I have been on a long journey THROUGH CHRISTENDOM (or the Christian RELIGION) with all of its DIVISIVE, DENOMINATIONAL THEOLOGY – along with its many DIFFERING TRADITIONS – and the awareness that Christians cannot agree among themselves about the place of JESUS.
I know from personal experience since the early 1970’s, and from sharing stories on the web, that it can be lonely and disconcerting if you can’t share your thoughts with others who may be on a similar journey.
MY JOURNEY really started over 60 years ago when I was 22. I had completed National Service and moved to London. I soon found myself assisting Ken who was running a Scout Cub Pack attached to a thriving local Anglican church. The average congregation on a Sunday was around 250 and about 100 people normally sat down to breakfast after service every week. It was a real family. It was where I met my wife. Reg, a new curate and keen Scout leader, arrived in the Parish 3 weeks after I did, and like me didn’t really know more than a few people.
The boys had to attend a Church Parade once a month and I found myself thinking that I needed to find out what this was all about. With hindsight I gave Reg someone to ‘work with’. One evening a few months later I was confirmed in the C of E. At the time I was living with a Plymouth Brethren family. When I returned that evening I told them where I had been. They were upset and told me that I could stay the night but they wanted me out the next morning. That really happened – my first experience of religious intolerance.
I spoke to Reg and he arranged for my things to be collected by the Choir Master and I moved into a spare room where Reg was living. I stayed for about 6 weeks and Reg and I became close friends (so I thought). I then found accommodation with a Jewish lady who was separated from her husband. Her daughter who had been living with her got married and I took over her room a couple of days later. That was an interesting experience. I stayed with her until I got a job in Southampton. Barbara and I married a few months later and Reg was my Best Man.
It was a few weeks after we were married when Barbara and I visited her mother that I had a conversation with Reg. He told me that as I was now married I no longer needed his friendship. I can’t begin to describe the impact that had on someone who, before Barbara, had never had a close friend! It was years later that I learned that at that time he had been taught at theological college that it was unwise to have any friends within the parish in which he was working.
After we were married we found ourselves 2 of a regular congregation of 9 at the main Sunday service. The Vicar had been a missionary in Nigeria and had recently returned to the UK with 2 adopted Nigerian boys. He was a former Group Scout leader and was very disillusioned. He had been given responsibility for a church that had seen better days. With his help Barbara and I started a new Cub Pack. He shared much of his frustration with me – that’s when I realised with hindsight that I could be a good listener. Barbara and I moved within 2 years so that her mother who had Multiple Sclerosis could live with us. The Vicar returned to Nigeria a few months later.
In our new Parish we found a lively church. One of the first things I did was to contact the local Scout Group to see if I could assist. The Group was attached to the local Congregational church. They seemed pleased to see me but made it quite clear that they wanted me to have nothing to do with the Anglican church. More religious intolerance!
The church treasurer was retiring and moving away in about 6 months. I had no experience of accounting – I was given appropriate training – and kept that position for 8 years in the 1960’s. For 5 of those years I was also secretary of a new Community Association that was taking over the old Church Hall that the church had sold to the Local Authority (an enormous story in its own right). I guess that is a reflection of the fact that I have always been a workaholic!
Two things in particular stand out from those years that have been particularly significant since.
My parents had left school at 13 and 14 and wanted me to be better educated than they were. They never owned a Bible but sent me to a Baptist Sunday School. When I was 13 I walked away after rejecting what I had been taught about the trinity. Although I had been confirmed I could never understand how people thought that Jesus was God. When I asked the Vicar (who was a recognised as an authority on the Old Testament) if he could explain the trinity to me, he told me that greater minds than his had argued about this for thousands of years and he just had to accept what they said. This obviously didn’t satisfy me but I let it go.
Some time later I was attending one of his classes on the Old Testament. At the end of 8 weeks it was announced that the Vicar was to be the new Bishop of Mauritius. I immediately found myself wondering how anyone could be a Bishop in the C of E if they couldn’t explain the trinity.
It was years later looking through my notes that I realised that I had spent about 20 hours in that OT class. We had reached the 2nd chapter of Exodus but had ignored the myth and symbolism of Adam and Eve and the first 11 chapters of Genesis and started the study with the story of Abraham!
Later we had a new Vicar. On one occasion I was leading a Men’s Discussion Group and asked the question, “What is the purpose of Life?”. The immediate reaction of the Vicar was, “Peter, you can’t ask that, that is the 64,000 dollar question (a lot of money in the 1960’s). Let’s go on to your next question”.
That and my inability to get answers to some of my questions about the trinity led me to becoming disillusioned by a lack of ‘radical’ Christianity.
At that time I had a secure job with an Insurance Company but gave it all up and ‘accidentally’ became involved with the world of computer programming. This brought me to Brighton in 1971. It wasn’t long after this that I stopped attending church. I would describe much of the 1970’s as a wilderness experience. It was in 1978 that I became a member of the Worldwide Church of God – a Sabbath-keeping Christian church that considered Christmas and Easter to be Pagan festivals. They rejected the traditional teachings of the trinity, but also rejected the traditional teachings of hell.
Fast forward to 1995 when the leadership of the church we were attending announced that much of their theology was misguided. This decimated the church and literally ‘destroyed’ our own family of 14 related by marriage. Four of those family members have not spoken to us since. Our daughter and her husband who were Youth leaders at the time walked away and are now atheists – understandably!
I was ‘forced’ for a second time to reconsider just about everything I had ever been taught, and it was at this time that a very close friend suggested that I had the knack of asking some of the awkward questions to which there were no easy answers.
This was the beginning of a second wilderness experience – and still I had no thoughts of rejecting God or my belief in Christianity.
I have been using the web since 1997 and started developing my own web site in 2000. By 2003 I had found the book, “So you don’t want to go to church anymore” on the web when the authors had only written the first three chapters, and I was very involved with what was then often referred to as the out of church Christians.
By this time I was learning so much about why people believed what they believed, often as a result of divisive denominational theology. I have ended up with quite a good understanding of most of the contentious Christian doctrines that divide denominations.
By 2003 I was 67 and with hindsight my beliefs (and I use that word deliberately) were based almost entirely on reason and logic. It was only later that I realised that it had been almost all about head knowledge (conformity – the Bible as the Word of God) rather than any real heart awareness (real loving relationships).
It was then that I heard the suggestion that so much theology tries to capture the wind by closing the windows. I recently came across the suggestion that it had all been about Transactions and very little to do with Transformation!
I stopped attending church in 2009 and by 2010 I was involved with a couple of para-church groups in Brighton including a church in a pub run by an Anglican priest. Another Anglican priest introduced me to the writings of Richard Holloway (the former leader of the Episcopal church in Scotland). He has written quite extensively about myth and symbolism – and suggested that the symbol ‘God’ is one of the most ambiguous of human inventions. This for me was a real catalyst!
It was early in 2012 that I became aware of the writings of Diana Butler Bass and her then latest book Christianity after Religion. After what for me had been an intense period of study, I sensed that I had a faith that I thought I could hold on to ‘loosely‘.
I really did think that I had gone about as far as I could go – that I had a story to tell – that I could share with others who were on a similar journey.
I had a picture of the journey of life as a series of stepping stones.
I had by this time shared something of the stories of at least 2,000 people who were moving away from traditional Christian teachings.
Little did I realise how much this was all going to change over the next 6 years!
Later in 2012 I watched A History of the World by Andrew Marr. The suggestion that civilisation as we know it is no more than about 12,500 years old was a real eye-opener. This generated for me several more of those awkward questions to which there are no easy answers – such as “What is religion – is it man’s attempt to explain the inexplicable?”
My formal education ended when I was 17. I have been involved in the world of computer programming and business analysis for over 50 years. I was discussing this with my grandson a couple of years ago when I realised that two separate worlds – Christianity and Information Technology came together in 2000 at a time when I no longer had a full time job – and I had the freedom to explore my chosen interests!
Initially we had dial-up connections to the internet and YouTube presentations were limited to 10 minutes. How things have changed!
It was in 2013 I joined U3A and in that first year attended classes for Philosophy, Psychology and Counselling. In subsequent years I have also attended Mindfulness; History of Christianity; History of Religion; Buddhism and Islam. Almost all of this was new to me!
The number of questions just grew!
But now apart from Mindfulness there are no more of these classes.
I’d like to think that by now you can see that I’ve spent a lot of my life involved with the Christian Religion (or Christendom) with its conflicting beliefs based on differing interpretations of the Bible, and its many different traditions.
I often think of myself as someone who has been an outside observer of Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, especially in America for over 20 years. This has been especially true for nearly 3 years now since Donald Trump announced that he intended running for the American Presidency.
It was less than 2 years ago that I was introduced to the Enneagram. It has had a big impact on my thinking – and encouraged me to come out of my self imposed shell and talk more about my own journey – but that is a story in its own right.
For those of you who are familiar with the Enneagram I see myself basically as a Type 5 – an Observer or Investigator – with a streak of Type 8 – a Challenger.
I’ve learned so much in the last 6 years, but I still haven’t lost a belief in ‘God’, but my understanding of that word has changed dramatically over the last few years.