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How to be a bad Christian: … And a better human being by Dave Tomlinson

October 1, 2016

htbabcNothing new here if you’ve read his other stuff but very appealing anyway.


“The book’s written for the hordes of people who are ‘bad Christians’,who never go near a church, who shrink from the idea of reciting a creed or singing hymns, yet who (perhaps inadvertently) follow Christ’s way through generous, compassionate and honest lives. In the course of my work as a parish priest I meet them all the time: people like Kay, a single mother on social benefit who frequently stretches her meals to include local waifs and strays, and Greg, the caretaker of a block of flats in my parish who voluntarily doubles as a carer for elderly residents with no one to look after them.
“People like Jane, a dedicated schoolteacher and expert at breeding self-confidence into seven-year-olds. People like Peter, a funeral director who supports grieving mourners as if he were their big brother.”

‘Sorry Dave I don’t come to church enough’.

‘God doesn’t give a monkeys fart whether you go to church or not!’


“What if we see ‘Christian’ as a verb instead of a noun?”

I like that, ‘people of the way’. It suggests being part of a journey, rather than part of an organisation. And I know lots of people who never turn up at church, who struggle with creeds and doctrines, who shrink from the thought of being religious, yet who are very much in the way of Christ.

The book of Job, for exam­ple, says that if God ‘decided to hold his breath, every man, woman, and child would die for lack of air’.” Job 34:14-15 (The Message translation).

Cf NKJV If He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust.

The fourteenth-century German mystic Meister Eckhart described God as ‘voluptuous and delicious’ (you can see why Eckhart had problems with the Pope!). No doubt he had in mind the Latin meaning of ‘voluptuous’, which is ‘pleasure, delight, enjoyment’. Eckhart’s God wasn’t the snooping killjoy Lewis talks about, but some­one who looks around to see if people are having a good time and then encourages it. A voluptuous God delights in creation, giggles with delight when people enjoy being alive, takes pleasure in human joys.

In 2007, two Australians launched an exhibition of pictures entitled ‘Jesus Laughing’. As global travellers, they noticed that wherever they went pictures and images of Jesus showed him as a miserable, negative figure. But their reading of the Gospels suggested something differ­ent. So they decided to initiate a debate on the notion that Jesus was a cheerful, exciting character and not ‘the miserable man in a nighty with a plate attached to his head that is so often portrayed in art’.

They invited artists from around the world to create pictures of Jesus, seen through the lens of their own culture, but joyful or laughing. This resulted in a very special collection of paintings with some quite unconven­tional images of Jesus — dancing, juggling, playing games with children, eating and drinking and laughing, even performing as a stand-up comic.

killjoys shipped off to ‘pleasure purgatory’ to learn how to have a good time before being allowed through the Pearly Gates!

‘Prayer was never meant to be magic . . . it’s an act of love.’ And who knows?

So what are we to make of the Bible? Frederick Buecihner gives a magnificent and unique assessment: In short, one way to describe the Bible, written by different people over a period of three thousand and more, would be to say that it is a disorderly coil of sixty-odd books, which are often tedious, barbaric obscure, and which teem with contradictions and inconsistencies. It is a swarming compost of a book, an Irish stew of poetry and propaganda, law and legalism, myth and murk, history and hysteria. Over the centuries it has become hopelessly associated with tub-thumping evan­gelism and dreary piety, with superannuated superstition and blue-nosed moralizing, with ecclesiastical authori­tarianism and crippling literalism.”

swarming compost’ doesn’t exactly sound complimentary- until we reflect that compost is the decomposing remnants of organic materials packed with rich minerals

and natural fertiliser. On one level the Bible is a heap of leftovers, decomposing remains of ancient struggles to understand God in ways that seemed relevant at the time. We can’t reconstruct that past, nor should we wish to, yet in our efforts to understand God afresh in our own age, we can draw on the rich spiritual nutrients from the past mediated through the ‘disorderly collection’ of docu­ments we call Holy Scripture.

Beloved community is formed not by the eradica­tion of difference but by its affirmation. – bel hooks

The management guru Charles Handy tells the story of Luke, a young Afro-Caribbean man who, twelve months earlier, had been down and out and living in London. He had no job, no home, no money and no hope. There seemed to him to be little point in living.

Yet by the time Handy met him, Luke’s life was trans­formed; there was no trace of his down-and-out past, no sign of defeatism or depression. He was enrolled in a college and was upbeat, charming, interesting in his views (they met at a conference on the future of work) and fully engaged with life.

`What happened?’ Handy asked.

`Well, when things were at their worst,’ Luke explained, `I rang my dad and told him how I felt. All he said was, “Think about this: when you get to heaven you will meet the man you might have been.” Then he put the phone down. That was all I needed. I went away, thought about it, and applied to the college.”‘

Don’t try to change the world — be true to yourself Before entering the public arena, Jesus spent forty days in the desert deciding who he was and who he wanted to be in the world. He didn’t do things simply to please others, or to fulfil some ambition to be the saviour of the world: he was simply true to his deepest and best instincts. If you are true to yourself, you will change the world, because the world around you will change.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living some­one else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. — Steve Jobs

Centred breathing

This exercise is a way of focusing attention inward and becoming grounded in the big picture of what life is about, rather than being lost in life’s details. Spiritual development requires a greater awareness of what is going on inside us, and the ability to contextualise this within God’s uncondi­tional love. In my experience, a centring practice is essential to grasping the meaning of prayer. We can exercise it virtu­ally anywhere: in the kitchen or the park, during a lunch break or on a bus or train, or before falling asleep at night (in fact, it will probably lead to a better night’s sleep).


  1. Sit upright in a chair with your legs uncrossed and your feet on the floor. Close your eyes or relax your vision in a gentle gaze so as to turn your attention away from your surroundings.
  2. Become aware of your breath, noticing its passage in and out. Let go of any other thoughts. However, don’t worry if thoughts arise, gently set them aside and return your attention to your breathing, allowing your body to relax with the constant motion. Breath is always there in the present moment. And because it has no content or agenda of its own, it provides a wonderful neutral focus. It doesn’t judge. It isn’t anxious. It isn’t concerned with what is going on around. It is just present all the time, constantly regenerating body and mind.

Follow each breath on its journey in and down. If you wish, place your hand on your tummy and feel it swell with each breath. Then feel it contract as the breath turns and you exhale. Very soon you feel grounded in your body, and this groundedness becomes the basis for being more receptive to yourself and others — and God.

Each time your attention shifts away from breathing to other thoughts, sensations or surrounding noises, allow yourself to be aware of them, then bring your attention back to the breath. In this calm state, you can become aware of your preoccupations and reactions, and begin to let them go.

  1. At the end of the exercise, gently return your attention to the surroundings. Beco ne aware of the chair, and the noises around you, and open your eyes.

If you wish, you can record these steps and listen to them as you practise. You can continue with the exercise as long as you wish, but try following it for ten or fifteen minutes. It may or may not include saying some specific prayers, or releasing concerns and anxieties. But the prac­tice is an expression of prayer in itself.

The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from God. If we get rid of that thought, our troubles will be greatly reduced. — Father Thomas Keating

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