happy new year (letter to the world)

right, since we were in a leaky hotel room in the middle of a thunderstorm on the rim of a volcanic crater when the rest of the world celebrated the new year, our family left it until last night, six days after everybody else. which means that now is the time for deep thoughts about the meaning of personal existence. (so maybe i’m one of «those» people who believe in «the new year»).

now, as all kids in sunday school should know, the answer to the question of the meaning of personal experience (a different question to that regarding life-the universe-and-everything, before someone starts shouting out a predictable random number) is «jesus!». but what about «what does being a christian mean to you?» this was a question posed to me twice in the space of a week last term: first by simon from st barnabas church when we started doing one-to-ones, and then a couple of days later in ed’s room. and neither time was i prepared with a nice, fluent answer. on the first occasion this mattered less as the explicit purpose of me and simon talking is to discuss these things, so he let me stutter incoherently until i actually managed to say something; on the second it mattered more, as (whether or not this was the case) i was under the impression of having at most two sentences to expound my faith, and thus pressured, managed to waste those two sentences.

so the reason i am writing this to all of you is unfortunately not that i have the perfect answer worked out and i am now ready to share it with all of you, but more that in trying to work out how best to understand what being a christian does actually mean to me, i would very much like to know what it means to all of you. this is a question with incredibly broad scope i know; and i suppose if we are living our lives as acts of worship then maybe the answer should be «everything», which could either be a very long answer (consider john 21:25) or the one-word answer. «how you became a christian» is probably part of it; conversion stories are *always* exciting, and there are too many people who i feel like i know quite well, except i don’t actually know this about them. «how being a christian affects your current aims in life» is another, perhaps more difficult part.

but it would be nicer to get lots of short replies than have everyone feel too intimidated by the question to even attempt an answer. (for that’s what i have done, and i wish i hadn’t). i know it’s a very personal question. impersonal questions are less interesting.

hmm. i should probably try to give some sort of answer, even if it’s not «the perfect answer». um. i am an mk. a child of missionaries. which means that i have never been able to answer the question «where are you from?» in the conventional manner. which means i have to think of myself as one of hebrews’ «aliens and strangers on earth». (hebrews 11:13-16). it also means it is difficult to pick «the moment» when i was born again (john 3 — which coincidentally was where today’s reading in church was from, accompanied by the BEST bible-reading voice i have heard. end of irrelevant aside). although if i had to, it would be the youth fellowship camp at hebron a year after i was baptised. what exactly happened then? in short* i would say it was when i saw that the holy spirit was something real, and when i finally stood up in spirit as well as body to say i wanted to live for jesus. i used to consider the phrases just used meaningless christian clichés, but i’m beginning to learn something of what they mean. since then i think i’ve been finding out what «the kingdom of heaven» looks like in practise. it is a home full of mentally-disabled but smiling kids near teluk intan, a small town in malaysia; it is a house in delhi filled with drug-addicts dancing and playing football.* it is also a church on mill road, a room in ooty with twenty a level boys listening to hillsong, and a valley in the cameron highlands*. maybe even a staircase on the south side of churchill college. i have seen the spirit of the sovereign lord preaching good news to the poor, binding up the broken-hearted, proclaiming freedom for captives, and releasing prisoners from darkness! admittedly only a little.

* – this asterisk! what does it mean! it means that if you would rather painstakingly lengthy descriptions of respectively that yf camp; my summer at bethany home (near teluk intan) when i also returned to chefoo (in the cameron highlands); and my summer in delhi, then at http://theydontmakemodernartliketheyusedto.blogspot.com/ you will find them. they have not been re-edited for general consumption, and were initially written as quite personal messages. but maybe being a christian, to me, means living so that all my deeds are open to judgement from those who know me.

in terms of identity, that is what being a christian means to me. that leaves open the question of what it means in terms of current activity, as well as the (perhaps) less personal «what is the point of christianity?» or the more specific «what does jesus mean to you?».

but it’s a start.

ideally everyone will «reply to all» and all of a sudden they’ll be this flight of astonishing witness around the world. and it won’t matter that you, the people i have sent this too, don’t know each
other.

some of you i haven’t emailed for quite a long time. i am rubbish at keeping in contact. for this i apologise. sometimes the problem is it gets to a point where i feel that too much has happened for me to have any hope of filling in the blanks in a single email. perhaps this will rectify that slightly. if i am sending this to you, then i hold you in great esteem and love you truly. if you are someone whom i hold in great esteem and whom i love truly, but you are not on the «to:» list, then if you don’t call yourself a christian, then that would be why; or it maybe that i have left you out by mistake, or that i couldn’t find your email, or i gave up trying to add everyone in the world and went to sleep. i am probably more fallible than the pope.

love peter

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