We have been watching a programme on BBC 2– Pilgrimage The Road to Rome.
Eight celebrities, of differing faiths and beliefs, don backpacks and walking boots to tackle part of an ancient pilgrimage to Rome. They cover the Italian section of the ancient 2,000km Via Francigena, which starts in Canterbury and finishes in Rome.
A pilgrimage is a journey, a time set aside to journey, to put day to day things aside to look to the spiritual to move towards a Holy place.
As I watched the programme there was a particularly poignant. During evening meal, a beautiful honest discussion takes place. Stephen K Amos states that there was no religion that would accept him as he was; as a Gay man the major religions reject him. Dana, a committed Catholic said, in her mind thier was no condemnation on him for being Gay. I her mind the problem was that Marriage was sacred between a man and a woman and obviously this did not happen between Gay people, this judgement on marriage is not however a judgement on Gay people in general. The vulnerability and honesty that was in the room as this discussion occurred was tangible. In that moment pure religion was seen in following Jesus greatest commandment. His commandment to love God and to love others.
As we come into Holy Week, I am thinking about my own faith journey. Where did I come from and where I am going?
As a child I we only started to go to church (URC) because of my Brownies group. We started to go fairly regularly and I remember when I was 12 and my sister was being dedicated, I wanted to be baptised too. I think church felt like a safe kind place despite chaotic home life.
A few years later we moved house and my mum got really involved with the local Baptist Church. She went each week and got really involved. We went along each week and the people seemed kind. I think they supported my mum when her parents died.
Aged 15 I had a sense that something was missing from my life and decided I needed to have God in my life. I said sorry to God for all my sins and gave my life to God completely. As I went to a Baptist church the natural next step was adult baptism. I also started to attend a Pentecostal Church. They were even more fundamental. Preaching was often about being set apart, about listening to Christian music, about praying for the salvation of your friends and family. That your time should be spent meditating on the word of God. The emphasis was on making yourself other. I suppose in this setting I made a lot of freinds, we were one in heart and mind.
This Holy week we often look at Jesus the suffering servant. The way he suffered and died willingly in obedience to God his Father. In this we also look to out own sufferings. To know Christ and the fellowship of his suffering. The Church I have attended for many years were promote the belief of God testing and growing us through suffering as evidenced in the book of Job. Being sifted like wheat and tested. In that I heard that suffering was a blessing, grumbling about suffering is a sign of immaturity. For one with ongoing serious mental health issues, the message was toxic and discouraged openness and honesty about our day to day lives.
I heard much spoken was about personal responsibility for your own healing by reading the word of God. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was wounded for our inequities and by his stripes we are healed” is a favourite verse. Our lack of healing can be that we do not believe hard enough, or pray hard enough or meditate on scripture enough. We were also avid viewers of Christian TV with their faith teachers who perpetuated the same teaching. After 14 years of mental illness I could not keep subscribing to this belief. It just led me to more guilt and shame, that somehow I was responsible for being ill, a self – perpetuating cycle.
I suppose distance from the church has given me a clearer picture. I don’t think the teaching was deliberately manipulative. It is pretty standard fundamentalist Christian teaching, but coming from a heavily judgemental family background I felt I had to conform and fit in, to play my part, to do the right thing.
Outside of the church with it’s many beliefs that are just accepted, I can start to see a bit more clearly. I struggled to hear those who were asked not to wear a cross at work were persecuted, especially when a few minutes later in the same service real persecution was spoken of. The life at risk for choosing to be a Christian type of persecution. The seeing ourselves as victims of society is a useful tool for getting people to band together and protect their faith and becoming more inward looking in the process.
The whole “them” and “us” thinking that often happens in churches is often used to exclude others, I suppose like the Pharisees it is to protect those who are in the church. I find this really confusing as I signed up for Christianity as it was about loving and serving others and making a difference in the world.
My thoughts about religion are still a bit confused but I hope in time they will make sense.