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“I have decided…” 3 March 2017

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Life, Ponderings.
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It’s only taken three days, and you may interpret that only in any way you wish, but I’m pleased to say I’ve reached a thematic decision for this pattern of Lenten blogging. (Is that worthy of an exclamation mark, I wonder?)

The logic of taking a theme from somewhere else is rather like the logic of using the Lectionary, in the way that it protects those around me from excessive hobby-horsing on my part in the trust that the external source will be rather more balanced and objective, as well as tying my behaviour into a rather greater whole.

While I’m grateful for the example & encouragement from my blogging friend Kathryn (who with many others was part of a veritable blooming of blogs in the mid-noughties) writing on the poetry of George Herbert and sharing daily-themed pictures following ReThink Church, I’ve found a different source. Instead of having to wait until later in the day (to allow for the unfortunate effect of transatlantic time-shifting) I’ve found a source closer to home that popped up unbidden in my Facebook feed this morning, The Bible Society. I have to admit that I’ve taken the example and in typical alcine-style and given it a twist, but it’s a scheme and I’ll do my best to follow it. There might even be pictures, given the fact that it’s actually meant to be a photo challenge!

Wholly appropriately today’s word is ‘Follow’. I couldn’t make this up, could I? I’ve chosen to follow a plan, after the example of a person, from an organisation I follow on social media.

The immediate question that presented itself in my whirling mind this morning was about what does it actually mean to follow? As a Christian I follow Jesus, admittedly with many trips, stumbles, diversions and set-backs, as revealed through the Christian scriptures, the traditions of the Church, the application of my reason and mediated by experience. My faith is an integral part of the pattern of my life. It may be more visible and obvious at certain times, which may be related to how closely I’m following, but may not. To unpick the place of faith in the tapestry of my existence would be a major endeavour with life-changing consequences that would make the exercise that our current (to my mind, foolish) government is engaged in, the process of Brexit, potentially look trivial by comparison!

followHowever, language is a slippery thing. It struck me this morning that social media, the very means by which I discovered the topic, has a rather lax approach to language (a tendency not confined to it, but certainly representative of the flexibility we apply to words).The Bible Society is one of many, at this time uncounted organisations, pastimes, entertainments & products that I follow on Facebook, Google+, Twitter & by email list.

The truth is rather different of course: I do not follow them. My engagement with them takes place under the influence of a range of factors that include available time, perceived importance and external influences, both conscious and unconscious. I do not follow them, instead I am informed about their activities and intentions, and even that may be shaped by the interests of a third party. Facebook is a notorious example of this. It’s demonstrated by the commodification of information & the presentation of material they, the channel of communication, want you to see. It’s at best deliberately twisted, and at worst broken (why else, for example, would I have not seen their daily theme until the third day of Lent?)

As much as I say I’d like to keep up with things, whether they be blogs, interest groups of all sorts, even real-life flesh-and-blood people instead of their virtual pronouncements, they all require effort and engagement. Technological algorithms provide one level of sorting, of shortening the list, in no less a manner that my skim reading the subject lines of emails or guessing the contents of the letter from the material visible on the outside of the envelope. They shape the level and direction of the engagement, but they are not the whole process.

To follow is to invest time and effort, it implies movement. I may say that I follow the news, but if it fails to change the way that I live, fails to shape my life, and by extension the world around me, am a follower, or merely a spectator? Significant changes in my life have come about not with simply seeing something and thinking how nice it is, not by observation and wishful thinking, but by engagement. It’s visible in the contents of the my book cases, my CD racks, my life.

In today’s New Testament reading for Morning Prayer (John 4: 27-42) we get the second half of the story of Jesus meeting with the Samaritan woman, a meeting that changed not only her life, but her community. Indeed, good scholarship suggests that the very reason this passage is found in John’s Gospel is because it connects with some of his original audience, the people who were there or who came to faith from those who were there. People who followed Jesus, and in doing so became part of the Early Church.

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’

Following makes a difference. There is a result, a change. Which leaves some questions to ponder:

What, who, do I truly follow? Where in my life am I confusing being informed, or informed of the possibilities, with following, with true engagement? Does this mean some things need to change? Do I need to make a conscious and active engagement? To recognise and retreat? Or can things remain unchanged?

And maybe, for a bonus question: are there people following me? And if so, how do I respond to that with honesty and integrity? After all, Jesus called for people to follow him. and even told them to go away again…

 

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