Category Archives: Spiritual Journey

Been Reading….

The most recent book borrowed from MK Library wasn’t one of their “blind dates“, it was ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma. Not a new title, but one which looked like it might be interesting.

Reading it was an interesting experience. I found myself getting really into it and reading random bits of ‘wisdom’ out loud and in turn being asked what ‘hippy stuff’ I was spouting by Karl. Once I’d got the message that it was best to digest it inwardly without exclaiming “listen to this” every five minutes I did have to contain my excitement about the contents every so often.

Part way through it struck me that this stuff was things I knew anyway but which I’d become familiar with using a different language. The principles of reflection and keeping notes of your goals, etc was simply journaling. That’s something I try and keep up with doing anyway.

The reading for 30 minutes a day was similarly something I know Christians are encouraged to do. Regular daily reading of the scriptures and looking to read other books which are enhancing to them.

The meditation and silence is a tool we use for listening to and connecting with God.

The importance of self-control is something reinforced through the scriptures as is the fact we are all called to serve.

The material in this book then was stuff I already knew I needed to be doing but as the book says there is a difference between knowing and doing. We need to create discipline and new habits and that comes through overcoming our thoughts. This is where Sharma and I would diverge in view I think. He talks about the power to overcome these things coming from our minds, whilst I think that is true to some extent we can be helped to do this, I believe, through the Spirit. God can enable us to do things we feel to be impossible but it does require an act of will on our part.

Something I found interesting was the diarying in of time for yourself to nurture yourself. It’s something I know that I have taken the wrong way in the past. It has in the past become a bit of a “I must relax and do good stuff” thing, and that has failed. Being with Karl has helped me to see that within our lives we need some level of spontaneity and openness to experience the unknown.

So is it The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari worth reading? Answer yes.

Preparing for Lent

A few years ago I put together this set of creative ideas for Lent, it reflected where I was then. As in previous years the stats tell me it is being picked up again as people look for Lent ideas.

In many ways my view of Lent has changed a bit since then in part through reading some of the Maggi Dawn archive material on the subject. The other reason it has changed is because of a sermon I did during lent a couple of years ago. Within it I focused on the fact that we often try to manufacture our suffering during lent, trying to imitate Jesus’ temptations. However, are we actually designed to be more like the angels who came to attend Jesus after he had faced those temptations? Are we people who are called to come alongside those who have had to go through genuine suffering and attend to them and help them?

Part of my thinking on this came from the work I was doing on single parents I was doing at the time and my understanding of Genesis 21:15-19 in particular. It was clear that the angel acted as an encourager and somebody who signposted Hagar to the resources she needed. She was somebody who was in the wilderness for a reason too, and in this case had lost hope. Her life was changed by an angel of God responding, as a result of God hearing her call and pain.

I want to argue that as we prepare to enter this period of Lent we need to ask ourselves who are we and where are we? What is our role in the story this Lent? What I mean is we need to establish whether we are people who are in the wilderness or people called to support those in the desert. Are we people who need to be sustained through difficult circumstances by our knowledge of scripture and by the love of God and may need signposting to resources or are we amongst those God wants to go and meet those in the desert, in order to support them and show God’s love to them?

In both situations God is involved and both sets of people are totally dependent upon God, but in different ways. Whilst it may seem that only the wilderness role involves suffering the “angel role” also requires giving things up in order to fulfil that calling. Time will be involved and it may also need us to step outside of our natural comfort zone.

When I started writing this I was going to give some suggestions of what you might do for Lent, depending upon your role but I can’t. Lent when looked at like this is something very personal. If you are in the wilderness this Lent you will know exactly why that is and it will be something incredibly personal to you. If you are not in the wilderness you need to be praying and listening to God in order to discover which bit of wilderness you need to go to and how you need to be responding to the person God wants you to discover there. This wilderness experience may be personal or corporate – again we don’t know.

There are examples, most notably during the exodus, when groups of people found themselves going through wilderness experiences and having their needs met in that situation. Equally when Jesus was going through his period of temptation there was more than one angel who came to attend him. Yet for Hagar it was one angel and a single parent and her child involved. Again the wilderness experience is personal and contextual.

So this Lent I want to encourage you away from the spiritual self-improvement of that previous post and into something more abstract and difficult.



A Thought On Some Artistic Fresh Expressions

Art’s Central have posted this picture on their Facebook page. It is of an actual poster used during the era of McCathyism in the US when there was a witch hunt against the entertainment industry amongst others.

It spurred me on to a bit of theological reflection on the last couple of posts I’d written about the arts and about the Fresh Expressions conference. They were completely unconnected but in many ways they are totally connected. The post on arts described the truth which is within that poster to some extent about the ability of artists to mix with all classes, with it’s reference to the South London Black Music Project exhibition at the Tate (for example). The Fresh Expressions conference was embodying the message that the Church wants to be in that position of mixing with all classes too, and that one way in which they are seeking to make it happen are through engaging with the arts in places like Colwyn Bay where one of the Venture FX speakers was from. The project in North Wales is called Engedi Arts and they are involved in an mixed media exhibition during December, which appears to be multi-venued in Leeds and Islington as well as Colwyn Bay and is called ADVENTurous.

Other examples of where there is a specific type of spirituality growing out of engagement with the arts include Holy Biscuit in Newcastle and in Sheffield with pioneer minister Ric Stott who explained in this short video put on the Venture FX blog in April how he got involved in pioneer mission.

The relationship between the arts and the church is not new. Over the centuries artists have engaged with religious themes and religious institutions have worked with artists of all sorts. Art in various forms is woven into religion, (however hard some Puritans and their descendents have tried to make it otherwise). This is because for many art does provide a special and specific way of engaging with Christ and with spirituality.

Some such as Ann Morisy in her book Journeying Out have talked about the way “high symbols” have been lost and “[i]n contrast, the current dominant expressive mode, that of low, earthbound symbols, indicates the predominance of a very different world view: our day-to-day expriences are a series of sensations that belong to us and they are part of a world that can be taken for granted.” She goes on within the same paragraph of page 145 after negatively talking about Tracy Emin’s bed and earthbound poetry and gangsta rap to say, “[t]he result is that the sacred or the holy evaporates from our consciousness. This means that it is not just our awareness of God that gets snuffed out, so too do our routes to God.”

When I originally read this passage and the argument Morisy gives I was horrified. For me the Tate Modern is probably the place where I can most get in touch with God. This is partly the space but often because I am able to see beauty and creativity within the most ordinary things, like unmade beds with the degridation and reality of human life around them. However, I now acknowledge part of what she is saying because the obvious God element is often missing from the narratives we see and hear within contemporary “low culture” although religiously imagry is still often creatively and wonderfully used in works such as Banksy’s 2003 Bermondsey Street “pissed angel”. The thing with art of all forms is it can be read in different ways and it will depend upon the background and attitudes of the viewer/ listener how they interpret it. Personally I think this process of interpretation and reading is a very special one which gives room for the Holy Spirit to come and work in a mysterious and wonderful way.

I think what many of the FX style arts projects are doing, together with specific artists who are working with modern art and street art in its various forms, is finding a new expression for what Morisy is talking about ‘high symbols’ doing within the ‘low art’ forms she slates. They are also finding ways to engage with those who find their cultural and artistic tastes excluded within mainstream church culture.

Going back to the poster the irony is that the church is also meant to be something which reaches out to every class and that is one of the wonders about the gospel and what it teaches us. It should have that equally dangerous reputation, because that mixing with all classes is a key part of what got Jesus crucified. If our modern faith and expression of it doesn’t have that same danger attached to it we need to think about why.

I would finish then by arguing artists and artistic fresh expressions/ pioneer ministers have a powerful role in teaching us, if we are ready to listen.

*PS – have just worked out looking at the site that the Engedi Arts site again that the ADVENTurous event next Saturday and at which Ann Morisy is one of the speakers, which I’d in my head just linked with Greenbelt, is part of this.

Two:23 Launch

The two:23 network was formally launched today with a gathering/ service at St. Mary Aldermary in London. Whilst it’s most definitely a new network it has been born from the passing of Courage which ended in September this year.

The event and network represents in many ways a 2.0 or even 3.0 Christian group. By this I mean the environment into which it is being born whilst by no means perfect or always entirely safe for LGBandT Christians is very different in many ways to the landscape of the past. There is a broader understanding and recognition of LGBandT Christians and the issues which they face than has existed in the past and there are more safe spaces than previously. The need for secrecy has in many cases diminished.

The network has the vision of creating “a space where absolutely everybody is welcome.” This doesn’t just relate to sexual or gender identity it also applies to churchmanship. Their website says, “Compared to other LGBT Christian organisations, many of us are from evangelical backgrounds, but we now represent a broad church and aim to make all feel welcome.”

This inclusivity also includes positively engaging with mainstream, straight clergy and others who have something positive to bring to the table. Today it was the Very Reverend Dr. David Ison (Dean of St. Pauls Cathedral) who spoke to the 90 or so assembled people and who exemplified the benefit of this approach. His talk was positive and yet challenging and also clearly included reference to the  T part of the community as well as the gay – something sadly missing on so many occasions.

The name of the network comes from Hosea chapter two verse 23 which says, “I will say to those called ‘Not my people’, ‘You are my people’; and they will say ‘You are my God’. There was moving reference to this in a meditation during this afternoon’s event.

The network is meeting four times a year and dates for next year are 23rd Feb, 18th May, 21st September and 30th November. I would encourage anybody who thinks they would benefit from this type of network to put the dates in their diary. I really enjoyed the day and meeting friends old and new as well as having the chance to worship and engage with other LGBandT Christians and their allies.

As a bit of a ps there is another launch happening at the same church this week. Host the cafe at St. Mary’s operated by Moot is being launched on Tuesday 27th.

Connected Worship Conference Review

I want you to imagine a pile of crap. On this occasion it can be labelled: frustration, weariness, hopelessness, broken dreams, misunderstandings, doubt, fear, dis-connection, loss and monotony. You are charged with working out what to do with layers of this stuff.

You work out there are various possibilities:

You can get a blunt edged spade and call it a shovel. To brighten it up you might tie some ribbons around it. You can use it to dig a hole to deposit some of the crap in, burning  the rest. Then you might dig another hole to place something new in.

Another approach is to put the junk into a cupboard and pretend it isn’t there as you party on next door.

Alternatively you can examine how others have dealt with this junk and come together to discuss this before going away and disseminating your knowledge to others.

Then you could always acknowledge the crap. You could give stories of situations where this crap has somewhat miraculously disappeared in the past. Then you can return to having a party, after you’ve put barriers up to keep people away from the reality of the offending mess.

There is a final option left open to you. You might get a team together and resource them with good quality cleaning materials. They can approach the crap carefully and gently from different angles seeking to remove that top layer to reveal and restore what is underneath.

The team who put on Connected Worship an event primarily aimed at local preachers and worship leaders within the Methodist Church decided to take that last option.

There were various things about Connected Worship which made it different from many if not all of the various Christian conferences I’d been to over the years and these are the things which reflected how and why that last approach is discernibly different.

The first was the conference wasn’t at a conference centre or site where we came together to communally live. Rather whilst the majority of the event was held in two venues within Warrington we were required to get our own accommodation sorted and engage, however briefly, with the city beyond the conference both physically and economically. This was refreshing and whilst I know there are negatives to this way of doing things as well as positives I found it, on this occasion, helpful.

The second aspect which was discernibly different was the way those attending the conference were valued as people rather than as consumers and potential purchasers of product. There was only one person noticeably promoting his books and even that was done in a low key, “they’re here but they are discounted” way.

We were given “goody bags” when we got there as our conference packs and it has to be said they were random, surreal and useful in equal measure. Beyond the usual programme, map and so on Fair Trade chocolate and cereal bars mixed with mountains of stationary and resources from the local council and crematorium. By the end of the weekend Co-op funeral care bingo dobbers were floating around too.

Friday evening began with worship. Contemporary music and more traditional hymns mixed with gentle liturgy and in your face reflection, poetry and narrative, visuals and silence within the worship sessions. Carefully planned and curated but infused with integrity rather than fake energy. By the end of the weekend the need for sleep was being acknowledged from the stage as well as the seats.

The food was incredible and whilst we’re used to church people doing food well what we consumed in the venue can only be described as extreme church catering. Don’t know if it’s a wonderfully northern thing or what but it was also good old fashioned plain but tasty grub being provided which meant even fussy eaters such as myself were able to over indulge.

Friday evening continued with Sheridan Voysey , an Aussie writer and broadcaster now living in Oxford doing a session on listening to the soul of community. Now I have to admit that Sheridan is obviously a Mac guy and one of the social networking i-pad types who normally I have a mixture of respect for and irritation with. However, he did a good presentation and has gone to the trouble of putting up an area of his web-space linked to the Connected content with resources to help people explore the themes he was talking about further. My conclusion on him was surprisingly that he was a great guy and somebody it was a pleasure to connect with who God is using in a particular way.

The evening finished with more worship and what Karl later told me was something called Compline which the Anglicans use. I thought it was cool.

Saturday was a packed day, with perhaps a little too much in. That said it was all great content as we found our souls being restored. First off worship, then into the first of three workshop sessions. Karl went off to the much praised preaching sessions with Ron Willoughby. Apparently they were brilliant being insightful and useful and with all of the sessions dealing with people where they were.

I was engaging with the world outside and found myself listening to Jonathan Green who is one of the chaplaincy development officers for the Methodist Church and the person who had put together the Chaplaincy Everywhere course I had recently reviewed on here. He started off overly apologetic at stepping in at short notice and so not being as prepared as he might be…although he felt that might be useful. What he actually did was provide space for alot of people who were already practitioners to share. I knew a few people in that group and there were deacons, lay children’s and youth workers, prison chaplains and presbyters all present. What we found ourselves receiving was space to think and talk as people who were already engaging in our various ways with life and communities beyond church. Going back to the cleaning/ restoration analogy it was interesting to see the dirt being loosened during the first session and then to see the hope gleaming through by the last of these workshops.

Ok slight aside here….in light of recent events (which I have blogged here) I was wary of these sessions whilst really looking forward to meeting and thanking the person who had sent me a really encouraging direct message after reading the “not getting the job post”. At the beginning of the weekend I kind of felt God/ life force/ a.n.other was taking the piss somewhat by having me sitting through a set of workshops on chaplaincy. At the end of the weekend and after a major 4am argument with God on Sunday morning I was clearer on a whole load of stuff and thankful rather than irritated I’d been in those sessions.

Anyway I digress and this is already too long a post…still I’m indulging and this is a post I want to have there to look back on and reflect on as well as to encourage others with.

Back to the conference. Saturday afternoon involved major input from Jackie Bellfield who was presbyter of the church we were using as one venue and the worship leader, Roger Walton who is one of the most intelligent, gentle and generally godly men it has ever been my pleasure to know and Helen Cameron who in many ways came across as a female version of Roger but with her Yorkshireness being somewhat stronger.

The session where Roger was the main speaker was talking about reflective listening and faithful theology. It was material I was familiar with having read and cherished his book The Reflective Disciple  but material it was good to revisit. The key text they were working from on Saturday afternoon was Luke 2:19, focusing specifically on what it meant/ means to treasure and ponder.

The next part of this was a “New Song Network” experience, which was worship we were encouraged to reflect on whilst participating in. Have to admit I went into participant observation mode and ended up with 8 pages of notes. Sufficient to summarise that this was a community worshipping together using contemporary material which for me moved in turns from feeling like I was at Spring Harvest, in the middle of a Jazz club and that I was in the middle of one of the James Corden worship sketches from the Horne and Corden show a few years back. That said, the thing was this wasn’t cheese there were the whispered “friends” and change of sounds and moods which are part of a particular type of worship leading but it was different. What was most moving was what was said in between particularly and the interaction with the regulars. This included laughter and heckling but also included a note of apology if anybody found a story she had shared painful. Within the formula there was an unusual level of vulnerability from the worship leader. What particularly moved me was singing Carol of the Star by Andrew M Rudd. It evoked the memory of Cambridge Folk Festival fringe tent on Coldhams Common late in the evening when the main music has finished and people sing along together with the talented open mic performers.

Before the last session 115 of us headed off to a local Chinese buffet. If you’re ever in Warrington I can highly recommend the East Orient. This was a genius bit of conference organisation. Again very unusual and highly refreshing part of the planning.

We were encouraged to reflect on what we’d experienced within the Pyramid arts centre venue, (and not just the gorgeous cakes), in the next session led by Helen Cameron – who I’d not encountered before. Beyond this we looked at a poem by Thomas Lux which was called Refrigerator 1957. I found this particularly moving as it took me back to my childhood and a realisation I was part of the last bit of that generation. Karl, who is younger, found it mind blowing what we talking about whilst the other couple we were sitting about could take it back further and put a number of my childhood memories in a wider historical context. It was a special time which God used to make me think back and smile.

Then there was a bit more worship. By this time to put it bluntly everybody was shattered and whilst it was good because we got to hear some of the creative writing project Sheridan had been working on with some participants it was in many ways a session too far. Was moving but slightly ironic moment on the way home when we saw the pub which we’d just heard about Jesus sitting in being raided by the police. Not sure nearly getting run over by a police van and a police car full of men and women who are getting a chance to re-enact the Sweeney whilst raiding a pub which we’d found lovely when we’d popped in for a drink the night before is meant to be that funny.

Apart a final workshop session Sunday morning was, rightly, dominated by worship. There was an initial session and then later a choice of “traditional” and “contemporary” communion services. Karl headed over to Bold Street to listen to the Chair of the Liverpool Circuit preach whilst I found myself deeply moved in the more contemporary worship. It was space to be with God and receive from him. I can’t describe what happened entirely, but it was like I suddenly had space to simply be in an environment which felt like home…..a home made up of elements from various previous “homes”. By that I mean the songs and worship band were reminiscent of the more evo part of my life, the art and prayer station bits were echoes of the more recent past and present. I was in a space I understood and in which I was fully able to simply relax with God. It was special.

The final session was led by Jo Cox and was one of the best concluding session I’ve ever attended. It wasn’t a hyped up session it was another time where worship and conference talk merged with reflection. Within it Jo made the point that the conference hadn’t been intended to be a package deal. Connected Worship was about giving permission to do stuff where you are and to give tools. It was also, as somebody had said at some point in the weekend, about giving hope.

The restorers had cleaned carefully, through valuing us and sending the message that local preachers and worship leaders are cherished and that as we go about our ministries we need to engage with hope as we seek to help the church engage with God and the culture beyond church he and we are also part of. The difficulties faced in our contexts were never minimised and the focus wasn’t on trite answers, it was on valuing us and giving us space to both connect and worship.

Creative Worship

In this last reflective post I want to share a five posts which I think/ hope have been useful to people, all of which are linked to creative worship.

The first of these is a post I did when I was attempting to do a creative Lent. It is the one which I believe may be my most looked at post over time, partly because it tends to have an annual outing as something which is found via Google. Whilst I am not completely sure that the theology behind the idea was 100% right I think it was something useful. The post gave 40 ideas on things you could do which might help you better connect with God and recentre yourself. They were activities which could also involve spiritual reflection.

The second of these outlined some of the ways we had done family worship with Third Party and some of the ways I had approached being a Christian parent discussing God and sex with her.

The third post is an A-Z of prayer.

The forth thing I want to share is a post which shared a prayer workshop which I’ve done a couple of times.

The final one is a poem called the Means of Grace which was part of a creative presentation I had to do for the district candidates committee. Again it has some creative ideas for personal spiritual chill out/ worship.

You’ll see from the way they come up prayer walls and play-lists are important features of my personal worship. I haven’t negotiated a space with Karl yet for a prayer wall here yet. I think realistically it may take the form of a notice board rather than an actual wall here.

I have ensured our joint computer has one of my worship play lists on though. As ever the first song on that playlist is Nirvana’s Come As You Are. I find it welcomes me into my times of spiritual chill out. The opening lyrics are:

“Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be. As a friend, as a friend, as an old enemy.” It then continues “Take your time, hurry up, choice is yours”. Then it says “And I swear that I don’t have a gun. No I don’t have a gun. No I don’t have a gun.”
Whilst I know that Nirvana had a totally different meaning for these lyrics as I listen to them they speak to me really deeply about a God who invites us to worship him as we are, as we were and as he wants us to be. It also tells me that he welcomes me to come to him whatever mindset I’m in and that it’s safe to come into his presence – he will never force us to do anything, rather he always gives us a choice.

8 Years of Changing Religious Culture?

Faith has been a central topic within this blog and as I spend some time reflecting on the posts it would be wrong not to include a post on this. I want to see what, if anything, can be seen about the changing nature of religious culture in the UK from what I’ve blogged and from the books, conferences,talks and websites which informed those blogs.

My blogging birth in October 1994 was at a time when I was taking some time out of church, unsure whether I was going to return to institutional church or not. I discovered this blogging community as a result of searching around for links which might help me feel connected whilst moving out of the evangelical subculture. There was, as I have already explained this week, some element of this related to the journey I was on of reconciling my faith and my sexuality but it went beyond this. I had come to a point where the songs being sung and traditional evangelical messages I was hearing felt in conflict with the theology I was developing. I would go to Greenbelt and experience the worship / listen to the theology being taught and then find it very difficult to go back to the evangelical, guarded charismatic, church where I increasingly felt like the heretic in the corner. It was only when my wonderfully understanding minister passed me a copy of Alan Jamieson’s seminal text A Churchless Faith to read that I understood that what I was experiencing was part of something larger going on, although at that point I couldn’t place it within a wider framework.

The post-evangelical discussion had been going on since the mid 1990’s (Dave Tomlinson explains how the Post Evangelical was born in 1993 and published in 1995 on his website) although to some extent it can be traced back earlier – as with all of these things there is a strand which can be followed back through history if you look closely enough. The roots of this movement were firmly planted in 1980’s evangelicalism which in turn was highly influenced by a range of things which happened in the 1960’s and had led to the housechurches and new streams. (Rob Warner’s work is good to read if you want to understand the wider evangelical culture which this movement grew up in).

A decade on when I was encountering Jamieson’s, Tomlinson’s and Gordon Lynch’s work the trickle down effect had happened as the books had been published, the websites had started to appear and the talks had become a strong rhetoric. At the same time there were a range of small scale worship initiatives had emerged which were seen to be offering ‘alternative’ or alt. worship or just space to discuss faith in different spaces which were more culturally relevant. In the UK many of these were influenced in some way by the ill fated Nine O’Clock Service in Sheffield as Matthew Guest explains in this paper  ‘The Post-Evangelical Emerging Church: Innovations in New Zealand and the UK published in the International Journey for the study of the Christian Church in 2006 which was  jointly authored with Steve Taylor. In the US something similar slightly different was happening. To understand the full picture Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger’s book Emerging Churches is probably best to refer to, especially the short stories of fifty leaders in their own words which is found in Appendix A.

So by the time we get to 2004 the individual spiritual journey’s, alt worship groups, academic work and intellectual discussions amongst church leaders were coming together and in the UK there were a growing number of ‘ordinary’ Christians who were connecting with this in some form or another….I was just one of them – another person in their early ’30’s who was educated to degree level, working in the public sector who was uncomfortable in the mainstream evangelical sub-culture(s) of the time. On the wibsite, Ship and at Greenbelt I found myself connecting with others who were trying to work it out.

The trickle down recognition was also leading at the same time to an official recognition of what was going on and in 2005 the Church of England and Methodist Church launched Fresh Expressions  led by Stephen Croft (as explained in this Fresh Expressions article).

At the same time in the late 1990’s in the mainstream church in the UK and beyond there was a renewed emphasis on social justice emerging as a result of the Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History campaigns, (the latter of which this blog covered in July 2005 when the G8 came to Scotland).

As I see it and I think this blog may have reflected (although it varied at different points) the angst and frustration element which had fuelled much of the post evangelical, alt worship/ emerging church discussion burnt out a little and the aspects focused more on creativity and mission grew stronger.

This is where I think the Fresh Expressions element fed in because together with the Mission Shaped Church report which the Church of England had published in 2004 it meant that within the mainstream UK church and the media/ conferences supporting it there was a change in the dominant conversation and thinking. There appeared to become a greater understanding that whilst those churches were losing members to new church streams (particularly New Frontiers) they were also losing members by the back door as well as failing to adequately grasp and combat secularisation. At the same time I think there was also a realisation of what we already had and what we might be losing if we through the baby out with the bath water.

The upshot is many of those of us who were angsty actually re-engaged with church but often moving to mainstream rather than evangelical churches. For myself it meant moving into Methodism, (something which was a God thing but also I think is typical of what others I am aware of have done in moving from highly evangelical/ charismatic churches into more mainstream churches).

At the same time the evangelical sub-culture itself has changed. There have been various splits and alliances going on which have seen some divisions being left behind and others becoming seen as more important.

The result of these shifting sands have interestingly seen, (if one reads the books) a number of those who were at one point post-evangelical or part of the alt. worship scene offering themselves for ministry in traditional denominations (myself included as regular readers who followed my candidating journey will be aware of). Additionally those denominations and the training institutions they work with are also increasingly offering training and accreditation in pioneer ministry now.

So where does this leave us now? The short answer is in a time of change as a recent post from Jonny Baker (a sort of god-father of the UK emerging church/ Fresh Expressions movement) has highlighted.

The longer answer can be found in 3 recent posts I have put up which combined together I think outline the overall picture:

The first post is a response to a Kurt Willems post which focuses on the development of the emerging church and the way the language/ form of that movement has changed.

The second post outlines the talk on secularisation and follow up discussion which Michael Moynagh gave to Milton Keynes Theology Forum recently. His conclusion is that we are on a knife-edge and it could go either way.

The final post is on evangelicalism and was a response to Adrian Warnock’s post and looks at whether progressives can still claim that Evangelical identity or whether we are now at a place where evangelicalism needs to be more narrowly defined. Warnock’s attempt to refine and narrow the definition can be seen in many ways as an attempt to protect the very aspects which one or two decades many people were seeking to move away from. Warnock is essentially saying as we have moved more into the mainstream the term Progressive Evangelical which has emerged, especially in the US, for those of us who do not want to let go of that Evangelical element of our identity is at best meaningless and at worse something which can cause confusion and stops traditional, conservative Evangelicals such as himself so easily publicly defining themselves.

Torn. Unconditional. An Onging Story

Torn is the forthcoming book from Justin Lee (who heads up GCN and blogs over at crumbs from the communion table) and is published by  Jericho Books, it’s out November the 13th – that’s if you’re in the US. Over here in the UK the same book is being published by Hodder Faith who have given it the title Unconditional and are due to be publishing it on January 17th. Looking forward to being able to get a copy to review on this blog when it come its out.

It’s a book which I understand seeks to show how the narrative which looks to set members of the gay community and those in the Christian community as enemies is reductionist and the truth is much more complicated whilst being rooted in some truth, particularly in the USA but also elsewhere including the UK. What Lee is seeking to do is advocate the role of gay Christians in bringing reconciliation and understanding between the two communities.

A similar message has come in the past from Jeremy Marks who ran the group Courage. After twenty five years of running Courage, which took an interesting journey to becoming an affirming group which can be read about in his book Exchanging the Truth of God for a Lie , Jeremy has retired this year. A new network is emerging which includes some members of Courage but also others and is called Two:23 Network. They have their first meeting in London next month.

Another group which seeks to support LGBT Christians Europe, primarily through the web, is Gay Christian Europe. Each of those things mentioned above is a resource there to help people on their journeys whatever their journey is. Two other helpful resources I’d refer to are Living it Out a survival guide for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Christians and their friends, families and churches and the work of Peterson Toscano.

As I sit here on the 8th birthday of this blog reflecting I raise a smile because in someway people involved in each of those groups or books has a place in my journey and in the blog.

My own coming out story is largely documented in this post from March 2010 when I was lucky enough to be invited by the LGBT group at Sheffield Hallam to give a talk on faith and orientation sharing my story – to that point – with them. This was something I was also able to do at Dundee University (as a result of my involvement with the Living it Out book) on an evening when they were also showing the film For the Bible Tells Me So. There have also been a range of other posts over the years on this blog which related to where I was in the journey at that point. A particularly moving one came in 2008 after seeing Peterson perform the poem Riddles during his show on the Lambeth Conference fringe

One benefit of having blogged for so long is that I have a way of looking back on my journey and where I have been at various points. This is really useful because it means I have a way of seeing and measuring my own confidence and growth.

I also hope in sharing these things over the years and in my current occasional posts on my current journey outlining what it means to be a gay woman who is in love and sharing their life with somebody has come out out as transgender and is on that journey I am able to help others in some way. The hope is I’ll either be helping them realise that “it’s not just them” and hopefully able to signpost them on to some sources of support or more usually through helping people understand a little more about either the LGBandTI community or Christian/ faith community through sharing my (and now our) story.

Was I always so open? No…for the first few years of this blog the relationship between faith and sexuality was there but more as an unseen narrative. It informed many posts and indeed my original reasons for taking time out of church/ trying to move away from that sub-culture which in turn led me to blogging but it was, in my mind, something taboo and something not to be talked about.

I think and hope that the writings on the blog have become generally less angst ridden and far more mature over the eight years because I know I have. Even looking back to the 2008 post I’ve just linked to I can’t believe how far I’ve come in those few years. Life changes and moves on and thankfully so has my relationship with both “the church” and my own sexuality. If this blog represents anything I hope it represents hope and can be seen as a demonstration of how somebody can move from a place in their own mind of repression, fear and dissonance to one of relative confidence, hope and security.

New Things, New Horizons

There has been a lot of change going on recently and hopefully there might be a bit more soon. Change isn’t just to do with the external factors of where I live, who I live with and the things I do though….change is something which is going on within.

For me change is linked to healing and a big part of that is that is how I remember and think about stuff. I still acknowledge some s**t happened but the way of remembering is such that it can’t impact me in the same way as it did before.

I’m not saying it is all fluffy and roses either….or that I always get it right…..those who know me know that I am still a flawed human being who messes up and struggles with stuff regularly. But looking back and reflecting as well as looking forward and dreaming/ hoping I can see that positive change has happened/ has the potential to happen.

For me it’s very much a God thing, yes some/a lot of it does involve me making positive, active choices but the power to do it is I think something which comes from beyond as well as within us. A friend posted this  link on FB. It’s to a film put out by Journey Box Media and is accompanied by a song “Beautiful Things” by Gungor. I found it really moving and so thought I’d pass it on to you.

Choosing my Faith

Last week I was sitting in church and at the end of the prayer of intercessions I had to say, “Amen, except the bit I can’t say it to”. The bit I had to exempt myself from agreeing to related to praying for our Christian country and against the demise of it, oh and against the de-establishment of the church. Now, don’t get me wrong it’s not that I support secularisation or the attacks on Christianity which some people are undoubtedly engaging in…however hard they protest otherwise but it is I think that alot of the debate at the moment is at best misguided and at worst dangerous. So at the end of the week when Channel Four News had an intelligent “pub” discussion between a Christian, Muslim and Jew who all discussed the subtle issues involved in the debate in a way which was grown up and mature; The Baroness Warsi has been on a trip to Rome and spoken out against agressive secularism; the Telegraph has reported that Eric Pickles has signed a change in the law to enable councils to keep prayer on agenda’s – and so sidestepped the ruling against Bideford last week, Trevor Phillips has spoken out about those who want to sidestep the national law in the name of religion;  Christian Concern has come back saying atheism is being put in the place of Christianity in the public square and Durham has apparently been having it’s own battle between the humanists who have had their “Reason Week” going  head to head with the Christians who have been calling their main mission “Exchanged” I’m going to have my say on where we’re at.

Which strand to start with? Well – for me it is going to be the faith and public life thing. Prayers before council meetings are good BUT only if they are voluntary, inter-faith and not part of the formal agenda which people are expected to attend. Those who point back to the traditions are pointing back to a time where a lack of religion, or having the wrong type of religion resulted in barring from university (as anybody who has been to Cadbury World will know). Do we really want to go back to that type of belonging/ behaving without believing? I think not. Notions of this being a Christian Country and the priviledging of “the established church” go back to these types of attitudes and practices. The right to be a non-conformist and hold a different theological perspective to the dominant state norm or to proclaim oneself somebody without faith is something people in this country literally died for.

However, there is one area my own feelings contradict themselves in somewhat – and that is in relation to the House of Lords. I fully believe in a non-elected House of Lords which contains the aristocracy and “the church” (amongst others). The reasons for this are these people tend to bring knowledge and expertise which is beyond that of career politicians. Cross Benchers are to my mind the best assets we have as voters. My own feeling is that change should see all mainstream religious groups represented within a “faith” block, but equally there should be secularists represented too. By this I mean that I am of the view that rather than a bunch of Bishops there should be some bishops but also faith representatives from the Roman Catholics, the free churches,  the variety of different Muslim streams, Orthodox and Reformed Jews, Sikhs and so on who get seats in the Lords. In terms of why it is important these voices of potential dissent are there one only need look at the coverage of the passage of the recent Welfare Bill.

On to the Trevor Phillips comments – he has a point…but I think that the equalities agenda has been used by secularists who want to try and make sweeping generalisations about Christians which are unfair and push points which are basically saying one persons (predominantly gay rights) have more worth than another minority view (i.e. faith based). Conservative Christians particularly are also making counter claims and pushing their points to make the generalisations and try to push the point in the other direction. Having read the Week report of his comments I think what he says is largely true. However, the wider debate that follows is should more groups be allowed “loopholes” which allow them to practice their beliefs if in doing so people can still access goods and services perfectly well elsewhere? There is a bit of me which wants to say let the market decide…although as a Christian that logic is wrong and actually what we need to be looking for is the most compassionate course of action in these things.

In terms of Baroness Warsi’s comments she has a point….but it worries me that the agenda for making this point is actually nothing about religious freedom and everything about the Conservative Party continuing to promote a sense of nationalism as “social fact” which is actually based on socially constructed ideas of identity. I agree with what she says about, “unease with the rising tide of secularisation” but I think that we need to be more uneasy about the impact this is having on people of faiths other than Christianity. A Christian who decides to wear a cross but is asked not to is very different to a Muslim woman who feels that it she should wear a headscarf but is forbidden to by her the government of the country she is living in. Both should be allowed to display symbols of their faith but Christian symbols should not be given automatic right over other symbols of faith…otherwise are we back to wanting to celebrate the crusades?

Finally, is it getting harder to be a practising Christian? In my experience no…it is actually getting easier because people are seeking to question and challenge the misuse of faith rather than faith itself. I am finding that alot of people are actually careful to treat my beliefs with respect -even if they will mock them a bit. There are the aggressive secularists who view any religious view as wrong and will get vocal about it but many people in my experience tend to view Christianity with a kind of nostalgic fondness whilst being ready to denounce the way it has been misused. I don’t know if the fact people often know I’m gay as well as Christian helps…it means that when they start on the Christian attitudes to sexuality I can come in from a different angle and show why they have to be very careful about making generalisations because the truth is far more complex.

To conclude I want to  explain that whilst I would love to live in a country where loads of people had chosen to become Christians I would never want to live in a Christian country. For me the choice to connect with Christ and live out a life recognising the full impact of his grace, (shown through His death and ressurection) is the greatest gift we have. Central to that gift for me is the fact it is a choice, and we are given free will to choose our faith. I want to celebrate our heritage and recognise the role faith has had in that, but I don’t want to live in a country where one faith is given dominance and allowed to subject others to oppression (or to label/ view them as lesser beings). That path, in my understanding of theology, leads away from God and His intentions for us individually and corporately rather than towards Him.