I have excluded the word secular from my language for many years now. I have found it to be a wholly unhelpful term, which separates church from society. Remembering that if we have the language of separation it is quite likely that we have the practices of separation too.
I have swapped out the word secular for the work ‘mainstream’ as an attempt to try and normalise it in some way, since regardless of the core meaning of secular, it has come to mean somewhere God is not or perhaps worse somewhere that God has removed himself from and should therefore be considered unsafe.
I wanted to illustrate how dualism works in a real life setting and story rather than theoretically, i guess this is my version of drawing in the sand to explain something.
Before I start that – let me tell you about my day… do you think Jesus drew in the sand at times to be sarcastic? Like, ‘you guys are never going to get this, so here is a picture of a cloud? I only ask this because today in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests i posted a map of Africa on my facebook timeline showing how it has been carved up into all of its colonial areas called ‘The Original Looting’ . One of my racist friends (i have a few as it keeps me on my toes) just put the laughing emoji on the post.
Later i found a you tube clip of the Berlin conference where interested European empires fought out their rights to different land areas and implemented ‘make believe’ but long lasting borders – a gathering which did not include a single African.
So i posted this video and wrote, ‘for the uneducated – here is a video with a child explaining the impact of the Berlin conference and drawing it all on a map with crayons’… which was true ! Ok so maybe that’s not what Jesus did but it felt like a small victory.
So – Back to my attempt to illustrate the life and outcomes limitations of Christianity, having inherited dualism.
For 6 years i worked with an international counter child trafficking ngo based out of the US as their European Operations Director (a title I was asked to invent for my business card). On visiting one of the nations in Asia where we were funding projects and contributing a few initiatives, a lovely co worker with took me to meet a guy who was working in the night clubs there. These were essentially gatherings 40% people selling sex and 60% johns going there to buy against a backdrop of a syncopated beat and lights.
My friend thought we would get on as the guy in the clubs was working where Christians refused to go, and as a result he was given the ‘black spot’ of suspicion and exclusion by them.
He would raise funds for a specific girl to exit prostitution, one at a time and gain livelihood skills as a means of sustainability. In the club we talked to a girl, she was so beautiful and seemed like a lost bird, clearly not her normal source of income. She must have been 15 at the most and as we talked she explained that she was responsible for her mother and her own education. She had come to the city for a week of selling her body to expats in the hope of funding another term at school. When we left the club i went back alone, id taken what I could from my bank account, went back in the club and put it in her hands. She looked confused, I bowed to her with clasped in full Namaste humility, and as best i could expressing ‘go home’. As the stranger in a strange land and as naive as anyone could be, it seemed the best i could do. On top of this, I wasn’t meant to be there in the place God wasnt!
The following night we went to a gathering of Christians from different groups. They were going to go an do outreach (another word for us to review) to the white males who were spending their pensions on trying to resolve loneliness and feed a predator spirit. I should have been suspicious as soon as the word outreach was used.
We walked off the busy main street where all the action was and into a small side building. We sat in a circle, we sang western worship songs with the aid of a tape player and then we broke into confession groups, males and females to talk about our ‘thought life’ and any brushes with porn so we could be cleansed and worthy for the work ahead of us.
I was feeling increasingly angry, there is no other word for it, in fact i would say, i felt offended by much of what was taking place. I am mindful of this because a fellow once told me with a voice of authority that having offence is a sin. However i tend to feel at times, it is simply being tuned in and feeling exactly what the holy spirit is feeling.
The best was yet to come… strap yourselves in.
It was time to put on the full armour of God. I mean like in full Marcel Marceau mime mode, one item at a time, the belt of truth, the breastplace of righteousness etc
Now this is where i need Jesus to explain to me, why, i am having to do all of this seeming nonsense to go back onto the street i had just walked off?
I bit my tongue and tried not to make eye contact with my team mates. i would hate for them to know i needed rescuing. Finally we split into mix gender groups and off into the world, the real one. I was with two of my co workers from the US and a lady from central America full of learned charismatic behaviour oozing everywhere. We were going to go and pray into the darkest areas of the city. My heart hit the floor when we pulled up outside the same nightclub i had been in the night before. We needed to hide in the van and pray as the lord led. After 10 minutes i thought i would explode, seemingly stretched on the torture rack in between two realities, i just couldn’t cope. A therapist would say i was ‘in feeling’ but i would just say i was just thoroughly pissed off.
However the comedy of errors was not over yet. I found myself explaining to my co prayers that i found it very difficult to be praying outside a club at a distance when i had been in the club the precious night, praying over actual people, responding to what I saw, and engaged meaningfully with at least one beautiful human being.
You get me? right readers? The Central American lady didnt. She assumed
that i was full of shame for what i had seen and had been exposed to and began to pray in tongues over me and cast out the heeby jeebies of lust.
I was just about to break religious protocol and cultural taboos by asking her ‘good lady – please stop what you are doing, there is a misunderstanding ‘ (translated in google from gaz actual speak) when suddenly i was saved by an angel, it was definitely an angel in the form of the biggest mother loving flying bug we had ever seen. The intercession turned immediately into screams of panic and wails of travail… and i was saved.
This was probably one of the most internally vomiting experiences of my Christian life, i could not pull the robes of religious constraint off of me quick enough. I really did and do love my co worker who was supporting and initiating these projects but i just had to say ‘dude wtf’.
Is dualism really that hidden, that subtle and that invasive that once we have become part of separated off from life church culture that we can no longer see the absurdity of it in our practices? Dualism more than informs us that the church as a building is a refuge, a petrol station, an anchor point to where God resides most, to save us from the world, where God is less, or even not at all.
Was it wrong for me to be as offended of the dysfunctional Christian practices as I was the sex abuse that was all around me?
Perhaps I felt it more deeply because we were meant to be their hope and here we were struggling to walk out of the door of the created world back into the creation we lived in where God resides as fully as anywhere.
After years of working with young people who still hemorrhage out of the church construct on mass each year, perhaps this is the subtle indoctrination, which leaves them to feel that they have left God in the building. As my dad might say, ‘if I had a penny for every time I have heard that’… I would have, well, quit a lot.
How far reaching, life limiting and dangerous is this dualistic thinking?
This was not an accident, this separate worlds mentality is rooted in Platonic thinking, sown at the inception of the western church as it came to us through Greece, the creation of the sacred and the secular world. If we can eradicate this idea in our thinking and from our being, I feel our ‘practicing the presence of God’ as ever present, instead of near or far, here or there, will enrich us deeply and help us stand fully as his image bearer, wherever we are. I believe that as an outflow of this will also come much deeper questions for us as individuals about the church as a centralised, high dependency human construct.