Tag Archives: Christianity

Greenbelt and me and that book of mine

Today is the official start of a festival known very much to a those of a certain Christian ilk. It’s been running over 40 years around various parts of England, sometimes in the grounds of stately homes, sometimes on a racecourse.

In the words of something very close to me

“Greenbelt was devoid of the very things that put me off all other forms of Christian holiday. It had a firm focus on music and the experimental, was theologically liberal to the point of sometimes being shocking, and therefore attracted interesting people.”

Born at a similar time to the festival – which also began in the same county – I went to my first Greenbelt in 1990, in Northants, just as I was becoming old enough to be autonomous. It was a rebellious thing to do for someone of my background. My Dad’s response to my wish to go was “pass the vinegar”!

I came back shocked and recall writing to the festival’s chair and receiving a generic reply, including things that I hadn’t. Clearly many others had been unhappy too.

I can’t remember much about why – just that Greenbelt didn’t match my idea of Christianity. One reason that was its focus on social justice, not gospel spreading, and its toleration of issues like homosexuality. Ironies coming up…

Curiously one thing I do recall complaining about (for his book called “Cleaning the Bog and other spiritual gifts”) was a writer I embraced later on. I was reading the late Mike Yaconelli’s book “Dangerous Wonder” just last night. His talks involved the biggest queues of the festival, yet he was moved every year, and surprised, fearing that next year, they wouldn’t come. Perhaps I find his book a little juvenile now, with its stories of waterbombing and other pranks, but I love his spirit – real, passionate living, and a God who is much more into loving us than berating us and getting it right.

It took me 6 years to try Greenbelt again – now a postgraduate, a little broader of mind and less easily shocked. This time I had a little epiphany – one I couldn’t share with my housemate and her church, who’d tutted at me for going to GB – and I made some large and sudden lifestyle decisions because of that.

As a composing musician, the music at Greenbelt was important; a highlight was seeing Iona at the only full band gig of theirs I ever attended. But the book tent, people, ideas and new ways to worship were also of interest.

I went back the next year, but felt that the mud and the lank hair and skank feeling of no proper washing outdid the things I enjoyed. I vowed I would not camp again.

Then Greenbelt moved – further from me, but into new student halls of residences for the over 25s – happily an age I’d recently passed – and onto the tarmac of Cheltenham racecourse. I enjoyed discovering Cheltenham – my first spa town – and having a town close enough to take a break from the long weekend of festivalling, which can get quite intense and insular. Spiritually, it still felt appealed.  At last, Greenbelt and I were a best fit, although it was smaller and less atmospheric than its Northants days.

Now that Safe Space for LGB Christians felt different.

In 2007, I was living close enough to attend Greenbelt for a day. I started calling my spirituality Glastonbury rather than Canterbury. I was going to an alternative branch of the latter who didn’t approve of the former. I was no longer in the Christian pop music loop and found most solace in a tent of contemplation, and a spiritual advisor. I listened to Yaconelli’s son and felt that whilst the voice was recognisable, I wasn’t finding the ghost of the father through him. Nor did Mike’s own books work so well for me now.

I now cared very about social justice and I embraced the inclusion that Greenbelt showed, but it strangely felt that it, not I, was more conservative. It had taken steps back to towards it more evangelical roots while I’d pole vaulted from mine. We had passed each other like comets, riding together for a time, and veering into disparate directions.

I wasn’t sorry to leave and to explore Cheltenham. I felt that I’d be unlikely to go again – especially as Greenbelt left that site and reverted to camping.

So why is Greenbelt something I’m writing about now, except that it’s now happening?

Because those Cheltenham visits inspired scenes in my new novel, all about that Safe Space, those seminars where evangelical and liberal meet, where social justice and faith come together. It’s the final chapter.

I think it may be for me and Greenbelt. I approached them to share the novel – naturally – as I’d not only given them a few thousand words of space in it at the most crucial point, but its being all about the kind of things its attendees care about, such as modern church life and those that are a bit different.

But I found that the social justice they preach wasn’t being practised. The book tent has a contract to exclusively sell books on the site and it wants 50% of the cover price to sell yours – though it excludes self published ones when they’ve little space. I pointed out that most books don’t have that cut to spare and this causes the author and publisher – which are both me – who’s spend perhaps years crafting the book, to make a loss. I was asked to send a free copy to the team for a possible social media mention. A 40 year old festival commanding tens od thousands of £150 tickets each year, asking a new self published author in financial struggle to send a book for them to consider a tweet?

Hence I’m not at Boughton House near Kettering this weekend and may not be again.

But I do hope some festivallers – past and present – might enjoy reliving those Cheltenham years and joining in my fictional weekend at the pivotal point of other Elspeth’s journey.

You don’t know what I mean, and you’d like to?

Then go to http://www.parallel-spirals.webs.com.

More about the fairness of publishing will be appearing on this site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wrong Colour, wrong Shelby Spong

This is a long post, extended essay length, so be prepared to scroll!

Ten years ago, I wrote a book review for EF News called “Right Colour, Wrong Place – A Bishop rethinks sexuality.” It was my first introduction to John Shelby Spong. I felt him well meaning and an honest writer, but I queried many of his suggestions. Bravely for 1988, he was in support of gay people, but his reasoning – from dubious experiments that suggested faulty genes – was not welcomed. His science backed opinions remain pertinent to his writing and my problem with him.

I named that and this piece after a phrase from a board game, Mastermind. One person would hide a combination of beads under a hood, and the other would try to guess the colours and positions. One possible response from the player with the hood to the suggested combination was “Right colour, wrong place”.

Now I am less generous than when I wrote the article. I think both Spong’s colour and position are wrong.

Spong has only really featured for me one other time in the last decade, although I had heard others champion this American Episcopalian. The main mention of him was not by a champion, but a detractor. There are many in both camps.

A sermon of Nov 2009 against the now retired Spong elicited another article from me called Dangerous Preachers which I sent to that rural English evangelical Anglican. I described how the whole service seemed to make this vicar into the focus and position of power. He used the pulpit to proclaim his (ie the!) truth to his flock, illustrating his ire with Spong with Spong’s book that he wanted to throw away. “Now I know why I kept it – to show you and tell you not to read him”, said the vicar. He was working to ban Spong from visiting the diocese. He hadn’t read much of Spong’s book – he couldn’t bear to.

I had read a whole Spong book and reiterated his genuineness, and that for many, he has allowed them to continue in faith or come to it, when ministry such as in that rural church would have sent them away.

Now I’m in sympathy with that Suffolk parish church – not for trying to stop others from hearing or reading Spong – but in the struggle to read a whole Spong book. I have just done so, intensely so as not to spend more time on him than need be. I also wanted to throw it.

I had a spate of reading spiritual writers who I would not normally, including a former pope. I also tried a puritan and a biographer – the latter I will refer to later. He made me smile. Spong provided no such insight and amusement.

Spong had come back into my attention because I was researching Hosea, following hearing a sermon on the book. Both book and sermon made me angry.  A search for happier Hosea led me to Pastor Dawn’s blog who quoted Spong and his tome – Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. I do not share Pastor Dawn’s alacrity, nor do I feel – sadly – that I could join Spong in subtitling Hosea “The prophet who changed God’s name to Love”. Spong’s piece on Hosea was mostly his own retelling, adding details not in the text, and trying to recast the divinely mandated bullying on/off marriage as a love story. I see it as abuse of women.

The rest of Spong’s annoyingly hyphenated book has odd parallels with what he critiques.

Let me give an overview, as dense examination is not only too wordy but something I do not have the stomach for.

Immediately, I know I am showing signs of what I hated in that Suffolk parson and Spong’s other non-fan club. I am about unity and breadth, about calling many my sibling; and yet I realised I would struggle to do so of Spong.

I feel the ire of that evangelical minster who I now sympathise with to some extent. Spong is as rude about his kind as he was of Spong. Especially in the introduction.

Twenty years ago, I wrote a dissertation about the science of creationism and the theological problems of evolution. I was saddened and angered by the disparaging tone used even between evangelical Christians who disagreed with each other. I have seen such a tone used many times between differing beliefs of many persuasions. Like the Samaritans and Jews, the worst enmity is reserved for those whom you are related and who’ve compromised themselves – either by diluting purity, or by sticking too rigidly to it.

Spong often speaks against anti-Semitism, but he is inconsistent. He tells us that the Old Testament is propaganda for a pure one ruler Jewish nation, but that all the nasty misused texts of the Bible are New Testament. He forgets that there is fodder for genocide, misogyny, racism, war, brutality, animal cruelty and that the best (or worst) anti gay texts (whom he again tries to stick up for) are in the OT.

Of course, Spong doesn’t call the first part of the Bible the Old Testament – he is of the “Hebrew Bible” school. That to me undermines Christians and misses their understanding of the two covenants between God and humans. I call the OT the Hebrew Bible when amongst Jews, but I’ve had a phase of wondering if it really is the Hebrew Bible – is it of much relevance to non Jews, except as back story?

Spong is very much of the scholarship school that is about conformity and pressure to use certain words and discard certain ideas. He is a fellow of the unexplained Jesus Seminar that decided that 80% of Jesus’ sayings – including all but one line in John – are not authentic. What do they mean? How do they come up with such an idea, and how do they prove it?

For a man so steered by rationalism and evidence, there is very little of either in this book.

Throughout the book, Spong is disparaging of “uninformed” ordinary pew dwellers – and sometimes, even preachers, who have not the academic background he does.

Spong’s view would return us to pre Reformation times when only the priest could read the scripture – although he points out that the Gospel is often read only by the minister in high Anglican churches and that communion can only be presided over by one who is ordained.  Yet he would effectively do likewise – and more.

He brings in an unfamiliar, conformative language – ‘the Jesus movement’, ‘the Easter event’, ‘birth (not infancy, thankfully) narratives’; Lucan, Pauline, Johannine, Mosaic – words we might know with another meaning. To sound like a real Christian, not these embarrassing literalists, you’ve a new vocabulary to adopt. How many steps is that from the Middle Ages, of learned Latin versus the common tongue of the non priest, where the only degrees were in religion. Thus he ties academia and authorised ministry back together.

It is interesting that academia (my spell checker interestingly suggested my mistype be corrected to ‘anaemia’) has the meaning of purely theoretical, often with shades of being immaterial and impractical. I found this meaning to be true of much of biblical criticism.

Spong’s prophets are from the 19th Century onwards: Bultmann, Welhausen at el. Why did the work of two scholars make anyone who considered themselves a serious Bible reader feel that they had to adopt the theory that the Pentateuch is really 4 strands woven together? Thus the most holy part of scripture for Jews is a mishmash. Spong doesn’t discuss the possibility that there is more than one God – only the different names and agendas for him.

Spong’s quick to deride and dismiss (oft used verb) the notion of Moses’ authorship.

Similarly, in the New Testament, Spong adopts the pose that most of the names of the books aren’t the real authors. Why is this asserted of famous and revered texts, from the Brontes to Shakespeare? Often it is a belief that the supposed author is incapable of having written such a worthy work. Three women can’t have written such classic novels – it must be their brother. A non blue blooded, university educated man cannot have written the plays and sonnets we consider our language’s most celebrated. And thick (ie non liberal university schooled) fishermen from Galilee can’t write elegant and deep gospels and epistles.

He patronises the oral tradition, assuming a) it’s true, people couldn’t write and b) that they must play Chinese whispers with the spoken word. It’s a tradition we don’t really have a parallel for, except in storytelling circles, where this art shows that great stories can be delivered and recalled through oration alone, preserved for long periods.

Like that Suffolk parson, Spong doesn’t bother to explain why. This book, fat though it is, is too short to give a serious Bible overview. Commentaries are bricks, often running to multi volumes. He’s insultingly brief with most books, and he doesn’t tell us why these ‘respected’ scholars date things as they do, or have come to the conclusions they have about authorship and theme/purpose. I imagine him teaching  at a local church he wouldn’t be welcome in, with his audience at his feet, unquestioningly rapt as their guru imparts his wisdom.

There’s no debate, we are not honoured with a rationale. Are we like the fisherman followers of Jesus, too simple to know your ways?

Jesus didn’t think so. We don’t know that he was formally educated (or did he get that in heaven before he came down?). His message is open to all and the Bible works on many layers, to be probed at different depths and angles.

Spong does love the Bible, he says; he’s read it daily for over sixty years. And he did make it his day job, despite (I am sorry to hear) receiving death threats from other Christians. He’s counted them. But like Sylvia Browne, who I reviewed last, there’s a hint that he suffers with those great early church martyrs, and that he’s up there with them. There’s also a hint of flattery in the implication that he’s the antichrist.

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Spong dismisses whole books of the Bible: there’s some he hardly bothers to read, some he tells us (such as James) we only need to read once ever. Daniel’s not serious, he says. Revelation’s a bit of a daft book, but my mate (name drop) Elaine Pagels, of Gnostic gospel fame (she’s a professor you know) is going to write a book on it (advert) – maybe that’ll help my cynical senior mind make sense of the weird and useless apocalyptic book I have little to say about, save that I don’t like it.

Spong did cheer me a little on Paul – never a saint to me, and only just an apostle in Spong’s world since there are no miracles and visions round there. The usually annoying “Paul didn’t write these” line meant that the pettier letters with all the women squishing mandates are actually not of the guy with the really interesting, deep and wide insights. Spong doesn’t explain how he knows that Paul wrote his works before the gospels. Spong wasn’t the first to suggest that Paul’s Thorn in my Side (cue Annie Lennox) is possibly being gay – and I felt some sadness for Paul who may not have understood that this was no sin to struggle with, but something he could know God’s love and acceptance of. Spong implies Paul becomes mellow and loving; I might have another go at Paul’s letters.

Then Spong said that Paul doesn’t understand the ascension and resurrection in the way some (silly) Christians do – rising is about being one with God. But why can’t that be bodily as well? Spong’s reading spoils some of the best resurrection verses for many Christians.

Spong has more spoiling to come. He does gain a mark for rejecting the Q theory as an answer to the Synoptic Problem (what problem? Moving on!). Spong says that the synoptic gospels are sort of Iona community liturgy/lectionary (my analogy) for the synagogue. Interesting, but not really changing anything in my reading or belief or use. But my criticism is – why did Mark, the supposedly earliest gospel, only cover part of the year then? Doesn’t seem much of a Jewish year piece if you miss several months.

In other gospels, Spong stresses the link to the fulfilment of Jewish scriptures. Yes, we’re aware of that, even those of us without degrees in religion (which I do have, lest you wonder – though my best spiritual insights and understanding come from outside my studies). But what is Jesus fulfilling for Spong?

I hadn’t noticed, I will say, the early Jewish hero parallels with the gospels – parted waters, escapes from Egypt, similar names, babies leaping in wombs of old barren women who compose similar songs of praise (I did see the last one for myself). But does that mean (as Spong asserts) that the gospel writers made up names and scenes to make the links? This is something to expand more another time, but I think really occurring events can also have a symbolic/intertexual quality. We humans do it in writing. I believe it has happened in non scriptural history.

In studying the Tudors, I came to the idea that they had lived, as the director of Elizabeth (1998) Shekhar Kapur put it, ‘operatic, mythic’ lives as well as actual earthly ones.

Elizabeth is meant to have quoted Psalm 118 on being given the royal ring; a psalm – about the Lord’s doing and being the capstone – that Jesus also quoted. I believe Queen Bess was conscious of that lineage and use of that psalm.

So why not Bible characters too? If we can pay homage to extant works, including our own, why can’t God? Does Matthew have to invent names and nods to get his readers to make the link between Jesus’ story and the Hebrew heroes, or can he just not arrange his telling of the life of Jesus in a way that readers see what he has?

I don’t see why Jesus can’t quote things from the Old Testament, and why real events can’t parallel each other. Has no one of history acted out the history of another?

And I ask, what, for Spong, is Jesus fulfilling? Since Elijah didn’t get magically fed and zoom up into the clouds, since no seas were parted, since no-one was healed by looking at a snake statute, and David didn’t kill any giants, what is this wonderful news? What’s new that the Jews are supposed to be celebrating in their religious cycle, according to Spong?

Before I go to Easter, a word on John, a much cherished part of the Bible. Spong used to get annoyed with this gospel (clearly not written by John, maybe Lazarus; I had heard that before). Frankly, I am shocked at Spong’s own…. I want to use a non insulting word, but naiveté (as per the quotes on the cover of his book) is as polite as I can make it.

It’s about “Ye must be born again.”

Even my evangelical Sunday school knew that Jesus wasn’t asking us to pop back into the uterus. But Spong felt alienated, for he could see no more than Nicodemus.

Spong really insults that woman at the well, one of my favourite Bible stories. A lecturer (whose name I’ll omit for she was bullying and inappropriate) said that this story in John 4 is banter. The woman is witty, she’s on form, even on top. Spong has the Samaritan be as dense as possible. He skips her good lines. He also skips Mary Magdalene, and women generally, despite his trying to be an all round, PC inclusive champion.

Spong says that Peter is the centre of the resurrection (um, I’d have answered that as… Jesus). But after him, I pick Mary Magdalene. And I haven’t forgotten his Mum, or the disciple whom Jesus loved. The Gnostic book I just read The Two Marys, among others, says that Peter is pushed forward in the canonised gospels which were rewritten to show that he should be the head of the new church. Spong doesn’t mention the non canon, and though he mentions the councils that made the canon, he never critiques it. He suggests Bible books that barely made it in, in his opinion, but nothing of those left out.

Spong is looking for nations and notions to be tied up – so “Dear woman, here is your son” is about Judaism and the New faith bonding. Original maybe, but I liked the point that Jesus was caring, even in agony, and had paired up these special people.

Did anything at all really happen for Spong? Since Mathew made up the sermon on the mount, since calling Jesus’ dad Joseph was the brainchild of a writer trying to tell us that Jesus, like Moses, was going to have to be hidden from a infancidal ruler, since John the Baptist didn’t really baptise and make any of those speeches – his family parallels some OT hardly mentioned names (Spong had to work to find a Hebrew Elizabeth, the one time mentioned wife of Aaron)…. I’m thinking that as Mary Daly said of a depatriarchalised Bible, scripture is a slim, interesting pamphlet when we’ve taken out all that Spong dismisses.

And a pamphlet whose life changing, inclusive, good news is….

I really can’t tell. After a knowing, often arrogant, quite flat style, there comes at the end flashes of what inspires John Shelby to have kept with Christianity from preteens to his 80s, why he really thinks it is worth being a bishop. I feel a suspended chord rise, I feel the excitement of Spong’s insight – that Jesus is here for Jews, post Jesus people, Gentiles, and this loving, whole making (he didn’t say that, it was Ilia Delio quoting someone else)…

What? God…. is there one? One we can pray with, be protected by, who can make wonderful things happen?

In all the symbolism, is there anything concrete or ethereal Was Jesus real? In any sense?

Oh, and that Easter event, Spongified. Jesus didn’t rise again, naturellement – Spong has elsewhere attempted to “Rescue the Bible from Literalism”. This is all symbolism, created and arranged by Jesus’ followers, long after the…. well, non event as it happens.

After years of study and publishing another fat book, Spong decides that the Easter event, which did not happen over three days – more like months – was something exciting that made people want to preach, even though it could be life threatening. Preach about what, John? What made the disciples excited and full of love and hope?

Oh, you don’t know.

Why can I today feel full of love and hope and wholeness, as I sense you would sincerely wish for me, John?

Oh, I don’t really understand. I don’t see what the  message is you that you proclaim.

Over 400 large format pages, and I don’t know what your gospel, your good news is.

Just that you don’t believe pretty much any of other people’s.

The biographer I alluded to earlier is AN Wilson. I expected irritation from his book; instead, a relief and a smile. AN Wilson painted the biblical critics as people who logically, in the journey of history, had to come. I guess we could’ve expected a Nietzsche and a Dawkins too. After the Bible picking stage came the hunt for real Jesus stage – phases to come through. Spong often speaks of data – that horrid, Americanised word full of computing and reductionism to quantitative particles of supposed ‘fact’. AN Wilson is amused at this being fed into a computer to know what Jesus did and didn’t say. His book is linked to an unnamed friendship and her struggles and journey through faith. I’ve often understood biblical critics to be on the doubt/deist side. I don’t judge doubt – great things come from those questions and voids, as AN Wilson’s friend L found. Biblical criticism seems to come from an almost perverse angle, for it’s not like any literary study I know. In literature, we don’t compare words and sources, we looks at themes and characters, arcs and symbolism. Academic study can kill your favourite text but not in the way that biblical criticism flattens the book that is meant to make your life have a spark in it.

My own faith is neither that of Shelby Spong nor that puritan; my liberalism allows other thoughts beyond Christianity in, but retains the sense of wonder about a miraculous God who wants to know us personally, who is capable of an interesting life – but who can work on multiple levels, give visions, make miracles, and fill me, at least sometimes, with a sense of not only purpose (social justice and in my own life) but joy and meaning, and an openness to receive more than the rational, cynical, money and fact driven world ever can.

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Ilia Delio, your God is too small

A Review of “The Emergent Christ”

I was excited about obtaining this book, sorry to have missed her UK tour last year, but swiftly found it hard work. Not that I didn’t understand it, but its matter is as dense as the early Big Bang, and that’s not in a good way.

It could easily be a paper, not a full length book. I obtained two things from Ilia’s 150 pages of main text:

“Evolution is progress towards union in love because God is ever deepening love.” (minus the irritating and unneeded hyphen between the penultimate words)

That is sufficient synopsis of the whole book. She need not write more!

The second was her summary of Hildegard of Bingen who saw sin as the exile of unrelatedness, the refusal to grow.

My major issue with Ilia is that she is another theologian trying to fit God round contemporary science, which is entirely the wrong way round. She asserts that scientists know that evolution is true, not a theory – something that my reading and understanding has always queried, on a scientific and philosophical level. (I wrote a dissertation on this subject).

She doesn’t engage with the theological issues about evolution either – a loving powerful God who uses waste and suffering, and is so slow! She suggests God could have achieved salvation in another way because God can do anything. But He can’t manage creation in any other way than Darwin’s, even though she’s the one to remind that Darwin only used evolution in the last line of his work. Nor does she justify the Big Bang, built on extrapolation and highly interpreted observations.

Instead, she uses dense stylised language with many invented and italicised words to whizz round such questions like spiral galaxies, oscillating so quickly that you’ve barely time to notice what she’s not said. Try paraphrasing her, and I realised how little real substance there is in my view. Dense, but not weighty.

It’s assumed but not truly argued or demonstrated that for God to be love – and she does have some beautiful and original phrases about that – God must evolve, and do so in a way analogous to the universe’s journey as understood by our relatively young scientific theory.

Most of her work is about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas, and quoting many Catholics and scientists along the way, I felt there was little really coming from Ilia as original thought.

That point contains another issue I have – for despite ‘catholic’ supposedly meaning universal, this is a very Catholic book. If you weren’t reared on Bonaventure or what the popes say, you can feel alienated. Ilia often asks what it is to be Catholic, not to be Christian, and not to have faith or spirituality more generally. Given her scientific stance, her hints that Christ is the telos of enlightenment rather than just the 2nd person of the Trinity, and her writing style, this book doesn’t feel likely to have a wide audience.

Ilia wants to re-translate catholic (more italics coming up) to whole-making, which is a beautiful idea. The notion of God too growing and expanding is not new to me, and it is one I already embraced. I am glad that she accepts death and suffering as part of the process of our own parallel journeys, not something to eradicate via the science she so venerates.

But again, death as an act of creation – not a phrase she uses – is something I long knew: I found it in the film The Fountain, and watching it and thinking on its deep and similar themes was a more pleasing experience that these hours with Delio.

Heaven as a place on early was proclaimed by singer Belinda Carlisle in the 1980s, and the Kingdom being within is pretty obvious in the gospels. Is Ilia hinting she thinks that there is no next world?

I found myself instead wanting to explore Ms Bingen and even to have a go at Teilhard again, whose shockingly innovative insights were more pertinent when he wrote perhaps, but I felt this rehash has little to add to these times.

Ilia goes a step further than saying evolution and Christianity are compatible; she says – evolution is theology. Radical, intriguing, but appealing or true? I sense she’s touching on something there: that if we think of growth and deeper understanding as part of life and of God, then the way we understand the world scientifically does change and become more meaningful. But I refuse to make God fit science, saying, as we’re evolving we must know better now than all that came before. There’s both arrogance and naivety in this statement (if I’ve understood correctly). I know development to be spiral, twisting back and round and revisiting, not simply forward.

My understanding of working through Hegel’s thesis, antithesis, synthesis means attaining mastery on a personal and mass level. Ilia’s work seems stuck in the second stage, exonerating new science; but for me, obtaining wholeness and mastery (which I do not claim yet to have) is only achieved when we embrace and synthesise the wisdom of ancient beliefs and see that modern science is only a small part of actual knowing.

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Pride and Prejudice: Minister accused of gay hate crimes

It’s ironic that on the day I finish editing my novel about synthesising being gay and Christian, there’s a news story on just that in the city in which my story is set. The front page of the local rag has a picture of a pastor set against the recent gay Pride parade. His email to the organisers has earned him a hate crime allegation with the police.

I felt many things as I read that story.

First was the irony that this same newspaper published the faces and names of men at a homosexual gathering which got raided to shame them. It was mentioned at a Pride event – local gay people have not forgotten how their paper treated them.  Perhaps fearing hate crimes allegations directed at itself, the paper now covers the Pride celebration like any other local event. Its tone in this article seemed to be firmly with the LGBT community and against this local evangelical minister.

My second feeling is that this paper’s article is very biased and poor. We do not know what the email of “homophobic language” contained. We are only told that the minister, Alan Clifford,  went up to a stall at Pride and offered an exchange of leaflets. His were called “Good news for Gays” and “Jesus – Saviour of us All”. Too true, I thought; for God loves gay people and is here for us as much as anyone else. Further research confirms the tenor of the minster’s views – that ‘gays’ are perverts who need curing – which has become international news. His views are upsetting, angering – and make me sad.

My next thought was regret that the Pride organisers made this email into a police affair. If I had received an email of the sort I am assuming was sent from Dr C, I would have written back, explaining my views and challenging his. I’d have directed him to George Hopper’s pamphlet “The Reluctant Journey” about a Methodist who, on exploring the Biblical teaching on being gay and actually meeting some, had a complete change of heart. He is celebrated as a supporter of gay Christian people, whilst retaining his more evangelical and Bible based faith. I hope my own book might assist with this too.

I believe that challenge and heart changing is far more productive than crime making. What the latter does is reverse the oppression, so that traditional Christians and other faiths feel they’re persecuted ones, and wonder how equality and anti discrimination works when they are being silenced. You give prejudiced people more reason to feel it, and more reason to band together – Dr Clifford is already hailed as being persecuted for witnessing. Two papers copying each other ended that the minster is anti Muslim too. But saying that Jesus is greater than Mohammed is not Islamophobic  – for Christians, Jesus as God is higher than any prophet, and banning or deriding that statement is not allowing freedom of belief. There is far more genuine Islamophobia in the media and from politicians, which I abhor.

I also note the irony that complaints about Dr Clifford being offensive to lead to investigation; but he cannot call the other side offensive and register a complaint.

I would like to see an end to all such offensives.

I’ve now read Dr Clifford’s response. He makes two other valid points – that the intention was compassionate campaigning, not to harass; and that ‘homophobia’ is a misnomer, for prejudice is not fear. Perhaps there is a little fear in anti gay sentiment, of the notion that they are set to break up the order of your society, and what being open to them might mean for your faith journey. It’s something I can relate to, but I am glad of where that journey took me and to whom I now embrace, not decry.

The other concern is – we have too much police control, and that police were experienced as aggressive at this event. Like the local paper, they have turned from breaking up gay meetings to supporting gay people. This is admirable in principle.

It seems we are now in a minefield where freedom of speech as ever is being eroded – even on matters where one sympathises. Sentiments which hurt and insult others who have perhaps already been through stress should not go unchecked – they should be challenged.  But not be afraid to broadcast a view lest it leads to a police record.

I am deeply saddened when people use their freedom of speech to curtail the freedoms of others. I cannot understand why those whose central message ought to be about love see a legitimate expression of it as an aberration, something abhorrent to be campaigned against rather than celebrated. When a faith should be about a better world – more free, more loving, more understanding – I am despondent that some preach hatred and separation instead of inclusion. I refer them to the Easter sermon that was preached in the film version of Chocolat.

It’s PR like this that harms evangelical Christianity especially – you are not serving, you are doing a disservice.

But I am sad at the other team too. Subverting and reversing freedom and anger is no way to be better understood and accepted by those not yet able and willing to do so. It’ll keep those Christians with feeling they’re misunderstood victims who must stick together and fight for the cause. It means the circle might go round again, spinning between bashing gay people or Bible bashers, depending on who has the most sway on leadership.

We don’t want any bashing. We want a world where such differences are no longer divisions, and people don’t not say or do something for fear of reprisal, but because they no longer feel it.

It also seems my novel’s message is still much needed, for both sides.

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Infinitely Beloved and Rock and Roll Religion

I heard two lectures in churches last weekend, both by men eminent in their fields and their denominations.

To be fair, I shall name neither speaker.

The first was a modest affable thesis that God and us are infinitely capable of loving, infinitely lovable, and that we are infinitely beloved. He said truly grasping this would revolutionise the relationship with ourselves, God and change society.

And he tied in Julian of Norwich with Casualty! [hospital TV drama]

The second was an arrogant sounding but poorly delivered and argued piece diluting a Gospel to crude psychological archetypes that made his offering of Christianity seem pale in comparison. More annoying archetypes were in his assessment of denominations and the attributes of star birth signs. He was hypocritical, making assumptions about beliefs and showing the same generalisations that he criticised others for.

A follow up talk was on how we should be more “rock and roll” in religion, which for him meant the antisocial behaviours of pop stars of his youth. He said he preferred Ireland to New Zealand because it felt alive with drunkenness and beggars in the street! He confuses radical, full living with immaturity and lack of consideration. Smashing up hotel rooms and angry swearing and drug abuse are not signs of coolness and cultural significance. He forgot too that for many, real faith is about a radical life view, not cosiness and prohibition.

There were things I did not enjoy in the first lecture – its slow and deliberate delivery was sometimes difficult and I yearned for some passion – which the second did (if you call thumping a lectern and a bit of a shout “passion”). But it was the former who had enthusiastic applause, and I saw one audience member rush up and hug someone and say it was the best speech he’d heard – ever.

And I knew instantly which of the two made me feel so warm and I moved that I wanted to rush home and be with those thoughts. I know which speaker’s hand I’d rather shake, and to whom I shall write to thank.

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Good Friday

As we’re close to the Easter season, I’d like to share what I wrote last year on my new take on this day

http://relijournal.com/christianity/good-friday-2/

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