Russ Bravo chats to author and speaker Adrian Plass about the Church, humour - and giving up being spiritual ...
A new book by Adrian Plass is always worth celebrating, and the publication of Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation: An A-Z of the Christian Life is certainly vintage Plass - lots of warm-hearted humour laced with sharp observation and teaching that often brings you up short with a jolt.
It's more than 20 years since his Secret Diary books brought chortles and frowns in equal measure to large numbers of Christians, offering the much quoted sub-text that it's healthy to take a step back now and then and admit that some of the things we get up to in church are faintly ridiculous.
How does he see the Church now, I wondered?
"I remember a quote by GK Chesterton - the Church mustn't move with the times, it must move the times. There is a danger in talking about how the Church has changed - I'm optimistic because although numbers have gone down, it's a paring process. You are likely to find them almost filled with Christians. Those who aren't are people who are interested and friends of the congregation. The service is no longer the be all and end all. I believe it's the beginning of something more solid."
And there are other reasons to be cheerful, he believes: "I'm cheered by continually meeting people who show Jesus to me - I meet them in every denomination - they know what the cross means and what sacrifice means, and are genuinely concerned for others. Also there's a greater desire for reality and honesty in the Church.
"The thing about Jesus that is so hard to copy is that he walked a very narrow line, with his arms wide open. If you preach against things, you repel people – but if you live out your faith and invite people to be with you, you make some progress.
"The older I get the more certain I know that Jesus is the way, and the more I struggle to know what that means. Jesus' way is relational - it wins hearts and draws people to him. There's a poem by Jonathan Maginot - a Jew who was in the camps - it speaks about coming to the gates of heaven. Says there will be no beckoning and no stern rebuke, but someone standing holding the door open. Not compromise but acceptance."
You've upset a few people in your time - do you still rile some Christians as much as you used to?
"For satirical humour to work, it has to have an edge. There is a danger in not riling people as much as you used to. I am concerned by what you put in the vacuum left once you take away the silly things. I tried to look at that in my book Jesus - safe, tender and extreme. It seems to me that the key in good churches is leadership, which has to combine vulnerability and strength."
Christians can sometimes put speakers and authors on pedestals, only for them to fall off rather heavily, so I wondered how he guarded against the dangers - and kept his ideas fresh?
"I don't have the gift of ideas, but I do have lots of them. Spiritually, the major breakthrough was giving up the need to be spiritual - I remember one time I had been a rat at home and had to go out to speak at a meeting. I said to God 'I can't do this'.
"If the dialogue had occurred God might have replied 'Beat yourself up if you like, but don't ever despise what I do through you'. It was a key point - if God was going to do something that was great, he was going to do it. I am to do the best I can. You can't make yourself into a better person. Try to be loved - until you feel loved, you can't be good. If you think you're loved, you want to please your Dad."
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