Thursday, 29 September 2011

Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation

Hopefully reading will be one of the activities to fill the void once occupied by a playstation. I've already read about four books in a month, which might be a record (and one of those was Lord of the Flies, after which I just sat in a stupor for 3-4 days). Anyway, another of those books was Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation; An A-Z of the Christian Life, by the stalwart Adrian Plass.

This is the kind of book I like; essentially light-hearted and comical, but in a beautifully organised alphabetical arrangement. It's the literary equivalent of a Toblerone bar; you snap off small segements for easy digestion, but find that it's hard to stop at just one. At points Plass is deliciously funny, as in the following entry:

When I survey - favourite hymn of Christian architects

Jeff Lucas commends the book on its reverse - "Subversive but not destructive, cutting but never unkind, the man helps me want to remain a Christian. Brilliant, fun, laugh-out-loud stuff."

Jeff highlights what, for me, was the big problem with this book. Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation walks a very fine line between lightly poking fun at some of our quirky religious traditions, and actually undermining Christianity. The minute you start making humorous observations you start to become cynical, and this is what seems to happen.

Now I'd say Adrian has every right to be cynical about the role of pews, jargon and religious tradition (in a similar vein to the work of Dave Walker). Want to take the mick out of church notices? Go ahead! Prosperity gospel? Lampoon away! But just occassionally the jibes extend to things that are actually important. This is probably best illustrated in this definition:  

Defying Gravity - (2) what at least a few of us so-called followers of Jesus need to be doing. Christianity is far too serious not to be laughed at from time to time.

The extent of my uncomfortableness with this statement would depend on what Adrian means when he talks about "Christianity". If he's referring to the pomp and tradition that has sadly worked its way into the life of the Church then yes we can laugh at it. If, however, Adrian is saying that following Jesus is too serious not to be laughed at then I very strongly disagree.

Firstly, I disagree with the logic. I think we should laugh at things that aren't serious, not things that are. If I started laughing at funerals people would rightly write me off as insensitive. Some things deserve to be taken seriously, although that's getting harder in a culture where we will laugh at anything (is there any way of prosecuting the people who circulate post-tragedy jokes?). I made it one of my new year's resolutions to be more sincere.

Secondly, if we, as Christians, don't take Christianity seriously, what hope has anyone else got?

I've read other Plass books before and found them really helpful as well as entertaining. I think Adrian is a great guy as well as a good author, and I believe that he actually does take following Jesus very seriously. Maybe, like the rest of us, not quite as seriously as Jesus Himself.

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