The relationships option

Michael Schluter, March 2003

In the first of a regular column, the Chairman of the Jubilee Centre and the Relationships Foundation explains why you should read his new book The R Option, co-authored with David Lee.

As I’m fond of saying, ‘Christianity is a relational religion’. What does that mean? Unlike Eastern religions where the individual personality will be absorbed into the great nothing beyond time, Christians believe that from the beginning relationships have been an aspect of who God is, and that in eternity each personality will be made complete when their restored relationship with Christ is fully realised.

The relationship theme runs through every part of biblical revelation. The Trinity is a way of describing God as three persons in relationship, who at the same time are one God (please don’t ask me to explain it!). The cross is about putting right the relationship between God and humanity which was ruptured by sin. Eternal life, says Jesus, is that you may know the Father (John 17:3) – more relational language. And the distinguishing mark of Christian lifestyle and ethics is ‘love’ – a word which describes a quality of relationship.

Because relationships are so fundamental to every aspect of the Christian faith, when we talk about relationship issues with friends, family and work colleagues, we are speaking about the issues which the Bible addresses, for example, trust, love, selfishness, hate, joy, peace, patience, irritability, justice, betrayal. It is also through relationships that we can best demonstrate God’s love to others.

Relationships are also the glue that holds society together. We tend to use collective nouns such as ‘the local community’, ‘the family’, ‘public services’ to describe key pillars of society. It can be easy to forget that they are all made up of human beings, and that it is how these people relate to each other that make these entities strong, effective, durable – or not as the case may be.

Yet, how often do you hear politicians and other influential public figures talk about relationships? The truth is that we live in a materialistic world. We are bombarded by advertising and media articles which encourage us to look at life as consumer, employee or investor. And we are encouraged to think of ourselves first and foremost as individuals – ‘my career’, ‘my pension plan’, ‘my investment portfolio’.

A reorientation process

In Romans, Paul tells us to be ‘transformed by the renewing of your minds’ (Romans 12:1–2). How can we learn to think differently, to look at life in terms of what is happening in people’s relationships rather than see it in terms of money and personal gain? We need to be reeducated. The R Option has been written to help those who want to go through this reorientation process. It applies the relationships perspective to a wide range of lifestyle issues and asks, ‘What would happen if we approached our relationships as we do our money – as something that we should be consciously investing in, managing, reviewing and planning? How would that affect the way we use our time, communicate with friends, analyse our work, look after our health or educate our children?’

The purpose of The R Option, however, goes further than seeking to transform our relationships with other people; it also raises serious questions about our relationship with ourselves. Our soul’s deepest longings are to do with relationships. By focusing on our relationships with other people, ironically we affirm our own identity and this helps free us from self-centredness. Relationships help make us become more interdependent, appreciate our vulnerability and lose our sense of life-control. We all long for significance, to make a lasting difference in the world; we all have to learn that this can only be achieved through our relationships.

One aspect of the book may strike you as surprising. There is almost no mention of God, although both David and I would certainly affirm that it is a person’s relationship with God that gives meaning to all our other relationships. So why leave it out?

The message of this book is not only potentially life-transforming, but also universal. It needs to be heard by Christians and non-Christians. Some might even argue it should be heard first and foremost by non-Christians, as a counter-influence to the many profoundly un-Christian values that our modern world seems to promote. For these people, there is no point in appealing to God’s teaching as the reason for doing things. It simply won’t wash. One has to appeal instead to reason, emotion, common sense. Only later may they come to realise that a relational understanding of reality points towards a personal God.

That is why this book is published not by the Jubilee Centre but by its sister charity, the Relationships Foundation – an organisation which, whilst deeply rooted in Christian values, works with people of all faiths and backgrounds to bring about change in society.

And that is why David Lee and I hope you will read this book – first, to transform your own way of looking at life, and secondly to be able to lend it to friends and colleagues as a way of starting a dialogue on what life is really all about.

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Category: News and Reviews

March, 2003

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