Faith Van Horne left the fundamentalist Pentecostal tradition that she’d grown up in as a young person. Years later, after exploring various spiritualities, she was surprised to find herself drawn back to her Pentecostal roots, allbeit on very different terms. In this podcast we talk to Faith about her academic studies in atonement theories, embodied spirituality, and healing from traumatic experiences. This episode involves themes of trauma and abuse.

Interview starts at 11m 03s

Image used with permission

QUOTES

“If we’re going to talk about healing and the atonement, what happened to Jesus when he was abused in his body? If there’s a connection there with healing, what does that look like?”

“All of our theology lives in our body, but only a tiny bit we can get out into words. There’s a lot of mystery there that can’t be expressed.”

“It’s only when you have the community of God – the body of Christ – understanding themselves as this universal working in the world that you can really even talk about reconciliation with God. The individual’s always being reconciled within the community and toward the end of bringing Christ’s reconciling work to a bigger space.”

This is a conversation between the priest Karen Rooms and transgender poet, author and educator Jay Hulme about what it’s like for them to be part of an ancient and LGBTQ+ affirming church.

As they recall the story of their developing friendship, their conversation guides us through the pandemic, Jay’s early faith experiences and Karen’s reflections on being a cisgender heterosexual woman entrusted with the care of a diverse and fully inclusive congregation. With humour, insight and creativity they offer a unique perspective on what it could mean to be church.

We have made this conversation public domain, so you are free to turn it into an episode on your own podcast. We ask that you don’t edit the conversation, but please do feel free to add your own introduction and reflections. We also ask that you acknowledge Nomad Podcast.

Click on the download button to access the MP3 and WAV files, and guest images and bios.

Images used with permission.

QUOTES

“‘Coming out’ as a Christian is also part of our discipleship and part of our journey of owning what we really think. And coming out about not conforming, or changing what you think, or thinking differently to the teaching of the church – that’s a constant re-evaluation in my experience of being on this way.” – Karen Rooms

“What makes LGBT Christians feel safe in church? Flags and symbols is the thing that’s at the top of the list.” – Karen Rooms

“I have this whole thing about poetry being indefinable, and not the words, and the space around the words; poetry is the blank page, not the words on it…the words just lead you to the truth of the blank page.” – Jay Hulme

“Liturgy is people doing their best to reach out to something beyond, which is just what a poem is in its own way.” – Jay Hulme

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Priest Karen Rooms and transgender poet, author and educator Jay Hulme describe what it’s like for them to be part of an ancient and LGBTQ+ affirming church. As they recall the story of their developing friendship, their conversation guides us through the pandemic, Jay’s early faith experiences and Karen’s reflections on being a cisgender heterosexual woman entrusted with the care of a diverse and fully inclusive congregation. With humour, insight and creativity they offer a unique perspective on what it could mean to be church.

Conversation starts at 18m 23s

Images used with permission

WEBSITES

Jay Hulme

St Nicholas Church

BOOKS

The Backwater Sermons

Clouds Cannot Cover Us

The Book of Queer Prophets

PERMISSIONS

All of This is Worship by Jay Hulme from the book The Backwater Sermons used with permission from Canterbury Press

QUOTES

“‘Coming out’ as a Christian is also part of our discipleship and part of our journey of owning what we really think. And coming out about not conforming, or changing what you think, or thinking differently to the teaching of the church – that’s a constant re-evaluation in my experience of being on this way.” – Karen Rooms

“What makes LGBT Christians feel safe in church? Flags and symbols is the thing that’s at the top of the list.” – Karen Rooms

“I have this whole thing about poetry being indefinable, and not the words, and the space around the words; poetry is the blank page, not the words on it…the words just lead you to the truth of the blank page.” – Jay Hulme

“Liturgy is people doing their best to reach out to something beyond, which is just what a poem is in its own way.” – Jay Hulme

I grew up in a brethren church in the 70’s and whilst I knew that God loved me unconditionally, I also felt that God was someone who needed to be kept on-side and pleasing him was paramount. When my parents divorced, and my dad subsequently left the church, I realised for the first time in my life that despite their promises, people who once loved you would reject you if you didn’t meet their expectations. I made the assumption that it was the same for God. I became a Christian at age 11, however throughout my teenage years I frequently and anxiously prayed ‘the prayer’ to become a Christian, over and over, for fear that God would reject me. I was terrified of hell and the church did nothing to make me believe I should think differently. Despite my best attempts to be a rebellious teenager I failed miserably, mostly because I feared being anything other than the good Christian girl, and I didn’t want to risk being rejected by God.  

Image used with permission

I married at 20 and returned to the brethren church which my then husband attended, after spending a few years attending a livelier evangelical church, and my rebellious spirit returned. As a feisty feminist, I began to ask questions about faith, mostly their insistence that women could play no part in the services. The eldership told me firmly to stop asking questions. I did not. I realised by the end of my 20s that, despite being a stay-at-home mum at the time, God was calling me into leadership and so I began to push some more. I was rejected, politely, and told that God did not call women into church leadership and to think about helping with the youth work in church, as that was probably what God intended. It wasn’t, and I knew that.  

I began work as a youth worker outside of the church, got myself a diploma and worked in the local community and local school. I was called to the edges, to people I knew my church would not welcome and I began to push more, ask more questions, and was again rejected and told to stop. I began to explore more options and went to Christian youth events, Soul Survivor and the like; this was where I felt more at home. I also met a Christian friend who had the same passion for working with youth outside of the church and we decided to set up a charity together. My church did not support this, and frequently questioned my choices. I kept going, spurred on by a few friends who supported me, although I frequently felt like I did not fit. 

My marriage ended in my late 30’s and I became a single parent and, after falling out with my church because of their lack of support to my two teenage boys, I finally left. I began attending an Anglican church of Wales, and found it to be a safe place, I even began to explore the possibility of ordination. It was during this time that I experienced several years of what can only be described as spiritual and emotional abuse from my friend and work colleague which traumatised me to the point of breakdown. The friendship ended, and I was subsequently rejected from the ordination process. I left the Anglican church to attend an AOG church which I left after two years because of the spiritually abusive nature of the leadership. 

I went nowhere for 3 years, I remarried and was happy not attending church, until my new husband felt God telling him to go to church. I reluctantly went with him, and we began attending a charismatic evangelical church where a friend of mine was the pastor and knew my history. He was supportive and sympathetic and allowed me to question and for the first time in a long time I felt real freedom in church. He offered me a job with the church, and despite all my questions and doubts I took it. 

During this time, I began listening to the Nomad Podcast. I realised that my questions were not unusual, and I was not alone. I began to unpick a lot of the stuff I had learned to be true to that point. I knew the church was wrong on the issue of women, but I had no idea of all the other ways the church had controlled my behaviour through poor theology. I no longer fear hell, as for me it does not exist, I now think of myself as a universalist, I also no longer fear disappointing an angry God who has only shown me love through the work and life of Jesus. 

I have now left that church to move to a new area and currently I am not attending a church regularly. I now work as a pioneer for the Anglican church setting up fresh expressions of church within the local community. I believe these are more relevant to the local context than the traditional church is, and I want to make sure that people I meet know that they are loved and accepted by a divine creator God who will never reject them, and who will always love them, whoever they are. 

The jury is out as to whether I will find myself belonging to a traditional church full time again. I miss the friendships that belonging to a church brings, but I do not miss the misogyny, the dodgy theology or the unrealistic expectations that so often comes along with it. I still have lots of questions and I don’t fully understand how to describe my own deconstruction. There are so many differing aspects of theology that I haven’t fully grasped. I am however thankful that Nomad is helping me gain more knowledge and understanding in how to get to know the Divine, and myself, better. 

– Lisa Andradez

We chat with author of With All Your Mind: Autism and the Church, Erin Burnett about her personal experience and research into autism and the unique ways Christians with autism understand and experience God.
We ask her why she was initially attracted to more fundamentalist expressions of Christianity, what triggered her deconstruction, and why she’s now more at home in progressive christian spaces. And we explore what neurotypical people can learn from the ways people with autism experience the world and spirituality.

Interviews starts at 13m 45s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Erin Burnett

BOOKS & ARTICLES

With All Your Mind: Autism and the Church

Religious, but not Spiritual: The link between Autism and Progressive Christianity

Different, not less: Pastoral Care of Autistic Adults within Christian Churches

QUOTES

“A lot of the core characteristics like social difficulties and intense interests will be relatable to almost everyone with autism, but at the same time, it’s also really important to emphasize that I can only speak about my own experience. It’s often said that, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.'”

“Some people like what’s called ‘identity first’ – which is ‘autistic person’ – because that means autism is a part of their identity; it’s who they are, it’s not something to be ashamed of. whereas ‘person first’ language – which is ‘person with autism’ – it recognize that autism is just one of the many things that can make up an individual; so, it’s part of them but doesn’t define them.”

“Whenever I try to describe precisely how I view religion, I often flip the phrase, ‘spiritual but not religious,’ and instead I say, ‘I am religious, but not spiritual.'”

“Churches that aren’t afraid to ask hard questions – that aren’t afraid to use human reason when interpreting scripture – can be a lot more freeing for autistic people.”

I think a lot of my life has been about searching for a sense of belonging. In most communities I think to myself, “I kind of fit here, but not quite”. I feel this about the Nomad community too. I feel I have a lot in common with the people I’ve encountered, virtually and in real life, but also that I’m different in at least two ways –  firstly that I’m not, and never have been, an Evangelical, and secondly that I kind of “deconstructed” pretty early on in life, and since about seventeen, I have been “reconstructing”.

Image used with permission

I grew up in a deprived neighbourhood in the Blackcountry and was raised in the “catholic” side of the Church of England – lots of bells and smells. My dad was a vicar and we went to church and Sunday school every week. But probably about age ten I began to have serious doubts. What does “Christ died for our sins” actually mean? Does Jesus saying “no one comes to the Father except by me” mean that my Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and atheist friends from school are going to hell? If Jesus was God, who was he praying to when he prayed? Though I struggled with these questions I still experienced God, especially in the quiet moments after communion when I could rest my head on the wooden pew and listen to the soft music.

Once a year my parents would ask me if I wanted to join the confirmation class, and once a year I squirmed and made up some excuse as to why I didn’t. The last thing I was feeling was “confirmed” in my faith, I was questioning everything. I was also discovering as a teenager, in the secret shame of my heart, that I was attracted to boys.

When I was seventeen I went on a school trip to the Taizé community in France, and one night in that massive church, immersed in the deep chanting, I had a deep experience of the love of God. That experience was both a calling and a healing. God outed me. God allowed me to say in my own mind “I am bisexual” (it would be another year before I would say it out loud). And since that moment I can honestly say I have known deep down that God loves me and God loves my queerness. And that God, in their own beautiful playful way, is queer too.

I still felt religiously homeless though. I fell in and out of Anglicanism, but eventually could not live with the institutional homophobia. I explored Quakerism, and indeed even dated a guy I met at the Quaker Meeting. But I eventually settled on the Unitarian church, a liberal church that was welcoming to the LGBT+ community and where Jesus was a human, not a God. I remember the first time I attended being enthralled by hearing the service leader read scriptures from the Baha’i faith, “The earth is one country, and humanity its citizens.” One God. One Earth. One Love. Simples!

At this point I went to Boston in the States to get a master’s degree in theology. In many ways I think this experience “radicalised” me as I was exposed to feminist and queer perspectives, liberation theology, eco-theology and the thought of the African American church. I began, slowly, to see that my liberal intellectual journey was really rooted in my white western privilege. And I began, slowly, to see faith not as an intellectual exercise, but as a tool for liberation of the self and of society.

When I returned to the UK I began to train as a minister in the Unitarian church, and then I spent nine happy years as minister of a church in Bolton. They were a small friendly church, and outward looking enough to open up the church in the middle of the night as a base for Street Angels to help out the drunk people falling out of the nightclubs on our street. My proudest moment was performing our first same sex marriage, after I had spent years campaigning for this. But I eventually felt the call to move on.

I moved to Cardiff in 2017 to pastor a tiny Unitarian congregation and work as a pioneer minister in the city. I soon connected with a local community arts project run by a Buddhist and have been working with them ever since. We share many values and approaches.

In recent years I have also become more and more aware of the climate crisis. A lot of my thinking now is framed by the context of this crisis. I’m not interested in getting “bums on seats” in churches – I’m interested in spiritual revolution. I’m interested in what spiritual practices will transform us and enable us to dismantle the capitalism and colonialism that are the root causes of this crisis. I have been involved in Extinction Rebellion but I’ve become more disillusioned with how white and privileged that crowd is. The mantra of “doing it for our grandchildren” betrays a blindness towards the fact that people in the global south are already dealing with this crisis, and the fact that the climate crisis is just another aspect of capitalistic colonialism that has been exploiting them for centuries.

Prayer is more important to me than ever. I believe in the power of (contemplative) prayer to displace the ego, and recentre us towards radical values, and a radical God. I often pray simultaneously with my Buddhist colleague and neighbour, and we mentally hold each other, and others in deep spiritual solidarity. As I work in more and more interfaith ways every day I also feel more deeply committed to a radical Christian faith.

Right now in some ways I feel life is more uncertain than ever and yet I feel deeply committed to some things. I feel committed to my inner city multicultural Cardiff neighbourhood, and I assume I’m going to live here for the rest of my life. I am a born-again Welsh nationalist as I see the radical potential for small countries to create a different sort of society. I am committed to acting like we are in a climate crisis, because we are, though I have no idea what that is going to mean. I am committed to daily contemplative prayer.

Today I identify most strongly as a Universalist Christian, not just because I disbelieve in hell (I never believed in it, and I’m pretty agnostic about the afterlife in any case) but because I do believe in a universal and all-encompassing Love that holds it all together, and I believe it is possible to connect with this Love through the practice of prayer. I am also very inspired by the historic American Universalist movement (as well as all kinds of other influences – radical Welsh Unitarianism, Polish Anabaptists, Ignatian spirituality, Franciscans, Quakers, Sufis, and Buddhists).

I do not have a certain dogmatic faith. But I also see revelling in my uncertainty as a privilege. We live in critical times and I know I need the kind of spirituality that will feed me in a time of crisis and power me for radical action. It’s that kind of spirituality that I’m, imperfectly, trying to practice.

– Stephen Lingwood

In this Devotional podcast, psychologist and theologian Richard Beck explores what it means to take sides without becoming hardened, and how he remains hopeful in a world on fire.

Nomad produces devotional podcasts like this one every month. To access them simply make a small monthly donation through Nomad’s membership platform or Patreon.

We also produce group discussion questions to help you and your community dig deeper into the issues raised in the devotionals.

Image used with permission

SONG LYRICS

Sing o Hills

Sing o hills
Quietly goes it

Let the groans
Under the winds
Turn to chanting
Plain and long
Long and meandering

Do you feel it 
Through the ground
Through your two knees
There is a sound
Beneath all hearing

Do you feel 
The hidden heartbeat 
Of the ground
As you lay down
Upon her earthen chest

Ready, she, to
Open the 
Abyss for all the 
Violence that
Amasses

Gaping wide to
Swallow up
The torrents that have 
Hammered every 
Woman

Gaping wide to
Take back all the
Beasts that 
Tore the oil from her
Bosom

Gaping wide to
Take down into
Fire the armoured
Chariots of
Conquerors

Gaping wide to
Sing a new song
Up into the
Skies toward the
Leaves on the trees

And the old sea roars and everything in it
And the teeming world and all who live in it
And the waters clap their fierce ancient hands
Let the hills sing the song they have been keeping
And the waters clap their fierce ancient hands
Let the hills sing the song thats down there sleeping
Because it’s coming

WEBSITE

Experimental Theology

BOOKS

The Slavery of Death

Hunting Magic Eels: Recovering an Enchanted Faith in a Skeptical Age

Stranger God: Welcoming Jesus in Disguise

Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality

Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted

QUOTES

“One thing I’d like to say about taking sides is it’s inevitable. Life is a moral drama and we are constantly discerning the light in the darkness. And that’s for the religious and the irreligious. Everybody steps into the day – looks at the news, looks at world events, looks at their own choices in life – and is asking themselves, ‘What’s the right thing to do here?’”

“Even though we make strong moral discernments about what is good and evil – what is right and what is wrong – our response to those choosing sides has to be a posture of love.”

“Hope is a virtue that has to be formed; it’s hard-earned. It’s not just me waking up in the morning and trying to reach for a silver lining. It’s not me engaged in some sort of wishful thinking. It flows out of character. So – hope has to be practiced.”

“I think things like artistic expression help us. They help us expand the bandwidth. They help us see hopeful things: the flower growing through the crack of the concrete. That allows us to re-sacralize our experiences. So, we push against the disenchantment of the materialism through re-sacralizing our lives through different attentional processes.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

“Hope in a World on Fire” Qs

I was brought up in the Anglican church tradition and as a child, I understood God to be a loving, ever-present father figure. God wasn’t particularly threatening to me as a child and God was just always ‘there’ and wanted me to be good or ‘live well’.

Christian faith continued to be important to me but during my teen and 20s, there were experiences and some religious teaching that planted seeds of doubt and fear which haunted me into adulthood.

In my early teens, I became involved in charismatic, evangelical youth groups through a boyfriend. These groups were really exciting and eye-opening: a whole new culture! I felt a sense of belonging and I had deep, committed friendships. I liked how God seemed to talk directly to us in words and pictures and how Bible verses seemed to have direct relevance to our own situations.

There were things that happened that frightened me as well. At 14 years old, I was given a book by a youth leader about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit being the ‘unforgiveable sin’ and being damned to hell for eternity. Around about the same time, I watched a graphic theatre production called ‘Heaven’s Gate, Hell’s Flames’ which had depictions of the ‘unsaved’ dying in untimely accidents and being dragged off to hell by demons. In my late teens, a different youth camp leader gave me a book called ‘The Path to Hell’ which cemented my fear and overwhelming responsibility to try to share the (fundamentalist/conservative) gospel and endeavour to convince whoever would listen. Being embarrassed and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, I have always felt guilty about never leading anyone to ‘giving their life to Jesus’. Nearly 30 years later, I can remember the bleak terror that often gripped me. I could not tell anyone such was the fear of it being true and irrevocable.

After completing a music degree and teacher training, I worked for an evangelical Christian charity. We performed in a Christian band and taught RE lessons around schools in tough areas. Despite actually doing some very worthwhile work in challenging communities, behind the scenes, it was really important that our behaviour would not cause a ‘stumbling block’ to unbelievers because we were personally accountable if we were to dissuade them from the faith. Acting on a frantic sense of ‘time running out’, I allowed myself to be placed in numerous dangerous situations in the name of saving souls. I used to worry morbidly about random strangers that I should be preaching to. What if I was their only chance for salvation?

I was also required to sign a contract forbidding any physical relationship or even being alone in the same room as my boyfriend. We were basically being groomed for marriage but didn’t get to know each other properly. (Having already been asked to make a vow of chastity at the age of about 15 at a youth event, I didn’t really need to sign anything!) The marriage failed in a very traumatic divorce and I have since found out that we were not the only young Christian couple to have encountered marital problems.

Despite the fear and doubts, faith and the quiet presence of the Divine (the universal Christ) has been a strength to me and given me hope in the hard times although I am still working out what faith now means to me. I still think of myself as a Christian but my understanding of faith and God has been blown apart in recent years and I want to distance myself from exclusionist views and be free from fear and prejudice.

I have several vivid mental images about being taken into a green space of freedom, seeds being planted, moving through seasons and Spring approaching and being released from a cage. I believe these are all gifts of Love to me from God.

Learning about the Enneagram has been a very helpful tool for me to make sense of the past. What if I had known about my type-tendency towards fear, loyalty and self-doubt? Could I have loosened those patterns and found my inner wisdom at a younger age? What if I had also been aware of the growth possible through my Enneagram type: courage and faith, accepting and making peace with mystery and living with difficult questions? Would it have changed the path I followed? This is another unknown but narrative Enneagram work has helped me to accept and tell my story with curiosity and self-compassion. This is the crux of what I wish to offer others through my Enneagram teaching, coaching and writing.

The same Father-God who was present in childhood, still walks alongside me today – although I often relate to Her as Mother-God. I still want to follow The Way of Jesus but without being ‘religious’ or afraid.

Recently, I have rekindled my violin solo performing – just for fun. I have found huge meaning, emotional expression and connection through my music in a way that I didn’t when I was younger.

By joining the ‘Nomads’ tribe, I have realised that there are many of us walking this path although we do not always see each other.

Shalom friends.

– Helen Calder

Nomad hosts Anna Robinson and Joy Brooks have a conversation about the challenges of joys of experiencing a shifting faith, their ambivalence to the word deconstruction, the deconstruction groups they’ve been hosting and what they’ve learnt from them. 
If you’d like to be part of one of these group, contact Anna through her website.

Images used with permission

WEBSITES

Anna Robinson

Joy Brooks

QUOTES

“When our faith feels like it’s unravelling, the reason we come to that place is so unique –  the stories, the process of getting there. There might be that there are themes that draw us all together, but every single story is so different. And I find that fascinating, that we find ourselves in a similar place together, but there are so many different reasons that brought us there.” – Joy Brooks

“There aren’t really words for that kind of connection that you end up forming with people when you’re able to be vulnerable and feel safe.” – Joy Brooks

“I don’t know where I’d be if there weren’t people in my life that had that ability and skill to be able to accept me in my anger and in my rage, as much as in my disappointment and frustration and sadness, and also in my joy and happiness. Having people who can just accept me as I am – a place to belong authentically – is so important.” – Anna Robinson

“It’s difficult to lead people or facilitate people if you haven’t at least thought, grappled, dwelt in a certain place, and if you haven’t embraced mystery and you’re not comfortable with doubt, then it’s hard to create spaces for other people to feel safe.” – Anna Robinson

We can get quite far through a story thinking one thing, to then find out something significant which reinterprets and makes sense of everything that has gone before.

I came to an evangelical expression of faith in 1986 aged 13. Full of zeal, I’d avidly read scripture daily, pray, and be prepared to use Scripture with force in discussion with anyone who needed a dose of Biblical literalism.

In 1992 I began an honours degree in theology, leaving after the first year due to crippling depression and suicidal ideation. I count that year in an evangelical college as the most soul crushing time of my life.

Image used with permission

In 1996 I picked up my degree in theology. I did really well in some areas. Wanting to be relevant with my faith, and plumb an interest in others’ belief in extra-terrestrial life and associated phenomena, with The X-Files at peak interest, and as the year 2000 approached, I wrote my final dissertation concerning a spectrum of Christian faith responses.

During a placement to a large Pentecostal church, I’d happily talk about that dissertation. Most Christian faith responses to the possibility of extra-terrestrial life feel threatened by it. Phenomena are because of demons. They’ve become technologically savvy to lead people away from Jesus. Maybe demons are creating a hybrid race with humans – like the Nephilim before Noah’s Flood (in their thinking). Other Christians take a social science, or astronomically informed response to these phenomena and ruminations.

It ought not have been a surprise then, that my report from the placement had the phrase “I am very concerned with Tim’s interest in Aliens”. My supervisor for the thesis tried to throw me off that line of study, but I appealed and went on to get different supervisors. I received a top mark for the dissertation, some speaking invites, and an afternoon phone-in discussion on UK Christian radio.

I find it hard to deliberately alienate people from me. During that placement I gave the sermon one Sunday morning. I preached on the letter to Philemon and encouragement. The minister picked me up on “not being challenging enough” – that is, not making people feel bad about the sin in their lives and where they needed to repent.

During that final year of college, there had been a marked shift in worship and theology. The services became noisier. “Name it and claim it”, “believe it and receive it” prosperity doctrine became much more central. And I found myself slipping out of services most weeks, soon after they began, feeling estranged.

While a farcical and unsuccessful interview for ministry left me distressed, I’d begun to appreciate a more mellow expression of faith, finding strong resonance in the Celtic Christian approach. After the degree I went to an Anglican Church, having had placements there, and applied for ministry.

To prepare for my possible acceptance for ministerial training, I had an interview at another college. When asked what my gifts were, I floored the gentle older faculty member, when I replied “I don’t have any”.

September 1999 I attended a selection conference. It felt very intense, spending a lot of time with others, having to be on my very best behaviour, unless alone. A range of interviews, some feeling adversarial. Psychometric tests left me strangely distressed. Mealtimes in which I was the only one who dined with my fork not being upside down. When the debrief came in via the bishop, it gave a tsunami of self loathing, a feeling of rejection on an ontological level that washed away any perceived sense of vocation. “What a fraud”. I couldn’t go to church and ceased expression of faith for about six years.

Eventually I came to a place of being prepared to go to church again. Eventually applying for non-stipendiary ministry, I went before a selection panel. I remember my long awkward silences. A sense of fraud overwhelmed me, that if I were to push my conviction of a ministerial vocation, that it would constitute manipulation. At that point, I had over 10 years of placements, a practice-based degree and completed the Foundations for Ministry Course.  Again unsuccessful, any expression of faith imploded. The church couldn’t accommodate me anywhere. Anything and everything was not good enough.

In terms of faith, since then, I’ve stumbled like, well, a Nomad, in the post-Christendom wilderness, with some resonance to the Person and Teachings of Jesus, looking for signs of hope, but incredibly wary of getting involved following further trauma and trolling in what I’d believed to be a safe online space for Christians who had a hunger for a different approach.

In that time, the blessing of having three autistic children eventually pointed the finger to me considering, and then knowing, that I am also autistic.

I’ve had struggles with relationships and employment, all consistent with the not-so-good aspects of being autistic. After nearly four years on a waiting list for assessment, it came in February 2022. With a six hour session and nearly two hours for my mother about my early years, I received a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Condition (not Disorder, not Asperger’s, not High-Functioning). I don’t have autism, I am autistic. It defines everything I am. It is a completely different operating system.

What is Autism? The medical literature describes it as difficulties with social communication, social interaction and social imagination. What does that actually mean?

Autism seems to be popularly (mis)understood as being about deficits. It’s actually more about difference. It might be a deficit, or it might be a surplus, on a wide range of sensory, social and communication factors, with strengths, and also challenges. Autism accounts for my strengths (I am aware of them, now, thankfully), and challenges.

I can have a sense of being a fraud, never good enough, not deserving of things – which leads to self-sabotage. A hint or possibility of being rejected (relationships, work, social situations) gives a tsunami of self loathing and desire to be alone. How much more so when it actually happens. All these inform my struggles with faith and vocation.

A common incorrect assumption about autistics is that we have no or little empathy. When you get to know most autistics, the fader-volume for empathy is actually turned up louder than most people. The best way to deal with too loud an input is to turn down the master output and act as if there isn’t an issue. But something will give at some point, somewhere.

I am very empathetic. As a result, I give customer service second-to-none in employment. I’ve taken some family funerals which have been appreciated for their sensitivity and consideration.

I am very good at organising and presenting information and content. I’ve won awards as a tour guide. I’ve done well in my degrees (honours in Theology, masters in TV Documentary Production). I’ve written a book. I’ve done local community radio which was well received.

I am only just scratching the surface here about faith and autism. We are not “all a bit autistic”. If you think someone “doesn’t look autistic”, well, what might you expect an autistic person to look like? No two are exactly the same.

We might have sung the line in church,  ”I’d just like to thank you for making me ME”. Lady Gaga brings that to a much wider application,

Whether life’s disabilities left you outcast, bullied, or teased

Rejoice and love yourself today

‘Cause, baby, you were born this way

Scripture points us to each of us being shaped from birth

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (New International Version) Psalm 139:14

Finally, a helpful quote from a politician advocating for better prospects for Autistics,

Autism isn’t a disease, shouldn’t be seen as a problem, in many cases it’s a gift; the human brain in it’s different permutations is an extraordinary thing, and people with autism have so much to offer.”

Robert Buckland MP, BBC News Podcast 9th December 2021.

– Tim Prevett

In this episode we chat with native American, author, songwriter and storyteller, Terry Wildman. Terry was also the lead translator and general editor of the First Nations Bible, a fascinating project that produced a translation of the New Testament that reflects the language, symbolism and rituals of native peoples.
So we ask Terry to unpack indigenous spirituality for us, and to reflect on how the Church has historically treated native peoples, how this triggered his deconstruction and the role an indigenous worldview and spirituality played in the reconstruction of his faith.

Interview starts at 17m 56s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

First Nations Version

BOOK

First Nations Version

QUOTES

“In our weakness – that’s how we connect to each other.”

“Native American stories and storytellers told the stories in traditional ways, but the stories were always told in a way that was unique to the storyteller and meaningful to the listeners. They drew from history, from tradition, and from their own experience. A storyteller ensures that the essence of the story is preserved – without the need to present a strict word-for-word recital of that story. And so I began to see that all four Gospels all presented the story of Jesus that way.”

“The ‘Good Road’ is a way of life; it’s a way that has been marked out. That’s what a road is – it’s a path that has been established. And we walk our lives in harmony with the Creator and with one another by walking in these ways.”

“I’ve seen a lot of places where reconciliation has taken place, and sometimes with differing successes. What I want to see long-term – it’s not just making an apology, it’s not just making an acknowledgment, it’s how do we restore these relationships?”

In this episode we speak with author and director of creative writing at Alma College, Sophfronia Scott. We speak with Sophfronia about how her faith has been shaped by the author, monk and mystic, Thomas Merton.
Having struggled to connect with Merton through his autobiography, Sophfronia immersed herself in his journals, and there she found a mentor, friend and kindred Spirit. So we ask her what we can learnt from Merton about being “spiritual but not religious”, the relationship between action and contemplation, inner work, sexuality and more.

Interview starts at 15m 36s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Sophfronia Scott

BOOK

The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton

QUOTES

“‘Church’ is not one thing. It is about finding a space where you feel supported in your faith and in the exploration of your spirituality. That search is not going to be easy. But I think it’s worth the effort.”

“That is a key aspect of meditation – to recognize your thoughts and to see what it is, to look at it, and to let it go.”

“They say children are more resilient than we realize; it is true. If we get out of the way and listen to them – and help them on the path that they are already walking – we can just learn so much.”

“I don’t think it’s valuable to look at the quality of a death. It’s important to look at the life and what we learn from the way that someone lived their life.”

I grew up in the North-Eastern Industrial town of Hartlepool, I was a child of the 50s, just about at the end of food rationing after the War.

The early years were tumultuous, suffering three near-death experiences by the time I was Eight years of age. I think because of this I was very reclusive. I hated school, but loved the Summer Holidays, when I’d hide away and read Secret Seven books. I had a couple of friends who I’d see intermittently during the holidays, but really it was my own company that I desired.

In those early years, my Dad would tell me stories about his Army days, during WW2. When I look back, I see his influence on me now, as a writer. (He was in the 6th Airborne Division, 1st Battalion, The Royal Ulster Rifles and at aged Eighteen, he was catapulted into the War in March 1945, for Operation Varsity).

In my early teens I attended Confirmation Classes and was Confirmed into the Anglican Church, I think at the age of 14. I remember the Bishop praying for me and my body shaking. From this came a prayer, that if god existed and wasn’t just an inanimate object, but one I may be able to connect with and have a relationship with, then I was in!

Yes, desperately naïve, but I was in search of something deeper and more intimate. It’s interesting that ‘intimacy’ has always been my lodestar.

And then it came to pass, that at aged 17, my sister nagged me to go to church and ‘hear the gospel’. I resisted for a while, but then relented, hoping it would get her off my back. Yes, my second naivety!

I became a Christian and went to a Mission Hall church, which was very fundamentalist. It wasn’t long before I came into conflict with the church leadership and not because of any theological disagreement or sexual impropriety with the young girls at the church, but because I wanted to go to Greenbelt.

Let’s simplify this next bit otherwise I will give Tolstoy a run for his money, as far as number of words go.

I went to Greenbelt. Loved it. It sparked a love of the Arts in me and it was from that point on that my life’s direction was set. However, when I got back to my fundamentalist brothers and sisters, I was the target of their shenanigans. Secretly they had set up a church business meeting and when I got there, I found that I was the only item on the agenda.

Geoff was informed that he would be watched, to see if his life exhibited any signs of ‘satanic influences’. Eventually, I left, but it was very traumatic.

I moved on to various churches, unperturbed and feeling I was actually finding out more about god through the trouble and strife of it all and was determined to continue this journey.

I then, whilst still in Hartlepool, came across a Curate who was new to the town. I was just amazed that someone of this calibre was in my home town and was a Reformational Philosopher. (Funny how these things work, isn’t it?!)

And so, it’s here that the next shift occurs and I leave behind the barbs of fundamentalism, finding the fences way too narrowly placed and embraced what I perceived to be a more expansive worldview.

Richard Russell was his name. He started giving me books to read. No not American stuff like The Late Great Planet Earth, but Kant and Hegel. I would read this stuff and then ask a thousand questions about them. He then gave me a copy of Calvin Seerveld’s ‘Rainbows for the Fallen World’, HR Rookmaaker’s ‘Modern Art and the Death of a Culture’ along with a book by Herman Dooyeweerd called ‘Roots of Western Culture’.

Richard said to me, “You have a brain. Why don’t you use it?” It was a little after this that I left Hartlepool, with my wife Jeanette and a little bundle of joy, aged 15 months old, called Mark. I had applied to attend Bristol Polytechnic and was successful, I think due to a great reference from Richard.

I studied Art History, toured lots of Galleries in Europe and my heart was set on fire for the arts.

In Bristol we attended an Anglican Church with a very strong missionary outlook, save for, you guessed it, the Arts. When I spoke to the leaders about my calling, I was met with both doubt and suspicion, as well as the usual ‘give it up and find a proper job’, ‘if god was truly in it, you’d have been successful by now’ and lastly ‘it’s unbiblical for a man not to be the leader of his family and the main wage-earner’.

Gradually it wore me down, but not before I had started an Arts Mentoring Group in the City. This occurred after the leadership approached me as ‘the arts guy’, to help with an art student who was having problems at UWE, (Bower Ashton) who had been told that her ‘faith was inappropriate for a student at that college’. Yeah, Liberal Arts!

Through all of this, I had learnt the value of resilience and would not give up my work in the Arts. And so, after speaking at the Christian Union, the Mentoring Group started in earnest. In the end we had about 70 artists on the mailing list, of which 40 would turn up for a quarterly meeting we called the ‘Tree House’. Here, artists presented their work, including performance poetry, dance, live music and film.

It was during this period that I wrote four books about the arts and mentoring, along with three short films, one of which saw me and my DP go to Glendale, California, for a film festival.

The Mentoring lasted for 15 years. In the latter stages I was also an Arts Coordinator at another City Centre Church, but was sacked for not bringing enough money into the coffers. There’s that money thing again!

This led me to working as a writer full-time, thanks to Jeanette’s kindness and support. But I left the Anglican Church, pretty sick of having to defend myself against all sorts of negativity. I am now happy and churchless.

It was then that I began, what for me was another conversion into a more mystical faith, urged on by the likes of Rob Bell, Alexander Shaia, Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault. My worldview expanded again and this time I’m happy to say that I now have a greater sense of intimacy with the Divine and feel content in that, as I launch my first novel into the world, “0w1:believe”.

It turns out that politically I am now an Anarchist, for which thanks also goes to my study of Daoism and my understanding of Apocalyptic literature. I don’t see this as in opposition to the Scriptures, whatever that now means, but more of a complimentary development, which is probably the focus for another time.  

I’m of course open to your questions and have to say that I have found resilience and persistence to be the best gifts for an artist to have. Anyway, this is only half of the story…    

– Geoff Hall

In this episode we chat with clinical social worker and a trauma-informed coach, Brian Peck. Brian grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church and upon leaving he began to realise the trauma this had caused. He now specialises in helping people work through their experiences of religious trauma.
So we talk to Brian about why religious spaces seem predisposed to traumatic experiences, what red flags we should be looking out for, how we can protect ourselves, how we can navigate relationships if we feel we have to leave, and many other things.

Interview starts at 10m 52s


WEBSITE

Room to Thrive

QUOTES

“Christianity shaped much of my early life, but the label is no longer valuable to me. I think, somewhat ironically, I’m more Christ-like now than I was as a believer. It’s interesting how when you no longer feel compelled to behave or believe certain things you can more fully embrace your humanity. And for me that is a more affirming, compassionate way of being in the world.”

“When we think about how we believe, it’s how tightly are we holding to these beliefs? Are we able to believe something with some flexibility? Are we able to consider how a belief functions in the world versus is it true or not?”

“‘Adverse religious experiences’ we define as any experience of religious belief, practice or structure that undermines an individual’s sense of safety or autonomy, and/or negatively impacts their physical, social, emotional, relational, or psychological well-being.”

“Resolving trauma is completing that unresolved survival response.”

I was raised a nominal Catholic in Texas, the ultra conservative Bible Belt of the U.S. I thought all I got from Catholicism was guilt and the legalism that I learned from things like needing to go to confession after sinning to avoid hell. Dipping a finger in the holy water and doing the sign of the cross at mass was a ritual that just seemed like simple unconsidered superstition. I learned that God was everywhere, though as a kid that just meant He was watching me from afar and saw when I sinned.

Image used with permission

I was always searching, pouring over the lyrics of my favourite music and flipping through novels seeking true meaning and real purpose of life. I hoped the military would send me to Japan where I had a vague curiosity and keenness about spirituality and eastern mysticism. I studied world religions, my favourite university course, but it didn’t connect with my heart or stir anything deep. I met an older colleague who was passionate about his Christian faith and the way he handled conflict with his young children spoke to me deeply and made an impression that I remember to this day. I don’t remember what he said about God or the Bible or salvation, but I wanted what I saw that he had in his family life. Sent to the Gulf with Desert Storm, I remember imagining myself coming to the end of myself and praying to become a Christian. I didn’t, but the stars in the desert night sky were unbelievable. I found a second hand book and thought I noticed a famous name on the cover so I gave it a read. I thought it was T. S. Elliot (poet, I couldn’t remember?) but the title also got my attention: ‘Mere Christianity’. C. S. Lewis’ passion and obvious intelligence gave me hope that giving my life to the Lord didn’t mean I had to turn off my brain. All I needed was a bold evangelistic colleague to challenge me as to why I wasn’t a Christian (and if I died today, was I sure I’d go to heaven?). I prayed the prayer and I knew my life would never be the same.

About then I was reassigned to England so I looked for my first church to really join properly. I found one that was charismatic, evangelistic, Bible based and had a love for the prophetic, equipping leaders, believing in people and planting churches. But what spoke to me the most was the first time I visited on a Sunday I saw some ‘dodgy looking youth’ sitting near the back with piercings and tattoos even though there were many ‘boring’ and ‘old middle class’ folks’ making up most of the congregation. I noticed they did a lot of singing at the start of every meeting so I came late to be in time for the preach but soon learned in the sermons about worship and its importance. I consumed everything that was being taught. I served enthusiastically and learned from as many people as I could. I wasn’t yet thirty and I loved that there were so many answers and so much confidence to be had in the black and white Bible interpretations for so many things in life. We had an evangelistic crusade in our area where a sermon touted the Bible as a handbook for life. It was so comforting to have so many answers but to this day I am glad that I was learning that the most important things were that God loves me (and everyone) and that grace is this mysterious and seemingly illogical and even unfair force of how God relates to us and how we can be with each other. As I participated in leadership training and absorbed as much as I could I tried to grasp forgiveness and servanthood and generosity, the concept of paradoxes appealed to me somewhere in the back of my mind. Verses mentioning that ‘the first shall be last’ and that we have to ‘lose our lives to find it’ appealed to me in ways that I didn’t hear about in sermons or read about in my Christian self help books. These were the seeds of mysticism that were always there but didn’t get cultivated. With hindsight I see the ‘move of the Holy Spirit’ and the ‘Toronto Blessing’ were mystical in their own way. We had leaders who were wise and not naive; they were hungry to meet God. They practised what they preached when it came to being open to meet God and follow and obey even beyond what we can understand. The vocabulary was His Spirit calling out to ours and the ‘Holy Spirit’s leading’ and ‘being still and knowing He is God’. My doubts and suspicion kept me from falling over when prayed for, but now I can see times like this, as well as closing our eyes and raising our hands in worship, as embodied ways of reaching to connect with the Divine in ways that surpassed understanding. These were my foundations and precursors to mysticism. Later practising experiencing God beyond my enlightenment influenced western brain became my practice, though it is still awkward and fumbly.

Helping start a church plant was the centre of my life (although my ever-loving wife kept me from being completely obsessed). We became a student church and I loved the experimentation, challenging the status quo, lack of hierarchy, openness, community and attempt to be authentic. The beginning of my deconstruction was Halloween. Growing up in the U.S.A it was a favourite holiday for kids that involved creativity (my parents made us some awesome costumes!) and community (kids excitedly walked ’round the neighbourhood that one evening of the year) and friendliness (neighbours asking who you are dressed up to be, complimenting you on your costume, sharing treats and enjoying the excitement that kids showed). I didn’t make waves, but I quietly allowed my kids to participate in this ‘evil Satanic ritual’ and I loved carving pumpkins and handing out sweets to neighbour kids and waving to their parents who stood at a distance as their little cuties chose their treats and answered my questions about who they were dressed up as.

For a while our church held together a community of people with vastly different beliefs, but we eventually were pulled apart by our differences, not quite able to find purpose that we could agree on or our identity in anything greater than how we expressed our beliefs. Another thing that bothered me when I wasn’t too busy to think about it was the concept of hell and the violence in the old testament. How could a God of all creation prefer the Israelites over other people who She created and loved equally?

The turning point of my spiritual evolution was through a dear friend of mine embracing her homosexuality. She was a gifted leader and I’ve always loved her humour and authentic vulnerable heart. This issue became personal. Our wise church family leader encouraged us to pray and study and reflect on where we stood on this challenging issue of sexuality in our culture and how our church would choose to respond and take a stand. One leader said he had to put aside his feelings to make the decision he thought was right, but another said he thinks his feelings are a part of how God speaks and leads. I agree and although I don’t have an airtight theology about sexuality and the church, I firmly believe that my role is to love and I will aim to welcome and challenge barriers that I believed were Biblical not that many years ago. I started seeing for the first time how simplistic and narrow some Bible verses had been applied without question to justify what didn’t seem loving to me at all.

The Catholicism I thought I had rejected completely was where I’d find some helpful meditation and my first mystical hero: Father Richard Rohr! Now the same omnipresent God who has been with me all my life, counted the hairs on my head, is near and cares so deeply, is even present in every person I meet, (even the cute cheeky robin in my garden and to some degree the blades of grass and weeds growing through the cracks in the path in our neighbourhood and the beautiful pattern of wood grain seen in our table where we eat). I feel inadequate in taking action, but I am convinced God has a special passion for the poor and our planet.

I now can again jog listening to my worship playlists from a few years ago without wincing when I hear lyrics about perfection, narrow views of the cross and salvation, and what seems a shallow tribalism that I embraced wholeheartedly a few decades ago. I am now a member of a church that has some similarities to the one I joined right after becoming a Christian. It’s impossible to compete with ‘the good old days’ but I am proud that we are a fellowship that isn’t just white and somehow we aren’t all middle class. I’m learning (slowly) to emphasise what I agree with in people and smile and not obsess about our differences. My passion that used to be for church has shifted away and into addiction recovery where I’ve learned from atheists and buddhist and gay members of my recovery community more about love and not ‘othering’. The evangelical church, still my family in a way, seems to be more focused on striving: the earnest and faithful becoming better Christians, serving God more, learning more about God, always working so others can join the hard work than I want to do. I sure did strive for more than 25 years but now I’m older and I am drawn more to try to abide in peace and enjoy rather than strive for unquestioned love. My faith grew in a great family of churches but I had no idea that Christianity was so diverse and contained so many traditions, practises and beliefs (even beyond substitutionary atonement!). Buddhism and addiction recovery has taught me to practice acceptance but I still find myself joining others praying when I am moved with compassion in our church small group or old friends from my first family of churches. So much of what I learned in church helps me with what feels like a calling in my recovery community. I am grateful that my experiences of God through the church help me to keep practising loving others (difficult) as I keep trying to love myself (even harder).

Being part of a nomad group that we started during lockdown is a very important community for me. I know I can believe anything, doubt anything, be honest and air my musings with a dear group of friends who have different but similar experiences of passionately loving God from the edges of the established church. It seems we share an experience of finding church not what it used to be and not quite what we need these days. I feel a less strong sense of belonging to the Christian community, but I feel a much larger sense of belonging to the human race. I’m not expecting mountaintop experiences with God like I used to but I’m finding Her in quiet moments in maybe a richer way: the swaying of branches in a tree viewed outside my window, the ever changing masterpiece which is a blue sky of clouds scrolling in front of me when I stop to notice, the lovely, goofy and magical lens through which children see the world. Almost thirty years after becoming a Christian I embrace what I still believe, and I love hearing anyone share about spirituality, the eternal, the mystical. But I have no desire to change anyone’s mind. I hope my map of the universe keeps changing for the better. If my sons (and other people I mentor) find that they can embrace a little bit more love, then I feel I am participating in the great commission.

– KC

In this episode we speak with former church pastor, author and teacher Keith Giles. Like many evangelicals, Keith inherited a dispensational understanding of the End Times. If you’re not sure what that is, think anti-Christ, mark of the Beast, the rapture, Jesus’s return, and the New Jerusalem.
Keith slowly became aware that this was a relatively new, ill-informed and damaging way of reading the bible. So he set about discovering a healthier ‘End Times’ vision.

Interview starts at 11m 40s

Image used with permission

BOOKS

Jesus Unexpected: Ending the End Times to Become the Second Coming

Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb

Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible

Jesus Unveiled: Forsaking Church as We Know It for Ekklesia as God Intended

Jesus Undefeated: Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment

Jesus Unarmed: How the Prince of Peace Disarms Our Violence

Jesus Unforsaken: Substituting Divine Wrath With Unrelenting

BLOG

Keith Giles

QUOTES

“I call it the ‘slow motion’ second coming of Christ. In other words, there is more of Christ in the world today than there was 2000 years ago. But it’s an ongoing thing, it’s a continual thing, it’s gradual.”

“The longer Christians hold onto this fantasy of this end times rapture dispensational theology, what it does is paralyze us. We sit around waiting. And we’ve been doing this since 1830 in large part. Any Christian church that embraces this doctrine, what it encourages you to do is to sit and wait for Jesus to come and fix everything.”

“We are the second coming of Christ.”

“Is the body of Christ physically present in the world today already? Yes. How? In us. Christ is here. He has returned in his church; in his body.”

Merry Christmas to One and All from Nomad Podcast. 

In this devotional episode, Fr Azariah France Williams recalls the story of Viraj Mendis, who sought sanctuary in the UK from Sri Lanka. He lived for several years in a room in the Church of the Ascension, in Hulme, Manchester, being protected by the community. In 1989, the police raided the church and he was forcibly deported.

This episode also features the poet and artist Steve Beal. And David Benjamin Blower performs the medieval traditional Christmas carol, Coventry Carol.

Image used with permission

WEBSITES

Steve Beal

David Benjamin Blower

QUOTES

“The church…should be a place of home and a place of safety and a place of sanctuary.”

“When we own our convictions, when we take that step of faith, and when we feel that there’s nothing and no one for us, that is just the moment which proceeds another community; that is just the moment that proceeds a sense of ‘tribe’ gathering around.”

“It’s far easier to be fearful, to hide, to privatize our angst, our trauma; it’s far easier to hide. But actually to speak up, to step out, to step up – initially there is the fear of what you’re encountering and what you’re challenging. But then behind that, there’s a whole community of people for whom you will spark something within.”

“That sense of ‘God with us’ as companion, when we today feel that we are judged by what we can produce – that we are just a number and not a name – that particular person at that particular point in history says that God is with us and that’s all that matters. Our matter matters to God and that’s all that matters. We can be. We can breathe.”

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams carries a lifelong love for the theology and practice of the Eastern Church. His recent book, Looking East in Winter gives a window into the beautiful contemplative practices of the Eastern tradition.

In this conversation we explore the life of contemplation, political solidarity, simplicity, and “the natural process of becoming natural.”

Interview starts at 16m 32s

Image used with permission.

BOOK

Looking East in Winter: Contemporary Thought and the Eastern Christian Tradition

RESOURCES

The Space Between – Rowan Williams and David Benjamin Blower

QUOTES

“It’s always important – in any context of conflict or debate – to stand back at some point and say, ‘What’s the real question and why does it matter?’”

“One of the things which I think any spiritual tradition worth its salt has to say to you at some point is, ‘Get used to it. You are a material being. You just are something that changes, something that grows, something that can be hurt. Get used to it.’ Because anything else is going to be a really dangerous myth.”

“Insofar as we become simple in the life of faith, it’s that we shed some of the tangles and knots that stop us responding as we should to the truth of God – God’s life.”

“To be truthful about God, you don’t have to try and tell the whole truth about God – because you can’t.

When Hannah Malcolm was approached to write a book on climate grief, she chose, instead, to edit a book compiling voices from across the global church. The resulting picture is an extraordinary collage of very different experiences, all of which begin to suggest the many different ways in which everything is connected. 

In this conversation we glimpse the church as something far richer and more diverse than we thought; we discover the marks of colonialism and extractive capitalism everywhere; and we explore how the crises of the present is drawing us back to land, to one another, and to our own bodies.

Interview starts at 12m 16s

Image used with permission

BOOK

Words for a Dying World: Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church

Reading List

Ecology for Your Theology Bookshelf

QUOTES

“If grief is an expression of love, then our grief takes the shape of the places and the creatures to which we belong.” 

“If the places we inhabit or visit are always shared places, then if we listen to experiences other than our own, then our attention becomes more genuine. And I think with greater attentiveness comes the possibility of greater love.”

“Grief done well teaches us compassionate attention.”

Claire Gilbert is a theologian, writer, and founding director of Westminster Abbey Institute. When she discovered that she had Myeloma – terminal cancer in the blood – she began her way by writing letters to a circle of trusted friends. The journey drew her home to nature, to her body, and to her long love for the mystic, Julian of Norwich. The letters are now published in the book Miles to Go Before I Sleep.

Interview starts at 16m 15s

Image used with permission.

BOOK

Miles To Go Before I Sleep: Letters on Hope, Death and Learning to Live

QUOTES

“The thing I always come back to – and why I think I do call myself ‘Christian,’ although with some tentativeness – is the love.”

“Contemplative prayer – really from the age of ten when I was taught to meditate – has always been very, very important. And that has stayed. But it changed; the nature of it changed. So, I became much less somebody who sought, if you like, to transcend the body and go to some ‘spiritual’ place other than my body, and the contemplation became very much more almost physically interior.”

“You have to go through the pain to find the joy. You can’t avoid the pain. You can’t avoid the suffering.”

“This understanding that I have had to learn about putting my body first is the understanding we all have to learn about putting the Earth first.”

Cop26 is a gathering of world leaders, meeting this November in Glasgow to review agreements to reduce carbon emissions. While the meeting was being confirmed, the Young Christian Climate Network planned a relay pilgrimage from Cornwall to Glasgow. 

In this podcast Rachel Mander talks to us about what’s at stake in this historic gathering, about faith and activism, about how poorer countries are being pushed into debt to the bigger carbon emitters, and about the trials and joys of the political pilgrimage.

Interview starts at 22m 06s

Image used with permission.

RESOURCE

Young Christian Climate Network

Climate Justice event with Rowan Williams and David Benjamin Blower

The Future We Choose – Christiana Figueres & Tom Rivett-Carnac

Outrage + Optimism podcast

Positive News

MUSIC

The closing music is Gentle Strong by David Benjamin Blower

QUOTES

“I never want to say it’s too late, because this isn’t a binary situation. Climate change isn’t binary – it’s just a matter of degrees. And so, we want it to be better rather than worse, but it’s never a line that’s crossed that’s too late.”

“I think it’s a good instinct to always be a bit wary of anyone saying, ‘this is the only place where this decision can happen,’ or ‘these are the only people who can make a difference.’ That’s just not true. At the same time, I find it difficult to be cynical without it leading to paralysis. And so I have decided – at least for myself – that my responsibility is being faithful to what I believe is right, and the outcomes are kind of beyond me. And that’s okay.”

“I think there’s value in doing what’s right even when it isn’t effective.”

“It’s action that builds community, but it’s community that sustains that action.” 

This is a conversation between Alex Clare-Young and Sarah Hobbs about their trans experience.
Alex is a transmasculine non-binary minister with the United Reformed Church, currently completing doctoral research into trans theology. Sarah is a trans woman, who leads a consultancy business, and is a speaker and trainer. Together they co-chair the Open Table Network, a partnership of Christian communities which welcome and affirm people who are LGBTQ+.
In the conversation Alex and Sarah honestly and vulnerably share their stories of coming to terms with their identities, their transition, the reaction of their faith communities, and their evolving relationship with the Bible and the Christian faith.

We have made this conversation public domain, so you are free to turn it into an episode on your own podcast. We ask that you don’t edit the conversation, but please do feel free to add your own introduction and reflections. We also ask that you acknowledge Nomad Podcast.

Click on the download button to access the MP3 and WAV files, and guest images and bios.

Images used with permission.

“Part of the confusion and pain around it is that the church gave me an identity before I’d chosen one for myself.” – Alex Clare-Young

“Gender stereotypes need to end and we just need to be able to exist as who we are.” – Alex Clare-Young

“Every time I’d come out to anyone in a church context before, it had really always been because I wanted some help to try and not be who I felt like I was inside. Because that’s what you do in church – you resist that ‘sin’ of being trans.” – Sarah Hobbs

“In what way – in any way at all – is a trans person hurting you? Are they affecting your life in any way? Are they causing you difficulty in any way? Absolutely not. And you can choose not to interact with people. And so why people are going out of their way to make life difficult for trans people – it just doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. If you’re really that bothered, then just leave them alone and focus on something more positive in your life rather than trying to tear down a group of people who are just trying to survive and be happy.” – Sarah Hobbs

Click on the subscribe button if you’d like to be added to a mailing list to be kept aware of future public domain podcasts.

In this episode we listen in on a conversation between Alex Clare-Young and Sarah Hobbs about their trans experience.
Alex is a transmasculine non-binary minister with the United Reformed Church, currently completing doctoral research into trans theology. Sarah is a trans woman, who leads a consultancy business, and is a speaker and trainer. Together they co-chair the Open Table Network, a partnership of Christian communities which welcome and affirm people who are LGBTQ+.
In the conversation Alex and Sarah honestly and vulnerably share their stories of coming to terms with their identities, their transition, the reaction of their faith communities, and their evolving relationship with the Bible and the Christian faith.
It’s a beautiful, honest, heartbreaking, inspiring, hopeful conversation.

Conversation starts at 21m 25s

Images used with permission.

BOOKS

Alex Clare Young – Transgender. Christian. Human.

WEBSITE

Alex Clare-Young

Open Table Network

QUOTES

“Part of the confusion and pain around it is that the church gave me an identity before I’d chosen one for myself.” – Alex Clare-Young

“Gender stereotypes need to end and we just need to be able to exist as who we are.” – Alex Clare-Young

“Every time I’d come out to anyone in a church context before, it had really always been because I wanted some help to try and not be who I felt like I was inside. Because that’s what you do in church – you resist that ‘sin’ of being trans.” – Sarah Hobbs

“In what way – in any way at all – is a trans person hurting you? Are they affecting your life in any way? Are they causing you difficulty in any way? Absolutely not. And you can choose not to interact with people. And so why people are going out of their way to make life difficult for trans people – it just doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. If you’re really that bothered, then just leave them alone and focus on something more positive in your life rather than trying to tear down a group of people who are just trying to survive and be happy.” – Sarah Hobbs

In this episode we’re joined by religion and contemporary spirituality commentator, Diana Butler Bass. Diana talks about her latest book Freeing Jesus, in which she tracks the evolution of her understanding and experience of Jesus. From liberal Methodist beginnings, through fundamentalist evangelicalism, to a more progressive Christianity, Diana has never lost her interest in Jesus, or her openness to mystical experiences. But how does she, and indeed the Nomad hosts, now understand titles like Lord, Saviour, Friend and Way?

Interview starts at 14m 53s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Diana Butler Bass

BOOKS

Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence

Grounded: Finding God in the World

A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story

QUOTES

“Images of Jesus actually do matter – they matter politically, they matter racially, they matter ethically – and how we have understood Jesus has played into all these other kinds of issues. To be able to have a default of a Jesus that is about love and friendship, I think that’s a great gift.”

“The depth and the power – the multiplicity – of the salvation images of scripture has brought Jesus as saviour back to me in a way that I really appreciate. What else do we need more right now in the world than healing, liberation, and safety?”

“Mutual interrogation is holding to both – both our experience, and holding to the importance of scripture, tradition, the wisdom of the past, relationality in community, and even certain ritual. And letting these two realities speak to one another and transform one another. And it’s in that act of mutual interrogation that we move ahead into a richer and deeper images of who Jesus is.”

Every month we produce a podcast for our supporters called Nomad Revisited. In each episode Tim and Nick enter the Nomad archive and chose an episode from the last 12 years, and spend an hour or so reflecting on how their faith has evolved since then. It’s an exercise in self forgiveness and compassion, as they are often confronted with terrible interview technique, poor audio quality and very earnest, evangelical theology!
This month we thought we’d put one of these episode on Nomad’s main feed, as a free taster.
It’s a 2014 conversation with the author of the book The Evangelical Universalist, Robin Parry. At the time Tim and Nick would have considered ‘evangelical universalism’ an oxymoron, and a slippery slope to liberalism. But how do they view it now?

Interview starts at 21m 56s

Image used with permission.

BOOKS

The Evangelical Universalist: The Biblical Hope That God’s Love Will Save us All

The Biblical Cosmos: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Weird and Wonderful World of the Bible

QUOTES

“I don’t use the word ‘universalist,’ but I have a hope that all things will be restored, and I’ve got no interest in a religion or a spirituality that doesn’t centre around the idea that everything’s sacred, everything’s worth healing, everything’s going to be restored and transformed. I’ve certainly got no interest in a God who gives up on people, or gives up on animals, or gives up on the planet and just throws them away.” – Tim Nash

“Within my deconstruction journey, I suppose at times it’s been like a ‘liberalising’ of the Christian tradition, but then it’s become so broad and inclusive and expansive that then you start wondering where the distinctive ‘Christian’ stuff is important or not.” – Nick Thorley

“I argue that universalism sort of occupies this space that’s in between heresy and dogma. So, it’s not heretical – it’s not outside the bounds of orthodoxy – but nor is it a central issue for orthodoxy. It’s something orthodox Christians can believe while remaining orthodox.” – Robin Parry

“The bible doesn’t tell us how to hold these things together – that’s what we do as interpreters. And we always run the risk of being wrong when we do it. But I’m just saying let’s explore this option, which people tend to ignore; this possibility that maybe we should not fix down the meaning of the hell texts…but leave them open and see if they can be read in different ways.” – Robin Parry

One of my biggest regrets took place when I was 16, sitting in an all-boys tent at a Christian youth summer camp. It was one of those late-night deep chats with the camp leaders, where they coax out your angsty teenage struggles so that they can smooth them over with a healthy dose of conservative theology. Somehow, the discussion made its way to marriage roles (heterosexual marriage roles, that is) and the question of male headship. I say question; it was barely asked before almost everyone in the tent resoundingly answered in the affirmative. ‘I used to struggle with the idea,’ one of the older boys said. ‘But then I read a book about it and it makes sense to me now.’ The usual mental gymnastics ensued – ‘the husband is head of the wife, but Christ is head of the man, so really Christ is the head of the wife, just via the husband. Which is fine because, er… well it says so in the Bible’ – and I just sat there in awkward silence. I don’t believe for a second that if I had said something it would’ve made a great deal of difference. The power in that tent was very much on the side of male headship and a little protest from one of the youngest boys there wouldn’t have started a feminist revolution. But I still wish I’d made my values known regardless, to have not been complicit in my silence.

Image used with permission

Experiences like this were not uncommon at that time in my life. We had left the church I grew up in when I was 13, and a tentative deconstruction was beginning thanks to that experience and a growing exposure to progressive politics on the internet (I’m one of those rare young white men who has been made more left wing by the internet rather than the other way around). Most of the fundamentals of my charismatic evangelical faith were yet to be taken apart, but I was pretty sure women were equal to men and that affirming LGBTQ+ people was a good idea. This was enough to put me wildly out of step with the Christian communities I’d grown up in, and I hadn’t even began questioning hell or penal substitution yet. But I kept going to many Friday evening youth groups and summer camps with my old church because, well, many of my oldest friends were there. And frequently I’d find myself sitting uncomfortably through another ‘deep chat’ about how we have to love our gay friends but maintain that being gay wasn’t ‘God’s best for them’ (these youth leaders all claimed to have gay friends that they told this to; I’d be interested to hear the alleged friends’ sides of the story). The most I ever pushed back was the one time I asked if it was possible to be Christian and LGBTQ+ affirming. I received an emphatic ‘no’ and kept quiet for the rest of the evening.

I spent a surprisingly long time in this limbo state, continuing to go to charismatic evangelical church events as my own faith became less and less in line with what was preached at them. And I’m not convinced this was good for me. Although in my head I was picking apart the flaws of the theology – rejecting their bigoted social conservatism, their cruel and stressful model of salvation, their unaccountable power structures rife with abuse – I was still immersed in the environments where all of this was being enforced. And they are strange environments. The aforementioned late-night-deep-chats are the apotheoses of the irresponsible intimacy fostered in these places. They draw out your vulnerability in front of all your peers in order to decree the ‘Godly’ solution to your struggles, implicitly recruiting those peers you’ve just exposed your soul in front of as enforcers. The fear of communal shame, under the guise of ‘loving accountability’, is harnessed to keep you on the straight and narrow. In these spaces you are discouraged from trusting your own feelings – from listening to your own body’s attempts to communicate with you – and encouraged instead to surrender yourself to the judgement of the conservative evangelical social order, as enforced by your best friends.

I am white, male, straight and cisgender. I am exactly the kind of person the evangelical church is designed to benefit. I am hyper-aware of the fact that the kind of oppressive environments I’ve experienced are nothing compared to those whose identities the church privileges less, if not downright discriminates against. But there is also a particular insidiousness to growing up as a straight cisgender man in these environments: the offer of power. There’s an implicit bargain that, if you repeat what we want you to repeat – if you fit yourself into our patriarchal mould – you too can be like the youth pastors and worship leaders you idolise. And if you read one of our approved books and suppress your discomfort with male headship, then you get to be the most powerful person in your family simply because of your maleness. The great irony of evangelical Christianity is that for all its warnings against the temptations of ‘the world’, it maintains its patriarchal dominance through the constant temptation of power.

I have finally left these kind of church spaces for good. It took me too long and I am still working out the full extent of the impact they’ve had on me. Certainly, it has made me more suspicious of myself than I would like to be, more excessively self-conscious of my own faults while simultaneously less capable of doing anything about them; more likely to suppress those faults out of fear than to work through them honestly. When I was in the limbo state, I theoretically maintained an ardent opposition to the church as an institution while struggling to resist the pull of it. I believe this is because what the community churches claim to provide is actually – when done right – deeply important to me; when it isn’t a community shaped by abusive power structures to keep everybody in line but a space that truly expresses the all-embracing love of Jesus. And since leaving those old churches behind for ever, I have been extremely fortunate in finding new communities that are far closer to that ideal. Nomad is one of them. The beautiful chapel at my college is another. And the vibrantly inclusive church in the centre of my home city is the most recent space I’ve entered and felt the unconditional welcome I – and others who wouldn’t fit the evangelical mould – could never get in those old spaces. My hope is that everyone longing for the kind of community previous church experiences have failed to live up to can find it.

– Nathan Brooks

This is a conversation between a Christian and a pagan. Emma Moreton is a former pastor, art therapist and activist, whose faith led her towards pagan spirituality and community. Lyn Baylis has practiced her pagan spirituality all of her life. She’s been a priestess for 40 years, is a Multi-faith minister, and is the UK Coordinator for LifeRites and Senior teacher on the LifeRites Foundation Course.
Here they talk about how their journeys took shape, how they’ve dealt with rejection and persecution, and what they’ve learned from one another.

We have made this conversation public domain, so you are free to turn it into an episode on your own podcast. We ask that you don’t edit the conversation, but please do feel free to add your own introduction and reflections. We also ask that you acknowledge Nomad Podcast.

Click on the download button to access the MP3 and WAV files, and guest images and bios.

Images used with permission.

“With labels, it’s like drawing all these lines and all these boxes. And we put people into these different boxes to try and help us understand or presume what they think, what they believe, how they’re going to act or behave. And I’ve found that actually no labels or titles are satisfactory, because very few people are totally just one thing in any aspect of their lives.”

“Every time a line is drawn – people say who’s in and who’s out – we find that Jesus is on the other side of the line that’s being drawn.”

“Everything has that spark of the divine in it, so we’re not superior to nature; we are part of it.”

“It is all about education. It’s trying to get people to understand that the entrenched view that they’ve got is not real – it’s not reality. It is a view that they’ve been given from the past that they’ve hung onto. If they would step over that barrier to come and talk to us and be with us and share with us, they would find out that there isn’t a need to be frightened.”

Click on the subscribe button if you’d like to be added to a mailing list to be kept aware of future public domain podcasts.

This episode is a conversation between good friends Emma Morton and Lyn Baylis. Emma is a former pastor, art therapist and activist, whose faith led her towards pagan spirituality and community. Lyn has practiced her pagan spirituality all of her life. She’s been a priestess for 40 years, is a Multi-faith minister, and is the UK Coordinator for LifeRites and Senior teacher on the LifeRites Foundation Course.
Here they talk about how their journeys took shape, how they’ve dealt with rejection and persecution, and what they’ve learned from one another.

Conversation starts at 16m 5s

Images used with permission.

QUOTES

“With labels, it’s like drawing all these lines and all these boxes. And we put people into these different boxes to try and help us understand or presume what they think, what they believe, how they’re going to act or behave. And I’ve found that actually no labels or titles are satisfactory, because very few people are totally just one thing in any aspect of their lives.”

“Every time a line is drawn – people say who’s in and who’s out – we find that Jesus is on the other side of the line that’s being drawn.”

“Everything has that spark of the divine in it, so we’re not superior to nature; we are part of it.”

“It is all about education. It’s trying to get people to understand that the entrenched view that they’ve got is not real – it’s not reality. It is a view that they’ve been given from the past that they’ve hung onto. If they would step over that barrier to come and talk to us and be with us and share with us, they would find out that there isn’t a need to be frightened.”

Natalia-Nana is a teacher, trainer, and coach in Equity, Diversity, and Liberation. In this episode we talk about what it means to decolonise our faith, why it is important and how we can go about it. Jemimah and Natalia-Nana explore the relationship between deconstruction and the work of decolonising and dismantling. They discuss the impact of colonisation on the ways we think, relate, and the way that institutions operate including in our spiritual journeys and faith communities.

Interviews starts at 20m 57s

Image used with permission

QUOTES

“For me, I’d see ‘deconstruction’ as I guess the umbrella and ‘decolonizing’ is a particular way of deconstructing. And for me, you cannot deconstruct without decolonizing.”

“We act as if exploring is a neutral activity. We act as if exploring is a good thing, when actually it was exploring to dominate, it was exploring to appropriate, it was exploring to extract and to exploit. So, for me colonizing is looking at how white supremacy and capitalism are bedfellows, are enmeshed or entwined, are all part of the same lash, the same whip. And then you can’t divorce white supremacy and capitalism from ableism. And you can’t divorce white supremacy from patriarchy. The two go so hand-in-hand. They’re all enmeshed; they’re all bedfellows.”

“Capitalism isn’t just about money. Capitalism is about being output-driven. It’s about productivity. It’s about performativism. It’s about perfectionism – all those things that you’re trying to deconstruct but maybe don’t use language for. There’s something to me that sort of says the danger of deconstructing is that it’s so individualistic.”

This is a conversation about the experience of death. Jim Robinson lost both his parents at quite a young age, and Liz Pattison recently lost her partner. They share their experiences of grief and loss, how friends, family and church responded, and how their faith has evolved through these experiences.
It’s an honest, real, insightful, moving and hopeful conversation.

We have made this conversation public domain, so you are free to turn it into an episode on your own podcast. We ask that you don’t edit the conversation, but please do feel free to add your own introduction and reflections. We also ask that you acknowledge Nomad Podcast.

Click on the download button to access the MP3 and WAV files, and guest images and bios.

Images used with permission.

QUOTES

“With the kids, what I want for them is for them to have genuine connection with people – with me, with other adults who love them – so that they actually feel like they can talk about how they’re feeling. And if they’re not allowed to talk about the loss of their dad – not allowed to talk about death – then that basically shuts down a whole part of them, and then you can’t connect with them.”

“Generally, with people that are grieving, the worst thing is to assume you know what the other person feels.”

“One of the impacts of my own experience…is to really feel that life includes death, and death is part of life, and remembering people, and knowing that they’ve been here, and they’ve lived life is part of what we all experience. And for me, I’m trying to not fear that and to not see that as a negative thing: it is how it is.”

“People sometimes say beautiful, powerful things about people when they’ve died. But if you have the opportunity to say it to them when they’re still here, why would you not?”

Click on the subscribe button if you’d like to be added to a mailing list to be kept aware of future public domain podcasts.

On this episode we’ve invited Liz Pattison and Jim Robinson to have a conversation around their experiences of death. Jim lost both his parents at quite a young age, and Liz recently lost her partner. They share their experiences of grief and loss, how friends, family and church responded, and how their faith has evolved through these experiences.
It’s an honest, real, insightful, moving and hopeful conversation.

Conversation starts at 21m 32s

Images used with permission.

QUOTES

“With the kids, what I want for them is for them to have genuine connection with people – with me, with other adults who love them – so that they actually feel like they can talk about how they’re feeling. And if they’re not allowed to talk about the loss of their dad – not allowed to talk about death – then that basically shuts down a whole part of them, and then you can’t connect with them.”

“Generally, with people that are grieving, the worst thing is to assume you know what the other person feels.”

“One of the impacts of my own experience…is to really feel that life includes death, and death is part of life, and remembering people, and knowing that they’ve been here, and they’ve lived life is part of what we all experience. And for me, I’m trying to not fear that and to not see that as a negative thing: it is how it is.”

“People sometimes say beautiful, powerful things about people when they’ve died. But if you have the opportunity to say it to them when they’re still here, why would you not?”

***Trigger warning. I discuss child sexual abuse in this post.

How could I suffer from writer’s block when I’m simply trying to share my own journey? I’ve started this post several times and have struggled with it. Here’s part of what I’ve figured out: the journey has been extremely difficult and long, it’s quite negative at times (and don’t we all want to make people smile and feel good?), and writing it out, though therapeutic, takes me back to all that has been – all that “was.” I think it is this word “was” that is the hope of all that is to come for so many of us. So here is what “was” along with the awesomeness of what “is.”

Image used with permission

I was born and raised in the home of an Independent Baptist Minister, who was so conservative, he was booted from the Southern Baptist Convention, here in the US. This was in the 1960’s, so the religious atmosphere was ripe for rebels for “God.” My father was one of these, and the authoritarian beliefs and dictates of the Independent Baptist Movement suited him well. I was raised to believe that the “man of God,” had the authority to tell us all how to live. He told us how to read and interpret the bible, which bible to read, how to dress, where to seek and not seek entertainment, where to seek work, etc. He also made sure to instruct women that their place was secondary. Women were created to support men and have their children. (Cult beliefs and practices, imo)

These beliefs were engrained. This false teaching also laid smooth groundwork for abusive behaviors from those in authority. At the age of 14, my youth pastor (I use that term sickeningly) began abusing me sexually. We would later uncover at least 10 other children he abused. This was deeply traumatic, as you can imagine.

Please let me note here that I was interviewed for an article on sexual abuse in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram News in 2018. The article is titled Spirit of Fear. It focuses on many women and men who were abused in the IFB – Independent Fundamental Baptists. I mention this because I am passionate about helping anyone – child or adult – who is or was suffering from any kind of abuse and I understand its lasting impact.

After college, my husband and I returned – yes returned – to work for my father. We worked there for 17 years before somehow beginning to realize the darkness and lies we had believed for such a long time. We began our journey out. Leaving meant losing everything we had known. It meant the loss of family, the loss of most friends, the loss of our livelihood, the loss of our children’s friends and support systems. It meant leaving everything behind and literally starting over in our 40’s.

This was a strange and wonderful time. Was it difficult? Absolutely! Did we struggle every day? Yes! Did I long for the familiar security I had known? Yes. I know that doesn’t sound wonderful, but…. We were finally free to explore who we really were. We were able to experience facets of the world that had been off limits our entire lives. We were able to gift our children with the freedom to be who they wanted to be. We were able to embrace and love people we had been taught to hate. The freedom that continues to emanate from all of this has been nothing short of amazing.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid 40’s that I realized my desperate need for therapy and was able to fully reject the belief that counseling was for the spiritually weak and that prayer and bible reading could “heal me.” Through eight years of therapy, I’ve found and continue to find peace with my past. I am figuring out how not to pass the trauma induced behaviors on to my children and grandchildren. I’m learning the safety of strong boundaries. I’m learning that I have the ability to make clear and beneficial decisions. It’s hard work, yes, but I can’t imagine the alternative. I was stagnant long enough!

My relationship to God and church is quite interesting. Honestly, at 59, I’m still figuring it out. And that’s okay! I have replaced Beth Moore with Barbara Brown Taylor and Kristin Kobes Du Mez. I’ve replaced Rick Warren with Richard Rohr. I meditate daily and do all I can to save this awesome planet.

My world view has broadened extensively. My acceptance of all religions, theologies, and philosophies, has moved me into a place of respect and legitimate inquiry. My motives for giving to and loving my neighbor has shifted. I’m kind because to me, it’s right to be kind, not because I need to wriggle my way into their lives to help save them from hell.

 As convoluted and excruciating as this process has been, I must say that it has been strengthening and endearing. I would never wish it on anyone, yet, I’d never want to “not” learn and grow through it, as I have.

In this paradox, I’ve found a beautiful peace. I don’t have to have everything figured out. I don’t have to have all of the answers to all of the questions. I don’t have to have a skewed motive in reaching out in kindness to my neighbor, and showing love to all – regardless of who they are and what they believe. Tolerance has become a friend instead of an enemy. I don’t have to fit into someone’s label of who or what I am. I don’t understand “God” and that’s okay. This is where I am in the journey; it is fulfilling; it is often mind-boggling, and it continues…

I am so grateful to those involved in the Nomad Podcast! You have been the gateway to my exposure in much of this new way of “being.” You have provided a wide spectrum of incredible people, beliefs and views. You have introduced me to those I would never have found on my own. These souls are helping to shape who I am becoming and are assisting in my shedding of the “me” I am leaving behind.  For that, I’m forever grateful! Deep love and well wishes to all who are on this journey.

– Mindy Woosley

Miles Irving has been foraging since childhood. Having journeyed through Pentecostalism, he returned to his first passion for wild foods, and began to discover that our relationship to what we eat bears deeply on our relationship to everything.

In this episode, Miles and David spend a day eating nothing but foraged food and talking through the joys, trials and transformations that come of eating what grows out of the soil where we live.

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

WorldWild

BOOK

The Forager Handbook

QUOTES

“The plants, a lot of them are weeds, right? And if they’re not weeds, they’re things that are overlooked – because nobody notices and nobody pays attention and nobody knows. So, it was like these marginalized lifeforms were being gathered into the centre and celebrated; they were being used like the crown and glory of dishes by these very highly renowned chefs. And that seemed like there was something going on there: the idea of the marginalized being drawn into the centre and celebrated.”

“If we look at the word ‘presence’ and then we look at the word ‘absence’ and then the word ‘abstraction,’ what I’ve realized is that faith in the mainstream is actually more about abstraction than it is about actuality, and therefore it’s not a good thing. So, in other words, what people think they have is faith – it’s something that makes them disengage, rather than something that makes them engage.”

Although I would date the beginning of my deconstruction from around 5 years ago, in reality it probably began over a decade before. 

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home as such but had a Christian Granny who was definitely an influence. My teenage years were far from happy ones but involvement in Christian camps and events gave me a sense of belonging that I struggled to find elsewhere and the desire to fit into their worldview fuelled what I believed (I realised this on reflection, but then it was just life to me). I continued in the same vain for some years. 

Image used with permission

In my mid 20s I committed the cardinal sin of falling in love with a someone who wasn’t a Christian and although many were supportive some saw my boyfriend less as a person and more as a conversation project. The actions of some really put him off and also really hurt me, but I clung on. I discovered the likes of Rob Bell and Brian McLaren around this time and spent many years doing the whole both/and rather than either/or. 

The relationship ended and I doubled down on my faith again. I reengaged with Purity Culture, as it is in the UK, but chose to sit under a lot of more extreme teaching from the States. As a result I spent most of my 30s miserable and full of shame over my past choices. I was single and longing to not only be married but be a mum. It was made more painful by the fact I am a midwife, so I spent my life watching others get my dream. I kept being told to wait for the one and that it would come from where I couldn’t see. 

During this time I also burnt myself out serving in my Church and battled what I now realise was high functioning depression, but I kept hearing the message that I’d feel better when I’d sorted “my stuff”. Being caught up in a fairly Charismatic church meant I sat under a culture that enabled people I trusted to pray things over me that were deeply harmful and too often I felt like I was totally exposed to those who were seen to be highly prophetic. 

I pursued experiences and the Charismatic in the hope to have a moment where in a flash everything would change, but I became more and more weary as it didn’t. I did in those times discover the teachings of the Fatherheart movement and this still brings comfort now. 

5 years ago I was burnt out and I took myself off to Mozambique to attend IRIS ministries Harvest School. This was where the wheels quite unexpectedly started to come off. 

I could write so much about that summer but in short I sat listening to teaching about the overwhelming love of God but also about the eternal conscious torment of hell that left me fundamentally questioning God’s Character, even though I had for years not even held that view of Hell. But I felt it was under this theology that I had seen the most moves of God, as I recognised them. And again some of the things said there were incredibly damaging to me. 

I came home with no answers as to what to do next (I had spent the summer asking, but God although seemingly saying a lot, never said anything I needed). 

That Autumn the Trump election campaign was in full swing and seeing Christians sing his praises and support him left me feeling embarrassed to even call myself a Christian. 

With the wheels coming off my faith and going back to a job I hated left me hopeless and depressed. It was the closest to wanting my life to end I’ve ever been. I would say that if this is my life, I don’t want it. 

Going to church was painful and I opted out more and more and since I worked a lot of weekends my not going wasn’t noticed. I felt I couldn’t discuss where I was theologically as I didn’t want to be fixed or misunderstood or rejected for my beliefs. I was scared I would be lonely as all my friends were in church and I had no energy to really get involved in anything else. I felt pretty trapped in my life. 

I eventually gathered the courage to see both my doctor and seek counselling. For me I sought out a Christian counsellor (although properly accredited) as I felt so much of my struggle was wrapped up in my faith I needed them to understand that bit of my life without me having to explain it. I lucked out with a hugely empathetic counsellor who was also in a similar place theologically.  

I was able to throw off the shame and embrace who I was, not who people wanted me to be and not care so much what others thought. At this time I transitioned to a different job that was hugely rewarding. 

I continued to go to church but entirely disengaged from the teaching and only craving the community. 

Lockdown forced me to face the fact it was time to move on from the Church I went to as taking the social aspect away left nothing there anymore. Released from the need to be someone I wasn’t I more and more embraced who I was becoming and accepted that I didn’t have and didn’t need to have all the answers. The friends that were true friends have stuck around and those that were just church pals have drifted away. 

I still call myself a Christian but one in a very different theological place that feels more akin to the character of God I encountered in the years where I was unhindered by the myriad of questions that come with that now. I still feel in transition and still not sure where I will land, if I will ever land, but I am ok with that. I find myself lately feeling the grief of things I have lost. I was a worshipper and heavily involved in worship but so many songs now are laced with the church from which they originated and I can’t sing them without getting angry or sad. I think the loss of this is the most grief I feel as it was the way I connected with God and the way I expressed how I felt about him. I stumbled upon the UK Blessing from lockdown last year and found myself weeping over something I missed so dearly but not sure how I would ever find a way to engage with. 

The happy place I am in now is with someone I love and can share life with, and with the current tatters of a faith I no longer understand but patiently try to explain and work out. We have moved to a lovely area with loads to do and I definitely feel I don’t need church to fill a void that was there before. I plan to use the extra time to be more healthy in my lifestyle both physically, emotionally and spiritually and don’t plan to burn myself out serving again. 

As restrictions ease we plan to try and find a church and that currently is causing me some anxiety that I will either not fit theologically or am not accepted for what I currently believe. It’s as uncomfortable as all the questions but I’m learning to accept the discomfort and embrace where it takes me. I no longer care what other Christians think about what I believe, but at the same time find great comfort when I find I am not alone in my thinking. 

I’m still a work in progress and probably will be for the rest of my life, but that’s ok. 

– Gillian Crossley

Many of us inherited a faith that had a lot to say about life after death. But as our faith shifted and evolved we were left increasingly unsure whether these beliefs had any basis in reality, or were just fairly tales.

Well, it turns out science has an increasing amount to say on the subject. So, we interviewed Dr Bruce Greyson, a self proclaimed “skeptical scientist”, who as well as being a very well respected psychiatrist, has also spent the last 50 years pioneering near death studies. He went into this field confidently expecting to find a physiological explanation for what people were claiming to have experienced as their bodies were shutting down. But what he discovered challenged all his preconceived ideas.

Interview starts at 17m 02s

Image used with permission

BOOKS

After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal About Life and Beyond

QUOTES

“We’re all in this together. There’s no difference between me and you. And what I do to you, I’m doing to myself as well. I feel the consequences of what I do to everybody else. In a sense, this is the Golden Rule, which is actually part of every religion we have; basically, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But near death experiencers typically say – for them – it’s no longer a guideline we’re supposed to follow, but they realize it’s a law of the universe.”

“[Near death experiences] are normal experiences that happen to normal people in abnormal situations.”

“People typically come back with much more of a sense of ‘spirituality.’ They care about relationships, not things. They become much more compassionate, much more caring, their behaviour’s much more altruistic, they tend not to care about things of this life – material possessions, power, prestige, fame, competition. And this may sound like it’s a good change, but it can actually wreak havoc in people’s lives if it’s very unlike the way they were living beforehand.”

“One of the most consistent things people say after a near death experience is that they are no longer afraid of dying – death no longer frightens them. They’ve been there and they know that it’s a pleasant experience. It’s not something to be afraid of.”

In this episode Jemimah McAlpine talks about her transformative experience of dance and her thinking about the theological significance of dancing. She and David discuss dualism and embodiment and how reconnecting with our bodies can lead to an experience of wholeness and connection with the earth and everyone around us. Jemimah shares how embodiment has changed her understanding of God and enjoyment of life.

Interview starts at 12m 32s

Image used with permission

BOOKS

The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love

The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

QUOTES

“Through this regular practice of dance every week, I experienced a reconnection with my self where I felt alive again and connected to my own power. And it wasn’t a practice that made me feel ‘better’ for that short amount of time and helped me cope with my life; it was an experience that changed the way that I experience myself and experience my relation to the world and other people, so that I felt empowered to change my circumstances.”

“There’s been a growing acceptance of the body as a site of knowledge – what we can know through the body – and that where we’re located contextually affects how we make meaning of the world around us.”

“The opposite of dualism isn’t non-dualism or non-dualistic thinking, it’s embodiment.”

“In a situation where you cannot change your circumstances, what are the means of defying the oppressor? One of those means of defiance is to experience joy in the face of oppression; to turn the tools of the oppressor; to subvert them. So, like in the dance moves, subverting the experiences of oppression into self-expression.”

In 2006, when I was in my middle-20s, I wrote a short article for RELEVANT magazine titled “Why I am not an Emergent Christian.” In retrospect, I don’t think I understood much about the Emergent Church movement that was rushing through my Evangelical communities. What I did know was that most of my friends in the Seattle area were abandoning their smaller local churches in favor of the cooler, edgier, and supposedly “more authentic” Mars Hill church, pastored by Mark Driscoll. I felt the allure of Mars Hill, too, but I was also keenly aware of the way that my multigenerational, family church was being hollowed out as most of my peers left.

Image used with permission

In the article, I made the case for seeing the church as a dysfunctional family (my analogy was the family from Wes Anderson’s film The Royal Tenenbaums). Even though we had problems, I argued, people should remain committed to small, local, multigenerational churches instead of moving to more attractive, trendier churches. I suggested that a church family, like a biological family, was never meant to be “perfect,” but that it was held together by the willingness of imperfect people to remain together, through good and bad. I’m still glad that I never went to Mars Hill—now more than ever—but my thoughts on church, family, and community have become much more complicated.

My homespun apologetics for sticking with a church no matter what were just one small part of my larger embrace of Christian apologetics. As a lifelong pastor’s kid and missionary kid, I was prepared from an early age to know the Bible inside and out, to understand not just key themes of the Christian narrative but niche trivia (e.g., “Who is the left-handed judge in Judges 3? Ehud, of course!”) and the intricacies of a distinctively dispensational theology. Sure, I had questions or doubts; and whenever I did, I just studied more and more in order to shore up a rational defense of what I had been taught and what I believed.

As I moved through university and then through graduate school, in pursuit of a PhD in early-nineteenth century English literature, I embraced philosophy, history, and poststructural linguistics. At the same time, I remained committed to my small local church, teaching Sunday school classes on the literary elements of the Bible, regularly helping lead in music ministry, and serving for six years as an elder. During this time, my commitment to intellectual rigor in my academic work made it increasingly difficult for me to ignore the fissures that were opening up in my belief structures, and this sense of cognitive dissonance made me feel like I was living two lives at once. One felt intellectually honest, while the other was driven by “faith” and “trust” and cautioned me against “leaning on my own understanding.”

The first real crack opened up shortly after I finished my doctorate when, all of a sudden, I could no longer read the first three chapters of Genesis. I could not maintain the cognitive dissonance any longer. The framework I had been given told me that if I couldn’t read Genesis literally, then the whole Bible was drawn into question. If I dismissed the “first Adam,” then I might as well dismiss Jesus as the “new Adam,” and so on. I have heard others describe similar efforts to grapple with Genesis specifically, and the Bible more broadly, as extremely lonely. I felt that loneliness, too. Suddenly, the church that had felt like a family to me felt like a place of isolation, like I was carrying a secret that I couldn’t talk to anyone about. I imagined that letting people know about the conflict churning inside of me would (at best) raise eyebrows or (at worst) ostracize me as someone who had capitulated to “the secular culture.”

The story feels so familiar, especially in deconstructive circles, that it almost sounds cliché when I look back over it. What I do not hear people talk about as much is the deep feeling of shame that came along with this process. The part of myself that valued intellectual honesty criticized the part of me that was trying to hold on to a rigid belief structure grounded in certainty. The part of myself that valued belief and a deep commitment to my faith community criticized the part of me that would dare question those beliefs and jeopardize my place in that community. In light of my earlier apologetic efforts, I felt like a hypocrite and a failure. Both sides of myself would tell the other side that it was worthless, the source of my own problems. A lot of the time, I just wished that I could disappear—from my church, from my friends, and from myself. At the same time, I longed to be seen, to feel like I wasn’t alone, but I just didn’t know how or where to find that anymore.

It would be misleading to say that those feelings have gone away. Sometimes they are with me more strongly than others. The isolation of lockdowns mixed with the apocalyptic nature of American politics over the past five-plus years has been as disorienting as it has been reorienting. It has not been easy reconciling the divisions within me, and I have a hard time knowing how to trust myself anymore. Those who know me see me as a thoughtful and engaging conversationalist on all kinds of subjects. My students see me as a caring, enthusiastic, and energetic professor who can make early-nineteenth-century poetry come alive (no easy task). But it is difficult for me to see myself as any of those things, to trust myself to be myself.

So, while I used to put my effort into defending systems and tracing grand narratives, I’ve learned to find hope in places that don’t fit into the boxes that I’ve built and that have been built for me—places that I feel allow me to exist as I am. For the past year, the practice of centering prayer has given me permission to sit in mindful silence without worrying about having the right language for prayer or intellectualizing my way through things. The concept of David Benjamin Blower’s “nah-box” has given me permission to hold on to beliefs that bring life while freely discarding ideas that don’t work any longer. Therapy has been hard but helpful for unravelling those narratives that have told me that I am worthless unless I do or believe x, y, or z properly. Perhaps most surprisingly, I’ve found an odd sense of community teaching at an ecumenical Christian university that has given me an academic home while allowing me to move between many different streams of Christianity. I have found refreshment through engaging with diverse theologies that decenter me and my own need to provide answers.

Self-acceptance has always been difficult for me. I used to think the best solution was to find better answers so I could be sure that I was doing things the “right” way. Now I’m practicing being more generous, towards others and towards myself, as I learn to not know.

– Traynor Hansen

It’s always a pleasure to have author, activist, and public theologian Brian McLaren on Nomad. This time we talk with Brian about the vital role that doubt plays in our faith development. Brian breaks down the faith journey into four stages – simplicity, complexity, perplexity and harmony. He talks about the struggles and joys of each stage, and how it’s only when we embrace our doubts that we can grow and move onto the next stage.
As always, the conversation with Brian is wise, insightful, honest and life-giving.

Interview starts at 20m 14s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Brian McLaren

BOOKS

Faith after Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It

The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian

QUOTES

“Sometimes the information that you learn comes in conflict with the simple answers you were given by your authority figures. And that becomes the big task of stage two. I would call stage one ‘simplicity’ – faith before doubt. I would call stage two ‘complexity’ – faith managing doubt.”

“It’s scary enough for ‘sinners’ to fall in the hands of an angry God. It’s much scarier for doubters to fall into the hands of angry Christians.”

“‘The way you define ‘Christian’ – that’s not what I am anymore. I don’t tick your boxes, I don’t fulfil your qualifications.’ But then I might just say something to them as an act of playfulness: ‘Whatever I am, I actually love Jesus a lot more now than I ever have. And whatever I am, I actually see more wisdom and depth in the bible than I ever used to. So, whatever you want to call me, I’ll just tell you: It’s not that I don’t love Jesus, or the bible, or even my tradition. I see depths in my tradition that I didn’t used to see. So, you can call me what you want, but I know who I am.’”

“We have some things that desperately need to be doubted; not to leave us with nothing, but so that bigger and better ways of seeing can emerge.”

“So, Nikki – tell us something of the faith you inherited”. I can hear the Nomad question. Well, values, not faith. That’s what I inherited. My parents were fairly politically orientated. Our family of four would have mealtimes where everyone talked at once and we put the world to rights. I knew my parents loved me unconditionally. Always. Still do. I grew up with a distinct sense that not everyone has an equal start in life, we should help the disadvantaged and generally be kind and compassionate. My parents are the kind of people that others are drawn to and I always wanted to be like my Mum when I grew up – genuine, always herself, in no way false, generous and warm. After ‘O’ Levels, a move to another area sent me sideways emotionally, and when I suffered a severe depressive episode, this seemed unattainable.

Image used with permission

Depression can make you fairly self-absorbed. But it is part of the illness. Long story short……I was invited to a small Methodist church by a girl I met at my new school (lots of old ladies singing out of tune is what I remember!) and when I came out of my depression I had no clue what these church going folk believed. I ‘researched it’ and ‘prayed the prayer’, and felt overwhelmed by the freedom that I was loved unconditionally by God, but also explaining my perceived ‘selfishness’ and lack of ability to be as giving as my parents to be as a result of my ‘sin’ and hence requiring the Holy Spirit to be ‘better’. I was 17.

Fast forward through University, I met my now husband of 25 years through the Christian Union and embraced evangelical Christianity in a way that will be familiar and fairly unremarkable to many in this Nomad community. I maintained a good relationship with my parents, though there was sometimes a nagging feeling that they needed ‘saving’, and I honestly believed that would never happen. They became humanists, my Dad an atheist, and continued to maintain excellent values that I shared on so many levels.

My work professionally in the mental health field over many years, I think is key to a gradual feeling as I went along on a Sunday that so many of the Christian clichés seemed hollow, and I struggled more and more to reconcile the simplistic and ‘neat’ answers to everything, with the pain, brokenness and general struggles of real life, that I encountered in peoples’ lives on a daily basis. I felt embarrassed by the evangelical message and could never imagine ‘selling’ it to any of these ‘real people’, just as I never believed my parents would ever ‘buy it’. About 8 years ago, I was struck by the strong and intrusive thought regularly “What if my parents have been right all along?” I framed it as ‘doubt’, read a book on doubt, talked about doubt and tried to get rid of it and fit back into the evangelical mould. And never quite managed it fully. Moving from adult mental health services, to work with young people in mental health crisis, just made me feel more disillusioned with church, as I was exposed to so many situations in which children and young people were in non-validating environments. As I began to understand more about attachment difficulties it became implausible to me that they should have to jump through theological hoops to be safe in the arms of God, when the very concept of trusting anyone would be so challenging for them. They just needed loving. I was also deeply troubled by the notion that only those who had “prayed the prayer” were destined for eternal joy, and the rest of humankind doomed, when I saw so much good in my family, colleagues and other people I met who were supposedly not in the club.

During the autumn of 2018, through connections with a couple of friends who I felt able to spiritually question things with, in a way that challenged the evangelical mindset, I was thankfully introduced to a whole world of different reading and podcast ‘material’ and online community. A blessed relief, I can tell you! Looking back on something I wrote during 2019, this experience in the clinic where I worked at the time, was a profound and significant experience that I think sums up from where things have continued to flow in a hopeful and positive way:

“I’m sat in the group room with four colleagues on a conference call to the Tavistock Gender Identity Development Service. We talk about chest bindings and whether there are risks to physical health and development; factors to be considered in deciding if and when a young person should take hormone suppressors.  I am struck by the sensitivity to the unique experience of each young person, as well the complexities of family life when a young person is considering transitioning to the opposite gender. The compassion in the room, and in London, is almost palpable: a deep desire to connect with these beautiful people, surely made in God’s image and wholly and unconditionally loved.  I am aware that my colleagues have no notion of a Christian approach to spirituality, and in fact I have no idea what their take is on spirituality and faith in general. Certainly evangelistic judgements, from certain circles of organised religion, have condemned and alienated these beautiful young people who we are here to support and care for. And yet, at this moment, I see clearly that no one group has a monopoly on compassion. If God is good and loving, I sense He is filling the room, because the goodness and love is almost oozing out of the door. Whether they recognise it or not, He has to be found in every monumental effort of theirs to understand the experience of each  young person and reach out to guide and support them, and their families, through the myriad of questions, uncertainties and anxiety. This is a manifestation of a God of diversity at its best, and I feel more at peace and at one with my environment than I have in a long time.”

So, where am I now and what have a I learned? I feel like I have almost come full circle and returned to my solid roots and what was modelled to me in terms of open-heartedness and a passion for equality, with a deep desire to connect in a real and genuine way with the uniqueness of another person, without agenda. Of course, this Jesus stuff got thrown in along the way, and in many ways over-complicated the simple call to love people. But it does mean there is a rich spiritual thread running through my life, though it is more about values and relationships these days. There has perhaps been a synthesis of the best bits of the different worlds I have inhabited, both personally and professionally. And today, through feeling more able than ever before to question everything, spot an assumption a mile off and challenge it in a curious, non-confrontational kind of way (well, I try!) I am trying to walk a path that sees people in a holistic and complete way. There is no sense of superiority: it’s important that “the least shall be first”, as we try to see the good in others, and mutually support and build each other up. In reaching a place where I am totally at peace with a values-based way of relating that puts loving, affirming relationships and connection before theological tick boxes, my marriage is also spiritually more freeing. It is no longer threatened by differences of opinion or the unique and distinct spiritual paths that my husband and I find ourselves on. There is always growth for both of us, and mutual respect.

Where I see compassion, I celebrate it – for no-one has a monopoly on that. Let us love in unity with all of society. And let me give my parents long, lingering hugs when this darn pandemic subsides. They have done me so much good!

– Nikki Vesey

In this podcast, David Benjamin Blower converses with musician, podcaster and activist Samantha Lindo on the subject of music: music as a wisened friend, music as a gatherer of people and radical energies, and music as a kind of prayer that can halt the Powers that Be, even just for a moment.

Interview starts at 23m 44s

Images used with permission

WEBSITES

Samantha Lindo

David Benjamin Blower

PERMISSIONS

The song Sing All Ye, from Hymns for Nomads Volume 2 by David Benjamin Blower, is used with permission.

The song Those Kids (live acoustic version) by Samatha Lindo, is used with permission.

QUOTES

“You can infer so much from someone’s choice of song and their reaction to it.”

“It took me leaving home to claim my heritage and to find my voice – musically and spiritually and all the rest – which is traumatic to some extent as well, to not belong, not to have those roots around you. But it also was the gateway to life as I know it now. So, that was a very creative space even though it was kind of difficult and chaotic at the same time.” 

“The songs are a jumping-off point; the songs are a platform to speak about things.”

“It’s about the gathering and what it means and the communal experience of music, which I think is how music was birthed in human history: it gathered. It has a function in human society. So, I feel like that shapes how I do things.”

In this episode we speak with Damon Garcia. Damon talks to us about how he found meaning in the God of liberation theology after questioning his beliefs and leaving the faith he inherited. We explore the importance of embodiment and community in faithful practice and how our context shapes our ideas about God. We talk about reading the Bible from the perspective of the marginalised through the example of the Magnificat and the call to listen to those on the underside of power.

Interview starts at 14m 41s

Image used with permission

RESOURCES

Damon’s YouTube Channel

QUOTES

“There are only a few things that really matter, and any conception of God that we keep in the 21st Century needs to be a conception of God that actually leads to liberation and justice.”

“The thing God is doing in the world is liberation – that is THE action of God, the deed of God; that is what God is doing. And so, to have any sort of relationship with this God means aligning myself with the work of liberation and justice.”

“So many movements for justice that may seem scary right now are actually part of the larger liberative work of God. And we should join in.”

I grew up in a working-class household on an estate in Essex and spirituality and faith were just not part of my general thoughts or experience. This was mostly because my childhood was traumatic and at times emotionally abusive and neglectful and this led to me having a severe eating disorder from the age of 12. By 17 my Bulimia was out of control and my mental health was failing and I began to have thoughts about ending my life. It was in this backdrop that I began calling out to God for help.   

One night in particular, I prayed in desperation to be given a sign that God was real to give me hope and a reason to carry on. I asked for a cross to be put in a patch of light coming from the street lights outside. I prayed with everything I had but nothing happened and I sobbed myself to sleep.

The next day my eye caught something on the wardrobe door. I got up to see what it was. There, under the veneer as a natural part of the wood but going against the grain, there was a distinct cross. The position of this cross would have been in a patch of light the night before. I remember thinking, SHIT…….what the fuck do I do now?

I decided to go to my nearest church on the next Sunday. I then had what I can only describe as a mystical encounter with God. I had an experience of being completely enveloped in love. Love like a tsunami washing over and through me until I was drenched. I thought, if this is God, then I want to be part of it and I fully opened myself to that love.

At the end of the service I was so shocked by what happened that I turned to the person next to me and (unfamiliar with how you speak in church) said, “You are never going to believe what just fucking happened to me.” What I did not know then but came to realise in the coming days was that this love had set me free from my eating disorder. It had just gone. I cannot explain how incomprehensible this was to me because Bulimia utterly ruled my life and eating disorders are complex compulsive mental health conditions that you cannot just snap out of.

I threw myself into being a Christian, but right from the get-go I struggled with church. I was thrown into purity culture, feeling guilty and shameful about sin and encouraged to evangelise. I was told anyone who did not accept Jesus was going to hell and would suffer eternal torment. I simply could not believe that the love I encountered would ever let that happen. The church did not like my love of fantasy and science fiction and said it was evil and harmful and encouraged me to give up this part of myself. I saw intense prejudice towards people not of faith, different religions and sexual orientation, and anyone deemed sinful. The church was also deeply patriarchal and controlling. Yet at the same time I was told I was free of sin, had been forgiven and the Jesus I read about seemed to embody the love I had encountered despite the church not seeming to do so. It was very confusing but I was discouraged from questioning anything.

Over the next four years I became increasingly upset by the Christian Churches I attended. I witnessed and suffered, in my opinion, huge spiritual abuse in that time.  For a while I allowed this trauma to overshadow the amazing experience of love I had in the beginning. I increasingly rejected church and God and eventually stopped attending or being a practicing Christian.

However, the encounter with God’s love never left me. So slowly, I separated church from that experience and used it like a compass to look for love with that essence in the world. It was a painful, lonely path but gradually I began seeing this love in nature and in people and in creativity and realised it did not have to be connected to Christianity. At first it seemed like a trickle of things, but over the years this grew until it seemed like this love was everywhere, underpinning and threading through everything.  Over time my faith honed itself down to being very simple- God is love.

Free from church I could practice my faith any way I wanted and I began enjoying that freedom. A walk in the woods, paddling in the sea, being creative, singing and silence became regular spiritual practices.

I yearned however to find connection with others on a spiritual level to the point it became an ache. There had been times in church, despite all that troubled me there, when I had felt so connected with others and God’s love. It was a feeling of ‘oneness’ and I found myself increasingly missing this. Sometimes this would lead me back to Christian churches to try again but the experience was always eventually traumatic. I also tried Quaker services but found I needed more than silence.

Over time however, I began encountering some places of spiritual belonging especially, NOMAD, its Book Club, the Beloved Listener Lounge, The Clearing in the Forest, and the Evolving Faith Community. I also found a Spiritual Soul Friend to discuss things with. I came to realise many other people had issues with aspects of the Christian church and its doctrine. I realised that what I had been going through was a deconstruction and reconstructing of my faith. Then in around October 2020, I came to know about and began attending, a Unitarian Church online.

Most Unitarian churches in the UK are not affiliated to any religion and members can follow their own spiritual path. The community gathers to connect spiritually around central themes like love, and unity but there are no doctrines to follow. I had never heard of Unitarianism but many of the churches are hundreds of years old. There do appoint ministers which concerned me as I remain very sceptical of hierarchy in faith settings and I personally believe that we do not need spiritual leaders.

However, the minister there reassured me that his role was only to facilitate others to find their own spiritual path as a role of service. Each individual church and its members decide what happens in their services. At the church I attend, readings, poems, music and personal contributions can come from many different sources and religions. The congregation are actively included in services and our members are multi-generational and come from a variety of religions or none and have varied backgrounds. People of all genders, races and sexual orientation are made equally welcome. God is referred to with both male, female and gender neutral pronouns or simply as being love and I find all of this less triggering. At the first service I attended they played a song from the Lord of the Rings films and it made me cry to hear it because I realised that I would not need to reject parts of myself and the things I loved to be part of this community and that I had found a spiritual home.

I have had some profound moments of connecting with people spiritually in community now and it has made me realise that church does not have to be harmful or controlling and can take many forms and that we can come together spiritually in unity with God’s love with compassion for one another. I still have questions that I do not know the answers to spiritually yet, particularly why there is so much suffering and what Jesus is to me in my faith. But today, as I write to you, I feel at peace. I am content with where I am spiritually and with who I am right now.

This is What I Have Come to Know.

When doubt explodes through our chambers

Detonating foundations that were integral stones

Blasting us till we loose ourselves

And the shrapnel embeds in our soul

I have come to know

Only loves hands can find the wreckage

It is the only balm for wounds

Too deep for stitches

And the amputation of faith

Only love

When the wilderness echo’s with isolation

Aching with loneliness as you resound alone

And scorched sun evaporates hope

Till you thirst to dry bone

I have come to know

Only love can line the marrow

Or pull rain from empty skies

Making an oasis of your quarantine

And rivers to belonging

Only love

When death defies this truth

Bringing grief to hollow you to husk

And your walls fall in the crush of that pain

And even love lies with the loss in the rubble

I have come to know

Only further love can find the crawl space.

and dig the desperate debris with you

or lie in the dark long side you

Till the tomb opens

Only love

And I no longer care

If Jesus was born of a virgin

Or was God made man

Or lived without sin

Or died for us

Or rose again

Or if this was just a story

I have come to know

It does not matter

It only matters if love was there

Because this is the way

Only love

And when this does not seem enough

To cover the suffering despite this truth

Despite knowing there is nothing else

I am coming to know

Still, even here it remains all there can be

In answer

So, this is all I will hold the face of

And somehow, I will keep seeking it

Till it is enough

Till I know,

Only love.

– Susan Carleton

Ched Myers is a theologian, and author of the explosive Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus.

We asked Ched to reflect on the theology and ecology of rivers for this extended devotional podcast. He takes us on a journey down the Ventura river, where he lives in California, and goes on to open up the radical political imagination of the many biblical visions of rivers, in a world where colonisation and empire habitually steal water and turn fertile places into deserts.

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Ched Myers

BOOKS

Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus

Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization

Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice

QUOTES

“The river cuts through these layers of history, exposing – if we have eyes to see – a stratigraphy tortured by the tectonic pressures of empire.”

“Water is what we take for granted most and yet it is emerging as perhaps the central issue for our planet on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Water injustice and disparity has become a global social issue as well. ‘When one person drinks while another can only watch,’ says a Turkish proverb, ‘Doomsday will follow.’”

“Our lands are parched not by nature, but by imperial hubris. In such a world, biblical visions of redemption as ‘rehydration’ – of the quenching of every thirst, especially those marginalized – continue to be compelling. Our task is to persuade our faith communities to reclaim them for our political imagination, our theology, and our practices of justice.”

It was a beautiful fall day, and I was riding passenger seat in my new friend’s car. We had been spending the day getting to know each other and it seemed extra special, for making new friends as an adult doesn’t seem to happen that often, at least not in my life. A couple of months previous, I was speaking at the women’s retreat she was attending and we were lunching at the same table. The conversation found us sharing ministry stories and exchanging phone numbers for we realized we only lived a short 45 min drive from one another and had determined that this first conversation would not be our last.

Image used with permission

But on this day, as we were driving, still in the early stages of our friendship, she asked me a question that would ultimately help redirect my current course. Perhaps put a different way, this question would shape the next leg of my journey.  I didn’t know it at the time, even as I felt the shift inside me, but it would be instrumental in starting the reconstruction of my personal deconstruction of faith.

She was a pastor’s wife and worship leader on her own journey, asking her own questions, and trying to maintain all the expectations and equilibrium that her roles conferred upon her with grace. But we had gone deep, fast; bypassing all the regular get-to-know-you chit chat that usually accompanies budding relationships. Instead we had spent our hours talking about the nitty-gritty of ministry—the hurts, pains, and disappointments over the years; the internal changes we were experiencing and the questions we wanted to ask but felt we couldn’t, especially because we were in ministry; the struggles as women in the male dominated world of church leadership; and the cruelty of people that compounds pain when following God is hard enough on its own. Sure, we had moments of levity and shared some gut busting laughter, but we were two women that needed someone who could identify with life in ministry and with whom we could unload it all and we found that in each other. That deep-dive solidified our friendship.

The question came not as an indictment or inquisition of judgment but as a sincere quest for understanding. It came from an interest in trying to better understand this stranger in her car. It came in response to her own processing, thinking maybe I could help her answer a bit of the question for herself. It came as a nudge from the Divine asking me to take stock.

I had spent a good portion of that day expressing my disdain for things about faith, church, and Christian leadership I could no longer stomach. I had talked about the conflation of nationalism and evangelicalism and how parts of it reminded me of Nazi Germany. I talked about the ease of attending seeker sensitive churches, but how it was so exhausting to keep it all going from the inside. I questioned the on-going decline of church membership in the global west and the majority of church leaders to double-down on what was obviously not working already. And on and on it had gone until, she asked me, “So, what are you for?”

You can be sure I was quick with a response even if it was pithy and lacked sincerity. I had learned well the verse, “be prepared, in season and out, to always give an answer for the hope that you have,” and from all my talking earlier, I was not about to fall silent on this question. However, this question was different. This question had hooks, and it was lodged inside me; it wouldn’t let me go. I had been in a major deconstruction period for a number of years, even though I wouldn’t know that was happening or have language to describe it for another year or so. I was seriously dissecting my faith and my on-going role in religious life. I questioned my theological training, the role of Scripture, the reality of God, the activity of prayer, the Christian narrative I inherited, heaven and hell, the historicity of Christ, and whatever else struck this Enneagram 5 brain of mine. I not only took it all apart, but I inspected every piece, turning each one over and over again, looking for flaws, seeking understanding, and coming up with alternatives and/or solutions to the things that didn’t fit. My desire for authenticity, honesty, and continuity between thought and expression is what made me a good minister, but it would’ve made me a good lawyer, too, because that’s what I had been doing. I had been holding cultural Christianity up to the light and asking it to account for itself—it wasn’t faring well.

And now, here I was, being asked to give account by a friend who was, just hours earlier, a near stranger. I had spent so much time expressing what I was against; now I was being charged to say what I was for. What was I for? Why did I still care? Why not just throw in the towel and walk away? What kept me believing? Why was I still preaching even in the midst of my doubt and uncertainty? What was I for?

That was years ago, now, and I’ve thought about that question many times since then. It has become a sort of litmus for where I am in co-creating with God a world that looks more like heaven than hell. This is because there is a real danger in getting stuck in a cycle of negativity, a cycle that is focused on the failures of the system and what it isn’t rather than the possibilities of a better way forward and what could be. Having experienced my own deconstruction and in talking with others about their deconstruction journeys, while also seeing the cultural shift taking place at this unique time in history, I have no doubt that identifying and naming and speaking out about what a person is against is a normal part of the deconstruction process. But, I will not pretend that it concerns me, as someone who is for Christianity (as it can/could be), that many are stuck deconstructing and when they are finished, with nothing left to take apart, they will have no one to ask them, “What are you for?” It is in focusing on what is redemptive and good and noble and kind and beautiful and honest and better that we turn the corner from deconstructing to reconstructing. It is, perhaps, when we make peace with the past, being able to find the treasures among the trash that we find ourselves closer to the promised land rather than the place that at one time we felt constrained. The wilderness of the process becomes a place of seeing more clearly what is worth hanging onto, even if the treasures are a bit battered and marred from the journey.

So today, here are some things I’m for that give me hope and motivate me to keep moving forward. I’m for:

Jesus

Holding things and people and ideas loosely

Prayer, the silent, abiding kind

Embracing the many names and ways people refer to the Divine Mystery that I happen to most often refer to as God

A non-literal, historical, literary reading of Scripture

Midrash

Finding Church outside of the church

Grace

The with-ness of God

How to think, not necessarily what to think

Embracing the wisdom and practices of other faith traditions that bring us into contact with God and others

Asking better questions

Honoring all the emotions that come with being human

Seeing God in the dark and the light

Mystery

Doubt, uncertainty, and not knowing

By no means is this a comprehensive list, but these are things that shape my days in the present. I expect that this list will be written and rewritten many times over, and I’m here for it. Many of these things are a departure from my Christian upbringing and stand in contrast to my theological training, but I am thankful for those things that gave me a context from which to grow and change and evolve. And, I’m so very thankful for a friend that asked me a simple question, not knowing the profound impact it would have on me.

Wherever you’ve been? Wherever you are? Wherever you might find yourself in the future: What are you for?

– Amanda Oster

Before the October Rebellion of 2019, we interviewed Dr Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, for the Everybody Now podcast. However, the whole conversation was so utterly fascinating that we wanted to upload it in its entirety, especially at a time when the freedom to protest is under threat.
We talked to Gail about climate emergency and civil disobedience, and also about prayer and spirituality, science and wonder, sacredness, love and the radical power of women.
We talked to Gail about climate emergency and civil disobedience, but also about prayer and spirituality, science and wonder, sacredness, love and the radical power of women.

Interview starts at 19m 21s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Extinction Rebellion

RESOURCES

This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook

Three Lessons of Revolutionary Love – Valarie Kaur

QUOTES

“The price of love is grief, and grief opens the space for love. And I think that’s what’s happening right now, we’re facing what we’ve been doing to our home. And our home is heaven on earth.”

“If you are deliberately deciding to break the law, it has an element of ‘trickster’ in it as well – it has an element of mischief in it potentially – but certainly an element of sacred service.”

This morning I experienced a moment of pure joy. Stepping outside I spotted a sparrowhawk perched atop a tall tree. I watched her for several minutes, marvelling at the barred markings on her chest and reflecting on the privilege of seeing this elusive bird just metres from my front door. Suddenly she launched herself off the tree and swooped down in pursuit of a blackbird into a thicket. The scene erupted with avian alarm calls and about a dozen small birds shot out of the thicket as fast as their tiny wings could carry them.

Image used with permission

For me this was a moment of ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’ just as much as moments of ecstasy experienced in worship. I say as much, but the reality is moments like this seem to me now more authentic, more physical, more rooted in my body and in the reality of being a flesh-and-blood creature in this world of wind and rain, grass and mud, skin and bones. In contrast, the moments of joy I spent 30 years chasing in charismatic worship and personal prayer times now seem disembodied, shallow, and disconnected from my authentic self.

I was born into evangelical Christianity. My father was a church pastor and life revolved around church meetings at the building and in our home. At university I attended Baptist then charismatic Anglican churches, finally settling in a charismatic ‘house church’ in which I was immersed for the best part of 30 years. I was all in for the vision and the community life, including street evangelism, wild worship meetings, a variety of ministry roles, and some wonderful friendships. My faith began to change shape a few years ago, slowly at first. A rejection of penal substitutionary atonement was followed by embracing of ‘hyper-grace’ and universal reconciliation, along with an egalitarian view of gender roles, and affirmation of LGBTQI+ people in the church.

These and other local issues led my wife and I to leave the charismatic church about 4 years ago which turned out to be more traumatic than we imagined. Realising we would not be happy in most evangelical or charismatic churches we were not sure where to turn and by chance started attending a nearby Greek Orthodox church. The pattern of liturgical worship was a relief after the performance orientated worship of the charismatic church. There is a strong sense of mystery and I found myself strangely at home participating in a liturgy which has been largely unchanged for nearly 1500 years.

However, it doesn’t end there. Through the pandemic my beliefs have continued to unravel. These days when I am pushed to describe my faith I would say something like Christian agnostic – or should that be agnostic Christian? I no longer believe the Bible is inerrant or infallible, rather that it is an ancient text recording the struggle of humans to comprehend the mystery of existence.  I have been immersed in Christianity since the cradle but it’s hard to say what I actually believe about God anymore, or even if I believe in any kind of God. Christianity has given me some of the best and the worst experiences of my life.  I’m currently pretty ambivalent about it but can’t quite bring myself to reject it. I’m stuck with one foot in Christianity and one foot in atheism and don’t quite know what to do with either. I find myself living with a deep sadness as I come to terms with what I have lost. There’s the loss of friendship and companionship of the church community. There’s the loss of the strong sense of an important purpose and working with others to achieve it. Running deeper is the loss of ultimate meaning, and finally there’s the loss or ‘death’ of God themself. The grief is very real and overwhelming at times. However, there’s also the relief of finally being able to be honest with myself, to think the unthinkable, to live in the present, to breath more freely. These days prayer looks like a walk down a muddy path beside a field, watching a family of buzzards soaring in the wind, or sitting quietly in silent meditation. But I still often recite the morning prayers of the orthodox church in front of an icon and sometimes it even brings me comfort.

Two things have been my companions on this journey. A few years ago, I discovered the Enneagram and attended a retreat run by Liz West. Learning about my type (9) I realised that for most of my life I have been suppressing what I really think and feel about things, instead deferring to and even merging with the emotions of those close to me and those in authority. I’m learning to give myself room to think and feel for myself, and to trying to express those things without getting frustrated or angry.

I’ve also started training as a therapeutic counsellor in the person-centred approach, which has given me plenty of opportunities for self-reflection. This has helped me to trust my own inner voice for direction rather than look outside to others or to God. In the past I sometimes found myself conflicted between what my inner voice was telling me and what I thought God was telling me. I am becoming more aware of the things that are most important to me and allowing myself time to enjoy them. I am more in tune with my emotions and my body, more able to recognise what they are trying to tell me. In learning to trust myself I sense I am beginning to live a less conflicted and more authentic life.

As I look for ‘signs of hope’ I am looking not for a better future, but for a better present, to develop the skills and attitudes to live each day more at one with what each moment brings. This unravelling of faith has been very difficult but at the same time feels like a natural progression into becoming more fully me. I am beginning to live more confidently as who I am now rather than trying to cling onto what I used to be or was striving to become. Currently I don’t know how important faith will be to me in the future, but for now I am ok with that.

– Andy Murden

In this episode we talk about Jesus with the Franciscan friar and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr.
Fr. Richard believes Jesus is the personification of God’s constant, unfolding work in the world. Consequently, he sees faith as being less about proving Jesus was God, and more about learning to recognise the Creator’s presence all around us and in everyone we meet.

Continue reading

I call myself a transitions nurse. I have been a nurse for many years, I worked labor and delivery for about 15 years, and worked hospice for four. So I do “comings” and “goings”. There are some very real similarities in the journeys that intrigue me. Certainly my outlook on life is affected by these experiences, which for the most part have been the experiences of others…I am involved with these huge moments in people’s lives in a very peripheral way. I like to think that I will be better at dying because of the work I have done with the dying…but I thought the same thing about birthing and I didn’t notice any significant upgrade of my aptitude in labor.

Image used with permission

Most of my wonder at the similarities between dying and birth are more about the course of labor that the mother experiences rather than how the infant experience the same process. The physical process of labor and the physical process of dying are uniquely akin. As an observer in both circumstances – I note that the questions asked are: “Is this going to hurt?” “How long will it take?” The resolutions are: “I am tired, I am done, I cannot do this anymore.” So just as I say I am a transitions nurse; I often feel that in Hospice – I am a midwife for the dying process in the same way that I midwife’d women through the labor process.

Labor and dying are both these huge physical processes. Those of us not doing the birthing or the dying are on the sidelines, watching, trying to help but disconnected, at least physically, from the process. We cannot interfere in the process without damaging it somehow. Because each situation is unique I cannot memorize a path, or way to get through it, that is definitively helpful for everyone. Everyone labors differently and everyone dies singularly. I can help you negotiate through the rocks in the river of your dying but I cannot paddle the boat for you. I can give you the tools you will need to maneuver, but you will have to determine their worth.

However, even though we cannot do the dying and birthing for another, emotional and spiritual support affects people. Support is what I think helps the most and in the end is it all we have to offer. We support the laboring woman by giving her a safe place to labor, by relieving her pain, by teaching her what is happening. We do the same for the dying. The place of safety is often the home, where one still has at least a semblance of control; but it can be in the hospital, depending on the circumstances. It isn’t a question of morality. One can birth “the right way” in the hospital or at home; and one can die “the right way” in either place also. Having a choice, a say in the matter, is hugely important. This is one way that my work has affected more humdrum aspects of my life. I tell my family my detailed plans for my death…even I, to whom birth and death has become an everyday thing, have superstitions surrounding my death that have made me hesitant to commit a plan to writing. However, a plan is imperative. Talking to one’s family makes all the decisions easier. Remember, as difficult as it is to make these decisions for oneself; families are even more conflicted. Giving your family the gift of knowing they are following your wishes may be your last legacy of love.

This brings us to another similarity in the process of birth and death, the plan versus reality. Just as one may not always get the planned for birth experience…one may not get the dying they wanted. There are no guarantees, not in birth, life or even in death with the one exception that we get one. In other words, we get a birth, we get a life and we get a death – but that is all we can count on. Maybe in death (like life) it isn’t what happens to you that matters most, it is how you handle it, how you react. These reactions make us who we are during life and we are who we are as we die.

I always felt that women tend to labor like they get angry; some introspective and quiet, some wildly vocal. People die within their personalities. It is infrequent that families comment that their loved one’s personality had radically changed as they died. The inner spark that makes us who we are doesn’t change much. Difficult people don’t tend to get less difficult, the accommodating are inclined to remain accommodating. An awareness of this may help, not only in dealing with loved ones who are dying, but also in thinking of our own deaths.

So in being a transitions nurse, a midwife of life and death, a travel guide for the dying; what have I learned? I have learned essentially that letting go is not the same as giving up. Committing our spirit to the next adventure is not an abandonment of the current one. Like many adventures, it is often harder on those who are left behind than the voyager himself. I know how I want to die; it isn’t so much that I want to die of this rather than that, it is that I want a smile on my face and love in my heart. I want to die excited about the next step…and that really, is how I want to live also. Maybe, just maybe, by living that way – I am practicing my dying.

– Kari Lane

We live in a death and grief averse culture. Aided by modern medicine and the funeral industry, we’ve created an ever-increasing distance between us and our mortality. So we ask author of Awakened by Death Christiana Peterson what psychological and spiritual impact this is having on us, and how reclaiming a healthy relationship with our own mortality might help us live fuller and richer lives.

Interview starts at 15m 8s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Christiana Peterson

RESOURCES

Awakened by Death: Life-Giving Lessons from the Mystics

Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints

It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand – Megan Divine

Empathy vs Sympathy – Brené Brown

PERMISSIONS

Helen Dunmore, Hold Out Your Arms (25 May 2017) Counting Backwards: Poems 1975-2017 (Bloodaxe Books, 2019)

PUBLIC DOMAIN PODCASTS

In this episode we talked about a new series of public domain podcasts we’re producing. If you’d like to support these, visit our fundraising page.

QUOTES

“A hundred percent of us are going to die and not acknowledging that causes us even more pain and suffering in the end.”

“The fear of death becomes something that infiltrates our lives in ways we don’t always recognize. For instance, with the environment, as we move further and further away from the way our food is made or from nature, then we become less willing to give up the things that are harming to the environment.”

“Outsourcing death often has an effect on the way that we accept loss and the way that we grieve; that often times, maybe we limp through life without our griefs really being fully moved-through.”

I always hoped I wouldn’t be asked to ‘share my testimony’ at university Christian Union in the 90s, because I didn’t have an exceptional conversion story. And likewise, I don’t have an exceptional deconstruction story either.  But in nearly half a century on this planet, the truth is there are ten thousand stories I could tell – none spectacular, but stories nonetheless. So today, this is the story I’m telling.

Image used with permission

I grew up as a Christian, but in Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s that is an unremarkable observation to make about your upbringing. It seemed that everyone believed in God, and the only difference I could see was the Catholic or Protestant telling of the same Christian stories. And we were Anglicans, so that was already shady territory in Northern Irish Protestantism, making us as good as Catholic in the eyes of some. My early faith story is easy to tell – Sunday school, church, Bible stories and bedtime prayers. Certainty.

It was when I went to high school, that I first got asked the question that opened up my first existential fear: “Are you born again?” I honestly didn’t know the answer. I asked mum when I went home, and she said it was just the way some people talked about following Jesus, but it opened up a fear for me, that I wasn’t doing it right, that what I believed wasn’t enough, that I’d be found out. This fear would regularly return throughout teenage years, as friends got baptised (I got confirmed), went to beachside missions (I went to the beach, without the mission), ‘saved’ their boyfriend (I didn’t have a boyfriend to save) or berated Catholics (I secretly thought they were much cooler, seemed to have more fun and was pretty convinced they too were Christians).

I moved to Scotland at the age of 18 to go to university, and I suddenly had relative freedom from labels and judgements that I didn’t realise were there. I was involved in the Christian Union and also volunteered with the local Scripture Union doing schools work – in other words, a model Christian young person. But still, I had fear. I didn’t seem to have the evangelising gene, so when there was a ‘mission week’ at CU, I’d studiously avoid bringing any of my non-christian friends and often avoid going myself. If I believed in the Gospel (which I passionately did) why did I not want to actively convert others? I feared that one day I would be found out as a non-evangelising evangelical.

One summer during uni I lived and worked at an ecumenical centre for reconciliation on the border between the north and south of Ireland. That summer mucked up all my neat boxes! The people there were charismatic yet ecumenical, mystical yet deeply grounded and straight-talking. They were Catholic and Protestant and they were deeply connected to the Celtic roots of the land, which was intoxicating for me. And they shared their faith through love and healing, not through evangelising. I felt like here I could be myself and not feel afraid that I wasn’t enough.  When I think of ‘thin places’ in the Celtic tradition, where the divine comes close, I think of that place and that summer in my life.

I said that there are no blinding lights in my story, but in this retelling of my story, there is a pivotal moment that comes to mind.

After university I moved to Glasgow where I was part of an evangelical church.  I was on the organising committee for an arts event we were hosting. We had agreement from the church leadership that, unlike the previous event two years earlier, this one would be more outward reaching, to create opportunities for the church members to meet members of the local community, and vice versa.

I had the idea of running some poetry workshops, in the few weeks leading up to the event, culminating in a poetry reading and exhibition. We were excited that connecting people with their own story through poetry could open their hearts and minds to meaning and purpose. By this stage, I was very open to what that meant, and had long given up on the idea that people would have momentous conversions – certainly not through anything I organised! I had lined up a poet from the local community to run two workshops, and then on the weekend of the event, we would run a third workshop ourselves exploring the Psalms as poetic expression. I was really excited and felt I was being my authentic self in the church I belonged to; so when, one week before the first workshop, I was told that the elders were pulling the pin on the poetry workshops, I was devastated. The reason? The local poet I had enlisted to help wasn’t a Christian. I was livid. How could this church expect to ‘reach’ its local community’s hearts and souls, if they were not prepared to allow people to find their own voice and open up to their own story – without always having to have that with a serve of the gospel on the side? My non-evangelistic faith was suddenly in stark contrast to that of my church, and it felt personal.

Soon afterwards, through a chance encounter, I stumbled across a group of people who, for the past 20 years, had been living as a faith community outside church walls. I fell in love with them and their irreverent yet deeply Christ-filled ways, and I felt almost instantly caught between worlds. I went to my evangelical church on a Sunday and this community on a Monday, and felt like they were worlds apart. Around this time I also fell in love with Paul, my now husband, a man who does not profess to any faith, and yet it felt like I’d met my soulmate. It was he who observed that increasingly I was choosing my Monday nights over my Sunday mornings.

What stopped me making a decision sooner about church, even before I stumbled on this new community or before I met Paul, was my old friend fear. Fear of what my parents would say if I left church, fear that I was ‘falling away’, fear of the anxiety and concern I would cause so many others, fear that, as a (former) youth worker, I would drag others down with me who had seen me as some sort of Christian leader. Yet it became clear what the authentic me had to do, and so I left.

In 2009 Paul and I left Glasgow with our two-year old daughter, and moved to his hometown of Adelaide, in South Australia. I haven’t managed to replace that community on this side of the planet, but I think I always knew I wouldn’t.  But in the last ten years, I increasingly feel I have found genuine and honest spiritual connection in new ways, including within the Nomad community, for which I am hugely grateful.

Sometimes I wonder if I have just run away from the hard stuff. It is definitely easier to be fully myself when I am a long way from the place of my birth, from a culture where I find it hard to

explore faith and alternative forms of spiritual expression. One day I want to feel I can authentically be myself when I go home. But that’s not my story yet, and for today, the story I tell is this unfinished one, where, most days, I don’t fear anymore that I’ve got it wrong.

– Melanie Lambert

In this episode, black liberation theologian Prof Anthony Reddie and the poet Ravelle-Sadé Fairman reflect on black experience. These searching thoughts begin with the recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of US police officers, and from there reach into a knotted web of power and oppression: the disproportionate suffering of black people from Covid19, the enduring roots of European colonial rule, the dynamics of white fragility, the experience of black embodiment, the veneration of the statues of slave traders, and the emerging anti-racism movement. 

We have made this episode public domain, so you are free to upload it onto your own podcast feed. We ask that you don’t edit the episode, but please do feel free to add your own introduction and reflections. We also ask that you acknowledge Nomad Podcast, and the producers Tim Nash and David Benjamin Blower. Please also list the contributors and permissions in your show notes.

Click on the download button to access the MP3 and WAV files, and guest images and bios.

Images used with permission.

QUOTES

“It’s interesting that the Prime Minister is going to set up another commission, in order to tell us things that many of us have known for a long time…What we need is not more analysis, what we need is structural change. And firstly to recognise the toxic and poisonous nature of white supremacy.”

“The use of extreme violence, as in the case of George Floyd…is the extreme end of the manifestations of racism. Most original white people are not involved in that. However, what they don’t notice is the way in which society is constructed on notions of white privilege, that allows a certain level of advantage of white people over black people and people of other minority ethnic identities, that is not based on anything other than a presumption of superiority.”

“White people will have individual black friends. But how much of your life is still codified by living in, effectively, a white domain with white norms? You may have the odd black friend, but how many of you have immersed yourself in contexts in which you are the minority? … In what ways are you living in a multicultural nation in ways that are challenging your sense of settled whiteness?”

“George Floyd’s death has enable people to see. And once you see something and you know it, you can’t unknow it. And not bring able to unknow it means that more ordinary people, who thought this had nothing to do with them, will now realise that for the cause of peace and justice and for a better equitable way of being human in the world, change needs to happen and they will be committed to that change.”

Click on the subscribe button if you’d like to be added to a mailing list to be kept aware of future public domain podcasts.

This is a conversation about the experience of the experience of spiritual abuse. Reflecting on their personal experiences, therapists Justin and Joy explore the impact of spiritual abuse, describing how they learnt to recognise it and what it was like to walk away from congregations they cared about deeply. They also share some of the healing and growth that has taken place as their lives changed and they began to recover and rebuild in different areas of their lives.

We have made this conversation public domain, so you are free to turn it into an episode on your own podcast. We ask that you don’t edit the conversation, but please do feel free to add your own introduction and reflections. We also ask that you acknowledge Nomad Podcast.

Click on the download button to access the MP3 and WAV files, and guest images and bios.

Images used with permission

QUOTES

“It’s no longer about wanting to prove that something happened, but it’s about wanting to bring something that feels so shameful into the light. And it’s about wanting to reach out a hand to anyone else who might have been in, or is in that situation and say, ‘You’re not on your own.’”

“The thing that makes spiritual abuse over just a simple power dynamic is that there’s an eternal aspect or an eternal dynamic to it, which is if you aren’t obedient, you might not get as good a place in heaven, or you might run the risk of not making it, or there’ll be some judgement attached to it. There’s a sense of you’re doing it not for the leader or for the church, but you’re working for God. So, it’s almost like the human leader is putting himself in the place of God and you can’t really argue with a deity, can you? You can’t really argue with God.”

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This is a conversation about the experience of the experience of women in church. Jemimah and Joy reflect on their experiences as women who grew up immersed in evangelical Christianity. Unpicking some of the messages they absorbed over the years, they examine what it means for them to move away from repression and reconnect with their embodied and internal experiencing. Learning to value their own voice, they also explore the responsibility that comes with agency and privilege within their respective communities.

We have made this conversation public domain, so you are free to turn it into an episode on your own podcast. We ask that you don’t edit the conversation, but please do feel free to add your own introduction and reflections. We also ask that you acknowledge Nomad Podcast.

Click on the download button to access the MP3 and WAV files, and guest images and bios.

Images used with permission

QUOTES

“The message I grew up with seemed to be having strong opinions was not ‘submitting’ in the way that we should be. I think it undermines confidence in listening to yourself, in valuing how you respond to something. If you’re troubled by something and yet told that actually this is how it is – and the leaders and the men or whoever is creating it have done it like that – and you feel a bit troubled with it, it turns the issue around onto yourself. You become the issue, rather than actually maybe I have something to offer here that could help. And maybe actually I should be valuing how I’m responding.”

“What happened in that story that I described didn’t feel like I was finally able to be a ‘true woman’; it just felt like I was able to be who I was created to be – a human. And I feel like the things we’ve been describing – systems that suppress certain aspects of our humanity – is applicable to everyone regardless of gender.”

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This is a conversation about the experience of disability. Zoe is a priest in the Church of England and for many years has suffered with chronic pain, which often means she has to use a wheelchair. Nick works for the Christian charity Cord and hosts Nomad Podcast. He has been visually impaired since he was a teenager.  Zoe and Nick talk openly and honestly about their experience of disability, how it has shaped their life, faith, and experience of church, and how they’ve come to understand what it means to be whole.

We have made this conversation public domain, so you are free to turn it into an episode on your own podcast. We ask that you don’t edit the conversation, but please do feel free to add your own introduction and reflections. We also ask that you acknowledge Nomad Podcast.

Click on the download button to access the MP3 and WAV files, and guest images and bios.

Images used with permission

QUOTES

“For me the kind of consistent theology that I know I can feel on firm ground with is God is here in the midst of this. When people say, ‘Why me?’ my natural reflex is, ‘Well, why not you?’ Life is how it is. And it’s a mixture of everything for everybody actually. And so the Christ figure Jesus coming and living in that and showing us that that’s not all there is and that that it’s not an end does feel like really safe ground for me. Because I’ve experienced that – God breaking into those moments when I dare to reach out when I’m in a difficult place…and nothing particularly changes, but that sense of God being with you is really transformative somehow.”

“I just think the way [Jesus] lived rather than the way he died is more interesting. And more helpful in terms of us as people trying to live a faithful life. But then the resurrection is kind of the next level of that really. So, the fact that he came back with scars means that the story’s never wasted and that our scars tell our story. That feels very real to me.”

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This is a podcast about what it means to be human on the threshold of a global climate emergency, in a time of systemic injustice and runaway pandemics. Scientists, activists, farmers, poets, and theologians talk bravely and frankly about how our biosphere is changing, about grief and hope in an age of social collapse and mass extinction, and about taking action against all the odds.

We have made this episode public domain, so you are free to upload it onto your own podcast feed. We ask that you don’t edit the episode, but please do feel free to add your own introduction and reflections. We also ask that you acknowledge Nomad Podcast, and the producers Tim Nash and David Benjamin Blower. Please also list the contributors and permissions in your show notes.

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Having left behind the Anglican roots of her childhood, Jennifer Kavanagh discovered the Society of Friends – better known as Quakerism – as an adult. We spoke to her about how to be a practical mystic, how to subvert hierarchies by being silent, how to be part of a Christian religion without being a Christian, how to have a church without a leader, and what not to call the Queen.

Interview starts at 13m 24s

Image used with permission

BOOKS

The World Is Our Cloister: A Guide to the Modern Religious Life

Quaker Quicks – Practical Mystics: Quaker Faith in Action

A Little Book of Unknowing

Heart of Oneness: a Little Book of Connection

QUOTES

“We gather in what I think of as expectant silence. It’s a listening. It’s a waiting. It’s passive in that we are waiting to receive, but it is not passive in that nothing is happening. And we’re waiting to be guided how to live our lives. It’s very much linked to what we do in the world. And so we may receive something directly, or from something that somebody else says. We may not feel anything at all; quite often we don’t feel anything at all. But I always feel changed, I always feel more at peace. And maybe something will happen that reverberates later. Something emerges, but comes from that time.”

“I think of it at a triangle: self, the divine, and the others in the room. And we take that out into the world, so that we work with others and through others and with the divine in terms of what we do. It’s about our connectedness – we are all connected.”

“It’s about having a sense that something exists, but not that we can necessarily say what it is; that we might all have very different experiences of the divine. And I think the moment you try to define it, it’s to reduce it to human proportions.”

This is a conversation about the experience of race. Writer, broadcaster, and Head of Community Fundraising and Public Engagement at Christian Aid Chine McDonald and writer and Church of England Priest Azariah France Wiliams discuss their understanding and experience of blackness and how that has shaped their identity, their place in society and the way they relate to God and Church.

We have made this conversation public domain, so you are free to turn it into an episode on your own podcast. We ask that you don’t edit the conversation, but please do feel free to add your own introduction and reflections. We also ask that you acknowledge Nomad Podcast, and the producers Tim Nash and David Benjamin Blower.

Click on the download button to access the MP3 and WAV files, and guest images and bios.

Images used with permission

BOOKS

A. D. A France Williams – Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England

Chine McDonald – God Is Not a White Man: And Other Revelations

QUOTES

“I spent a month on the island of Nevis working with the Anglican church and all the priests are Black. And so…when you’re the majority group, you just think of yourself as you. You’re just free to be a human. I was just free to be Azariah then with my other priestly colleagues. Whereas here, I do feel like I’m ‘Azariah the Black priest.’ And I’ve got to work against things.”

“People talk about ‘code switching’…how we adjust our language, our postures to who we think is the dominant in the setting. And so I’m just aware of how often I’ve been shifting myself in order to accommodate what I perceive to be the cultural norms of a setting instead of feeling at ease and free to bring my whole self.”

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Following on from our conversation with Matthew Fox, in this episode Anna Robinson leads us in a meditation that explores the spirituality of the remarkable 14th Century mystic Julian of Norwich. Anna gives us a short introduction to Julian and how she lived through a deadly global pandemic, suffered loss and yet still wholeheartedly pursued God, and received visions that Christians are still pondering nearly seven centuries later. Anna then uses a breathwork technique to help us to become present and more relaxed and then leads us in a lectio divina mediation based around some of Julian’s words. Anna then finishes with a short examen and closing prayer. 
Anna produces meditations like this each month. To access them simply sign up and make a small monthly donation to the work of nomad, either via Patreon or our own donation platform.

Image used with permission

BOOK

Showings Of Julian Of Norwich: A New Translation

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic-And Beyond

Matthew Fox is an American priest and spiritual theologian and an activist for gender and eco-justice. His work on creation spirituality and mysticism has given him the reputation of being one of the most challenging religious-spiritual teachers in America. It’s also got him into trouble with the Catholic Church, most notably for rubbing two popes up the wrong way, which eventually got him excommunicated.
We speak with Matthew about his latest book Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic-And Beyond, and ask him what this 14th Century mystic can teach us about what it means to live well in the midst of a global pandemic and climate meltdown.

Interview starts at 15m 47s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Matthew Fox

BOOKS

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic-And Beyond

Showings Of Julian Of Norwich: A New Translation

A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity

Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action

A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

QUOTES

“I don’t think we could understand [Julian of Norwich] until the 21st Century – until nature was in such jeopardy as we have rendered it today. And a big reason for the eco-crisis…is that religion has abandoned nature for so many centuries in the West and has forgotten to teach the sacredness of nature and the wonder of it all; the very teachings that Julian has laid out so richly. So, we’re ready for her now.”

“A pandemic is too valuable to waste. There are lessons humanity has to learn and learn fast – lessons of wisdom, instead of just knowledge; lessons of compassion, instead of just competition.”

“The mystics are truth-tellers. They get to the heart of what real religions is supposed to be about. People are looking for experience of God, not for theologies and so forth, but experiences.”

“Even despair is a sign of hope, insofar as recognizing how time is running out. This is what gets us off the couch. I think many humans and our systems – our institutions – do not change until they have to. And clearly, we have to. Nothing’s working well today and we have to move out of this modern consciousness that is so solipsistic, narcissistic and human-centred into the real world, which is our relationship with all beings in their wonder and beauty. And there we find hope.”

Never been married, never had children. The youngest of three, the bottom rank is where the novelty has worn off but the ‘fun’ never ends. I was ‘an excitable child’ so my namesake Roman Catholic Grandmother put it. Born in the latter part of the 70s there was still the unmistakable whiff of sexism not quite shifting under the strain of inequality. Being a sensitive child, both in observation and emotion, I knew there was unfairness, lots of it in the world and not just in my home. “It’s not FAIR!!” was my trademark line, as though this was supposed to demand people to see my point of view. It never worked. 

Image used with permission

I grew up in the countryside, in a small village on the borders of three counties in the Midlands, a quiet, boring village with three pubs and one bus that left at 7am and returned at 6pm. The village teens were to entertain themselves, and I had my best friend and some other school acquaintances living in the village. Luckily, I made friends easily, maybe not so good at keeping them, but I didn’t mind much being on my own. One girl and I went to the village church (Church of England) where my mother played the organ and I sang in the choir. 

I was confirmed at 13yrs, had a delightful vicar, John, with a distinctive shaky voice. He was patient and popular, even with my dad ‘the atheist’. Reverend John tutored me for my confirmation. I cannot forget his face after asking me a question, so gentle and kind. If only I knew what he was talking about. Somehow I made it to that first communion, there was a garden party and relatives, I didn’t know why. I felt better after going to church, lighter and fresher, it felt good just to sit for a while, but I still didn’t understand what for.

Fast forward through my secondary school (with smoking, drinking, detention and teachers with a “we-know-you-know-this” attitude) to my university career. I started university at 21yrs. By that time I had spent a ‘year-out’ in Australia to work and find myself. I wasn’t there. I chose to live in halls of residence. That year many life changing things happened, including becoming acquainted with heroin. University was ok, but the more I worked the less I was able to sleep or function. My head was always too excited, so heroin and I became good friends. A year later I came out of rehab. I tried something else. I attended the Christian club. We went on a weekend retreat where they talked about the bible and prayed, and I kept quiet, smoked outside and wondered why I was there. These Christians seemed so happy but in an unsustainable way, I didn’t get it. Life didn’t feel that easy for me. What didn’t I understand? I got a BSc in ‘science’ and went to France and studied for a masters ignoring this ‘imposter’ feeling. Luckily, I mostly understood my masters, there were no formal exams, just a written thesis. Phew!

With no real idea of what I should do next I just carried on along the academic trail, applying for a PhD at Oxford, went for an interview, and the professor, Tom, offered me the position “against his better judgement”. Are you kidding me? No I am not. We worked well together. Then I got ill and he got ill. He with cancer and me with a breakdown. I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder in February 2011. We both survived.

My research practices took me into worlds I knew precious few would ever experience. Tom loved looking down the microscope too and we used to joke about God as I imagine most atheists do, nothing more than jibing, but it did leave a nasty aftertaste like I’d bad-mouthed an old friend.

Oxford, albeit an impressive intellectual power-house, I found to be an honourable place, one couldn’t get away with being insincere. There was a night at college dinner (name-drop coming) I was seated next to Prof. John Lennox. I hadn’t a clue who he was and after the usual pleasantries he asked, “Do you believe in God?”. I said, “No”, to which he replied, “Perhaps it’s best not to ask ‘why believe’ but ‘why not believe’?” That question has hung around my head since. I laugh at how provincial the concept of God in that conversation is to me now. 

I passed my viva. I lived in Canada for a year doing research, laughed at church billboards, had another breakdown and was diagnosed with ADHD. Finally, I gave up my career in science and moved back to my home village. Had another breakdown and was told I’m ‘on the spectrum’. 

I spend a lot of time on my own, but never feel alone. 

I needed an anchor in my life, something to rely on, because without a job and recovering from PTSD from an abusive relationship, I needed stability and predictability that I knew the C of E could give, so I started going to a new local small church with my mum. The remainder of the week I went on walks and meditated, and tried to keep going. The meditation cleared my mind enough to hear God come through and I suddenly felt interested in life again.

With a new spiritual zeal the vicar suggested I try a ministry course, I did the course and made friends but I decided, even though I was ‘well-up for God’, the C of E really wasn’t my thing. Now, I read a lot of Rohr, to whom I am forever grateful for saying it’s ok to be a different sort of Christian. I laugh a lot more, listen to my own spiritual guides via personal prayer and meditation and look for God in all forms be it through walks, meditation, animals, art… Nomad. 

I always knew I wasn’t on my own but now I am actually conversing with ‘them’, God, and life is starting to make more sense.

– Jojo Scoble

Adele Jarrett-Kerr is a writer and podcaster on compassionate living. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, she now lives in Cornwall where her family is unschooling and working on a small regenerative farm. We talk to her about her journey towards counter-cultural living, decolonisation, evolving faith and spirituality, and the values behind the decisions she has made for family and work. 

Image used with permission

WEBSITES

Adele Jarrett-Kerr

Patreon

QUOTES

“I don’t want to be a part of the system that makes people feel that they’re only valuable based on how well they conform.”

“The word ‘revillaging’ was inspired by the word ‘rewilding.’ It’s not that humans have stopped being a part of nature, but we’ve stopped recognising that we are a part of nature. That as well is also a by-product of colonialism by the way, because that is not an indigenous way of seeing the world. An indigenous way of seeing the world is very much recognising that we are all lifeforms and we are a community of living things.”

Merry Christmas, beloved listeners!
In this episode we hear from Revd Canon Eve Pitts. Having missed Christmas in their church last year, due to repairs, the residents of Birchfield were looking forward carols and candles in their building. But 2020 being what it is, Eve wondered if Christmas might as well be cancelled all together. However, perhaps living in a time of restrictions, precarity and mess is all the more Christmassy. Eve reflects on the humanity of Mary, the messiness of birth, and the God who is found in the places where nobody wants to live.

Image used with permission

MUSIC

The Blood Magnetic – Epiphany

QUOTES

“We must remember the birth of Christ; the ‘vulnerableness’ of God. I love that: the God who is vulnerable. When I’m vulnerable, I remind myself that God made himself vulnerable, and that if Christmas reminds me of anything, it’s the vulnerability of God – the God who still sees us in all our messiness and our contrariness and still reminds us that he was prepared to be vulnerable in order to come to us.” 

“If God is not in the confusion and the messiness of our lives, then he’s not anywhere.”

Church on a Sunday morning meant singing, clapping, dancing, and watching the power men on stage fire bolts of spirit at people, knocking them to the floor. The service generally concluded with screaming, writhing exorcisms. It was always a sound that disturbed me, but at least it signaled it would soon be time for refreshments.

Imaged used with permission

At children’s camp when I was twelve there was an assembly line which manufactured spiritual experiences. As the children stood worshiping, a male church elder went from child to child, laying his hand on their foreheads. I always tried to avoid this kind of thing, but today I realised that I was standing in the line he was currently working on, and it was too late: he was already too close to make an unnoticed escape to the bathroom. When his hand finally made contact with my forehead, I felt only that it was warm. I waited for God to make me fall over backwards, but felt nothing except for increasing emotional pressure, with this man fervently praying in front of me and the pastor’s wife waiting from behind to catch me. After a tense few minutes I finally gave in and voluntarily fell backwards. As she lay me down the pastor’s wife whispered into my ear: “Well done, Kit, well done.”

A year or so later I was visiting an Anglican church with Mum. The service wasn’t charismatic, and so I wasn’t expecting anything dramatic to happen as I stood singing beside a pew during the worship. But suddenly I was regaining consciousness on the floor with no memory of falling, and no sensation of pain from hitting the pew or the ground. I felt only a vivid sense that I was enveloped by love and peace. A small group of adults had formed around me, and I heard one of them say to Mum “It’s reassuring, isn’t it?”

That question frames the struggles I went through as a young evangelical. The message of our church was the love of God and joy of salvation, but the service at the Anglican church was the only time I remember having any sense that this was real. My daily emotional reality was a constant state of anxiety over whether I was definitely still saved, and whether I was doing enough to save the people around me. I tried to suppress my fears of God, Satan, and hell, but they bubbled to the surface in nightmares of being left behind after the rapture, after which I would wake up and sit crying alone in my room.

But something clicked into place when I went to Leeds university, and the moments of reassurance started coming in more frequently. I went to small groups, prayer groups, prophetic sessions, camps and outreaches. I prayed and I fasted until I literally threw up. I would jump up and down, cry out in passion, and fall to my knees. I felt that being evangelical made me part of God’s special people, but I also felt that I was special among God’s people. Every time I did something that was regarded as spiritual, whether that was praying with a stranger, giving or receiving a prophetic word, or leading worship or Bible study, this egotistical belief was strengthened.

But in the final year of my degree in psychology, the tower came tumbling down. Thanks in part to a module on social constructionism, I came to the conclusion that three of the beliefs I had inherited were incorrect. The first was condemnation of homosexuality. I came to realise how sexual identity is a core part of who we are rather than an optional extra that we can choose, like the flavour of an ice cream. The idea of “love the sinner hate the sin” meant trying to eliminate an essential part of a person, and this wasn’t loving. The second was the doctrine of eternal hell as punishment for everyone who hasn’t made the right contract with Jesus. The third was how the Bible could possibly be the inerrant and inspired word of God when it contains so much divinely-sanctioned violence.

During this questioning I felt unsure but hopeful. I read Dave Tomlinson’s The Post-Evangelical and saw that I wasn’t alone, that there was already a path beyond my inherited faith that others had walked before me. And I had overwhelming experiences of joy and love in the Holy Spirit which I felt provided confirmation that this new path was still of God. So one morning while following my usual routine of praying in the morning before getting out of bed, it was sudden and unexpected when I realised that the presence of God had gone away. Until that moment I hadn’t been aware of the presence as I prayed each day, but now it was gone. I waited a week for it to return, after which began a rapid and intense spiral into atheism and rebellious enjoyment of so many things that I had been denied as an evangelical Christian. I dyed my hair red and wore it in spikes, got an eyebrow piercing, and started smoking, swearing, and taking drugs. Everything felt so open and new, and I realised I was now speaking to non-Christians as equals for the first time.

While life free from religion was thrilling and poignant in extremes that I had never before known, it was also dizzying, and I suffered from depression and loneliness. I didn’t feel that I could relate to my evangelical friends or family, which left me with no close relationships in Leeds. During the time when I was madly going about making new friends and trying new experiences, I realised that I needed to take some real time out to process these wild changes, and so made a plan: first graduate, and then fly to India and backpack around the world for a year. But as I was saving money for the trip, I lost the little remaining stability I had left. Psychologically I was under increasing strain, living in a house of evangelicals while my drug-fuelled partying became more frequent. I was also in a complex and emotionally demanding relationship with one of my new drug-taking friends. Finally my body put a stop to things with an intense case of glandular fever, which meant I had to stop working, postpone the trip, and go back to live with Mum and Dad with my tail between my legs while I recovered enough strength to make the flight.

It took three months of rest to get through the acute phase of the illness. I made it to Delhi, but was still highly susceptible to exhaustion and sickness, so during my travels through Asia I thirsted above all for rest. Physically this meant slow travel, moving on to a new location every week or so, and spending my time reading, journaling, enjoying local food, and taking gentle walks. Spiritually this thirst meant exploring the Eastern spiritual practices of Buddhist meditation, soft martial arts, and Taoism.

It was after leaving Asia and while working in a hospital in Wellington, New Zealand that I came across the word Reiki. On seeing it for the first time I clearly sensed that I was going to learn it, despite not knowing what the word meant. I got all of the books from the library that I could, found out that I would need a teacher, and so when my contract was over at the hospital I shouldered my backpack once more to begin the final stage of my year-long journey: walking and hitch-hiking the length of the south island to Dunedin, to find a Reiki teacher called Janine Joyce.

The Reiki course revealed an approach that was so much more gentle than my experiences with charismatic healing. The most powerful moment of the course was during the initiation ceremony. I was sitting with my eyes closed, hands in prayer position, while Janine completed the ritual. The silence was only broken by the gentle chime of a Tibetan singing bowl. At first I felt tense about what might be happening to me spiritually, but let go of that as I began to feel a rushing of heat inside and around me. In that moment came an intuitive knowing: after more than a year since God had withdrawn her presence from me, the energy that was now coursing through the room was my old friend the Holy Spirit.

This moment at the end of 2007 marked the beginning of a new chapter in my spiritual journey. Reiki revealed itself to me not as a replacement for a now invalid conception of God, but as a new manifestation of the same spirit. And this formed a bridge between my former experiences and the mystery that I was now discovering. This moment therefore was a returning as well as a renewing, and it began a process of healing and growing which continues to this day.

– Kit Johnson

Singer-songwriter and author Lisa Gungor’s life was all coming together. She’d married her college sweetheart and was establishing herself as a successful musician. But cracks began to form when her husband told her he no longer believed in God and they were asked to leave the Church she helped start, a close friend died, their baby baby girl was born with two heart defects, and her musical career began to unravel. But through the depression and despair she slowly began to let go of what she thought was true, and began to see hope and new life through these hardest of experiences.

Interview starts at 13m 45s

Image used with permission

WEBSITES

Lisa Gungor

Isa Ma

Gungor

BOOK

The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen: Opening Your Eyes to Wonder

QUOTES

“It’s really hard to follow your own voice in what you know to be true. I found myself wanting to explain to them – explain to everyone – why I was doing what I was doing; explain to them how my heart really felt like it was in the right place. My experience was that I was doing everything I could to follow God, follow truth, follow goodness, follow love, and it’s such an excruciating feeling when other people view that in a completely opposite way. So, it taught me a lot about following my own heart.”

“The more stories that we were exposed to, the more we realized our story wasn’t the only right thing; the ‘truth’ that we were handed was not the truth – it was a perspective of the truth.”

“A lot of us were given this story that the core of us is evil and we need something outside of ourselves to save us. And that’s not the truth. The truth is that it’s always been good and love has always been there. You’re created from love. You can never be outside of love.”

The tranquillity of the park where I sat in my favourite coffee shop with my two-year-old, did not reflect how I was feeling. As I gathered our things together, after a failed attempt for a moment of peace over my coffee, I heard it clearly. “Slow down.” The words came from deep inside. They stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t know then how life changing those words would become.

Image used with permission

I was struggling in my career, exhausted with young children, and living on edge at home. I felt that if I could just try harder I would make it through and my hard work would begin to pay off.

I had grown up in an evangelical church setting. I remember being baptised when I was 12 and being more excited about the scriptures that would be written in my baptism card by the pastors, than by the submersion itself. I was hoping to hear something special, to feel some connection with this God I was being told loved me. I was disappointed that both the chosen bible verses were about being humble instead of proud. I grew up around a strong ethos of needing to be better for God.

My parents used to take my brother and sister and I to a family summer camp – a Christian week like Spring Harvest. I remember an experience I had there when I was 7 that deeply impacted me and has stayed with me. During one of the children’s meetings, I think in a worship time, I felt an overwhelming sense of love being near me, like I was being held. And I cried deep tears. I knew at that point that there was something beyond me, that God was real. We returned year after year and I often revisited that sense of God at that camp. I cherished those experiences and as I grew older began to search for a tangible grasp of this God. I wanted to hear him, to live a life like those in the books I’d read, like Brother Andrew and Jackie Pullinger, in which there were miracles, in which God was actually involved. I pledged my life to this God and to live a life that would please him, and to have the kind of passion that seemed to be echoed in the youth events I loved so much.

Fast forward twenty years, juggling my work as a junior doctor, and being a mum of two, I was struggling. My career had slowed and the thoughts of being something useful in the world seemed out of reach. I had lost confidence and couldn’t seem to find myself. My life certainly didn’t feel like one that would make a difference to anyone in the way I’d hoped when I set out. I was trying to pull my life together, to be better, and when those words came to me in the coffee shop, slowing down seemed the exact opposite of what I was trying to do.  And then it came, almost out of the blue, but really I just hadn’t noticed it creeping up on me. The sharp reality that I was caught in an emotionally destructive relationship. Slowly its black ink was seeping over every part of me. The years I had invested, the love I’d tried to give, had led me down a dead end. I realised that if I didn’t do something, I would be swallowed up in darkness forever.

Leaving was frightening. Knowing that escaping would be dismantling everything I was trying to build, to face divorce and attempt to bring up my children as a single mum.

I was afraid to let go of what I knew and had built my life upon. The ideas I’d once held with such certainty seemed irrelevant to my situation at this point. I had to face myself and the reality that God was not, in fact, ultimately in control.  I had been emerging out of evangelical Christianity slowly, questioning it  for a while, but had been trying to keep hold of the good I knew of it. However, at this point I desperately needed something solid and church and religion, definitely was not it. If I was going to come through this, I needed to take some control and find help.

As I embarked on my new circumstances, my mental health fell to pieces around me. I had always been strong, reliable, and now I was desperate. Desperate to form some sort of stability for my children that I was not able to find in myself.

I lost sight of how to get through. In the depths of darkness, I felt angry. Angry that the sacrifices I had made to live a life for God were not being met in the way I imagined. I felt grief. Amongst everything else, I was also grieving the loss of the model Christian life I’d so zealously promised God in my youth.

But it was there, in my powerless state, that I found Hope. She came to me. I began a journey in which my imagination played a key role. I held back initially, it felt erroneous when I had been taught to be wary of my imagination, that inherently I was sinful and shouldn’t trust what came out of the deep places in me. But it’s where I slowly began to feel life come back to me and warm me. In the middle of my loneliness I began to see her waiting for me as I came back to my empty house, the children at their Dad’s house. She could ask me how my day was. She was always interested. There was always kindness and care.

I think that experience began to lead me out. It has been a long process of healing and courage and knock backs. It led me into possibility, into creative approaches to spiritual meaning, and ultimately to finding kindness.

In some ways it is like I’ve scrapped all that has gone before and started with a blank sheet. I am open to ideas about God, or whatever you call it, him, her. I love to see how others approach faith. I love to be able to listen to friends from other stand points, and take something from that conversation, free from having to hold an agenda to ultimately convert them.

But in some ways, it is like I have been released to return home, to that simple love that came to me as a child, in which I was held and accepted just as I am.

– Mary Bronwen

Therapists Justin and Joy get together for a conversation about spiritual abuse and how it can present in a church environment. Reflecting on their personal experiences, they explore the impact of spiritual abuse, describing how they learnt to recognise it and what it was like to walk away from congregations they cared about deeply. They also share some of the healing and growth that has taken place as their lives changed and they began to recover and rebuild in different areas of their lives.

Conversation starts at 14m 09s

Images used with permission

WEBSITES

Joy Brooks

Justin Marsh

BOOKS

In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, a Father, a Cult

When Narcissism Comes to Church

Let us Prey

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse

QUOTES

“It’s no longer about wanting to prove that something happened, but it’s about wanting to bring something that feels so shameful into the light. And it’s about wanting to reach out a hand to anyone else who might have been in, or is in that situation and say, ‘You’re not on your own.’”

“The thing that makes spiritual abuse over just a simple power dynamic is that there’s an eternal aspect or an eternal dynamic to it, which is if you aren’t obedient, you might not get as good a place in heaven, or you might run the risk of not making it, or there’ll be some judgement attached to it. There’s a sense of you’re doing it not for the leader or for the church, but you’re working for God. So, it’s almost like the human leader is putting himself in the place of God and you can’t really argue with a deity, can you? You can’t really argue with God.”

It took me a long time to get into a frame of mind to write this. Like many of you, there have been few people in my life who I could tell my faith story to with any expectation that they’d understand. Some would understand the being a Christian part, but not the deconstruction part. Others would appreciate the deconstruction but not my continued pursuit of Jesus. After spending years sitting in a church pew hiding my heretical thoughts and trying to fit in, it’s been a great relief to find the Nomad community.

Image used with permission

I was raised in the United Methodist Church in Alabama, which is situated right in the middle of the Bible Belt. My teen years were spent attending multiple church events every week from youth group to Wednesday night supper to Sunday school and service. We didn’t live close to extended family, so church community became my family. My dad died when I was 9, and the patriarchal structure suited my needs at the time too. To me, God was a father figure and an escape. The Holy Spirit was something magical that gave me goosebumps and told me to do random stuff for strangers. Jesus was this guy I knew was important, but I was too afraid to admit that I didn’t really understand why.

My young beliefs held pretty firm during this time, though I always felt different from other kids. Losing a parent at a young age was part of it. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to have experienced something so life-changing decades before any of my peers. I was so lonely inside. On top of that, I had a severe stutter that I hadn’t learned to accept yet. I found refuge in the church, but neither I nor the pastors really knew how to help me in my pain. I thought church was the one place I could “come as I am” and receive healing and hope. I thought that if I followed all the rules and claimed to believe, that I would find freedom from my suffering. This disconnect between what I was told and what I actually experienced gradually became more confusing and enraging.

There was one point during my freshman year of college when I looked at all the questions swirling in my head and made a decision. If doubting and pursuing all these questions meant I might be going to hell, then I was willing to risk it. I think this might have been the first real pivotal moment when I chose my own life and healing over the prescribed Christian path. For the next ten years, I would bounce back and forth between the two, simultaneously knowing that my life depended on finding my own way, while being terrified of losing the only community I’d ever known.

In college, I ministry-hopped between the Methodists, Church of Christ, and Assembly of God to try to meet all my spiritual needs. Among the three congregations, I’d been rebaptised by immersion, been prophesied over, and been told that I wasn’t allowed to dance in public, serve communion, or teach men. In response to this, I started a covert ballroom dance class for my peers at one campus ministry and led a co-ed Bible study at another. In the end, it was the concept of people being “lost” and “found” that left me stumped. I barely knew any nonbelievers. How could I be sure they were all lost? I was 22, had been a Christian for ten years, had read the entire Bible, and I felt like the lost one. Something wasn’t right. This was the first of several times in my life when I would decide to take a break from church.

My journey unfolded from there, leading to more questions and experiences I didn’t share in my church communities for fear of being kicked out, or worse, losing my status as a Christian. Even as I pleaded with God to make me a good Christian woman who could attract a good Christian husband, I kept having more diverse experiences that fueled my doubt. However, even in my frustration and disagreement with God, I knew God was present. I never doubted this. I knew God was leading me. I knew this was part of my journey, even if I wouldn’t have chosen it myself.

During my post-college unchurched years, I decided that I didn’t want to believe in a God who only existed within the walls of a church. That an omnipotent, omniscient God would choose to only inhabit one religion didn’t make sense to me anymore. From here, God and I started our own version of Where’s Waldo. Only instead of looking for one figure of God in a sea of strangers, I found God in all the strangers.

During a summer abroad, I roomed with a Muslim woman who described her love for God exactly as I described mine. So why was I going to heaven and she wasn’t? In my mid-twenties, I did two years of Americorps at a Camphill community. Here I learned about anthroposophy and esoteric Christianity. I met other big-hearted volunteers from different cultures and beliefs, including a woman who was clairvoyant. I worked and lived with people with special needs, who might not profess a faith but who embodied the Spirit of Christ better than anyone I’d ever met.

After Americorps, I went to graduate school at a Buddhist-inspired university in Boulder, Colorado. Here I learned about transpersonal psychology, world wisdom traditions, and how to meditate. My cohort was entirely non- or ex-Christians who passionately pursued their own personal spiritual lives. I wrestled with my identity as a Christian and the overlap between the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Jesus.

While in Boulder I re-engaged with church. Even as I surrounded myself with genuinely good Christian people, I still didn’t feel like I belonged there. I knew too much. The more I learned about the world and allowed myself to grow, the angrier I felt with the church and the less I felt at home in the pews. Though I did finally begin to understand Jesus one evening in those pews, at the age of 28, in the darkness of a Good Friday service.

Fast forward to today and I am taking another break from church, maybe for good this time, who knows. I’m almost tired of fighting and being angry, and I’m beginning to surrender to the reality that the healing I need takes time and work. At 34, I feel more grounded and secure in my decision to stay true to my own path of deconstruction and hope. I know there is more to come. Thank God for that.

– Jessica Sabo

In this episode David speaks with priest and author Azariah France-Williams about his new book Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England. Azariah reflects on his experience of racism within the church, and how sticking plasters won’t suffice, but instead a wholesale change in structure and mindset is required.
Jemimah is then joined by diversity and inclusion trainer Natalia Nana, to reflect on the interview and to speak about anti-racist habits and practices.

Interview starts at 19m 12s

Images used with permission

BOOKS

Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England

Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Is God Colour-Blind?: Insights From Black Theology For Christian Ministry

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging

Learning to be White: Money, Race, And God in America

Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being

QUOTES

“I would encourage people who describe themselves as Christians – people who describe themselves as Anglicans – to tap into and to engage with the type of monarchy embodied in the life of Jesus, the type of rule which empowered others (that didn’t extract from others), the type of rule that was willing to forego the material in order to embody a message, the type of rule that saw God at work in the lives and the places that many others had forgotten.”

“When I share stories and people begin to instantly minimize, or justify, or try to tell me why it’s actually not that big a thing – that it’s all in my head, or I’m overblowing it, or being too sensitive – I feel more alone in my pain than I was before. And so, an encouragement is to get out of your head, get out of analysis mode and begin to engage with this in an embodied way, and assume that the person that’s speaking to you actually knows what they’re feeling. They know what it feels like – what they’ve gone through. Suspend disbelief. Be alongside them on the journey. ”

“If you have real power, you don’t need to use it over and above other people. If you have real power, you empower others with that, and you give and receive.”

If I can pinpoint a time when I started to have deep questions around faith, I think it would be when I worked in student ministry in Italy seventeen years or so ago. Coming from a deeply evangelical tradition and being part of an evangelical protestant mission organisation, I become increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of converting Catholics to Protestantism by the end of my time there. I couldn’t define it at that time, but it just didn’t sit well with me. I look back now, and I can see it was the beginning of questioning the “us versus them”, defensive basis of sharing what was supposed to be good news. I had begun to want to listen to others of different backgrounds from me, to listen, to learn, rather than have all the right answers to theological arguments. I wanted to see their point of view and I was starting to feel uncomfortable with the assumption that I thought (and I had been taught) that I knew the only way to God and that I had all the answers.

Image used with permission

Fast forward ten years or so, years of different evangelical, charismatic denominations seeking always to do the right thing, regularly going to church, always wanting some experience of God in order to know how to live my life. I sought and tried different ways of prayer, of reading the bible, I wanted to “hear” from God directly for guidance in making decisions and, most of all, answers to prayer as to why I was single and lonely. That perhaps sounds more negative than it was, I did experience what I would say was a sense of being loved by God during this time and I truly wanted to dedicate all aspects of my life to God.

At this time, I had a dream of running a retreat centre as I deeply appreciated the retreat spaces I had experienced and wanted to cultivate some kind of space for people to get away and rest. I started training as a spiritual director and suddenly a year into the course God seemed…silent. Very silent. A blank, brick wall of silence. That’s what it felt like. I couldn’t even hope in particular dark moments, certainly not hope that there were answers and where was God in this. Did God care? Was God even listening?

There was no major drama, just a gradual disappearance of the God I thought I had dedicated my life to. He just didn’t seem to be there anymore.  

Alongside this I was finding church hard, partly because I wasn’t seemingly hearing from God but also, I no longer felt I fitted in a particular church. I felt more at home in the ecumenical group at the spiritual direction course. This group was a small eclectic group of multi-ethnic Catholics, charismatics, Anglicans, Quakers, non-denominational, gay and straight, all gathered to be taught how to listen well to people and develop and carry this skill into different spheres. Here was a group where I didn’t have to define myself by a denomination or a statement of faith, I could simply be a friend to these fellow travellers on the journey of faith. I could listen and could be listened to and that became a special place.

I think it’s the desire to continue to be part of a community where all are welcome that drew me to a community such as Nomad and appreciate the podcast so much. I’m not writing this to disparage church community in any way, but my personal experience is that I have found it the loneliest place when you have questions that there are no easy answers to.

I am longing to see more communities of hope and unity where all are accepted and listened to well. The existence of groups such as I found and podcasts such as Nomad is where I find hope right now. We are not in an easy year or an easy time, but I want more and more to be one who listens to understand rather than to respond, to quote Stephen R Covey*.  That type of listening is hard and is a practice. A daily, hourly, minute-by-minute practice in my experience, and I’ve only recently begun.

Being present in listening to my own questions and the questions of others gives me hope. It also somehow gives me the sense of a loving presence in all of this, which I would like to call God.

To end I want to quote the writings of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, which I keep coming back to:

I want to beg you..

to be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart

and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms

and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.

Do not now seek the answers,

that cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is, to live everything.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps you will then gradually,

without noticing it,

live along some distant day into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Delyth Johnson

*Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

We’ve caused a turning point in the Earth’s natural history. Everybody Now is a podcast about what it means to be human on the threshold of a global climate emergency, in a time of systemic injustice and runaway pandemics. Scientists, activists, farmers, poets, and theologians talk bravely and frankly about how our biosphere is changing, about grief and hope in an age of social collapse and mass extinction, and about taking action against all the odds.

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In this episode we speak with the director of Theos Think Tank and host of The Sacred podcast, Elizabeth Oldfield.
Elizabeth is passionate about exploring how we can build healthy friendships and societies in an age characterised by seemingly ever deepening differences, and what role faith can play in this.
So we asked Elizabeth why we find it so hard to relate to people who are culturally, politically and religiously different from ourselves, and how we can begin to overcome this.

Interview starts at 12m 40s

Image used with permission.

WEBSITE

Theos Think Tank

The Sacred

QUOTES

“That’s one of the key sources of wisdom – when we see the world differently because we’ve actually stopped to acknowledge another human being who’s different from us.”

“If you actually want to change something rather than just looking self-righteous, go and work out how to change that person’s mind. And generally the way you change someone’s mind is them thinking that you actually give a toss about them, not that you have contempt for them.”

“It’s very easy to feel very sure about something if you’re never met someone who’s smart and nice who believes the opposite. But once you’ve met someone who’s smart and nice who believes the opposite, the sort of internal-probability-of-you-being-wrong-calculation that you do just shifts a bit.”

My older sisters ended up getting us all kicked out of Sunday school. I’m not sure why, and I was definitely too young to remember it happening, but my parents tell me this was one of the reasons they didn’t bother with church anymore. We didn’t seem all that interested.

Image used with permission.

I wouldn’t return to church again until my teenage years when I picked up a bass guitar and joined a band. It turned out they practiced in a church, and one of their parents was the vicar. They’d snagged me. I turned up most Sundays, not entirely interested in the content of each service but happy to be in the company of friends. Coming together as a community around the communion table resonated with me and nurtured a sense of inclusion. Here I was being welcomed to partake in something that was clearly so special to everyone involved.

Later at university I ended up following a series of rather unfortunate events; being terrified by preachers who had this incredible gift of condemning everyone other than themselves, being silenced in a Bible study because it wasn’t a place for questions, and being completely ignored while my partner, Holly, was quizzed on the perils of dating someone they saw as a non-believer. The more I became involved in the Church, the quicker I realised that it isn’t always the welcoming place we hope it to be. Where I’d previously felt included, I now felt pushed to the fringes as a young adult finding my own voice, and apparently asking all the wrong questions.

After a night out with friends I ended up in the back of a police van, and the next day I was off to a Christian conference with Holly’s family. Nothing serious had happened, but it wasn’t the best start to the week ahead. Thankfully, I was believed when I used car sickness as an excuse for my rather pasty complexion. Little did I know then, but I was about to discover Pentecostalism in full force. The main conference tent was filled with people speaking in strange languages, others occasionally dropping to the floor and not one person whose energy levels hadn’t been turned up to 11. I was truly bewildered, out of my depth, and vowed to myself not to let go of my seat for the duration of the week.

Despite this promise to myself, I ended up responding to an alter call and was baptised when returning to university. We were still in the same church where the merits of my relationship had been questioned – they were happy about the baptism.

Suddenly I was included again and began playing in the worship group. However, university is a great place to learn critical thinking and many of my political and social views soon came into conflict with my local church’s teaching. Thankfully, getting married involved a house move during which we took the opportunity to look for a different church.

We found ourselves in a worshiping community filled with people who had found themselves on the fringes elsewhere for various reasons. It was a mixed bag of life experiences and theological thinking. It took me a while to feel comfortable because I’d retained a rather strict conservative evangelical theology and almost instinctively felt suspicious of different approaches to faith. I’m glad we were in this new place, however, because the proverbial shit would soon hit the fan.

After the birth of our first child my wife experienced postpartum psychosis.* It was truly awful, and I dread to think what the reaction of our previous church would have been. Thankfully, our current church community gave us the distance we needed while a few close friends offered their support. In the pit of this trauma my whole world felt as though it had caved in and God had performed the greatest of all vanishing acts. If I could have looked into the neat and tidy boxes into which I had placed God I would have discovered that they were empty. Everything was in flux, and to make things more complicated I was in the process of being accepted to train for ordained ministry.

Despite everything, I was given the support and encouragement to continue onto training. Relocating to theology college offered some physical distance from what was still a painful experience, but time proved to be a great healer and hindsight a real blessing. I was able to see how the powerful and victorious image of God I had learned to grasp hold of found no place in my vulnerability.

I had to read Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God when applying for ministerial training and I found myself challenged by a different image of God, one which finds God becoming vulnerable in the midst of suffering. Slowly I began to make sense of faith again, and studying theology only helped to broaden my view of Christianity, learning to appreciate differences I had previously distrusted.

My faith is no longer neatly packaged, and I believe I’m all the better for it. I’ve also taken solace in the belief that God’s greatest strength is empathy. This has given me a lot of breathing space and enabled me to involve myself in work with people from other faith traditions in whom I occasionally see Christ most clearly (but don’t tell my younger self this).

Discovering Nomad Podcast, and The Beloved Listener Lounge, has introduced me to valuable companionship and has provided a constant reminder that deconstruction can be an enriching and shared experience.

– Liam Dacre-Davis

*I won’t go into detail as this is mostly Holly’s story to tell, but search for the charity Action for Postpartum Psychosis if you feel you need to know a little more.

In this episode we welcome Rob Bell back to the podcast. Rob’s written a new book – Everything is Spiritual – within which he explores how ideas about creation, love and connection have profoundly shaped his faith journey.
We chat with Rob about what it means to embrace who we are and where we’ve come from, our wounds, our pain and our regrets, and how this can deepen and expand our sense of self and connection to the world and the divine.
As you’d expect from Rob, it’s a conversation full of humour, insight and inspiration.

Interview starts at 15m 4s

Image taken by Logan Rice. Used with permission.

BOOKS

Everything is Spiritual: A Brief Guide to Who We Are and What We’re Doing Here

What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything

What We Talk About When We Talk About God

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived

QUOTES

“Doubt, rage, despair, disorientation – if you haven’t experienced those, you’re not paying attention. That’s all part of the human experience. It’s not to be denied or avoided. You feel all of it. It’s all part of it.”

“The radical is not the one who wandered away. The radical is the one who went back to the roots, to the source.”

“The real art is to own every square inch of your story. It’s all part of it; it’s all how we become who we become.”

“When you ask people about the most significant moments of their life, people always talk about pain, and loss, and heartbreak, and how they wouldn’t have wished it upon their worst enemy. And yet, when they look back, those are the very experiences that shaped them into the person that they are. It’s one of the great mysteries of life. So, I am passionate about helping people read the text of their own life – to interpret the stories of their own life through this lens: that everything is spiritual.”

I’ve been struggling with how to tell this story. My attempts to craft a chronological timeline of events feel like they leave too much out, too many words feel like they’re not the right words to transition one moment into the next. And then I realized, this is not a story. This is a tapestry. A collection of vibrantly coloured threads spanning generations, geographies and worldviews that weave together to make a life. Or maybe not one life, but many, because this tapestry is bigger than me. It was started by my ancestors going back further than I can see, and its pieces don’t move neatly from A to B to C. They overlap and intertwine. They coil and collide. They dance. 

Image used with permission.

From my French Catholic grandmother I inherited threads of generational trauma from a childhood of control and abuse. But also threads of love. A love of Jesus and of family. And threads of growing into a woman who knew her own mind and easily wove her faith and her questioning together into something that she could comfortably live in.

From my neo-pagan mom, threads of rejecting the traditions she grew up with that left her shamed and voiceless. But also threads of seeking the divine in other ways and with other faces. I grew up in a house with pictures of Artemis on the wall, Women Who Run with the Wolves on the bookshelf, and these too were threads in my tapestry.

And between the three of us the thread of a shared name. For my mom and me our middle name, for my grandma her first: Marie.

My dad contributed threads when he took me to a visiting transcendental meditation guru when I was 9 years old to receive a mantra. I laid my orange and my carnation in front a picture of the guru’s guru and placed the word I was given into my heart like a precious gem where it still lives nearly 30 years later. As instructed, I’ve never told anyone what it was, even the disillusioned ex-TM teacher I met years later who tried to guess. My inner 9 year old knew a sacred vow when she wove one.

My mom’s family added threads to my tapestry a few years ago at a big family reunion where after one of her cousins said grace, my grandma, her siblings, and one table out of all of us gathered made the sign of the cross in breathtaking near-unison like a flock of birds rising as one from a lake. I longed to feel in my bones that pull to connect god to my body, and connect my body to the bodies of my ancestors. I longed for that thread of belonging.

There had been threads woven into my understanding in my youth of what it meant to be religious. It was small, it was constricted, it was constricting. And there was the knowledge of real and untenable atrocities carried out in the name of those institutions. And so I didn’t know how to reconcile the faith of my grandma, of my family, with the other threads that were forming me. What about feminism? What about justice? What about queerness and socialism and love? Nothing I’d been told about at church reflected those values.

But slowly over the years as I started to dig a little deeper, was offered names and resources by friends walking similar paths, and a different kind of church was revealed to me. The teachings of Anthony DeMello offered me a thread. And Pádraig Ó Tuama. And Cynthia Bourgeault. Then I found Nomad and dozens of beautiful threads wove into my tapestry. Threads of hope.

I began to see that I hadn’t been given the full picture about church, about god, about Jesus. If these radical, loving mystics and activists could find such awe in this tradition, what had I been missing?

I saw progressive women coming into awareness of their appropriation of eastern religions and turning to figures like Mary Magdalene to see themselves reflected in the traditions of their ancestors. But to my surprise, it was not Mary Magdalene, but the Mary from whom I got my middle name, Marie, Mere de Dieu, (Mary, Mother of God) who captivated me. I googled her prayer and wove its thread into my heart. In a dream she invited me up from darkness to be enfolded in her arms.

I read the gospels for the first time at age 35 and was astounded. I did not expect an anti-capitalist, feminist, champion of the marginalized. And I did not expect to feel myself wrapped in the loving arms of a long lost brother as I sat in centering prayer one morning. Jesus was a thread I added to my tapestry and I wrapped myself in the warmth of it, more loved than I thought possible.

My grandma died the day before my birthday this year. I wasn’t able to be there when they cleaned out her apartment, but my mom claimed for me a holy water container shaped like Mary that my grandma got on pilgrimage years ago and a beautiful rosary with green beads that look like pomegranate seeds. The cross is missing from the rosary, but I like it that way. It reminds me that I can weave the traditions of the past into my life now, but they don’t have to be what they have always been.

I pass the beads of the rosary between my fingers and recite prayers that connect me to my family across generations and continents and languages. But deeper than that, the language beyond the prayer is a thread that connects me to anyone who is praying anywhere to anything. And together all of us are weaving and being woven by god.

– Jenn Johnson

In this episode we discuss radical theology with author, philosopher and storyteller Peter Rollins. Peter explores the freedom that comes when we accept and embrace the lack within us and the struggle within life. He believes that letting go of the frenetic pursuit of that which will make us whole and complete opens the way to accepting the lack within and finding enjoyment within the struggles of life. From this place of freedom we find God in the act of love, the depth dimension of our experiences, and in a continual transformative conversation.
It’s a mind bending and inspiring conversation.

Interview starts at 14m 53s

Image taken by Burt Dirkse. Used with permission.

WEBSITE

Peter Rollins

BOOKS

Insurrection: To Believe is Human; to Doubt, Divine

The Idolatry of God: Breaking the Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction

How (Not) to Speak of God

The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales

QUOTES

“Doubt, unknowing, complexity is part of what makes life what it is. Radical theology is more about embracing the cracks in our lives than trying to cover over them.”

“If you think of ‘God’ as what guarantees meaning – what guarantees that everything makes sense – ‘death of God’ means the moment in which we experience the loss of everything that gives us meaning; the rug is pulled from beneath us, we start to question everything about our political views, our religious views, our sense of purpose. It’s a kind of existential crisis. And in confessional church, often that experience is seen as the opposite of the religious tradition. It’s like that’s the very thing that religion protects you against. But within radical theology, the ‘death of God’ is the central moment of Christianity. This experience is not something that needs to be shored up against or defended against. It’s actually what allows for us to mature as individuals and as communities. And this is symbolized in the crucifixion of God.”

“We’re liturgical creatures. And by liturgy I simply mean we engage in regular practices. And there are liturgies that are damaging to us like going to the pub every night – getting drunk to forget about your suffering. And there are liturgies that are good for us – maybe going to the Irish pub and having a drink and talking about your problems with your friends. Those are both liturgies, but one you do to avoid the suffering and one you do and it actually helps you look at your suffering.”

“By embracing this dimension of ourselves, we find ourselves flowing with the very nature of reality: the chaos that we are is reflected in the chaos of the universe and that chaos is profoundly productive. This is at the core of existentialist philosophy.” 

I was a child of the Charismatic Movement, in quite a literal way. Two years after my Anglican-Presbyterian mother got born again and Spirit filled, God told her to have another child. She stopped taking the pill, and I was born about a year later.

Image used with permission.

I grew up Charismatic Presbyterian in 1980s New Zealand and attended two Reformed Christian secondary schools in the 1990s. When I was 13, there was a stint living with my parents on campus at a Pentecostal Bible College.

These were the days of tearing down strongholds with shouted prayers and loud worship music, back-masking, demon deliverance and stories about the Russians digging a hole so deep that when they dangled a microphone down there, they could hear the screams of the souls in hell. These were the days of the inevitable immanent return of Jesus as the year 2000 approached. I wish we’d all been ready.

There were all kinds of adventures and good friends. I experienced the stark difference of Reformed Christianity on the one hand and Pentecostalism on the other, with Charismatic Presbyterianism somewhere in-between, but I was an introvert imaginative kid always looking for home – some kind of space where I felt I could belong, somewhere safe from guilt and fear.

I stayed Charismatic Presbyterian for over 20 years. During that time I finished a master’s degree in English at university, got a job at a Christian publishing company (where I still work, 20 years later) and met Anna, my wife, at a Christian music festival after one of my poetry performances.

Anna had chronic fatigue (ME/CFS). She had it when we met, but we both knew she was going to get better soon. We were both God-honouring young people, so we knew that God wouldn’t want us to have our dreams derailed by illness. That’s how it works, right? And anyway, I was a perfectionist and an idealist – so that’s how it had to work.

A few months into our marriage, the illness worsened. Anna ran out of sick days in her first job as a Spanish and English teacher and had to resign. Her feelings of isolation deepened, so we moved to her hometown to be closer to family.

Over the course of the next decade or so, Anna’s health continued to fluctuate. At one point she felt well enough to step out and take on another teaching job. ‘Step-out in faith’ is how we framed it. She made it through one term then, during the two-week school holidays, she started having non-epileptic seizures.

The scans were clear, but the seizures continued to occur unpredictably – sometimes in a cluster, sometimes months apart. Anxiety became a feature of my life alongside a growing sense of disenchantment with the way things had turned out.

By now, I was attending a Pentecostal church and was actually quite involved – mainly as a worship leader – despite the awkwardness an introvert can feel in what is essentially an extrovert style of Christianity. I had wonderful friends there and had no particular beef with the place. But my faith was slipping and, ironically, it was partly due to the positivity preached from the stage. It was intended to boost our faith so that healing and joy would come. But healing wasn’t coming, and there was no official space for sorrow and lament. There was plenty about the faith it takes to be physically healed, and nothing about the faith it takes to live unhealed.

With perfectionism as grist to the mill, disenchantment was turning into a generalised sense of resentment, and resentment is very tiring.

Without any unpleasant rupture with the church I’d been attending, I gravitated towards a newly established local church where people wanted to explore faith in a deeper, more intellectually engaged way. The informal term that I latched onto there was ‘post-Pentecostal’. In effect, aspects of the deconstruction process were taking place within the context of church community.

There was more existentially honest theology taking place – space for ambiguity and mystery – but my expectations about how life should be, and God’s role in that, ran very deep… the resentment and tiredness, alongside caregiver fatigue and trauma, continued to gather.

Age 39, anxiety was increasingly popping up at unexpected times and it didn’t seem to be directly linked to specific triggers. I was starting to experience weird physiological symptoms, and my body wasn’t healing itself properly. Then, after an unfortunate experience with an antidepressant, my system collapsed. I was experiencing burnout… maybe even, dare I say it in the old language, a nervous breakdown. 

The process of making sense of my life, and recovery, began. There were medical tests, including an MRI for MS-like symptoms, and an ultrasound for sharp pains in my abdomen. The results, from a pathological point of view, were always those of a healthy individual. So the real, and perhaps most important, work came to the fore – that long internal journey – deconstruction or dissembling via falling apart – a journey which I hoped, to use Richard Rohr’s term, would prove to be a falling upward.

By and by I discovered a wide river. I first caught the sound of it during one of those moments of desperate internet searching, which turned up a thing called mindfulness. Walking in that direction, I found myself ankle-deep in something called contemplative spirituality. I don’t think I found it by accident. There was a familiarity to it and a strange newness.

Mysticism had always been my thing, truth be told. I’d flirted with it in every church context I’d been in. I had a strong longing for a connection to something that extended all the way back – something ancient. Something deep. If nothing else, my burnout made me feel like I needed to plunge head-first into cool, clear water, and so I dove in and entered the flow.

It transpires that contemplative spirituality isn’t just about practices, but a whole way of being in the world. Bigger than congregations or denominations, or even my own existential expectations. A gathering sense of home. For me, it’s the most hopeful possibility for Christianity.

Questions about theology and the presence and intention of God seem to be increasingly filled with wonder, rather than angst or frustration. Nearly five years on, the burnout recovery continues. This morning I experienced the confusion of a sudden onset of brain-fog, anxiety and tiredness. But there’s something different now. Open-handedness and gratitude are friends. Little by little, guilt is becoming less of a feature in my belief dynamic. Love and Presence. Restedness is a core value. ‘Accept and float’ is the mantra I got from one of the many books I’ve read. I don’t want to over-romanticise this, and wax too lyrical; but then again, I did ask for a sense of wonder.

There’s a place on the spiritual journey described by French philosopher Paul Riceour called ‘the second naïveté’. It’s a post-critical mindset – a possible way of being beyond the deconstruction/dissembling process – and I find it very inviting. In essence, it’s a journey from disenchantment to re-enchantment – not an arrival but an ongoing process. It contains all the gifts and wisdom of the critical phase, but it rests easier. It’s a more nuanced interaction with the old words, the symbol and metaphor, returning to them in their richness with the embodied engagement of the sacramental.

About 15 months ago, Anna and I moved north, closer to the equator, to the outskirts of a small town, near the rugged west coast. Northland is the least wealthy region of New Zealand. We set out on an adventure – a place in the country, and a place where Anna has been able to engage in coalface youth work. She still has to carefully manage her health, but it’s been over three years since she had a seizure – so who knows…

On Wednesday morning I sat in church for Eucharist – just the six of us – me and five older women, including the vicar. Holy Trinity, a nearly 150-year-old structure, an Anglican church, built in what was then a colonial outpost, from Kauri timber that took from hundreds to thousands of years to grow. (The area was once clothed with these giant sacred trees – the legs of Tāne Mahuta as he held earth and sky apart to let in the light – until they were clear-felled as a resource for empire.) We say liturgy that, via a series of fairly minor revisions, dates at least as far back as 1549. The timber and the liturgy have that in common.

We entered via the vestry door because the main door is exposed to wind and rain – the church is built on a high point above the town. The rain is a gentle white noise to our prayer, and the structure creaks just a little in a gust. The squall passes and now the beautiful stain-glass behind the altar (donated by the widow of the colonial entrepreneur for whom the town is named) is illuminated.

The wide brown heft of the Northern Wairoa River flows on by downstream, then back again as the tidal force of the Kaipara Harbour’s 947 square kilometres of water pushes inland. So many metaphors, so much ambiguity, so much poetry, so much to admire and regret. Disconnects, breaking, burning and reassembling. So much beauty and… sin. And yet, and yet… this age-old hum of potentiality, dissembling and remaking… perhaps – in the richest, ever-new sense of the old language – the possibility of redemption, of coming home.

– Andrew Killick

Toxic masculinity is a term that seems to be cropping up more and more in academic and media discussions, as we become more aware of the harmful effects – on men, women and society in general – of men conforming to traditional masculine ideals, like dominance, self-reliance, and competition.
So we dialled up Stephen Whitehead, who is an author, researcher, consultant and lecturer on gender, sexuality and identity, and asked him where these traditional expressions of masculinity came from, what effects they are having on us, and how we can overcome them.
It’s an honest, insightful, challenging and hopeful conversation.

Interview starts at 12m 16s

Image used with permission.

BOOK

Toxic Masculinity: Curing the Virus: Making Men Smarter, Healthier, Safer – Stephen Whitehead

Man Up: Surviving Modern Masculinity – Jack Urwin

For the Love of Men: From Toxic to a More Mindful Masculinity – Liz Plank

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love – Bell Hooks

WEBSITE

Stephen Whitehead

QUOTES

“Do not put men’s behaviour down to hormones and genes. The world we grow up in, live in, and experience on a daily basis is much more influential.”

“Where there is a higher level of education and a greater urbanization – a greater willingness for younger men and women certainly to stand back and critique the ideologies that have been fed their ancestors (we’re seeing that now in the Black Lives Matter movement) – where there’s a greater desire to undertake that questioning, that critique, then we’re going to see toxic masculinity become more marginalized.”

“It’s impossible to be a progressive man and be fascist. It’s impossible to be a progressive man and racist. Be a feminist – be a full feminist. How few feminist men did I meet when I started doing my research? But now it’s no big deal. Nowadays, you meet so many men who are comfortable with declaring themselves as feminists, and I think that’s right and so they should. We should be allies with women in the same way we should be anti-racist; we should be anti-homophobic. I find it staggering that we can even have a problem thinking about this. Why would anyone want to be racist? Why would anyone want to hate women? Why would anyone want to be homophobic? What is going on the minds of people like this?

“The most important benefit [of a more progressive masculinity] is you won’t be fighting the 21st Century zeitgeist. You’ll be in tune with it. You won’t be fighting history, you’ll be part of history, you’ll be part of the future. And this will lead to greater calmness, contentment and improved mental health.”

My earliest memory of faith is lying in my bottom bunk each night, repeating the Lord’s Prayer over and over, in the hope that, if I died in my sleep, God would let me into heaven*.

Image used with permission

I became a “born again” Christian when I was 13, after my family started attending a local evangelical/brethren church. We had attended another (less intense) church prior to this and my immediate family were all Christians. As a passionate and impressionable teenager (with a side dose of baseline anxiety, see bunk bed prayer*) I quickly internalised what I was hearing. The result was a life focused on daily quiet times, fervent evangelising and high-octane church involvement (the majority of time at this church, then later one closer to my university). Over the next 7 years I devoted most of my time to camps and mission weeks, prayer triplets, bible studies and prayer rooms. I had a poem stuck on my bedroom wall entitled “Letter from Hell”; written from the perspective of a friend in hell, asking why I hadn’t done more to bring them to Jesus.

My deconstruction started relatively innocuously in my early 20’s. There was no one defining moment, instead it was an accumulation of many smaller doubts and wrestles. A medical elective in India made me question my theology on hell. The over-spiritualisation of a break-up made me doubt how I interpreted God’s will. I became increasingly uncomfortable evangelising my friends and the line between evangelism and manipulation became increasingly blurry (think curry night that is 10% curry and 90% testimony from a prison convert). As I began working as a doctor, I got a privileged insight into the complexities of people’s lives and the categories of Christian and non-Christian now felt like a cruel over simplification. Doubts and questions around the role of woman in the church, and teaching on sexuality (including homosexuality) and relationships made it increasingly difficult for me to tow the party line. I ruined more than one dinner party with my issues surrounding penal substitution and Calvinism. Steadily everything felt like a struggle.  

As difficult as these issues were to wrestle, the breaking point, the true unravelling, came when I realised there was no space to air my doubts and questions in the various Christian communities I was part of. In the few settings they could be aired, I still needed to eventually conclude with the view held by the church/organisation. I started to feel like I was suffocating.

As a generally anxious person (*see bunk bed prayer), the ‘micro manager’, black and white God who had a plan for every minute of my life was initially quite comforting. But it had now become the source of much of my anxiety, especially in regards to petitionary prayer. It felt like my linear, formulaic, two-dimensional faith was crumbling under the pressure of a multi-dimensional, complicated lived experience. I poked at a few more pieces and then the whole thing crumbled.

It took me a few years to truly face and accept what was happening. People would ask what church my husband and I were attending and I’d blame having a new baby. Or working. Or moving house. I felt terrified of my bible, unable to read it in case it pulled me back to who I had been before. I found prayer overwhelming as it had became more about ruminating over my fears than a spiritual practice that brought peace and direction. I felt a sense of grief as I left these communities and mourned the loss of a role that I had felt so certain of. But if I’m really honest, I mostly just felt angry.

I felt angry at the power and the patriarchy within the evangelical church. Angry at the legalism, angry at the uniformity of biblical interpretation we all had to adhere to. I felt angry at how much honesty was suppressed in the name of ‘godliness’. Angry at how repressed I was as a female and how much shame came with the purity culture teachings. I also felt ashamed and angry with myself for feeling angry and it’s taken many years to begin untangling all of that. 

The first signs of hope came in the form of a Brian McLaren book (given to me many years earlier by a wise and kind friend) and then another book, Doug Frank’s A Gentler God and then I discovered Rachel Held Evans. I read Evolving in Monkey Town in one evening with tears streaming down my face. I remember the overwhelming relief that I wasn’t alone. It felt wonderful to know this was a path that others had taken and not only survived, but had re-emerged with something new. I found reading Fowler’s work on Stages of Faith helpful and also Scott Peck’s work on faith psychology. I also began reading and listening to Esther Perel, a Belgian psychotherapist who has helped me reach a much more positive view on sexuality than I inherited from the evangelical ‘purity culture’ teaching. My husband, who became a Christian in his early 20’s, has always held a much lighter, more open faith where questions have always been as welcome as answers, so we’ve been able to do much of this journey together, which I am so grateful for. I am also fortunate to have some very dear friends from my past evangelical life, who are on various paths, without the church.

Other signs of hope have come through running, gardening and becoming a mother. Connecting to my body (often in nature) and learning to trust my instincts as a mum have helped reverse years of thinking my emotions were unreliable and my body a separate/lesser part of me. I’ve also loved being around my children who question and love and integrate all part of themselves in life so freely. Children know how to find and share pleasure. I found the evangelical obsession with abstaining from ‘worldly pleasures’ to be such a damaging, joy stealing theology. Being in such a constant state of vigilance makes it incredibly difficult to experience pleasure, joy and presentness and confounded my general anxiety towards life. Attempting to be rooted in the now, feet on this earth and allowing myself to experience joy and pleasure, might be the biggest sign of hope I’ve had so far.  

The last few years have been defined by a much deeper contentment for where I am. I’ve realised I was trying to package my deconstruction back up into the same neat, little boxes my evangelical faith had just come out of. I’ve given up trying to label where I am and what I am. I’ve been comforted immensely by the fact Jesus answered most questions with riddles, stories or more questions. He also sometimes changed his answer depending who was asking.  And why they were asking. He didn’t make the disciples agree to a 12-point statement of faith. I feel at peace with my “questions that have no right to go away” (from the David Whyte poem Sometimes).

I’ve occasionally felt pangs of guilt and worry that my deconstruction process has involved a lot of navel gazing and self-centredness. I’ve also wrestled with the frustration that to many, it looks like you’ve given up or ‘back-slidden’ when you no longer attend church. Nevertheless, I’ve found despite all my struggles, I am still drawn to Jesus. He still consumes my thoughts, my conversations (and clearly my podcast choices). He’s in the bedtime ponderings I have with my kids where we question things together and I can listen to what they think without jumping in with answers. He’s in my job as I seek to alleviate suffering rather than try to explain it away or spiritualise it. He’s in my friendships that feel so much more human and loving without the evangelical agenda. I’ve started to have honest conversations with the friends that bore the brunt of my super evangelical years and I’ve experienced so much love and grace from them in this. The world doesn’t feel like a “them and us” anymore.

In rejecting a certain type of Christianity, I’ve discovered Jesus in all the places I never looked. The freedom that has come from being ‘outside’ the religious community and their rules and exclusivity has been surprising and life giving in equal measure.

I sometimes wonder if that’s how the disciples might have described their time with Jesus…

– Jenna Gillies

In this episode we speak with artist, poet and author Emily Garcés. It’s a heart-warming, heart-breaking, inspiring and challenging conversation, as Emily shares with us her journey through life and faith, with all of its joys and struggles, as she wrestles with what it means to be fully alive.

Interview starts at 11m 48s

Image used with permission.

BOOK

Hitchhiking with Drunken Nuns (US)

Hitchhiking with Drunken Nuns (UK)

ART

Etsy.com

Facebook

Instagram

QUOTES

“What self-help so often does is it presents us with an ideal – an ideal version of ourselves. We’re told that we can be a better parent, or that we can manage our finances better, or that we should be doing something more exciting with our lives. We’re always shown this future possibility of who we could be and then we have to buy into that by trying to become something new. And this understanding that I gain – that it isn’t about becoming that version of yourself in the future but it’s about embracing the messiness of who you are now – became such a freeing part of my life.”

“Walls are the opposite of bridges.

Walls are arguments you’re determined to win.

Walls are built to keep you safe.

Walls are built to keep you in.”

“I try to see life as a dance and as a response to the music that’s playing around me. And that manifests itself in creative forms. And I’m not just talking about people who write music and people who paint and the way that perhaps we traditionally see creativity. I think a creative heart and a creative mind and a creative openness to the world around us is how I envision the future of religion and the future of community.”

“Stories are so important because when we hear people give words to things that we didn’t have words for, it is a step towards our own healing.”

In this episode we speak with therapist, theologian and author, Mark Karris. For anyone going through a faith deconstruction, prayer is often near the top of the list of things we struggle to make sense of. And Mark is certainly no exception to this. He had the kind of traumatic childhood you’d only expect to see in a film. But despite all his prayers, and the prayers of his church, the situation steadily deteriorated. So we asked Mark why so often our prayers aren’t answered? How can a God of love observe such suffering without intervening? Why does God often seem to answer quite trivial prayers, and ignore the more significant ones? Mark has a fascinating take on all our questions, and proposes a hopeful, loving and grounded vision of prayer.

Interview starts at 17m 45s.

Image used with permission.

BOOKS

Divine Echoes: Reconciling Prayer With the Uncontrolling Love of God

Religious Refugees: (De)Constructing Toward Spiritual and Emotional Healing

WEBSITE

Mark Gregory Karris

QUOTES

“God’s power is God’s wise and loving ability to work through and upon co-created elements to enact powerful liberating change towards beauty, truth, healing, goodness and flourishing.”

“Conspiring prayer is a form of prayer where we create space in our busy lives to align our heart with God’s heart, where our spirit and God’s Spirit breathe harmoniously together, and where we plot together to subversively overcome evil with acts of love and goodness.”

“Sometimes I just think we’re praying to God, and God’s saying, ‘I know – I want you to do that very thing.”

Dr. Hillary McBride is a clinical counselor in Vancouver. When she’s not doing clinical work she is researching, speaking, writing and podcasting (as a host on The Liturgists), about the intersection of spirituality and mental health, trauma, embodiment, eating disorders, body image, and sex and sexuality. But we wanted to focus in on embodiment, so we spent a hour chatting about what it means to be truly embodied, why many of us feel so disconnected from our bodies, and how a greater sense of embodiment can profoundly reshape our sense of self, sexuality, spirituality, and just about anything else you can think of. 

Interview starts at 17m 41s

Imaged used with permission.

BOOK

Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image: Learning to Love Ourselves as We Are

WEBSITE

Hillary McBride

QUOTES

“Our embodiment – the way we move through the world – tells us a story about who we are, what we’ve lived through, what matters to us, what the people around us believe about ‘good bodies’ and ‘bad bodies’ and if those exist and what they look like. We’re this living, breathing autobiography telling the story about being a human in this place, in this time.”

“If thinking is really only one part of being human, perhaps I’m missing these other entry points to know and experience the divine.”

“Our thinking will often take us a million miles away from what’s happening right now. And it’s only later in our lives that we come back and think to ourselves, ‘Why wasn’t I really present when that was happening?’ When my kids were young, on my wedding day, when I was graduating, that moment when I got to witness that really important piece of art or whatever it was. I was already in the next thing I was doing. So, when we practice calling our attention back into our bodies, what we’re really doing is calling our attention back into the present moment.”

“Getting to where we need to go often means finding a new language for where we’ve been.” Belden C. Lane, Backpacking with the Saints

I woke up to the sounds of the rocky river, crawled out of my sleeping bag, across the tent, quietly unzipped the door flap so as not to wake my brothers. It was the summer before my 10th birthday. I poked my feet out, slid my toes into my damp shoes, and worked my way out of the tent into the cool stillness of the morning. Our campsite sat along the Housatonic River in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. My three brothers and I spent hours walking the river, our sneakers soaked, shins peppered with bruised badges of our adventures. I don’t remember tracking time, other than when our bodies told us it was time to eat and we had to find our way back. We spent two weeks every summer camping in these untamed wild places. I felt at home among the trees, rivers and rocks and trails. My language of God was rooted in these adventures in the woods, getting lost in space and time and finding my way back again.

Image used with permission.

The world beyond the wild was much more complicated to navigate. So I paid close attention and learned how to fit in.

My mom was married at 18. She had my brother, and then me a year later and became a single mom at the age of 23. I don’t remember much about my father as we didn’t see him often after they divorced. (It was not until my twenties that I would see him again, and only two times before he died of a drug overdose.) My mom remarried when I was 8 and I became a sister to two more brothers. My stepfather, a firefighter and electrician was loving, hardworking and strict. I loved him, this guy who had chosen to be my dad. I also feared his anger and disappointment. I learned how to build things and fix things and work with my hands. And I learned to love the outdoors. We spent hours working but mostly playing in the back field and the Town Forest that bordered our yard.

My first formal understanding of God began at Walpole United Methodist Church, the white steepled church in our town center, walking distance from our house. I sang in the choir and attended Sunday School. Every year we had a church fair with ring toss games and strawberry shortcake. I would not have used the word faith to describe my understanding of God in that place. Words like community, picnics, scratchy choir robes, and hard pews come to top of mind. God was more of a distant observer, a fair but strict judge.

By middle school, my mom and I began attending a more evangelical church. Those years were filled with youth retreats, family camp, Bible quiz team, Sunday suppers in the basement. We were immediately welcomed into this community. It was a ‘come as you are’ kind of place. On my first retreat, we piled into an old 10 passenger van and drove to New Hampshire, back to my beloved woods. I gave my life to Christ that weekend. When I returned home, I told my parents I was “born again.” I excelled in church, taught Sunday School and led my youth group. I felt a part of something bigger than myself. Meanwhile, my family struggled. My brother Dan followed my first father’s footsteps using alcohol and drugs to cope with his own wild heart. Things got messier as my step-brothers stopped talking to our dad. All of this reinforced a desire to be the good girl, which came pretty naturally to a pleaser and conflict avoider. But my best efforts couldn’t fix my family. My dad came in from the barn one afternoon with a softness I rarely, if ever, saw on his face. He said, “Keri, I told God I couldn’t do it alone anymore.” That was it. That was his prayer – in the field – by the barn. God was present.

With no real idea where I wanted to go after high school, I found my way to Calvin College, a Christian Reformed school in Michigan. It checked three important boxes for me. I could play Field Hockey. It was a flight’s distance from home. I would meet Christian guys. I took religion class and went to chapel but what really stuck with me through those years was my involvement with an organization called Young Life. I felt like I had found my people – a community of leaders spending time with high school students and a ministry that focused on relationships over rules. It seemed pure in its approach to share the Gospel in a way that was lived out loud. And I chose to go on YL staff out of college as a “church partner”. At a new staff retreat, a guy spilled my milk on my tray and I guess I found middle school humor endearing because I married him.

Relationship and community. Would I call them the fruits of my faith during the early season of my life? Or were they the foundations… I’m not sure which. And I am not sure it matters. Either way, the language felt true.

The transition from youth to adult certainly transitioned my faith as well. From Michigan, we moved to Boston and then to Amsterdam with our two-year- old son, Sam during 9/11. We had our son, Jack the year we returned, and moved shortly after to Connecticut, then New Jersey and finally to Texas where we have been for 8 years. Through those years, we sat side by side with Methodists, Presbyterians, Christian Reformed, Reformed (I discovered there’s a difference:), Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians… each with their own doctrines, practices, cultural context, rhythms and flow.

Our last move to the Great state of Texas, I could describe in many ways. Great is not one of the words I would use. Moving to Amsterdam was, in many ways, easier than Texas. Our first years were filled with the newness and getting connected and I had become pretty good at it. Finding a church became much more challenging. We had always looked for a community, neighborhood church where we knew other families. Out of curiosity, we tried the Mega church with the amusement theme park for the kids and the prize station. We spent time at two other churches. The Baptist one spoke often of works and felt short on Grace. The Methodist church was grace filled and fun even if a bit shallow, maybe in an attempt to not offend anyone. I didn’t like feeling like a church shopper. And maybe it wasn’t the churches but me, us? Everyone’s first question in Texas, is “Where do you go to church?” It would have been an intrusive question in the Northeast but here it was assumed. When we tried to grow a Young Life program here, we heard whispers of it being “Christian Lite.” It never got off the ground.

I can’t separate my evolving faith from politics as much as I would like to. Maybe it was that it just revealed something I had not seen. I’ve heard the word apocalypse used recently. When I look back at the Greek roots, meaning to “uncover or reveal,” it sounds about right. Even before the 2016 election, I was watching an Us and Them tribalism develop and I did not like what I was seeing, especially from my Christian brothers and sisters. We attended church less and less until I couldn’t see the point in making our teens go. And so, I went on my own journey.

I put down my favorite historical fiction novels, and began to pick up mostly women writers on faith and justice. I devoured their stories and applauded their voices, and began to find my own. I started listening to podcasts, interestingly by mostly men at that time. They introduced me to theologians, & philosophers, thinkers and mystics. I found all of my questions and doubts were echoed and no answers were given, just more questions. And I started to feel like I could breathe again. I was slowly letting go of old rigid certainties and venturing into the divine mystery of God. I found that this journey to the edges of my faith felt more real and intimate than the one I was leaving behind.

Exploring new faith trails and embodied practices has been a renewing and invigorating experience. I have gone back to my wild places, the deep woods of my faith and in some ways returned to the curiosity of my child self. Maybe I am being born again, again? I am untethering weighty beliefs and releasing them downriver. I am wading through thickets and branches, clearing paths. I am exploring dark caverns of doubt and finding gems of hope. I am digging at the roots of teachings, and weeding out language that was choking new growth. I am rediscovering God in God’s playground. The journey has brought me back home to the Wild where wonder and curiosity are my guides.

– Kerin Beauchamp 

In this episode, black liberation theologian Prof Anthony Reddie and the poet Ravelle-Sadé Fairman reflect on black experience. These searching thoughts begin with the recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of US police officers, and from there reach into a knotted web of power and oppression: the disproportionate suffering of black people from Covid19, the enduring roots of European colonial rule, the dynamics of white fragility, the experience of black embodiment, the veneration of the statues of slave traders, and the emerging anti-racism movement. 

Anthony Reddie is professor of Liberation Theology at Oxford University and the author of many books, including Is God Colour Blind? and Theologising Brexit. Ravelle-Sadé Fairman is a poet from Nottingham, UK, who performs as A Poetic Perception.

Images used with permission.

BOOKS

Is God Colour-Blind?: Insights From Black Theology For Christian Ministry

Black Theology, Slavery and Contemporary Christianity

Theologizing Brexit: A Liberationist and Postcolonial Critique

WEBSITES

Anthony Reddie

A Poetic Perception Facebook, Instagram, YouTube

QUOTES

“It’s interesting that the Prime Minister is going to set up another commission, in order to tell us things that many of us have known for a long time…What we need is not more analysis, what we need is structural change. And firstly to recognise the toxic and poisonous nature of white supremacy.”

“The use of extreme violence, as in the case of George Floyd…is the extreme end of the manifestations of racism. Most original white people are not involved in that. However, what they don’t notice is the way in which society is constructed on notions of white privilege, that allows a certain level of advantage of white people over black people and people of other minority ethnic identities, that is not based on anything other than a presumption of superiority.” 

“It’s interesting how the Prime Minister can promise swift justice for anti-racist protestors who pulled down a statue of what was, in the end, a racist slave trader. This, I think, is symbolic of the nature of black lives not mattering… It tells us what we’ve always known. Property matters more to white people than black people’s bodies, and our feelings, and our experiences.” 

“White people will have individual black friends. But how much of your life is still codified by living in, effectively, a white domain with white norms? You may have the odd black friend, but how many of you have immersed yourself in contexts in which you are the minority? … In what ways are you living in a multicultural nation in ways that are challenging your sense of settled whiteness?”

“There is a sense in which whiteness can only function so long as it creates distance from the other and is enabled to continue to pump up false notions of superiority and normality when compared to others.”

“George Floyd’s death has enable people to see. And once you see something and you know it, you can’t unknow it. And not bring able to unknow it means that more ordinary people, who thought this had nothing to do with them, will now realise that for the cause of peace and justice and for a better equitable way of being human in the world, change needs to happen and they will be committed to that change.”

When I was a nurse at a hospital, we had a patient who eventually died of his cancer in our ward. Later his husband wrote a death notice in the papers saying: “The journey not the arrival matters”. I have kept the notice ever since – maybe because my journey was long, and I hoped to arrive.

Image used with permission.

These days it is 100 years ago since the border between Denmark and Germany was placed, where it still is today. That is a story worth telling, but in my story it is only the condition I set out from. On a summer day 25 years ago, I left the apartment in Flensburg, where I lived at the time, mounted my bike and drove straight west. When I reached the west coast, I headed north, crossing the border into Denmark. It was a warm and dry summer, so I could sleep on the dyke in my sleeping bag among the sheep. Earlier that year I had returned from Paris, where my dream had shattered. I wanted to live in the city, study at the Sorbonne University and spend my days at the Bibliothèque Saint-Geneviève like Simone de Beauvoir. Loneliness and a sense of detachment drove me back to my hometown, where I started working on a farm, hands in earth growing vegetables and pondering life. 

I grew up in Flensburg as part of the Danish minority in Germany – so crossing borders and shifting between languages and cultures was natural to me from the beginning. I did not grow up in an explicitly Christian family – everyone being baptized and confirmed out of tradition. Putting words around faith was not a thing you did. For many reasons I became a searching and seeking soul, though. I had been on exchange in the south of England, when I was 12, and I spend a year in Japan with a Japanese family when I was 15. It was the year of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the fall of the Berlin wall. The world opened to me, and I thought it to be a thrilling place. When I could not find people to talk to and share this experience, I turned towards literature, making many good friends: “We read to know we are not alone”, as C.S. Lewis put it. A German author became a kind of stepfather to me, opening wide the doors into realms of thinking and music, art and beauty. He was a believer, and I remember him saying that as Christians we should never be subject to the Zeitgeist, but have access to an immense freedom rooted in the gospel and Christian tradition. But he was also a man traumatized by World War II, a shadow that also lingered over me: How can you live in a world where such atrocities took place in the country, that I was a citizen of?

When I came home from Japan, I became part of a class at school that was dysfunctional with massive problems of bullying, that no adult acted on. I became friends with a girl from another class. She was Christian in a conscious and explicit way. We had long discussions about faith and literature. We both read Sheldon Vanaukens “A Severe Mercy”, and I started reading the Bible and joined her at her Baptist Church, where eventually I was baptized (again), leaving the Danish state church. My family could not meet me in my new faith, and I became more and more isolated from them and other people my age.

In my last year at high school loneliness took hold of my heart driving me into an existential crisis, that almost cost my life: What was I to do with my life? All my relations were troublesome, and I did not feel that I belonged anywhere, feeling a total stranger. I talked five languages fluently, but had nothing to say in any of them. I had experienced so much through books and could quote many wise authors and poets but lacked experience of life and words of my own. Not even my faith could withstand the abyss. A woman from church witnessed my suffering and wanted to exorcize the evil. I never saw her again. I wanted to go home and ended up in a closed psychiatric ward. Strangely that was a relief: people here did not pretend anything. They did not wear masks. Later I came to understand that this is part of the illness: not being able to wear a mask when you need one. But for the time being, I felt part of an authentic fellowship, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and reading Camus. Eventually it was the music of Bach and meeting honest people that started a gradual process of healing.

When in the summer of 1995 I set out on my bike, one of the goals was a summer camp at the Danish west coast arranged by the Danish Christian Student movement (DKG). I did not know anybody there, and I only came because I did not have any other plans for the summer, and the program seemed interesting: About Time. Among the guest speakers where two sisters from the protestant order of The Daughters of Mary (Mariadøtrene). Their being and words impressed me. I learned that they lived a monastic life just north of Flensburg and the border, their family mostly consisting of Swedish women all ages. Their home was open to women who needed rest or comfort, silence or someone to talk to. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. I regularly came to visit and took part in their everyday life of gardening and cooking, praying and singing, teaching them German and sharing some of my struggles. There was a time, when I considered becoming part of the family, but it became clear to me that this step would be out of fear of life, a flight, and not because I was called to live a monastic life. 

So, I continued my confused, bewildered and rootless life, leaving Flensburg to study in Denmark. I considered studying theology, but at the time had lost confidence in words, having experienced too much hypocrisy. After some detours around university and the Pentecostal church, I ended up studying to be a deacon in combination with a health professional training. That was an eyeopener to me: both meeting and living with the people I studied with and the challenge of taking care of people at hospitals and care homes in combination with a theological training – it made so much sense! At the end of these studies, I had to write a deacon treatise that I called “Diaconia viatorum – living in the interim”, where I got to summon up all that I found important to be able to live a fruitful and patient life as Christian in the world. A world where we are both confronted with suffering and need of others and self, a world that is not as it ought or could be, always stretched between the already and not yet, being a citizen of the kingdom of God and at the same time a citizen of a fallible democratic state in a postmodern time characterized by spiritual poverty.

It felt as though I had found my vocation, and I was at the same time miraculously surprised and found by love: I fell in love with the man that I am still married to. Since he studied in Berlin at the time, I continued to study to be a nurse in Copenhagen in order to be able to work in Germany as well, where we chose to live. After some back and forth we ended up living in Copenhagen together, and suddenly it all went so fast: getting married, working as a nurse at hospitals and eventually becoming a mother of three wonderful children. 

In 2011 I grew weary of working at hospitals where I never fully felt that I belonged. I started working at the hospice, where I am still working as a nurse and deacon. So many of my detours and experiences suddenly made sense: meeting people close to dying with all the symptoms that come along, helping patients live as well as possible until the end, helping relatives to be alongside and accepting helplessness and loss of control, spending their time with something meaningful. Holding a space around them requires many different talents. Now at last the professionalism of being deacon came to its own too. 

But being a mother of three and a nurse with changing shifts, working weekends and holidays also wore me out: there were the nights with too little sleep, the endless needs of children, patients and relatives, lunchboxes to be made and a household to tend to with hardly any time left to take care of my own body and soul. When my father got terminally ill in 2013/14, my body collapsed under the weight of too much responsibility and too little rest. 

During that period, I had to learn how to breathe and be inside my body again. Colleagues and friends told me to take care of myself – which was exactly what I could not do. It was a long and painful process during which I also reread my deacon treatise, wondering whether I really wrote it since there were so many helpful insights – how come I had forgotten them along the way?

Since I moved to Copenhagen 20 years ago, I have visited the Cathedral (Church of Our Lady) regularly. Here we married, and here our children were baptized. My family knows of and accepts my need of church, of singing and services, although they do not share it. All through the years I would go to see a pastor now and then, seeking advice and pastoral care (in German we have the beautiful word “Seelsorge”: care for the soul). When once I asked for spiritual guidance, one of them refused. That is also being a protestant: you have to think and find out for yourself. Although it is tough at times, I am grateful that I never experienced abuse in any way!

When it comes to the congregation though, I still feel a stranger and at the edge of it, hardly knowing the name of any of the people that I have seen and attended service with over the years. I think the body of Christ is beautiful in all its diversity, and I like to come in the German church of Saint Peters as well as the more progressive church of Brorson here in Copenhagen. But when it comes to really being a committed part of a fellowship, it feels suffocating to me. When I attend service, when we share the Eucharist, I have a strong sense of being part of the body of Christ that transcendences time and space.

There have been times where I felt it to be wrong somehow – that I needed to be part of a defined congregation. Now I try to accept that it just won’t work for me. The concept of being a pilgrim resonates with me in many ways: A pilgrim is a ‘peregrinus’, a stranger, who is always on his or her way to a goal ahead: “Not all those who wander are lost” (J.R.R. Tolkien).

When I was already an adult I found out that my name means ’someone belonging to Christ’. That is where I find hope: I belong to Christ with all of me – my story, my longing, my vulnerability, my shortcomings, my marks and masks, my stains and fatigue. I am on my way, as best I can. The goal is not to become the best version of myself, a good person, or to perfect anything. If glimpses of the kingdom of God can shimmer through my life from time to time, then I am where I should be. 

For almost 10 years now we have been living in a part of Copenhagen called Nørrebro, which is the most divert and multicultural part of Denmark, and in that sense a parallel to the borderland,that I came from. I never imagined I would live in a city with children, and I often miss the horizon and nature. Still this is where I am, and it does make sense. I try to accept the consequences and gift of our choices and of my work: witnessing so much suffering and loss, pain, anger and death, being reminded of our mortality and powerlessness on a daily basis does not leave you unmarked. Every life has a price. And I like the idea of being poured out, giving it all away in this life, that is so very real and full of beauty and cruelty.

Having been in my own company for more than 46 years, I know that I will stumble and fall again. I know that I will be overwhelmed by the demands of life, others and myself. I continue to struggle with being a woman, mother, daughter, nurse, deacon, Christian, and part of a minority – life simply doesn’t come to me easily. I will disappoint and be disappointed. I will be exhausted, weary and angry, and life East of Eden will seem barren and meaningless from time to time, a wasteland and a provocation, where I will forget insights and what really matters, while trying to navigate in the many seeming contradictions of everyday life. I will sense my poverty and vulnerability that mysteriously turns out to be my strength. 

As a nomad I chose to belong here as best I can. There will always be places of rest that are home to me on the way – goodness, joy and love are also part of life. And I will not be alone: there are people with me on this journey, sisters and brothers in Christ – some are alive and around, some live abroad or have already passed. And the church is there with its reservoir of buildings, traditions, texts, songs and liturgy, that I can lean on when my faith faulters, reminding me of the things I cannot tell myself and the fact that I am not the author of this script. And most importantly I know that I am always already loved, even though I don’t feel it, and that I will always be found again by Him/Her/Them (words fall short) no matter how much I go astray or loose myself. And that He/She/They meet me in the people and events I encounter, as I go along.

– Kirsten Bühler

In this episode Mark Oakley shares with us his lifelong relationship with poetry. He believes poetry is the language of the soul, and should therefore be the person of faith’s native language. For Mark poetry has put to words his deepest longing, has sustained him through troubled times, and has transformed the way he’s come to see God, himself and others. And Mark believes that in our ever more chaotic world, now more than ever we need to rediscover the language of poetry. 

Interview starts at 8m 45s.

Image used with permission.

BOOKS

The Splash of Words: Believing in Poetry

The Collage of God

QUOTES

“Religious language is full of awful, dead metaphors. I do think language is a bit like water – unless it’s moving, it’s stagnant. And I think part of the problem with communicating a religious faith today is that the language that we draw on is rather dead and not resonant.”

“If you’re going to be a person of faith over the next few years, you’re going to need to be poet. By which I mean you’re going to need to take language seriously. Almost sacramentally, actually. But you’re also going to need to be prophetic, which is a slight overused word I think. Just cause you’re angry doesn’t mean you’re a prophet. A prophet is looking at how we’re behaving and reporting back to us as to what’s going to happen if we keep carrying on as if; somebody who wants to interrupt what we’re doing for restorative purposes. So, a good prophet is not condemning, but is trying to put things right and restore wholeness and so on.”

Tall. Chiseled features. Blue eyes. Flowing brown hair. Kenny Logins 80s-style facial hair (is that a trans-Atlantic reference or just USA? Well, Google it, I guess). Robes. Lamb draped over him like a towel over a beach-goer’s neck on his way to the sea.

Image used with permission.

Growing up, that was my Jesus. Or at least that was how he was depicted in a painting found in the traditionally stain-glassed, steepled church and Christian school where I grew up outside Detroit, Michigan. The painting hung above a side altar reserved for baptisms off to the side of the main sanctuary. The painting stuck with me, maybe because that was where my brother was Christened, and my four-year old self was more interested in pictures than the heady vows and words batted about and above my wee head.

To my head, like for many Midwestern kids, there was just church, where we worshipped God, and the way to God was belief in Jesus (because John 3:16, of course). Every one of my WASPy friends was loved by Jesus just the same. There was no anxiety. It was a simple transaction. It was a non-choice, really. Who would say “no”? Heaven in exchange for belief in Jesus because he loves you this-you-know-for-the-Bible-tells-you-so. Plus, your parents encouraged it. And as a kid, what more than that did you need?

As for the other option: hell. For disbelief. For untrust. For sin. At least, unforgiven sin. Don’t forget to repent, young Matt. Repent, and sin’ll just be washed away. Dirty, wash, rinse, repeat. We are saved… by this vicious cycle. Others outside the circle of faith who didn’t submit to the vicious cycle, however, would be assuredly hell bound. 

Did I say there was no anxiety? Yeah, I lied. (Sin.) There was plenty: anxiety about a judgmental God staring down, seeing my every move. Every. Move. 

Yikes. 

Some years later into my childhood, a teacher during Christmas pageant practice led me and some friends to the side baptism altar with the painting of CrossFit Jesus. I remember being wide-eyed as she gave the altar a tug to swing the whole wooden piece outward, pulled a curtain aside, and revealed a secret of complete and utter… underwhelm. 

Behind the altar was… wait for it… storage. A room maybe 12’ by 8’ held dust, cobwebs, boxes, the wooden manger for Christmas, and the seasonal banners that hung throughout the building. 

How’s that for a metaphor? Behind Captain America Jesus was a room filled with dust and stuff. 

Caveat: the preceding summary of my faith upbringing (with just a pinch – nay, a liberal dash – of snark and bitterness) is a tail of a much larger, more complex elephant. The teachers and faith leaders generally meant well. It was not, by any means, strictly evangelical in the most toxic interpretations of the label. They provided what many would consider a nurturing environment – in the best of times. 

What happens, though, when true existential challenges test our mettle and faith? We all encounter pain to differing degrees, but what happens when those around you in positions of power and authority haven’t been tested – or in quite the same way? Or they lack caring instincts? Or they employ shallow faith slogans to address paradigm-shifting suffering?

My great (not my last, but certainly most profound) unraveling (deconstruction?) began with witnessing the abrupt death of my dad at age 11. That one sentence cannot begin to capture the anguish, journey, and redemption of the 31 years since then that bring me to now. Some in the church thankfully gave some care in the aftermath, but the Church’s care was arm’s-length and mechanical. I still cringe at the Christian and self-help platitudes that pummeled me, my mom, and my brother, and I’ll leave it at that. You all know them, Nomads. I know you do. I feel you do. I’ve read your comments and blog posts to recognize my kindred spirits, and I wouldn’t write this now if I didn’t feel in familiar, empathic company.

I can also say that experiencing sincere love and compassion rescued me, and frankly, it neither mattered from where it came nor did it always come from Christians. I found in bits and pieces, here and there, a few other surrogate father figures and steady friends along the way. Aside from my immediate family, I found the first divine words of acceptance, forgiveness, humanity, and empathy, not from a clergy person, but from a therapist. It was a revelation. 

After many years of experiential journey, I married a wonderful woman who reintroduced me to church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, in an old repurposed shopping mall. The church was called Mars Hill, and it was pastored by some guy named Rob Bell. It was as contemporary as it got, which was a culture shock from my more stylistically-traditional upbringing. But musical choices aside, oh, did I have my eyes opened. I had no idea what the gospel (The Way), the Bible (not a book, but a library of books spanning centuries), Jesus (probably not blue-eyed; chiseled? unknown), God (   ), and first century context (a palm branch was political?!) could mean and not mean. Bell invited speakers like Shane Claiborne and Peter Rollins and referenced the works of Fr. Richard Rohr. A year-long series was built around a Brian McLaren book. It was… Nomadic, which probably groomed me and explains my affinity for this community.

My most powerful take-away from Mars Hill came in a single Greek word: metanoia. In the messy business of translation throughout centuries, that word came to me in English language Bibles as “repent.” Cracking the rigidity of some orthodoxies, Bell pointed to theologians wrestling over a more authentic translation as “fundamental transformation,” as in metamorphosis. Well, that just blows the doors off the box in which so many of our churches put Jesus, doesn’t it? 

Today, I recalibrate repentance away from how I had osmosed it beneath a mythological Norse shepherd Jesus. I hope I am a more fluid thing – a hybrid sheep-shepherd traveling, not over his shoulder, but on the path beside a paradoxical Nazarean rabbi-healer. Ever transforming together. On a teachable path not just of belief but of radically-practiced compassion. 

There is no transaction now, only journey with this sage savior.

“And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost

– Matt Jones 

Theologian, poet and author Nicola Slee joins Jemimah to talk about when she first encountered feminist theology and its potential to challenge, inform and enrich our Christian faith and practice. 

Nicola Slee is Director of Research at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theology and Professor of Feminist Practical Theology in the Faculty of Religion at VU Amsterdam. Her research interests range around Christian feminist practical theology but also encompass poetry and theology and other aspects of practical theology.

Interview starts at 19m 22s.

Image used with permission.

BOOKS

Sabbath: The Hidden Heartbeat of our Lives

Seeking the Risen Christa

Praying Like A Woman

Faith and Feminism: An Introduction to Christian Feminist Theology

QUOTES

“Maybe as the world becomes a less and less safe place – with climate crisis – maybe people revert to their bunkers. And I can see the attraction of very, very clear hard and fast ideologies that people feel give them security. And feminism doesn’t really fit with all of that.” 

“One of the things about poetry is language is working very intensely and at many, many different levels. So, it’s not straight-forward scientific literal language, which is kind of flat and only has one meaning. Religious symbols. So, if we talk about something like ‘Wisdom,’ or the ‘Word of God,’ or almost any image from Scripture, it’s a rich, multivalent, multi-leveled way that language is working. And that’s exactly how poetry’s functioning. So, to me it makes absolute sense that poetry has always been a primary medium for faith.”

“We do need images, doctrines that do look like us, because if we don’t have those, we won’t get onto the page; we won’t start the journey. But if they all look like us, then we just simply become confirmed in all our own prejudices. So, also in faith, there is the whole tradition of Christ, God, the Spirit at work in the other – what’s different, what’s strange. And that’s a very common theme in Scripture.”

My story is one of becoming 

Unrecognisable.

I was a home schooled child of the 80’s who went to church three times a week and was the star of Sunday School.

I was a teenager of the 90’s who went on an international mission trip every single summer and lived for church and youth group. 

I was a Bible College student/missionary/youth worker in the 00’s who got married for all the wrong reasons and ended up in a very unhealthy marriage but was able to gloss over that, because I was a successful full time church worker with two gorgeous children, a well-loved worship leader, with a passion for women and families and pastoral work. 

My church loved me and the sense of belonging I got from being in that place managed to eclipse what I viewed as temporal earthly problems. 

Image used with permission.

I clutched my ministry career close to my heart and held on to it with all my strength because it was the one thing that made me feel like I wasn’t a failure.  It was a massive validating factor in my life filling it with purpose and providing a portal to joy that I did not have at home. I felt so grateful to God for giving it to me, because it felt like it was saving my life, and for many years it did. So as I worshiped and sang and prayed in the euphorically spiritual environment of a massive well-loved worship event one summer evening, Spirit showed me how hard I was gripping, and told me to open my hands and to let it go. I was scared, but I took a deep breath, and physically opened my hands while on my knees. In that moment I heard a whisper to my spirit. “I want you to catch babies”. Just like that. Out of the blue. I knew I was being called to Midwifery. I was scared. I didn’t want to leave the ministry, but I couldn’t ignore it. 

Two weeks later my marriage imploded for the final time. It took me 9 months of agonisingly processing with friends, a therapist, myself and God to make a decision. Leaving had never been an option before, I had always thought one day God would do a miracle and our marriage would be an amazing testimony. However I came to the realization that God loved me more than He loved my marriage and that it was time to go.

The freedom and experiences I had within the first few months of leaving blew my world wide open and fast tracked my deconstruction journey. I found myself traveling down to London to see Rob Bell speak, not because of what he had to say but because I wanted to see for myself how completely at peace he was with where he was at after leaving the fold of evangelicalism. I started devouring not only his Podcast, but the Liturgists as well and anything else that resonated with where I was at and what I was experiencing.

I continued working for the church while quietly keeping my deconstruction journey to myself, however there were those who had been watching me closely, suspecting, wondering, and waiting to catch me out. All it took was one unguarded Facebook post about an inspirational teacher I’d been following and learning from who was outside the lines, and it triggered the beginning of the end for me and my relationship with the church. I came under intense attack. I was confronted under the guise of a friendly catch up, and told all the work I had been doing for the church was tainted by “new age influences”, that I was clearly “being deceived” and that I was becoming a dangerous influence because I practiced yoga. I had intended to gracefully exit my life as a church leader, but instead it was a messy exit, full of pain, betrayal, and lost friendships. There were still people in the leadership who loved me and wanted me to “just ignore” what was being said, and to carry on being part of the community, and for a season I tried. However I then experienced the second wave of pain which was realising that once I was no longer in leadership or involved in the inner workings of the church, I was invisible. People didn’t seem interested in really knowing me anymore. My midwifery training was full on and I very quickly become ‘out of sight, and out of mind’ and friendships I had counted on to see me through this transitional time seemed to fall away. I felt my worth as a friend had diminished perhaps because I could no longer be who I used to be. This broke my heart. 

Since then, my deconstruction journey has been characterised by the loss of my reputation as a leader, a friend, and a Christian. I’ve felt spiritually lost for a lot of the time and simply taken comfort in the voices of those who were further along like Rob Bell, Science Mike, Michael Gungor, Nomad Podcast etc. 

Recently I have started to rebuild. I’m nearing the end of my University course and will be a qualified midwife soon. I look forward to a new career, but am taking care to not make it my sole identity like I did with my church work. 

My journey has also been characterised by much beauty and new life. I’ve experienced new love, and a deeper connection to nature. A year ago I turned 40 and spent the day on the island of Iona, completely connected to the earth, feeling as though the Island itself was loving me as I laid in the grass and stared up at the sky. I danced on the beach there and prayed over my future. A week later I was in Rome on a Sacred Feminine embodiment retreat when I found the strength to physically turned my back on the Vatican and walk away. I finally felt safe enough to admit to God that I was done. I no longer needed the established Church to give me my identity, to validate me, or as a place to find belonging. I told Jesus that if He wanted me, He’d have to win my heart back. It was a tremendously mystical moment in which I feel the person of Jesus actually appeared to me and sang over me as I walked away to freedom.  

Since then my world has opened up. I am discovering more embodied spiritual practices and exploring other traditions. Jesus makes an appearance in the midst of this, and I feel His presence and His unconditional love. I still feel pain over my loss of the Church community. I still fight bitterness taking root over the people who seem to have forgotten about me. Although I know the divorce was absolutely the right thing, there are inevitably ongoing consequences for my children that I have to face and work through. 

I have a new partner who is amazing, but the relationship is under a lot of scrutiny for many reasons, and I still get paralysed with fear that there is no way this could possibly be “right” and my ego is desperately wanting to retain approval from the outside world in order to feel OK, so I have to fight self-sabotage at every turn. 

I’ve made new friends though through University, and through the local Vegan Café that has a heart for wellness and community. I’ve enjoyed just being April….not “April from the local Church”, who is learning to just be, and experiencing the freedom of loving people without any agenda or judgment. 

I’m incredibly grateful for the chance to have a whole new life. I’m still early on in my journey, but I am become more “unrecognisable” every day. There is a grief to that, but also an incredible peace. 

– April Hunter

This month’s meditation draws on the story of the disciple Thomas and a prayer from Susanna Wesley. Through these lenses we look at what it means to trust God when life has not turned out as we’d thought or hoped. Thomas asks very clearly for what he needs in order to believe in the risen Christ, and Susanna writes a prayer to help her see goodness come from life’s curve balls and losses.
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