I’ve been reading a bunch of late. One of the benefits of working in a place where a lot of people are away for a lot of July and August, between family holidays and work events, is that very few people email me, and I get a bolt-load of time to catch up on my reading (and I am consequently learning how very uncomfortable my workspace is for long-running reading and taking notes on a laptop. tips, anyone?). It can be odd, doing for work something that you would want to pursue anyway; you have to keep balancing things in your head and working out where boundary markers are, and read this thing in work, but that thing outside it, but oh, there’s this other that is a part of both, but am I prioritising it because… and so on. And you have work out where you are in relation to where your work is - which I don’t have a problem with as an idea, though the execution can, at times, be tricky, especially when you’re trying to work out where you are on some things. And right now there are some things where I am that feel a little unstable - a bit like standing on the edge of the cliff in a strong wind, and if I let the wind go, the drop. Well that drop’s pretty terrifying.
Anyway. Today, I read an article that has both hugely impressed me, and also a lot of a book that has, in tandem with the article, helped me, I think, to feel where the wind is coming from a little bit better and consider letting it to its thing, by chiming with a lot of the things I’ve been reading and thinking about.
The article is this interview in the Independent with Vicky Beeching, which is, I think astonishing in its bravery and its grace - Vicky’s especially, but also actually the interviewer’s as well, because you could take some very different lines w/r/t the church in presenting that interview, and it feels like he has let himself be guided to a great extent by hers.
“It is heartbreaking,” she says, her eyes glimmering again. “The Church’s teaching was the reason that I lived in so much shame and isolation and pain for all those years. But rather than abandon it and say it’s broken, I want to be part of the change.”
I mean, seriously. After everything that goes before, that is pretty breathtaking, right?
The book is Walter Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination. You know when people say scholars are ahead of the times? Yeah? This book was published in 1979. I’ll let you in on a secret which will have all the theologians who’ve already read it rolling their eyes: it’s a bit good. But more of that later.
Thing is, the question of sexuality is the one issue I struggle with most in, not so much reconciling my faith to the world (because I’m not sure that’s possible in the kind of coherent complete way that word implies) but in working out how my faith connects with and makes sense of the world I experience every day. Because the faith I grew up with, was taught, am still taught (as Vicky Beeching was) says: ‘this thing is wrong.’ And yet, not just the culture around me tells me that it isn’t - the way world I see, the things I learn, and the people I know and love show me that it’s not that simple, that, whatever God’s original creative intentions were, nature isn’t that way any more, and that, whatever God’s original creative intentions, he doesn’t love anyone any the less. So I don’t get to either, nor do I get to be casual with people’s feelings and lives, in the name of finding the right answer to the question of how God wants Christians to live.
(Incidental aside: I really appreciated this response to the Independent’s interview at The Art of Uncertainty, and it has a great line on how the Christian faith is built on personal experiences)
So I’ve been reading a lot, thinking a lot, praying a lot, drinking wine with trusted friends and talking about it a lot since I wrote about the same-sex marriage question a year ago - and I still don’t have any answers. The only thing I know that I do know is that we, as a church, have got to get better at this. We have got to stop making people feel so ashamed and so scared of who they are and what we think of them that they turn anywhere for any support, any love,of any kind. And everything in that interview with Vicky Beeching cries it to me ten times louder than before.
But trying to work out how we get better at it? That one is really hard.
Which is where the Brueggemann I’ve been reading today comes in. It’s about what it means to imagine a different future in a way that can break open the present and build something better - something that is more in line with the world God wants to see. For example, a selection of quotes that decided to hammer me in between the eyeballs:
“The reality emerging out of the Exodus is not just a new religion or a new religious idea or a vision of freedom but the emergence of a new social community in history”
“The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evolve a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”
"There is a connection between the religion of static triumphalism and the politics of oppression and exploitation… We will not have a politics of justice and compassion unless we have a religion of God’s freedom.”
And most pertinently, he asks,
“What would such an alternative consciousness be like? … How can we have enough freedom to imagine and articulate a real historical newness in our situation? That is not to ask if this freedom is realistic or politically practical or economically viable. To begin with such questions is to concede everything to the [current situation] before we begin. We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical, but whether it is imaginable.… Imagination must come before implementation.”
And, yesssssss went my brain. Imagination must come before implementation. Breathe. Drop your shoulders. Open your eyes. Skip fourty steps forward and pretend that all the stuff lying around in the gap isn’t there. Where do you want to be standing, fourty steps forward?
What is the dream of a church that doesn’t put people through what people like Vicky go through with terrifying frequency?
Let go of worrying about the politics and the fractures and the personal morality and the interpretations of individual verses and the the am I doing it right and am I in or not-ness. What would a church that met people where they were as who they are look like? What would that community of God’s people look like?
We can work out everything else after that. Start at the end and work backwards. Go.
I’m still feel like I’m standing on the edge of the cliff. But I feel a whole lot better about the drop. I might dream on the way down.