Christmas time was good … in a secular kind of way. The past few days we’ve been in Llanbedrog – a small village on the Lleyn peninsula in North Wales and 2011 was seen in at the Nefyn & District Golf Club just a few miles away.
I’m at the end of chapter 19.
And I’m surprised.
I had thought that there was no way for me back to any kind of faith.
And now I’m not so sure.
I’m not there yet. But I can almost see the possibility.
I’m not really going to write a book review here right now … maybe one day. But I want to capture some of the thoughts and feelings that it has evoked in me … and that requires some mention of what the book says … or at least what it is saying to me. I sense though that there will be some rambling around in this posting.
In my born again days I would have viewed Brian McLaren as a liberal kind of theologian … roughly translated it means I’d have classed him as not really being a Bible Believer.
There are quite a few reasons why my involvement with Christianity terminated. I think that really it began with personal kind of issues. One of these was pornography. I’ve mentioned this issue in previous postings. There was a time when a minister at the church that I attended took me along to a service at another church. Afterwards he asked me if I hadn’t felt inclined to step forward when everyone was invited to … for prayer and healing. I said that I hadn’t. And then he asked me about pornography … which my wife had mentioned to him … or perhaps it was to his wife for her to mention it to him so that he could mention it to me.
We prayed and he gave me a book to read. The book had an unbalanced view of pornography … the kind of thing that gave the impression that all users of porn become child molesters. You know … in the same way that everyone that owns a kitchen knife ends up stabbing naked ladies in showers.
In those days the porn was something I felt guilty about. In the same way that I felt guilty about lingerie.
But the prayers didn’t help that much really. Not for more than a few months.
There was never a real discussion – just an assumption that all pornography in all circumstances is always wrong. And other assumptions – it always degrades the people involved in it – always results in men seeing women as objects to own rather than as people – always exploits people … perverts people.
I’ve said this before … and no doubt will again if I get the chance … I know that porn can do all those things. But … you know … if your honest about it … some brands of Christianity and Islam do all of those things as well. Only its much worse when when you feel that it’s God that is involved because you have no right to complain about it.
Anyway … I’m mentioning this here now because it was a factor that made me feel uncomfortable in a church kind of environment. And I was growing tired of the discomfort and the pretence that I felt obliged to make that everything was ok.
There were other things as well. I spent a while in secular counselling sessions … alone and also with Sally.
These provided an opportunity to talk about things that had only been secrets before. I think prior to that time I’d never really understood the value of counselling. But to be able to say what you think and feel without the risk of someone wanting to lay hands on you and cast out demons is somehow liberating. In all my years in church I’d never felt that. The dressing thing didn’t crop up. At the time I didn’t know that I was a transvestite … only that sometimes I likes to wear lingerie.
During this time I began to withdraw from church and began to think about what I believed and why I believed it.
I remember thinking things like:
- Did I really believe in a universe or a God where the vast majority of people that had ever lived were going to end up in hell?
- Did I believe in a God that sanctioned genocide .. I guess a holocaust … perpetrated by the Hebrews in the Old Testament against other groups of people in the middle east?
- Did I really believe in a God that disliked same sex relations so much that they were condemned to hell?
The problem was that I’d always been a Bible Believing Christian. And my understanding of the Bible led to those kinds of conclusions.
Mostly I think I’d glossed over them up to then … thinking that well … God is good and God loves people … and He’ll see that the right thing happens and maybe explain it all one day.
But I had reached a stage where these questions … and others … and my own experiences and feelings meant that I needed to discover a different kind of God.
But I couldn’t see any way of doing this without taking out the scissors and cutting out lots of verses from the Bible that I had, up to that point, believed.
And how do I decide which bits to cut out – or to re-interpret. If I just cut out the bits that I don’t approve of or that are inconvenient to me then don’t I end up with a God that I invented for myself?
So … in the end … I put the entire book away.
Of course … even most Bible Believing Christians re-interpret things in the Bible every so often. What once was bad is now ok. Some things that were once ok are now bad. And some bits are just ignored because … well … Jesus couldn’t actually have meant what he literally said could he … so he must have actually meant something else. If you’ve been to church you know what I mean.
Having said all of that … not everything that happens in Churches is bad. Not at all. I’ve tended here to simply focus on things that contributed to me leaving.
So … back to the book A New Kind of Christianity.
For a long time I’ve been pretty sure that I can never go back to the beliefs that I used to have. And I had thought that meant that there was no way back to Christianity.
The book that Dani recommended has changed the second part of my thinking.
Maybe there is a way back to Christianity … maybe what I had been experiencing previously hadn’t actually been the entire thing.
I know that some people (and I would once have been one of these people) will say that what I’m doing is attempting to re-invent God in a way that fits me. They will say that I have to accept God as God … and then do as I am told.
But really … even fundamentalists … pick and choose things. The KJV 1611 people that I corresponded with a while ago have picked a specific Bible version and decided that this is the one … the literal and absolutely only English language version of the Bible … that anyone should believe. But they still decide on how things should be interpreted and understood.
Emily Saliers (an Indigo Girl) penned the following, and I think she’s right:
And as we sat stuck
You could hear the trash truck
Making its way through the neighbourhood
Picking up the thrown out
Different from house to house
We get to decide what we think is no good
We're sculpted from youth
The chipping away makes me weary
And as for the truth
It seems like we just pick a theory
And it's the one that justifies
Our daily lives
And backs us with quiver and arrows
To protect openings
Cause when the warring begins
How quickly the wide open narrows
So … I know I am open to the criticism that I’m re-inventing God in an image that fits me.
Back to the book again.
Brian McLaren sets out to respond to 10 questions that he feels are important with respect to Christianity and people. He says he’s not offering answers to the questions … rather they are responses to them that represent the beginning of a dialog rather than the end of one.
One thing that struck me is that the doubts and questions I had about the do I really believe that God kind of things I mentioned earlier aren’t all that unusual. It’s just that people in Churches often don’t have a chance to air such doubts.
Another thing is the way that he presents Jesus within the context of the Bible. He feels that what you need to do is take the person of Jesus as described in the Gospels and then interpret the Bible through Jesus … rather than the other way round. So … in responding to the question Is God Violent? Brian McLaren starts with Jesus and then looks at some of the passages that seem to paint a violent picture of God … mainly in the Old Testament. The book doesn’t provide any “once and for all” answer or a set of proofs for this. Just the beginnings of a discussion. But the starting point of a definitely non-violent Jesus provides a totally different perspective on the whole question. And … it’s so obvious that this is the right starting point it left me wondering how come I hadn’t realised this before?
The third (and biggest and most important) thing for me is that in summing up what Christianity is all about he puts it very simply.
Being a Christian is about being Christlike.
It’s strange how sometimes the bleedin’ obvious gets buried beneath so much other stuff that when it gets re-stated it’s like a breath of fresh air and a revelation.
It’s not about church meetings … nor understanding theology nor having correct doctrine.
And … you know … even people who are not Christians can be Christlike.
And Christians … well … they can be non Christlike.
In a way I knew all of the above.
But in a way I never thought of what it means. A whole lot of what I believed has been turned upside down and inside out … and I’m amazed that it’s giving me a feeling that maybe there is a way back for me. Though really it’s not a way back … more of a way forwards.
I know that some people will say it’s not a way forwards at all. It’s heretical. It’s wrong. Blasphemous. Untrue. An abomination. And that I am headed for hell.
I know also that to some of these people … the concept of a transgendered Andrea is also an abomination.
But maybe some people with thoughts like these will try to see beyond the skirts and dresses that I wear.
I’m not sure yet … but I see possibilities where I previously saw none.
So … if I were to want to be Christlike … well … would Jesus have dressed as a girl? How can I be Christlike and also be a transvestite?
I think my response … and no .. it’s not my final answer … is that the question itself is perhaps missing the point.
Being Christlike isn’t about growing a beard and letting my hair grow longer (assuming that Jesus did these things). Or wearing a robe. Or being a man. Or being Jewish. Or being born of a virgin. Or not wearing a dress. Or avoiding lipstick and earrings. It’s not even about being what is conventionally called a Christian.
Being Christlike is about loving other people in the same kind of way that Jesus did.
It’s more about how I deal with people that are transvestites than whether or not I am a transvestite myself.
It’s not about whether I am heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual. It’s not about the colour of my skin. It’s about how I interact with other people.
Sally is keen that I pop along to a Contemplative Fire get together with her one day – she says it would be ok to appear there as Andrea. So perhaps that will happen at some point – she has asked before but I never saw the point before. It’ll make for a different experience than Pink Punters and Candy Girls, I expect.
I have a lot more to (re)discover.
As I mentioned earlier … I am very surprised.
Thank you Dani.