Friday, August 29, 2014

LGBT and church - facing new truths

At times in my life I gain a new insight or understanding, which impacts greatly on me and my life ... only, when I look back I realise that it is not new at all and I have known that particular thing for some time - but at arms length, from a distance, without really knowing it in my heart.

This year at Greenbelt my heart was truly opened to the treatment LGBT people receive in some churches and from some Christians.

This was my third Greenbelt festival and each time I blogged about it, I have mentioned LGBT people - Made in God's image and Life begins .So the issue has been tugging at my consciousness and conscience for a while ...

I have friends who are gay Christians, friends who have wanted to enter into church ministry and are not able to do so because of the relationships they are in. I have known this! Why have I not felt it until now?

This year at Greenbelt, not only did I attend the OuterSpace Eucharist (which has become a firm part of my festival experience), I also attended a number of panel discussions about the concept of marriage and whether LGBT people are a gift to the church, rather than a problem. Most importantly I listened to stories - stories by people who are forced by the church to choose between their calling to ministry and their calling to a loving relationship with another human being; stories by clergy who were severely sanctioned by the church for marrying the partner they love; stories by people who receive more love and compassion working in a supermarket chain than in the church they would love to serve ...
Most touching and amazing is the fact that again and again I heard people say "I do not want to leave the church", "Despite it's flaws and faults I love my church" and "I would not want to harm the church". People who say "I don't agree with outing gay bishops. We should not enter into that power game."

That blows me away!!

I have come away from Greenbelt to weigh this new understanding and knowledge, to pray about it, to read more and discuss more.
I have joined the Inclusive Church and asked for an information pack from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.
I am looking forward to the journey of learning more, understanding better and working out what is best to be done about it. I don't as yet know ... but I know there is work to be done!

What puzzles me most is that as Christians we believe we are made by God to be the best we can be. Unlike our atheist friends we don't think we are a chance combination of genes that give us certain attributes and abilities - we believe that God has made us in a deliberate and knowing and wonderful way!
We also believe that we are instructed to use those talents. To use them to build a better world - God's Kingdom on earth.
And we are meant to encourage, enable, empower, support and motivate others to do the same.
Don't we??

And then here is the church, the very institution which should encourage and empower us to use our gifts and talents, and it says to some of us "No, not  you ... God doesn't want your talents!"

Can I encourage you to find out about this topic?
To read, hear and listen?
To join groups, petitions and actions?

And most of all, keep those who are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and those who are in the authority to make (and change) those decisions in your hearts and prayers.
And let them know that you do.

Here's to a church which loves and welcomes all unconditionally - regardless of race, gender, economic standing, (dis)ability and sexual orientation.
It's what God does.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Humanism, being a Christian and the parable of the Eaton Mess

When @Naradee12 first asked me to write a piece for her blog I thought “I can do that”.
… Then I checked out the blog and found myself thinking “I’m not sure I can do that”. There seemed to be a strong anti-religious sentiment and terminology such as “eradication of religion” simply makes me feel a bit uneasy.

I am a Christian. I grew up in a Roman Catholic family but left the church when I moved away from home at the age of 18. For many years I had little to do with religion – although I was drawn into a church service once in a blue moon, for a while dabbled in Paganism (there is still much I like and respect about it) and at some stage developed an interest in Hinduism.
Then, quite unexpectedly, in my mid-30s I returned to the Christian faith and have been an actively and openly practising Christian ever since. My faith acts as a daily reminder to be more caring, more forgiving and more loving, to be less selfish and self-absorbed and to strive for greater things than personal gain, power and reward.
Of course I am not saying that you
have to be a Christian to do these things – but simply that for me the framework of the Christian faith acts as a daily and constant encouragement.

Quite often atheists have said to me: “I respect you, but not your beliefs” to. I
think that’s meant to be a compliment, but I find it quite difficult to get my head around that statement.
For me the two are firmly connected. My beliefs shape who I am. Where I see myself in relation to God and other people
is who I am. To those atheists I would respond by saying “If you respect me you also respect my beliefs, because my beliefs are what makes me!”

I would also say “judge me by what you
know about me, not by what you assume to know about me based on your assumptions”.
I am talking about my
personal beliefs. Find out about those, rather than judge me by what the Pope said in 1997 or what some Televangelist preached last week or what you were taught in Bible school when you were 7 or by some obscure Bible verse which really gets your goat.
Or simply judge me by my words and deeds … because
they mirror my beliefs.

I believe in God
I also believe in humanity.
I believe in equality and in Human Rights.
And I believe in our ability to live together in peace and harmony … and I am passionately convinced that the only way we can create societies like that is to listen to, learn from and respect each other!
I guess that makes me a humanist.

Jesus summed up all religious teachings into two laws: “Love God and love your neighbour as yourself”.
He modelled this by concerning himself with the most needy, excluded and vulnerable members of the society of his time; those you were considered unclean, sinful or undesirable – menstruating women (yes, I know!), adulteresses, tax collectors, lepers, non-Jews, the mentally ill and the physically disabled, to name a few.
He considered religious rules to be there to benefit people, and criticised them sternly when they were used to burden or control people. Religious teachings are there to benefit people, not the other way round.
Jesus was a humanist too!

My hope is that we all be HUMANISTS before we are theists/deists/atheists and that rather than try to eradicate each other we fight for and work towards the humanist values which will build more loving and caring communities.

The other evening we had Eaton Mess for dessert.
For those of you who don’t know what Eaton Mess is, it consists of broken up meringue, whipped cream and fruit (typically strawberries or raspberries) mixed together. Imagine a mashed up Pavlova!
Now, I’m not too keen on cream and my husband doesn’t really like meringues … but we both agreed that in an Eaton Mess all the ingredients really complement each other.
Take the cream out of the Eaton Mess and you no longer have Eaton Mess. And cream on its own is just, well, cream.
I wonder whether there is a lesson for building society.
Perhaps to create diverse, tolerant and understanding communities, we need to get in together, mix with each other and get messy!

Find me on Twitter under @solsikke66