I’ve just started reading a fascinating book by Frost and Hirsch called ‘The Shaping of Things to Come’. It was recommended by Nick Cuthbert, the speaker on our Day Away a few weeks ago.
A quote from D.H. Lawrence, writing in 1924, really caught my eye. He had given up on the Christian church, and was casting his eye around for a philosophical reason to be hopeful, to keep buoyant. I don’t know anything about his specific experience of the church at the time; it would be nice for me as a Christian to think that it was deficient and that if he’d been fortunate enough to live somewhere else he might have written differently. Maybe he never met the right Christians, went to the ‘right’ church?
He wrote; ‘The adventure has gone of out of the Christian venture.’
It has a nice symmetry. It’s short on real analysis and of course leaves lots of questions. The tone is matter of fact, a tad sorrowful maybe. It’s said with sadness rather than anger or accusation. But it does capture something that many, inside and outside a church, or The Church, have felt, or feel now.
What words would they, we, use to describe that feeling? Let down, maybe. Disappointed. A memory of faith, for ourselves or in our family, our community, that sparkled and crackled, that was alive! Sadness, of course, that the Jesus who jumps out of the New Testament in 3D High Definition seems to have gone all grayscale and pixilated on us.
The word ‘adventure’ isn’t much of a New Testament word you might be thinking. Jesus, we think, did not ever say ‘Blessed are the adventurous!’ or ‘Woe to you who have lost your thirst for adventure!’ Maybe you’re suspicious that adventure is the wrong kind of word to describe Christian faith – you might prefer quest, mission, or journey (or even ‘progress’ if you’re a John Bunyan fan).
Was D.H. Lawrence right to expect to experience ‘adventure’ in a Christian life or to be evident in the lives of Christians around him? It comes down to our definition of adventure. If he meant that the Christian life should be high octane, continually exciting, with risks and crises to be resolved around each corner, a thrill-seeker’s charter for action, then No, that is not how we understand a normal Christian life.
But I share his disappointment; in myself, in our church, and the church more widely. It’s hard not to use the word ‘adventure’ for the lives of almost every single woman and man we read about in the Bible. They often found themselves in brand new situations because of the difference that being a disciple of Jesus made to them. ‘Unchartered waters’ were a regular occurence. They seldom had the luxury of buildings and capital reserves. ‘Courage’ or ‘boldness’ are often used to describe their actions. Acts even features shipwrecks, prison breaks and the kind of subterfuge we expect in an Indiana Jones movie.
D.H. Lawrence’s quote reminds me of Bilbo Baggins sat contentedly at home, surveying his beautiful slice of middle New Zealand, smoking his pipe, amd looking forward to a quiet life of gentle luxury. (We sympathise with him but we know too that it’s going to be so boring!) The arrival of Gandalf and the dwarves sparks the beginning of a great adventure, one which he wishes many times to escape from, but one that he comes to love and one that allows him to put all those quirky hobbit gifts to good use.
We don’t want thrills and spills to stop us getting bored, but we do want to answer the call of Jesus wholeheartedly, ready to go wherever he leads, and not too worried about our comfort and a peaceful life.