I’m reading Ann Morisy’s book Journeying Out at the moment. I should only be up to chapter two, but have read some way ahead. (Note here, it’s our current reading group book which is why I should only be up to chapter two). It’s a book which is challenging me and disturbing me as well as encouraging me. The key reason I think it’s having the effect on me it is is because of the contradictions in my own life at the moment where hope, dispair and questioning are interlinking and also forcing me to face up to questions about power and access.
I want to start by hope. Morisy’s book on one level is a book of hope because it tells what ordinary people do and have been doing. In places it talks about “random acts of kindness” but refers to them in relation to “social capital”. It also talks about the transforming power of volunteering and involvement upon the person who’s doing something. This made me think back outside the church again to my encounter with the Dundee LGBT group, which I blogged about recently. They’ve asked me to plug an event they’re doing soon and it gave me hope…emphasising how the acts of individuals in different places are helping change the world.
DLGBT are joining with Dundee Action Palestine to present the Bubble, (see the FB group), and are going to be doing a Skype chat with some people in the area where the film is set afterwards. The reason this gave me hope, and relates to the book is the event is really about story telling. The Skype chat after the film will, I guess, involve some story telling and will allow some stories from Tel Aviv to flow over to Scotland. Stories and storytelling as Morisy points out within her book have a huge power for transformation.
The dispair part of the post comes from some of my own feelings at the moment about life and more specifically about the lives of people who are not as fortunate as I am. I am currently feeling the effects both materially and emotionally of being skint and feeling squeezed. I am currently finding out what it is like to be trained and encouraged in one area but having, for a moment atleast, to take a job which does not use those skills. This is something I know alot of others are also struggling with at the moment. My biggest worry is about those at the bottom, like those single parents with children in junior school who are from today being forced to look for work and change the benefit they are on – see Gingerbread press release. My worry is that if graduates like me are being forced into the lowest sector jobs what are many of those with few or no qualifications (which single parents disproportionately make up) going to do? I am also just starting to get my head around what the spending cuts mean for me and my friends….I am currently more scared, I think than I have been for some time.
In Morisy’s book she talks about the way churches moved more into the “social outreach” and “professional services” sphere during the last recession, and may have inadvertantly secularised themselves. This move showed churches are good at this type of thing…something we already knew. Thus, the government strategy seems dependant on churches increasing this type of work and providing another safety net again. Something, we have shown we do well. However, things have changed. I honestly don’t think we understand how the current uncertainty and cuts are going to impact upon our churches as many of our members become unemployed, face cuts in their income in very real terms or face huge uncertainty in their jobs, (bearing in mind the number of church members involved in the public services). Also I don’t think that the churches themselves have – in declaring their expertise in this area – been realistic about the effects which secularisation has had upon their membership and the demographic of many of their members. The sad fact is that alot of our church members are rapidly reaching their forth age, (another term Morisy talks about). I am starting to dispair about the reality of the situation we find ourselves in and how utterly unprepared we are for it.
Finally I am questioning the whole issues around power and coming alongside people. In recent weeks I have had to acknowledge I am technically “poor” and am amongst the marginalised on one level in our society. However, at the same time I am through where I am and the opportunities I am being given amongst the most priviledged. There has been help offered to me which I should have taken, but which I couldn’t psychologically allow myself to take – which I may yet need to, and help offered to me which I am taking but am struggling with. The main area I have struggled with is a recognition I have fallen into various “client groups” which I am happy to engage with from the position of helping but which I struggle to be part of.
In the book Morisy engages with both Liberation Theology and Queer Theology to some extent, (although she quotes James Alison more generally on resentment giving no clue to the fact it comes from a book which is doing queer theology….because that might just have to admit to the reader that queer theology goes beyond LGBT people and has something to teach straight people too). Anyway this means she obviously talks about coming alongside people, but she still refers to “the poor” and “marginalised” in terms of “the other” and argues that in churches we take a power position. She also makes the point that the increasing professionalisation of volunteering and engagement with “the other” may be damaging.
Now this has all disturbed me and left me questioning as I say. On one level I am back in that place which my research stems from….and which I find confuddling…using many of the definitions I am “the other”, “the marginalised” the person who the text speaks of in terms of the church going out to – yet I am very much part of the church. Being openly gay, a single parent and more recently obviously poor I am the apparently under-represented within our churches. However, I know that often I am the unrecognised rather than the absent. The financial situtations of many in our churches is not what it may first appear. There are many closeted gay people or people who operate on the don’t ask, don’t tell principal because they just see their sexual orientation as a small part of what they are and don’t want to get embroiled in the politics. At the same time I am though I am the provider, the teacher and the obviously middle class who wants to go out and do something to help “them” whoever “they are”.
Life at the moment is developing in such a way that I am increasingly moving towards the likelyhood of at some point becoming “a professional” yet…..I know the limitations that gives as well as the opportunities and security. At the moment I am being able to be involved in some incredibly exciting stuff – like launching Maze, like Streetlights, like Greenbelt because I can choose what I volunteer with and get my experience from. If I were paid I would not have this choice.
On one level I am not doing all this for totally alturistic motives. I know I am too old to get an internship, even if they one were available – which it’s not – and so I therefore having to do my own set of networking and cv building for when I finish the research….bearing in mind where I know God has shown he is and is not leading me. I need to be gaining the experience these opportunities are giving me.But they are reinforcing to me that volunteering as a possibility is set up for those who have the luxury of being able to offer their time and resources for little or nothing, it is for those who have the luxury of time between jobs and family, or who are retired…volunteering is something the middle class do to make themselves feel useful.
This conflict and the different feelings I have generated further reinforce to me I have become subject to exactly the issues Morisy talks about in her second chapter. In order to carry on doing what I love and what is transforming me I am needing to get more professionalised so that I can get paid for it. Also doing the volunteering keeps me “happily middle class” and stops me falling totally into the pit of dispair marked “marginalised” or “victim” or “scrounger”….all of which are I think unfair terms for those we seek to walk alongside. I know I am not better than those I am seeking to help because I know in reality I am one of those I am seeking to help. Yet, if I acknowledge that equality with the most marginalised in our society I know I lose power….I acknowledge that I have lost choice….I allow myself to become somebody who has to take rather than give and I reinforce the stereotypes.
I know God through Jesus intentionally identified with those who were marginalised….Jesus was a Nazarene and in his early life a refugee. Jesus was an rabbi who spent three years wandering and sent his disciples out with nothing but the gospel message. Yet I know Jesus also was the giver….God is power and it was the power Jesus had and gave which transformed lives. Yet, this power was not status indeed Jesus was often critical of the power that came with status. I am questioning how to engage in discipleship,mission and worship (because I feel the three cannot be removed from each other) in our current culture without getting involved in the issues around “power”. Again this is something which worries me about the effects of the spending review as they come through.
I know some of the attitudes I’ve spoken about here and some of the contridictions and questions highlight where in my own life I need to constantly seek forgiveness and refer to how I need to deal with pride. At the moment I am wrestling with my faith in a way which is useful but hard.
If you are still here at the end of my rambling on …thank you.