A hearty group of us met at Holland House for the Spring Conference Friday evening activity led by Brian Smith stated with a set of breathing exercises designed to get our lungs working to capacity, sending a good supply of oxygen to our brains to prepare us for the main event.
We were split into three groups for role play which would see two of the groups bidding for a grant in front of the third group who would allocate the money depending on how each group put forward their case. Time was given for each group to prepare. Each person was given the added ‘advantage’ of having a label stuck to their forehead bearing an attribute good or bad such as ‘reliable’, ‘meticulous’, ‘liar’ or ‘stupid’!
The person was unaware of their label but could see the others, and in the course of discussion (without actually naming the word) was encouraged to guess and then adopt the said attribute. Each group appointed a chair who would put forward the case at the public meeting supported by the others. At the public meeting the grants committee questioned the two groups to ascertain whether to grant the money or not. Seriousness and laughter intermingled as the process of examining bids unfolded. Tension was raised as the awards committee ‘worked hard and long through the night’!! The result was not announced until breakfast the next morning.
The Conference was the speaker’s life experience. For many years Jeremy Marks led ‘Courage’, an ex-gay ministry title was ‘What kind of life after death?’ based on John 12:23-26. Background to the theme, believing that this was the way to help people reconcile their faith and sexuality. After some time he realised that the ex-gay tenet was not working and bravely took on the belief that sexuality was a given. So a former belief had to die. Along with the primary death came others, withdrawal of support and a breaking of friendships. ‘Courage’ then took on a new life and new opportunities were envisaged. Recently Jeremy sensed that it was time for ‘Courage’ to finish – another death. Now the Two:23 Network (see Hosea 2:23) has been born out of it – a new life.
What does it mean to die to one’s self and find life?
For gay Christians, in accepting our sexuality, we have tried to die to the normal expectations in life – marriage, heterosexual family life etc. In coming out publicly as gay we die to our reputation and face the possibility of hostility and ostracism. But we are then free to embrace new life.
In our first session we began to discuss death and resurrection in our spiritual journeys. The implications as we think of a seed falling to the ground and dying, bringing forth new life are daunting and scary. As Christians we rarely discuss such issues. This natural process is rooted in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and the choices we make. The Lord gives us the bread and wine of adversity, and we react.
We were given time to think about the major changing events we had experienced in our lives. For some it was an actual death, being separated from a loved one. Sometimes a choice does lead to the expected place. I was reminded of the death to our understanding. The perception of my eyes is that the sun goes round the earth. But I have learned that that is not the fact. I was quite comfortable with the belief founded on the evidence of my eyes, but the belief has had to die in the light of new knowledge. In so many spheres we have had to readjust our thinking and give up on old ideas. And the new can be very scary. Another thought brought up during discussion was that losses we choose are very different from those imposed upon us.
What does a life surrendered into God’s hands look like?
Session two was based on Galatians 5: 16-26. Jesus brought in a new Kingdom. His view was not one of worldly strength and power, and we need to die to the world view of dominance, being competitive and acquisitive, and take on the fruits of the Spirit. We need to seek what is important, and loss forces us in that direction. When time is short priorities change and the most important things take precedence. Grief, loss and struggles are part of life. Dying is normal. The things of the world are immediate but temporary. The fruits of the Spirit take time to come to fruition. Time ran out before we could start discussing this session. However meal time and free space all gave opportunity to continue sharing experiences and expressing views.
Resurrection? What comes after this life?
Our study on resurrection was based on 1 Corinthians 15: 14-20a.
People have varying views on resurrection. This passage expands the importance of belief, a theme that was also taken up in Jeremy’s sermon Sunday morning where key arguments for belief in the resurrection were emphasised. What comes after this life? Hints at the mystery of existence were highlighted in Psalm 139 where we are seen to be intimately known to God in our past, which gives hope for a future.
What happens after death is another area that Christians so often decline to talk about. As a portal into this area Jeremy discussed how near-death experiences are being taken seriously from both scientific and philosophical perspectives. Different studies were talked about, almost all experiences being positive and non-threatening. Similar experiences were reported from people who could not possibly know each other giving veracity to their stories.
Little is said in the Bible about what heaven will be like. There were some comments made by people who hoped that any literalism will be wrong as literalism elsewhere. The main idea put forward was that our words and concepts are totally inadequate to describe the realm beyond. Given time I think we would have enjoyed discussing things, but time and worldly pursuits brought the session to a close.
Life events propel us on a journey to places we never expected to be, and to hold views that are radically different from our former beliefs. Just being ourselves can be a challenging thing. Maybe self-acceptance is the starting place analogous to that small seed falling into the ground. Our job is to explore the darkness, accept the challenge and realise the potential of new beginnings.