My posts earlier this week were mostly about inclusion, and my objection to the message of Franklin Graham whose message excludes many of my friends, and excludes me! He believes that Conversion Therapy is a good thing, and were I to respond to his message I would most likely be told to undergo it, or to find myself once again on the outside. It’s okay, I don’t want to be on the side of hate and exclusion, so I am not going to respond to his very narrow message, even if he does talk of God and Jesus, even if he does point to the life changing power of the Holy Spirit, because God for me is never a God of wrath, and never has been, no matter what might be recorded in the Old Testament ( how many wars have been fought in God’s name???), where humankind grapples with its relationship with the divine, as I said earlier this week, I prefer to think of original goodness rather than original sin!
Over the years I have changed and grown in my faith, there are things I would have believed that I no longer believed, books I would have recommended that I would rather trash then pass on, ways of living that scared me, I remember banning certain TV programmes, refusing the possibility of God being in all things, and I am not talking about dangerous, violent or explicit stuff, but children’s cartoons among some! There is of course stuff that is not good to watch, but boy can we go over the top!
I was an adult convert to faith, having long been fascinated by Scripture, and by churches, what I loved was the mystery, what I was looking for was a sense of belonging. I am not sure I can point to an exact moment of coming to faith, it sort of seeped in over time, but I can remember praying when my middle son was diagnosed with congenital heart disease, and the sense of peace that followed. I was also the type of person that wanted to get everything right, a perfectionist who wanted to excel, it is something that shows up in all areas of my life, and I have learned over the years that I need to remind myself that quite often good enough is enough!
The faith I first subscribed to was quite rigid, and probably though I hate to admit it not far from the faith of Franklin Graham, but that faith caused a tension within, as a woman I had a certain place in the hierarchy of things, that didn’t sit well, nor did many other things, and in some senses I ended up being two people, often coming back to the question do I even believe in God? When I began studying formally I soon found lots of different strands of thinking, and a spacious potential that I hadn’t known before, and I loved it, but had friends who didn’t and I have even heard some people declare free thinking, questioning and doubting to be wrong, and dangerous, and that theology has no place in the lives of true disciples. Oh yes, I have heard that said, and if you pause to ponder it it is a ridiculous.
So, I set off on a journey to find the God of grace, who I believe includes all who would be included, and not only within the confines of Christianity, but any seekers of love, and followers of the way of love, for real love sets people free. There are many false loves out there, abuses and excuses that seek to control, demanding conformity and obedience to human devised rules, and sad to say the church is often full of them, and they can be expressed in a myriad of ways. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia and more are not absent from our institutions, and sometimes they are so ingrained that we don’t even notice them. I remember making real connections with a particular family in a previous post, they came to our home for dinner, and began to come to church; I also remember being told by the treasurer of that church that we were reaching the wrong kind of people! Translate that to- they smell a bit and aren’t putting any money on the collection plate ( they didn’t have any). I also remember a friend returning to church after a long absence, to be greeted with being handed a paint brush rather than a coffee and a chat! How do we get it so wrong, maybe we are not so different to the people of God in the Old Testament who saw God in their wars and conquests!
But. despite all of my questions and doubts, I still believe in God, though I don’t try to make up rules for them, and I still try to follow the example and trajectory of the life of Jesus, who revealed God’s love and grace to the excluded over and over, Jesus was not racist, nor was he misogynistic, and I am pretty sure that he wouldn’t have been Islamophobic or homophobic either, and for those who question me, I can point to his inclusion of the dreaded Samaritans who the devout Jews would have nothing to do with, and if you want to state that he would have been homophobic and mis-quote St Paul, who was talking about promiscuity and abuse, then yes I am happy to have a conversation with you…
As I move through life I find in my faith a more spacious and gracious space, and finding that in encountering others, allows me finally to find that for myself, to say that I am my own greatest critic, would be wildly underestimating me, self-love and self-acceptance have been among the hardest things for me to come to terms with, but lack of self-love and self-acceptance cause me to block myself out, and therefore by default to block others out. I don’t want to block out others so I have to learn that the love and acceptance I preach is there for me too.
Finally, I wish I could count on my fingers the number of times I have wanted to walk away from church, and I have walked away a couple of times, but not for long, one time, when I’d arrived for the evening service, leaving my 5 children with their dad, craving peace and quiet, I was greeted at the door with ” oh good, you’re here, you can hand out the hymn books”, they were thrust into my hands and I stood there for a few minutes welcomed a few people, then put them down, and went for a walk! I needed peace not a job! The second time was in my 3rd year of training for ministry, I got up one Sunday morning, and as we were preparing for worship after breakfast, the thought I can’t do this crossed my mind, in a powerful way, so, I packed my bags, threw them into the car and drove off. About 2 miles down the road I sat and cried and was met by peace. I turned around and slipped into the back of the worship space. There have been other times too, I don’t have enough fingers to count them, but something always pulls me back, and it is not the God of wrath, nor a fear of hell ( that’s a whole other post), but the depth of love that somehow resides in the deepest place of my being, when I get to the end of myself love is there waiting and I cannot escape it. That depth of love is so often apparent in the broken confused and muddled people of God as they attempt to make the journey together. Annoying though that might be!
I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly hold no certainties, I’d like to say I have chosen this journey, but I think the journey has chosen me, and so it continues….
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Matthew 5 (The Message)