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Imaginary Cages

August 12, 2017

Have you ever been somewhere where you feel completely out of place; the odd one out. It doesn’t happen to me too often in this country, but it does happen. I find it when I chat or say, ‘Hi’ to the young people on the rec. opposite my house. There is now very little hostility, but there was. I was seen as a threat, someone clearly about to tell them off for loitering or to blame them for some act of vandalism or littering. Also, they are on the rec. to get a little space from their parents who are my age or younger.

I have felt it in a bar where everyone else was black and I was the only white man there. I’ve even felt it in a pub at the other end of Norfolk. I don’t know whether any of those isolated places still exist but they did twenty odd years ago. I remember going into that village pub, and everything went quite, so quite you could hear a pin drop. No one spoke, and then every face turned round. They turned to look at the stranger, the foreigner who had invaded ‘their’ village and worse still had entered ‘their’ private pub. I went to the bar, still feeling all the eyes on my back. I tried to chat to a man on a stool next to me but he just nodded (a real victory!) before turning back to his own conversation. It was clear that I was different and not welcome. It was only my stubbornness, belligerence even, that made me order a very average beer. I drank it alone, in a ice cold circle of rejection, before I felt that honour was satisfied and I left. I later found those people to be more hospitable than they seemed that day, but that is another story.

As I said, it is rare for me to feel like an outsider in this country, particularly in Norfolk. Perhaps, it is because I’m a white, respectable man. It does though give me a tiny glimpse into the world of the foreigner. It makes me wonder about the black person, or the Asian person in this very white part of England. It also makes me wonder how someone would feel if they walked into a church for the first time. I’ve done that and had conversations stop and people turn round to see the stranger. Thankfully, I know what to do, I also know that people in church are likely to be warm and welcoming. I know to smile and say hello and chat about the service or the building. I know that just before a service I might be given a book without a word, assuming that I know what to do; assuming that I know about the warm unspoken welcome in the heart of the person giving me the book.

But, but what if I didn’t know about church? What if I was one of the majority in this country who have never willingly stepped into a church. Family weddings don’t count, then there is safety in numbers and you’re not likely to see the congregation, much less be outnumbered by them. Still, this person has wandered into church. Perhaps, it’s curiosity, or boredom on a wet Sunday on holiday. Perhaps, it’s in response to a vague inner prompting. Probably, a mix of lots of reasons. But in my imagination, there I am, entering a world that’s new to me. I have no idea what’s going to happen. Will these church-goers be hostile? Will they judge me for not being like them? What do I do with this book in my hands? Where do I sit? They don’t expect me to sing do they?! Maybe, I feel uncomfortable and alone. Perhaps I can escape now.

I think of that famous passage from Romans 10.14-15, “How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

How can they hear, unless someone tells them?” Yes, that’s true, but more important today is, “How can they hear, if they are not welcomed enough to stay?” or “How can people have faith, if they are never find out that faith is for them?”

I have found the churches here very welcoming. I’ve been impressed by the way people have gone out of their way to make a visitor feel at home. But let’s not get complacent. Let’s not take this welcome for granted. Also, let’s not overwhelm with our desperate need for, “new blood”. Still, I can honestly say that these 7 churches in this corner of Norfolk have a good foundation of welcome to build upon. Though I think we forget the immensity of the task that we have. Jesus’ task for us to share the wonderful news of God’s love with the people of this country.

This morning I read the sad story of a bear that paced up and down the twenty feet of its cage. When, five years later it was rescued, the bear continued to pace up and down those twenty feet, as if the cage was still there. It was. For him.

That is how so many people are when it comes to the freedom of faith. They have been pacing up and down in a life without their Creator for so long that they can’t see the freedom of the Spirit, right there for them to walk into. I don’t know how we undo the damage of being caged, physically or mentally but God does. It is Jesus’ job to set people free from mental cages.

My hope is that I, along with all church-people can welcome, and encourage – That we live a life of faith that is still very much in this world. My hope that as Jesus’ friends, we can wander in and out of imaginary cages, every time hoping that the Spirit will have opened a few eyes. Hoping that people will start to get the idea that any barriers between them and their loving God are not real.

My job, and the job of Christians everywhere, is to allow all people to join us in a world that’s more than twenty feet long.

  1. jean black permalink

    Very thought apt in today’s world

  2. jean black permalink

    Very apt in today’s world

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