But the Bible's true, isn't it?

I can imagine Christian readers tut-tutting over what may appear to them to be a rather wild and woolly lot of experiences and wishing I'd found the Christian church which they probably consider safer.  However, Christian teachings were embedded in my upbringing along with all the other.  The Truth was a big concern from a very early age and reminders of its importance seemed to come from all sides.

When still a young girl I was required to appear in court and give witness about a car accident.  I had to place my right hand on the Bible and promise I would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  So the Bible must be true, mustn't it?

This emphasis on the Bible being true permeated my young life, and I took on my father's seriousness in this respect.  He was well read in Bible studies and seemed to be able to talk about it with confidence.  Both my grandmothers were devout, regularly studied their Bibles and lived out the teachings as best they could.  I did my best to read and understand it too, but I found it difficult.

I found all the stories of suffering and persecution upsetting, and the rules impossible to live up to.  It seemed to be full of exhortations to be perfect, which I knew I never was, however hard I tried.  This is a pity as I now see the core of Christian teachings as being more about gentleness and generosity, but even this had its problems. 

I did my best but knew I was sadly lacking.  I could be gentle and generous, but I also had a noisy temper at times which upset some people and made others roll their eyes.  Even though I usually got over it quickly, I knew this was a serious failing. 

I have already mentioned the other books in Dad's collection.  All these books picked up on many of the same points, especially the business of their content being true, which they all proclaimed loudly.  Not only this but they also made very similar exhortations about the importance of perfecting oneself.  This made me re-double my efforts and also increased my sense of inadequacy. 

I expect I unconsciously emulated what I observed in my father.  He was very demanding in his standards in relation to tasks as well as behaviour, yet even though I to some extent idolised him I could see full well that he was as imperfect as anyone.  How could I avoid doing so when we were so alike in temperament?  However, I did my best.  No wonder I grew up with ingrained levels of tension and anxiety that I couldn't see in myself - only my inadequacies.   

I imagine Christian readers thinking I would have done better had I stayed in a purely Christian context, yet although the church at least has tried and true boundaries and structures, it too is fraught with difficulties: both in interpretation of scriptural teachings and in the human frailties of those who live and work within it.  I am also acutely aware of the violence perpetrated by Christians through out history, in the name of their church, both against others and within the church itself.

Besides, I found the Church rather narrow and never met anyone there that I felt I could confide in, not in the way that I needed to.  They would all tell me what to think and do, what was true, and I had had enough of that already.

And sadly, it turned out that the behavioural rules I had taken so seriously, to be gentle, kind, generous and patient, worked against me: in continuing to be so generous to Teri I persevered with her for far too long, listening to her endlessly, helping her, and giving my time and energy - because she asked for it and seemed to need it.  What I needed was to be a great deal more streetwise, and to deflect what turned out to be unreasonable, grasping and false.

When I was young I came across a memorable quote in one of my children's books, and although I've quoted it happily ever since, I can see I've had great difficulty applying.  It is: 'Everything in moderation, even virtue'.  It covers a considerable volume of the difficulties I've had throughout my life.  I wish you better luck with yours!

Other people's writing that I have found helpful:
In recent years I've come across some fine people within the Christian fold whose writings I have found both inspiring and helpful.  

Harold Bussell, in his article "Why evangelicals are vulnerable to cults" provides a valuable assessment and overview from a Christian standpoint.  He makes the important point that biblical references need to be looked at within their greater context, and that debate  and intellectual challenge should always be respected.  I completely agree.  Readers will find mention of this second point in my article "Evaluating teachers and healers"
     His article "Checks on power and authority in the New Testament" is also well worth reading.
Two other such people are Joy Cowley and Sister Pauline O'Regan, both New Zealanders whom I see as companion explorers.  I admire their commitment and their carefully considered views. 

I came across Joy when the documentary series, "My God" screened an episode about her life.  She talked about her own journey in faith, and I wish I had a copy of it.  She's the sort of woman I would love to be able to have long talks with.  Here is the transcript of a lecture she gave about her faith some years ago.  As she asks, I the reader, hold what she says in an open hand.  I don't need to agree with her particularly to get value from what she says.

Sister Pauline is a Catholic nun.  I read and very much appreciated her book "There is hope for a tree" (1995).  In it she chronicles aspects of her association with her Church.   It is a thoughtful and beautifully written book, and her observations are colourful, witty, wise, and at times acerbic.  Her description of a social visit to a Catholic home in Northern Ireland in the company of a Presbyterian (Protestant) minister is as astonishing as it is moving.   It would seem that reconciliation between such agonisingly opposed groups may be better accomplished directly between ordinary individuals rather than by politicians and soldiers.  I found her story inspirational.

In looking back over all this I find I agree with Krishnamurti that "the truth is a pathless land".  In disclosing a selection of my own difficulties I hope to provide some hiking skills for others, emphasising that readers find their own routes but hopefully do so with more skilful discernment than I did.  We need sound people around us to provide additional support and insight but ultimately must shoulder the responsibility for seeking out and affirming our own choices.  No leader, however charming or profound, should presume to take this responsibility for us and we should not seek or permit it.

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