Friday, 24 June 2016

looking to the next conversation

I am sad.

I am sad for those who have experienced the challenges but not known the benefits of intercultural exchange and immigration.
For all who have never had the opportunity to reap the benefits of Europe, or for whatever reason feel they haven't.
For a country which has decided it is better on its own.

I am sad for all who are heading towards a future they didn't choose and don't want.
For all who feel unwelcome in the places they have come to call home.
For all who fear for the jobs, families, and friendships which might become just that bit more complicated.

I am sad for a politics which has been dependent on a polarising rhetoric of fear.
For a dialogue where personal gain triumphs over concern for one another.
For communities and a country divided against themselves.

I am sad for those who are jubilant to a point of not being able to see other people's pain.
For those whose anger risks becoming a destructive force
For those who are no longer sure what to feel.

I am sad for all who are left wondering where next.

But whatever else can be said, there will definitely be a where next.

And if this is all about the country having its say, then it's time for all of us to have our say in where we want that next place to be.

I wonder whether we will be able to do so with maturity, dignity and love for one another. I wonder whether all sides will have the humility to listen to those with whom we fervently disagree. I wonder whether we will be able to recognise the very real fractures that scar our country and head towards a place of real healing. I wonder whether we can still build a future based on hope and love rather than hatred and fear.

This morning I am sad. But this afternoon, I want to be part of that conversation. I am sure I have a lot of listening to do. I know I have plenty to say.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

That would be an ecumenical matter

My engagement with questions of Christian ecumenism has been a hugely significant part of my faith journey for many years, but it is, I recently realised, something I have rarely written about here. Although as this blog post has turned out to be rather longer than intended, perhaps you could say I'm making up for it now!

Engaging with the church in all its beautiful diversity has been something which has been hugely inspiring: I know I am extremely privileged to have experienced such a variety of Christian traditions and am grateful to all those, of many different traditions and backgrounds who have shared in my journey.

Engaging with the church in all of its division is something which has often proved intensely painful: I have wept my way through many a church service and struggled to remain faithfully part of a family which will not sit down and eat together at the same table.

As my journey has continued, describing my Christian identity has become increasingly complex, as has answering the oft asked question "what denomination are you?" or "Are you Catholic / Anglican /Methodist/ insert other denomination*?" (*delete as appropriate)

While on one level I could perhaps describe myself as "just a Christian", I remain hesitant to do so knowing that to do so risks denying the complexity and pain of the very real divisions in the church. Christianity, at least in my understanding of it, is something which is intended to be lived out as part of a community: The church's divisions, then, are also mine and I feel a deep responsibility to accept my identity as part of that family, complete with all its flaws (and there are many) and to acknowledge and share in the pain and guilt of our divided family.

But I cannot, either, in all honesty, describe myself as a member of one denomination, not even as a member of one denomination with an ecumenical outlook towards others. I have done so in the past, but it has become an unhelpful over-simplification of who I now am. And so, lately I have taken to describing myself as "A Christian who holds my denominational identity very lightly" or "Someone whose Christian life draws on a variety of different traditions"

It is rarely the easy answer that others seek but it is the closest I have currently come to finding a label that matches where I feel I am on my journey.

We have a natural desire for boxes, for ourselves and for others. Defined labels which we know and at least think we understand are a source of security and we all need to feel safe. There are times, many of them, when I would prefer to curl up inside a snug box where I, and everyone around me, knows what the rules are. Choosing an identity which doesn't fit into the preconceived boxes isn't always easy and certainly provokes challenges in certain settings. But then again, I guess I do mostly quite like not fitting neatly in the box too.

This identity of drawing on and welcoming the gifts of many traditions is something to which we have also aspired as a community. From the beginning, ecumenism was one of the core values we sought to embody in our life here and we were very happy that the church here embraced that desire. I am certain there are times when it has offered us fantastic opportunities of encounter. I am equally sure it has created additional challenges, or at least different ones, to those we would have met if we had a clear denominational identity.

I suspect, both in terms of engaging with the institutional churches, and with individuals intrigued by who we are and what we are doing, there are times when our desire not to put up barriers by stepping outside the standard definitions has in fact unwittingly created a barrier with those who don't quite know how to respond to what we are trying to be. For many, it is much easier to engage with something if you can safely say yes you are one of us we sit in the same box; or even, no, you are not one of us, you are in a box distinct and different from our own but which we can identify and respect, and we will engage with you on those terms.

But we are trying to ask something different: we want people to engage with us as being simultaneously "one of us" and "one of them", we want people to accept us as part of "us" while also acknowledging our identity as part of something we have defined as "not us" and we know it can be a very big ask ... thank you to all those who have answered.

If whatever the inherent challenges, I have no regrets about placing myself in this place; and if I am proud that as a community we have tried to do so: it is because ultimately I believe that this place, the outside-the-box, on-the-edge place is a place where something of the gospel can be found.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

For the love of Europe

I would imagine it will come as no surprise to any one who knows me that in the referendum on June 23rd I will be voting to stay in Europe.

I have, as many of you will know, personally reaped the benefits of this thing called the EU in many ways: the chance to explore places and meet people made much less complicated than it might have been; some amazing friends that I might otherwise never have had the privilege to meet; a wealth of experiences that have helped shape who I am.

I am infinitely grateful for all of this ...but that isn't really what I want this blogpost to say.

One of the things which has saddened, but I guess not surprised, me about the campaigns, both to remain and to leave, is how much of the message is shaped around perceived personal gain or loss, The message, from both sides is vote with us, because it will be better for you.

I like to hope that, for at least some of us voting on the 23rd June, whether or not we personally will be richer or poorer won't be the only reason for the choices we make. I like to hope that my reasons for opting in to the European project are not entirely selfish.

Financially, I don't know whether I personally will be richer or poorer if we vote to stay or go. Likewise, I don't know whether we as a country will be wealthier or not. As one of the richest countries in the world, with material wealth and a passion for consumer growth well beyond what is sustainable for the future of the planet, I also don't think it really matters.

I am in favour of this European dream primarily for the simple reason that I think we should be in the business of removing borders, not creating new ones. And while this might not be the only or even the ideal way to do so, I certainly don't think retreating on to our little island and drawing up the drawbridge behind us is the way forward. I think that as a world we are infinitely richer in the ways that really count when we choose to reach out to one another rather than shy away in suspicion, fear and hatred.

For me, it is a question of living my humanity more fully which becomes possible when I can live it in relationship with the other, whoever they may be. It is also a question of living the gospel to which I am called, a gospel imbued with a deep sense of love which breaks down barriers and reaches beyond our human understanding and the artificial boundaries we draw between ourselves.

Don't get me wrong, I know that there are a whole heap of problems with the current European model ... Trade deals like TTIP are truly terrifying, the race to the economic bottom by using free movement of labour to drive down wages is a valid and genuine concern and there are justifiable question marks over the democratic deficit with some of the processes involved.

I know I am not voting to stay in a perfect Europe. Nor am I offering my whole-hearted and unconditional support to all it is and does,

But I am voting for a world where we build bridges instead of walls, where we seek what unites rather than what divides.

I'm in.