I write a lot of articles for other websites/publications – but there are several reasons I maintain this blog. One of which is that websites and publications of organisations are sometimes loathe to publish what they consider too controversial or edgy – they after all have their brand and stakeholders to think of. Having neither a brand nor stakeholders gives me a certain freedom. This follow up article to Dear Lord, Can I Have a Word? A Letter from a Contemporary Clergyman… was not worthy of publication…so here it is! Maybe it’s trying to be too clever – but I read this kind of gibberish every week – from those who profess to be clever followers of Christ and yet who mangle and/or ignore his word. See what you think!
Can I have another word? https://www.christiantoday.com/article/dear.lord.can.i.have.a.word/134278.htm
You will be pleased to know that there was a considerable response from my first letter. But not a word from you. We now move on to Matthew chapter six. I realize that when you ‘preached’ the Sermon on the Mound, you did not speak in chapters or indeed verses. But, until I write my revised Woke Bible 2.0, we will stick with the convention. I am also aware that my question – ‘can I have another word?’ can have a double meaning. Does it refer to my speaking to you, or to your giving me another word? In this latter sense the problem is, as one of my correspondents pointed out after my first letter was published; how do we know what your word is? My correspondent told me that their local parish minister has a simple solution – if they agree with what it written, they say that you said it, if they don’t, they say it was just an interpolation. It’s a neat solution but does seem to open us up to the charge of just making up our words as yours. But can I ask you? Did you really say the words in this chapter?
Don’t get me wrong – they are full of cracking tweetable material. But my problem is that when I start examining them in context and thinking about what you actually mean, they create more problems than solutions.
Rewards in Heaven
For example I’m not sure about this ‘rewards in heaven’ thing. It seems a bit simplistic. I’m not sure how our Evangelical friends cope with it either – after all to them it is all about grace and nothing to do with ‘rewards’. I have a great deal of sympathy with them. For me I quite like the idea of getting a decent reward here on earth – instead of some unknown possibly mythical future life.
‘Where your treasure is there your heart is’? Did you get that right? Did you not mean it the other way round – where your heart is, there your treasure is? That’s the way we have always interpreted it. Then it allows us to have literal treasure on earth whilst claiming our heart is elsewhere. I’ve just seen Terence Malik’s A Hidden Life – https://theweeflea.com/2020/02/22/saturday-review-17-a-hidden-life-the-book-of-job-on-film/
I thought the advice the priest gave to the hero of the story was spot on – “God doesn’t care what you say, only what’s in your heart.” But here you really seem to be saying that God does care what we say, and do, and store.
The Lord’s Prayer
You continue with this secret prayer theme by teaching us ‘the Lord’s Prayer”. There are so many questions I have about it but lets stick with this one. What is ‘babbling like pagans’? What do you have against pagans? Are they not just seekers after the same truth? You seem quite dismissive of them – in todays world you would get banned from Twitter – too much ‘hate speech’! And what’s babbling? Do you mean what our charismatic friends call ‘tongues’? Or what we call the ‘just’ prayers (‘Lord, we just want to thank you, we just want to ask you etc.)? Surely you cannot be referring to our wonderfully written, deeply poetic, exquisitely crafted, sermons in prayer that we use in our Sunday services? (By the way your advice to keep these prayers secret does not really cut it – why should we deprive others of their beauty and wisdom – and ourselves of the kudos and cash when they are published?).
I noticed a mistake at the end of the Lord’s Prayer bit. You stated that we have to forgive or our Father will not forgive us. How does that make sense? I thought God always forgave – as that prophet of old (Rousseau) said: – ‘God will forgive me, that’s his job”. You seem to be rejecting the doctrine of unconditional forgiveness?
I loved the bit about fasting. My booklet on the spiritual disciplines talks a lot about fasting – it’s not something I do myself but it’s a lovely idea – all those Celtic monks fasting in their splendid isolation and drawing nearer to Nature.
Watch Your Eyes
But then I struggled with understanding your statement that ‘the eye is the light of the body’. Are you suggesting that we need to be careful what we read and look at? Don’t you trust us to be able to judge and discern? Even worse is the idea that the whole body will filled with darkness if we don’t watch what we watch…that sounds a lot like the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity. And we all know you were not a Calvinist – you would never say ‘you did not choose me, but I chose you’!
The Birds and the Flowers.
The one passage I did not expect to have trouble with was that beautiful section at the end of the chapter – the one all about birds and flowers and not worrying. It really made me worry. It just seemed so impractical – and paternalistic – it sounds as though you are telling the poor just to be content with their lot and trust that God will provide. The language is a bit unwise in today’s culture as well. I mean we all know that you do not literally feed the birds – and that it is a result of a random evolutionary progress as nature winds its way onwards and upwards – but a lot of fundamentalists don’t grasp that. Before you know it they will be sitting at their windows waiting for the ravens to fly in through their windows with their shopping – rather than relying on the State to give them their daily bread. They might even start praying for rain in the midst of drought, rather than seeking to control the climate themselves.
The Kingdom of Righteousness
Finally (for now) lets just finish with your telling us to seek first your kingdom and righteousness. That’s fine providing we get to define what the kingdom is (we have written hundreds of books on it) and to determine righteousness so that it’s not over righteous. I’m also concerned that you seem to be veering towards either the prosperity gospel or a kind of compliant pietism when you tell us that if we seek you first, everything else will be given to us.
I know worry is bad…and we need to chill a bit…but if we don’t get to think about what to do tomorrow then what will we do today? I spend most of my present planning for the future – are you going to take that pleasure from me?
As I said at the beginning maybe it is better if we can have another word? I hope you won’t mind if we rewrite your word, so that it becomes more appropriate for today. After all is that not what they did in the first century?
Yours in doubt and certainty,