Voices of Hope – March 26th 2019

The Healing Power of God’s Love (Part 2) – “Be Still” by the Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain

Andrew Foreshew-Cain

This verse has been my constant companion throughout my whole life of Christian faith.

I found it, or it found me, leaping out from the pages of my Bible when I was deeply unhappy in my first year at University.

It has grown into me over the years and it calls me back to the deep, profound stillness, and the quiet strong undeniable presence of God in our lives.  It doesn’t speak over or try to drown out the hurt and confusion and pain of life’s events, and there have been plenty in the following years.

Instead it simply places before us the fundamental truth of God, and invites us into silence, to stop in the frantic movements of whatever it is that is filling our minds with distress and allows us to breathe, to focus and to remember, to KNOW, that God is God, and we are God’s.

It doesn’t try to explain, it doesn’t try to excuse, it doesn’t blame or demand of us something that we cannot do. It just calls us back to the memory that we may have lost in our struggles and offers some respite.

Afterwards the struggle will almost certainly remain, and there will be actions to be taken but for me it has always given me a breathing space and helped place things in a wider context and the deeper reality of the Divine.

If you need to do so today, make some time to pray it, and sit with it. You will be strengthened for what lies ahead.

A Prayer

Loving Lord, call me from busyness and worry to the still centre of your divine peace. Hold me when life is troubled and overwhelming, and let me know what you know, that you are God, I am yours and all is well.

Amen

Tomorrow – Ann Reddecliffe, “Listening for Love”, 1 John 4: 7 – 8

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Voices of Hope – March 25th 2019

“The Healing Power of Love” (Part 1) – “Under the Shadow of God’s Wings” by the Revd Hannah Cartwright

Hannah Cartwright

Like many of my LGBTQI+ siblings, I have spent much of my life in the shadows; belonging neither to the world of extravagant pride in the uniqueness of my embodied personhood, nor to the world of easy acceptance as a person who ‘passes’ for a ‘straight cis-gender woman’.

It has been easier at times for me to hide in the shadows to avoid answering difficult questions. For many, the shadows are associated with being a place of shame, but there are also many examples in the Bible (most notably in the psalms) where the shadow of God is a place of safety, comfort, refuge and rest.

The psalmist in Psalm 63: 7 praises God for being their help, and delights that under the shadow of God’s wing, they can, at last, rejoice.

LGBTQI+ Christians are well aware that living under the shadow of social oppression, the assumptions of others or the unjust expectation to conform to a hetero-normative church and society, can lead to poor mental health, a sense of spiritual desolation and profound hurt. However, to live in the shadow of God’s wing, is to be covered by the shade and protection of the God who, like a mother-hen, gathers her children lovingly into her embrace, shields them and holds them close to her heart.

God has a history of subverting the seemingly desolate places in which we find ourselves and enabling them to instead become places of huge spiritual growth, where faith is both birthed and forged, and in which, we can discover the truth of our God-given personhood; realised most-fully in the embrace of Christ’s love.

My firm hope is that, one day, the only shadow any child of God will ever live under, is the wing of The Almighty. Then will be the day that we can all sing songs of joy.

A Prayer

May the wing of the Loving God bring you strength and protection,
May Their shadow shield you from the heat of injustice;
May Their embrace be your help and comfort in times of need;
May Their delight in you help you see yourself through Their eyes;
May Their faithfulness give you cause to sing for joy;
And may you rest a while in safety as They nestle you close to Their heart.

Amen

Tomorrow – the Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain, “Be Still”, Psalm 46: 10

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Voices of Hope – March 23rd 2019

“Created in God’s Image” (Part 6) – “The Best Bolly” by Canon Robert Hammond

Robert Hammond

Isn’t it strange that we often keep precious things in fragile containers?

Great Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne wines costing thousands of pounds are stored in glass bottles offering no protection if dropped and smashed. Of course, the treasure we have, ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ is far more precious than any Pomerol, Gevrey Chambertin or even Dom Perignon.

But where is that treasure kept? The answer is “in us” – perplexed, persecuted and afflicted people.

Many of us who are LGBTI will have felt some of those emotions and feelings during our Christian lives. Perplexed by being sure of who we are and while sure of our total acceptance by God, constantly being told by some of the church we must repent of the sin of being who we are.

Persecuted by many in a church that seems to see LGBTI people as a threat, not a gift to be opened, celebrated and used for Christ’s purposes.  Afflicted by feelings of not being good enough, straight enough, Christian enough.

We are like clay jars; hand made by a skilled craftsman, beautifully decorated, filled with an amazingly precious treasure.

But we can be broken and that treasure spill out and evaporate.

As LGBTI Christians it must be our role to be that beautiful clay jar, keeping that treasure in the best condition, opening ourself so others can experience it, and not allow ourselves to be broken by those who want to drop and smash us.

A Prayer

Heavenly Father,

You crafted us in your image, as a potter creates beautiful jars, to be containers for the treasure that is the light and power of Jesus Christ.

Give us this Lent the strength not to be broken by those who do not understand us but to be strong and resilient for the sake of your Gospel; a message of hope and salvation to us all.

Amen

Next week – a series of reflections on “The Healing Power of Love”

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Voices of Hope – March 22nd 2019

“Created in God’s Image” (Part 5) – “No More Shame” by the Revd Dr Tina Beardsley

Tina Beardsley

These verses came alive for me in 1989: a momentous year. In May the first breach of the Iron Curtain occurred in Hungary. In November the Wall dividing East and West Berliners for thirty years began to be demolished. That November the protective walls I’d erected around my gender identity were also breached, in answer to prayer, though I didn’t realise that’s what I was praying for!

There were two factors.

I’d been ordained in 1978 into a Church of England with no official policy on gay people, let alone trans people. My theological college principal, bishop and training incumbent, all knew I had a male partner, Rob (from 2007 my husband).

It wasn’t a problem – apparently.

But then, in 1989, General Synod debated sexuality and decided it was. I was also grieving the death of a mentor. And my life slipped out of control.

So, I prayed, more earnestly than I’d ever done before for myself.

A few days later, I woke in the early hours with these words formed in my mind: ‘God loves me, including the fact that I’m gay.’ I believed I had to say them in my sermon the following day, which I did. A few days later, a parishioner praised me for coming out: ‘It’s a great role model to see a gay man in a caring profession.’

Immediately, I said to myself: ‘But I never said I was a man!’

Coming out publicly about the gender I’m attracted to, began a journey of self-acceptance about my gender identity. It was indeed an answer to prayer. Gender variance, like variant sexual orientation, has attracted so much shame and stigma. But from then on, I felt loved by God, in my sexuality and my gender identity, and knew I must no longer feel ashamed.

A Prayer

Gracious God, your love breaks down walls of partition, including those we build within ourselves. When our defences crumble, and we feel exposed, may we trust that your love will reach us, at the core of our being, to banish shame and stigma and make us agents of your kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

Tomorrow – Canon Robert Hammond, “The Best Bolly!”, 2 Cor 4:7

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Voices of Hope – March 21st 2019

“Created in God’s Image” (Part 4) – “Healing & Hope” by Philip Baldwin

Philip Baldwin

The story of the Healing of the Centurion’s Servant is central to my understanding of faith and sexuality. It is also one that has often nourished and sustained me through periods of hardship.

I came out as gay in my mid teens and then discovered Christianity in my mid-twenties, following an HIV diagnosis. St John’s in Waterloo was the first church I began to attend regularly. It is headed by Giles Goddard, who has played a central role in advocating for LGBT people within the Church of England.

Giles loaned me his copy of Jeffrey John’s The Meaning in the Miracles, in which Jeffrey superbly analyses the role of the centurion and his servant. Through his miracles, Jesus sought to include those previously excluded within the love of the Church. The centurion describes his servant as “very dear to him” (Luke 7.2). When this man gets gravely ill, the centurion is so concerned that he asks Jesus to intervene.

Seen in the appropriate Greco-Roman context, the centurion and his servant were almost certainly lovers. Ancient history is full of such liaisons, most notably Hadrian and Antinous. In my view, the inference that the centurion and his servant were in a romantic relationship would have been clear to Jesus and to early readers of the gospels.

I have never experienced any conflict between my faith and my sexuality and Jeffrey’s analysis of these verses reinforced that view. I can see reflections of my own life in the Healing of the Centurion’s servant and hope, one day, to have a committed monogamous relationship, celebrated through marriage in a Church of England church.

I hope and pray that wherever you are, whatever you are going through, that you too might know that Jesus is interested in reaching out to you – that He actively seeks out those on the margins, and that He has time and interest in each and every one of us.

A Prayer

“Lord, we are all gloriously made in Your image to live and love as we choose. Give us strength in the face of homophobia, even when this comes from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us find places of worship where we are accepted, can prosper and grow into the individuals You would like us to be, free from shame.”

Amen

Tomorrow – the Revd Dr Christina Beardsley, “No More Shame”, Psalm 34 : 4 – 5

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Voices of Hope – March 20th 2019

“Created in God’s Image” (Part 3) – “Wonderfully Made” by Sara Gillingham

Sara Gillingham

I was born with variations in sex characteristics, otherwise known as intersex traits. Alongside 1.7% of the population I was born with a variation in genitals, chromosomes or gonads that does not fit into the typical understanding of what it is to be male or female. Whilst for much of my life I did not fully understand the truth of my embodiment which was hidden from me through cosmetic surgeries I received as a child, I did know my body was somehow different and not to be spoken about.

For many years I cried out to God for strength and comfort, as I struggled with loneliness, depression and anxiety that resulted less from the non-consensual surgeries, but from the silence and resulting stigma. It is the secrecy that was so depilating, as I assumed my body was something to be ashamed of and not something to be celebrated.

This Psalm is my prayer that has taken me on a journey from shame and unknowing, to one of self-acceptance and understanding. Even when I did not know myself how my body was knitted together, God did. I was never a mystery to God, who caught me when I fell. I rejoice that I am made me in God’s own image.

Everyone one of us, regardless of sex, gender or sexuality, is truly wonderfully made.

The love of God strengthens us all, empowering us to release ourselves from the bondage of secrecy and stigma. We can all stand tall and celebrate our bodies, gender, sexuality and faith, with both pride and confidence.

Thanks be to God.

A Prayer

Omnipresent God, open our eyes to the beauty of all Your creation. We thank you for knitting us together, fearfully and wonderfully made. When we stumble strengthen our Faith, so we can feel Your presence and the lifting of our burdens.

Amen

Tomorrow – Philip Baldwin, , “Healing & Hope”, Luke 7: 6-7

 

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Voices of Hope – March 19th 2019

“Created in God’s Image” (Part 2) – “Flesh of My Flesh” by the Revd Neil Patterson

Neil Patterson

It may seem odd that I should turn to part of the passage which for many Christians is foundational to their understanding of God’s plan to create men and women as complementary and different, much less that I should cite it as a source of support in difficult times.  Without going into the subtleties of the Hebrew around gender in this and preceding verses, though, you can see that the sentiment of the verse is universal. 

God recognises that the creature he has made is formed for company, for partnership, and that he needs to provide.  I spent several years living with the reality that it was not good to be alone, and with the fear that my ongoing singleness was making me a more selfish and insular person. 

But I trusted that God knew that, and had a plan.

The allied verse is the man’s response to meeting the partner God has provided. If you are gay, the words have even greater power, because the person you meet is crucially the same (gender) and the same (sexuality) – truly and wonderfully a match.

And when I met David, as well as all that, I found that God had enabled me to meet someone who shared a great range of my eccentric interests.  And like so many people falling in love, we began a never-ending conversation about all the things that are central to our lives.

I shared this thought about Genesis 2 with the triplet of others in the Shared Conversations that happened at General Synod in 2016, and although I don’t think I changed his mind on the wider issue, the more conservative of my two interlocutors took in that this really was what the text meant to me.  ‘Hmm, that’s new learning’ is the response I remember.

Long may we all look for new learning together in the Scriptures.

A Prayer

Lord God who made us for companionship with others and with you, strengthen our trust in your plans for us and help us to be open to love with integrity at all times, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

Tomorrow – Sara Gillingham, “Wonderfully Made”, Psalm 139: 13-14

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