New Year’s Eve 2012 and dreams for 2013

I decided it would be a good idea to use the post-Christmas Day period to reflect on the year that’s ending and look ahead to what 2013 may bring and what Changing Attitude might like to bring to 2013.

I have ideas that seem obvious when I rehearse them walking across Salisbury Plain but much less coherent when I’m sat in front of the PC with a blank word document open.

I decided to focus my reflections on the past year by reviewing the books I’ve read in the course of the year. Many of them have helped me feel more sane, affirmed my spirituality and confirmed my experience of the Church as a sometimes toxic institution that is repeatedly losing its way, looks less and less Christ-like and needs a radical transformation.

At a personal level, I value many of the Christians I meet. The trustees of Changing Attitude, my support group, bishops and members at Synod, and the more spiritual and radical friends in my networks, all bring life and inspiration. The Church of England as an institutional body and the local church on a Sunday morning are rigid and unimaginative with little comprehension of how far removed they are from anything that is life-giving, creative, inspirational, prophetic and visionary.

I have become less and less tolerant of this state of affairs. I want to be nourished spiritually and inspired emotionally. I want to be integrated, when the Church seems hell bent on disintegrating people.

Reviewing my books of the year, I discovered the most inspiring have been books about spirituality. The last read is nearly always the best, but I suspect that David G Benner’s Soulful Spirituality really is the best synthesis of spiritual wisdom and insight and psychotherapeutic awareness that I’ve yet read, and is highly recommended by me! Of equal value is Benner’s most recent book, Spirituality and the Awakening Self.

In my contemplative time each morning, I am aware of four dimensions or qualities:

  • Being present, with myself, in the present moment
  • Being open in body and soul
  • Being alive to the infinite, intimate love and goodness of God
  • Flowing with divine energy, immersed in creation

Becoming fully alive and deeply human is the bye-line of Benner’s book. That’s where my spiritual journey has always been leading me. In my 20s and 30s I met congregations and Christians in local congregations who fired my belief in the potential for the Christian life to be authentic and transformative. It’s not so any longer – belief and vision have dissipated.

Words which have captured my imagination in the spiritual books are: awareness; contemplation; noticing; embodied; experiential; incarnational; emotional reality, intelligence and maturity; depth, rich inner life; playfulness; creativity; passionate desire; inner receptivity.

Another set of books has addressed Christian theology in ways that connect with my own images of and metaphors for God. The failure of the Church to offer images of God as both infinite in creative generosity, love and wisdom and at the same time infinite in loving tenderness and generous self-giving, images that are fundamental to Jesus’ teaching, makes me both depressed and deeply frustrated. Sometimes, the rest of the world – politicians even, and the general population – understand that God has to be like this and not how the Church has traditionally imagined God.

Conservative evangelical churches like to believe that it’s their adherence to ‘orthodox’, traditional’ Biblical values and interpretation that leads to growth in numbers and a ‘successful’ church. I don’t believe it. Insiders from some of these congregations tell me it’s about the quality of the people and fellowship. What I don’t understand is why and how they tolerate the Biblical fundamentalism.

Marcus Borg addresses the re-imagination of God directly in books like The God We Never Knew and The Heart of Christianity. Bishop Richard Holloway muses about this in Leaving Alexandria, Francis Spufford in Unapologetic and Brian McLaren in A New Kind of Christianity.

McLaren leads into my next category – those who outline a new paradigm for Christianity. Other authors writing about the way in which Christianity is living through a critical period in which it must change or die are Cynthia Bourgeault in The Wisdom Jesus, Phyllis Tickle in The Great Emergence and Bruce Sanguin in The Emerging Church. Thematically, they write from different perspectives, but together build up an awareness of what the Church needs to become in response to the new things the Holy Spirit is revealing in human societies and cultures (and hearts) across the world.

I fear it is going to take even greater shocks than the loss of the covenant and the vote on women bishops for the Church of England to face up to the dramatic changes taking place in people’s experience of the sacred divine.

The worldview is changing in response to developments such as chaos theory, the uncertainty principle, quantum physics and complexity theory. We live in an evolving experience of God and an evolutionary universe whose dimensions and structure are way beyond my ability to comprehend. Steven McIntosh writes about this in Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution in which he explores how the integral worldview is transforming politics, culture and spirituality.

Changing Attitude’s campaign for change in the Anglican Communion addresses acute threats to the safety and well being of LGB&T people in Uganda and Nigeria and other parts of Africa, and continuing threats and prejudice in the UK, much fuelled by continuing Christian ignorance and fundamentalism.

To counter the ignorance and unexamined assumptions about prejudice, we need to campaign with equal passion for a healthy, intelligent understanding of human sexuality, the effects of globalisation and the nature of all that is created. Oliver Roy’s book Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways is offers important insights on a highly complex picture of religious imagination and movements in the 21st century.

I’m curious to know what books and authors I am going to discover in 2013. I’m certain that the wisdom of people I have read this year is finding its way into the ideas, visions and passions that will motivate Changing Attitude’s work next year. I’m praying for a transformed Church, alive with vision and energy and a creative imagination rooted in spiritual depth and wisdom – please, God …..

May we all be inspired to live with passion and courage in 2013, drawing vision and energy from the core of our being, immersed daily in God’s inifinite and intimate love and goodness – wishing you all an Inspirationally Happy and Deeply Blessed New Year.



  1. Richard Ashby says

    Interesting that the Cathedral congregation here has provided a home for a number of couples who have found their charismatic and evangelical churches too constraining, and are amazed at how ‘biblical’ is the CofE. Also have heard that some still remaining in their own congregations are nevertheless finding their way to CofE churches for months at a time in order to get some proper teaching.

    Well done for being named as one of Peter Ould’s people to watch for in 2013!

    • Changing Attitude says

      There’s a lot of unawareness across the Church of the variety of experience to be found in different congregations. It’s good that refugees from charismatic and evangelical churches have found a refuge in the cathedral. I hear similar testimonies from many other places. There is so much depth and wisdom around, but it seems to remain almost closeted and isn’t obviously present in, for example, General Synod when it meets.

      I hadn’t noticed that Peter has named me as someone to watch out for in 2013, and at number 3 just behind Justin Welby – watch out, Church! A few inaccuracies have crept in. CA was founded in 1995 and not in reaction to Richard and LGCM. The conflict came about in 1998 when it became known that CA had been asked to make a presentation to bishops at the Lambeth Conference. Also, I have no retirement date, though I do plan to retire sometime! Maybe 2020 when the Church has been transformed. And I’m ALWAYS to be found at General Synod conversing with members – it’s a can’t miss event.

  2. says

    Why are you surprised that the Church is such a flawed vessel, Colin? Read your Bible! It’s all in there. There is nothing new under the sun. I find Amos and Hosea speak to me much in the current situation.

    Things are unimaginably more difficult in the Northern Church of Ireland. We have not, as a Church, acquitted ourselves well on the issue of LGBT inclusion over the past 12 months. One priest, having had his license withdrawn when he entered a Civil Partnership some years ago, is dying and very weak. He remains prohibited from celebrating Communion. His Civil Partner and spouse of 30 years is denied the pastoral support he would take for granted as the husband of a married clergywoman (and we still have enormous problems with sexism). If one is open about one’s sexuality in Northern Irish Anglicanism, not only is ordination absolutely banned, but so is commissioning as a Lay Reader, or even a “Parish Reader”, commissioned to one Parish only and potentially confined to where none could be offended. Some Parishes wouldn’t vote for an openly gay person to serve on their Select Vestry (~=PCC) regardless of the contribution they might make. Parish after Parish will deny openly gay people Communion, and in a few cases, will also deny their children Baptism in flat violation of the Canon Law of the C of I. But Canon Law doesn’t matter, only invented rules imposed without any proper canonical authority.

    Things are not all bad. This is not Sydney. But there are many who wish it were. And the one point of Conservative Evangelicalism they can assemble a winning coalition on remains refusing to accept queers. So that’s what they push. Tony Higton tactics still work in rural Ulster, although one feels they are losing power; in Belfast, young Evangelicals are making it increasingly clear that many of them affirm marriage equality and full accpetance of same-sex couples in the Church, on exactly the same basis as straight couples. Young mainstream Protestants and Catholics are, of course, overwhelmingly accepting and affirming. But in the short-to-medium term things will remain unpleasant.

    Although I wish our predicament received more attention from the gay establishment, secular and religious, across the water but I wish still more that people would pay attention to the plight of LGBTs in even more difficult situation. Like Iraq, or Ukraine, or Uganda. It doesn’t seem to matter when some terribly establishment C of E people and institutions have cosy relationships with the Ugandan and Nigerian Churches. And that just seems wrong.

  3. David says

    It has been a great pleasure reading as well as sharing in the great experience that you are. I trust that through the Wisdom, Glory and Grace of God all shall be well in this new year…and also greater reads shall come to you this year. Do have a blissful 2013.

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