The last month or so has been full on. I have been in three different countries (if you count The Vatican as a separate country, which it does). I have worked the most since John passed away, I have had times of ridiculous loneliness, which on reflection I seem to have come through unscathed, and I have had a lot of thinking time. The house has, funnily enough, reflected the state of my mind, it’s been a mess. And it’s been a mess I literally haven’t been able to clean up, and because I knew it was a reflection of the state of my mind it was starting to drag me further down than I already was. So with that in mind, I knew something had to be done about the state of my mind before I could even think about thinking about cleaning the house!!! After reading a book that actually read me instead (it was like almost every line was a line taken out of my head or heart, despite mine and the authors totally different experiences) I recognised that the God they had come to know through their pain was the God that I have come to know too, and their theology matched up almost exactly to mine, and it brought me to a realisation… I am Liberal. It’s an interesting thing for me to admit, because honestly at one point in my life I was scared of Liberals and liberalism, I had swallowed whole the lie that it was a slippery slope into wishy-washy no substance nothingness… but I’ve come to realise that deep down I have always been a Liberal, or had ‘left’ leanings. I realise the word Liberal has many and various meanings, and trying to articulate it is not that easy a task, so let me try and be a little clearer with what I mean…
I think it all started for me theologically when my Mum passed away. My Mum and I had a complicated relationship and when she died I suddenly understood her better than I ever had done when she was alive. I believed up until this point that if someone didn’t say the ‘sinners prayer’ they would spend eternity burning in hell, so when Mum passed away suddenly without to my knowledge repenting of her sin and accepting Jesus as her Lord and Saviour, the weight of it totally and utterly crushed me beyond anything I had ever known. And what I couldn’t shake was: I being me, a fragile, little human who came to see her mum for the person she actually was and the reasons she was like she was and who felt so much immense love and compassion for her regardless of all the circumstances wouldn’t, in fact, couldn’t send her to hell, how could God possibly do that? Yes I had heard all the teachings on justice being served and God being Sovereign in His wisdom, but actually what I heard in that teaching was: They didn’t repent so it’s their own fault, the end. And I very nearly lost my faith entirely. I couldn’t stand it. There was just no way I could believe that my Mum wasn’t in Heaven. And I had this huge guilt for not sharing the Gospel enough with her so maybe she might have said the prayer and then I would know she was definitely in heaven and everything would be alright. I carried that around with me for literal years. Somehow I managed and I have no idea how, probably by the Grace of God, to push past it, and push it way back somewhere, but whenever I thought about it, it would paralyse me and my faith. When Mum died I suddenly understood compassion and tenderness in a way I had never before. I understood what it was like to be so filled with grief and sadness that one can’t even walk one step further.
Having pushed that aside and pushed forward I got back in the swing of believing most people will end up in hell cause they are bad and don’t repent and accept Jesus but deep down prayed this wouldn’t be the case for anyone I knew, especially as my ‘evangelism’ was so poor and I hadn’t ‘converted’ anyone at all. I heaped more guilt upon myself that I was sending people to hell as I wasn’t doing evangelism properly but making it more bearable by thinking, it’s their fault anyway as they won’t believe. In the background of my mind and heart lurked that thought ‘but if you won’t send them to hell how could a loving God?’ and I would always bash it away, or quieten it with, ‘Ah but He knows what they really deserve.’
John passing away has affected this, I thought this week that it maybe hadn’t but that’s craziness to think that of course, it will have had an impact. The moment that John physically died, I knew that I knew that I knew, as real as you are reading these words now, that John was with God, it was a tangible feeling, he had gone but he was with God. Yes, he was a confessing Christian and knew the Lord but I wasn’t thinking about that. It’s hard to describe but I knew it in the core of my being, as I sat next to his body in the silence and the shock I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt where he was. In the days, weeks, months and now years since his death, I have thought about how precious life is, how fragile life is, how short life is and how we have to enjoy the things we enjoy as we only get this chance once. We have to be true to ourselves, cause otherwise there really is no point. People are amazing and beautiful in all their different forms and ways and we shouldn’t write people off because of their differences or disagreements, life is too precious and short. If something is good and not harming anyone else, we have to enjoy these things and moments cause they won’t last, they will end one day. We have to experience as much as we possibly can do. We have to live life as full as we can, cause one day we might not be able to. We have to take our opportunities when they present themselves. We have to do things to the full, live full, love full.
My sisters’ death by suicide last year again made me realise the fragility of us all. I haven’t processed this yet… so I can’t say too much and with the first year anniversary nearly upon me it’s a little too raw right now. No, she wasn’t a ‘believer’ in the conventional sense, but she did have some belief in God and she knew the depths of grief and loss having lost a child a week old, and I know that that experience brought her a level of compassion that outlined her life, I heard her tenderness when she would speak and I felt her solidarity when John passed away. I somehow knew that she knew the depths of grief even if it was in a different way. Lord, I miss her.
All of this has brought me to search for God and search myself and what I have found consistently is a kind, gentle God, who relates to my pain and my grief and yes bears it with me. I haven’t found Him to be wrathful ever, not once. He has never spoken judgement over me or anyone I have brought to Him in prayer. I have only received love and kindness for myself and for others. I have always known Him to be the God of the underdog and the outcast. I in myself would love to find a wrathful God cause then I could consign all my enemies to hell, all the people who do me wrong or I don’t like, I can cast them into His judgement and doom, but I can’t find that element of God and I have tried, yes you may find that in Scripture but I consistently don’t find that in Jesus or my experiences of the Trinity.
So basically you are saying God isn’t wrathful? Well…. maybe not quite, but it’s complicated and I haven’t formed it properly. ‘Yes but justice must be served!’ I hear people shout back. “If God is all loving where’s the justice!” Ask God not me, I’m just telling you what I’ve found. And this leads me nicely on to Rob Bell. I along with probably millions of others joined John Piper in waving goodbye to Rob Bell when he brought out his book Love Wins. I wrote him off as a liberal wishy-washy who has lost the plot and didn’t think about him again. In my grief filled state of binge-watching as much tv as I possibly could shortly after John died to help my mind process the magnitude of what had happened and after watching all series of Lewis I stumbled across a documentary on Rob Bell entitled ‘The Heretic’ and I thought ‘Yeah! I’m up for that! I’m gonna watch it and enjoy disagreeing with every word he says.’ So I switched it on, and what I found shocked me, massively. I found that I could not in honesty disagree with anything that he said. I agreed with it all. Everything. I was not expecting that. It worried me that I was on a slippery slope, but I remained open as I couldn’t deny the fact that I agreed with him. So I listened to his podcast and found I agreed on almost everything he said. At this time I had a lecturer who was able to explain things that were going on for me, and my long-suffering therapist, which was a lifeline to me at that time as I really felt cognitively all over the place. I started discovering Paul Young and the Shack, Baxter Kruger, Brian Zahnd, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz Weber and a whole host of people whose writings made more sense to me than anything else I had heard. It was like I had found what fits. I went to see Rob Bell live. I didn’t tell a soul as I was still ashamed that I would be judged for it. What I can tell you was, first, he was amazing, engaging, dynamic and funny but the real thing was his description of suffering, it floored me. I sat in my chair and sobbed my heart out, it was like he had looked into my soul and seen all that was in there. I have never heard anyone describe what I have felt so accurately as he has. When I walked back to my car that evening afterwards, I prayed and asked God, ‘Am I being led astray?’ ‘ I feel vulnerable because of my grief and loneliness, am I just hearing what I want to hear?’ (I consistently ask this) and when I got in my car the song that was playing was ‘His eye is on the sparrow.’ I felt heard and answered.
One thing I knew that all these people had in common was that they were affirming and inclusive of LGBTQ people. I have skirted around this issue for sooooooooooooo many years, for various different reasons, but if I’m being honest, I have been engaging and then furiously avoiding since I became a Christian 23 years ago. I just haven’t known what to do or think about it. I have been back and forward over the arguments so well I could quote them in my sleep. I have avoided and distanced myself from anyone who has come out as gay (of which I am ashamed of). And it wasn’t a book, or a theory or a teaching that brought me to a conclusion on this issue. It was an experience and a revelation. Hold your horses, everyone! Not like that!… let me explain.
Paula’s death knocked me back into a wilderness of grief, and grief upon grief is ridiculous. As I have said, and my therapist agrees, there’s only so much grief you can process in one go and I am still trying to process John’s grief. I couldn’t see the wood for the trees in all kinds of ways. I was submerged in grief and felt like I was losing everything all over again. I lost my sense of time (and I had only just got it back after John dying), and my sense of God and myself and everything just went sideways. I was struggling so bad in my faith under the weight of the grief I was feeling. Paula died at the end of July and by the time it reached October, faith-wise it was nearly all over, I wanted to believe but I couldn’t find or sense God anywhere at all. I searched and cried so much and I got nothing. Nada. To cut a long story (Please do Vick, as this blog is ridiculously long) I ended up at a church not too far away from where I lived on a Sunday morning. During the peace, the Vicar came and gave me a hug, and I was not expecting it to be a real hug but it was one of the most realist hugs I have ever had in my whole life, you know one of those hugs that communicates something? Well, this is what the hug communicated: This person knows The Lord. I knew, that I knew that she knew the Lord, and she knew The Lord in a similar way that I did. It took me completely off guard. She showed me Jesus when I honestly thought I had lost him forever. Later that evening someone mentioned that she was gay… dun dun dun!!!! I slammed the breaks on. Woooaaahhhh….. what? I arranged to go out for a coffee with her and after talking for a few hours my suspicion that she did indeed know The Lord was confirmed, she most definitely knew The Lord. You know when someone knows The Lord. And she 100% does. This left me though in a quandary… if as I thought homosexuality was deliberate sin then how could gay people possibly have a relationship with God? It didn’t make sense, but I couldn’t deny the evidence in front of me. I had to settle this once and for all. If as I have been told Homosexuality is a spirit, then I was gonna find out… I did something that some people would say was reckless… I invited the so-called ‘spirit of homosexuality’ upon me, and guess what… nothing. I tried to imagine being with a woman…couldn’t do it. No appeal whatsoever at all. Cannot do it. It’s Impossible. And then I realised if I can’t make myself gay, those who are gay cannot make themselves straight. Again it’s impossible. Now I know sexuality is a complex issue and I’m being a bit cut and dried about this, but that’s the way it played out. So theologically I went on a journey and read a ton of various articles and listened to lectures and read books for and against and made my peace. Do I think it is a sin? Honestly, I can’t say it is, I can’t say it isn’t. I genuinely don’t know. I can tell you my thoughts and definitions of sin have changed but this post is already too long so I can’t get into that now, and besides which I sin deliberately all day every day in a thousand ways, though I try not too and God still loves me, draws close to me and we have a relationship, and I cannot see how that is any different. And if you really want to draw me on this theologically, I do not believe sin separates us from God, so there’s that. ‘Ah but gay people can’t have the Spirit of God in them.!’ Yes they can and they do. I know gay people who speak in tongues, get out of that one theologically. Also, I have found the LGBTQ community to be so dazzling beautiful, welcoming, kind and compassionate and I genuinely love them to bits and pieces, and I count them as my Sisters and Brothers in the Lord if they are Christians and as my Sisters and Brothers in Humanity if they are not. I am not here to try and persuade you as no argument would have persuaded me, I had a revelation, and I pray that for other people too, as my life has been sooo enriched because of this. I will stand and defend gay people all day long for the rest of my life. I can’t stress enough…. a gay person showed me Christ when I thought I had lost Him forever and I will forever be grateful to them and God for that. Without the Lord I am nothing, I’m finished, I’m over, I’m out the game. God used someone from the community I was least expecting to show me Himself again, and He has been doing it consistently ever since. And yes a gay person can most definitely be a leader of a church because my Vicar is one of the best priests I have ever encountered ever. Am I gay now? I know that’s a question that been flying around. So much so I have had three people ask if I am now a Lesbian.😲No, I am not. But if I was, I’m not afraid of it like I used to be. “What if it’s lurking somewhere ready to pounce” I used to worry. Well, it hasn’t pounced and I don’t believe it will because it’s not a choice or a spirit or whatever else you want to call it. It just is what it is.
Let me finally land this puppy…. my apologies. How does this relate to my house being a mess and my mind being a mess, well the thing is I have kept the majority of this to myself, and I’ve kind of felt a bit like a fraud, rightly or wrongly because I have previously held deep evangelical views and I no longer do, and its quite a shift mentally. I have been worried about being written off and rejected for my new theological viewpoints, and I was finding myself trying to hide them, which was beginning to feel like madness. But I am no longer worried as I know I am secure in the Lord and He has a hold of me and since I have come to this realisation I have felt a weight lift and I have been able to tidy the house and my mind has unfuzzed somewhat. Let me stress one more time, I wholeheartedly love the Lord and am more serious about Him than at any other time in my life, this has not made me wishy-washy if anything I am more committed and more in love with Jesus than I ever have been.
Yes, you may think as I have done, “The grief has got to her.” “She’s making God how she wants Him to be.” “She’s weak and that’s why she has come to believe these things.” “She’s clearly been led astray and deceived.” And you are more than entitled to your opinion, I’m just telling you where I am up to clearly.