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Fear

I was fortunate enough to be born in a time and place that allowed me a very safe and happy upbringing, and I know that my thoughts come from the perspective of a person with white, cis, middle class privilege.

As a child, I was told stories of war, terror and hatred by my grandparents, and even though I never had to experience any of what they had to live through, the recent history of Germany was in a way ever present and a constant reminder to never let anything like the Third Reich happen again.

One of the big ideals I was brought up with was the idea of a world that was striving to grow together instead of apart, exemplified by the dream and promise that was the European Union – pretty much half a continent without real borders, full of possibility and opportunities. I was taught that all people are of equal worth, regardless of their creed, colour or whatever else might divide them. The language of the songs we sang in the 80s and 90s may not be politically correct anymore, and I do cringe at some of the wording, but the message was loud and clear: We belong together, we work towards a just world with space for all of us, and our differences enrich our lives. I was taught to use my privilege to speak up for those who can’t (even though that wasn’t how it was phrased back then).

I got to live in two other countries in my teens and twenties, making friends from all around the world, my experiences there further driving home the point that different doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse, that a different culture and outlook on life can teach me new insights and perspectives as well, that sometimes it’s okay to agree to disagree, and most importantly that most people are actually quite lovely once you get to know them.

I know the world isn’t and never was perfect, and there are many injustices to be addressed, both locally and globally, and different views on how to address those issues have always and will always exist, and that’s okay.

At the moment though, it feels like the world is being shaken to its core. Amongst other things that are happening, the rise of right wing parties like the AfD in Germany, Brexit, Mr. T. in America and the way he chose to start his presidency, and the implications of all of those things quite honestly scare the sh*t out of me, and I have no idea what to do, proactively, about the fear that is creeping in.

What I know is that vilifying the „other“ can’t be the answer, and that is true both for all those people wanting to shut out or blame or demonise the Mexicans, Muslims, Polish, LGBTQ, etc., but also for me: It’s so easy for me to create an „other“ in the „alt-right“, Brexit, Trump voters, when in reality most of those people are probably just folk who address their fears about the state of the world in a way that differs from mine (albeit quite a lot).

So, how do I move forward? What can I, what can we do to stop the current situation from escalating? How do I channel my fear into something helpful?

Answers on a postcard, please.

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Coming home

Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard,
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome in this place!
(Marty Haugen)

Dare we trust a stranger with our dream?
Dare we trust a stranger with our story?
If we cannot hide our tears,
let us share our hope and dreams
as we stay with one another, with our dreams.
(Brian Woodcock)

It sounds rather soppy, but I really don’t know if I’ve ever felt more like I was where I was meant to be than this week, and if that was my language, I would say it felt just wonderfully orchestrated.

I had suspected that going back as a guest, staying in the centre that has had such a large part in shaping three years of my life, and myself, was going to be an interesting experience.

What happened was that I felt so much at home, and at the same time very much at peace with not living there anymore (for most of the time anyway). The two songs above (which we sang in the first and last evening service respectively) are two of my favourites and framed the week for me, the readings couldn’t have been more apt, the sermon on Sunday moved me to tears, and I was blessed to meet and share conversations with people who happened to be the right people at the right time.

It was lovely being back on the island. It was weird and took a whole lot of getting used to to not have to be in charge of everything. It was hard to find how much I do miss the place, and surprising in what (unexpected) ways. It was just wonderful to encounter God and people and God in people.

This morning, I left with a full heart, and I feel like I’ve been given a great gift, a treasure, that I will carry with me for some time to come.

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Communion

It’s been nearly eight weeks now: The morning service in the Abbey on 26 May was the last time I went to church. After I first got back, I felt like I needed a break, I wasn’t too sure how services and the language back in my home church would feel, and I decided to give myself some time to transition before engaging with organised religion again.

Today I tried to find a church to just sit in and light a candle. The protestant inner city church was open, but it was very stark, there were no candles and a lady was busy polishing the benches and didn’t seem to enthused at the prospect of me sitting there, so I left. The catholic inner city church felt much more welcoming, and they had candles, so I spent a few moments there which was lovely.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a diffuse longing for something, and I think that something is communion. Communion like we celebrate it in the Abbey, where the bread and the wine get passed from hand to hand, and all are invited and included in the fellowship. Sharing bread and wine with friends as well as strangers. Communion – communal – community.

“This is not the table of any one tradition or denomination, it is the table of Christ, and his invitation is to us all. So come to this table, you who have much faith and you who would like to have more. You who depend upon this sacrament and you to whom it is strange. You who have tried to follow Jesus, and you who have failed. Come, for it is Christ who invites us to meet him here.”

The congregation of the church I sat in today celebrates communion twice a week or so, but knowing that as a non-catholic I’m technically not welcome at their table, sneaking in doesn’t feel right.
In my own protestant church, congregations traditionally celebrate communion about once a month, so you better be there if you want to share it with friends and familiar faces.
I have found a congregation (not my own) in my town that happens to have their celebration next Sunday, but I’m still debating wether to go or not. I think it will feel strange standing in a circle with complete strangers. Being handed a wafer. Maybe even an individual mini-chalice (shot glass). I’m not entirely sure that experience could still the longing I feel, but then maybe it’s okay if it doesn’t.

People always say being on Iona isn’t about creating some sort of fantasy to live in or reminisce about, it is about what you learn and take with you into your life after you leave. What they don’t tell you is how to do that.

Maybe I will invite some friends over soon, and we can share a meal. Nothing special, just an evening with friends. Food and drink and stories. Gathered round a table. Community – communal – communion.