Lent is the time when Christians are supposed to be miserable. fortunately few are! However it is a good time to look at oneself and, if you are a Christian, see where you are falling below any kind of Christian ideal. Many miss the point by giving up chocolate or something similar, when what is need is a radical overhaul and sussing out the less obvious failings which mar our lives.
As opposed to much pietistic woffle Spufford’s book Unapologetic gives us much to think about. Have a good Lent and enjoy your chocolate.
This is a Christian book with a difference, as it breaks the norms of conventional piety with its definition of SIN as the Human Propensity to Fuck things UP. His aim is to provide a riposte to the new atheism of Dawkins and co without coming out with the usual patronising
crap pretentiousness. I soon got the impression that Spufford was not one of those Christians had not had to invent any sins when he was converted, this is, IF he was converted at a CICCU mission! It is more likely that he stumbled or fell into a faith in Christ rather than having a classic conversion. Christianity to him is not an easy option, but the subtitle sums him up;
Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense.
At first that jars, as its seems to reduce the Christian Faith to emotionalism, but what he is says is that that the argument for Christianity is not an arid rationalism but a commitment of one’s whole person to Christ despite loads of loose ends. But, my intention is not to expound his book (which I can’t as my daughter has nicked it) but to seek to understand the value of Lent. But before I move on to that, here is the third sentence of the book;
“We are weird, because we go to church”
I suppose some will say I am weird, but I will leave that and move onto Lent. Lent is the 40 days after Ash Wednesday and symbolically reflect the 40 days Jesus spent in the Wilderness being tempted (see Luke 4 vs1 -13 and Matthew 4 vs 1 -11). Many take the accounts literally, and I suppose I began to move from a simple evangelicalism when I heard the vicar, Rev Shem Rubale, preach on this at the mine’s church in Uganda, when he said these were not actual events! So often Lent is all about giving up chocolate – which I never do, or some other irrelevant act. Some Green Christians say you should give up carbon! Neither is the point of Lent which is to reflect on what you are like before God and towards other people and how we show the Human Propensity to Fuck things UP – HPtFtU. Here there is a danger of inducing a false guilt and that can happen when churches over-emphasise sin and then trivialise it by reducing it to set peccadillos rather than deep-seated attitudes which mar relationships. However the other extreme is as bad.
It is easy to go on a guilt trip rather than properly assess our faults and I reckon Monty did that towards the end of his life, feeling guilty for soldiers who died. Shortly before he died in 1976 Field Marshall Montgomery had a terrible night. He was consumed with guilt for all the soldiers he had killed at El Alamein. A friend was called him to calm him down. The consensus for the battle is that Monty turned round the course of the war and that compared to the 1st World War relatively few were killed. But these were still too many and Monty thought he had got it wrong. A case of mis-diagnosed HPtFtU.
But to get back to ourselves and only ourselves.
In every aspect of life we get things wrong, however hard we try not to. It is all a result of HPtFtu (Human Propensity to Fuck things UP). This is an everyday occurrence in families, at work and at play. At times the slightest thing can cause lots of HPtFtU! We often overlook it because of the banality of the issues, but they are pervasive and cause many problems. Usually when we think of wrong-doing we think of massive issues like murder, burglary abuse and theft, rather than the persistent trivia of HPtFtU, which causes so much hurt, intentional or not. And then if we move to the Christian doctrine of sin, we will tend to think it is only involved in sex. Thus sin can become meaningless. But it is not when we think of HPtFtU, and gain a truer insight of what we are really like.
So what do we do with HPtFtU? Frequently it is pushed to one side and ignored, especially if we are self-centred. Thus the problem can get worse, and can result in guilt and depression. Guilt is a good thing when it leads to facing up to things, especially over serious wrong-doing, or our subtle nastiness. But the continual HPtFtU which dogs all of us does not lead to such specific guilt but a general malaise, which if we are self-centred can be overcome in the worst way by being callous, but for most it results in a feeling of being depressed or simply being low.
It is not helped as so often the advice is to try harder and keep the rules. Many religions are strong on rules; consider the emphasis of rules in Judaism and Islam. Frequently Christianity disregards Jesus and follows suit with lists of rules, which at times makes being a Christian oppressive. Too often our faith is reduced to following the Commandments ( and others which have no warrant from the Bible or Christian teaching). Right from the beginning Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount rejected the 613 Laws of Judaism and the detailed Laws of the Old Testament for principles summed up in the Two Great Commandments, – love of God and love of neighbour. However Jesus’ teaching recognises our inability to do right and so we cannot feel smug. In fact Jesus’s teaching starts with HPtFtU and gives a solution. After all, if following rules was all that mattered then the death and resurrection of Jesus would be pointless.
We can say (and thus would make an ideal Mothers Union talk – but some would iove it) Jesus came into the world to unfuck our Propensity to Fuck things UP and that is why Good Friday is so important. We could even say that Jesus died because of the HPtFtU among so many of his contemporaries and so we cannot condemn them without condemning ourselves. note that all the characters involved in the death of Jesus were much like us from Judas to Caiphas to Peter simply FtU. We also need to personalise the meaning of Good Friday onto ourselves as individuals and what we are like, rather than hiding behind general ideas of “sin”. However we need more than our HPtFtU being dealt with, we need a new start as well and hence the Resurrection, whereby Jesus overcame death and the human lot of HPtFtU and so enables us to move forward, rather than look back at our failures and get fed up. Too often we live our lives backwards being weighed down by our HPtFtUs rather than forwards with a new hope.
This is why Good Friday and Easter are the central focus for a Christian and not Christmas or even Mothering Sunday! Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christianity simply becomes a vague religion which will give no comfort, strength, purpose or hope. So whenever your HPtFtU gets you down consider the wonderful events we remember over Easter weekend.
The best story about HPtFtU is Genesis 3 of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which is obscured by questions of historicity. I like to think of a Hebrew teacher telling it to a group of Hebrews in the evening, whether during the Exodus or in a Palestinian village. Read the story and imagine the audience participation. “Is There a snake by you?” “They were naked!” “Had God got a cloak on”, “Did God shiver?” sewing fig leaves and the rest. Once it is seen as a story evincing the ambiguity of human nature and the HPtFtU, it comes alive and brings out so many human failings, greed to take something illicit, buck-passing by Adam to Eve and Eve to the snake, guilt and so on, resulting in a malaise of despair and sense of failure. Sadly this directness is lost in so many well-meaning theological discussions with talk of Original Sin, which comes out in extreme crudeness with Creationists like Ken Ham. To him it seems Jesus only died for Adam’s sin and not ours, as what Adam was supposed to do is magnified to Hitlerian proportions and we seem to morally good in comparison. A perfect recipe for moral bigotry but that is another issue!
I recommend Unapologetic as it is so liberating in its faith, but as we consider our Lenten theme we can see that Jesus came to unfuck the Human Propensity to Fuck things UP – HPtFtU. More about that another time and enjoy your chocolate during Lent and don’t worry if you become a bit weird.