An unexpected step in a faith journey

So I went to a church conference for women last weekend.

For those of you who know me well, this is a fairly big deal for me. I have been out of a church environment for a long time, and am only just at the point of dipping a trepidatious little toe back in. I am at a point of having almost completely deconstructed my faith, only just starting to figure it out again in a way that makes sense to me. I have been, as Brene Brown says, in the wilderness, where I have been busy working out how I belonged to myself first, before I could take my place in a community of others.

So, yeah – when my beautiful Minister Ellie (also a dear and trusted friend) encouraged me to attend the Uniting Church Women’s Conference along with her, my initial reaction was – um, I don’t think so! But then I thought on it, and the idea kept nibbling at the edges of my mind, and I ended up saying I would go.

I had set the bar low. As long as no one cast any demons out of me or told me I had to submit to my husband, I’d be OK. (You may laugh – only I have had both these experiences at women’s conferences!) Ellie assured me neither of these things would happen (and I’m happy to report she was quite right).

And I can honestly say I really enjoyed it. I’m still processing my experience, but I thought I’d share some reflections.

I found like-minded people

I hung out with a group of women who discussed things like whether there was too much gendered language in the songs and prayers. I joined a group discussion on how faith can inform a non-fundamentalist view of sexuality. And another one on how complementarian theology intersects with domestic violence. I listened as First Nations women passionately talked about how reconciliation can never be divorced from justice. No topics or views were off limits. No one was rebuked for their opinion. No one felt like they had to control the discussion or the outcome. I felt like I could actually say what I thought. I felt like I could breathe.

I didn’t enjoy every single talk

Some of them I hung on every word, other speakers I didn’t connect with. And what was great about that experience was that it was completely OK to say that not every moment resonated, to vote with your feet, to leave a discussion or talk if it wasn’t for you, or you felt you weren’t contributing or learning.

Everyone’s voices were valued

In the official program, there was a thoughtful emphasis on hearing from a diversity of women, from all cultures, backgrounds and abilities, which I deeply appreciated. But then even in the small group discussions, there was a consciousness of ensuring we were thinking about issues from all perspectives. In one group, it was specifically called out that all of us currently participating in the discussion about a particular issue were white, heterosexual women, and how could we make space for the other voices that are often drowned out by our own.

What I appreciate about the Uniting Church is its commitment to unity in the midst of incredible diversity – from congregations which align themselves a more traditional, conservative theology, to the other end of the spectrum where the LGBTQI community are fully affirmed and embraced. It’s not an easy path, but I admire that these women are trying to walk it, and find strength and connection with each other in the midst of it all.

I’m glad I went, and I’m also looking forward to the next stage of this journey.




Les Miserables: all about grace

Souljourneyboy and I went to see Les Miserables today – a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.

There’s so much I could say (and warning: spoilers ahead); Hugh Jackman was absolutely incredible, Anne Hathaway amazing, and I didn’t mind Russ’s Javert too much, even though I felt like you could tell he was thinking about the singing in some of the scenes, as it is obviously not as effortless for him as it is for the others. Les Miserables is my favourite modern opera/musical, and despite some of the changes in the score (yes, I probably could sing the whole thing through from beginning to end) I felt it transposed brilliantly to the silver screen. These was such a sense of intimacy and immediacy about it that the emotion really did blow me away.

As a Lefy at heart, I love that Les Mis always makes me feel like I want to join a revolution. I love that it has such a strong narrative of social conscious and political activism at its core; whenever I hear “Do you hear the people sing?” I’m like – sign me up!

But most of all, I love that Les Miserables is about grace. It’s about grace triumphing over legalism, love winning over revenge. This was brought home so strongly to me in the scene when Jean Valjean, wearing the uniform of the law, gives Javert back his life in a unwarranted, amazingly powerful act of mercy. Valjean, grace personified, fulfilling the true meaning of law and justice by giving the gift of freedom to his enemy, knowing that the consequences will probably mean his own death.

If that’s not the Christian story right there, then I don’t know what is. I wish Christians (myself included) did that story of grace and love more justice.

For, as the closing song says,

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Love and grace. Nothing else matters. I am just so appreciative that Les Miserables tells that story in such a powerful and beautiful way.

Faith through a fog

Okay, so this blog is pretty personal today.

Last week we had the privilege of seeing my baby nephew christened. It was an Anglican High Mass, with lots of ritual and incense, and I liked the quietude and the solemnity of it (well, I think I would have enjoyed it more if we hadn’t been trying to keep 10 kids quiet for the whole 2-hour service). I was a little amused though when Picasso said to me, “Mummy, why is it foggy in here?” I think the priest had got a little over excited with the incense at that stage, and we were indeed all looking at each other through a fine, scented mist.

Later on I fell to thinking about his comment – and how true it is of where I am at in my spiritual journey at the moment.

I grew up in a fundamentalist black-and-white kind of church environment. It was a very particular, narrow world view that I was presented with – and expected to believe unquestioningly – and I spent a long time forcing down the questions and concerns I had with what I was being told was “true”. So many limits on knowledge and understanding; so many rules and regulations.

After I decided to embark on a more personal journey of discovery, I very nearly gave away my faith. I have this very clear memory of sitting on a beach in Sri Lanka and asking myself, “What do I believe?” I could only come up with one certainty. I believed in God. That was kind of it. The rebuilding of my faith began from there.

A lot of the people I grew up with in church have given their faith away completely, and I totally understand why. It’s why I relate to Guy Sebastian’s struggle you can read about here. When you grow up in such a narrow world, and you finally move beyond it, you realise how limited your previous understanding was. It’s easy to have defined views about gay people if you’ve never actually befriended someone who’s gay. It’s easy to accept being told that marriages only work if women are submissive to their husbands until you get beyond that little world and see there are so many different models for marriage and relationships, and that actually patriarchy is of the most destructive forces in any society.

There are so many things that make me frustrated with religion. The fact that Christianity is so often hijacked by a (mostly right-wing) political agenda. That a friend of mind is shunned when she walks down the street, just because of her sexuality. That religions of all kinds are used to justify the most appalling acts of violence and hatred, resulting in the destruction of so many cultures and peoples. The very reason we have our current nation-state system is because creating states for people was the only way to stop the religious wars that were destroying Europe in the 1600s. The fact that religion has so often been used to preserve social institutions that are inherently unjust – it is mind boggling to me that women are still, to this day, not allowed to speak in some churches. The fact that ministers and pastors and priests and rabbis and whoever else can speak with such certainly about knowing “the truth”. I just think that’s supremely arrogant. Of all the trillions and people who have lived and died, and the trillions yet to come, it’s a little absurd to think that one particular person, who has grown up in a particular culture and has a particular world view, has sole access to “the truth”. I think we are all so far from the truth that we get glimpses now and then, but generally, in my experience claims of “but this is the truth!” are mostly used to convince you of a belief that you might be validly questioning.

And so why, despite all this – am I a believer? Why do I still have faith? I read somewhere recently that just as we don’t do away with science altogether because science was responsible for the atomic bomb, we can’t distill religion down to the crumby bits. Faith has also produced the most wonderful acts of sacrifice and service known to man. Take Corrie Ten Boom, who went to a concentration camp because she could not bear the suffering of the Jewish people around her. Or Mother Theresa. Or countless others who live daily lives of love and sacrifice because they actually take the commandment to “love others as you love yourself” seriously. I hang in there because of all of this, and the fact that there just has to be more to life than what we experience day to day. So my journey along the spiritual road is foggy, and at times challenging. We do, after all, see “through a glass, darkly.” But it’s what makes life meaningful and beautiful.

I wish all of you well in your own spiritual journeys, and hope you can take comfort in peace and beauty during those times when it is hard to see the road ahead.