This evening I have been charmingly irritable, so I am typing this from behind the barricade I built to protect innocent bystanders from projectile rage. It's Les Miserables come to Croydon. Seriously, why do I get so irritable? I hate it. I even get irritable about me being irritable - vicious circle or what? I try to avoid people when I'm like this, though my poor parents can come in for some snapping, that said, they often put themselves in the line of fire. They can be slightly oblivious to hints, a pithy message in six foot high three dimensional letters might just get the message across, but little short of that.
Mercifully frantic knitting - the sort where if you look carefully you can actually see sparks coming off the needles and the yarn gently smokes afterwards - and properly belly-laugh comedy can melt away the nasty prickly feelings and coax me out from the barricade. Tonight it was 'Genius' on BBC2, though I still maintain it should never have left Radio 4, don't mind me, I get a little protective of radio as a medium. The hot bath and Adrian Plass that preceded the laughter-fest helped a little too.
Though when I was in the bath I realised that so far as the church seems from where I'm sitting I'm one of the worst combinations any church could be lumbered with, single female (there's already plenty of us in the church waiting to be made inferior by smug marrieds and pounced on for "singles ministry") and chronically ill and apparently stubbornly refusing to be healed and fit in with the neat and tidy comfortable conformity expected of church members. Hands up, I admit it, I'm exaggerating. Most of the married people I know are at very worst not intentionally smug, the majority are lovely. Likewise I haven't yet been pounced on about singleness, perhaps because 24 no longer counts as "on the shelf" yet or perhaps because most of the time I'm not well enough to be there? It does seem interesting to me that "singleness" should be considered a Christian issue, along side prayer and Bible study and cell groups and predestination and mission and quiche. Is it that not being married is seen as untidy or wrong somehow? Yet there seem to be as many issues (if not more) to being married as there are to not being married. So why is one state apparently beamed upon with utter approval while the other is treated as a vaguely embarrassing problem?
However, I think being single is the least of my 'offences'. I am young and chronically ill (illness seems to be better tolerated among the more elderly in the church, by which I mean people of at least 75). As yet there has been no 'getting better' (as all sick people are expected to play the game and do) nor has there been a miracle cure, not I hasten to add by choice, of course I want to be well! Instead I struggle through life, finding every day incredibly difficult and doing offensive things like being unable to be on rotas or committees, or even make it to church. Sometimes I feel about as welcome within the church as Banquo's ghost in MacBeth or swine flu on the underground.
I know I've gone on and on about all this lately but I am upset by it, more than that I'm angry, at the sheer injustice of how I am treated and how I see others treated. I am upset by the gulf that exists between the church I read about in the Bible and the church I see existing in the world in terms of the attitudes towards the 'untidy' and most especially the sick. We don't choose to be sick or disabled, we don't choose to be unable to take part in church activities and 'do our bit', we don't deliberately go out of our way to be difficult and uncomfortable, really, please believe me. I'm going on and on about this here, on my blog, as a way of getting some of how I feel out of my system, otherwise I'm going to explode, yell, shout, cause a massive scene, be insanely rude, part of me longs to do it. The more sane part of me knows this is a bad idea. But fellow Christians, brothers and sisters, I'm sick of being invisible. Sorry if I've somehow wandered off with the wrong idea about what the church is for, but I thought we were here to support one another? To encourage one another, teach one another and reach out into the world to share the priceless treasure we have been given. Not simply to attend meetings, be on rotas and prove how holy we are by how packed our diary is.
I know I'm guilty of this too: I hold my hands up. Before I got too sick to continue and when I was a very new Christian I was a fully paid up member of the cult of busyness, I rarely saw my housemates, dashed from meeting to meeting, having I will admit a great time and acquiring a great deal of head knowledge. They say there's no more vehement opponent of smoking than an ex-smoker, likewise some of that phenomenon is true for me, I'm a human being. But I did run myself into the ground doing this, doing what I thought was right and was what a 'good Christian' did, what a holy Christian did. So I pushed myself and pushed myself through all the signs and symptoms my body used to try to put the breaks on me and I crashed headlong into the buffers. Please, I beg you, don't do the same.
Busyness is something I've noticed is prevalent in Christian jobs too, from the most humble volunteer or intern through to ministers (and no doubt bishops and archbishops) everyone is running from one meeting to another, one appointment to another. Starting work at 5am and finsihing at 11pm, constantly on the go. No doubt unintentionally it shuts anyone who is not physically up to keeping up from working for the church. I would have loved to have done a church internship but knew there was no point because I can't keep up. It's as though we're trying to prove to God and to one another how committed we are. It's also as though we don't believe that God can do without us, but He can, He chooses to use us, amazingly.* But the kingdom of God won't fall apart if we all slowed down, spent some more time "be[ing] still and knowing that I am God" (Psalm 46.10), spent some more time with one another, helping one another along the road with Jesus.
This stuff doesn't just go generally for "the church", it also goes for friendships. 'Busyness' has also robbed me of most of my friends. Being ill for a long time is immensly boring and immensly lonely. Yes I rely on Jesus, I do my best to maintain as close a relationship as I can with Him and He is a great comfort, but sometimes you long for more, some human contact, a voice, a face. I also long for the opportunity to give something to the church and to my friends, because the healthiest relationships are ones of more or less equal levels of give and take. This feels garbled and self indulgent, this whole post, I don't feel like I can quite get across exactly what I'm trying to say. Anyhow it is long past bedtime now so I shall have to return to it tomorrow
* (See Psalm 50 and another place I can't remember but will fill in later)