My daily faith experience is woven around the always elusive presence in which silence, attention, presence, self-giving, experience, quality, emotions, the unconditional, uncertainty, goodness are ingredients and essences, everywhere. Trusting deeply in what I can’t prove but know is my core, my essence, deep within, touched by, feeling it. The Church faces me with many images of God – homophobic, misogynistic, white bearded, authoritarian, judging, cruel, partisan, rejecting. The disconnect the Church maintains, between an imaginable God for the twenty-first century, and the God of co-dependency, abuse, depression, anxiety, and neurosis, is unsustainable.
The Revd Dr Tina Beardsley has written an article for the Church Times explaining why she recently resigned as one of the five consultants on the Coordinating Group (COG) of the Living in Love and Faith process. Tina argues that not enough attention is being paid to the experiences of LGBTI+ and questions the neutral stance that the LLF process has been taking. When the Archbishops launched Living in Love and Faith, they assured LGBTI+ people that no one is an issue or a problem. Tina’s experience demonstrates how impossibly difficult it is for the church implement the Archbishops’ vision.
This week I discovered that parish ministry for many, lay and ordained, continues to focus on people, their lives and uncertainties, sitting lose to creeds and dogma, but deeply valuing the elusive, the mystery, the not-knowing, the caring, open, energised, playful, deep-down truthiness of lives fuelled by prayer. For me, the idea of being a feral priest, learning a different set of skills and placing trust in the elusive, deeply present God best describes my current experience, where previously the unstated assumption was that I should trust the institution and its leaders.
The question I heard the Church asking long ago in my youth and that I internalised and that continues to haunt me because people are still posing the question, is: “Am I allowed to be who I am, feel what I feel and think what I think?” Am I allowed to be gay, am I allowed to love who I love, am I allowed to feel desire for whom I choose, am I allowed to think outside what still seems to be a narrow, dogmatic, Church-think box?
In his book “Arise My Love . . .”: Mysticism for a New Era, William Johnston says that the mystical author of John’s gospel, after “many years spent in prayerful reflection and profound mystical contemplation . . . under the guidance of the Spirit” achieved a state of non-dualism, able to make no distinction between Jesus the man - the Jesus of history and the Jesus of glory, the Christ of faith, Jesus who had lived on earth in the here and now and Jesus who lives in the non-dual here and now of interior presence and existential essence. My intuition, the internal voice, the Spirit guide in me, has been telling me for a long time that creation is a seamless unity, despite appearance or teachings to the contrary or the commonly held assumptions and mind-set of the institutional church that we live in a dualistic creation.
We can become too easily (and understandably) trapped in the binary, good and evil, us and them, loving God and punitive God dynamic on which the dualistic faith of conservative traditionalist Christians is founded. It’s New Year Resolution time: and for me it’s renewed decision time. Do I – do we – opt for and choose to construct from our interior conviction and from the Biblical evidence – a God of unconditional love who is entirely and unconditionally for creation and evolution and for us, we the diverse human community living on planet earth?
An article about mindfulness in schools in last Sunday’s Observer raised again a persistent question for me. Why isn’t the teaching of meditation or mindfulness a core part of the Church of England’s teaching programme? Teaching meditation ought to be an integral part of life in every parish. It needs to be taught and it needs to be practised, integrated with prayer and worship.
The “unbiblical” future conservatives are determined to resist is an already present reality in the Church of England. The Church already embraces equal marriage because congregations and Christian families embrace their equally married lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex brothers and sisters. I await amendment of the canons and a petition from General Synod to Parliament to remove the quadruple lock, after, of course, the 2000 Lambeth Conference is safely out of the way and the stable door has been firmly bolted.
Conversations with many people involved with the church in different parts of the country, from lay people young and old to ordinands, priests and bishops show me that the mindset of the Church of England at local, parish level is almost certainly open to the presence of LGBTI+ people and probably thinks that we would feel welcome and comfortable in their congregation, whether or not they were signed up as an Inclusive Church. The number of parishes aligned with Forward in Faith, GAFCON, Reform, AMiE and the bishop of Maidstone is 726. The total number of parishes in the Church of England is 12,600; 11,874 are not affiliated with either conservative catholic or evangelical networks.
The Christian Church hasn’t begun to come to terms with the nature of myth as the most powerful expression of sacred, holy truth about the divine. As a result, we live with false myths: the myth of a male God, the myth of male superiority, the myth of God Incarnate, and the myth of God is dead. It’s the male anthropomorphic God that is dead.