So, this book arrived on my doorstep Thursday.. and having read Ruth Roberts (pseudonym) tweets – and judging a book by its cover – I thought that my brain could cope with this whilst drowning in flu. I was right, although there’s no doubt that the book raises some deeper questions that could do with deeper thought, but it’s my favourite kind of book – honest, vulnerable, grappling with the deeper things in life, but maintaining a sense of humour throughout… with the added interest that Ruth used to work for News of the World, and despairs at the gulf between faith and the media!
Having grown up in “in the church”, but having changed flavours of churches (Breathren, Baptist, Anglican, Methodist – and any that spoke English whilst travelling) – I’ve experienced both “everything looks normal” and “why would you do THAT?” … and I still remember the conversation I had with a friend about the Scientologists and their belief that aliens came to earth in ice cubes and populated the world … and she said – well, what you believe looks just as weird to me! Glad to see that my head is not the only one that aches when wresting with such things.. including whether social action on its own is OK, or whether it needs to be accompanied by the spoken gospel.
A few bits that I love from the book, as Ruth (writing for Christianity Magazine grapples with being a new Christian in Church):
To be honest, I don’t care what other people get up to. It’s their business, not mine, and as far as I understand it, we’re not supposed to judge.
She simply prays for those around her, with no likelihood of ever knowing “effectiveness”… and tries to understand reactions to those Christians who make it into the public eye — we complain about the media, but get excited when a Christian gets some online space.. but then tend to criticise those who are doing so for not being ‘humble’ enough, and seeking to further their own agenda …
I love the fact that when Ruth first re-entered the world of church, she found a deeply accepting church who just accepted James/Ruth living together, and accepted them as they were – the message she walked away with from that church was “total grace”. Training as a coach – it’s been one of the biggest emphases – people start where they are, and you can’t get them to start from anywhere else – it’s not possible!
I want the God who preaches good news to the poor, who comforts the broken-hearted, proclaims freedom for the captives and releases darkness for the prisoners.
And Ruth encounters that typical experience for the media – the “only people who will stick their necks out and take a ‘position’ on things are the people who hold very strong views. And they seem to get all the attention.”
And this one had me nodding my head vigorously, as I think about the ways that we engage 24/7 online/offline:
Sometimes I wonder why we spend hours devising new and exciting ways of drawing people into church when it can all be ruined by a thoughtless comment or a bitchy remark… I know that Christians are only too human, but how do people like my brother and the woman I’ve just seen get beyond these bad experiences and meet the real Christ.
And then, as Ruth writes to her Dad:
So far I’ve learnt that Jesus is quite keen on breaking rules and getting people to work things out for themselves… It’s not rocket science, is it? If church is seen as a place of judgement and rules rather than a place of compassion and safety, people are not going to come through our doors.
So often we see those within the Church using the Bible as a weapon, seeking verses that support the position – throwing those backwards and forwards until your head spins… and as Ruth says – few of us have time/aptitude for theological study and so feel bewildered by the debates raging around us…. and those observing the Christian faith wonder why they would want to get involved in something that’s so split. The book moves through questioning whether this is all worth the time, but pleasingly, doesn’t end with everything tied up in a neat little bow… questions are there still to be answered, life is to be lived, but a peace underlies it all.
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014; second edition in process) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.