going to church is necessary or desirable. As not everyone agrees with that, I should have asked Why as well as How. Let us do so now.

What is your starting point?

If you are an atheist, we are so far apart that I will need to write a totally different book to address your concerns. Perhaps I will, but not yet.

For many people, however, it is not obvious that believing in God should automatically lead to going to church. There are many reasons why you might not want to. Here are some.

  • You have tried it and just could not fit in. (You should read How to Cope with the Church.)
  • You have not tried it but are sure you would not like it.
  • You are busy on Sundays.
  • You have family commitments and don’t want to inflict church on them.
  • You don’t see any reason why you should. You can be a Christian on your own.

You might be surprised at the extent to which I sympathise, or rather empathise, with some of these points of view, despite the fact that I have been involved in church life for a long time. A very long time. I will write about my story soon, but first, there are a few things we need to be clear about.

What does the Bible say?

Strangely enough, nobody in the Bible goes to church, although they often go to the Temple or synagogue. The Church is always the people of God, not a building or organisation. We are exhorted to meet together for prayer, fellowship, teaching and the breaking of bread. The last phrase is usually taken to mean Holy Communion, although early Christians used to meet for a meal as well. It is evident that Christians always have met together regularly, wherever possible. This is explicit in the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2 verse 42 but can be inferred from many passages in Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament.

What is a church?

From the above, it seems it can be any group of Christians. Of course, in the modern world, it is usually desirable for any group to have some formal existence, if it is going to manage money or property, or employ people. This applies to sports clubs, charities and self-help groups too, and many churches are connected with such groups.

There is nothing in the Bible to prescribe the form a church should take, and it is wrong to think any one style or format is the right or only one. Around the World and over the centuries a great variety of forms of worship have developed. Christians usually want to express worship in song, but some groups prefer spoken or even silent worship.

Better together!

Christians usually find they grow in knowledge and experience by spending time with other Christians. They draw strength from prayer, Bible study, fellowship and worship. People involved in any activity, from sport to the arts to environmental protection, usually like to get together for support.

What can you contribute?

Being a Christian is not meant to be an exercise in self-centredness. You can contribute something too. You may not think so, but you will have something to offer. Help other Christians, or join with them to help the rest of the World.

Why Sundays?

When Christianity started, Sunday was not a day off. In the Jewish society of Jesus’s day, Saturday was the Sabbath, as it still is. Elsewhere in the Roman Empire, neither day was sacred. Christians met on Sundays, wherever possible, before or after work. In predominantly Christian societies, such as Mediaeval Britain, Sunday was an official rest day. Going to church was a rest compared with working on the land. It is certainly healthy to have one day a week off, from whatever your daily work may be.

  • It would be difficult for most people to get to church on any other day, but if it can be arranged in some situations, it is not wrong.
  • If you really have a problem with Sundays, try to find a church with a midweek service.
  • Or just go to the midweek activities of one that has its main service on Sundays.

What are the other options?

There was a time, not so long ago, when the only way to speak to other Christians was to meet face to face. Gathering in church was pretty much essential. The invention of the telephone was first thing that changed that. In my lifetime, there has been a series of changes in technology, making many other options possible.

  • You can get teaching online. It can be interactive.
  • You can share problems and hear other people’s experiences.
  • You can listen to Christian music, traditional or modern.
  • You can crowdfund projects.

I know there are some churches that exist on the internet. Good!

Why do we not all just worship online?

  • It is hard to discipline yourself to study or worship regularly. Well, it is for me. I find going to church once a week and going to certain other Christian activities in person helps me to keep going. Otherwise I know I would get distracted and become involved only intermittently. Know yourself!
  • I also benefit from the collective worship. It is similar to the thing some people experience at football matches.
  • I do blog, tweet and do other things online, but I feel closest to the people I meet face to face. That includes those I contact online as well.

My story. I will be writing again soon about my journey from agnosticism to faith and then to churchgoing. I may even tell about some of the different churches I have had to cope with.

 

Can you have happiness without forgiveness?

The death of Martin McGuinness has opened up some old wounds and rekindled a certain amount of controversy. Some people have questioned whether his work for peace and reconciliation outweighs his alleged involvement in IRA violence. The question of forgiveness has been raised.

Forgiveness is one of the factors identified in several studies into happiness. One way to make your life happier is to forgive those who have wronged you. For Christians, this should not be hard to accept as it is an essential part of the teaching of Jesus. The Lord’s prayer includes the line, Forgive us our trespasses / sins as we forgive those who trespass / sin against us. It is something we are reminded of at every service of Holy Communion.

Doubt

Even for Christians, however, this is often easier said than done. I know. It is not in my nature to forgive readily. I have to make a deliberate decision each time. I need God’s help to achieve this. Regardless of your religion or your personality, studies have shown that holding on to past hurts and wrongs (real, imaginary or debatable) does you no good. You have to let go. Bitterness, whether or not justifiable, damages you more than the person you blame.

In the unlikely event that you find all this easy to accept and act on, there are several complications to deal with. Questions that need answering. Let me try.

Risk Dice

What if the other person will not ask for or even accept my forgiveness? What if he or she thinks they were in the right anyway? What if they think I need their forgiveness?

If possible, have an open and honest discussion, perhaps using a mediator, and aim at mutual forgiveness and reconciliation. If that is not possible, forgive them unilaterally. Their problem is their problem. You do not have to let it be a burden for you.

What if I do not know who did the wrong? Can I forgive in a vacuum?

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Yes, you can. Say to yourself, or even out loud, ‘I forgive you, whoever you are.’

What if you have been wronged by an organisation, such as a company, a local authority, or the police, making it impossible to pinpoint where the blame lies?

As above. Make it a blanket forgiveness.

Does this mean we condone every kind of bad behavior? 

No! Forgiveness is not needed where the action was justified or where the person had not really intended to do wrong. It is needed where the action cannot and should not be condoned.

Does this mean we should let criminals get away with it?

No! Forgiveness does not necessarily mean a negation of justice. It is right that people are punished for doing wrong. It protects others. It sometimes leads the criminal to change. Parents and teachers need to discipline children. They should still forgive any hurts the children have inflicted on them.

Does it apply to wrongs done decades ago?

If you remember them, if they have left a scar, if there is something you don’t want to talk about, the chances are that you do need to forgive. Even if the person in question is long dead.

If you are in any doubt about the effectiveness of forgiveness, try it. It will make you a much happier person. 

Do you like regional and foreign accents?

Do you speak standard English?  I don’t.  I speak with a bit of a mixture of accents, as I have moved around a lot.  I find our wide variety of accents and dialects in Britain interesting.  I think it would be boring if we all sounded the same.  I also like foreign accents.  I enjoy trying to identify them.  Of course, I want to be able to understand people, but you can be clearly spoken or unintelligible in any accent.  Even posh people can sound quite unclear sometimes.

I try to reflect the way different people speak when I write dialogue.  Some of my characters will have slight accents, others stronger ones.  In Accounting for Murder: Double Entry, there are people with Asian accents as well as Welsh, London or Lancashire. I hope readers will be able to mal sense of all the dialogue, but will find the different characters more interesting because they do not all speak in the same way.

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I am sorry to hear that some people are sensitive about any reference to their accents.  They seem to think they are being mocked. I certainly disapprove of laughing at people because of the way they speak.  Merely noting it, however, should not in itself be considered offensive.

I hope nobody will think I am mocking any group of people.  I do not consider Welsh people, for instance, as inferior because they have their distinctive way of pronouncing English.  I expect English people have distinctive ways of pronouncing Welsh. Long may it be so!

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How do you handle the elephant in the room?

I wrote recently advising you not to be like Basil Fawlty when choosing a career. http://johnharveymurray.co.uk/blog/wp-admin/post.php?post=123

I thought of him again this week, when I was in a discussion about how to handle race and religion in fiction.  It seems as if almost anything can give offence to people who are easily offended. (This includes white people who overreact on behalf of ethnic minorities.  Moves to ban Christian images from Christmas did not come from Moslems or Hindus.)

Yet avoiding the subject of race or religion seems wrong.  Not that it is the theme of the book, but there are lots of people in our country of diverse origins.  To have all the characters as white British would make the setting seem unreal.  But to bring in black or Asian characters and not have anybody mention the most obvious fact about them would seem like ignoring the elephant in the room. Like the ‘don’t mention the War’ sketch.

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Stop pretending you’re an elephant!

So what to do?  I have tried to bring in some examples of different, but, I hope, equally realistic reactions.  Some friendly banter among friends, (at one stage, an Asian woman and a white Welshwoman compare suntans)  some serious discussion of how someone had been wrongly labelled a racist by the press, someone making bad jokes about somebody’s colour and an encounter with some racist yobs.  I think all these scenarios are to be found in real life.  Some are based on incidents I have witnessed.

I hope readers of whatever background will appreciate these elements in the story without being offended.

Are the animals in my book red herrings?

When my detective novel, Accounting for Murder: Double Entry, is published, you will find animals appearing at various points in the story.  The following are not examples.

 

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‘Was he thick-skinned or just thick?’

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The Old Bill were in the dark.

However, other animals do appear.

You may wonder what is their relevance to the main plot.

They are there partly to show my hero and his family are more than one-dimensional.  They are people with interests and relationships like anyone else.  Even accountants.  In particular, they are all fond of animals.

Secondly, I want to give some bad publicity to crimes against animals. In this case, dog-fighting.  In future books in this series, I hope to give dishonourable mentions to other such activities.  Some will be illegal, others should be.

You may well ask whether the dog-fighting story links with the murder mystery.  Is it a clue or a red herring?  You may well ask.  Read the book.

I hope to publish by Easter.

Should old words be culled or treasured?

Someone knocked at my door and asked “Have you got any old clothes?”

I said, “Yes, I’m wearing them.” They looked confused.

I mention this because I have a tendency to hang onto things I like, even when they get a bit worn.  This applies to words too.  I do not always notice when a word or phrase falls out of fashion.  I do also pick up new ones, especially if they express an idea better than any existing words.  I do object to using existing words in such a way as to lose sight of their original meaning.  Literally should mean what it says.  So should unique.

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I have been thinking about this a lot this week, because I have been having discussions with my editor about the draft for my novel, Accounting for Murder: Double Entry.  Many of the expressions I use are a bit old-fashioned for a book set in the present.  Not Shakespearean, just Twentieth Century.  We are in the process of deciding which ones to replace and which to keep.

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I love the English language for many reasons, but one is that it is so full of synonyms.  You can choose an exact word to convey a particular shade of meaning.  Hope, expect, anticipate and await all mean ‘think about something that might happen’ but do not all express the same feeling towards that possible event.   It would be a shame to use one of them all the time and forget about the others.  This is as true for at least some slang words as for more ‘proper’ ones, in my opinion.

Here are some examples of words and phrases that have given rise to discussion.  You might have views on which ones would enhance my manuscript and which would detract from it.

Not half.  Phwoar.  Wally.  Snake in the grass. Trollop.  Seduce. Stone me. Strewth. Bit of stuff. Old trout. And how. Knickers in a twist. Apparent. Bonhomie. Bathers (= people in the sea). Acquire. Acknowledge. Loquacious.

I am not saying how many of these will appear in the final version.  As to my overall style, you will get a good idea if you read any of my non-fiction books or even my blogs and E-zine articles.

Some say I should look at other current writers. That is a good idea for several reasons, including sheer enjoyment.  But do I want to be just like them?  Is my individual style worth nurturing?

You will find out what I decide if you read the book.  I aim to publish just before Easter.