Specks and Planks: Gay People as the Scapegoats of our Generation

I've been a very busy bee over the last little while, however I wanted to draw you attention to this video from Diverse Church.

As I mentioned with regards my departure from Fulcrum, I'm an advocate of finding, making, being in a space where there is room for conversation, especially on the issue of sexuality.  Sadly we haven't been very good at making those spaces (understatement of the year). But the new kid on the block, Diverse Church, has managed to do something that other groups haven't. In short they've stated in all that they are and do that it's just not about YOU.

For Diverse Church they are entirely there for those young gay Christians who have found the courage to be who they are: lovers of Jesus and gay, finding these things not incompatible. But they don't have to *prove* that to you, or me, or any other person. They are about being disciples of Christ and encouraging others to do the same: encouraging others that it is possible. That God knows being gay is part of their story with God.

It's refreshing to watch the videos that Diverse Church have uploaded so far, you can see some of them here.

This new video comes with the tagline 'a simple man changed by an almighty God' and it is a creative joy, but also a lesson in planks and specks. So often gay people have to absorb the anxiety and self hatred that others bear towards themselves. They are the scapegoats of our generation. This new video places the source of the anxiety right back where it belongs.

It is an example of a new way of being part of the landscape in the conversation on sexuality and Christianity.  The rest of the conversation has been positional for so long.  Arguing for this or that position.  There is a place for that.  But for a good number of people, this is simply not the point.  It's about a Person, not a Position.

The sheer awful-ness of what the church has done to so many gay people has overwhelmed what is feeling like a rather ridiculous argument over genitalia.  It feels like we are having a completely different conversation.  There are numbers of paradigms in play and thus entirely congruent for some to gasp 'what planet are you on?' when faced with a convoluted doctrinal argument which zooms past the puddle of a person in front of them.

What DC reminds us by simply telling the faith story of a real live person, is that if you have a problem with gay Christians, it is your problem, not theirs.

I think I probably have to say that again.  If you have a problem with gay Christians.  It is YOUR problem.

Deal with your own thing.

Focus on your own story, stop trying to write another's.

Attend to your plank.

Well done DC, you've nailed it.


#communitypoetry #twitterpoem #Bible

What is the Bible?
A book, a text, sacred, holy,
What is it for, is it high or lowly?
Some claim it is simple,
Obey or rebel
The rules are easy
Choose Heaven, or Hell.
Others say complex, diverse, hard
to get hold of. Does it soothe or jar?
We speak of depth, taste,
sustenance and meat.
Like hot rich chilli
Makes you whole, complete.
A story that fills your belly,
Better than any spewed from the telly.
Filled with the dramatic,
Inspiring to truth
Those who live it, their
lives telling its good.
Wisdom of God spills from inside,
Does it call us, keep us, cause us to hide?
Challenging assumption.
Yet draws us to thrive,
in spite of ourselves.
We are found alive.

With thanks to all who contributed from Twitter: 

@nursie_nigel @simon_p_thomson @acdyw @VicarOfDishley @sutties @theosoc @swile67 @citzgirl @shinybluedress @AngieLetteboer


l See Gay People

There have been many comments over the last few days on the House of Bishops guidance with regards to Same-Sex Marriage (SSM)

Thinking Anglicans have been doing the usual round-up and are always good for a wide range of responses:

and then Linda Woodhead's painful wit

I was particularly touched by Rachel Mann's contribution

And I was reminded again of the stories found in the journey of Benny Hazlehurst and Accepting Evangelicals


I'm not sure why the HoB wrote this particular statement at this particular time with this particular flavour.  It did seem a little odd and reactionary.  But on the other hand this is the moment I suppose.

I have to say I remain bemused by the Church of England as a whole on this.  The guidance says that gay
clergy are not allowed to marry, or have a committed, faithful, sexual relationship.

But I see them...with my very eyes!

I know many clergy who are gay, I know some who are in CPs, at least one with a child (there will be many more than I know).  I've only just realised that they are expected to live in a kind of purgatory in which for their life to be named publicly, or become open, rather than just an open secret, would be to cross a line which is known but never drawn.

And yet they exist - there will be no way in which their congregation is unaware, they are a couple, or a family.  There they are.  What will you do with them?

If I were expected to hide my family, my best beloveds, keep them a dirty secret, in order to obey my calling to God, what would that do to my psyche, my mental health and overall physical wellbeing?

Simon Butler who announced his sexuality and his openness to being in a relationship, in General Synod last week, has done something unbelievably brave in saying all this out loud.  It will be recorded in minutes, it cannot be unsaid, denied.  Perhaps there was a sense of relief, a level of integration which has been impossible up to now, but the cost of this into the future must not be underestimated.  Where we seem to have been intent on wandering around with our eyes and ears shut, and have thought that we're doing people a favour, what we've been doing has been unutterably cruel and abusive.  To ask people to live invulnerable lives, closed, guarded, defended, hidden lives.  This will inevitably lead to unhealth in all manner of spheres of living.  And then we can point and say 'see, we were right all along'.  To be one who refuses the parameters leading to this end, is courageous.

But it is astonishing is it not, that those of us who follow Christ have gotten ourselves into a situation where shadows and 'lies by omission' are the acceptable, even compelled, option.  Where truth, honesty and integrity seem to be thought politically naive and optimistic to the extreme.  How did we get this so upside down?

Surely, we need to find a way to enable gay clergy to come out openly and safely, without it being a dreadful ordeal.

We have gay clergy, single, in couples and families, ministering with us and to us throughout the Church of England this very day.

I see you.


Why I Will Never be a Ninja Vicar

I have had two acute bouts of Anxiety in my life.  Bouts that required medication which re-established a 'normal' baseline, from which I could then live my life.  I tell you this because Anxiety is less understood as a mental health issue, than Depression. Anxiety by itself is a 'thing'.  During my experiences I never felt depressed.  But I did feel plenty of other things: frustrated (deeply), scared (a lot), hypochondriac-al (constantly).

Often it was difficult for me to get out of bed in the morning.  Sometimes I could be feeling fine, doing normal run-of-the-mill daily things, and then I would suddenly be in the middle of a paralysing panic attack. Every day had potential, but I just seemed to wake up in 'fight or flight' mode.

These acute periods lasted about a year each time.  and I haven't had one of those for almost 10 years now.  Although I still have times where I get out of kilter with myself - I recognise the signs better.  The worst is when I feel I'm hurtling towards a black hole and have very little purchase on the world around me to prevent the descent. Prolonged stressful living is likely to trigger a period of Anxiety, and if I ignore the warning signs, that's where I'm headed.

It would be very easy for me to 'spiritualise' this experience, in fact on one level it is the right thing, the good thing to do.  I spent a good portion of the five minutes before getting up in the morning (not really an option because during one of these acute bouts I had a 1 yr old and a 3 yr old), mantra-ing to myself 'This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it'.  An instruction, a discipline to myself, to choose the good, to choose to believe something contrary to my immediate experience.  I'm sure that for others having their own brand of mental health experience, this wouldn't necessarily have been a choice that was able to be made, but for me it was.

I also believe that the raw vulnerability which comes with some of these experiences, opens us to God in ways which can only become available to us when we have no defence left.

Having these experiences has in a very real way, been profoundly Christian. This is truth.

But there is another truth too. That it hurts.  That every time I feel anxious or panicky... I wish I was stronger. Still, after over 15 years.  There are bits of me that would exchange dependence on God, knowing God better, wholehearted acceptance of my utter reliance on the Creator of the Cosmos, for being invulnerable, strong, safe, defended.

In particular it is difficult to be involved in Christian leadership and be cracked.

I notice that we talk about it all the time - the need to be vulnerable (even without the mental health issues which compel it). But my observation is that we are pretty inept at it, or honouring it.  We want alpha males, we want omnicompetence.

We want clergy special ops. Hi-yah!

Any vulnerability is the kind which is to be epitomised by those 80s posters of muscle men holding babies. The kind that will pull himself together soon.  In that sense occasionally we can give the impression that vulnerability is okay.

But I'm not convinced.

And for the female of the species it's often a complete no-no.  Our vulnerability is distasteful, the kind that means there are some who point and declare we are unfit to lead.

And yet.

I know that my experiences of being vulnerable, vulnerable in the realms of mental health, vulnerable in the realms of a male dominated vocation, vulnerable in the realms of needy creature-hood, are more true than the experiences of the tough cookie I sometimes pretend to be.

My vulnerability is the truth about me.

And this is why, I will never be a Ninja Vicar.


The Garden of Eden vs The New Jerusalem

I am always interested in how our own personal experiences and journeys through life and faith, impact our theologies and doctrines.  When I did my undergrad in Theology, this was an inherent part of the learning that I gained.  It seems to me that this was one of the most significant things that I learnt over that time, and I remain suspicious of those who speak of 'arguments from experience' with disdain or smuggery, as if they have won the argument (whichever argument they are fighting) by simply raising the fact that someone's life and interactions with God's cosmos has had an impact on what they think about that cosmos.

Such important doctrines as our theories of atonement are rooted in the ground of the time from which they came, and the people who lived particular lives, in a particular time. The Exemplar theory, a witness of great love from the Abelard who was castrated for his, Penal Substitution theory from Calvin the lawyer, Satisfaction theory from Anselm's understanding of the feudal system. Simplistic of course, but nevertheless, it is not a coincidence that these theories are rooted in lives lived, and the impact of those lived lives on the way Scripture is read and interpreted.

It strikes me that some of our conversations on sexuality and the proper place for acts/expressions of sexual love might benefit from some honest self-examination of our own lives lived.

In scripture and theology there are often concepts which find themselves in seeming tension with each other - justice/mercy, election/freewill, heaven/earth, body/spirit etc etc.  As human beings are wont to do, we find it difficult to find a way to hold these things together, to live in the both/and, rather than the either/or.  I sometimes wonder if we are incorrect in trying to keep these concepts in tension, rather than finding ways to integrate them in our minds and lives.  That justice is found within the mercy of God for example.
One of these is the 'concepts in tension' is the pairing of The Garden of Eden and The New Jerusalem.  The perfect paradise which we left through disobedience versus the city of God to come.

I have often wondered whether, where you rest at the moment, with regards your position on sexuality, will be reflected in where your heart finds itself with regards to The Garden of Eden or the New Jerusalem.  We know, in theory, that we have left Eden and our trajectory is towards the New Jerusalem, but, particularly in Western theology, we found a way for The New Jerusalem to be the Garden of Eden.  Are we going forwards, or going backwards?

In the West, we have tended to understand the story of salvation as something like this:

The world was made perfect, humans transgressed, Jesus came to redeem, perfection recovered.

Another story, that found through the Eastern Christian tradition, particularly found in Irenaeus, reminds us that the world was not made 'perfect', but that it was made 'good':

Good (waiting for perfection in Christ), humans transgressed, Jesus, restoration of goodness, perfection.

Are we going forwards in order to recover an old way of being, or going forward to discover a new thing?

I have lived for a number of years with an eschatology which looks more like the second of these stories.  And so it is not hard to understand that when it comes to ways of being human community, ways of family, I find myself left cold by arguments that equate themselves, for all their posh language, to the old 'God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve' line of thought.

I do not desire to go back to Eden, but on to the New Jerusalem.  And in the New Jerusalem, there are possibilities, there are stories of family and love and intimacy, which are yet to be told.  I do not know yet what these possibilities are, but I know that they do not necessarily have to conform to the Old Creation.

Depending on where your own proclivities are weighted - do you desire Eden or Jerusalem?  The Garden or the City? The Old Life or the Unknown Life? - I suspect will have an effect on how easy or hard you might find it to engage in genuine conversation about sexuality.  Conversation which may lead to as yet unknown forms of human living, rather than re-establishing the known.

It is interesting for me to question myself, in light of this reflection - what about my life lived has meant that the New Jerusalem is where my own heart is drawn? I suspect a childhood begun in a council flat in Aberdeen, with parents who were steeped in a work ethic, has had an influence I can't measure.  It was never that where we were was awful, I never felt a desire to escape.  However, I did grow up knowing that life was a bit of an adventure, that you could forge a path that was unknown to you or your kin before you.  I learnt that money and housing and clothes and cars were passing nothings, and that love and work and justice would remain.  I learnt that the things of value come with you into the unknown.  I also learnt that moving forward was good. That staying where you were was to turn down the possibilities of flourishing that were open before you.  To take the opportunities offered to you, walk through the door. Be brave.  I have moved house 13 times in my life.  New places, new people, new ways, cultures, thoughts.  All these interest me, intrigue me, cause me to think, to explore, to live life beyond the life I have thus far lived. And I have also learnt that respectability is not the same as goodness.  I also prefer cities to gardens.

The honest truth is that any comments or theologies, or interpretation I may come to offer, on any subject, will always have been formed by these learnings.

My life lived.