Tag Archives: Religion

Prisons Week

This week is Prisons Week. The aim of the week is according to the website “encouraging prayer for, and raising awareness of, the needs of prisoners and their families, victims of offenders, prisons staff and all those who care”. As part of this they have provided a prayer guide for the week.

Last night one of the local prison chaplains gave one of the most kick ass sermons I’ve ever heard, on the subject of restorative justice. Within it he highlighted both the complexity and reality of the situation we are facing as a society and as prisoners / family or friends of prisoners/ victims/ workers within the prison system/ chaplains and so forth. This was no sugar coated Marxist sermon, whilst it may have been influenced by the thinking of New Left Realism, it was thinking through a hard issue biblically. It acknowledged that some people must be in prison for their own good and for the good of others, that prisoners make the choices which lead them to prison, but equally societies inability to deal with other issues is another factor for some and alternatives are available for many prisons. We were given some horrifing statistics, which shocked on all sorts of levels.

As part of the week Durham Cathedral is hosting an exhibition by the Forgiveness project.

I guess I have a bit of a soft spot for prisons week because of hearing about the work my dad does with offenders. I have heard the stories about artistic projects being able to help prisoners, but I have also heard loud and clear the message he gives that they have to take responsibility for their choices. If a prisoner turns their life around people like artists, social workers, educators in prisons, the prison chaplains and the prison staff may have helped them but ultimately it is the offender who has taken the choices required to turn their life around.

After last years prisons week I had a chat with my dad and realised that one of the main issues that offenders face in our thinking is marginalisation. I was talking about where my research was heading at that point and how the issues facing single parents also faced disabled people, gay people and others in the church. My dad picked up on some of what I was saying and referred to the way it also related to attitudes towards offenders too and was I going to bring them in? I said I’d love to, but I didn’t have the space and so I had to focus on the more prevalent groups…..he pointed out this is the problem. In the competition for resources/ space offenders, ex-offenders and their families tend to lose out. Prisons week is the churches attempt to make sure, atleast occassionally, that prisoners and those working with them don’t lose out and are remembered.

For those reading this who work have family in prison, work with prisoners as part of their job or have been victims of crime I just want to say I’m praying for you guys especially this week. (And if one person, who will know who she is, is reading I want you to know I am continuing to pray for you and yours not just this week).

One person who has sought to both use the arts to help offenders and to raise awareness is Billy Bragg. A documentary has recently been made, “Breaking Rocks” which relates to the work of his charity Jail Guitar Doors. Here is a You Tube clip from the premiere.

Endings and Beginnings

Last night we had a rounding off service for EDEV. A couple of weeks ago I posted an indepth reflection on this and so I’m not going to repeat myself. However, I did want to reflect a bit on the endings and beginnings which were involved for me last night.

It was obviously the end of the course, the ending of a series of evenings which have stretched me more than I ever imagined they might. It was also the ending of my “transition period” from one denomination into another. Finally, I hope, it was my ending of looking back with a tinge of sadness. My Baptist experiences were generally wonderful and I value them greatly because without them I would certainly not have the faith I have today and I would not be the person I am today. However, sometimes I have looked back and thought “what if?”….”what if I had been in a different tradition? Would the tensions I felt within myself and regarding the interplay between my faith and my sexuality have been less intense and perhaps less damaging to my self-esteem? To be honest, looking around at the experiences of a range of people from a range of traditions I doubt it. I am now at a place where I can, I hope, lay the ghosts of the past to rest in order to hold onto the precious memories I have of those times.

Therefore, today, the first day after the end of EDEV marks a kind of new beginning in my spiritual journey. It is not a significant day but it is the day when, to a certain extent, I start putting the lessons learnt during that brief but significant part of my journey into action. It is when we move into the period of seeing what the fruit of the course will be. As with any intense spiritual experience, be it a brief moment in a charismatic service or a longer period of spiritual intensity such as I experienced with EDEV, where we identify the Spirit as being at work the question is not what happened then but what impact will it have in the future? The truth of the experience is in the change it generates not the moment itself. If in a years time, ten years time or whatever I can look at where I am and see spiritual growth relating in part to what I regard as the work of Gods Spirit in my life through EDEV I will know that it was God, not me going off on one of my emotional over-reactions.

Looking back at my journey and faith development, and indeed over the five years of blogging, I can see the way the Spirit has moved in my life at different times. I can see clearly that whilst I have made mistakes, and so sometimes have others, God has been at work in my/ our lives. I can see where the Spirit has been at work in the churches I have worshipped in, be they Baptist or Methodist. I can see where God has worked through his Spirit in others to bless me and stop me in my tracks and give me a kick up the backside sometimes.

So as I come to yet another ending and beginning….my story has many chapters….I am smiling. I am thankful for the people God has used in my life over the years, I am thankful for the churches he has placed me in, I am thankful for the denominations he has placed me in and I am thankful for the wider networks of family and friends he has given me who have supported my faith and kept it going when I felt the institution was going to suffocate. I am thankful that I can look back and say yes I am a numpty who has made way too many mistakes and spent too much time wrestling with and moaning at God, (and others) but I am a numpty who can see spiritual growth. I know my experiences of the Spirit in my life have been genuine because of the way the chapters have developed into a story of faith and healing.

EDEV – A Reflection

Back in mid February when the weather was cold and I was still in culture shock from the move I started a programme at church called EDEV (Extending Discipleship Exploring Vocation). Having tried to use Google as my friend I have found out that there is relatively little information about EDEV on line that I could link you to. The best I can find are the following: this article (page two) of the WSC Newsheet, this rather incomplete official looking website (pot luck as to whether the internal links will give you any info or not) and this rather interesting article found on the main Methodist website. What you might have noticed from these articles is this is apparently not a course and trying to pin down what exactly it is seems to be like nailing a jellyfish to the wall of a bouncy castle.

At the end of the month the “programme” comes to the end with a celebration service. Now it is nearing it’s end I thought I would share abit of a reflection on my experience of it. It is part of a package that has quite literally changed my view of God and shifted my world a degree or two. As I begin this you have to remember that when I started, whilst I would personally not choose to use either term in relation to myself or my faith, I was a post or recovering evangelical. I had hung on in with church by the fingertips at times over the last few years and was to be honest, spiritually, like a teenager worn out by the frustration in many ways. I began EDEV around the same time I did a much shorter membership course largely to find out more about Methodism basically….oh and try to make some sense of what on earth I was doing with my life. So I guess that the end result has to be taken in terms of EDEV has been just one strand within the thread of the last year that has been my move into Methodism.

Upon arriving we were given our “Ground Rules” for the sessions. These were like a breath of fresh air for me…they were a set of guidelines that stated through their content, although nowhere specifically, this is a safe space. I was not used to having this explicitly set out in Christian settings, yes confidentiality and respect were often mentioned but this actually had other stuff in there. It was the first indication I had that this might not be just another packaged course.

As the weeks went on I discovered that EDEV was more about facilitating and equipping you with tools and information to do your own exploring and journeying with God. There was an emphasis on reflection and discernment and thinking stuff through with God using the bible. For me a session we did looking at approaches to theological reflection was unbelievably useful. That was the session where I first encountered the Methodist Quadrilateral and the idea that you use scripture, reason, tradition and experience, with experience having an emphasis on the importance of our own experience of God’s grace working in our own lives. I have to say I think that if I had to identify any moment in the last year when God had released grace or healing into my life that would be it. Suddenly my experience was something that was not to be seen as something uncomfortable and a cause of dissonance and the root of my dis-ease with church. Rather it was something which could be reflected upon, with the other parts of the quadrilateral. Suddenly I found I didn’t have to view my experience as oppositional to scripture and tradition, and have reason as the referee in the middle trying to keep me sane when I found I couldn’t square the circle. Rather I could reflect using all four elements and it was ok to believe that God has made me who I am totally and that my experiences of him might just be as legitimate as other peoples. This section also validated the decision to do the research and gave me a new confidence that I might not be insane, rather I really might have been taken on this mad journey by God. A key part of the reflection also involved looking at our gifts and skills (and being honest about what they were). It actually gave us ways to do this rather than just saying “identify them”.

Moving on we delved deeper into the bible, looking at how God spoke to people within the scriptures. This got me back to some stories I had too often ignored. The more I looked the more I saw that not only did most of these people say, “me God, no God, can’t do that God” they were all rather human and messed up people. They had infirmities, they had pasts and they all had labels. This was important because it bought me to a point where I came before God with my list of “excuses” as to why I wasn’t a good enough Christian to do x,y or z within any church community. As I looked at my excuses within the light of scripture I found that if the reasons I were giving were legitimate nothing would ever have happened for Gods people. Being a queer, mouthy, single mum who has a habit of making mistakes actually meant I was exactly the type of person God sometimes uses. Eeek….that was another turning point, I couldn’t use the labels or not being good enough as an excuse anymore.

The course took a bit of a turning point after that. We moved on to look at Methodism and what its principles and history were. I love this stuff, aswell as finding it really interesting I also think it is something that we need to learn more. The “low church” denominations came out of the last big period of social change, (the industrial revolution), and as such I think they have alot to teach those of us living in late modernity about how to look at the society around you and find new ways of doing God in a rapidly changing, unstable time. They also have loads to teach about taking risks.

After a summer break we have been learning more about different ministries that people are involved in. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to some truly inspirational people talking about their work.

We’ve also been encouraged to find / do placements to go and find out a bit more about what God might be calling us to. I did a holiday club with our local families and youth worker and went off to spend a couple of days with Never Conforming looking at the work she is involved in. These were really valuable for me in seeing what I do / don’t feel myself likely to do in the future.

The other important element of the course has been having an accompanist or mentor to chat things through regularly with. We have been encouraged to voice the mad things going through our heads to be challenged, supported, encouraged and directed to think again. This was vital for me as it gave me the first chance to voice one specific mad thing going my head…and scarily be told I might not be mad.

The upshot of all this is being challenged to a more grown up faith and involvement with the church, as I have mentioned in other posts. It has seen me going through the process of “going on note” to start learning how to be a local preacher.

Basically it has given me confidence through its emphasis on the way God works differently with differently people, but there are tools we can all use to work out whether God is really involved in something and whether it is the right direction for us to be taking. It has also given me confidence in sharing “mad” stuff with other people to get their thoughts, questions and challenges. It has also given me a new passion for my faith through hearing other peoples stories and sharing bits of their journeys.

So I’d say a couple of things to finish:
(i) if you are a post/ recovering evangelical trying to keep faith in institutional church but wanting space to explore your place within that think about doing EDEV. It doesn’t have right and wrong answers….it gives you tools to help with discernment and discipleship.
(ii) If you are still an evangelical or were never one in the first place and are ever given the chance to do EDEV go for it aswell. Whilst it can be engaged in whatever your spiritual experience, length of time as a Christian it is something which has fresh and relevant material for mature Christians and actually will push you to realistically think about how God might be wanting to move you forward, sideways or whatever.

Talking about my generation

Last week I sat politely listening to John Drane talk about the probable demise of the church. He was envisagening a velvet revolution / fall of the Soviet Union type situation where one day it was there, the next something had just happened. He also referred in passing to the fact alot of people in our churches were going to die over the next twenty years. As I say I sat and listened politely, my mind being slightly cynical about his fall of the USSR analogy.

Last night, however, I had an oh shit! moment when I actually realised the important bits of what he was saying and the consequence for my generation, and knowing the age of many others of you reading this, our generation.

I literally woke up to the what the death of a sizeable number of British Christians over the next 20 years meant. Here are my thoughts:
1) It is easy to think that those currently in the 55-75 age group who are “the backbone” of the church just started to get really actively involved when they retired….this is not the case. These are the people who have faithfully served for years. They have literally kept the church together for ages, serving on committees as well as doing the jobs that have needed doing and being the volunteers running the kitchens, etc. If they are all going to age / die significantly over the next 20 years there need to be people who are getting trained up now to take on the necessary roles, and some of those roles will still exist in some form or another whatever type of church we have. In reality in 15 – 20 years time it will be those of us now in our late 20’s – mid 40’s whose children will have grown up and whose careers will be built who will have the time / resources to be taking on many of those roles. The practicalities mean that our current young people, whom the focus has quite rightly been on (to stop them slipping out the back door) will be busy doing all the things we are doing now.

2) People don’t all die at once, there will be a gradual decline – unless we are blessed with revival. Which ever way we are going to be in a position where one day we will wake up and notice there are either alot of people not there or alot of new people there who are wanting our advice / support as “older” and “mature” Christians. Again this means we will have responsibilities, for handling change and for mentoring/ discipling.

3) As a generation we have spent far too long sitting there moaning. We have dressed this up as wanting to engage in mission, (quite often), in terms of discussion on emerging church. However, we are now at a point where we are talking “mixed economy” in a comfortable way. It is time for us to stop moaning and learn / be trained into handling the change about to come into being. It is also time for us to pray about what is to come. As a faithful people we should be praying for wisdom about it now.

4) We need to wake up to the fact that this is not going to be something for “the professionals” to handle on their own. The structures we have in our churches for decision making, be it synods, church meetings, assemblies or whatever mean that we will be the people at ground level having to make decisions to have them voted on. We will have to engage….we won’t just be able to leave it to clergy, our systems – quite rightly don’t work like that. Also not to put too fine a point on it the pressure on our clergy in terms of doing funerals, etc is going to increase. There are more people now and an aging population – think about it.

5) It is no good trying to pass the responsibility on to the next generation. The next generation are the church with us and will be heavily involved as partners in this, but we are their parents. They will turn to us for advice and as I said earlier when all this happens they will be the ones with young children and budding careers.

6) We also need to wake up to the fact there are less of us. Alot of people in our age group have drifted out of church, how many people did we know who were in churches when they were younger who aren’t now? Those of us who are left are going to be the ones on whose shoulders this falls.

7) In short what I am trying to say is it is time that my generation stopped moaning and got their backsides in gear to prepare for what is about to come. Additionally, it is time churches woke up to the training that our generation will require to take the tourch. Much as everybody may wish they could skip our generation the fact is we are going to have to take on appropriate roles and need training in them now.

8) We need to get our heads around what a missional focus means for us. I think we are so focused on connecting with and understanding our culture we have missed the fact we are going to have to act as mentors and disciplers….which means we need to get our spiritual maturity sorted a bit more.

9) If you are older please pray for us and please take on board that we need to be trained up. Yes, we have and are challenging alot of the things you might have held dear, but we are the ones who are going to be the next set of people with grown up kids and careers that are slowing up.

On lessening divides

Miffy has raised an interesting question, following on from the post yesterday, about “how do we lessen the split”. I assume she is talking about the “split” I referred to between “professional clergy and academics” and “the layity”. Although she could also be referring to the split between “those in church” and “those out of church” or “the split” which is apparently related to the issue of sexuality in the church.

The short answer is I don’t know, and if I did I would probably be doing a totally different piece of research to that which I am. However, having engaged with this question in my own mind and to a lesser extent with others I do have some tentative ideas to share.

1) The role of “informal” networks.
We should not under-value the role of informal networks where people get to engage with each other. Thinking “virtually” The Ship of Fools provides a space where this informal interaction takes place. This means that whilst the professionals have to be sensible about what they post, as they are not posting in an official capacity but their comments are in the public domain a space does exist to debate issues in a serious and intellectual way. So discussion boards are one space.
A second “virtual” space is through the blogosphere. The comments sections of blogs provide useful spaces for the interaction, atleast theoretically. Examples I can think of where the professionals and non-professionals can debate and discuss relevent issues through blog posts and reaction to those blog posts include: Jonny Baker, Maggi Dawn, Steve Taylor (Emergent Kiwi) and Ian Mobsby amongst others. Again on their blogs the issue does exist about how what is appropriate to put into the public domain and what is appropriate to include and exclude from the topics blogged upon. Therefore in reality any professional topic that is discussed will have been heavily mediated in order to make it sutible for a totally open access context.
Facebook groups are / can be another way of engagement.

In terms of “the real world” informal opportunities for engagement occur in any space shared by the professional and the non-professional. As any Christian should recognise, from the gospels aswell as from contemporary practice, chatting over food and drink make excellent opportunities. I would want to put in a couple of points here though:
a) people need leisure space to just chill outside of their work situation. If you are in an informal setting with “the professional” it may be that what they need most is to just be without engaging in any work related talk. Therefore, think about the appropriateness of these opportunities and where everybody is at before engaging in that type of topic.
b) for effective sharing there needs to be trust and respect. Unless the conversation is between people who already know each other well there does need to be an understanding of the boundaries which may well need to be in place for the conversation. These might be boundaries of confidentiality, an understanding of the context and nature of informal conversation – where neither side is able to find themselves coming away with expectations which are unrealistic or will be unmet or issues to do with the nature and negotiation of power relations.

2) The role of academic and theological education
Practical Theology, at the moment, is largely a male-stream activity engaged in by professionals. A greater appreciation of what Jeff Astley calls “ordinary theology” and an attempt by those offering theological education to encourage more lay people to take their “ordinary theology” and turn it into research projects would mean (i) more people would be engaging in the discipline and (ii) more issues relating to women, particularly “ordinary bums on pews” women would be included. For this to work, in any meaningful way, a few things need to happen:
a) practical theology courses need to be marketed less as cpd qualifications. Rather they need to be advertised as a way for people to engage and reflect on their faith in an academic way. They also need to be marketed from level 3 qualifications onwards I would argue. This might mean that those who have been engaging in lay activities within the church are encouraged to develop their thinking and reflect on their practice by doing a practical theology course. I acknowledge that there atleast three problems with this:
(i) time commitments, many of these people will have families and full or part time jobs which they juggle along side voluntary activities in church and often community.
(ii) the demand for these courses may make it difficult for them to run. They would certainly need to be developed ecumenically and across a fairly wide geographical area. This may mean a large component of distance or virtual learning would be involved.
(iii)cost. If we are encouraging those who engage in practice to develop this into practical theology they need a motivation. For the professional the value of the qualification is clear. How do we encourage others to engage and invest in the activity? Is some kind of subsidy going to be needed and if so where would it come from?
In these courses professionals and layity could perhaps come together within the classroom situation.

b) Could some kind of practical theology component be more explicitly included within existing courses? If so could these courses be marketed to the professionals as refreshers and a way to (re)engage with the grass roots by studying issues of practice with them?

c) public / open lectures / seminars. If more academic lectures were open to the public and appropriately marketed perhaps this would lead to a higher level of engagement.

d) more oppotunities for professionals who are studying on the cpd type courses and people of faith on other courses to come together for conferences to discuss their work from a point of view which is both academic but also explicitly faith based. Having spent this week engaging, basically, in such an activity it has been brilliant.

3)The role of local church organisations
There could, perhaps, be one evening a quarter when professionals and layity from an area could perhaps be invited to come together to discuss the issues currently effecting both church and society/ culture. This would be eccumenical and people could come together to simply talk….on an equal basis contributing their own stories and experiences. Again clear boundaries would be needed, and if the group was large they would need to split down but it’s an idea.

People involved in working with specific groups in society could be encouraged to come together and share. For example you could, again quaterly, have a day or an evening where everybody in faith groups locally who works with the elderly could be invited to come together and discuss their experiences, regardless of role. This might mean you would have a care worker engaging with a social services director and a priest on this topic together. They would all have relevent skills. Whilst the care worker may or maynot have the same literacy and educational levels as the two “professionals” they would be able to share their experiences in the same way. Within this they could discuss what they see as the role of God, the church, faith in their work situation or provision for older people generally.
* This leads us onto the issue of language. Whilst not seeking to disempower through dumbing down there should be an aim to have inclusivity through the use of the language used. It should be as informal as possible.

4) The role of formal networking opportunities.
Small groups, similar to housegroups, might be formed. The role of these would not be traditional bible study, etc of the comprehension form. Rather they could be set up with the group using consensus to set up clear boundaries and understandings again, but operate in a totally non-hierarchal way. They could be places where a mix of people, both professional and lay could come together and over a glass of wine or whatever discuss the issues that they think are relevent in the church, wider culture or whatever and support each other. Again time is an issue here and so they should be just monthly or something with a very fluid approach of if you can make it great if you can’t hey…stuff happens.

None of these ideas will be new and I guess they are probably happening in lots of places…we just don’t get to hear. I don’t know who I have been influenced by in this thinking….beyond hanging out this week with John Drane and the DMin crowd…..I think that it’s just Miffy has asked the question and this is what my, slightly over active, mind came up with.

Coming out and coming in

Back in July last year I put up this blog post which discussed my sexuality and ended with this paragraph:
“I know I hold a position which cannot be justified, and that the secular is sensible enough not to find virtuous therefore, I can’t discuss it with them. The effect of this means I walk around with “the wardrobe on my back”, as the poem says, because it is helping me balance on the fence. It is society’s negative views on evangelical Christianity, rather than society’s more positive, (or atleast indifferent), views on LGBT issues which keeps me with one foot in the closet, but also it is the dominant public messages within evangelical Christianity which keep me holding onto that wardrobe. Yet, through it all I know I am not carrying the wardrobe alone and that each time I feel that I have to deny who I am or ensure that discussion is avoided God who created me fully (and who has intended me to be exactly who I am – both queer and evangelical in a largely secular time and place) is there beside me, absorbing my pain.”

A year on and I find myself in a different place. Largely through the way God has worked and my faith journey has developed this year I am more comfortable with the juxstaposition between my views on sexuality and faith. I have been able to put the wardrobe down. This has meant I have recently got to the position where not only was I in the right place to be in a relationship but I was able to have an honest conversation with somebody very special about how I felt about them. The result of this I am now part of a couple.

This has implications, not least there is now a public coming out to those outside of the church I chose not to discuss my sexuality with because I was worried that it would give them more amunition against the faith I hold as the most important thing in life, and wish to give them every positive reason to engage with. This has raised some questions about why I couldn’t just be honest with them before…after all these are the people for whom it is definately not an issue. I have sought to explain the religion thing, but realise within this I am sending out a negative message about the church – which I don’t want to. I have realised that in my approach I was colluding with the lack of integrity that exists in our culture in many issues around faith and sexuality. I made a mistake, but one which I feel too many of us do.

In our attempts to have a missional focus we become over sensitive, just as in our position in ecclesiological debates we may also suffer from similar problems. Sensitivity is important and within this I do believe that there is a rightful place for discretion and sometimes silence. However, there is also a place for truth telling and for letting go of the fear. If we truly believe in the ability of the Spirit to work within people’s hearts and our own responsibility to be sensitive to the Spirit working within us we should not make value judgements about what we tell and don’t tell people because of the impression it may give of the church. That is not, to reiterate, pushing a total disclosure and spill your guts approach but it is saying we shouldn’t take approaches like the one I did.

For me, taking a trinitarian approach, mission stems from an understanding of the role of God: father, son and spirit in my life and in the life of the wider community, both worshipping and wider. This in turn means that the combined role of bible, tradition, reason, experience (Methodist quadrilatural for those of you into such things) is important for me. What I am increasingly aware of is the need to look at our interactions with others aswell as our own lives in relation to that quadrilateral.

The impact of taking this approach is something that I feel is very important and something to be thought through. Taking this approach involves a process of theological reflection. So as individuals, as well as worshipping communities, we need to be aware of how to reflect theologically and relate this to missional activity. This involves us in thinking about issues of faith and practice and how those are engaged in from an accademic, worshipping and social networking perspective.

Here in lies a problem, in our world of professionalised clergy and academics this activity which we all seek to engage in has been largely put into the field of career development for clergy or climbing the career ladder within the academy. I say this because I have, yet again, become aware of the way in which discussions are held between people of faith in social situations and the way the same issues are taken up within “professional study”.

This week I am extremely privilidged to be attending a conference which I am effectively gatecrashing. It is a linked to a qualification which is effectively a professional development qualification for clergy or theological educators. My supervisors suggested I attend because they knew I would find it useful and interesting. Everybody is being lovely and I am really enjoying it. The thing which has struck me most is the way that during the week we have been able to engage intelligently, (using reason), with practical theology (where we have been looking at data gathered as a result of reflecting upon peoples’ experience), but seeking to frame this within a faith based discussion where tradition and scripture have both been referred to during the week.

The types of issues that I have most often found myself discussing with networks of friends I have come to know, primarily, from interenet communities are being discussed within the academic setting. The discussions are almost identical in nature, except for the fact that this week they are involving a bunch of people who have been in a position to gain the evidence and have a greater voice in the discussion. They are the people whose work and discussions will inform the practice that the rest of us have to choose to (or not to) engage in.

Yet again I am wondering why the gap in these discussions exists. I am here largely because I have been extremely lucky and given the chance, to some extent, to ignore the boundaries which exist. The debates and discussions I am hearing though are ones which need the imput of all sides. They are issues which effect and would equally benefit from the critical imput of the layity aswell as professionals.

Greenbelt is great because it allows for some conversation to take place but what I am aware of is the need for smaller scale discussion to take place on a range of issues relating to missional and ecclesiastical issues. Similarly I am becoming increasingly convinced of the need to encourage more lay people to engage in practical theology. Churches are / should be missional centres where the people as a whole reflect on issues of ecclesiology and missiology and how these relate to our current cultures. At the moment I fear that what is happening amongst the layity and “professionals” is a split between “ordianary theology” and “professional theology” which is disenabling mission and is increasing the move to the “professionalisation” of church activity.

Linking this back to where I started, the issue about the expression of my faith and sexuality related to the interplay between missiology and ecclesiology. I cared about how those outside the church would view the practices and beliefs of the church and how this would or wouldn’t point them towards Jesus. Missiology and ecclesiology were important issues for me as a lay person, and not just things for the “professionals”. Similarly in the research I am currently doing, that stems out of my desire to scream out about the need for the church to take mission to single parents seriously and to invest some time and money in the research necessary to underpin good mission initiatives to people who happen to be single parents.

Anyway rant and thinking out loud over.

(mis)Adventures in Scotland pt 3**warning adult content**

Wednesday afternoon was spent mainly at the GoMA (Gallery of Modern Art). I had particularly gone to look at the infamous sh(out) exhibition. JTL has already blogged about her visit, and I would encourage you to read her excellent reflection aswell as my perspective on it.

Before reaching “that exhibition” I explored the lower floors, encountering first “Echo and Transend“, a collection of abstract art. More beautiful to me than any of the actual art on this floor, even John Houston’s “October Sunset” is the view you get of the backdoor of Boarders, as you walk into the main part of the gallery. Framed between two mock Roman pillars is a thick backdoor with the Boarders sign acting as a header above it. In the glass window above the door hangs a large, circular, Starbucks sign. It is an absolutely beautiful picture representing late modernity.

Anyway, enough of me getting lost in the beauty of contemporary consumer culture and back to the official art. Balcony one contained Rendering Gender, works by David Sherry with Transforming Arts. This was a collection of stuff by a transgender group, exploring their experiences. Three pieces on this floor caught my imagination. The first one was a picture in a set of four images by Sara Griffin. It contained a body wrapped in bandages and strapped to a table in a 1950’s B movie type lab. Superimposed in a kind of pink neon were the words “OF COURSE I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING I’M A GATE KEEPER”. I considered how many things this could be a metaphor for. For a moment looking at it I found my mind focused on my forthcoming trip to Greenbelt and encounters with the “emerging church” & with a slight shudder I wondered. The other two pieces on this floor which caught my attention were both by Kristi Taylor, one film and one text. Totally unrelated to the main exhbition on this floor is a film area showing work by local and international artists. On the day I went it was showing Gobstopper by Roderick Buchanan which was a rather strange piece showing a series of kids in the back of a vehicle holding their breath and being quiet as they went through a tunnel.

Then onwards and upwards to the controversy. I entered “Made in Gods Image“, which is a collection of work created by LGBTI people from different faith communities. Anthony Schrag and David Malone have worked with members of MCC, Quest, Al-Jannah aswell as individuals from a variety of faiths, beliefs and religions (according to the blurb).

To be honest I thought some of it was a bit kak. The photographic stills by MCC were meant to be ironic in terms of reflecting same sex relationships. I just found them ironic for reflecting the nature of Christian am-dram in churches. I did like the Islamic Text in “Two Poems” by annonymous, they were beautifully presented. Also as JTL said in her post the pictures of the life of an ordinary Muslim gay guy were very moving. The MCC did do a think which had within a set of very uninspiring photographs a shot of text saying, “Blessed are the cracked for they let in the light”. If anybody ever sees this on a postcard I would pay v.g. money for a copy.

The Patriots Room by Ian Hamilton Finlay was an interesting take on the whole thing, being influenced by the French Revolution. With heads in baskets on one side and a very basic bedsit room with subversive needlework on the other.

Before returning to talk about Roxanne Claxton’s exhibit, the one which has caused outrage, I will briefly review the rest of Sh(out). The main space on the upper floor had a mixture of art from different mediums. some of it was outrageous and deliberately provocative. I found some of the photography unneccesary and the plastic tree was symbolic of exactly why people mock modern art. Yet arguably the most erotic image in the exhibition I felt was absolutely beautiful. There was a water colour, which you should not open the link of if you are easily offended, “Untitled #115” by Patricia Cronin. It was of two womens hands entering each other as they made love. The way the picture just shows the hands and the crotch area and the delicate colours make it truly beautiful. The fact the genitalia are hidden by the hands means whilst explicit the picture shows the beauty of intimacy. The other picture I appreciated was “The Actresses” by Sadie Lee. It depicts two elderly women in white industrial style underwear on a bed. One is tenderly holding the other, who has her back to her. Whether it is the fact paintings are not as stark as photography or the fact these two pictures reflect intimacy as opposed to raw sex, without relationship, I don’t know but they were beautiful in a way the others weren’t. They were almost out of place amongst the other exhibits.

Then I went back to look at Roxanne Claxton’s work. When I walked into the alcove containing the installation I saw the desecrated bible and felt revulsion. I felt hurt, which I didn’t expect. Then I saw the bible in the box which now has sheets of reflective responses within it on the opposite page to biblical text. Finally I looked at the video of her eating bits of the bible and stuffing them down her top and trousers. I felt very uncomfortable. Then I picked up the headphones and began to listen to the interview she was giving alongside. This was not just an interview, it was a moving testimony. She spoke of wanting to show that the bible is nourishment not something to choke on. I think that if this had been on loudspeaker rather than through one set of headphones some of the reaction to the piece may have been different. Yet the fact remains the images are disturbing and somehow inappropriate.

This is I think my overall feeling about the exhibition; many of the images are provocative and almost confrontational. Yet when you listen, as you can only with headphones to some of the stories accompanying a number of the exhibits, the story and the exhibition alters. This should be, much more clearly, an audio visual exhibition. It would still be uncomfortable but it would be much less confrontational. I know some think the shock factor, the ability to elicit a strong reaction, is what makes good art but…..

My own feelings, as I sat reflecting over a toasted muffin, pot of tea and fix of Rene Mackintosh in Willow Tea Rooms, were mixed. As a queer Christian I have found wholeness and healing through the bible. I have found this through looking at the bible as a whole rather than pulling it apart, as those who would seek to dehumanise me in their pursuit of truth do. It is looking at the whole story of creation and salvation which has healed the pain and enabled me to see myself as a loved child of God, created in his image with my sins atoned blood he chose to shed for all of us. The pain healed has included the injuries to my self-image inflicted by those who focus on certain individual verses. I don’t want the bible pulled apart to nourish, I want it complete to enjoy and celebrate aswell as feed me.

After all the deep art and culture stuff it was good to go and just chill out for the evening with a bunch of the most amazing people I know, and some new friends, at a lovely place called Ad Lib.

Change and “Mission”

Even though I might have switched codes I still enjoy looking at the Baptist Times each week. This week there were two articles which caught my eye and made me think. The two were kind of linked. The first one was a column by Sarah Parry about Change and the second was about mission grants.

The first article discusses Ibsen’s play Ghosts and highlights the fact that change is not easy; it has consequences not only for ourselves but for others. This, she argues, is as true for churches as it is for individuals.

The second article highlights three projects aimed at connecting those outside the church with Christianity. The projects differ in nature, but are all related to people going out into their communities in a relevant way to connect.

Together, for me, they highlight how reaching the place where the types of initiative talked about in the second article occur is not a simple process.

Now, I don’t know if / how I’ll ever be involved in any of the types of things the second article talks about. I have heart for “mission” and particularly helping single parents connect with God and knowing the love he and his church has for them, and practically supporting them, but I don’t know how that will all play out in my future. I hope that I might one day I might find a way for something practical to come out of my research, but who knows. Perhaps I am too much of a dreamer and not enough of a doer….

What I do know though is that the journey I am currently on has involved change and difficult change at that. It has not involved change just for me but for others, most obviously Third Party. Change has a cost, as Parry points out in her article. Having had a bit of previous training in Economics as part of my undergrad studies I understand the concept of cost benefit analysis well. Yet, I miscalculated the costs hugely on this one and the benefits. Until change starts happening you can only guess as what the costs and benefits are going to be for you and those around you. Fortunately, at the moment, I am in a place where I can see that the costs might have been high but the overall benefits may have been even higher with my current adventure for both Third Party and myself. Yet I don’t know. One of the big problems is that when you undetake change you can only truly see the costs and benefits in retrospect. That is why change is so highly based around risk.

Effective mission, as the article shows in some ways, is also based around risk. It is involved in taking the risk of moving away from some traditional models, (although not abandoning them necessarily), and risking new initiatives. As an article by Graham Cray in the most recent edition of the Fresh Expressions news letter makes clear this may involve moving to more incarnational ways of doing things.

Risk gives fear, and change isn’t always good as the first article shows. Yet as the second one illustrates it can be good. Change isn’t for everybody and sometimes we need to let people be as they are. That’s why as Bishop Cray points out in his article that the mixed economy approach to church is important. We will only see the costs and benefits of what’s happening in the church now down the line, but I have to say reading about the things going on around the country I feel pleased about the changes which are occuring and inspired by those who have been willing to go through the pain of change and take the risks.

The Soul of the Wordsmith

Jonny Baker has been musing on the nature of poetry and poets. He says “there’s something about poetry that is close to themes of justice, truth, liberation and ‘maybe the voice of the spirit’. it’s true of art in general that it has that strain but somehow i’m beginning to think that the poet gets to it quicker or more intensely. maybe because it’s just words or maybe because it’s more marginal or maybe because you have to say something… i am so convinced about this that i have decided that if you move to an area and want to connect with people into spirituality and justice find the local poets and it won’t be far away.”

Now, as the daugher of a poet, I find this interesting and believe there is a truth within it. I grew up going on adventures into places of spirituality and justice not because my dad was a saint or a seeker, but rather because he was just him, and it just sort of happened. As a youngster I remember going with him on an anti-aparthied rally to Hyde Park with a bunch of radical Catholics. Turned out he had just offered to drive the mini-bus for some people who wanted to go and actually had no idea about the spirituality of these people initially. I could go on with endless stories like this, my dad’s passion for justice and ability for going on adventures seem to put him in contact with lots of v. spiritual people, from a variety of spiritual backgrounds. The other thing that becomes important with poets and storytellers, I think is there ability to listen. Whilst my dad has an ability to talk for England, (well, it’s his job), he also has an ability to listen, and by that I mean really listen. Poets listen for detail, they listen for things that act as a spark to light the fire of creativity. They listen to people’s stories because they find a worth in them. I think perhaps where their “natural” ability to connect with spirituality and justice comes from is their ability, and may be even need, to combine vulnerability with risk taking and listening. They are adventurers who listen not only to their fellow travellers but to the sounds of the city, the cars, the birds, the leaves, the water and the stillness for inspiration.

Looking around my dads poems it seems he has also picked up on this theme. I found this one called “Poetry It’s” on there which sums it up.

Poetry It’s

Poetry it’s a black, white, yellow and red thing,
A love, hate, mad and mellow thing,
A “I’ve got to break out of the middle of my head and tell the world I’m not
dead,” thing,
A “Let’s cut the bull and tell it exactly how it is,” thing,
A “I need to caress that woman with words,” thing,
A “I’ve never told anyone how I feel,” thing,
It’s a way down deep thing,
It’s an odd thing,
It’s a god thing,
It’s a flesh and spirit thing,
It’s a “What can I do,” thing,
An understanding you thing
It’s an “I am of value thing,” thing
A freedom thing,
A truth thing,
A word thing,
And in the beginning…………………………

by John Row