FAITH or "Why does Girl With a Satchel bang on about God and Jesus?"
If someone gifts you a lovely box of chocolates, it would be greedy to keep it all to yourself. Similarly, if another girl asks you about where you got your dress/boots/jacket/earrings, it's only fair in the sisterhood scheme of things to disclose where you got said item so she might share in this splendid sartorial find with you.
Sharing is caring, and that's how I feel about my faith – it's too good not to share. Jesus put it best when he said:
"The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man is looking for fine pearls, and when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has and buys that pearl." (Matthew 13:44).
That said, when I do express my faith by incorporating it into this here blog, it might feel like receiving a note card with Jesus' face on it in the mailbox or a tap on the door by Jehovah's Witnesses when you're about to sit down to afternoon tea (invite them in for a cuppa, I say!).
To me what might sound good (Justin Bieber) just sounds plain silly to someone else. Hence, I try to only incorporate faith talk when I feel prompted by the Holy Spirit. That said, as Christians, we are called to spread the Gospel far and wide, and this includes the corners and crevices of the Interweb, of which GWAS is a little part.
So, without further adieu, an introduction to the fundamentals of the Christian faith as practised by Girl With a Satchel (it's a BIG read, a REALLY BIG read). Grab a cup of tea...
A GIRL WITH A SATCHEL'S EVOLVING FAITH
I grew up in a household where there was some Catholic/Protestant antagonism; my mother being Catholic and my dad Protestant. I went to a Catholic convent high school (and left in Year 10, STILL a point of contention with my mother!), where I experimented with short, frayed denim shorts on a mufty day, which attracted the ire of one teacher, and largely scribbled nonsense to my best friend through religious studies. Boring! By that stage, at the age of 15, I was a Pollyanna turning into a Madonna... the singer, not the blessed Virgin. I rebelled in all those generic teen ways and strayed from the church and God.
Ten or so years later, God and I had a lot of catching up to do. And a lot of work to get through. In the ABC TV series The Brides of Christ, the protagonist nun, Catherine, played by Josephine Burns (who, as it just so happens, went to the same convent school I did), leaves her fiance and commits her life to following Christ. Like Catherine, I found a fiance AND then found Christ. But I didn't ship myself off to the nunnery. My then-fiance was the catalyst, though not the REASON, for my re-dedicating my life to God. I was far too feminist – and egotistical – to be wooed by a do-gooder pastor's son with an evangelical streak!
Sister Catherine (formerly "Diana") was a spirited red-head with a fierce intelligence, love of literature and rebellious, stubborn nature. She struggled to accept the teachings of the church, more particularly its opinion on birth control, as she empathised with the women in her local community who desperately wanted to abide in the church's rulings but found themselves faced with a changing society (it was set in the 60s) and circumstances at home (domineering husbands, a zillion children to care for, a lack in personal identity and no bloody Bex in the cupboard!). These women were bound up in chains.
She felt their pain and strained to preach the church's didactic message (no Pill approval, and "getting off at Redfern" is not permitted either) to her students, more particularly the editor of the student paper, played by Naomi Watts, whose mother divorced her father to remarry. It becomes increasingly clear to me how our personal politics affects our view on religion. Vehemently in opposition to the Catholic hierarchy, the contradiction between what Sister Catherine felt in her heart and mind was too much. Ultimately, she couldn't bring herself to cooperate, couldn't submit to the church, so she parted ways with the nuns to pursue a career in writing. In the final episode, she describes the great grief she experienced afterwards.
God grieves for the church – described in the Bible as the "Bride of Christ" – but revels in its unity. Think of Prince William staring adoringly into the eyes of Catherine Middleton on their wedding day, and you get a glimpse into what God feels for the church. It has made mistakes because it is governed by PEOPLE – imperfect people seeking the will of God but sometimes, often, falling short. Many of us are burdened with the wounds left by church (or convent schooling) experiences, or look on it with all the disdain of a former lover who wronged us, either hiding away from him when we spot him in the supermarket or scrawling nasty things about him on park benches (or, as social media would have it, blogs and Facebook and Twitter).
I can see the scepticism that surrounds the church in the faces of people who squirm when I mention I'm a Christian. But I cannot, will not, deny what I know to be true. And as my faith matures me – from the free-living career girl, to the God-loving ingenue so filled with the Spirit that she'd literally SKIP to work like Pollyanna, to the paining anorexic lost in a world of mixed up theology, to a woman firm in her faith and God's promises – I increasingly pain for the church as much as I long to live a life worthy of the calling of a girl of God.
The Catholic Church, so vocal in its doctrine and therefore so publicly accountable, has felt the brunt of the anger. And in the case of pedophilia, or in any case of mistreatment of human life, rightly so. But much of our attention when discussing religion is focused on the sins of the church, not so much on the good work it has done, such as that of the life of Mary MacKillop and the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Then there's the missionary work founded out of other denominations like the Wesley Mission, which addresses the needs of the marginalised, and the Salvation Army, which does much the same.
God is quite familiar with the human propensity to be everything he DOESN'T want us to be – a reading of the Old Testament will familiarise anyone with the results of "The Fall". He gave us free will, and it's a natural inclination, like a two-year-old yanking power cords from the wall, to do naughty things and see if we can't just get away with them. Over time, they can become habits. Sometimes they become socially acceptable. Sometimes the status quo. But they ultimately add very little to our lives; they just further complicate matters and add to the guilt/shame/insecurity we feel and thus we turn increasingly to things that make us feel better about ourselves... temporarily.
"Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial," said Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. We will not always agree with each other: some deep truths are revealed to some and not to others. Others are motivated more by fear than love. But I do know that while the good intentions of some Christians are mislaid, still more have brought about positive social change with liberating messages, such as Martin Luther King Jnr, and a refusal to let sleeping dogs lie when there are predators on the loose.
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” said Jesus to the Pharisees who accused him of falling short of God's law. "You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me."
Sister Catherine describes beautifully the process of coming to know and live in Christ: it's like an onion stripped away of layers, becoming a newer, shinier, onion. In my personal spiritual walk, God has gently, ever-so-lovingly revealed to me – stubborn, determined, controlling, selfish, foolish, prideful, look-at-me! me – the errors of my ways. The 25-odd years of pent up anxieties, misinformation, longings and knowledge. Habits, ambitions, doubts. Hopes, dreams, let downs. We have gone over the same turf many times, but I didn't get anywhere until I understood that I am completely and utterly helpless and hopeless without Christ.
Christians can't out-do Christ – he was a man made perfect by God who took away the sin of the world when he died, and then rose again to give us everlasting hope and confidence in his Godliness. When we strive to abide in God's law, in our own desperation to be good/perfect/better/best, as I did for a long time, we fall short and then come under those condemning voices - masquerading as God - that say, "Pull your socks up, girl!". God is a disciplinarian – he develops Godly character, self-control and strength in love, not to spite us – but when we finally accept that God finalised the deal between man and himself through Christ, we can get on LIVING righteously much more easily.
Many of us carry around a lot of shame and guilt that keeps us at a distance from God's love. The church is full of those sorts of people, just as much are our pubs and clubs and workplaces and schools. The outworking of that can only be discord, disunity and dysfunction. If you don't know you are loved by God, accepted UNCONDITIONALLY by him, saved from your sins and able to walk freely in the eternal security of that LOVE, then you won't live it. Hell hath no fury like a lady (or gent) lacking in love. Feel my wrath Twitter!!!
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul emphasises the importance of doctrinal truths and the practical application of Christian principles. But, he says, behaviour follows belief. I didn't start to truly live in the freedom of Christ until I realised his spirit lives within me; this gives me the comfort, power and strength to carry out daily Christian living according to Gospel truths; to shrug off the old Erica and put on the new shiny one.
On those days that I revert to Old Self, I flail and wail about like a beached whale (beached as, bro'). Self-inflicted disobedience gets me nowhere – thank the Lord for his good grace in helping me get back on my feet once I turn to him and repent, for holding my hand, like a loving daddy, on those days that I feel weak and fragile, and for showing me that I don't have to do life alone. Ever.
A maturing faith requires pressing into God for answers, which he reveals through his word (i.e. the Bible) and through his earthly foot-soldiers (church leaders, fellow Christians). But you have to be able to discern, through the Spirit he's given to accompany you in your walk, truth from untruth. It can be a slow reveal. It takes time. And dedication. Maybe a nunnery. Many good texts, including Watchman Nee's The Normal Christian Life and Bob George's Classic Christianity, illustrate how to BE a Christian; how to DO your faith, but also the liberation to be found in Christ and living the Christian life. I try to elucidate some of these issues through Girl With a Satchel, too.
But to put it simply, you will walk in God's love – and find joy in abiding by his teachings – as soon as you realise you don't have to earn it; you just have to accept it with good faith and humility. The respect for the church, the daily Christian living thing, automatically flows from that indwelling knowing. And the fruit that this produces in your life simply cannot compare to any worldly pleasures, procedures or principles.
The more I've got to know God, and to shrug off those festering bugbears and replace them with God's grace, the more "me" I have become, and the more I delight in living in service to God and others. That's a gift for which I will be forever grateful, forever thankful.
Faith is putting your knowing into action.
FURTHER READING RECOMMENDATIONS
The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee
Classic Christianity by Bob George