Finding a spiritual ‘home’ stateside

In two days we will have been away from our longtime home of London for a month. It’s been a month of visits to the swimming pool, niece’s birthday parties, road trips and catching up on American food (in place of American TV which is awful!). Our health insurance through Obamacare has finally come through, though we haven’t been told how to pay (and my word will we pay, even in spite of the subsidy – I miss you NHS!). Our daughter is on the list for Medicaid (didn’t ever think we’d be applying for that, but grateful it’s an option while we get settled) which will hopefully come through soon. I’m so thankful that the people behind her medical coverage are actual people and are willing to go off the usual script with us as our circumstances are a little irregular.

wild goosing.JPGWe have gone to three different Christian gatherings in an attempt at finding a Christian community who meet regularly. One was the Wild Goose Festival, set in the beautiful mountains outside Ashville, alongside the French Broad River where I got to dip my toes. It’s inspired by Greenbelt, a UK festival we love. Having returned to the southeast – I still think of it as the SOUTH – at a time of such turmoil politically and with so many injustices being made glaringly obvious, it was a priority of ours to get together with Jesus followers who were more along our wavelength. Having been brought up conservative Baptist by Southerners I had no idea, honestly, that you could be a Democrat/liberal and be a Christian. So returning to the states as the black sheep with my new identity, finding a people group to feel at home with was at the top of my list. And it was a great experience.

Wild Goose was much more basic than Greenbelt, with less on offer during the evenings, but the daytime talks were second to none. Unfortunately what was lacking was a clear space for meeting new people and hatching new plans. It was very program heavy, and the only open space we found was a lovely cafe providing cheap food for volunteers and others. Otherwise, unless you were going to sign up to theology school you really had to work at the networking. Still, the talks did inspire.

The next available Sunday we visited a church that has stripped its language back so completely to get rid of references to God, adopting a language that would not cause people who have had terrible and oppressive church experiences to have heart palpitations. I get that. But I miss the connection to the millennia-old faith, and this makes me feel disconnected to the greater story. We haven’t ruled the community out as a possible home for us as the children’s service was brilliant and our kiddo loved it. And being summer it’s hard to get a full picture of much of anything with people being away. So we’ll come back to that.

This past Sunday we visited a Baptist church. Yup. But get this – the minister was a woman! And get THIS: she was a lesbian. The church has a banner outside welcoming refugees and they regularly take part in campaigns promoting equality across the board. There were grey heads all over that place, listening to this queer woman talk about Jesus. It was paradigm shifting. They have taken their hymns (which I can only take so much of generally) and written new ones that talk about gospel social justice themes. They are much more of the church I grew up with, minus the divisive and judgemental garbage that saw so many of us leave. We will have to see what this means for our family however, as they didn’t have a children’s program for 4 year olds, and while G did really well sitting through the service it may not last. Rob also misses a more enthusiastic worship style. So again, we’ll see where we are led to settle for now.

Overall, it has been good to see glimmers – not glimmers really – more like beacons of hope here in my mother’s state of birth. I have my own prejudices against the south which I will readily admit to, but I also love the south, much like my complicated relationship with my mom I guess.

I’ll leave this video link here for anyone interested in one of these beacons of hope I’ve encountered. He happens to be pastor of a church in my mom’s hometown. I’m sure she’d have diverging ideas about him, but he gives me hope for a movement I can link arms with here in this time to see the Kingdom come. Check it out if you’re interested. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTtRk8np7S4&feature=youtu.be

Finding a spiritual ‘home’ stateside

Confronted by violence

Audible gasps at what was taking place outside filled the cafe which was occupied by people enjoying a rare Friday off work. Wretched from their conversations by an act of violence, rather a reminder of one from thousands of years ago, horrific and excruciating. I felt it too as I saw the crowd slowly entering my periphery carrying two heavy lumps of wood joined together as an instrument of torture and death. Sat here, fully intending to use this time to reflect on the reason for today, a stark reminder forced itself upon me.

I sat here as a fellow onlooker, not as a participant, feeling a bit like the estranged child. Even in my distance, this very morning I forced my focus on the cross with a bloodied, battered Jesus, feeling like a bystander more than a disciple. Surely those who weren’t heckling must have been deeply disturbed by witnessing such an act, much as those who have seen an act of violence on the street have felt. I wondered if I had a right to grieve today, the right to feel that guilt that Good Friday carries with it. After all, I’m not one walking the street, carrying the cross.

Then I remembered that recent moment when my husband told me about a friend who took his life. We hadn’t spoke in a few years and never were close, but news of his death hit home and made me cry. I was upset for what he had been through, what had driven him to take his life, how that would impact his family and close friends. I felt like a bystander, rocked by the emotion of such a violent act that felt a bit personal. And I can’t say I questioned the rightness of my emotions so why in this case today, where I remember that someone was martyred, suicide with a cause, on the behalf of a messed up humanity, individually and systemically.

It’s right that my satellite soul which will always orbit around my faith, however flawed, weak or unapparent it might be on the outside, should feel the grief over such a loss. It is shocking. It is horrific. It was done, this act of passion, with a heavenly womb full of everlasting hope. Hope that reminds me today on this bleak depressing holiday, while I sip my coffee, that the violence will lose. All the horror and shock and injustice will be rolled away by hope and life.

I can’t imagine what I would feel as those women who gathered at the foot of the cross while Jesus drew that last breath. The devastation of that is something I can’t allow myself to feel because mentally I just couldn’t take it. Thank heaven I exist in the passage of time that I can see the hope more strongly than the despair, though that veil be thick.

Though we be confronted by violence, may we be met with hope. May it brace us for those instances where we are confronted by love when love is painful and makes us feel so vulnerable.

Confronted by violence

Hope, in Spite of: American Evangelicalism, Trump ‘change’ and a cruise ship of self-righteousness (let me welcome you aboard)*

Wednesday: I woke up ahead of my 4am alarm, fully expecting to see the first woman President-elect be announced. I was greeted instead with electoral college numbers that didn’t look like they ‘should have.’ Immediately I started sobbing, for the first time in my life, over an election.

I was raised in a fully red-blooded family and my first act of political rebellion was to register as Independent. I held mostly Republican values but refused labels (not realising that Independent was an actual political party, rather than a fancy word for ‘other’). It wasn’t until going to Bible College where students were encouraged to register to vote locally that I switched to Republican thanks to what I felt was a hard guilt trip that being anything else made me less Christian, as did my tattoos and wearing a Santa hat at Christmas. Seriously, that happened.

Living abroad since 2004, you could say Europe has liberalized me, and that may be true to a degree, but ultimately life has made me a more liberally minded person, seeing beyond the individual’s rights across what I feel to be a more holistic vantage point of what matters (more than just one or two issues, or personal liberty, that is). You may hear that as arrogant and judgemental, which is something I’ve been most of my life regardless of my political persuasion. It’s a personality flaw and I am working on it. What I am trying to say is that living outside of the USA has made me more self aware and it has also made me a better person which has influenced my political outlook (that sentence is only about me, not about you if you feel slammed by it).

I struggle to identify with any political party, but I knew that once Trump won the Republican party nomination there was one party I was wholly against this Presidential election. Part of me wants to say that what he has done and said in his past is unforgivable, but that is totally out of line with my belief that everyone is worthy of love, acceptance and redemption. What I think I really believe is that his ongoing comments, deceit and inexcusable positions have left me convinced that his character is not one which I trust to hold the highest position of office in the states and I believe he will put lives at risk globally on a scale we haven’t seen – not even in Bush’s time when I felt completely threatened as an American living abroad.

Does that mean I trust Hillary? Not entirely, no. I don’t trust politicians any further than I’d hope to be able to throw them (boy would I like to try) and she is not the exception. But to me, her presidency would be another in the course of politics as usual, not more dangerous, not more controversial, but under-girded by a lot of experience, good and bad. With the exception that I would be able to say that she is a woman. And I like that. Women should have the same opportunity to be as corrupt as the rest of them – so, I voted for her (and I do lean more towards her platform these days, with some policy exceptions).

So there I sat, looking at these numbers, knowing full well that people want change, and I believe that to be good… but Trump? You can keep your Trump change. The changes he has built his platform on are not the types of changes anybody that I know who bleeds red really want. I can’t believe that of them. These are people I love and trust. I can’t label these folks the way I would label Trump. So my heart broke because this guy espousing these horrific things is the top choice over a bog standard politician who happens to be a woman. I cried, and then I got angry. I’m still vacillating between the two.

In the vein of this righteous/self-righteous anger, I shared an image on social media to stir the pot. It was an illustration of Trump grabbing the crotch of lady liberty. It was so vulgar, so offensive, and it speaks to me loudly that this is what people have voted for. Not only for the violation of women (among many other people groups) but for the violation of liberty. Empowering a hateful thug. I knew it would offend my Christian network before anyone else. And that’s precisely why I shared it- to call out the hypocrisy that it could be okay to vote for someone who has committed heinous actions, uttered disgusting and mocking words and called for terrible things to happen to a variety of people groups and individuals. He has incited hate and that is NEVER a Christian value.

How could this image be more offensive and a worse Christian witness than giving such power to someone who actually does this stuff in real life?

Christians may believe that this is the course the nation needs to take in order to change, and fair enough, I’ve had a gut feeling that Trump would win and it would take America down the path it has reaped. Do I believe that God has ordained that someone with such heinous views against God’s own creation should lead the nation? Not the God I know. God is permissive, not controlling. Besides (and without getting into a theological discussion here), even if God said ‘hey this is gonna happen’, it does not mean that we have to get on board with violating every principle of Biblical ethics and Christ-likeness to validate such a course. What will be will be. Popular belief on the antichrist is that Christians should not follow or receive the seal of this individual, yet it will come to pass. And that’s why I believe the wool has been pulled over American Evangelical Christians’ eyes politically. It is at odds with God.

In riding this out a few days before writing a heated diatribe, I can also see that some may feel the same about my vote for Hillary. Perhaps her ethics are so at odds with some Christian’s understanding of God that I sit in the same boat as those who voted for Trump, according to my critique. I humbly accept this. I’m not entirely sure I believe it, but I accept it is possible that I too am floating on this sinking ship.

And this is where I’ve come to have even more respect for conscientious abstainers – those who refused to vote for either candidate rather than settle for something anti-Christ. I’ve seen red-blooded Republican family refuse to throw their hat in with Trump and certainly refuse to lump in with Hillary, and so possibly for the first time in their lives they refused to vote on the Presidential ticket. I’ve also seen anarchist friends, many Christian, who have said this is not their system and they refuse to lend it credibility. And I believe these two groups that didn’t swallow the blue pill are the ones who have taken the high road. I wonder how many of the 40%+ who didn’t vote this cycle fit into that box, not being apathetic by any means, and why aren’t their voices being sought out? How can we hear from them, the truly silent minority?

I am angry and I am sad. But I do have hope. Not hope for a Trump presidency but hope IN SPITE OF a Trump presidency. We, the people, together for the better of one another – not for a system or a party or a President. Trump will never make America great again. I’m not entirely sure what that even looks like to begin with, but by listening to our neighbour (different and similar) and throwing our weight behind them to see them succeed, we will all succeed wildly.

*Please note that I have written this post primarily to my Christian readers. There are relevant ideas for everyone, but please don’t let my language put you off if you don’t fit that description

Comments welcome, but if they get rude or inflammatory I will not approve them.

Hope, in Spite of: American Evangelicalism, Trump ‘change’ and a cruise ship of self-righteousness (let me welcome you aboard)*

New blog! Journeying through the Christian Calendar

I’ve learnt, mostly thanks to this adventure of parenthood, that we humans are hard-wired for routine, both diurnally and seasonally. Being from southern California where the seasons are slight (I enjoy celebrating Christmas in a tank top and flip flops at the beach, thank you very much), seasons aren’t something to which I’m accustomed. We seldom benefited from a true rainy season even. Santa Ana dry winds and heat versus milder overcast days are what have forged my weather (in)tolerance for the most part.

Britain has introduced me to changes in weather, trees colouring then losing their leaves in a noticeable manner, distinct differences in light levels, and yet even here the seasons aren’t dramatic. Even so, I’ve come to identify more with annual changes both in myself and in the world around me. Come spring my body begins to unfurl like a new shoot, reaching towards every minute of sunlight (past 7am at any rate; I do not approve of 4:30am sunrise any time of year), feeling that invitation to grow more and achieve more in the long days. Winter can send me reeling a bit with the draw to the indoors, yet this has been helped by an energetic child who needs fresh air every day possible.

We can reflect on our days, when we work best, when we begin to tire. Times for creativity and times for hard labour. As a woman I can see changes in my monthly energy cycle and where I can best channel my efforts either looking towards a creative week or a more reflective few days. As a Mom I see these cycles most clearly on a minute scale from my child. She is a schedule stickler.

We’ve come to protect sleep times as otherwise the fallout is dangerous and has a knock-on effect for days to follow. We learned early on that children respond best to routine as they feel comfort in knowing what to expect next. When changes approach they need fair warning. I thought I’d be much more of a hippie free spirit when it came to parenting but she has taught me that there can be freedom in structure.

What’s the point. One of my biggest struggles for my whole life and most definitely on a spiritual level for the last few years since I’ve begun sharing my life with one other and now two other humans, has been discipline with my time. Spiritually this has meant that I’m feeling rather disconnected from the larger community of Jesus followers as I am particularly wired for community when spiritual practices are in question, struggling with an individualistic or personal faith, and also that I feel a disconnect with God. It’s been further impaired by being unable to find a church group where I have felt I could fully dig myself in for a variety of reasons.

My church background is varied. I’m a great friend of and critic of the church. As a community of people owning up to their own brokenness and enveloping others who have that same realisation, brilliant. As an institution of power, not so much. I grew up in an American Baptist church where my fondest memories are of the youth group which I got into nothing but trouble with and of the assistant pastor during my childhood who always gave me gum. I quit going to church when I was 16, basically as soon as I could get out of it, then I returned when I was 18 and my boyfriend started treatment for an aggressive cancer. You probably could have knocked my Mom over with a feather when I asked her to buy me a Bible. What I received was a lilac women’s devotional Bible. I marked it up most memorably when I read Paul’s seemingly misogynistic comments about women and that there would be no sea in heaven. Way to insult an aspiring marine biologist and opinionated woman. Again, future post.

In university I started going to an ’emergent church’ service which was part of a rather Baptisty congregation. People danced a bit and moved. They clapped. I could close my eyes and see angels, it was so fresh and gave me so much hope that following Jesus could be creative, fresh and fun. Unfortunately my college friends left when the annually cyclical nature of the messages became a bit tiresome, and they went to a Reformed congregation which could not be more different. It was staunchly Calvinist, violently homophobic, obsessed with having answers to prove our faith. Ah, yes and women were to remain perfectly silent, except perhaps for in childbirth which they seemed to think you should definitely partake in. It was the homophobia that sent me running for the hills when they laughed about a local gay-welcoming church burning down. I went to the next most obvious place: a charismatic megachurch congregation an hour away.

I was the least positive person in history about spiritual gifts including tongues and healing. It offended every inch of me, even though I had dabbled in witchcraft as a teen and welcomed spiritual manifestations like this where that was involved. It took time to break down my walls and open me up to something like this happening in a church and in Jesus’ name. Eventually I came around and spent the next several years seeing legit miracles and a lot of hype which I fell for hook line and sinker. Then humans worked their own dis-miracles on me and my entire construct of church crumbled. The pain of betrayal,fakery and harsh judgementalism rocked my faith, coupled with burnout thanks to some personal stuff which the church did not help me through and my exhausting efforts to assemble a bunch of wounded Christians who hated church but loved Jesus. And here we are.

What you might notice has not featured in my spiritual practices is tradition or liturgy. I could tell you, of course when it was Easter and Christmas, otherwise every day was the same. We had our own routines in church services but they seemed more spontaneous than scripted (although most were in fact quite timetabled). I could not get my head around sitting in a service and saying the same words each and every week or singing, God forbid, prayers from some heavy book. Now, I can see the poetry in it, and I can sense the comfort of the expected. My last two churches have been a crazy, fairly liberal Anglican church with an incredible sensation of peace and a fairly ethnically and theologically diverse United Reformed Church. Both welcome you with service sheets full of prayers and responses.

I’m not sold 100% on the rigid liturgy of these churches as they impose a hierarchy on who can do and say what when. They don’t allow everyone to contribute equally and on the spot. But there’s room for premeditated worship in my heart now. Knowing people through the ages have said the same words and that someone will say those words in another language on the same day bring me joy and that connectivity I’ve been missing. I just wish there was a contemplative, charismatic, left-leaning church for me and my like-minded pals. Too bad we’re rather scattered or we could form one.

This brings me to the crux of the post today. Finding myself a bit lost in the scale of the year, aside from the warm sun on my back, I am lacking the fluid connection to the larger gospel story as celebrated year-round. This is not something I’ve ever been good at. Lent? What the heck is that?! Do not, I repeat, DO NOT touch my chocolate! Pancake day? Sounds good to me, but what is the story behind it? I can’t help but feel that I’m being robbed of a reflective and mighty tool to keep me woven into the story of Christ and Christians throughout history and worldwide by not observing the seasons of the Christian Calendar. I am human, and therefore I am habitual, governed by seasons, by the sun and the moon.

So for the next year I’m going to endeavour, hopefully not too pitiably, to follow the Christian Calendar and to blog about it. I hope to explore it in relation to my spirituality, to creativity, to womanhood, to activism and whatever else tickles my fancy when the time strikes. I’d like to invite you to join me. Follow these new adventures via my new blog which I’m drawing a complete blank on for a creative title… vickieschellert.wordpress.com. I feel all grown up and exposed having a blog bearing my actual name! Please follow me on over and let’s see where this goes!

New blog! Journeying through the Christian Calendar

Beyond Sunday School

The thought of Sunday School for me evokes memories of white-skinned flannel figures wearing robes and cloths over their heads hung on a board perched haphazardly on a wooden stand. We children would gather around and look at the figures moving around the board stiffly as the teacher gave us a lesson based on some Bible verse or story. Zacchaeus would haunch over in a tree, Jesus would hold his hands to the sky, Paul would always look wise with his grey long beard. Did I mention they were all white? I also vaguely recall making crafts though I could not detail what was made nor what it represented even once. A lasting impression Sunday School left on me: an impression that it was boring and I’d rather have been sleeping.

There was a BBC documentary not long ago looking at the history of feminism (a subject that would have undoubtedly been derided within the walls of my former Sunday School, given their theology on the subject), visiting societal happenings involving women within Britain over the course of the years, touching on slavery, suffrage, representation and outright women’s rights. The presenter visited a working town set up in the Midlands in the 1800s or so where the workers spent long days in one mill or another, starting employment at an early age. The presenter began to tell of a woman whose name escapes me now who set up a society to ensure that children were granted an education during the great Victorian era of charity. From the presenter’s point of view, while it was not a strike for women’s rights intentionally, the organiser and the other women involved in this community activism made gains for the rest of us as they began to step out of the shadow of their husbands, to become figureheads in communities and social classes. They were empowered themselves as they began to perform charity for the poor around them.

The presenter, obviously not coming from a church background herself or just not that interested for the purposes of this documentary, didn’t dwell long on the ins and outs of these charitable organisations, however, she did make mention that these schools were the beginnings of Sunday School. The thought had never once occurred to me what the history of dull flannel graphs might be, but as a person greatly interested in the social justice side of my Christian faith and that of the church as a whole I found this provoking, particularly given my misgivings about Sunday School.

Sunday Schools were put into place as a means to educate an illiterate public of poor working class children and adults. It did have at its heart the aim of creating a more ‘moral society’ as people would learn from the scriptures themselves and cultivating ‘Christian behaviour’ was to be part of the classes, so there was a strong agenda of conversion which I’m personally not all that keen on given the way it’s been abused in the past and presently (homeless people should never have to sit through a sermon in order to eat). However, a new endeavour as set up by Jesus-followers to ensure that every individual is granted the access to knowledge equally is powerful in my estimation. It evokes in my mind the Genesis story where God puts Adam and Eve in a garden with a multitude of trees to eat from, perhaps here representing paths of life-giving choices they could make. They were also offered the opportunity to throw it all away and take a (mis)adventure into the unknown. They were given equal access to each choice, and Sunday School as originally established also gave children and adults who were never granted an education the opportunity to have more choice in life. It’s beautiful, it’s hopeful, and it’s risky. Unlike modern Sunday School, by the way.

Let’s ditch Sunday School as we know it. Not to recreate some whimsical, formulaic achievement from our past, but to achieve something greater.

May the church remember its spirit of adventure in investing itself fully and hopefully in the lives of others. May the church embrace creativity rather than stifling and boxed-in religious practices. May the church find new and exciting ways again to release the world we are part of from oppression, whether through giving us all equal access to knowledge and truth or doing something else equally empowering, both for the deliverers of such charity and recipients alike.

Beyond Sunday School

On orbitting & Ghosts of blog posts past

Outer Banks, Duck, NC
On furlough, enjoying the Outer Banks, Duck, NC

I’ve struggled with getting back onto the blogging wagon here after far too long of a lapse. I’ll make my excuses about depression, writer’s block and a baby turned toddler monster, then let’s move on.

I’ve always blogged as a way to get stuff out of my system. I’ve always enjoyed writing what’s in my brain and on my heart as a way of processing stuff and getting rants off my chest. Looking back, I’ve had this blog for over 5 years now and what a long fraught and exciting road it’s been. Here we go on another turn into 2015.

Having sat down at this cafe on Tottenham Court Road, my coffee already drained dry, I fully intended on spending a few hours writing either creatively, reactively or therapeutically. Whatever comes, comes. I’m very judgmental of what I write before it even comes out which is such a shame. Don’t do that, ever. Just let what your impaired or full or bouncing with joy mind say what it needs to say. There’s always the ‘save as draft’ option.

What I’ve found myself doing over the last couple hours isn’t what I expected. I was curious how long Inked Eskimo had been going so I looked back at its start to January 2009. I’m pretty sure I imported the older posts from my previous platform and that there were more before even that which didn’t make the move somehow. At any rate, what I found was my 32-year-old newlywed self speaking to me deeply. Encouraging and challenging me. Reminding me of what it was like to have existed in a place that was full of hurt, confusion, early burnout and poverty and yet to be so full of hope and faith. It was a time when I could talk about God openly, share my faith as well as my doubts, and know because of what I’ve experienced of the supernatural operating via wonderful and equally struggling friends who had rescued me time and time again, that everything would be okay as God was with me.

Nowadays I view such talk as mindless and dull. Irritating. Yet my younger self was able to knock on my door thanks to what I wrote about miracle rent payments, being dragged out of bed during fits of depression by my wonderful husband (who is the best picture of Jesus I know), small glimpses of colour and grace courtesy of simple crafting projects, and dialogues with socialists near the time of the bend in my political leanings. I’ve been reminded of truths thanks to this blog.

I recently returned from a 3 month furlough back in the states in pursuit of finding my place in this world: USA, UK, vocationally, emotionally. One thing I came up with is that I need to get on with writing myself back home. I’ve always been a writer, though on most days I certainly don’t feel like it. I’d rather catch up on Lost episodes because I’m already like 10 years behind and can’t stand to wait any longer. But what today has shown me is that maybe it’s not always writing ourselves home that matters but seeing what we’ve already done to create a pathway home for ourselves. Or maybe I’m just wandering around in circles. Perhaps that’s it – our lives are orbits, circling something central to truth and hope. Sometimes our orbit is closer to this truth and sometimes it’s further away, a bit like seasons. Our orbits differ in speed, shape and size and that’s perfectly okay. Our orbits will intersect, sometimes leading to explosions, terrific gravitational pull, or just a glimpse of something different and inspiring as we catch the dust of another passing planet.

On orbitting & Ghosts of blog posts past