A little over a year ago I began to learn bellringing. The bells at our church had been largely silent for several years, and a group of us decided that if we wanted them rung we would have to learn to ring them ourselves. Under the expert guidance of ringers from a neighbouring parish we started to learn the ropes.
This is no easy thing. As the bell turns full-circle on its wheel the rope goes up and down at a tremendous speed and the beginner has to learn to grab it and release it as it flies past, to pull it at the right time by just the right amount, and to feel what the bell mechanism is doing fifty feet above. This must be done for the safety of the beginner, of the other ringers, and to prevent damage to the bell and its mechanism.
After a few weeks practice this all begins to come together, and you can start to ring the bell properly. Now you must learn to ring with others, hearing the other bells as you ring, so that the church bells sound out together, calling people to worship God, or singing joyously in celebration, or sorrowfully at a funeral. Then the bells speak loud and clear, knowing their place among the other bells, singing harmoniously as they weave complex patterns to and fro.
When we try to follow the teachings that we find in the bible and in the traditions of the Church we can follow a similar path. Here there is a complex of ideas, underpinned by some simple principles, and we have to use the skills that God gives us to understand how to apply these concepts. It is not enough simply to pull on a bell-rope and expect to be able to ring a peal of bells — it takes practice, skill and co-ordination. Similarly we strive to deepen our understanding of our faith, and of the words of the bible, and to work out what we are called to do, and how to do it. The message of the bible is not always simple and its application to the world is not always clear-cut, and if we think it is then we risk becoming at best a clanging noise, and at worst a danger to ourselves and others, as when a ringer loses control of the bell-rope.
But when we have begun to understand the good news of the kingdom of God then we can sing out harmoniously, and proclaim the theme loudly, clearly and joyfully to the world.