Friday, 29 May 2015


Let’s take a step back.

I gave the Alpha Course a lousy rating in my previous posts. Yet the Alpha website says 27 million people have participated in courses across 169 countries. Those charismatic folk must be getting something right for a lot of people.

Why didn’t it work for me? Was it my spiritual or intellectual arrogance? Probably a good dose of both. 

Early on in my spiritual journey I underwent a Myers Briggs personality type assessment and emerged as an ‘ENTJ’. Referred to as field marshals we are said to have a natural tendency to marshal and direct. This may be expressed with the charm and finesse of a world leader or with the insensitivity of a cult leader.

In retrospect, I got far more out of Alpha than I appreciated at the time. For starters there were always questions to take back to my spiritual director, an irreverent woman with a great sense of humour. 

 As counterpoint she introduced me to Henri Nouwen who took theology out of my head and planted it in my heart. He helped me understand that I’d embarked on a lifelong relational journey, not a God 101 Course.

I was fascinated by the Dutch priest, professor, psychologist, theologian and social activist. A prolific author, he had a hectic schedule and was a sought after public speaker. Then he felt called to join a community where people with developmental disabilities live with assistants. 

 For 10 years he served as resident priest at L’Arche Daybreak near Toronto in Canada. Most importantly he was Adam’s assistant, spending up to two hours a day dressing, feeding, bathing, and shaving the severely disabled young man. It was time spent in meditation that yielded wonderful spiritual insights. Nouwen said he learned more about the spiritual life from his friends in L’Arche, than he had ever learned in classes of theology and psychology.

Henri Nouwen and Gord, a L’Arche resident, became friends. They travelled together to speaking engagements and their core message was ‘just open your heart’.

Fr Nouwen and others like Thomas Merton and Gerald Hughes helped me to understand that I’d embarked on an intensely personal relational journey. I stopped looking to Church to do the work. At best it was a supportive structure. One that offered me the sacraments, teachings and what had become invaluable fellowship. On that basis it didn’t have to be perfect.

Just as well. I was becoming increasingly aware of its quirks. As Alpha drew to a close someone in my group mentioned that it was okay to for gays to become priests as long as they didn’t have sex. I laughed. 

Then I learned that this wasn’t just an ‘Alpha’ thing. I got the same response elsewhere. It was official Church policy!
My pre-churchfriends were just as bemused. We all wondered if the married priests and bishops, who were presumably enjoying their conjugal rights, had any concept of what was being asked of gay clergy. Did they really believe that healthy humans with no vocational call to celibacy would feel obliged to obey?

Years later a married Anglican friend shared that he’d given up sex for Lent and nearly ended up wrapping his Merc around a tree. It proves my point.

Besides, the same exponents of celibacy for gay priests would often righteously opine that the reason the Catholics were having problems with paedophilia was that they didn’t allow their priests to marry.

No, I’m not lesbian although I suspect some people in my village think I am - as an in-house joke, my son calls me ‘Dad’. It’s a play on ‘Father Loraine.’ But I have counselled too many good Christians who have gone to hell and back wrestling with their sexuality. The official Anglican stance on same-sex relationships was and still is an issue that bothers me greatly.

When the Irish recently made history by voting for same-sex marriage the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin declared that the Church needed ‘a reality check’. I agree but I suspect we differ on what that reality is.

Comments are welcome.


sunflowers and khakibush said...

It's like saying, it's ok to have food in the fridge, as long as you don't eat it, or a car in your garage, as long as you don't drive it. How crazy is that! The sad thing is tho, that plenty of people think like this. I think many people miss the whole point about being a follower of Jesus. The only people Jesus was hard on were the religious leaders of that time. I like to think that Jesus is much more loving than many Christians are. The fundamentalists in the Southern states of America would cause Jesus to turn in his grave. Btw, I also did the Myers Briggs thing some years ago and came out as an ENFP - The Inspirer. Hmmmm!

Peter Nickles said...

Your best yet! Thankyou.