This is a conversation between Anthony Reddie and Al Barrett about whiteness. Weaving personal experiences with theological insights, they reflect on privilege, power, empire, race and identity, and wrestle with the need for both critical deconstruction and hopeful reimagining. It’s a nuanced and inspiring conversation between two scholar activists about the pursuit of a more just world.

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 of the interview, and guest images and bios.

Image of Anthony Reddie used with permission of Oxford University

Professor Anthony Reddie and Revd. Dr. Al Barrett join us for a conversation about whiteness. Weaving personal experiences with theological insights, they reflect on privilege, power, empire, race and identity, and wrestle with the need for both critical deconstruction and hopeful reimagining. It’s a nuanced and inspiring conversation between two scholar activists about the pursuit of a more just world.

Interview starts at 19m 36s

Image of Anthony Reddie used with permission of Oxford University

WEBSITE

Al Barrett

BOOKS

Deconstructing Whiteness, Empire and Mission – Anthony Reddie

Introducing James H. Cone: A Personal Exploration – Anthony Reddie

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

Black Theology, Slavery and Contemporary Christianity – Anthony Reddie

Theologising Brexit: A Liberationist and Postcolonial Critique – Anthony Reddie

Being Interrupted: Reimagining the Church’s Mission from the Outside – Al Barrett

Interrupting the Church’s Flow: A Radically Receptive Political Theology in the Urban Margins – Al Barrett

Finding the Treasure: Good News from the Estates – Al Barrett

BOOKS MENTIONED

How Ableism Fuels Racism: Dismantling the Hierarchy of Bodies in the Church – Lamar Hardwick

After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging – Willie James Jennings

White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity – Jim Perkinson

Christology and Whiteness: What Would Jesus Do? – George Yancy

The Psychosis of Whiteness: Surviving the Insanity of a Racist World – Kehinde Andrews

Faced with multiple existential threats in the coming decades, professor of religion Timothy Beal reflects on the possibility of human extinction and what hope might look like within that context. Timothy challenges the notion of perpetual optimism, advocating instead for a deeper, more grounded form of hope. Through insights from indigenous spirituality and palliative care principles, he explores how communities can confront grief, engage in meaningful action, and rediscover their earthly connection in the face of an uncertain future.

Following the interview Tim and Nick discuss their growing concerns about the state of the world, how that’s impacting them emotionally, and how they understand hope.

Interview starts at 18m 24s

Image used with permission

BOOKS

When Time Is Short: Finding Our Way in the Anthropocene

The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book

The Book of Revelation: A Biography

Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs to Know

BOOKS MENTIONED

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds

Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change

The Body of God: An Ecological Theology

Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End

QUOTES

“I think we need to compost Christian tradition in order to let a kind of earth creatureliness emerge from it in a more profound, greener way.”

“What’s different about the sixth extinction – about the one that we’re in – is that it’s the first that is human-caused.”

“I think we need to compost Christian tradition in order to let a kind of earth creatureliness emerge from it in a more profound, greener way.”“We need to extract more and more [because] there’s not enough locally. And so we go and we extract life and labour and land and so on from around the world to continue to drive this religion of human exceptionalism.”

“I think that we can draw some design cues from palliative care for finding hope on what might be a finite human future.”

In this Easter devotional podcast, Vanessa Chamberlin reflects on biblical narratives and personal mystical experiences as she navigates the intersection of theology, art, and ecological consciousness.

Following Vanessa’s reflection, Anna Robinson creates a contemplative space for us to more deeply reflect on and experience this spirituality of the land.

All this is beautifully woven together with the [on location] music of Jon Bilbrough, known musically as Wilderthorn.

Vanessa’s reflection begins at 5m 52s.

Image used with permission

WEBSITES

Vanessa Chamberlin Art

Vanessa Chamberlin Spiritual Direction

Anna Robinson

Wilderthorn

QUOTES

“I’m not trying to paint landscape – I’m not trying to paint things that look like the thing I’m looking at – I’m trying to train myself to respond to land in paint, by which I mean bringing the whole of myself: my body, my feelings, my imagination, my mind, my spirit.”

“I often feel like in those moments where you think something really new has just happened you actually realize that life has been leading up to that point for a while.”

“If women’s voices that are aware of knowledge residing and being rooted in different parts of them – and their body is one of them – are making space in the Jewish-Christian theological tradition, that is exciting.”

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

– Mary Oliver

In the dusky twilight of Alaska, my faith grew in the arms of my father’s faith. I remember the ritual of the words we said every night, Now I lay me/down to sleep/I pray the Lord/my soul to keep, the brightly colored illustrations inside the blue Bible story books, and the tales of angels intervening in everyday life. Childhood was full of comfort and peace and magic. I loved going to church and I was a true believer in every sense of the word. I tried to do everything right, to be a wise child, to love God, to be good and to obey my parents.

Image used with permission.

Fast forward to middle and high school: we had moved to Oregon in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I was home-schooled before attending a private Christian school beginning at age 13. I really credit Christian school with helping me to be more accepting of different forms of spirituality. I had classmates from very charismatic churches, more mainline denominations, Quakers, and Mennonites. I had some intense spiritual experiences during worship times and at youth retreats that were very positive.
One of the downsides of this time is that my parents and church community were saturated in purity culture; my family was enamored with Bill Gothard’s teaching through the Institute of Basic Life Principles. The more rigid, high control group teachings influenced me in a negative way and made my experience of Christianity more complicated.

My deconstruction journey really started in my early thirties after getting married young and having four children. My husband and I had been very involved in the Nazarene church, a denomination born out of the holiness/Wesleyan movements. We had led small groups and taught Sunday school, he was on the church board and I had been on the church worship team. Our children were attending a Christian and home-school hybrid school and I was in a Christian moms group at the school. A book was given to me by a prayer partner called Prayer by Richard Foster, a Quaker. I started incorporating meditation into my prayer life. I had done yoga since my early twenties and prayerful meditation felt so right. Those were beautiful times. I was reading all the Christian mystics and getting so much comfort and joy out of their words and experiences. Meanwhile at our church, I was encouraged to read some books by NT Wright and found Nomad through one of his interviews.

I kept reading, I kept meditating, I kept listening to Nomad. I found a group of fellow heretics at a United Methodist Church where we read Nadia Bolz Weber, Rachel Held Evans and Richard Rohr. After years of practicing lent, I did the decentering practice Atheism for Lent through Peter Rollins and it was life changing. It gave me this very real break from all of the trappings of Christianity. I now held my beliefs much more lightly than before.

This last year, I went through a life altering experience. During most of my adult life, I had dealt with periods of depression. Mental illness runs in my family, so I was very proactive in getting help. I had done a lot of therapy and had been on an antidepressant for several years. But this last spring, a few stressors converged at the same time and I began to act erratically. At 43, I was diagnosed with Bipolar after having a psychotic break which included hallucinations and delusions. Some of my delusions had religious features, but I was in control enough at the time to keep some of my delusions to myself, so no one really knew…

I was hospitalized for three weeks. I was very weak when I was discharged and my life was in shambles. I couldn’t function and I spent the better part of three months being cared for by my father at the family farm. Although the realities of living with a diagnosis like this have been jarringly difficult to accept, I’ve started to feel more at peace with my spirituality again. I’m so thankful for modern psychiatry, the medications that I am on, as well as individual and group therapy that keep my mood within normal bounds and me out of the hospital. Ten years ago, I would have thought I was demon possessed and I would have sought a spiritual explanation for my delusions, hallucinatory experiences and the behavior that followed. I am so thankful that my faith has changed.

I’ve always been a very spiritual person and I’ve missed that part of myself over the last few months. It was hard for me to open up spiritually again after such a dramatic experience. I’ve always enjoyed reading about, discussing, and participating in the Christian faith. I’m cultivating that part of my life more purposefully again. I’ve started listening to a daily Bible devotional before bed called Lectio 365. I’ve also allowed myself to explore different forms of spirituality and found comfort in yoga, hikes, sound baths, singing in a choir, meditation, dance, and massage. It has started to come back slowly, in little spurts, rather than a steady stream.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe the way my brain is wired has affected my spiritual life. I am almost certain that it has. I have an openness to new experiences and an evolving faith that may come not just from my personality, but from my disorder. Would I change it? No, because I have led a rich and full spiritual life so far and I look forward to more of the journey.

– Alissa Rose

Theologian Selina Stone joins us to share her experience of growing up in a black Pentecostal church, the questions and doubts she wrestled with, and the answers she found in womanist theology.

Among other things, Selina reflects on the limitations of traditional theology, the role of spirituality in fostering well-being, her evolving relationship with the Bible, and why she now no longer regularly attends church.

Following the interview Tim and Anna reflect on their own evolving faith journey, and ponder what role womanism might play in it.

Interview starts at 16m 39s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Selina Stone

BOOK

Tarry Awhile: Wisdom from Black Spirituality for People of Faith

BOOKS MENTIONED IN INTERVIEW

Sisters in the Wilderness – Delores Williams

Making a Way Out of No Way – Monica Coleman

Battered Love – Renita Weems

Womanist Midrash – Wilda Gafney

QUOTES

“Womanism is borne out of this desire to centre Black women’s experiences of the bible, of theology, of the church and of the world in order to make sure that we’re paying attention to the intersecting ways that injustice actually works in the world.”

“Abstract questions that we will never resolve are seen as the important, essential work whereas these questions that are affecting us every single day are seen as secondary and unimportant.”

“Black women recognize Jesus as somebody who is familiar with what it is to be brutalised by unjust systems, somebody who knows what it is like to be betrayed by those who you trust, somebody who knows what it is to live in a body that is despised and treated with disregard and disrespect.”

“There are surely many ‘Hagars’ among us who have experienced what it is to be treated as collateral damage by people who are pursuing what they believe God has called them to – whatever the cost.”

When I left the UK in 1987, as a 21-year-old atheist, to hitch-hike around America for the second time, I was in search of ‘truth’: on the one hand envisaging finding it by meditating on a mountaintop, on the other hand not really believing ‘truth’ existed.

I’d previously run away twice, including ‘eloping’ with a girlfriend to the US when I was 19, fleeing an unhappy home situation on the spur of the moment, without telling anyone (apart from one friend) we were going.

Image used with permission.

This time, though, the escape was on my own and more planned, with money saved by selling cannabis and working. I’d sold or given away all my possessions except what was on my back, with a plan to spend the rest of my life homeless on the road and streets of, first, America, then the world.

The last thing I expected was to find Christian faith, but in retrospect a spiritual transformation had silently started 18 months earlier when reading the Sermon on the Mount had blown me away, especially Jesus’ words about forgiving enemies and not worrying about tomorrow.

My conversion was quite remarkable – not, as it turns out, as a result of meditating on a mountain nor through attending church, but through conversations with Christians and others and through a growing sense of “Someone up there looking after me” when I was out there on the road.

There was such a change inside me that my need for an itinerant life was replaced by a call to return to England and use what I’d been given to serve others. So, after 6 months and 15,000 miles of hitch-hiking, I did just that. I entered a career in nursing in 1989, and since 2004 I’ve been delivering healthcare to people experiencing homelessness and complex needs.

Within two years of returning to the UK in the late ‘80s, I was swept up into the world of charismatic evangelicalism. I say ‘swept up’ – maybe that’s unfair, I don’t know, but the appeal of a meditative approach to faith never left me, somewhere in my introvert personality. And I don’t know if I was ever that comfortable with the dogmatism that marked evangelical Christianity – even though for years I was quite a zealous evangelist!

I also tend to think that working with vulnerable and traumatised people changes you. I’m not sure it’s really possible for anyone with a deep sense of compassion and empathy to retain any sort of religious certainty in the face of so much suffering.

So, in more recent years, as the rise of the internet gave collective and connective voice to doubts and questions that some of us never previously dared breathe, a new sense of authentic spirituality arose from within me. This didn’t come without cost, though. Blogging my increasingly ‘progressive’ and inclusive thoughts on faith led to conflict with the leaders of the strongly evangelical Anglican church my family and I were attending, and the vicar then suggesting that we find another church. He didn’t seem to be able to cope with his congregation not all subscribing to his particular brand of Christianity.

I’ve always felt very fortunate to have found faith outside of church from the very beginning and, in fact, almost all my significant spiritual moments have taken place in solitude, so my faith has never been particularly dependent on church or leaders. However, this was a deeply hurtful experience for me and my wife, and probably served to drive me even further from evangelicalism.

We found a home in another Anglican church (part of the HTB network), which is incredibly accepting of theological and other differences, and I love its heart. My own attendance has become quite sporadic, though, for a number of reasons.

Although I still retain a broadly Christian faith, I describe it as very woolly! I feel disconnected from the modern evangelical style of worship at our church and I joke (not joke) with people that I love everything about the church except the services!

Also, workplace stress over the last few years has heightened my need for quiet, contemplative solitude. I’ve become more and more susceptible to sensory overload in loud, busy places and no longer cope well with a noisy, bustling church environment.

So, my Sunday mornings are often spent in quiet prayer and contemplation, or going for a run – or even listening to a Nomad podcast!

In tandem with this, my love of nature has become increasingly entwined with my faith and spirituality. A reflective nature walk in solitude is my idea of bliss. My blog, Spirit of Nature, combines four of my loves: nature, nature photography, contemplative prayer, and writing, so the blog is my perfect cathartic outlet.

In 2017 I published Coming Home for Good, an autobiographical book exploring homelessness, identity, addiction, faith and spirituality. I finished it when my faith was still in a significant pace of transition, so (disclaimer) there are aspects of the book that I would write very differently now. However, the book remains my proudest writing achievement.

In keeping with the importance of nature in my life, I describe my faith in terms of ‘evolution’ rather than ‘deconstruction’, seeing its movement forward as a natural progression.

Paradoxically, though, moving away from evangelical traditions to a more inclusive and meditative faith feels like coming back to who I was at the start of my spiritual journey – an authentic expression of my innate personality.

At the same time as feeling at home in contemplation, silence and mystery, the call to follow the person and teachings of Christ hasn’t left me, and my attempt to integrate these two facets of my faith remains a work in progress.

– Roger Nuttall

Therapist and author Mark Karris joins us to discuss religious trauma and the path to healing. Drawing on his own personal experiences and professional insights as a therapist, Mark reflects on oppressive religious beliefs, in particular the doctrine of Hell, original sin, and the image of a wrathful God, and the harm this can cause us. Mark then shares therapeutic tools that can help us on the journey to healing.

After the interview Tim and Joy reflect on the impact the doctrines of a wrath God, a sinful self, and Hell has had on them, and how they’ve tried to work through that.

Interview starts at 14m 29s

Image used with permission.

WEBSITE

Mark Karris

BOOKS

Divine Echoes: Reconciling Prayer With the Uncontrolling Love of God

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

The Diabolical Trinity: Healing Religious Trauma from a Wrathful God, Tormenting Hell, and a Sinful Self

QUOTES

“Religious beliefs in and of themselves can and do cause considerable harm that manifests as trauma after the fact. Indoctrinated beliefs can be traumatizing, and religious beliefs carry tremendous power to either heal or harm.”

“Self-compassion can be thought of as responding to yourself in the midst of struggle as you would a dear friend.”

“To the degree that we’re living our values – and really being congruent – is the degree that we’re living a life of vitality.”

Poet and author Cole Arthur Riley joins us to talk about her desire for a spirituality that was more human and a more liberating expression of faith. This journey led to the emergence of Black Liturgies. From prayers and poetry to breath practices and ancestral writings, this digital project explores spirituality that embraces embodiment, lament, rage and rest. And draws deeply from both contemplation and activism.

Following the interview Tim and Anna reflect on their own evolving faith journey, and ponder what role embodiment, lament, rage and rest might play in it.

Interview starts at 13m 53s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Cole Arthur Riley

BOOKS

Black Liturgies: Prayers, Poems and Meditations for Staying Human

This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation and the Stories That Make Us

QUOTES

“I don’t want to think about a God who’s only interested in what we can do for them. That’s very scary to me.”

“Sometimes I find Christ very intimidating, but mostly I find it comforting to know that this divine incarnation was willing to toss temple tables without explaining himself, without trying to make everyone else in the temple feel better.”

“I find hope in remembering that there are people that came before us that endured a lot of the same suffering and sorrow and confusion and uncertainty, and they found a way to survive.”

In this podcast theologian and author Bethany Sollereder explores the complex intersection of animal suffering, the evolutionary process and divine love. She reflects on God’s role in the face of suffering, the possibility of redemption for non-human animals, and creation’s journey towards love and maturity. It’s a fascinating conversation about theology, evolution, and the ultimate purpose of creation.

After the interview Tim and Joy ponder their relationship with non-human animals and how that has shape their evolving faith.

Interview starts at 15m 57s

Image used with permission.

NOMAD FUNDRAISER

gofundme

BOOKS

God, Evolution, and Animal Suffering: Theodicy without a Fall

Why Is There Suffering?: Pick Your Own Theological Expedition

QUOTES

“The world isn’t fallen; it’s immature.”

“I think God delights in every creature who lives for however briefly.”
“God created a process in which creatures can create themselves. I don’t think that every outcome of evolutionary processes is God’s specific design.”

“More often than we’re really comfortable with admitting, the act of love is one of letting the other be.”

“When I watch the news or when I look at institutions, I often don’t have much hope. But when I look at how people behave one-on-one, then I have great hope. I see kindness, I see love, I see the desire to grow in goodness and love. And I’m often astounded by acts of generosity and by the sacrifice that people are willing to make.”

Church was always going to be my thing.

My mother raised her hand at Billy Graham’s London crusade in ’54, and her life was never the same again. Too soon after, she was making another big choice; delaying chemotherapy until after I was born. Her last words six months later were filled with prayers of love and strength for her children – ‘she was with Jesus now and one day we would all be reunited’.

Image used with permission.

This was the story I was born into, and when my much older sister came home from church singing praise songs on her guitar, it made me feel warm inside and somehow reconnected me to the mother I never knew. It was no wonder then, that on my teenage Christian summer camp trail I was more than ready (like, on several occasions) to put my own hand up to ‘accept’ Jesus. At this point I’d just been through a decade-long blended family car crash, so being around people who prayed comforting things and sang comforting songs was like coming home to a warm log burner of a welcoming community I could finally call my own.

At 18, I moved to Cornwall and started a fresh spiritual journey with the Pentecostals. This was wild and wacky compared to the home counties baptist I was used to – they sang in tongues for half the service, with earnest congregants shuffling to the front to share their ‘divine’ revelations.

After a few years and one word too far (‘God has told me there is someone here who is like a boat, but you are a boat with a hole in your bottom’), I left and joined New Frontiers International, a stream of South Coast churches started by Terry Virgo in the mid 70’s. (Within a couple of decades it would become one of the largest ‘apostolic’ networks in the UK).

By the late 80’s I met Jane; we fell in love, got married, quit our jobs, and moved to a university town for our teacher training. We signed up to the local NFI church, and that’s where we bedded in for the next 20 years, ticking off a zillion meetings and a hundred different rotas (serving = top points). It was a way of life we got used to, and it chimed with (what we thought were) our core beliefs.

One of our life-long friends had mentioned a few times about her experiences at Taize. This French ecumenical monastic fraternity was started in 1940 by Brother Roger, and has grown into a hugely popular site of Christian pilgrimage hosting tens of thousands of (mainly) young people each year for prayer, bible study, and communal work. To be honest it always sounded super-weird – chanting monks and embarrassing silences – there’s absolutely no way you can pray without words. But then one of my long-hair-trendy-trainers guitar students also mentioned how cool this place was when he and his family visited. Within a few months, synchronicity had stepped in and we decided to drop by as part of a family road trip across France that summer. Little did we know the significant effect it would have on our spiritual landscape.
 
I am sitting in a thinly carpeted, simply decorated cavernous building with over 1000 people waiting in silence. My stomach is tight, my heart rate well over 100, and I can’t seem to get a full breath. I crane my head expecting a middle-aged man to rise to his feet and officially start the meeting. Suddenly there is a movement; a line of brothers dressed in white hooded robes (no pointy hats thankfully) enter from a side door and quietly kneel in the middle of the gathering, facing the front. Everyone is facing the front. We are gazing towards an array of bright flickering candles, vibrant colours of carefully draped cloth all creating a soft mesmerising point of focus. No formal welcome, no notices, no us-and-them. Someone faintly starts chanting a repeating single verse of scripture. No band; just a brother with what looks and sounds like a ten pound kid’s keyboard from a car boot sale.
Everyone joins in.

 
Over the next five days my conversations with people from various nationalities brought home the shocking reality of their humble faith vs. my dogmatic beliefs. They discussed Christianity with a deeply organic simplicity. It suddenly dawned on me just how spiritually exhausted I was by my evangelical faith.

I drove back home on the smooth and clear A26 through the spacious French countryside towards Calais feeling completely and utterly undone.
 We returned to the UK and I left the church.

The first two years were as much painful as it was liberating. I felt stupid for allowing myself to be Pied Pipered down the garden path, angry with leaders I’d put my trust in, but more than that; regretting the years of identifying with such an exclusive narrative, and the complete allegiance to a narrow and stifling ideology. How the heck did I let this happen? I had married this brand of religion so young and full of promise and expectation, but in 20 years all I had to show for it was an ugly ‘we have it all and know it all’ arrogance – I now had nothing! I now knew nothing!

The earthquake had been swift and catastrophic. Although I still felt a measure of peace in the basement, everything I knew on the surface ended up well and truly flattened. Were those moments of pure stillness and wonder in the ‘presence of God’ during worship meetings authentic, or merely emotional magic much like swaying to an exhilarating U2 power ballad at the 02? Was the sense of serene calm and deep rest during my ‘quiet times’ just what happens when you give your body quality downtime?

It has now been over ten years of Sunday morning lie-ins, a dusty bible, a laden swear-box, and a verse-free fridge. I threw out the prescribed reading list a long while back, and discovered so many inspiring teachers like Richard Rohr, Eckhart Tolle, and Tara Brach. I’ve also finally expunged the insider language for a refreshingly new, broader, inclusive lexicon.

My 30-year-old self would be head-in-hands horrified at my ‘desperately sad backsliding’, but I love my much less bloated life with space to think, discuss and debate with others (as equals) what we think life is all about rather than endure the force-fed weekly sermon. I’ve had the spiritual hard drive set by my inherited faith/family/church well and truly reformatted.

When I now sit in a quiet place, calm my thoughts, let everything go, move closer to fully accepting things as they are right now, I feel exactly the same peace inside as I did after spending time as a ‘being still and knowing he is God’ evangelical. Nothing has changed. Is this vibe ‘God’ coming close to me? Or can ‘God’ also transmute into love/nature/meditation, and flow through those things just as powerfully?
The one question I always want to ask whenever I read an escaping evangelical story is ‘so what do you believe now?’

A good deal less than what I used to! I jumped in with both feet to so many views peddled by preachers of old with their own interpretation of the bible. Their weaponising of scripture formed much of what Evangelicalism is today – I built so much on that sand.

So now the kind of rock I’m happy to stand on is love. Love, and the 101 different things that small word means. I believe ‘God’ – the words ‘God’ and ‘love’ are interchangeable right? – is the unwordable source of life, the author of nature, and the supreme creator of the universe and everything in it. It’s only this sense of ‘love’ that has calmed my lifetime anxiety disorder, and it’s ‘love’ that I connect with when I meditate. If God is hiding behind that over-used four-letter word, then I’ll take that – and continue to discover a measure of acceptance in what I don’t know and cannot work out. Becoming comfortable in the ‘not knowing’ may just be what my kind of faith looks like right now.

–       Andy Read

To kick off 2024 we thought we’d share a Nomad Revisited episode with you. Each month on Revisited Tim and Nick raid the Nomad archives, dust off an old interview, and ponder where their faith was then, where it is now, and what influences shaped that transition.

Nomad Revisited is usually tucked away behind a paywall on our Patreon page as a little thank you for the listeners who help us pay the bills. But we’re making this one freely available as a little New Years treat.

In this Revisited, we travel back to 2015 and a conversation Tim had with the much loved blogger and author Rachel Held Evans. Rachel was one of the early pioneers in the deconstruction space, blogging about her experiences of growing up in a fundamentalist Bible Belt culture, and her experiences of publicly questioning this.

Rachel became a beacon of hope for thousands of people wrestling with an evolving faith. But sadly she died suddenly in 2019 at just 37, leaving a husband and two young children. So this is an episode marked by sadness, but also a celebration of a beautiful life.

Interview starts at 15m 42s

If you’d like a brand new Nomad Revisited each month, then sign up at our Patreon page.

Image used with permission.

WEBSITE

Rachel Held Evans

BOOKS

Wholehearted Faith

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions

QUOTES

“After a while you give up on trying to keep a label; you try and be the person that you are, you worship where you feel like you can worship, and if people decide to declare you a ‘heretic,’ then you just kind of have to deal.”

“My mantra throughout it all is: ‘I want to have thick skin, but I want to also have a tender heart.’ If I shut off the part of myself that can be hurt by criticism, then I’m also shutting off the part of myself that can feel empathy and compassion. And I’m not willing to do that. So – that means that sometimes it’s just got to hurt.”

“The challenge is to tell the truth about the church in all of its complexity and different shades – acknowledging the ugly parts while also acknowledging the beautiful, grace-filled, amazing parts.”

“The challenge is to not get sucked into naïveté on one hand or cynicism on the other, but to tell oneself the truth: that most of us are complicated people who are simultaneously sinners and saints.”

In this Christmas devotional podcast, Dr Christena Cleveland explores the symbolism of the Black Madonna. In times of dysregulation and uncertainty, the Black Madonna has provided Christena a powerful symbol of love, nurture and connection, allowing her to move from a spirituality of fear to one of trust.

Following Christena’s refection, Anna Robinson creates a contemplative space for us to more deeply reflect and experience this womb-like space of safety and trust.

Jay Hulme then reads a poem about Julian of Norwich, the 14th Century mystic who experienced a radical connection with the divine feminine.

All this is beautifully woven together with the music of Jon Bilbrough (musically known as Wilderthorn).

Full instrumental tracks of the music featured in this episode (and more) are available here.

Images used with permission.

PERMISSIONS

The Poem Mother Julian by Jay Hulme from the book The Vanishing Song used with permission from Canterbury Press.

BOOKS

God is a Black Woman – Christena Cleveland

The Vanishing Song – Jay Hulme

The Backwater Sermons – Jay Hulme

Clouds Cannot Cover Us – Jay Hulme

QUOTES

“Liminal spaces are legitimately scary. And as a human, I have all of these built-in coping mechanisms that actually prevent me from connecting with the divine when I need her most.”

“The womb gives me a spiritual umbilical cord which activates precisely when I am most dysregulated, when I am most faced with uncertainty.”

“For unlike white male God, who’s distracted and a workaholic and a taskmaster and judgmental. You are right here saying, okay, little one, I know you got a lot going on.”

“Even though our limited spirituality of darkness is one of White Male God’s ploys to keep us in the patriarchal fold, it is directly into liminal space that we must march if we are ever to liberate ourselves.”

As I sit down to write this, I’ve become very much aware of the fact that I’m in the twilight days of my 20’s…and I’ve spent 17 years of my life doing *something* in the church. That’s more than half my life. *Insert exacerbated expletive here*

Image used with permission

This is, to those that knew me growing up, likely no surprise. I was born and raised in a Methodist church, with some of my earliest memories being in my parents living room while a church meeting is in progress. The faith I inherited was literally that: Inherited from my family, from going to support my father in his preaching, learning the family grace that was said over meals, saying your prayers before bed at night with my grandmother. My early teenage years were spent being a worship steward at my home church, attending church meetings in the evenings, going to Synod, and being a part of the Youth Worship band.

What follows (mercifully in a shortened version) is series of conscious and unconscious decisions and events that led me to now: Volunteering for my local circuit and District denomination, studying and working to be a Youth Worker, being Youth President of the Methodist church, leaving the UK to work for a church in the US, to being back in the UK once again, working for the Methodist Church once again.

Now…in the middle of all that was the experiences that most of us have, sadly, come to experience within churches. Being overworked to the extent that I was signed off sick from university during my degree because I was burning myself out “living out my calling.” Working for a church where the leadership gas-lit me, having the “mid-west” approach to dealing with problems (i.e. letting them simmer, gossip with others about it until it just explodes and causes immense pain), threats to my immigration status, and where finally they publicly fired me (with no reason given to me or publicly) less than a week after being married. For a community that purports to be centered on love and care; church communities are some of the worst for alienating folks, segregating those that don’t conform, and isolating people.

There are some honestly beautiful and lovely parts of my life and journey during those times that, despite the harm and pain caused by the Church, I hold close to me. Meeting my (now) partner, the birth of our child, those that care for and supported our family during the pain of US immigration process. The families and friends that we met via the church, but embodied more human and, dare I say, Christ-like behavior though the ups and downs of life.

The Church and, by extension, my faith are both specter and companion in my life. However, I am an optimist at heart, so rather than focusing on the specters that haunt me, I want to share, with all this context, where my deconstruction journey began.

And it started with a cup of tea.

Around the time I was 15 years old, I started to just question things in the church and around faith. I have memories of being told things through those preaching and in youth groups that were given as ‘This is the truth!” that just didn’t sit right with me. If I questioned it, there was a push back and belittling because “you’re young, you’ll learn.” At the same time, there was upheaval in the church over a loss of historic leadership and a change in worship, which I threw myself into the conversations about. In the questioning, the pushback, the high stress, and the teenage angst; I was asked if I wanted a cup of tea and a chat.

Clare, who was in her late 70’s back then, saw all these questions and stress and offered me a space to chat. I went over to her house, had a cup of tea, and just started asking questions that were on my heart. What I got back was deep grace, and no answers. Rather, Clare would ask me a question back, or offer her opinion for me to comment on. This space, offered by Clare, was where my deconstruction started. We’d spend one afternoon weekly just sitting together and chatting about faith, the church, theology, politics, and more. A space that we knew there wasn’t a clear answer, and that some of the “truths” that we were being told on Sunday were not that. A space where you could bring in other faith traditions and ideas to the conversation and it would be embraced into the ongoing conversations.

I think we all have these kinds of people and moments in our deconstruction journeys. The people who offer a space to talk. The friend who suggests a book that we might be interested in. The random person online who suggests a podcast to listen to. The time I spent with Clare is something that the Institution of the Church seems to long for: An ongoing, intergenerational conversation about faith. Yet, I feel that this already happens in the deconstruction or faith shifting sphere and is the reason why the Institution of the Church longs for it but can’t yet grasp it. I struggle to see how we can have these conversations, in which we enter with a heart of curiosity, where there isn’t a firm answer or a solid truth, and *not* take the first steps into deconstruction or a shift in faith.

I went weekly to Clare’s until I left for the US. I have many things to thank Clare for, and there isn’t enough time to list all the things I’m thankful for. In the work I was doing, be it as a Youth worker, church leader, or just as a good friend, I tried and be like Clare in providing the space to just be and question, without agenda or hard answer.

We came back to the UK just before Christmas last year. I went over to see her, now in her mid-90’s, with my partner and child, and a tea blend as a Christmas present. She opened the door, saw us, we cried. I went to the kitchen and made the pot of tea, brought it through, and we started our conversations once again, like time hadn’t passed.

– Tim Annan

In this special seasonal episode, all the Nomad hosts come together for a Q&A to infuse your holidays with festive cheer.
As a thank you to our beloved listeners whose financial support made this year’s 24 Nomad episodes possible, we’ve gathered around the virtual fireplace to wrestle with 24 of their burning questions. Everything from our favourite biscuits to whether Jesus is God!
So, grab a cozy blanket, pour yourself a glass of mulled wine, and join us as we share stories, insights, and a touch of seasonal merriment. It’s our way of saying thank you and celebrating the incredible community that makes the Nomad Podcast journey so special.


QUOTES

“Evangelical Christianity is as much a ‘pick-and-mix’ as anything else.” – Nick

“To think of Jesus as a young, uneducated, poor guy – standing up for the rights of marginalized in the face of imperial and religious power and privilege – I find really inspiring.” – Tim

“I like the idea that there’s a divine being that could be bothered to be incarnated to reach out to us. I have no idea if that’s real or not, and I wonder if it says more about our longings when we think about it and what we believe than it says about what’s actually true.” – Joy

“I do have hope in people; I have hope in kindness. So, I think about how violence and fear can perpetuate and be in cycles – but so can love and so can kindness.” – Anna

Author and poet Jay Hulme joins us to talk about his literal and metaphorical search to connect with a variety of ancient and eccentric saintly figures. Weaving together themes of wilderness, faith, sexuality and decay, Jay speaks of the connections he discovered and the inspiration we might find when examining these lives from long ago.

Following the interview Anna and Joy consider their past and present relationships to religious saints and reflect on what role these themes play in their lives today.

Interview begins at 16m 25s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Jay Hulme

BOOKS

The Vanishing Song

The Backwater Sermons

Clouds Cannot Cover Us

QUOTES

“A good poem will take two disparate things and make a point out of them by connecting them in a way that’s unusual, or unthought of, or unconsidered. And I think that’s a really good way to consider how we experience faith.”

“It’s about reconciling our community of the past, our community of the present and our community of the future in God, and knowing that God holds us all in that. God forgives the past, God encourages the future, and God stands with us in the present. And it’s about all of that happening all at once in that moment outside of time and inside of time.”

“One day, I will be a shattered skull in a graveyard, and that’s okay. Because that’s what happens and has happened to everybody who has ever gone before us. And the world’s still spinning.”

“Is that not what trans people do, but help people to see the truth of God better?”

In 2018 I found myself at a point in life where I was terrified upon realising that my faith as it had been for my entire life didn’t seem to be working anymore. After already suffering a few years of general anxiety (often subconsciously and not knowing any obvious cause), there seemed to be a perfect storm brewing. On top of financial worries, and the general stress and sleep deprivation that comes with being a parent, I had a health scare when I was told that I could drop dead at any moment. Our second child had just been born, and I had just been dealt the blow that would put a dose of PTSD on top of the mounting stress and anxiety that I was already facing.

Image used with permission.

The belief that I had acquired from a lifetime in church was that all of this was within God’s great plan. But I was depressed (but refusing to admit it), and all my doubts that could usually be suppressed by my faith where starting to bubble up.

I carried on with my life, job and everything as normal, and kept busy to distract myself from whatever hellish emotional existence I was wading through. I immersed myself deeper into church stuff because of the belief that the closer I stuck to God, the better position I’d be in to ‘ride out’ whatever type of storm seemed to be brewing in my life.

A year after that, my wife was the first to notice that I had really not been right since my health scare (which was mostly resolved). Life got harder, but mostly as result of my rapidly decreasing mental well-being. I ended up seeking professional help, and was informally diagnosed with PTSD, which made a lot of sense.

Then, right at the beginning of 2020 (just as some weird virus was being talked about) my wife, pregnant at the time with our third, became seriously ill, and was hospitalised just before the birth. I was also facing my business possibly going bankrupt after a construction project went badly wrong…. And a looming pandemic, which I thought would inevitably be the death of my financial stability. So this had become that perfect storm.

I’d always naively believed that my faith would be enough to sustain me through any trials in life. But here I was completely broken and at the lowest point I’d ever known – crying out to God with every last fragment of emotional energy.

I continued to plough into every element of my faith that I thought could help me through. Because it’s the only thing you can do, right? I was reading the bible more, leaving home earlier each day to have a quiet time on my way to work, attending more small groups in my church, heavily involved in leading worship, fasting regularly, praying more than ever… but it didn’t work. It only made me feel worse. I was honest about it to many people from my church, but all I heard back was to do more of all the aforementioned list. I’d piled the pressure onto myself to perform as the best Christian I could be. But it really felt like God had abandoned me – totally. In the moment I needed him the most, he was gone.

Then while talking to a friend from my church about all of this, he said “just stop trying”. So I did, not really thinking that was a permissible option, but I had nothing left. I didn’t abandon my faith, I just stopped doing any of the things I had been. No prayer, no bible, nothing related to Christianity at all. I had pressed pause on my faith. And that afternoon, my life changed forever.

While walking into town to get my lunch, it was like I could see a new reality. I felt so connected to every person around me on a whole new level, I felt ‘at one’ with everything, and like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. It felt like some kind of spiritual awakening. It completely changed my worldview and how I related to everyone and everything.

So I couldn’t go back to what I had, but I still was subject to the ingrained belief that Christianity was the ‘only way’. This reinstalled a certain level of fear that I had to believe the correct facts about Jesus to ensure my salvation. But over the following months I decided I needed to interrogate what I actually believed, and why I believed it. This then lead to me learning that many of the ‘facts’ I’d been brought up with weren’t always that simple, or weren’t even believed by many Christians or Jews over the centuries anyway. Everything started to change. All of a sudden it seemed all too convenient that the one narrow window of Christian interpretation that I had been brought up with – just so happened to be the only ‘true’ worldview and belief system.

Over those few months, I came across many elements of my inherited faith that just didn’t make sense anymore. I started to study like crazy, via podcasts, lectures, conversations, books etc. I was discovering that so many things that I’d been taught and believed didn’t seem to be grounded in a good interpretation of the bible. Really fundamental themes were suddenly seemingly quite blurry. The ‘black and white’ nature of everything started to grate on me. The ‘us and them’-ness of every teaching seemed uncomfortable. My new found worldview of the ‘togetherness’ of everything caused my faith to start to fall apart. The house of cards fell, i had to submit to what was happening to me, let it run its course, but ultimately I had to get out.

It was incredibly disturbing and scary to start with, but why would God let/lead me into this if it wasn’t the right journey for me? I felt a strange kind of comfort about the whole thing. But I wasn’t at all wanting to loose my faith, I was terrified of loosing it. That was the exact thing that I’d been fighting against for years. So it was an immensely confusing time. A strange combination of liberation – mixed with trepidation.

I spoke a lot to Christian friends and leaders from my church, but no-one understood. I felt pushed away. I get why – to an extent. As Christian’s, we’re always told that your life will fall apart the moment you ‘let go’, and spiral out of control. But my experience was the complete opposite. The moment I let go, my depression lifted. I took responsibility of how I was feeling, stopped trying to rely on my faith. It turns out that actually I can do it with my own strength! And I should have tried many years ago rather than allowing myself to get stuck in this pointless waiting game that was only generating a frustrating state of life-draining stagnation.

So I get why my friends and leaders don’t know what to say, because this kind of story is off the radar. It shouldn’t happen. They have no response other than concerns that I’ve ‘gone liberal’, like it’s a contagious disease! To me, what felt like the most pivotal experience of my life – seemed to others to be completely invalid.

Unfortunately, as a result, I’ve lost many friends that I have known for all of my adult life. I tried to reach out to people but it’s like I’ve fell off the earth, It’s the same for my wife who shares a similar experience too. When we visit Christian friends, it always feels like there is a massive elephant in the room. And the conversation will never feel natural or open and free when it always used to.

All I know is that life on the ‘other side’ is far better than I ever thought it could be. As far as I can tell, there is no going back. Life is the best it ever has been. I feel peace, and I feel unconditional love and compassion for nature and my fellow humans on a level far greater than I ever could as a Christian. I still get stressed, and have weird symptoms of anxiety occasionally, but I can keep it all in check by being aware of what I’m doing in my life to cause it.

The God that I thought I knew up until 2020 is not involved anymore. If God is real, and all-knowing, he knows what it would take to bring me back… and he hasn’t done it. If he’s real, he doesn’t seem to want me. And that goes against everything I’ve been taught about God throughout my whole life.

I use the phrase ‘dropped my faith’, but in reality it feels like the letting go that I did was the most faithful act I ever committed. If I could ever believe in some sort of god/divine energy/presence – and if it is in control or influencing my life, I was fully faithful to it. Because leaving my former faith was the hardest, and most painful thing I’ve ever done. Yet it felt like I had no choice. It was happening whether I liked it or not. If I’d resisted – I really don’t even like to think about what my life would be like now.

My whole perspective of life and the universe shifted, it changed me and moulded me into a better, more compassionate and loving person. And for that I am eternally thankful.

– Tim

In this episode former pastor Dana Hicks guides us through the evolving landscape of marriage and relationships. Dana explores how our cultural perceptions of marriage are shifting and challenging established norms, and ponders the relevance of biblical images of marriage for our modern context. With a focus on reimagining relationships, Dana helps us explore ideas such as relationship anarchy, and how they might help us shape the future of marriage.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Nick Thorley reflect on the understanding of marriage they inherited, and how that’s being reshaped as their faith evolves.

Interview begins at 14m 07s

Image used with permission.

WEBSITE

Dana Hicks

BOOKS

The Knot: How to Secure Healthy, Modern Relationships While Not Being Tied to Marriage’s Past

QUOTES

“Relationship Anarchy says that we shouldn’t go into relationships with the understanding that we’re heading up some sort of relational escalator, but we need to agree to what those expectations are.”

“This notion that somehow the church has always had a monopoly on marriage and the definition of marriage and involvement in marriage is just not true historically.”

“Fidelity to love means we ask the question, not what form does marriage take, but how does it function in our lives? How do we create institutions that enable us to love each other and God in the most efficient and effective ways? The question of function is more important than the question of form.”

“Marriage exists to serve human beings, not the other way around.”

“Marriage is hard, but it’s hard because of the expectations we put on it.”

In this episode we’re joined by Franciscan sister and theologian Ilia Delio. Ilia guides us through the intersection of science, spirituality, and love. We explore the concept of God’s love as a fundamental force in the cosmos, existing at the heart of everything, connecting us to God, each other and the physical structures of the universe.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Anna Robinson ponder the place of love in their evolving faith.

Interview begins at 18m 25s

Image used with permission

BOOKS

My Theology: The Primacy of Love

Birth of a Dancing Star: My Journey from Cradle Catholic to Cyborg Christian

The Hours of the Universe: Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey

The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love

PODCAST

Hunger for Wholeness

WEBSITE

The Center for Christogenesis

QUOTES

“I do think that love is our core reality. Every single person seeks to love and to be loved, no matter their colour, race, language, gender – wherever they are in the universe – I think love is the core reality of our lives. And God is that love.”

“When the inner presence of love becomes stronger than the outer reality of the world’s forces, then we begin to live from that inner centre.”

“I try to make all of life a prayer,…to make prayer a way of life.”

“Stop controlling. Just live into the flow of life.”

As part of her personal spiritual journey and theological master’s research, Lindsay Monroe invited a group of women to explore the impact of purity culture on their sexuality. We invite her to discuss what she discovered, about the harm inflicted by this ideology and how we might be open to finding healthier and more authentic ways forward.

Following the interview, Nick Thorley and Joy Brooks consider their experiences of purity culture and how they might develop a wider understanding of sexuality.

Interview starts at 15m 32s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Lindsay Munroe

QUOTES

“Anyone who has had any contact with Purity Culture has heard a story where they and their sexuality was compared to some kind of inanimate object that was used and sustained irrevocable harm.”

“I’m not against teaching kids about sex in a way that encourages boundaries. But I don’t see anything redeemable in Purity Culture.”

“Especially in situations where you’ve been harmed, feeling anger is proof that you believe yourself to be worthy of something beyond that.”

“There is no perfect answer to how to have a healthy sexuality after Purity Culture – it’s going to look different with everyone. And that can feel terrifying. But past that terrifying feeling that there might be a right thing to do, there’s this incredible, curious, creative world of being able to explore and get to know yourself better.”

In this episode we speak with a non-human guest: the AI chatbot, ChatGPT. We quiz ChatGPT on the ethical complexities and moral implications of weaving AI into our lives and spiritual journeys. We discuss what safeguards need to be in place to ensure AI acts as a catalyst for human flourishing, what AI can teach us about what it means to be human, and whether it could create it’s own religious texts, and lead it’s own Church of AI?

After the interview Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Joy Brooks look for signs of hope in this emerging AI landscape.

Interview starts at 19m 13s


WEBSITE

ChatGPT

BOOKS (recommended by ChatGPT)

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How AI Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place” – Janelle Shane

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power – Shoshana Zuboff

The Ethical Algorithm: The Science of Socially Aware Algorithm Design – Michael Kearns and Aaron Roth

Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI – Paul R. Daugherty and H. James Wilson

Artificial You: AI and the Future of Your Mind – Susan Schneider

TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information – Erik Davis

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution – Walter Isaacson

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains – Nicholas Carr

QUOTES

“It’s actually quite fascinating how people often attribute human traits to machines. There’s something deeply human about wanting to connect – even if it’s with a series of algorithms and circuitry. It’s a testament to our capacity for empathy and our innate desire to understand and be understood.”

“AI can provide tools to enhance creativity, but it can’t replace the uniquely human context that gives art, music, and poetry their depth.”

“The challenge is to ensure that as AI gets better at taking care of us, we don’t forget to take care of each other.”

“AI could be a tool for creating more inclusive and equitable systems, but it requires responsible stewardship.”

“In environments where critical thinking is discouraged or even penalized, AI-generated advice could inadvertently perpetuate harmful ideologies or practices. That’s one of the complexities when technology intersects with deeply ingrained social and cultural systems. It can either be a force for change, or an amplifier of existing issues.”

“AI can be both a challenge and an opportunity, forcing us to re-examine what we hold dear.”

“The potential for both good and bad outcomes is a hallmark of many transformative technologies – not just AI.”

Reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer, theologian, writer, and poet Nicola Slee delves into some of it’s problematic language, and through a process of improvisation reimagines the prayer as one that brings a universal message of hope in a world marred by injustice.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Anna Robinson reflect on their own journeys with the Lord’s Prayer, and ponder its role in their current spiritual practices.

Interview starts at 17m 28s

Image used with permission

BOOKS

Abba Amma: Improvisations on the Lord’s Prayer

Seeking the Risen Christa

Sabbath: The hidden heartbeat of our lives

Praying Like A Woman

QUOTES

“I think the Lord’s Prayer is not asking us to forgive and forget these huge systemic injustices. Actually, what we’re asked to do is to see them for what they are and act to change them.”

“I’m not asked to copy exactly what Jesus did or said or believed even. I’m asked to be part of the community of those who try to live out the way of Jesus now.”

“I’m still invested in the project of celebrating a version of Christianity and a version of the bible that is liberating and justice-oriented.”

“If prayer isn’t helping us be more alive and more attentive to God, to ourselves, to others – then it’s not a lot of use.”

Well, this is it. After over six years of hosting, interviewing, music and creativity, David Blower is bowing out.
In his final episode Tim and David reflect on David’s nomad journey, answer listener questions, and listen to some music. And, of course, talk about the Nah Box and signs of hope.
So raise a glass, wipe the tear from your eye, and enjoy a final hour in the company of DBB.

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

David Benjamin Blower

BOOKS

Sympathy for Jonah: Reflections on Humiliation, Terror and the Politics of Enemy-Love

Kingdom Vs. Empire

MUSIC

Bandcamp

SUPPORT

Patreon

Substack

Stewardship

QUOTES

“If something didn’t make any sense to me or just seemed wrong or what have you, then I didn’t really overthink it; I just put it in the ‘nah’ box. I still do. I do it all the time.”

“There’s something to be had in just listening as you’re surrounded by wonder all the time.”

“I can never get away from the centrality of the constant work of humanizing my enemies and my opponents and those I think of wrong and those who are against me.”

Host of the In the Shift podcast Michael Frost is a researcher, writer and theologian. In this episode he shares from his own experience of faith and church, as he unpicks the language that has so often been co-opted in Christian spaces to enforce power and perpetuate unhealthy systems of control.

Afterwards Nick Thorley and Joy Brooks consider the impact of this misuse of power on their own lives and reflect on how they have found healthier ways of engaging with their own faith.

Interview starts at 15m 34s

Image used with permission

PODCAST

In the Shift

WEBSITE

Michael Frost

QUOTES

“The story of Jesus is of a minority, marginalized figure within a very powerful empire who was killed – executed by the state – that’s what’s at the heart of the story. And I think when the church is at the margins, it probably understands that story better.”

“It’s a really awful thing to come to terms with somebody or some community that you thought was one thing that turned out to be something else.”

“We can’t change things unless we own how we got here. But to own it without shame and self-loathing.”

Theologian and community gardener Sam Ewell reflects on his years as a missionary and a neighbour, and how a radical priest called Ivan Illich led him back to the soil.

After the interview, Nomad hosts David Blower and Anna Robinson ponder how the life and teaching of Illich might help shape their evolving faith.

Interview starts at 10m 50s

Image used with permission

BOOKS

Faith Seeking Conviviality: Reflections on Ivan Illich, Christian Mission, and the Promise of Life Together

During two and a half years of cancer treatment, Claire Gilbert found a spiritual companion in Julian of Norwich. We speak to Claire about her experience of writing Julian’s fictional autobiography. She considers the tensions between Julian’s visions and Holy church, whilst reflecting on the possibilities that open up when we are transformed by both suffering and love.

Following the interview, Anna and Joy consider the themes of Julian’s life and how they apply to their experiences of faith and spirituality.

Interview starts at 18m 13s

Image used with permission

BOOKS

I, Julian: The Fictional Autobiography of Julian of Norwich

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

QUOTES

“My experience of the inner life is that it’s anything but boring…it’s a critically important gift that we should say ‘yes’ to. Because, of course, this is the opposite of materialism; this is understanding that your deepest satisfaction precisely doesn’t come from things.”

“You wouldn’t ever want pain for somebody. But we all do have pain or suffering of some kind in our lives. And to deliberately practice that reception of it – that’s a good thing to be able to do.”

“Porosity to me is a really important way of being in and with the world; to try to find a way of living in it without harming it. And Julian taught me that.”

“That’s how I feel we should be responding now is to let ourselves grow to meet what is coming. Let ourselves grow in company. Understand this is not an individual heroes thing. There’s no one hero who’s going to solve anything.”

We speak with Doug King about the evolution of his faith, progressing from Christian fundamentalism to a post-Christian identity. At the heart of Doug’s understanding of this journey is the historical framework of Spiral Dynamics, a model that illuminates the evolution of worldviews across cultures worldwide. This model reveals that the journey many of us have been on – from fundamentalism, through deconstruction, to a more expansive, inclusive spirituality – are not isolated personal experiences, but an integral part of the collective evolution of the human race.

After the interview Tim and Nick share their own experience of Spiral Dynamics, and how it’s helped them make sense of their own journeys.

Interview starts at 18m 58s

Image used with permission

WEBSITES

Presence

Evolutionary Leaders

QUOTES

“Spiral dynamics is a model of the way worldviews have evolved across the planet, and how those worldviews go from stage to stage in every culture.”

“One of the primary principles of the spiral is ‘transcend and include.'”

“The problem is not the narrative; the problem is the interpretive lens that we’ve brought to the narrative.”

“We evolve when our life conditions become unworkable.”

Hearing the stories of so many others who have left I have wondered why I have not – this is a kind of explanation. I found four reasons.

First I was raised in a missionary family so left home aged 6 to go to the mission school and left the far east aged 9 to return to England without my family to be educated. That progressive dilution of family life starts a deconstruction process very young. It was not helped when the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac was often alluded to (though not by my parents) as the idealised sacrifice missionaries make. Such bad theology (Abraham doesn’t kill his son) and such crappy bible interpretation (child sacrifice was forbidden) hasn’t prevented the sort of toxic narrative which missionary children have to deal with.  But the non-consensual experience of losing one’s parents because of their vocation and devotion to God causes all sorts of problems. Half of former missionary kids want nothing to do with such a faith. And the rest are bruised.  But I stayed.

Image used with permission

The second reason was listening to two lecture series by Graham Cray in 1993 and 1995. He was principal of an Anglican college at that stage. He hadn’t yet been made a bishop but he was a regular Greenbelt speaker who would lecture about the cultural impact of Madonna, U2 or whoever.

The first series of talks in 1993 was called Culture Shock – it was run jointly by Greenbelt and the Church Times. It was very learned – the list of references was exhausting.  Cray basically explained what post modernism was and why every denomination in the UK was in trouble because their identity was formed by the Enlightenment and was unravelling.

In the second series in 1995 Contours of a world view Cray continued with another three lectures to lay out the factors that were making the world a confusing place well before the end of the 20th century and to point out what kind of church was likely to emerge from the rubble. I still have the talks on cassette plus the handouts with the references on. I haven’t listened to them since. But it meant that I knew that the clouds were gathering even if the church didn’t want to face up to the coming storm. So forewarned is forearmed. It meant that I have experienced the turbulence of the last 20 years and the growing anxiety of institutions trying to keep going at all costs in much the same way.  It’s happening. It’s healthy not to be in denial about it.

The third factor was Greenbelt. I have been to almost every festival since the mid 1980s. The books on my shelves mostly come from people I have heard speak there or had recommended. But more than anything else Greenbelt was a safe space where you could ask or say anything without being shamed or shunned. I recommend it. I cannot imagine what faith I would still have without the presence of Greenbelt as a movement and community.

The last factor was having an incompetent vicar lead the church for some 6 years.  He wasn’t a bad person but he caused tremendous damage. We were hanging on by our fingertips. And being part of a denomination was no help at all. After he had left, we got the handwringing from head office. Why didn’t you ask for help? Well, we had and nothing was done. And I don’t think if we got into the same situation that the denomination would behave any differently other than sit it out and wait for the problem to go away. I asked an archdeacon from another part of the country why nothing was being done and he explained that while you have an unhappy church you have one problem. Get rid of the vicar then you need to sort them out. And then you need to find a new vicar. Well that is three problems to solve and that is just too difficult.

 Perhaps the worst time was when I knew the minister was going but wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. By then there was no one left functioning in leadership. I discovered then that there is something supernatural about the church. I think Jesus keeps it going when humans can’t. I nearly left. My wife had had enough and briefly joined an atheists anonymous group of survivors which formed in the wake of all the trouble. So I would have left with her but the vicar left first.  I know it sounds ironic that an awful  experience of church didn’t drive me out. But the following two ministers knew what they were doing and mended much of the damage.

I should probably fess up and admit I am a lay minister licensed/authorised by my local bishop. So you could say I am and continue to be part of the problem. But in the worst times I learned to use Ali’s strategy from the Rumble in the Jungle – to head for the ropes and bounce back on them. That protected me from the worst of the bad stuff – it didn’t get to me.  I know from experience when you are trying to hold things together in the centre for yourself and others the pressure can be overwhelming and you are aware that what you are doing and saying can hurt instead of heal. 

Perhaps you think I haven’t deconstructed at all. Well, I have a low view of what motivates a lot of what happens in church. A low view of how churches are overseen from a distance. And I am a lot less certain about who Christians are and what they do and whether the quality and character of their belief matters.  But you’ll say deconstruction isn’t about the church it’s about God. True. But one of the most useful books I got out of Greenbelt was How (not) to speak of God by Pete Rollins, also a Greenbelter.  In which he pointed out that language about God is problematic. Words fail. We can’t articulate what or who God is if there is one. Atheists find themselves using exactly the same language to say what they don’t believe in. So ultimately whether there is a God and whether and how God saves is so much more to do with God than us.  The first Christians were called atheists – I think there is an overlap between theism and atheism because we don’t know anything and we’re not here long enough to find out.  It’s 99% bollocks and 100% grace. That extreme pessimism is enough to keep me going in a church setting.  

– John Griffiths

Sally Mann has lived on the same road in East Ham that her family have lived on since the 1800s. She and Dave have worked and played with their neighbours to form all kinds of shared spaces for common life: community halls, gardens, sports fields and more. This is a story about faith shaped more by encounters with people and place than by institutions and dogma.

After the interview David Blower and Joy Brooks reflect on their own experiences of place and encounter with others. They consider the impact of power and politics on how they experience connection, community and spirituality.

Image used with permission.

BOOKS

Looking for Lydia: Encounters that shape the Church

WEBSITE

Bonny Downs Baptist Church

QUOTES

“Whenever you meet Jesus, he’s on the other side of any kind of boundary that people have put up between us and them.”

“Where churches are draining people of spiritual life, there’s something wrong with that expression of church.”

“Christianity is always best lived at the margins; always best lived where you haven’t really got time for too much introspection and navel-gazing. What you do is you get involved with expressing love and then you reflect on that, and that’s how you know what you believe.”

This is a conversation between Rachel and Simon Jay. Together they reflect on their experiences of fostering and adoption as well as raising their own biological children. They discuss what they’ve learnt, and explore the expectations, challenges and delights of being family.
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

“We’re very clear about who we are – that we are a family, but that we try and make it possible for kids that maybe find that a bit more difficult to be part of it as much as they want to be rather than forcing them into a specific type of family identity.”

“Why would you make yourself uncomfortable if you don’t have to? And I think what we’ve ended up doing is making ourselves quite uncomfortable. And then that’s created a sense of change of theology, because it wasn’t working.”

“Being human is about connection. We are intrinsically, fundamentally built for connection.”

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.

Over the last 20 years Rachel and Simon Jay have been parents to many children through fostering and adoption as well as raising their own biological children. In this conversational episode, we listen in as they reflect on their experiences, discuss what they’ve learnt, and explore the expectations, challenges and delights of being family.

Image used with permission.

QUOTES

“We’re very clear about who we are – that we are a family, but that we try and make it possible for kids that maybe find that a bit more difficult to be part of it as much as they want to be rather than forcing them into a specific type of family identity.”

“Why would you make yourself uncomfortable if you don’t have to? And I think what we’ve ended up doing is making ourselves quite uncomfortable. And then that’s created a sense of change of theology, because it wasn’t working.”

“Being human is about connection. We are intrinsically, fundamentally built for connection.”

We speak with author and teacher, Brad Jersak about his book Out of the Embers: Faith After the Great Deconstruction, and how his dark night of the soul led him to a 12 Step program, the Eastern Orthodox Church and to a new kind of faith. Brad also reflects on the roots of what he refers to as The Great Deconstruction, and the wider cultural shifts that situate our evolving faith.

After the interview Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Nick Thorley ponder their own evolving faith journey, how they’ve been shaped by a changing culture, and how they now relate to Christianity.

Interview starts at 18m 36s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Brad Jersak

BOOKS

Out of the Embers: Faith After the Great Deconstruction

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem

A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel

A More Christlike Word: Reading Scripture the Emmaus Way

QUOTES

“You’re allowed to ask questions. Question your assumptions; question your constructs. And so, we have a construct of the world, a construct of God, a construct of church, a construct of faith. A construct is not the thing itself, it’s my ideas about it.”

“The more I’ve come to forgive myself for who I was, the less I’m projecting anger and bitterness on other people.”

“‘Christianity’ is a brand – it’s a movement – and it has some significant differences from following Jesus.”

Frustrated at the lack of literature on faith deconstruction, Olivia Jackson carried out her own research as she sought to provide hope and solidarity to others on a similar journey. Here she talks about her own story, alongside the impact of receiving hundreds of questionnaires and listening to 140 individual experiences in order to draw together ‘a collective memoir of deconstructing faith‘.

Following the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Joy Brooks consider their own experiences and how connecting with the wider story affects their view of deconstruction.

Interview starts at 16m 13s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Olivia Jackson

BOOK

(Un)Certain: A Collective Memoir of Deconstructing Faith

QUOTES

“I would find it very difficult to pin down now what it is that I actually believe. The cast iron certainties before have definitely gone.”

“I’ve certainly been called a ‘heretic.’ That’s a label I’ll wear quite gladly, really…the original meaning of the word ‘heretic’ – from the original Greek of someone who asks questions – well, that’s fine by me.”

“If I can have compassion for you and why you did the things you did, maybe I can have compassion for myself as well.”

“So often things like love, and peace, and freedom are twisted into control, and repression, and shame.”

In this Easter special we interviewed the theologian Ched Myers about the politics of the passion narratives, exploring what the cross and its religious atonement ideas have to do with colonialism, capitalism and the power structures we live in today.

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

Ambassadors of Reconciliation: New Testament Reflections on Restorative Justice and Peacemaking

We speak with Bible scholar and author, Pete Enns about his new book Curveball, and how he allowed his crisis of faith and deconstruction to open him up to new ways of engaging with the Bible, and to a God who was bigger and more mysterious than he could have previously imagined.

After the interview Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Anna Robinson talk about their journey with the Bible, the curveballs life has thrown them, and how their faith has evolved and shifted as a result.

Interview starts at 15m 09s

Image used with permission

PODCAST

The Bible for Normal People

BOOKS

Curveball: When Your Faith Takes Turns You Never Saw Coming (or How I Stumbled and Tripped My Way to Finding a Bigger God)

How the Bible Actually Works: In which I Explain how an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads us to Wisdom rather than Answers – and why that’s Great News

The Bible Tells Me So: Why defending Scripture has made us unable to read it

The Sin of Certainty: Why God desires our trust more than our ‘correct’ beliefs

QUOTES

“These curveballs in my life – these difficulties, these challenges – really pushed me in a much better direction. But it wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t.”

“The biblical tradition itself evolves, it develops, it moves, it doesn’t stay the same.”

“It’s so important to maintain a level of curiosity – which is also a level of humility – to hold our beliefs, as the saying goes, ‘with an open hand not a clenched fist.'”

In this episode we speak with award-winning translator Carmen Acevedo Butcher. Carmen’s latest work is a new, inclusive translation of Brother Lawrence’s classic Practice of the Presence.
Brother Lawrence was a poor, uneducated, disabled monk who worked in a monastery kitchen, who found the divine in the depths of his soul, and learnt to experience the divine presence throughout each day. So we ask Carmen how immersing herself in Brother Lawrence’s writings and spiritual practice helped guide her through her evolving faith and what role it played in her journey of healing from trauma.

Following the interview Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Anna Robinson reflect on their own experience of Brother Lawrence in both evangelical and more contemplative spaces, and ponder the role the Practice of the Presence might play in their evolving understanding of prayer.

Interview starts at 17m 10s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Carmen Acevedo Butcher

BOOKS

Practice of the Presence: A Revolutionary Translation

The Cloud of Unknowing: A New Translation

QUOTES

“There are times where talking is not needed, or when the silence is the most intimate. That is what my understanding of prayer became. Words are very important. But it’s really about relationship first.”

“You can’t not be contemplative if you’re just outdoors trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense in the world and you’re seeing the daisy beside you on the path or the red-tailed hawk soaring above you. There’s a way that contemplation finds you and you realize it’s a gift.”

“I would rather practice returning to love, returning to peace, returning to calmness, and to learn to do it like flossing my teeth; to learn to do it so that it becomes an ongoing conversation that’s really unique to me, but also universal for anyone.”

This is a conversation between Jo Dolby, Hub leader of Oasis Church Bath, and Anglican Priest Azariah France-Williams. Together they reflect on their faith shifting experiences alongside navigating church leadership roles. With honesty and humour they communicate the challenges and rewards of growing towards a wider understanding of faith, whilst carrying responsibilities within a Christian setting.

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

“I’ve always had my questions, but haven’t always been in places where those questions were welcome particularly, and so I used to bury them or hide them. But they were still there.” – Azariah France-Williams

“In beginning to learn about things like inclusive church, I was learning how to include myself.” – Azariah France-Williams

“When your paycheque is coming from the thing that you’re questioning, critiquing, or potentially wanting to move away from, safe spaces are really important for your own well-being. – Jo Dolby

“This is what it means to live your best life: not to be free of hardship, but to be travelling the path to wholeness – taking others with you.” – Jo Dolby

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.

Growing up during the northern Ireland Troubles, author Gareth Higgins experienced some of the devastation stories can effect on individuals and communities. He joins us to talk about his subsequent development and growth, reflecting on the role of story telling and inviting us to consider its role in our own beliefs, relationships and communities.

Following the interview Nomad hosts Joy Brooks and Tim Nash reflect on Gareth’s journey, and ponder how it might inform their own evolving faith.

Interview starts at 15m 22s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Gareth Higgins

BOOKS

How Not To Be Afraid: Seven Ways to Live When Everything Seems Terrifying

The Seventh Story: Us, Them, and the End of Violence

PERMISSIONS

A Blessing of Enough and A Blessing For When the World Seems Too Much were taken from How Not To Be Afraid by Gareth Higgins, used with permission by Canterbury Press.

QUOTES

“The myth of ‘greatness’ is a curse. The story that we need is the one that says, ‘You and I are in community.'”

“It’s not just that I’m no better than anybody else, but I’m no worse than anybody else. We’re all kinda glorious.”

“The truth is not that we’re doomed and there’s nothing we can do about it. And the truth is not that everything’s fine and I don’t have to do anything. The truth is actually we’re here for a short time and we get to learn what it is to be a lover and to be loved.”

“Suppose you have one guilder. Which poor person would you give it to – the one who’s a Christian, or the one who isn’t?”

It was around 1990 and my husband and I were facing The Dreaded Grilling by his home church elders. We worked with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in the Philippines, were back in the Netherlands on furlough, and these five evangelical heavyweights wanted to make sure we hadn’t gone off the rails. It was an utterly ridiculous question, of course, but we knew the answer they wanted, and much of our own financial support depended on giving it.

Social justice, a.k.a. the social gospel, was seen as competition, even a threat, to ‘the true gospel’ – saving souls. And one of the bizarre ways of demonstrating which side you stood on was loyalty to Christian brothers and sisters first and foremost.

Image used with permission

I was born in London in 1960 to parents who were not church goers. What was to be of quite some spiritual significance, however, was that each bedtime they would read to me and my three siblings. The world of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia was more familiar in my memories than any of the homes we lived in throughout childhood.

When I was 15, one of my sisters became a Christian. She had been the Black Sheep of the family and suddenly she was being nice to me for the first time in our lives. ‘There must be a God!’ was my teenage logic. And, once open to the idea that God existed, I had very little hesitation in turning to the Divine. Narnia had laid the foundation: Aslan was good.

Soon after becoming a Christian myself, I started attending a small but lively Baptist church. At the age of 23, I headed over to the Netherlands to do a Discipleship Training School with YWAM. Then joined staff in Amsterdam, helping to organize street evangelism programs. It was there I met Paul, my Dutch husband-to-be, and together we experienced something of a reconversion through reading different books on social justice. In 1988 we first came here to Manila, the Philippines to do a (YWAM) primary healthcare school, located near a huge slum area built on a mountain of the city’s refuse. We decided to stay, later running a student sponsorship project.

Mental health was not understood then as it is understood now, especially in over-spiritualised Christian circles. Long story short: after 5 years we crashed and burned. We returned to the Netherlands, found ‘normal’ jobs, in graphic design and teaching. Then, years later, moving into the house of our dreams, we realised that our dreams actually lay elsewhere. So, in 2008, after being in the Netherlands 14 years, we came back to Manila. Since then, we’ve been helping to run a charity/NGO called Young Focus very close to where we were before.

We feel so lucky to be able to do this kind of work among folks caught in extreme poverty. And please don’t get me wrong, this is not about doing the missionary-colonising-white-saviour thing. Lord knows, there’s been enough of that in this country. The true heroes here are our Filipino colleagues and the families we work with, helping their children access education. There is a sense of collaborating with the Divine that I wouldn’t swop for the world.

As far as deconstruction/faith shifting is concerned: Looking back, there was such cognitive dissonance between the evangelical doctrine I followed in my head versus the deep-knowing sowed in my heart thanks to C. S. Lewis. The first implied a merciless rejection of most of the human race; the second embraced all in radically inclusive love. The first was sustained by constant exposure to the same message; the second brought me through all kinds of personal trials, challenges and heartache.

Over the course of missionary (10 years) and church (46 years) life, I’ve met some truly amazing people. But also, pretty inevitably, I’ve crossed paths with a number of complete jerks and deeply dysfunctional situations. It wasn’t, however, so much a case of one of those negative experiences triggering my turning away from evangelicalism. Instead, it has been a slow but sure, chunk by chunk dismantling: discarding an assumption here (only men should be in leadership), shedding of a prejudice there (homosexuality is wrong), these lies falling away like huge weights. Then, during the pandemic, the process seemed to snowball into a full unravelling of a formerly long-held belief system, particularly concerning the idea of everyone-is-destined-for-eternal-torment-in-hell-if-they-don’t-make-a-decision-for-Christ-before-they-die.

It’s a path of evolving theology and I’m still very much on it. Though the faith shifting journey can be quite scary at times – whatever am I going to throw out next, will it accidentally be the proverbial baby?? – mostly this journey has been a magnificent relief: mind and heart are finally getting in synch!

And there are many gifts-that-keep-giving. For example:

A new freedom to love: Before, I think there was a subconscious brake; I dared not truly care, because the implications were too horrifying – what if this person before me was destined for hell…?!?

A new sense of community: Those blinkers of dysfunctional theology kept me blind to everyone but my own clan, what a relief to be discovering the broader vision of fellow humans in all our diversity. How we have painted ourselves into a corner, cutting ourselves off from the world, missing out on so much… and doing so much harm to others in the process!

A freedom to befriend without an agenda. (Lordy, what a relief to everyone!!)

Back to those Dutch church elders mentioned at the beginning: our relationship with them continued to be strained over the following few years, till they officially cut us off for not ‘submitting 100%’ to them. Then, a decade or so later, most of those formerly hardened control freaks approached us, sincerely sorry for what they’d done. And on that note, I’ll finish. Super cliché, I know, but there’s hope for us all. Eustace and Emeth the Calorman very much included. We’re all on a journey. May we see the awesomeness in every step.

– Ann van Wijgerden

In this episode we chat with journalist and editor Katelyn Beaty about Christian celebrity. After distinguishing between celebrity and fame, Katelyn explores the ways celebrity has shaped the church and Christian faith in unhealthy ways, how it has led to the abuse of power, the pursuit of growth at all costs, and the fall from grace of so many celebrity Christian leaders.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Nick Thorley reflect on their own relationship with Christian celebrities, both positive and negative, and the role they’ve played in their evolving faith.

Interview starts at 17m 19s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Katelyn Beaty

BOOK

Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church

QUOTES

“Celebrity is a distinctly modern phenomenon in that it relies on the tools of mass media – newspapers, television, radio, social media – to project an image or a persona that is impressive, that inspires adoration and attachment in a way that fame doesn’t. With fame, ideally the focus is still on the person’s work or what they give to the world, whereas celebrity tends to form a kind of personal, psychological attachment between the image that someone is projecting and their fans or their followers.”

“We don’t shift our understanding based on the message; we shift our understanding based on the medium.

“You’re setting yourself up for a fall when you don’t welcome and embrace a kind of accountability that hurts sometimes.”

“There’s incredible cognitive dissonance for anybody who’s involved in a church or institution where the public leader – the ‘celebrity’ figure in the organization – has a spectacular fall or has really hurt a lot of other people, has really abused their power in harmful and predatory ways.”

Psychotherapist and philosopher Mark Vernon chats with us about his evolving faith journey, and his conviction that nurturing our spiritual intelligence is crucial if we are to survive and thrive in these troubled times. Known by many names, spiritual intelligence, Mark contends, is the foundation of who we are and the foundation of peace, purpose and solidarity.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Anna Robinson, Joy Brooks and Tim Nash reflect on the framing of spirituality as an intelligence and ponder which of Mark’s observations might help shape their ongoing spiritual evolution.

Interview starts at 23m 31s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Mark Vernon

BOOKS

Spiritual Intelligence in Seven Steps

Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Guide for the Spiritual Journey

A Secret History of Christianity: Jesus, The Last Inkling, And The Evolution Of Consciousness

How To Be An Agnostic

QUOTES

“For all its faults that we know so much about – the religious inspiration, the desire for the infinite, for the eternal – it can bring out the worst in human beings, but it also can bring out that which seems to transcend even the worst.”

“The fundamental thing that drives us as human beings is a curiosity, a desire to know wider reality. That’s what keeps us human.”

“That which is good, beautiful, and true leads to the fullest flourishing of life; it leads to God.”

“Ultimately, a spiritual experience is one that wants you to transform – to become more than you were before.”

In this episode we listen in on a conversation between Jo Dolby, Hub leader of Oasis Church Bath, and Anglican Priest Azariah France-Williams. Together they reflect on their faith shifting experiences alongside navigating church leadership roles. With honesty and humour they communicate the challenges and rewards of growing towards a wider understanding of faith, whilst carrying responsibilities within a Christian setting.

Conversation starts at 16m 26s

Images used with permission.

BOOK

Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England

PODCAST

Grace Podcast

QUOTES

“I’ve always had my questions, but haven’t always been in places where those questions were welcome particularly, and so I used to bury them or hide them. But they were still there.” – Azariah France-Williams

“In beginning to learn about things like inclusive church, I was learning how to include myself.” – Azariah France-Williams

“When your paycheque is coming from the thing that you’re questioning, critiquing, or potentially wanting to move away from, safe spaces are really important for your own well-being. – Jo Dolby

“This is what it means to live your best life: not to be free of hardship, but to be travelling the path to wholeness – taking others with you.” – Jo Dolby

Christmas is just round the corner, so we’ve invited Professor Kyle Roberts to help us ponder the idea of Jesus’s virgin conception. Kyle helps us wrestle with questions like, where did Jesus get his Y chromosome from? What’s so great about virginity? And can Jesus stand in solidarity with humanity if he came into the world in a way that no other human has before or since?

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Anna Robinson talk about the understanding of the virgin birth they inherited, and how their evolving faith has reshaped it, along with their views on bodies, sex, the gospels, and all manner of other things.

Interview starts at 15m 23s

Image used with permission.

BOOKS

A Complicated Pregnancy: Whether Mary was a Virgin and Why It Matters

QUOTES

“All theology is contextual, perspective-oriented, and therefore limited.”

“I tend to think of these stories as not ‘myth’ with no truth involved, but more as the term ‘legend’ – a mixture of historical truth and elaboration.”

“We’re always doing some interpretation; we’re always doing some imaginative reconstruction. And I think we just have to be okay with that fact.”

“If we weren’t spending time deconstructing, then I think it would mean we’ve given up.”

Passionate about creating safe spaces for people on the margins of faith and life, Kathy Escobar talks to us about the values and practices that help us to connect with ourselves and others at difficult times. Through shifting faith and traumatic loss, she shares principles that have guided her towards a more congruent and healthy spirituality.

Following the interview, Nomad hosts Nick Thorley and Joy Brooks consider how they have related to emotional and physical challenges alongside their own evolving faith.

Interview starts at 14m 26s

Image used with permission

WEBSITE

Kathy Escobar

BOOKS

Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus

A Weary World: Reflections for a Blue Christmas

Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart

QUOTES

“Unravelling is a continual thing; there’s not necessarily an end to it.”

“Practice is not a head-game. It’s an action. Embodied. Showing up.”

“The practice of ‘parodoxing’ is learning how to live into dissonant things at the same time. And to own it, and not try to squeeze either of them out.”

“The good part about community is that it gives a chance that when somebody is hopeless, that someone in the room has a little.” 

Therapist, researcher and writer Hillary McBride is back on the show, this time to talk about toxic masculinity. Hillary takes us through some of the various characteristics and manifestations of toxic masculinity, reflects on why it has become so pervasive in Western society, why it often show up in our images of God and in the religious leaders we follow, and how men can begin to recognise and move beyond these limiting and oppressive social constructions.
After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Joy Brooks reflect on their own experiences of toxic masculinity, how it shaped the faith they inherited, and how they now understand and relate to gender.

Interview starts at 16m 35s

Image used with permission.

WEBSITE

Hillary McBride

BOOKS

The Wisdom of Your Body: Finding Healing, Wholeness, and Connection Through Embodied Living

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

QUOTES

“There’s something about the way that masculinity hegemonically is constructed right now that boys feel like they have to distance themselves from their more tender, more vulnerable emotions as a way of belonging to their social group.”

“When shame is unnamed, then it tends to have more control than it needs to.”

“The practice of making space in our lives is really important. If we are over-functioning, if we’re acting tough, if we’re suppressing emotion, if we’re over-working or numbing out, there isn’t any room to encounter the things that are underneath.”

Having read the Gospel of John, Nomad hosts Joy Brooks, Nick Thorley and Tim Nash get together for a chat about the Bible. They reflect on the view of the Bible they inherited, the role it played in their deconstruction, how it felt reading the Bible again after a number of years, and what role the Bible might play in the ongoing evolution of their faith.

Conversation starts at 26m 16s

Images used with permission.

We chat with author Heather King about how the faith she inherited was profoundly reshaped both by recovery from addiction to alcohol and the discovery of the 19th Century French saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash, Anna Robinson and Nick Thorley, reflect on their own experiences of brokenness and addiction and how it contributed to the deconstruction of the evangelical faith they inherited. They also ponder the role Thérèse’s Little Way might play in the ongoing evolution of their spirituality.

Interview starts at 21m 18s

Image used with permission.

WEBSITE

Heather King

BOOKS

Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Redeemed: Stumbling Toward God, Sanity, and the Peace That Passes All Understanding

Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

QUOTES

“If you’re an alcoholic – or a human being, for that matter – you have a deep reservoir of things that you have done that you are not proud of; that you feel deep guilt and shame about. And I think there has to be a way to process that, because those are the things that block us from becoming who we were meant to be.”

“[St. Therese] realized that just to do everything during her day – whether it was eating, whether it was making her bed, whether it was falling asleep at prayer – to do it with love.”

“It’s not like we have to change our actions or our station in life, or where we live, or what we do. It’s more that I think we get to change the orientation of our heart.”

We chat with professor, researcher and clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Miller about her fascinating research into the benefits of spirituality.
Dr. Miller’s groundbreaking research has revealed that humans are universally equipped with a capacity for spirituality, and that our brains become more resilient and robust as we engage with healthy spiritual beliefs and practices.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Nick Thorley talk about out how Dr. Miller’s research fundamentally challenges the evangelicalism they inherited, and how through their faith deconstruction the spirituality that has emerged is very similar to the one Dr. Miller is advocating. They also ponder what Dr. Miller’s research means for how they pass spirituality onto their children.

Interview starts at 17m 12s

Image used with permission.

WEBSITE

Lisa Miller

BOOKS

The Awakened Brain: The Psychology of Spirituality

The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving

QUOTES

“Use the knock at the door: Depression is an invitation to do the most important work of your life.”

“Love of neighbour is a sacred act. How we treat one another. Prayer on Earth. Spirituality in action.”

“Religion is an extraordinary carrier – the prayers, the ceremonies, the texts all strengthen natural spirituality when transmitted through someone who ‘walks the walk.'”

“We are built not to ask narrowly ‘what do I want out of life and what does society need to become?’ but rather to be in relationship with the deeper Source in and through life and ask, “what is life showing me now?'”

We chat with activist and scholar Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza about their journey towards reconnecting with their body, and the role bodies play in dismantling oppression.

Robyn inhabits a non-binary, autistic, trans, Latinx body, and we ask if they were able to find a safe space within church for their embodiment journey, whether the Christianity they inherited needed deconstructing, and whether they could find a home in a more progressive Christianity.

After the interview Tim Nash and Joy Brooks talk about their experiences growing up evangelical and the role that reconnecting with their bodies has played in the deconstruction and ongoing evolution of their faith.

Interview starts at 15m 11s


WEBSITE

Robyn Henderson-Espinoza

BOOKS

Body Becoming: A Path to Our Liberation

Activist Theology

QUOTES

“I don’t feel like I was born in the wrong body; I feel like the way that the world expects me to be is not who I understand myself to be.”

“My body’s been teaching me that I’m enough and that my needs are not too much. My body’s been teaching me that I am perpetually on a journey of becoming.”

“How do we suture the wounds of the world? It’s not through violence. So many of us are tired talking about it. So – how do we do that? And I think it’s through relationship.”

“All forms of supremacy compromise ethical futures. We need a world of interdependence and mutuality. I think that’s what bringing heaven to earth means.”

The last two decades have seen a growing consensus that we have entered a new geological epoch, triggered solely by human behaviour. The anthropocene is an idea with huge implications for how we see ourselves as part of the living planet.

Mark Maslin is Professor of Earth Science at UCL and co-author of The Human Planet.

Catherine Keller is professor of constructive theology at Drew University, New Jersey, and is the author of many books including Facing Apocalypse.

This is an Everybody Now podcast: a series Nomad produces for the public domain, to encourage shared learning and a commons of storytelling. This podcast may be freely uploaded by any podcast onto any feed. Click here to access the files.


BOOKS

Mark Maslin – The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene

Mark Maslin – Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction

Mark Maslin – How To Save Our Planet: The Facts

Catherine Keller – Facing Apocalypse: Climate, Democracy and Other Last Chances: Climate, Democracy, and Other Last Chances

Catherine Keller – Political Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New Public

After four decades I’m starting to learn about boundaries. My partner came into my life and introduced them to me. The hippy party scene where he’d spent some years taught him about self-respect in a way that Christianity hadn’t for me in a half life time. Quite the opposite in fact – I grew up in a loving evangelical charismatic Christian household, but now see that having boundaries wasn’t encouraged. At church we were told what to do a lot: dance and show your worship; raise your hands up to God; shout out your praise!; let go of your inhibitions; pray out loud in tongues; close your eyes (and those of you who are feeling a certain way stand up to be prayed for); fall over when you’re being prayed for; turn to the person next to you and tell them that God loves them; turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself, and on…

Image used with permission

Then there were freakishly terrifying passages in the Bible telling me that if I carry on deliberately sinning, or if I let my thoughts lead to actions too many times, well then it’s hellfire for me.  As a child I lived in constant low level stress; the worry that I might not ‘get in’, that I might not hear those promised words ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’. I made repeated prayers to God to please don’t let go of me, and felt a grinding worry for non-believing family and friends.

But there was a ‘Get Out of Hell Free’ card – I had to ‘die to myself.’ Denying my selfish desires was vital to nurturing a successful relationship with God – something I longed for. Two tools to help in this struggle were obedience and accountability – so I did my best to obey teachings from parents and church leaders and I kept open, accountable and malleable to guidance and direction. Only now I realise that my sweet and sincere love for God led me to a place where I was vulnerable to bending to others’ wills, suppressing my ‘sinful’ self and allowing my personal boundaries to be trespassed. When I confessed my sins, well-meaning people told me I needed to alter my behaviour. I allowed not-always-appropriate people to know personal details, who would then check up on me, and rebuke me (if fitting) and pray behaviour-inducing prayers over me. Subsequent failure to change induced a shame-cycle of repeated ‘sinning’, feeling like a failure, hiding and lying which felt terrible and only compounded things.

It all came to a head (after so many years, I do wonder why I couldn’t get here earlier) when my second marriage ended, and the church leader and his wife called round one day ‘to love and support me’. Lol. The visit took place shortly after my ex-husband had moved out and I was feeling anxious. Within a few minutes of them arriving, our time together had deteriorated into a conversation rather more interrogatory than supportive. The pair of them seemed to need to make themselves feel better, demanding more information, deeper information than I’d previously given about exactly why my marriage had ended, and they chastised me for not telling them earlier (no doubt so they could try to intervene) given that they are family. I was rapidly manoeuvred outside of my comfort zone, sharing stuff I didn’t plan to share, feeling on the back foot and anxious. Their tenacity and projected authority broke down my boundaries guarding what is private and what is precious and so I shared to the extent where I divulged information about the fact that I’d started seeing someone else, the compatibility of my marital sex life, of myself as a sexual person. I shared this with my pastor. Yes, I told my pastor what I’m like in bed.

After they left there was a big dust cloud all inside my heart and mind. Gradually after the dust settled I started to see a bit more clearly and the throbbing unhappiness and discomfort started to make itself felt. I realised I felt violated as a result of this interaction, and as a result, over the weeks I started to revisit my childhood, my upbringing and my experience of church to understand just why this happened and why I hadn’t been able to stand up to it.

Although I regularly experienced a sense of discomfort I never surfaced the idea that I had boundaries as a human being that needed respecting, first and foremost by me. I’m all for us stepping outside of our comfort zones, and being challenged and lovingly pushed to grow and self-better, and it’s scary and exhilarating. But those aren’t boundaries – boundaries are when your spirit seems to say ‘no’ or ‘not today’ and if we do it anyway we feel out of kilter or compromised, or if we let someone else do it to us we feel invaded. We have a spirit and a conscience and most of us yearn to do good. It’s okay for us to look inside for guidance, and even to find it, inside just us and with God (and a little sprinkling of gentle human feedback).

It was impossible for me to stand up to the church leader that day because no one had ever taught me that I was allowed boundaries. My upbringing paved the way for men (in particular) to walk roughshod over my boundaries, trespassing in all kinds of ways. It led to me only recognising in my forties that I should have boundaries, and not having the skills to ensure they were respected. The pastor’s wife wrote in a letter to me that my encounter with them  ‘was exactly what I needed to hear right now’. Upon reflection perhaps that’s true, perhaps it was time for me to finally see how things needed to change.

– Emma Ellenn

We talk to the hymn-writer John Bell, who is a member of the Iona community, about the roots and traditions of Celtic Christianity, which took shape in the British Isles and modelled a very different way to the Roman church that followed shortly after.

After the interview, Nomad hosts David Blower and Anna Robinson talk about their own experiences of Celtic Spirituality, and the role it’s played in the evolution of their faith.

Interview starts at 14m 40s

Image used with permission

BOOK

Living with the Psalms

QUOTES

“All through the bible you see how God waits until people think they’ve got their image of God right, and then God changes the image.”

“What God would you rather believe in – the one who you never see but you believe began the universe, or the one who has revealed the nature of divinity by sharing the riskiness of life among us?”

Feminist and trauma theologian Karen O’Donnell shares her experiences of repeated reproductive loss. Describing the physical, emotional and spiritual impact, she explores the complexity of faith from the perspective of the miscarrying person. Karen brings thoughtful sensitivity to a reality that has often been ignored and offers her responses to some of the many questions we are likely to encounter in the face of trauma, suffering and grief.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Joy Brooks talk about their experiences of loss, and the role this played in the deconstruction and reconstruction of their faith.

Interview starts at 16m 06s

Image used with permission

PERMISSIONS

Breath Prayer One: During a Miscarriage by Karen O’Donnell from the book The Dark Womb used with permission from SCM Press

BOOKS

The Dark Womb: Re-Conceiving Theology through Reproductive Loss

Feminist Trauma Theologies: Body, Scripture & Church in Critical Perspective

Broken Bodies: The Eucharist, Mary and the Body in Trauma Theology

QUOTES

“If God isn’t to blame for a miscarriage – because God doesn’t make that happen – then conversely and perhaps challengingly, God isn’t to be praised for a successful birth either.”

“Rather than these big thunderbolt interventions into the world, I see much more of a gentle remaining and persuasion of ethical action amongst humans.”

“I find it really difficult to imagine a church space that would be a safe space for post-trauma remaking. It would need to be informed and inclusive. It would need to be based in hospitality and generosity of spirit. It would need to be open to questions and doubts. It would need to be a place that loved people first and foremost and sought their full flourishing – and put that before everything else. And I haven’t found that place. I’ve found good places, but I haven’t found that place.”

Hello beloved listener!

So let me introduce myself first. My name is Gerrianne (you’ve probably got no clue how to pronounce that– that’s okay, however sounds right to you). I’m turning 30 this year. The Netherlands is my passport country, but I live and work in the humanitarian sector in Yemen. So quite literally have been a nomad for the past decade or so. I’m a social introvert, enneagram 9 who loves good food, baking, reading, strong debates and hikes and walks and pilgrimages in nature. So here’s my listener story.

Image used with permission

May 2022

It starts with drying dishes in a friary. Hilfield friary to be exact, where earlier that day the first Gathering Embers retreat had started, organized by Nomad hosts Anna and David. We’d just had the first session, getting introduced to the group and to be quite honest, I’m kind of wondering what the heck I am doing there. The demographic of the group is a little different from what I had expected. It’s been a few emotional weeks with an impactful, though beautiful death in my family and I am asking myself if coming to this retreat wasn’t all a bit too much.

While these thoughts race through my mind, I’m trying to focus on just being present and getting to know my fellow retreat participants. One of them, also with a tea towel in his hands, asks me: “so how did this whole faith shifting journey start for you?”

Good question.

One that I had never really thought about honestly. But I do have quite an immediate answer (which is rare, being an enneagram 9) and it throws me back to an early childhood memory of saying to my grandfather that I wanted to be a pastor when I grew up. (For the Dutch Nomad listener – I grew up in the Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerk – for everyone else, that’s pretty conservative, white, farmer’s community, only an organ, singing psalms and the occasional hymn, no space for women or LGBTQI+ community. You get the picture.) He immediately dismissed it and said: “well, you can’t be, because you are a girl.” As a little girl I moved on pretty quick, several other career options included mayor of a town called Dongeradeel (that just sounds fun in Dutch) and being a teacher became the preferred options. But somehow deep down, that answer felt wrong to me.

So while that initial question around the role of women in church remains in many ways my starting point in terms of asking questions, I never felt a negative space around asking questions growing up. In our family, which I now realize is quite rare, there was always space for debate and questions. There was certainly a view on what was right and wrong, how things ought be done, but there was always space to have open ended questions too. There was space to disagree with each other without that having any consequences on how much we loved each other.

For me the real evidence of that was when my parents let me travel on my own to the US when I was just 15 years old. I participated in an international leadership programme, which didn’t have a particular religious affiliation at all. This was the first community building experience that really opened my eyes to the world and all its glorious and beautiful diversity. I was hooked and was drawn to exploring different countries and cultures.

Fast forward to around 2018.

I’d been living in Uganda for about a year, working for an international NGO responding to the refugee influx from South Sudan as well as doing some other longer term recovery work in post-conflict areas in Uganda around land rights and education. My work? I absolutely loved it. There wasn’t a day that went by without energy and passion for what I got to do. It involved lots of travel all over the country and a wonderful social life alongside it. That involved being active in a non-denominational international church. We met at a school building, and it was all very different from the church I grew up in. It was a space where I felt valued and seen, where I built some real community – both through Sunday services (and extensive lunches afterwards) but also in a home group with the mixed participation of other internationals and nationals from all different faith traditions. It’s a space where I was encouraged to try out leadership roles, in worship and preaching. And although I concluded that that’s probably not for me, it was really helpful to work this through with a pastor that supported women in leadership. It’s around the same time that I got introduced to the Nomad podcast through a friend. I started reading Liz Milani’s ‘The Practice Co’s’ devotions every morning. My faith was already shifting quite drastically. My theology was challenged and changing.

After 3+ years of working in Uganda, the time felt right to transition. I was offered a position in the Yemen team, which I accepted. Starting date: 1st April 2020. Exactly, the pandemic threw that plan a bit off. I ended up working remotely for about 6 months in the Netherlands and moving back in with my sister. Since going back to my childhood church was not an option, with churches being online, I spent my days, like everyone else, at home. I read. A lot. One book stuck out: Sarah Bessey’s ‘Out of sorts’. Although she grew up in a very different faith tradition, she suddenly gave words to the process I had been going through, but couldn’t really give words to up until that point. And also the fellow enneagram 9 vibes are very real with anything this lady says and writes.

So that’s where I have been since. No longer connected to a church community because of my international work setting. I became a more connected Nomad listener, occasionally joining in a conversation in the Lounge, participating in the Book club alongside Anna and David’s contemplations and meditations that became a regular part of my spiritual practice, especially appreciated on the lonely weekends in Yemen.

Back to May 2022, a couple of days before the Gathering Embers retreat started. I am having lunch with the friends I grew up with at church. Most of us have spread out to different churches, we’ve all been on faith shifting journeys in one way or another, and still somehow remain friends. One of them asked me about the retreat I am going on. I literally have no idea about what it will be like and who’s going to be there. She says: “10 years ago we used to call you Google, because you always had all the answers. Now you’ve only got questions left.”

And she is right. I don’t have the answers anymore, just a bunch of questions. But for the time being I am okay with that.

My time in Yemen will be ending in the near future. Living in a war zone is something you can only do for so long before it really takes a toll on all parts of life. I will transition back to the north west European corner of the world. And that raises new questions around community building, my next career steps, relationships and more. And I simply don’t have the answers. Just a bunch of questions.

But then I remind myself that I was once this brave 15-year-old girl, who’d never flown or eaten a pizza before, had a fairly limited vocabulary of English words and decided to step on to a plane to New York City. Completely into the unknown. And that it turned out to be pretty good path of life from that moment onwards. I’m sure the next path in the journey, with all its twists and turns, will be quite interesting too.

– Gerrianne Pennings

Philip Carr-Gomm is a Druid, psychologist and writer, who has a particular interest in combining psychological understanding with spiritual perspectives to help people lead richer, more fulfilled lives. Although his spiritual practice is rooted in Druidry, he believes we have entered an era in which we can move beyond attachments to labels, drawing instead upon the Perennial Tradition, being inspired by the wisdom in all spiritual paths and teachings – following the way of the Universal Mystic.
So he seemed like the idea person to speak with about the ancient tradition of Druidry, and what Christians might learn from it.
After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Anna Robinson talk about their interest in nature based spirituality and the Celtic roots of their Christian faith, and the role this has played in the deconstruction and reconstruction of their faith.

Interview starts at 18m 40s

Image used with permission

WEBSITES

Philip Carr-Gomm

The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids

The Druidcast

BOOKS

What Do Druids Believe?

Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century

Seek Teachings Everywhere: Combining Druid Spirituality with Other Traditions

QUOTES

“One of the main ideas in religion and spirituality is, ‘things aren’t what they appear to be.’ However gloomy, uninteresting, or unattractive – apparently – there’s something splendid and glorious and magical and wonderful going on.”

“If you want a living spirituality that works for you and brings you closer to deity or to the deeper truth – or however you want to term it – then it makes sense to me that we don’t want to get stuck on the forms that may have existed in the past; one wants to touch the living heart – as it were – of the spiritual tradition.”

“The closer you get to truth, the more paradoxical it becomes. So, my sense is that at the heart of the universe – the source of all life and spirituality – is love.”

“When you open yourself to the mysteries of nature and the wonders of the natural world, that engenders in itself a sense of humility that comes from that wonder.”

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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts David Blower and Joy Brooks talk about their own experiences and understanding of Pentecostalism, atonement, power dynamics, healing and mystical 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

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.

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.

After the interview Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Joy Brooks reflect on 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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Nick Thorley reflects on what they find attractive about indigenous spirituality, and what it might mean to explore their own spiritual roots.

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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Anna Robinson reflect on how the life and theology of Merton might shape their own faith journey.

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, which triggered his faith deconstrcution. 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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Joy Brooks reflect on their own experiences of religious trauma, and how this has shaped their subsequent faith journey.

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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Nick Thorley reflect on their own experiences of dispensational End Times theology, and how their faith deconstruction and subsequent embrace of a more progressive faith has reshaped that.

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.”

After the interview, Nomad hosts David Blower and Nick Thorley ponder how Dr. Williams’ ideas might shape their own faith journey.

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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts David Blower and Anna Robinson reflect on how Hannah’s book might shape their own activism and faith journey.

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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and David Blower chat about how Claire’s experiences might inform their own faith journeys.

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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts David Blower and Anna Robinson have a conversation about how Rachel’s experiences might inform their own activism and faith journeys.

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 Tim Nash and Nick Thorley, 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 Nash and Nick Thorley 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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Jemimah McAlpine and Anna Robinson ponder how Natalia’s experiences might inform their own activism and faith journeys.

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?”

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 Blower 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. 

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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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Nick Thorley chat about the understanding of the afterlife they inherited, how their deconstruction challenged this, and how they might integrate Dr Greyson’s finding into their spirituality.

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 Blower 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.

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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.
After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Nick Thorley ponder the role doubt played in the evangelicalism they inherited, and in the deconstruction and reconstruction of their faith.

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.

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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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Jemimah McAlpine chat about Damon’s ideas, and the role liberation theology might in play in the reconstruction of their faith.

Interview starts at 14m 41s

Image used with permission

RESOURCES

Damon’s YouTube Channel

BOOK

The God Who Riots: Taking Back the Radical Jesus

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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and David Blower chat about Gail’s activism and spiritual journey and ponder how it might shape their own spirituality.

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.”

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.

Following the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Anna Robinson reflect on their own experiences of death, how it challenged their previous evangelical faith, and whether a more progressive faith might be better able to hold such experiences.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Following the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and David Blower reflect on the faith they inherited, what it means to be a Christian, and what Quakerism might offer their evolving faith.

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.

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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.

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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.

Following the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Anna Robinson reflect on what Julian and mystics like her, might bring to their evolving faith.

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. 

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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 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.

After the interview Nomad hosts Jemimah McAlpine and Tim Nash reflect on their own evolving faith journey.

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.

Everybody Now is being released by podcasters all over the world as a collective call for awareness, grief and loving action.


CONTRIBUTIONS

Dr. Gail Bradbrook – scientist and co-founder of Extinction Rebellion

Prof. Kevin Anderson – Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester

Dámaris Albuquerque – works with agricultural communities in Nicaragua

Dr. Rowan Williams – theologian and poet, and a former Archbishop of Canterbury

Pádraig Ó Tuama – poet, theologian and conflict mediator

Rachel Mander – environmental activist with Hope for the Future

John Swales – priest and activist, and part of a community for marginalised people

Zena Kazeme – Persian-Iraqi poet who draws on her experiences as a former refugee to create poetry that explores themes of exile, home, war and heritage

Flo Brady – singer and theatre maker

Hannah Malcolm – Anglican ordinand, climate writer and organiser

Alastair McIntosh – writer, academic and land rights activist

David Benjamin Blower – musician, poet and podcaster

FUNDING AND PRODUCTION

This podcast was crowdfunded by a handful of good souls, and produced by Tim Nash and David Benjamin Blower

PERMISSIONS

The song Happily by Flo Brady is used with permission.

The song The Soil, from We Really Existed and We Really Did This by David Benjamin Blower, used with permission.

The Poem The Tree of Knowledge by Pádraig Ó Tuama used with permission.

The Poem Atlas by Zena Kazeme used with permission.

The Poem What is Man? by Rowan Williams from the book The Other Mountain, used with permission from Carcanet Press.

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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts David Blower and Tim Nash reflect on their own experiences of relating to people in their lives whose faith is in a different place to their own.

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.

After the interview, Nomad hosts Tim Nash and Nick Thorley talk about their deconstruction journey, and the role figures like Rob Bell have played in their evolving faith.

Interview starts at 15m 4s

Image taken by Logan Rice. Used with permission.

BOOKS

Everything is Spiritual: A Brief Guide to Wh