More thoughts on inclusivity
by a member of the congregation
As I was grew up, church and God did not feel inclusive. I can remember praying - at age seven - that I would love God for himself and not because I was afraid of going to hell. There seemed to be this great divide between those who were in and those who were out. This was terrifying, although there were more positive aspects to my faith as well.
As a teenager I went to a fundamentalist, charismatic church. This made a very deep impression on me during my teen years which I have battled with ever since. To be a Christian and 'saved' you had to believe in a literal interpretation of the bible, a seven day creation etc. You also had to be baptised in the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues, prophecy and agree with everything the church said. There were many altar calls to give you the chance to repent and be saved.
Again there was this division between those who were in and saved and those who were outside and damned. There was a lot of kindness in the church as well - nothing is straightforwardly black and white.
I never achieved the gifts that others did. I felt uncomfortable, although at this stage I did not challenge anything - as a young person I wanted more than anything to be accepted and I had no other view with which to challenge what was presented to me.
As I grew older I moved away from this type of church, but fear and the division of whether you were in or out remained a dominant part of my idea of God. Eventually, during a time of difficulty, and with the help of others, I started to challenge my earlier experiences.
A friend said to me; "You can't toss an old habit out of the window, you have to coax it down the stairs, one step at a time". So I started a long process of challenging deeply ingrained habits of thought - which still continues.
I came across people, events and books that began to give me an alternative view of a more inclusive accepting God. I will give two examples;
Listening to Dom Henry Wansbrough, translator of the New Jerusalem Bible. He clearly did not believe in a literal interpretation of the bible. He saw the bible as a 'library', consisting of books expressing an essential truth through many different literary styles. He appeared to me to be alive and full of integrity - he did not appear to me to be damned.
Reading words written by Teilhard de Chardin, again someone with integrity, expressing a very different view of God. At one point he writes; "You have told me, Oh God, to believe in hell. But you have forbidden me to think of any man as damned".
Books were very important; 'God of surprises' by Gerard Hughes, 'The true wilderness' by H. A. Williams are but two of many.
The old fear is hard to shift. I still find reading the bible frightening and tend to read 'around it'. At the moment I am reading a lot of Esther De Waal.
Paradoxically, as I experience more of an inclusive, accepting God, I feel increasingly challenged to look at and change the minutiae of my life. But it feels very different from the atmosphere of my childhood. Jim Cotter translates a verse from psalm 50 thus;
"You thunder so fiercely in love for us, you whisper so gently in judgement".