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Didn’t See You in Church, Jesus

May 14, 2012

A friend sent me a booklet of essays that he wrote recently, It is called’ Didn’t See You in Church, Jesus’. Unfortunately, Jack Dean is not on the internet, does not do email or facebook or twitter and so has a limited audience for his thought provoking writings.

I know Jack from an informal forum called ‘Free To Believe’ which publishes a magazine called ‘The Briefing’ 3 or 4 times a year. They have a webiste – but no facebook presence -something that I keep trying to get them to set up, to no avail.

Free To Believe is a United Reformed Church initiative and holds a conference once a year. This year’s speaker was Gene Robinson. I am not a member of the URC really, but have friends within it and have been welcomed to the FTB network,despite being too progressive and radical for most of the members. I have written articles for their magazine in an attempt to get some dialogue going on different ways of ‘doing church’ but the response has been disappointing. When I joined it I had hoped to meet some real radicals, but, apart from Jack and one or two others,  I have not encountered anyone remarkable there.

My nearest UR church is Trinity in Sutton, where Martin Camroux is the minister. His sermons are always thought provoking and often exciting, but the reality of the kind of worship he conducts is disappointing. I have found it traditional and dull, much like any other church I’ve ever entered; nothing to suggest that here   is somebody who heads up a liberal and progressive forum. Martin is a leader in FTB, its founder, and has written several booklets for it, yet none of these are anywhere to be seen in his church. I tackled him once about this and received a very  unconvincing reason for his apparent unwillingness to share and broadcast his affiliation and connection to Free To Believe.

I see no point in being a closet liberal, progressive or radical. The Church badly needs these voices to be heard. I seldom see ‘Jesus’ in church, and I would very much like to. He seems to be buried under a pile of dusty doctrines and  locked in a cupboard of old liturgies and the jewel that is the essence of the Christian message -unconditional love- has lost its shine. 

Jack Dean writes:

“It is unlikely that one will encounter the human Jesus inside the organised churches. Rather, one will be required to worship Christ, the Divine Redeemer, a creation of Christianity, and largely a misrepresentation of that fully human Galilean. I contend that neither the promoted image nor the religion about him would be recognised by Jesus himself as bearing any resemblance to who he was or what was his ‘raison d’etre’. Biblical scholars and theologians  have laboured………to locate this Jesus and his genuine authoritative teaching, but century by century, the Church has devised its own versions by means of dogma, doctrine and manipulated creed.”

I went to an Anglican service last Sunday in a church near me. I saw less of Jesus there than I do at New Unity ( which is Unitarian and not Christian. I meet ‘Jesus’ in the loving connections between people, in that impulse to reach out and really ‘see’ the other, in the desire to hold them close or that genuine wish to hear about their lives. New Unity encourages and fosters this, whereas mainstream church does not. Instead it tries to focus you ‘beyond’ and in so doing can easily isolate you from those you are asked to love. The ‘wire to God’ is exclusive of the person sitting beside you in the pew.

I sat through creeds and responses that I could not repeat or mentally accede, watched as people bowed, signed themselves with the cross, turned to face the gospel as it was processed through the church, hung their heads in mumbled confession and sang hymns with words that were either absurd or offensive at worst, or just completely irrelevant at best.

There was nothing here until the sermon, to remind anyone of the carpenter of Galilee who gave the sermon on the Mount. Then I heard something my heart could at last thrill to ; ‘Abide in love’. The message of Jesus is to abide in love; live it, feel it, practise it, show it, encourage it, nurture it, apply your will to it, never desist from trying to spread love around.

On this basis I am a christian, and always have been, and my Unitarian church supports, strengthens and encourages me on this path of love, while most Christian churches seem to just sort of stifle it. They push you into ‘the courts of heaven’ where most of us have no wish to be, instead of to the feet of Jesus where many of us would quite like to sit.

Imagine being in a room with somebody like Jesus, who smiles at you and shares food and drink with you, tells you inspiring stories and makes you feel special and accepted and loved, whatever your life is like and wherever you have come from.

I don’t see this Jesus in church, but I see him at New Unity, the church for atheists and everyone else, where all are welcomed, all are loved, all are accepted, and none are told what they must believe, to belong there.

Didn’t see you in church, Jesus, but I do meet you regularly in other places, where people abide in love. It is almost  an insult to New Unity to call it a church; it is nothing like any I have ever known. Here is a place of laughter and celebration, of deep sharing and caring, of a sense of a journey walked hand in hand, a deeply life affirming and special place, where all may come and find a home, whoever they are, whatever burdens they carry with them. This is true ‘church’; the other is a travesty.

Standing on  holy ground is about finding the sacred in all things. Reverencing life and abiding in love, not about doing the right things in the right way to please some deity that most likely doesn’t exist in any objective sense.

Jack Dean again:

“We must abandon the Christ figure invented by the Christian church in favour of the human Jesus of Nazareth who loved and served his fellow human beings. He demands no less from those who claim to be his friends. When we find him and listen to him, we will discover that he is still trying to speak to us today”

I don’t think many people in the Church are listening. Especially not its leaders, and they are taking people onto some very  wrong paths and putting barbed wire around the pathway.

‘Didn’t see you in church, Jesus’ because you are not there. Wherever there are people abiding in love, that is where ‘Jesus’ is, whether you believe he lives still in some risen form, or whether you see this as a metaphor, as I do. 


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  1. One of the things that I find bizarre about attributing divinity to Jesus is that divine immanence becomes focused in one person, rather than being perceived everywhere.

    Also, Jesus was Jewish – if he were alive today, he’d be in the synagogue 🙂

    And finally, your blogpost reminds me of this:

    • Yes, thinking of Jesus as actually being around somewhere to be ‘found’ is comic to those of us who don’t view him in this way. Reminds me of a remark made by one of the members of my Wordbox discussion group at the church mentioned in my blog. He said ‘Jesus could walk in at any moment and have a cup of tea with us’. Well, no… not in my experience, but this guy genuinely believes that Jesus is still around as a living presence. I do have a metaphoric sense of ‘meeting Jesus’ in some situations. Perhaps this is what others mean by ‘god’ or ‘the divine’. He is, for me, more of a spiritual signpost and compass than any other religious leader, just because I know more about him and what he is supposed to have taught.I don’t get the feeling he had much respect for organised religion! Look how he spoke to the Pharisees and Sadducees! The Church leaders of today remind me of them, as does any Christian who spouts doctrine at me and does not live a life of compassion and service to others. Middle class ‘churchianity’ does not seem to have much to do with Jesus, really.

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