What other people say and think about us appears to be the most significant barrier to our Christian living.
As part of our First Sunday Thing (Family Service) on Sunday, among many other things, some people were willing to fill in luggage labels naming something which holds them back from doing what the Gospel asks. We were responding to the letter of James where it points out that we can hardly say we ‘love our neighbours as ourselves’ if we take more notice of the apparently important people and less of the evidently marginalised; in this and other situations we may think we’d behave as the Gospel asks us to but in fact find that our habits and the norms of society around us means that we don’t.
Hanging back through lack of confidence, family demands, not having enough oneself, and the call of the TV were all named as factors. But again and again what was written was about not wishing to stand out from the crowd: ‘thinking what other people might say’, ‘one friend says I can’t’, ‘popularity (fitting in); easier not to challenge’, ‘what other people might say about us which may hurt our feelings’, ‘listening to what other people say’ and ‘peer pressure’ were half a dozen comments from different people.
It isn’t an original discovery. It is known from a Prime Minister not wishing to make too much of his religious commitment lest he be thought weird to a school child not wishing to make known membership of a church Youth Group lest he or she be bullied. But I simply hadn’t realised how strongly and consistently the theme would come out from the average adult in our congregations, so it is one of those exercises which makes me think again about what I choose to mention when preaching and do when supporting people.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the Local Authority did substantial work on the 135 year old Weeping Ash at the entrance to St Michael’s churchyard to reduce its height and thus the weight of the canopy. We knew it thought something would need to be done at some point, but we didn’t know that the work was about to happen. The tree is the subject of much affection and comment (including in this Blog on 21st January) and, although some are very sad at its new ungainly appearance, the work is intended to lengthen its life.