How to be a Christian grown-up

28 Apr

This post will not actually do what it says on the tin, because I don’t think I know the answer.

I was reading this book called “Ordinary” by Michael Horton which a friend lent us. It’s basically about how nobody wants to live an “ordinary” Christian life, and why is that? And what does that mean anyway?

I don’t agree with Mr Horton about everything he says on what an ordinary Christian life should look like… but a couple of things have really struck me. One of them is this:

“We are all adolescents now.”

“The youth group was created, offering adolescent-friendly versions of church. In the second stage, a new adulthood emerged that looked a lot like the old adolescence. Fewer and fewer people outgrew the adolescent Christian spiritualities they had learned in youth groups; instead, the church began to cater to them. Eventually, the church became them.”

“Like the culture generally, many churches deemed most ‘alive’ and ‘cutting-edge’ reflect a near-obsession with youth… Instead of the more biblical pattern of children growing towards maturity, churches [are] turning adults into children.”

This is quite a provocative thing to say, and a big part of me doesn’t want to accept that maybe I still think about faith in an adolescent way, but I think it might very well be true. I think it explains a lot of things I have been feeling.

Loads of people my age drift off and leave the church. I think one of the reasons is that their experience of being a Christian hasn’t matched up to their expectations. If they became a Christian as a young person or student, they were riled up to believe they were going to be a world-changing, radical generation, like nothing seen before. As a young person, they felt restless and passionate, they wanted to challenge the status quo, and they were encouraged to do that as the main way to really be serious about their faith. The thing is, feeling restless and passionate and challenging authority is part of being an adolescent. It’s normal and it’s a good thing to have those people around to keep everyone on their toes.

But what happens when you get a bit older and, having passed adolescence, you don’t feel quite so restless and radical and like you want to overthrow everything any more? As a Christian, you can start to feel boring and guilty, especially if your church still talks mainly to those revolutionary young people. You feel like maybe you’re not as good a Christian as you used to be. Remember how radical you were back then! How much you believed you would change the world! If you don’t feel that way now, you must be losing your faith, because that’s what your faith was. Or maybe you were mistaken about the whole faith thing in the first place. Maybe it’s time to walk away and get on with life.

Is it possible that if we spent time teaching young people not just how to be passionate young people but also how to be amazing, faithful, Christian adults, that they would stick around? The book says that in the past, older church members “took young people under their wing and taught them by word and example what it meant to begin to accept the privileges and responsibilities of membership in Christ’s body. Churches saw young people neither as the measure of their success, nor as ‘the church of tomorrow’, but as an integral part of the church today.”

Being a young person isn’t the most important time of your life. It’s brief. Being an adult lasts decades. Surely that’s the most important bit? And yet we aim so much ministry and adapt so many of the things we do to appeal to young people. That sort of traps everyone into trying to be an adolescent forever – and they get disillusioned when they can’t.

What does it mean to be a proper Christian grown-up, faithful to Jesus, in step with God and working with him? What does that look like? I don’t think it is meant to look like a youth conference. I think there is much more. I think if we really knew, then Christian grown-ups would not worry that they are boring or ordinary.

Disclaimer: This is just a theory. And I am sure there are a lot of churches teaching young people to be Christian adults.

Things I have learned about dogs

19 Apr

This is my dog, Bounderby.

IMG_1045

We got him on New Year’s Day and he has sort of taken over our lives.

I think I probably knew quite a lot more than the average sane person about dogs beforehand, but having this furry person in our family has taught me (and Tom) a lot of new things about dogs. Here are some of them.

1) Puppies are really violent.

Whenever you see puppies on films or in books or on the internet, they are always lying around looking fluffy and adorable, licking people’s faces or being cuddled by small children. Why is it that nobody talks about the main thing puppies do? BITING. Puppies LOVE biting. It’s what they spend almost all their time doing when they are awake. It’s the only game they know. Biting your hands, biting your feet, tearing your clothes, strangling you with your scarf – and don’t even think about trying to cuddle. Cuddling = opportunities for biting your face. I worried that perhaps Bounderby was a small dangerous maniac when he liked to greet us by biting our faces and would leap up and grab hold of our arms in his teeth like a fluffy police dog. Twice he made my leg bleed through my jeans. They seem to believe you will come to love this game if they just bite you enough. No. Nobody loves that game. Eventually they sort of get the hint and give up.

2) Dogs are more polite than 1920s English gentlemen.

Puppies aside, I think dogs might be the most courteous people on earth. They have a strict sense of etiquette and feel bad if it’s not adhered to. A dog has to greet you, even more than a gentleman has to shake your hand. They also dislike anybody getting too boisterous and overbearing, and will do things like lie down, turn away, or quietly step in between two rowdy dogs to calm the situation down. They avoid conflict in a very English way. I think that’s why some dogs don’t really like puppies, in the same way that some adults can’t cope with screaming, running, whooping toddlers.

Another thing I love is that they have a word for “joke!” It’s this:

Play bow

This bum-in-the-air by Bounders (on the right) means “play with me!” But they also do it during play to say, “I just punched you in the face with my paw but it was just jokes!!” This polite system allows them to play like they’re fighting without anybody getting upset. Bounderby does well with this one – he has a very persuasive waggly tail.

3) Dogs are obsessed with Facebook.

Like human children, puppies enjoy being with their parents and biting on stuff. But then they reach their teenage years and suddenly become addicted to social networking. Dogs have to go out and check Facebook (lamp posts, tufts of grass, walls, etc.) in case anybody has posted anything. “Ooh, Milo was here three hours ago after his breakfast”. Then they check in and leave their own status update. “Bounderby was at Greenbank Cemetery – feeling hungry.”

4) Dogs are surprisingly sarcastic.

I always thought dogs were unbearably sincere and enthusiastic about everything, but it turns out they do a good line in withering looks and melodramatic sighs.

5) Dogs are masterful mime artists.

Our dog often comes across as a person who just can’t talk. He will give you an expressive stare, willing you to psychically read his mind and work out what he’s trying to tell you. Most of the time it’s very obvious what he wants because he is also an accomplished mime and not at all subtle. For instance, while we are eating dinner, he likes to go and stand by his food bowl, looking from us to it as if he thinks we are so stupid that we have forgotten to feed him and he needs to show us what to do. He must think we are really thick when we don’t respond. Dogs are experts at body language and live their lives in mime. I think it’s kind of nice that he is trying to bridge the language barrier.

6) Dogs love routine. And sleep.

I didn’t know this before, but dogs really are creatures of habit. Having a routine makes life with a puppy a lot easier because they just learn that it’s nap time after lunch time, allowing you to actually get on with your own life! Bounderby has learnt what things happen in his day in what order, which means it’s easy to fool him about what time it is, e.g. by taking him for a walk an hour earlier so that he will nap an hour earlier when you want to go out. Sucker.

And dogs need to sleep for 16-18 hours a day otherwise their brains overheat. Fact.

7) Dogs are really very intelligent.

Like, more than I’d thought. Bounderby can learn a new trick in 1 or 2 tries, if I’m clear enough with the instructions. He learns things like that much faster than most people I know. It’s kind of scary. On the other hand, he has not yet learned that some doors open inwards. I don’t know why.

8) Dogs know that they are dogs and we are wizards.

Even though he is smart, if I present Bounderby with a new puzzle (maybe a closed box with food in), his first course of action is not to try and work it out, but to sit down and look straight at me as if to say: “I am dog. Cannot do this. Wizard help please.” He comes to get me if his ball has got stuck somewhere he can’t reach, or if he doesn’t understand how to do something. I read that this is the secret of dogs’ success – they know what they can’t do and how to get help. Having a personal wizard as their friend enables them to do way more than any old wolf could do. And I quite like being magical.

In conclusion, I think I’ve learned why dogs and people get on. Dog society is a lot like human society. They just have fewer taboos about eating poo.

“The Gaudy”

28 Mar

Well, it’s been an extremely long time since I’ve written on this blog. Why? Don’t know really – lack of time? Too much dog training? It might be because it’s a kind of external monologue for my anecdotes and now Tom gets to hear all those in real life instead. I think that’s closer to the truth than the “no time” excuse.

But now I am sitting at home, not quite alone, with a sleeping hound at my feet and some minutes between projects. So here’s an anecdote.

Last weekend I went to what is known as a “gaudy”. Read that nonsensical piece of jargon and guess where it might have come from. Correct, the University of Obscure Terminology itself, aka Oxford.

A “gaudy” is just a college reunion. This time, it was a massive nostalgia-fest for my year and the year below. It was great to see a bunch of people I haven’t seen for several years, or in some cases, since we left uni… to remember those mornings huddled in our dressing gowns trying to decipher our stats questions… our methods for breaking in through the “turnstile”… the manky pigeons that nested on our windowsills… that time James went crazy after watching three days of amoeba footage and make a friend out of a toilet roll…

But it was also decidedly odd. I shouldn’t have been surprised about that, should I?

It was like entering into a previous life to be in college, visiting my friends who were staying the the “beehive” (a 1960s concrete accommodation block with  hexagonal rooms – nice idea but where do you put the furniture?). Making it even more like time travel was the fact that the year below were also walking around. They were the people who you didn’t necessarily know, but would always recognise as they passed by in the background. They were, in essence, the extras in my life. And they were all there – the stars and the extras. Like nothing had changed.

But please – could anything possibly change? In Oxford? Not since at least 1010AD – one the colleges is still on “Oxford time”, not having quite caught up with the newfangled GMT, for heaven’s sake.

So, we dressed in black tie, gathered in an art gallery and sipped some champagne, before proceeding into the 16th century dining hall. My psychology tutor had been made the college Vice-President since I left, so the psychology crew got to sit at the High Table. This is much like sitting at the top table at a wedding – you get served first, and when I was a student, the fellows sitting up there got better food, too. I don’t think we did.

The menu looked ridiculously amazing, but before we could get started, we had to be welcomed. And then someone turned up in a gown and mortar board to give a speech.

In Latin.

Now, I know I’ve been away from Oxford for a while now, but even I didn’t see this coming. The lengthy sung Latin grace, sure. But this guy had written a nice speech about how things were going at the college, how the cricket team was getting on, and what scientific advances had been made by the students…. in Latin. Seriously. It lasted about ten minutes. In our programmes, someone had thoughtfully printed a translation.

A couple of ex-Classics students / snobs tittered in delight at the Latin jokes peppering the speech, but the rest of us looked at each other with raised eyebrows and asked, “Why? Just – why?”

My tutor told me sheepishly that it was a tradition. Of course.

Anyway, the dinner was amazing, the bottomless wine was about 15 years old from the dusty cellar, and somebody managed to find me a decaf coffee when I asked for one. I am not complaining. Thanks, St Johns. But I sat there feeling like some of that pomp and circumstance was just a little bit… childish. And that maybe I had grown out of it.

My friend Hannah sat opposite me with a stunned sort of expression on her face for a while. After the scholar finished his lengthy Latin speech and doffed his mortar board, she whispered: “I’ve just come from doing counselling in Hackney… It’s a bit of a culture shock.”

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