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.