Life is full of unspoken rules, often without us even knowing them and when they are broken we become deeply uncomfortable.
For example, one key rule, which all men should know, is that you do NOT talk at the urinals. Keep your eyes to the front, your mouth shut and do not acknowledge the existence of anyone else. Unfortunately, a small minority of people seem not to understand these simple rules and insist on trying to engage in conversation during this strictly private activity. Girls may go to the toilet in pairs, or even gangs, but men do not. No one ever tells you this rule, you’re simply suppose to know it.
These rules exist everywhere. Queuing is a key one in Britain. When people break this rule it may even result in someone breaking another secret rule, “Do engage contact with strangers in public.” So when someone breaks into a que, this now means you can share a look of contempt with other people in the que, directed at the offender.
I could go on. “Don’t ask people how much they earn”, “Always say sorry when someone bumps you by accident, even if it’s their fault” “Always wave a thank you to the car that’s stopped to let you through, even if you didn’t actually give them much choice” etc. Most of these rules I agree with, I understand and feel confused and uncomfortable if they are broken.
But one of them needs to be destroyed.
I’m currently sharing our house with my “in-laws”. My Mother-in-law works in Asda and last night we were chatting about her experiences of the public. She goes to Bury Baptist Church, which she has attended for years and understands the “secret workings of the church”. So when people come through the check out with cakes, baking ingredients, or huge numbers of flowers she knows what they’re up to! However, what interested me was her observation that, when asked, they give vague answers, excuses, or, if very brave, mumble, under their breath, that they’re for church. Marj’s (my Mother-in-law) response is to say that she goes to church and wondered if they were for that. Apparently this “confession” changes everything. They suddenly open up, give full details for what they’re up to and confidently admit their church attendance. Why the big secret? Would the same fear exist if the cakes were for a school fate? Somehow, I doubt it!
This secret seems to exist at all levels throughout Britain. I remember how Campbell infamously stopped Tony Blair discussing his faith, declaring: “We don’t do God.” While on placement last year I went to a meeting to arrange a Cathedral service for the Christian MP’s in the Labour Party. Apparently a huge percentage of them have a faith, practice a faith and yet, it would seem, keep secret about a faith. Why? When did we agree to keep it a secret?
Of course, we’ve all done it (at least I hope it’s not just me). We’ve all suddenly realised where a conversation is going and have worried what to say. Not that we lie. We just don’t tell the truth. I, for example, can truthfully describe myself as a student, instead of a trainee vicar! This seems to me to be a classic example of a secret rule. We don’t admit to faith, or if we do, we don’t want to admit to faith making any difference to our lives.
The wonderful Adrain Plass defines fanatic as a “term often applied to Christians who are arrogant and insensitive enough to let others see that, to some small degree, their faith actually affects the way in which they live.” Maybe this is the worry? If people know that belief actually changes how we live, they might think we’re fanatics and we wouldn’t want that, would we?
Unfortunately Jesus seems to have some pretty strong words to say about this:
8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. Luke 12:8-9
I don’t want to pluck this scripture out of context (which is actually all about how we shouldn’t worry) and scare people. I don’t believe I’m not going to get into the Kingdom because I said I was a student!! However, it should make us think twice about what we’re doing and what our motives are.
I think we’re got something to learn from various groups within our own society, e.g. the gay and lesbian community. Many have decided that they refuse to let what others think, stop them from being proud about who they believe themselves to be. I think it’s about time we Christians did the same thing. It’s time we Christians “came out the closet”, admit to our faith and refuse to be ashamed about Jesus Christ.
I suspect that when we do we will find that there are more of us around than we thought!