In a sort-of old-fashioned way, I have books I generally only read on Sundays. I started this ‘tradition’ when I stopped going to church so often because, frankly, I find it meaningless and boring most of the time. I would quite like to go somewhere else, but Mr C is settled there – he helps out with the children’s work, reads the readings and occasionally gives the talk and generally brightens everyone’s lives (I’m not biased at all!) – and I don’t really want to go to church without him. This is not logical, I know, but it would just feel wrong. Also, where would I go? I think it’s me that’s the problem rather than the church. In all my years of church-going (34, give or take a few) I’ve only ever really felt part of the community in my childhood church (mainly because I was the choir – a community in itself) and the church I went to while I was doing my undergraduate degree, because they were great at reaching out to and involving students and the teaching was interesting, wise and sensible so I found it easy to engage with – and obviously it didn’t hurt that most of my friends went to the same church.
I know we’re not supposed to go to church to get something out of it, but when it gets to the point where going to church is actually not helping my faith I think there’s a problem. In fairness, my current church isn’t always bad. We had a great sermon last week, which I may write about another time, and one of the things I like about it is that in some ways it is possibly the most counter-cultural place you could possibly go to, at least in the local area. But I still feel like I’m on the outside, even after being a part of the church for seven and a half years and being involved with music and children’s work and making the tea and going to the knitting group and editing the church magazine. Again, I don’t think this is necessarily the fault of the church community – I think it’s probably my fault in some way, because I feel like an outsider in lots of situations, but I’m not entirely sure what I should do about it.
And also, I should admit that I’ve never been very good at being a Christian. I think I’m too liberal in my views and not self-disciplined enough to put my faith (such as it is) into practice, and I think I may have read too many theology books for my own good. I ask too many questions and I find it hard to understand how and why even the most basic doctrines actually ‘work’ (for want of a better word) despite reading all those books. Of course, my lack of faith is really the main problem, but who can I admit that to? I feel like my Christian friends/the vicar/whoever will be disappointed in me and I don’t think there’s anything they could say that would help me, and I’d just end up feeling worse than I do already.
Anyway, I’ve been reading Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church, by Phillip Yancey, for a few months now, on some of the Sundays when I haven’t been to church. I wrote a review of it for the church magazine, which I now reproduce for your reading pleasure:
Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church by Philip Yancey
At the moment, I’m in the middle of reading Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church, by Philip Yancey. I expect some people reading this magazine will have read it ages ago, as it was first published in 2001, but I’m a bit behind! I borrowed it from the library in the church foyer and I’m enjoying it so far. I’d not read any Philip Yancey books before, and I have been pleasantly surprised by this one.
In it, Yancey begins by describing his early experiences of church, which were very fundamentalist. He was raised in a Southern Baptist church, which was very insular and also quite racist (this was during the 1960s) and, although he went on to Bible college, he found himself questioning (rightly) a lot of what he had been taught in church. In order to help himself recover from “church abuse” (as he terms it) he started to read widely about people of faith who lived extraordinary lives driven by what they believed in. As part of his work as a writer he also met, interviewed and worked with many interesting people of various different faiths and none, who showed him how to live in an authentic and faith-filled way.
Yancey writes about thirteen people who have inspired him over the years, people who have lived extraordinary lives because of their faith. This faith is not always Christian, or even religious, but it is faith in something beyond themselves, and a belief that they are called to follow a particular way of life and to change things for the better for others. Some of the people are ones I’d heard of (for example Martin Luther King and C. S. Lewis), but others are people I’ve never come across before, so reading the book has introduced me to new people whose lives I’d like to learn more about and whose writings I want to read.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read about faith in action and learn about people who may not be (or have been) what mainstream Christianity (if there is such a thing!) would find acceptable, but who lived by faith and changed the world for the better as a consequence.