I am not a label; I am a free man!

There are some blogs I still seem to follow even though I seldom agree with very much they have to say.

That fact seems especially apt when I come to this post, purporting to expound the reasons why liberals and conservatives (or Muslims and Christians, or whoever and whoever else) can’t “just get along”.

The author’s contention seems to be that because it is impossible for people who hold different values to have any real fellowship, liberals and conservatives exist in a natural state of undeclared war one with another. A liberal cannot have conservative friends, nor vice versa, because they want and value different, opposing things. Referring to the popular bumper sticker, she calls the idea that we can all get along the “COEXIST fallacy”.

While I take the point that “Can two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” (Amos 3:3), I have to take issue with what seems like an astonishing amount of missing the point and unreasonable pigeonholing.

Maybe I’ve read too much into what she’s saying, but the implication that rather than friendship, the proper response of liberals and conservatives to each other is hostility sets my teeth on edge. There is a large field existing between the sort of fellowship she rightly says is unlikely if not impossible and the sort of ongoing conflict that she seems to imply is the only other possible alternative. For example, I’m constantly amazed at how well I get on with my father-in-law when we have such different basic approaches to the world. His political priorities are often worlds apart from my own, yet we both love and serve the Lord Jesus. We share the values of truth, justice, mercy, peace, faith and integrity. We don’t talk politics, because neither of us really approve of throwing our pearls before swine, metaphorically speaking, and our relationship is too important to jeopardise by meaningless arguments about peripheral issues like economic policy.

And this leads neatly on to what I was saying about unreasonable pigeonholing.

Throughout the post, the author maintains a very rigid idea of “Christians don’t want abortion”, “Muslims want Sharia law”, “liberals hold these values”, “conservatives hold these values”. I have a big problem with this monolithic understanding of different groups. In the real world, people are usually more complicated than that.

As a defining trait of the followers of the Saviour I claim, I have to say I find “Christians don’t want abortion” to be a very limited summary statement. Is that truly what we think defines a Christian? Even politically? What about “doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)? Nope, apparently what defines “Christian” politics is whether you oppose abortion or not.

Now, your understanding of what “doing justice and loving mercy” looks like in practice may very well lead you to oppose abortion-on-demand as a matter of motherly convenience (in fact, I’d say that it had better!), but the same values of justice and mercy ought to move you to stand for “liberal” causes like wage equality, treating God’s clean earth with respect and raising up the poor as well.

I can get along with my father-in-law even though he’s an arch-conservative while I lean left, because we do hold the really fundamental values in common. We only differ on the outworking of those values.

And that’s the thing. Every human being is a mixed bag of different values, and not everyone that’s a “conservative” is exactly the same.

For some conservatives, their Second Amendment rights are the really important thing, for others, it’s keeping the government out of as much as possible, or the issue of abortion, or opposition to the supposed “organised liberal attack on traditional family values”, whatever that really means. “Conservative” as a political category in a monochromatic political spectrum like America is of necessity a broad term, and people vote for conservative politicians for all kinds of reasons. Someone for whom Second Amendment rights are the big end-all issue is going to look upon someone who might be in favour of rational enforcement of reasonable measures to make it more difficult for criminals to access firearms, for example, as insufficiently conservative or even downright liberal, even if that person favours Republican laissez-faire capitalistic economic policy, opposes abortion with a vehement passion and believes wholeheartedly in what are called traditional family values.

That same person may view the first hypothetical individual as dangerously liberal becayse they believe that in certain circumstances abortion might be the least worst option. They’re both considered “conservatives”, but their priorities, while both lying in the general sphere of values labeled “conservative”, are different.

The same is true of liberals. If conservatism is not a monolith of identical clones espousing one single constant viewpoint, neither is liberalism. I lean left in terms of economic policy. I live and move closer to the bottom of the economic ladder than the top, and I see conservative economics as more than a little unjust, unfairly favouring the already-wealthy and with nothing in place to protect the little guy from large businesses’ predation and economic bullying. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I encourage homosexual practice or support abortion-on-demand or favour policies that deny Christians the right to the free expression of their faith or whatever else it is you think this monolithic thing called “liberals” believes.

I know plenty of Muslims that favour Western-style democracy and don’t want Sharia law. I’ve met people who styled themselves Muslims in the former Soviet Union who didn’t believe in God. Yeah, Muslim atheists. I’ve encountered Buddhist monks in Thailand who were more interested in the Soccer Football World Cup than in the practice of their religion.

What the “COEXIST” bumper sticker is saying is that we’re all human beings, complex mixes of values and beliefs, some of which conflict while others mesh. I share with Muslims a belief that there is only one God who exists as a Person, not an impersonal Force or spirit, I share with atheists the understanding that pagan gods aren’t real gods, I share with Hindus the understanding that ultimate reality is spiritual and there is more to life than the material world.

Labels are a convenience, not an absolute defining parameter. Particularly ones like “liberal” and “conservative” which exist on a spectrum and define two general areas of it. Witness current political difficulties between the Republican establishment, the Freedom Caucus and the White House, or look at the clashes between the supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. People aren’t their labels, when you vote Republican you aren’t immediately stamped into the “correct” shape like a coin taking on its imprint. With all due respect to the American Green Party and the Libertarians, they aren’t going to be forming a government any time soon and many people who might have a lot in common with their party outlook are going to see a vote for them as a waste. The political establishment on both sides has a lot invested in maintaining the dual-party status quo, because they fear the loss of their members to other “fringe” parties.

“Liberals” and “conservatives” can get along and even be friends, if they remember their common ground. As a more-or-less liberal-leaning centrist in Texas (or in other words, anyone even slightly to the left of the Ferengi from Star Trek: The Next Generation), I find my nose constantly ground in the fact that most people around here don’t share my political priorities. And yet that doesn’t mean I have no friends. There are people at my church with whom I can’t have a political discussion without feeling myself concerned about their faith, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. And yet I know they love and trust the Lord, even if it doesn’t look the same as my own faith’s political outworking.  We have that much in common.

Labels encourage divisiveness, an “us against them” mentality which sees another person not as a human being lovingly created in the image of a good God, maybe flawed and fallen and sinful and mistaken, but bearing that divine imprint nonetheless, but as a thing, a collective, with values utterly opposed to ours. There can be no compromise or coexistence; neither’s beliefs can exist without the destruction of the other. To quote an obscure sci-fi television series, “the classic pattern for war”.

And yet, aren’t we all flawed and fallen and sinful and mistaken? And aren’t we all loved by God nonetheless, even in our unregenerate state, dead in our sins? We none of us earned our way into God’s favour; we have no call to be waging metaphysical total war against other people He loves.

There isn’t some monolithic construct called “Islam” any more than there’s a monolithic construct called “Christianity”; as Christians we believe the same body of core doctrines, but within that we are free to have differing viewpoints about non-core issues like whether it’s possible to genuinely believe and then fall away or which English translation of the Bible is best.  Individual Muslims vary a lot in their actual functioning beliefs depending on where they are from, how educated they are, lots of factors.

Let’s get past the labels, and particularly past the tendency to treat the label as a uniform undifferentiated mass. As Christians we should know better: the Christ-following community is after all described as a body. Bodies are made up of organs, different types of cells doing different jobs to make the whole thing function. A mass of uniform undifferentiated tissue is what we call a cancer. And people aren’t cancers.

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Dance of the Woolly Mammoths

My church, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, sings a lot of what I believe are called “camp meeting songs”. That’s the label I’ve most often heard put on the genre of American worship music that I mean: though there are outliers as late as the beginning of World War Two (like “Victory in Jesus”), most of the ones I’m talking about seem to belong to the half-century or so between the end of the American Civil War in the 1860s and the start of World War One in 1914. If that’s not the right label, I’d love to know what is.

My wife grew up singing these songs, and they are some of her favourite hymns. I didn’t, and I mostly can’t stand them.

The church where we worship is like her in that regard, not like me; we were both fed up to the point of disgusted with contemporary “intimate” worship and “Jesus is my Boyfriend” songs when we started attending, and both wanted some traditional hymns.

Alas, our ideas of what constitutes “traditional hymns” diverges somewhat, and though we both take in things like “And Can It Be” and “Blessed Assurance” and “Crown Him With Many Crowns” and “How Great Thou Art”, my definition of traditional hymns tends to stop short of the era in question.

I’m referring, of course, to the era of things like “Sunshine in my Soul” and “Love Lifted Me” and “When We All Get To Heaven” and all the songs of that ilk, that I struggle to find meaningful and whose music I cordially dislike.

My church loves these things, and they’re going to keep on singing them (nor should they stop just on my account). Leaving over musical differences would be incredibly petty, especially as it’s my problem, not anyone else’s. I’m not about to do something so foolish-seeming, particularly as the songs I don’t like seem to go hand in hand in US church culture with the hymns that I do. So I’ve been looking with increasing desperation for something I can like about them. Or at the very least, some rational reason for my irrational dislike.  What exactly is it that puts me off?

They do all share a certain set of features. The 6/8 time signature is fairly common, and I find that something about that in particular puts me off my stroke, but there are lots of other worship songs of that era that don’t have it, and I don’t like most of them, either. What they do all seem to share is what my wife calls “the walking rhythm”. It’s difficult to describe this in words, but it’s a sort of dompa-dompa-dompa-dompa that puts me in mind, not of people walking, but of woolly mammoths doing some sort of square dance.

Nothing can be done about my musical taste; in that sense it is an irrational dislike, and it doesn’t respond to reasoned argument. However, I find most of the lyrics at least as objectionable as the music, and that we can reason our way through. Why is it that I find this stuff so hard to like?

A great many of them are testimonial in nature. I was going to say that I always dislike testimonial songs, but that isn’t exactly true, because what’s “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine” or “Long my imprisoned spirit lay” or “I will sing the wondrous story” if not testimonial? Truthfully, it’s not the testimonial form, it’s these testimonial songs.

The problem is that I tend to find the words rather trite. Simplistic, black-and-white answers for a question that I was never asking, using hackneyed Christianese that those of us raised in the faith had to wean ourselves away from for the sake of saying something intelligible to unbelievers. Who’d love something like that?

Probably everyone in my church except me, apparently. So why am I the oddball? What is it that they get that I don’t?

Maybe, I’ve started reasoning lately, it might help if I looked at the background of that time period of American history. What kind of spiritual and social conditions could produce “Sunshine in my Soul”, “There’s a New Name Written Down In Glory” or any of these other songs (including the legendary song that my Grandad likes to cite as an example of how not to do it: “Where’s My Lost Wandering Boy Tonight?”)? What was going on in America that moulded its hymnwriting into something that I do not emotionally grasp and find so incredibly hard to love?

I think I may be beginning to understand.

This period in my native Britain was the Victorian era. Well, and the Edwardian, but the tone was set by the reign of Queen Victoria. It was an era of industry, steam and factories, of increasing British dominance in world affairs and the advance of science and engineering. And it’s a period of increasing urbanisation. Charles Dickens wasn’t writing Oliver Twist about country life; it was the city, and the spiritual and social problems were those of the city.

By contrast, America was amazingly rural. The 1870s and 1880s was an era in which large sections of the America we know today were still being settled and relatively empty of ethnically white settlements. It’s the era portrayed by the cowboy movie, the era of How The West Was Won, of Indian massacres (I’m afraid I struggle to call any extermination campaign that viciously one-sided a “war”) and steam railroads and stagecoaches and cattle drives. Massive proportions of the population didn’t even live in the small towns that were being founded on an almost daily basis; they lived on farms or ranches at a distance from even their closest neighbours.

We’re dealing with rural people, living in what would be villages if they were in the UK, but without the presence of the ubiquitous parish churches of the other side of the Atlantic. When your town only got started a decade or so back, of course there was not going to be a parish church whose building was rebuilt in 1387. There might not be a church at all.

What I’m beginning to grasp is probably something that’s instinctive to any long-time American Christian: these are plain folk, and their music reflects that.

One might say “simple folk”, but simple has connotations of ignorance and stupidity, and even at best seems rather condescending. I honestly do not mean anything negative by it in this context.

Looking at the historical situation, what I’m seeing is a social setting in which most people didn’t have the access to education that I tend to take for granted. If Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novelised growing-up saga is at all typical of the times, we’re talking people who probably wouldn’t have much more than an elementary-school-equivalent education. They certainly weren’t stupid, or no more so than people who did have access to better education, just uncomplicated. Plain folk.

The songs of the era, these “camp meeting songs”, are the earnest expressions of simple people who’ve found that Jesus makes a real difference in their lives.

They sound like simplistic black-and-white before-and-after songs because that’s what they are. That’s where the people were at. If you’re in a rural American tent meeting because you know you need to get rid of the drink but you can’t do it yourself, you’re probably not going to have much time for elevated sentiments and deep theological truths set to music, but “I was blind but now I see” or “I was sinking deep in sin” or “There’s a new name written down in glory, and it’s mine” might be scratching where you itch.

I’m probably never going to love this music. For better or worse I’m an educated man, and my tastes are those of an educated man. That’s no better or worse than having the tastes of an uneducated man, it’s just different, by the way; but since I am an educated man, the simple, uncomplicated notes struck by most of these songs probably aren’t going to find a lot of deep personal resonance.

My musical taste, similarly, is what it is, and isn’t that amenable to being reasoned with. Try, as my other grandfather did, telling a child that hates peas that “they’re lovely” and that he’s being silly to not like them.

But though I’m probably not going to gravitate to the lyrics, nor particularly be enamoured of the music, I can appreciate the heart of them. I’d be the first to point out that just because it doesn’t match your experience doesn’t mean that it’s wrong; now I get to practice some of what I preach. Again. Who am I to say that just because my growing up with the faith in Britain didn’t look the way it’s portrayed in most of these songs that the faith behind them is somehow lesser? Unworthy? Rudimentary?

Of course it isn’t.

Still, I do continue to find the lyrics simplistic and the music mostly annoying. It’s a work-in-progress here; I’m still doing the research and trying to find out, still letting the understanding seep in.

I’m probably not going to wake up tomorrow just loving the Dance of the Woolly Mammoths. What I’m trying for, initially, is appreciation, and I think I’ve made a start.

We’re Under Attack

Christianity in America is under attack. A coalition of pro-abortion activists, LGBTQRGBetc fanatics, hardcore atheists, Communists, liberals and secularisers is currently persecuting and threatening to wipe out Christianity in America.

Or so we’re told.

It’s apparently the reason so many evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. According to this article and many like it, they consider the left an existential threat to the faith.

Personally I think this is a lot of fear-mongering guff. I’ve seen enough of the world to know what real persecution and attack looks like, and America, you ain’t even close.

People claiming to be Christians still constitute a massive supermajority of the US population, and even evangelicals are a sizable portion. Ok, the actual percentage of people who take that profession of faith seriously may be tiny by comparison, but if we were really being persecuted it wouldn’t be safe to call yourself a Christian if you weren’t going to be serious about it. The government doesn’t consider the followers of Jesus Christ to be dangerous seditionists. No, not even Obama’s government. He wouldn’t have claimed to be one if that were the case – and he did, in the runup to both his elections. No-one is being jailed or killed just because they call Jesus their Lord. No-one is throwing stones or taking pot-shots at our kids because of what we believe. No-one is forbidding our churches to open their doors or forcing us to worship in secret. No-one is denying us access to government help or anything like that and using our faith as a reason.

Christians are warned in the Bible to expect opposition and even persecution. But we in America really are not being persecuted. Not right now, and God willing we will not be for a long time yet.

To me, a lot of our persecution complex looks like the temper-tantrums of a community who’ve been told that they can’t have their own way all the time.

There are Christians and Muslims and Jewish people and atheists and Buddhists, Baha’i and Mormons, Hindus and pagans and everyone else too in American society. America has had a diversity of religious opinions ever since there has been a United States of America; it’s one of the most genius parts of the US Constitution. The government can’t tell people what to believe, and no one church or religion can tell the government what laws to pass. Everyone is free to believe whatever they like and to try and convert others to their viewpoint by any peaceful, noncoercive means.

Since I believe that followers of Christ have the best answers to the great questions of life, the universe and everything – or rather, Jesus does, even if His followers are lunatics sometimes – I have nothing to fear from this marketplace of ideas. Christianity doesn’t need anyone to protect it; it’s like what CS Lewis said about the Scriptures. “Defend the Bible? One might as well try to defend an uncaged lion.”

If we get the truth out there in a way that people can really understand what we’re saying, the Holy Spirit will do His work and people will trust their lives to Jesus Christ. Well-informed followers of Jesus aren’t going to become Muslims if they really know the One who is the Truth.

The people of Jesus the Messiah in Iran, of all places, are now the fastest-growing church in the world. We don’t need to be afraid just because the government does something we don’t like.

No, LGBTQetc people don’t like us very much. Tell me they don’t have reason, solely in our behaviour as a community without going into matters of doctrine. I still can’t see that the Bible approves of homosexual practice for followers of Jesus, but I cannot and will not approve of the unloving, spiteful behaviour of some Christians towards people of that community. They’re people God loves, made in His image, regardless of what I think about what they’re doing. You think your gossip or greed or self-righteousness or idolatry of wealth or whatever is any less a sin?

We’re followers of the Prince of Peace, the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the One who instructed us to love our enemies otherwise we’re no better than demon-worshipping pagans. We ought to be better than the hateful spite some of us direct against those we disagree with.

Besides all that, isn’t politics the wrong forum for trying to bring spiritual change to the nation?

You think that fallen human beings are going to stop being wicked just because we legislate against wickedness? You think passing a law banning something is enough to change people’s hearts? What about your guns, O right-wing Christian? You make the argument that banning guns won’t get rid of them but will only drive them underground, but you want to ban certain behaviours and think that will work. This is double-mindedness. You can’t legislate spiritual change.

The nation will change spiritually when people come to Jesus and acknowledge Him as their Lord in truth and with actions, not just in words. We can achieve this only through fervent, heartfelt prayer and proclamation of the Good News about what Jesus has done for us, in all humility and grace.

I’ve heard Christians say things like “God will send revival if we overturn Roe vs Wade”. This is tosh, and we ought to know it. Genuine spiritual revival is a sovereign work of a merciful God at His discretion, and the only prerequisite that matters is that His church, those who call on His name, humble themselves, seek His face and turn away from their own wickedness.

It’s not about society turning away from godless liberalism or whatever human face you put on the enemy. It’s about you, personally, and me, personally, turning away from our little white lies and our whitewashing of certain forms of evil and our personal greed and our personal impurity and our personal arrogant pride and so on. It means we have to own our own personal crap: we can’t fudge or generalise to make ourselves feel better.

We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the high call of God to which He has called us. None of us truly deserve to take the name of Christian, “little Christ”. Real revival has always begun not with a political movement but with the church of the Lord Jesus Christ falling on our knees and getting serious about living for Him. Revival and a restoration of the church to the wider society will only come when we do that.

Christians can’t assume an automatic prominence of our own viewpoint any more, but that doesn’t mean we’re an endangered species. “Existential threat”? Please; how can mere human legislation extirpate what our Lord said the very gates of hell would not be able to hold out against?

Is our view of our Saviour truly that weak and pitiful? Do we truly have so little sense of the true strength of our God that we believe we have to do His job by politicking? If we try to fight to preserve and protect visible public Christianity in America, we will lose, because we are fighting the wrong battle with the wrong weapons. If we truly want to demolish strongholds of the enemy, we have to use the true weapons of our warfare, which are “not carnal”. Not of the flesh, not the way the world does it. No barrage of Facebook memes or tweets or angry hostility or political campaigning: heartfelt prayer, personal repentance, real holiness of lifestyle, graciousness. Love God and love other people. All the rest is commentary.

Those are our weapons. And all the powers of hell tremble when we take them up.

You think “the evil liberal agenda” won’t wither like a snail in a fire, faced with genuine compassionate love from those calling themselves by the name of the Master? You think “the evils of reactionary conservatism” can stand up to people acting with real love for them despite what they believe? You think the devil’s politics stand a chance? What does it matter if abortion remains legal, if we have such a spiritual revival that no-one wants to take up that option?

If we’re under attack, the mastermind behind it is that foul spirit called the devil. I’m sure he’s laughing at all the wasted energy we’re expending counterattacking the wrong targets. The human ones. The ones he’s duped into being his puppets. Put whoever you think fits into that category, but be aware that someone else probably thinks you should be there.

Yes, we’re under attack, but not in the way you think. The war is spiritual, not political or social except at second hand. The appropriate weapons for the true battle are found in the Scriptures, in prayer, and in the character of Christ. Facing temptation to greed? Give generously. Being reviled? Speak positively in return. Under attack with lies? Hold unswervingly to the truth and trust your reputation to the Lord. All sorts of accusing lies were told about the early church by the pagans, too, but they didn’t reply in kind. Guess who won in the long-term.

What I’m trying to say is that spiritual warfare isn’t just some weirdly mystical exercise of naming and shaming various unclean spirits. It’s right here and right now, every Christian, every point of decision. Am I going to act in loving obedience to my Lord or selfish rebellion? That’s the fight that’s ours to fight.

It’s war, people. And we need to stop shooting at the POWs the enemy has taken.

Kyrie Eleison

And now I have to somehow find a way to explain to my children that the Presidency-elect of the United States of America belongs to an arrogant sex predator who brags about sexually assaulting women, cheating on his multiple spouses and being completely uninvolved in raising his children, who mocks the disabled, cheats his employees out of their wages, apparently thinks that the reason we have nuclear weapons is so that we can use them, and doesn’t think he’s done anything that needs God’s forgiveness.

Worse, I have to somehow explain that self-proclaimed evangelical Christians voted for him in droves because apparently God doesn’t care about anything except abortion and the US Supreme Court.

May God have mercy on us all.

My dad texted the single comment from his home in the UK:  “Disaster for the world”.

I think for me the most hopeful thing of the election night coverage was Glenn Beck’s comments about listening to one another.  Normally I don’t have a lot of time for his brand of screaming conservative rants, but what this seems to amount to is “Dear God, what have we done?  What have I done?”

Glenn Beck, arch-Republican of arch-Republicans, said that.  There might be hope yet for sense to break out.

I have my doubts, though, when members of my church claim “he’s not saying anything we aren’t thinking”, when I know pastors who think Hillary Clinton is “worse than Jezebel” (what on earth has she done to deserve that dubious accolade?  She’s not exactly killing Christians left, right and centre the way Jezebel killed YHWH’s prophets).  Good grief, if you’re thinking what Trump is saying, all I can say is that you need to know Jesus.  Badly.

And yet, God is still good.  He’s still sovereign.  He is still in the business of redeeming lives from darkness and sending His Holy Spirit to convict the world with regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.  He doesn’t need a righteous President in order to build His Kingdom; He built His Kingdom under Nero and Domitian and Stalin and Hitler and builds it today under Kim Jong Un and Hu Jintao and even Ayatollah Khomeini, in spite of the political powers-that-be in the various nation-states around the world that persecute His followers.  He is still able to build His Kingdom here in the United States despite us having elected ourselves a crude and unpleasant troll with anger management issues.

I will not fear.  I will trust in the Lord and continue to do good.  He is my shield and my strength and my song.

Christians Anonymous

I live in America (specifically, in Texas). I go to church in America. Like it or not, I’m part of American Christianity now.

Judging by what I see on the internet and in the advertising mailers we occasionally get from various Christian bookstores, I’m kind of embarrassed about admitting that.

Oh, there’s plenty of good things. America is still Christianised enough in these parts that saying you’re a Christian is still considered a positive thing. There’s a wide selection of numerous Christian radio stations and TV channels. There are several large Christian bookstores around. People set up plumbing companies with names like “Apostle Plumbing”. Politicians openly claim to be Christians. You don’t get any of that in Britain.

But.

So much of popular American Christianity seems to be either trite and shallow or weird and crazy.

The church where I and my family worship isn’t like that, at least not in the regular services and meetings. You’d look at that and think that American Christians are normal.

But if you look at what we’re buying in terms of what’s in stock in the local Christian bookstores, you ought to be given pause.

And if you look at what we’re reading and supporting in terms of what we post online, you really ought to be given pause.

Seriously, between the Bible story action figures (my Jesus isn’t poseable), the aggressive bumper stickers urging you to “Keep Christ in Christmas” by objecting when someone wishes you “Happy Holidays” (if you don’t know Jesus, merely saying “Merry Christmas” will not save you, and if you do, saying “Happy Holidays” will not keep you out), the latest crazy fad books about the coming End of the World, or at least the End of America (apparently they’re the same) and the horribly cutesy “inspirational” plaques with their Precious Moments angels and twee little sayings (that seem more about making us feel better than encouraging us to follow Christ), these days I walk into a Christian bookstore and feel like Jesus in the Temple courts. Making whips and overturning tables feels like it wouldn’t be that out of order.

Seriously, what is wrong with us?

At best, this is the spiritual equivalent of candy and junk food. It’s ok in small doses, but the constant diet to which we’re subjecting ourselves is lethal to our spiritual health and vitality.

Christian radio is no better. The stations bill themselves as “Encouraging music. Words of hope”, or “Safe for the whole family”, and have advertising testimonials from people saying just how wonderful it makes them feel.

And at times, this is appropriate. But Peter probably didn’t feel very good when Jesus told him to “Get behind me, Satan!”, the Pharisees undoubtedly didn’t feel good when Jesus demolished their arguments, and the rich young ruler went away from his encounter with Christ sad, because the Lord had exposed his love of money, and God is not now and never has been remotely safe.

It’s not Christian to make people feel better all the time. Jesus was full of truth as well as grace, and it was frequently the religious and the visibly devout that bore the brunt of His truth-telling.

However, neither is it Christian to go out of our way to be gratuitously offensive the way we sometimes want to either. Jesus dealt incredibly gently with the immorality of the woman at the well, with Zacchaeus, with Matthew the tax-collector, with the woman caught in the act of adultery. Not from His mouth any personal attacks, harsh demands to repent and shape up, or remonstrances that these sinners are corrupting the pure culture of contemporary Judean society. He was full of grace as well as truth.

No, the people that talked long and loud about the social corruption wrought by these dreadful pagan sinners were the Pharisees.

Are we working the wrong way round? We’re frequently overly gentle with ourselves and harsh with unbelievers. Jesus was frequently harshest with religious people and gentlest with sinners. And He was the Truth, so we can’t get away with misbehaving by calling it “making a stand for truth”. Just saying.

So much of what is on display is unbelievably shallow. Pre-milk. Spiritual colostrum. Or not even that – spiritual junk food. Compare the latest fad personal devotional book with something like My Utmost For His Highest and a lot of the time it’s actively shocking from what a great height we’ve fallen.

And if it’s not shallow, it’s often actively crazy. The Christianised astrology of “blood moons” (yeah, actually it’s just like astrology), the continual fear-peddling survivalist nonsense about stockpiling food, money and even weapons in preparation for the collapse of society that heralds the End Times (Um, God will take care of us tomorrow. Our job is to build His Kingdom today, not spend ages in preparing ourselves as if He’s powerless), the latest “revealed mystery” fad, whether it’s the “Bible code” or some kind of Jewish feast-based cycle of judgment or whatever. We feed ourselves so little meat of Scripture that we don’t know how to properly weigh and test anything. It seems we’ll believe anything if it has the right labels, forgetting that Satan himself is adept at having the right labels to the point of looking just like an angel of light.

And this is American Christianity as shown by what we sell ourselves. It’s embarrassing.

The frightening thing is the implication that this is what the market wants. Christian bookstores are commercial enterprises, and if it won’t sell, they’re not interested in stocking it. Which means it’s our fault that so much of what they sell is either shallow drivel or fear-mongering crazy.

Applying “you are what you eat” to what we buy, read, follow and post online, I’m becoming somewhat frightened and embarrassed to call myself a Christian. Is this tosh really what we are?

I take some comfort from the fact that most of the churches I’ve been in are relatively normal, but if our churches are so normal, why is our merchandise and online presence so dire?

And so with all due embarrassment I have to confess that I am indeed, by definition, a part of American Christianity now.

If there’s a counter-revolution, it begins here.