Bishop Richard's Weekly Video Message - Transcript 16/12/21

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s video. 

Over the last few weeks, I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time on the train going back and forth to London. Most of the time, I have my dog collar on, and sometimes that leads to unexpected conversations.  I was with Dean Sarah a few weeks ago, and someone approached us to ask how he could go about becoming a wedding celebrant.  He had recently been ordained through the internet and had an identity card to prove it.  He was clearly a very sincere person with a kindly motivation wanting to help people.  I have to confess that neither of us had heard of his particular religious affiliation. He was an ordained ‘dudist’ minister, apparently one of 600,000 around the world. This religion is based on a Coen Brothers film called the Big Lebowski which I think I saw some years ago.  One of the characters, ‘the dude’, is sort of kindly hippy, often to be seen in a kaftan and flip flops dispensing homespun wisdom.  He seems to have captured people’s imagination enough to start a movement.  Apparently, there are YouTube videos of people dressed in similar fashion conducting weddings and naming ceremonies. Our friend didn’t say how much the online ordination cost, but judging by the laminated card, it wasn’t free. 

We, of course, maintained a straight face throughout! It's always rude to mock someone’s sincerely held beliefs, however odd you may find them.  I hope that works the other way too. Our conversation illustrated very clearly one of our problems in communicating the Gospel.  He described himself as spiritual rather than religious.  The implication is that the former is good, and the latter must of necessity be associated with an institutional expression, be that church, synagogue or mosque. The former is free-flowing and self-constructed, the latter governed by dogma and control. His thought process is very common. Spirituality has become detached from any institutional expression or doctrinal assertion. His dudist movement is evoked by a story, a character, but has no credal or doctrinal basis. It taps into deep-seated and well-meaning human instincts to kindness.   

Christian faith is of necessity institutional because Jesus created a church. Our faith has never been just about our individual decisions to follow Christ but about our formation in community. An institution has boundaries and rules to help sustain its tradition.  What some see as unnecessary dogma is our attempt to put shape to spiritual reality as we believe God has revealed it to us in Christ and the scriptures.  Authority within such an institution, properly exercised in a Christ-like way, is about defining the boundaries of the football pitch in which we play the game.  We do believe that some things are true, wholesome and lead to life and others aren’t.  

It is this commitment to truth as God has revealed it that is the ground of our hope. As a parish priest, I was always anxious about this time of year as the tragic deaths in December were especially poignant and took their emotional toll.  I am thinking of one family whose six-year-old died on December 23rd.  They had given the poor little mite a Christmas in early December when he was still well enough to enjoy it.  I wonder what my dudist or new age spiritual friend would have to say to that family. Everything happens for a reason? That seems to me even more blind faith than we Christians are sometimes accused of.  Sit in a pyramid as it will make you feel better or align some crystals or use Feng Shei to realign your furniture.  All of these things are essentially hopeless because they can take you no further than the now. The great truths of the incarnation, cross and resurrection deal with life’s unavoidable terminal reality, death, not just a feel better spiritual experience.  

Our hope doesn’t insulate us from the grief of the bad experiences of life, but it does equip us to approach them in a different way and to share that hope with others.  Paul doesn’t say to the Thessalonian Church, “do not grieve.” he says, “do not grieve as those who have no hope.” Living in the light of this hopeful reality brings our brokenness into the light for healing and restoration.  True spirituality can’t just be about how we feel.  It must also confront the inward brokenness that I believe only the Christian story can redeem and make new. It also gives the eternal perspective that this life is not the only one there is.  Many contemporary spiritualities may give you a short term fix but faced with the great challenges of human existence, they are mute.  

And, as to how our friend could conduct weddings – I suggested he speak to the registrar!