Moving (back) into the Mainstream

My partner H and I have been attending a mainstream Evangelical charismatic church. If you are surprised then you’re not the only one!

Never would I, in a million years, have expected to be attending this church. It is precisely the church I would have avoided. Perhaps secretly I have longed to attend something similar, but, for obvious reasons (once bitten twice shy, see here and here) I have definitely avoided mainstream Evangelical churches.

Why did we go? I think just curiosity at first. It was Greenbelt Festival weekend and we weren’t there (again!) One of the things I really value about Greenbelt is that you get challenged and stretched and you experience new and surprising things. So we decided to go to this church instead. I guess to give it a chance to surprise us.  The big charismatic Evangelical one. We had actually been there for worship once before, years ago. Nothing negative happened but I felt really uncomfortable the whole time, like someone was going to jump up in front of me and tell me I’m going to hell for living an ‘unrepentant homosexual lifestyle’ (when this has happened to you once, you’re fairly keen not to let it happen again). I was anxious and unsure. It was a one-off.

I still felt anxious this time round. Even though it was (supposedly) just another one-off (!)

Maybe we went because of the weird sense of on-and-off paradigm shift that is  happening within UK churches at the moment with Vicky Beeching coming out and movements like Diverse Church and the Two:23 network bringing together LGBT Christians from Evangelical backgrounds.

It was like going home. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was like going home after years and realising that things had changed, or perhaps it was like going home and realising we had changed. I wondered to myself what I would do if someone was horrible to me about being gay and Christian and realised, with relief, that nothing anybody could have said to me would be able to assail my newfound trust in God, in his love that supercedes all human boundaries and reaches out to me. Where I am.

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Sabbath is a choice.

My first encounter with ‘mindfulness’ was several years ago when I found myself living in France under stressful circumstances. Not only was I adjusting to life en français and a new job teaching English at a French secondary school, but an ongoing situation in the UK was taking up a lot of my time and emotional energy. This draining situation affected my spiritual life too: I couldn’t pray and for various reasons I didn’t get to church much. Worse, I had no outlet for my increasing frustration. The ‘noise’ of all this became acute: at night it felt like the walls were closing in on me, like I needed to burst out of them and run screaming for the hills. Like I needed to plunge into the ocean and wash it all away.

I confided some of my personal situation to a friend who advised me to use the mindfulness techniques that had helped her through situations of severe clinical anxiety. ‘Imagine your thoughts are like leaves floating in a stream. Don’t try to block them, just notice them approaching and then watch them go past.’

tabitha

Although my mind was too chaotic at the time to make much sense of this, I did find that attempting to ‘live in the moment’ (which is essentially what ‘mindfulness’ boils down to) was helpful. If I was lucky I could catch the breeze and fly, be involved in my task, and simply forget the meta-narrative, the constant voices in my brain that were attempting to catch me and drag me downwards. Far from thinking less, it allowed me to think more, that is, to think more freely. To imagine, as well as to ‘experience’ and ‘just be’.

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Sexual Tension

I remember a well-known youth leader and speaker at a big Christian conference I attended as a young person comparing sexual temptation to wanting to eat a ‘big chocolate cake’.

“You go into the kitchen. There’s the cake, oozing chocolatey goodness. You know you aren’t supposed to eat the cake. But it looks so good….what if I just dipped my finger into the icing? No-one would even know, right? What if I just sliced a tiny bit off the back where no-one would see…”

The story ended with the cake gone, your fingers and mouth covered in chocolate and an overwhelming sense of regret and shame.

You can never get that cake back now. It’s gone forever.

You get the picture. It’s the good old slippery slope argument.

No, you can't have it AND eat it!

No, you can’t have it AND eat it!

Without perhaps fully realising it, this youth leader had bought into the idea of sex – of bodies, especially female ones – as consumable goods. I heard another story in which a white rose was passed around the youth group. As it went from hand to hand, it inevitably got  broken. The speaker held it up at the end: ‘who would want this now?’ he asked. The rose had been passed around and lost its value. It was now worthless, crumpled, dirty. The warning was there, I think, probably more for the girls than the boys.

Sex makes you dirty. It makes you unloveable. It makes you unmarriageable. It makes you irredeemable.

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