Holy Spirit who inspires, I thank you for the launch of this Blog. May it be a light in the darkness for those who seek to encounter you.
Jesus, the greatest revolutionary, I thank you for your example of inclusion, advocacy and love. May we commit to loving others in a way that fully honours your message.
God who Mothers, tend to us all now, as we live through the uncertainty of pandemic, lockdown and disconnection. May we know we are always connected at the deepest level of our beings as we resonate with you in prayer.
Today, may we know rest. May we learn to lay our lives at your feet for this day gifted to us for restoration. For rest is as essential to us as oxygen, it is our right and joy. Soothe us, strengthen us and prepare us for the week ahead as we seek to love and serve others, and you.
When I first started considering this idea, I did a bit of research. There are a number of articles online around deconstructing faith, books written, plenty of material to go at. But this just didn’t resonate with me. My faith is stronger than ever. My faith is not the problem.
I believe in a God who is, above all things, Love. That They have an everlasting expression we will always be a mystery, that They had an earthly expression to give us someone to relate to, and that They have a present expression around and within each and every one of us, as awake to us as we are to them. God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, and Me.
I am invited to be part of a relationship with God, to resonate with Them; sometimes this comes with dissonance and tension, sometimes beautiful and perfect harmony, but always available and always offering growth through the process. When I accept that invitation I have a responsibility to relate to God in all Their expressions as best I can, through prayer, study, discernment, worship and fellowship, doing all those things with regard to the direction of Jesus as recorded by the Gospel of Matthew, 22:36-40:
Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
So, onto Church. Collins Dictionary defines Church as ‘a building in which Christians worship’ and also ‘one of the groups of people within the Christian religion … that have their own beliefs, clergy and forms of worship.’ (Full definition here). Other definitions include a gathering, an employer, the whole body of Christ, an activity. Yet further debate is currently ongoing around defining Church in an online context: for an excellent exposition of the arguments for and against see Phil Moore’s recent blog post.
It is recorded that Jesus renames his disciple Simon with the words ‘And I will tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church’ (Matthew 16:18, NIV). The word church in this context is translated as such from the Greek word Ekklēsia This would have been a translation of the Aramaic word Jesus actually spoke, of which we have no record (for further discussion of the impact of this on our Bible see Barton, 2019). This Ekklēsia refers to the main political assembly of the Athenian democratic system, at which all male citizens qualifying for citizenship, ie having undertaken 2 years in the Army, could attend and debate within, and literally means ‘gathering of those summoned’ (Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 2nd May 2020). Nyland, who has produced an updated translation of the New Testament from the Greek as an independent scholar, NOT a theologian or bible translator (which is important as it speaks to agendas, but maybe that’s another post!) translates Ekklēsia in the context of Matthew 16:18 as ‘assembly’ (Nyland, 2004). Therefore I would suggest Jesus’ intention was to establish a space to gather in fellowship and journey together, making decisions through debate and serving following His example. The example of the early church laid out in Acts appears to bear this out.
Looking to modern day Church, I see buildings, yes, and wonderful people trying to live together in fellowship and mutual support, absolutely. I have been blessed and touched countless times by both of these. But I don’t see leaders submitting to their congregants, or opening debates with all those who qualify and making decisions together. I don’t see every decision being made in service to those Jesus lead us to serve, otherwise, quite frankly, the wealth of Churches across the country would solve the poverty problem instantly. I don’t see the Love of God and our neighbours being of utmost importance of all decisions and interactions, above law and prophecy – it’s not like Jesus healed people on the Sabbath or anything! (He did, see Mark 3:1-5)
So I conclude with the understanding of Jesus’ intended ‘Assembly’ as a loving group of committed Christ followers living in community under the umbrella of love as an ideal, and the concept of Church that we have now as a muddled, western construct borne out of the Roman Empire, Patriarchy and political control – more on that later I’m sure! And this, dear reader, is what I wish to deconstruct.
Peace be with you.
Barton, J. (2019) A History of the Bible: The Book and its Faiths. London: Allen Lane
Sometimes, in life, you hit a moment. Where you realise you just can’t keep the status quo. Something has to change. Often, that is difficult and you don’t really know how to do it or where to turn. I’ve had that recently. Actually, it’s been building for a long time. Who knew the place I would end up turning to find my help would be Twitter! Through following paths of tweets and threads I discovered such powerful writers as Rachel Held Evans, such present and relatable clergy as Nadia Bolz-Weber and people grappling with the same issues I am such as Sarah Bessey. A new world of people who respect the LGBTQ+ community in a way most (but thankfully not all!) Church experience I had to date did not. People not afraid to speak out despite knowing the level of vitriol and trolling they would receive, in many cases from those professing to believe in a Prince of Peace. Those who would see my situation and rejoice in the redemptive story, instead of getting hung up on the path yet to walk. I found my tribe.
Yet the physical word I live in is just not there. I see Churches with incredible public facing profiles, yet deep rooted discrimination abounding beyond the doors. I crave full acceptance, love and care, yet the wounds of Spritual Abuse still weep. I sit in that liminal space, between knowing a physical Church home, and knowing there will be a new chapter of my faith story, within those walls or others, yet not knowing what that will look like. I turn inwards, in prayer and rest, to the God who dwells within, laying all my processing and confusion down in that space. And I feel gentle nudges. Study. Learn. Write. Share.
So I begin my deconstruction. I challenge the pressure to name my God as Father at all times and embrace her as the Mother she often is. I will use They/Them pronouns in recognition They are one and three, thankful for the gift of Theology around Gender Identity for this expression. I will study and hold my learning in liminal space with God, following the example of the Psalmist who sang “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word (Psalm 119:15-16). I will pray until the Holy Spirit within makes the way clear, for I will take the advice of 2 Timothy 2:15 to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth”. For in every way I want to deconstruct my relationship with Church, I want to hold true to the God who nurtures, guides, blesses and comforts me throughout all things. For They are good, and I pray my writing will always point back to Them.
I may make mistakes. I may misunderstand or misinterpret. I may write things I look back on in years to come and cringe! I accept this as part of my journeying, I freely accept I won’t always be right and I invite critical yet polite engagement with my writing. I do however challenge any reader to respect my journey whatever their personal response to it is, and to share any comments kindly. Your journey will be different to mine, your conclusions may well differ to mine and that is what makes the world such a beautiful and varied place. It is not disagreement which sows disunity, but unkindness.