Friday, 1 July 2016

Going Further: the heart of my faith = sharing the good news?

See this post for an intro to this series.

What is the heart of [the candidate's] faith: the good news they would wish to share with others? 

This is a very well-timed post to write considering my recent conversation with the rector about her reservations concerning my faith - what my relationship with God looks like, and how I express it to others.


So turning to the question, my immediate response is the heart of my faith is a trust in God, and the the good news I wish to share with others is that they can trust God too. God is for everyone. That doesn't mean everyone should be Christian, be religious, or even put Jesus at the centre of their lives. Jesus is the good news but the Messiah, the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh is so much more than the bloke from Nazareth.

Jesus embodies the right ordering of creation, that God and humankind are in harmonious relationship. That is the good news, that is what Jesus being born into the world and fulfilling the Law shows us. God is for everyone because everyone should have a relationship with God. I like John's gospel best, even though it is dense as a jungle and a bit mind-bendy, because of the emphasis on the Spirit and that beautiful prologue about the Word. To have a relationship with God through Jesus is to know the Word by the power of the Spirit, and I don't think that necessarily means knowing the bloke from Nazareth.

I think our mission is to spread the Word, and the Word is however God best has a relationship with each person. Our Word, our story is a unique back and forth between each of us and God. Sure, I think the Christian church and being a follower of Jesus of Nazareth is probably the best road for the majority of people. But the 'majority' of all humankind that has lived, is living, and will live, still leaves a whopping number of people who are the minority (the minority of a massive number is still a big number).

I like the 'many paths on the mountain' pluralism metaphor. If God is the destination, the top of the mountain, there are many ways up the mountain. There are lots of places to start from, there are paths that intersect, and cross, and converge at points. And the top is big, so when people are looking to it, and reach it, it looks different to each individual. Exclusivists, those that say their path is the only one, imagine the mountain has a fence, and a gate to only one, fenced path. Pluralists think it's a free for all. Inclusivists like me think Christ has cleared one path, without any barriers, but some people want or need to go another way and it's just as legitimate, just maybe not as easy.
Terrible drawing of exclusivism
Terrible drawing of inclusivism
Terrible drawing of pluralism
I feel like the perception that is most pervasive among both religious and non-religious folks is that all religion is inherently exclusivist, and that doesn't sit right with most people in modern western first world culture, AND a lot of people in cultures of eastern religion (eastern theological thought is often a lot more pluralistic). I want to share the good news that it isn't like that! God is vastly more complex and loving than to have a boxed in, one-size-fits-all relationship with humankind, when humankind is beautifully and wonderfully made intrinsically varied and diverse. God has created each us as a unique soul so why would God need uniformity in our relationships with God?

The heart of my faith is a trust in God. Some people have trust issues; their relationship to God looks very different to mine. I rejoice with anyone who has a relationship to God and want to invite others to see the glory of serving the Creator who is at the heart of the world. But I don't want to tell them they have to trust God, or follow Christ, or anything other than what Jesus summed up as the only universal truth that everyone can take to heart is 'love God, love neighbour'. Everything else is up for debate, including what that looks like in different people's lives.

I feel the only evil we have to overcome is human evil, and the how and why are right there in the Great Commandment. I don't like overuse of 'evil' as a concept, which links to the terrible messages most people are getting about religion. I am religious because I want to see a better world, and following God in my way gives me the tools and strength to do my part in bringing about that better world. It's not a dogmatic as 'do what God says and you will receive the kingdom of heaven'. More like 'form a relationship with God and seek the ways of love that bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth'. The Word, and Love, are huge, world-encompassing aspects of the vastly greater reality of God, and for me, they are the aspects on which my trust hangs as the heart of my faith, and the aspects I feel called to express and bring people to, in their own way, by the grace of God partly working through me.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Sixth chat with the rector

On 22nd June 2016 I met with the rector again. We talked first of Scotland, as I spent a week staying with friends -

[*Side note about my time in Scotland*
My trip did not involve bagpipes.
The household was one preteen, one teen, mother and father. The latter is a parish priest, so I put my vocation hat on at various points throughout the week. Talking about my vocation to a priest who is a personal friend, more catholic than me, with a very different disposition (read: quiet, composed, academic introvert), a parish priest in Scotland not England (so working for the Scottish Episcopal Church, which is Anglican but not CofE), and not of my hyper-liberal millennial bubble, was a good experience for me. He was very helpful talking about ministry, and let me sit in on a meeting with the pastoral group, and overall it was interesting seeing a priest at close quarters in the home, hearing about and seeing the day-to-day rhythm, and events and tasks involved in the job.]

- but we quickly got down to business. Last time we met, she said she would talk to the curate, talk to my clergy line manager at SMITF, and read some blog posts/watch some vlogs. She also said that she had talked to the ADO (area director of ordinands), the person to whom she will send me when she writes a reference. I was hoping to get that process going this summer, but she put her cards on the table - she doesn't want to, yet.

Disappointed panda is disappointed
So let's address the disappointment here before I continue. Yes, it's disappointing, especially as she doesn't want to refer me for at least another few months probably, bringing my total exploration pre-official discernment process to a year.

Following your calling is often an endurance test against frustration and human gatekeepers, a feature of our chosen paths about which the writer of this blog and I have commiserated each other. It sometimes feels like God is reaching into your life and deliberately putting things in the way of the path you want to take. Apparently, the path you want to take is never the one God wants you to take, even though you're trying to follow God's calling in the first place! I've mentioned God breaking down my expectations before, so really it's my own fault that I built up another plan for the future, another set of expectations to meet, not learning from the past at all. It's just so counter-intuitive to have the level of no control that even includes no expectations, I'm finding it very tricky. Doesn't stop God, God's plans still chug along, it just leads to disappointment for me. So I'm trying not to let the disappointment hang around. I do trust in God ultimately, it's not a crushing defeat, there are no crushing defeats in following God if I listen to what I'm being told to do, so I have confidence that all shall be as it should.

It was really helpful that she expanded her reservations - we engaged in discussion about how I had not given her a sense of my faith. It was in the context of 'resilient faith', an important thing to have but also, crucially, for selectors to see that I have, as it is a serious risk that in the the first few years of ministry, new priests get burnt out without the sustenance of robust faith. So over the time that we've spent talking, she hasn't seen evidence of 'who I am in the light of God' and what my relationship with God is like.

I've got to admit, I was a little astonished. Of the nine criteria, Faith was not on my list of concerns. I suspect that it's such a fundamental part of my life, it's so obvious as a basis for my calling, I've not acknowledged it explicitly in itself, or studied it, instead focusing on the manifestations of my faith, and how to go where it leads me, rather than consider the big picture, the backdrop, the bedrock on which is all stands. "They should demonstrate a personal commitment to Christ and a mature, robust faith which shapes their life and work. Candidates should show an ability to reflect critically on their faith and make connections between faith and contemporary life. They should demonstrate a capacity to communicate their faith engagingly and effectively." I have not demonstrated this, and therefore, quite rightly, my rector does not have confidence to send me to be held up to this measure.

So my homework is to do the daily examen exercise, from which I am to write notes to bring to our next session in two weeks. Apparently she sees hints of what she's looking for in my videos, and when I read out my written notes eg from my spiritual journal, so this exercise is to the wean me into looking for God in my life more consciously, and then get me to talk about it, starting with a medium that I'm better at than the pressured situation of talking one-to-one, 'off the cuff' as it were.

Things are progressing, and though it's not at a pace that is comfortable - apparently seeing her again in two weeks is 'meeting again quickly' - all shall be well. I have faith in that.