(Forgive the provocative title, but I hope it got your attention.)
How does faith live on when the institution of Church no longer feels like a safe or generative space within which to adventure? This is an old theme on this blog, and a discussion I have had a thousand times with friends both inside and outside our religious institutions. I have been left with the firm impression that there are thousands of us who have a simlilar experience, but conversely we all tend to feel alone. This post is aimed at people like me. I don’t mean to presume, but I think you are out there.
Sometimes it all sounds like whinging and sour grapes, as if we are stuck in a loop of criticism and dissatisfaction with what has been before, and although this might well be an important part of any change process, it is ultimately self-defeating. In the wake of all the deconstructing and critiquing of doctine, it seems that lots of us find ourselves in a similar place, asking ‘What next?’
To some of you, this may sound like navel-gazing nonsense. Even if you have read this far, you will accuse me of self-centred religiosity, but you will be wrong. I think this matters, not because I want this to be my ‘thing’. Not because I want to fill my own voids, but because I think there is a gaping void in our culture at the moment. At a time when our politics is swinging towards the nacissistic right, where are our reference points? What allows us to collectivise a vision for something better, more loving, more engaged, more egalitarian, more concerned about the state of our planet and the poorest inhabitants thereof?
Faith challenges us towards better. Religion anchors us to tradition. Both have their place, but sometimes the two are rightly brought into conflict and I think this has never been more important than right now.
Let me try to ut it another way;
Perhaps, like me (and many of my friends), you are on the fringes of organised religion. Perhaps you used to be an active member of a church, a leader even, who now finds it difficult to attend church regularly, if at all. Perhaps you have tried to find something authentic and true, but have struggled because different styles of church all just felt like window dressing for the same old product.
Perhaps, like me, you have been through the period of pain and mourning – a terrible feeling of losing something precious as faith seemed to be slipping away through your fingers. Perhaps you found yourself knee-deep in guilt and self-condemnation, convinced that there was something wrong with you.
Perhaps, like me, you felt very alone.
Perhaps, like me, you went on a lengthy deconstruction journey, desperate to understand what it was all about; digging into the theology that had felt like a prison; shaking at the bars of belief until they all loosened and fell away… leaving you with dust and rust and endless circuclar questions as well as a bookshelf bursting with books.
Perhaps, like me, you became angry and hostile towards the religion that you left behind. Perhaps, like me, you even became a know-it-all asshole who started to think of yourself as better than those old stick-in-the-muds who just needed to open their eyes and get themselves enlightened.
Perhaps, like me, you eventually realised that it was never that simple; that in fact Church was a repository for truth and beauty and love, even if it no longer felt authentic to you.
But perhaps like me you knew that you had to make a new journey because there was still a pull on your life towards meaning, toward social justice, towards beauty, towards creativity, towards love.
Perhaps, like me, you began to rediscover Jesus- not the one from TV or pulpit, but the Christ; the one who is in all things and who is ‘another name for everything’. The Christ who is the source of all things that are and all things that will be. Perhaps it all seemed too good to be true, too simple. Perhaps it charged you with the smallest tingle of hope. Perhaps it changed everything.
But perhaps, like me, you still feel disconnected. Not from God (however we understand her) but from others who are walking the same path.
Perhaps, like me, you are appreciating the freedom, but are also hungry for community and connection, even whilst being frightened of commitment (because in the past Church demanded far too much commitment.)
Perhaps, like me, you are starting to wonder what spiritual practices might be helpful as you make this new journey. Perhaps you wonder what others are doing, and whether any of these are done collectively.
Perhaps like me you have children, and wonder constantly ‘what will become of the children?’ How will their generation make sense of the spirituality we hand on to them. Without a vibrant ‘Church’, how will they find ways to church? What if we sell them short? What about Sunday School?!
If these questions are resonating with you, I have a proposal – particularly if you are in Scotland.
I have some good friends and we are all quite used to creating safe spaces for meeting and discussion. We have been wondering for some time if it would be helpful to collectivise some of our ponderings on these matters up here in Scotland. We even named a date and booked a youth hostel at one point, but then backed off as we had no idea what sort of numbers to plan for. Would it be just us or would there be lots more?10? 30? 50?
We suspected this would work best through relationship, because how else can we trust each other with something so important? After all, most of us are rightly wary of getting sucked in to a ‘new thing’, so it seemed likely that a networking meeting like this would start with friends and friends of friends who already had some bonds of trust. Having said that, some of the most important connections and friendships in my life have started through on-line connections, so if this is resonating with you, then consider yourself a friend already!
What we really need is some encouragement, so if you are interested in being part of this discussion, please can you get in touch? You can do so via a comment on this blog piece, or by contacting me by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) of finding me on facebook or whatever other social media platform we spill ourselves on to. In doing so, you commit yourselve to nothing, apart from being kept informed and perhaps filling in a questionaire about how we make the next step happen.
I should say again- we are not trying to compete, or start a new ‘church’. Rather we are just seeking connection, sharing, mutual inspiration. We want to hear ideas, learn what others are doing and where they are finding truth and making a difference.
If you have read this far, then you might find our draft blurb helpful, so here it is;
An invitation to a be part of a conversation.
What does it mean to seek to live a good life in Scotland, 2019? Where do we find meaning? What is the role of faith and belief- is it a force for good or does religion just get in the way? Where are the stories that inspire us? What books/ideas/activities/films/podcasts have you found that might inspire others? How do we respond to the challenges facing our generation; climate change, rampant inequality, consumerism and loneliness? How do we overcome the isolation that many of us feel as we ask these questions?
If these questions seem relevant to you perhaps you might like to be part of a conversation.
Some of us struggle to find meaning within the old institutions of faith. This is not necessarily because church is ‘wrong’, but rather because it no longer ‘fits’ – or perhaps we not longer fit. For some this might have been painful and led to a period of ‘deconstruction’ in which old certainties were shaken to the core.
But after all the deconstruction, what next?
We think that one of the barriers to new things developing is that people who are on this journey in Scotland feel isolated and alone. In part, our culture fosters this, with its tendency towards individualism and disconnection, but in reality, we are far from alone. It just seems that way.
A conversation like this needs a safe space and a little time. It needs to be open and generous.
We propose to take a risk and book some affordable accommodation for a weekend of conversations. We promise it will be informal and fun.
If you come (and we hope you will) then you will be committing yourself to sharing- not just your thoughts and ideas, but also to participating in the leading, the cooking, the cleaning etc.
If you are reading this and some of the questions are resonating, then please get in touch. You may well already have a connection to one of us, but it not, then this is who we are;
Marylee is a university chaplain, well used to working in an environment that crosses the religious spectrum. Michaela is an artist and ceramicist. David used to lead a church, now he is a teacher. Chris is a poet who used to do social work. All of us are used to leading small groups on retreats, workshops and the like. None of us have any axes to grind- we just want to live lives that mean something.
We want to create a safe, open space for doubts, hopes and ideas and we think the best way we can do this is as follows;
- Generous orthodoxy. We do not need to define correct belief in other people
- Acceptance and inclusion of people of different race, sexuality and doctrine.
- Kindness and respect for one another.
- We seek to support and encourage one another, emotionally and practically
- We receive as well as we give.