Letter from the Rectory July 2018
This first appeared in the July edition of Itchen Valley News
A year ago so many of you very generously took part in our Who Cares? Survey. About half our households were involved and you made the effort to fill in the cards anonymously with some of the most personal issues that were facing you at the time. Thank you again for participating and for your honesty! As I reported back in the Autumn of last year nearly 40% of our respondents said that the biggest problem they faced was something to do with relationships, either family relationships or with friends and neighbours. 16% said that the most challenging issue was something we have categorised as ‘negative emotions’. For 18% it was physical suffering or bereavement and then injustice, loneliness and money also featured. You might like to think about what you wrote on the card then and to reflect on whether things are still the same today a year later.
“So how have you tried to solve our problems?” you might be asking. “You have had a whole year…get a move on!” Well, we have been busy during the course of the year. The Who Cares? page on our website www.itchenvalleychurches.org shows the many talks which we have given on the subjects raised by the survey, most of them were recorded and so you can listen to them in the bath or while you enjoy a cup of tea in the garden (please use headphones, your neighbours may not want to hear my voice). Do listen to them or read them – they could make a difference to you!
But I hear some people saying “everything you speak about in those talks includes references to the Bible, but I don’t accept the authority of your Book and actually I don’t want to follow what is said in it”. I totally get that. It’s not unreasonable. One thing is the Law, agreed by our parliamentary representatives, but what is this stuff in the Bible imposing rules on us which go even further and are even more demanding of us?
Sitting by my bedside is a book by Jordan B. Peterson called ’12 Rules for Life’ which was given to me as a birthday present. I haven’t read it yet and so don’t know whether I would recommend it or not. But even the title challenges me (as I suspect many of us are challenged by the idea of the Bible). I think to myself “so who is he to tell me how to live?” I want to know his background, his professional training, and about the data set upon which he is basing his ideas. But, most importantly, I am not sure that I want to follow his advice, even if I am persuaded on all those important issues of authority and evidence.
But the strange thing that I have discovered over the last few years about Christianity is that it isn’t really about rules at all. Of course, there are rules, but that’s not what it is about. Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus. It’s a relationship which is started by crying out to God, often in the sort of crisis or pain in our lives highlighted in the Who Cares survey. A starting point is often a prayer like this ‘if you are there God, please help me!’ As we do this, as we ask him to help, the foundational miracle of Christianity happens – we find that we wantto follow him; we want to know what he wants for our lives. The words of the Bible become not oppressive burdens, but the gentle words of a loving father.
In September this year we will be running an Alpha Course in Itchen Valley Parish. Through this course we can explore the Christian faith, ask questions and share our points of view. It’s really good fun. If you are thinking ‘I had better go to help Alex out’, thank you, but that is really not necessary, no-one should attend Alpha out of any sort of obligation. But if your heart is beating a little bit faster; if you are feeling “maybe, just maybe, this could be the beginning of sorting out my problems”; if you feel like the person stepping onto the edge of the cliff before the bungee jump; then that probably means you are being invited and it would be so wonderful if you would join us. We will give you supper and we might even be able to organise baby sitting. Let me know.