I've been on a journey of late... one that involved me rejecting my spiritual identity then coming to realise that I could be "me" within my tradition. Let me explain.
I have been dissatisfied within the Salvation Army for a good while now... I have seen dear friends with whom I have shared the fringes and... possibly more significantly... the frustration that fringe-dwelling within the Salvation Army brings... become incapacitated by their frustration or decide to leave to feed elsewhere.
I know this frustration first hand. The sense of "not being part"... of being an "outlier" and an "outsider" because I do not participate in the traditional channels of participation. I get frustrated at the "ego music" and... well... the Prophet Amos puts it far more succinctly::
"I can't stand your religious meetings. I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want.Amos 5:21 (the Message)
The things I want to be part of are not a priority... people will readily attend a practice but will shy away from a time of prayer and meditation, for example.
This frustration nearly got the better of me... but I came to a realisation that I shouldn't expect everything under one roof... and, as such, I came to accept what I am part of as being imperfect and lacking... and still wonderful.
I saw church with an expectation that comes from being used to shopping at a supermarket - I expected everything under the one roof... available at as little cost to me as possible.
I expected praise and worship... bible teaching, discussion and study... justice opportunities... participation and accountability... community and comradeship... under the one roof and I have experienced the frustration that comes from not getting this within the physical and metaphorical "four walls" of my church.
Phrases like "I'm just not getting fed" would come up in conversation... or I would be quick to judge those who didn't participate in the alternative options that I would present or be present at.
All because I expected everything to be under the one roof.
I recently came to the realisation that this "supermarket" approach to church may work for some people but it doesn't work for me. Its not my way... certainly not anymore.
I see my spiritual journey as being more of a trip down a "high street"... foraging (as Paul Thomson speaks of) for the things I need to grow in strength and wisdom.
Just as you would seek the specialists for the products they supply on the high street... the butcher for meat... the green grocer for vegetables and fruit... the newspaper shop for your newspapers and magazines... the record shop for your aural treats... I see a number of different spaces, places & people as the "specialists" I seek out.
Take this last week as an example of what I mean...
Last Friday lunchtime... I spent an hour with Laura Mitchell... sharing with her and seeking to inspire her in her role as Youth Worker at the Bellshill Salvation Army.
Later on that evening... I had the privilege to join with about 30 or so others to share in an Alex-made curry and a time of sharing with Johnny Baker, the inspirational blogger, at his "Blah/Blether".
Afterwards, I grabbed a coffee with my pal Emmsy... and digested what we had heard from Johnny. We also discussed her recent trip to Chicago for a conference.
On Saturday morning... I went for a walk around Strathclyde Park with my dear friend George Connor... where we talked, listened and shared our lives.
I then chilled with my family... before attending the festival of music presented by the Peterborough Salvation Army Band. I'm not a big brass band music fan but I did enjoy this experience... albeit... half the fun was the running commentary that I provided on Twitter.
The best bit of having the Band up is the Army tradition of "billets" where you open up your house to 1 or 2 visitors for an overnight. Olly and I had the privilege of hosting Paul Ward and Andy Scott... who were top blokes. We had a fab time of fellowship over a great feast of food, thanks to Olly.
In the morning... we all shared in uplifting worship with the Peterborough Band... before sharing in fun & games with our billets between meetings.
In the evening... after the second of the two meetings at Bellshill... I was meant to go into Glasgow with Stewart Cutler to attend the Holy City gathering at Renfield St Stephen's. Its an alternative worship gathering that Stewart suggested we attend. A number of my tweeps and emerging peeps attend it... and I was looking forward to meeting them and participating in something different. Unfortunately, Stewart had the "Barry White's"... so I couldn't make it.
That said... it wasn't unfortunate for me to spend time with Olly & the we'ans... partaking of the leftovers from Olly's awesome hospitality.
On the Monday evening... I was again privileged to meet up with likeminded "emerging" folks in the soon-to-be-no-more Starbucks in Borders. I was a fun night of discussion with a wide variety of people... I got to speak to Billy, Neil, Charlie, Ben & Sally. It was an uplifting, inspirational and entertaining time.
Fast forward to Tuesday lunchtime... where I got the chance to engage with Innes Johnson & Paul Thomson... over some noodles in Wagamama. I find Paul to be a very engaging character... a truly alternate & prophetic voice... and appreciate Innes as a valuable "true" friend.
Then yesterday I met up with a feeling-better Stewart for a time of chat and the bouncing of ideas. We then met up again on Skype later in the evening... where we held a three-way call with my other dear friend and co-host of the Something Beautiful podcast, JD Blundell.
I consider all of these events as being key to my spiritual journey - I shared fellowship with a number of fellow journeymen and women... I worshipped... I learned... I was inspired... and the key thing is the majority of this was not "under the roof" of my community of faith.
I am a better person for all the people I have in my life and the experiences I have had that shape me. My community of faith is key to this - I realise this... but it is not the entirety of my experience or of my understanding.
The only person who is responsible for my spiritual diet is... me. Yes, my community of faith and my gaggle of friends have some degree of responsibility for my welfare and wellbeing... that is the point of community... but, at the end of the day, I am the only one who can determine what I feed on... and I am the only one who can make me feed, if that makes sense?
The realisation that I can not get everything I need from my community of faith... is the first step in ensuring my spiritual health. The next is to realise that all that I have described can and does come under the huge, encompassing umbrella that is what I understand to be my broader community.
Instead of getting upset because of my community of faith doesn't do (x) or (y)... I will seek out those who do. I do not have the sense of companionship & fellowship within that I do outwith... but that doesn't mean I need to leave. I have all the ingredients for a healthy spiritual meal... its just that some elements require work... require me to forage... to seek them out... to make an effort... to pay a greater cost to obtain them.
To this end, I have come to a peace and acceptance of my current state of being and identity... I am a "loyal radical" to use a phrase Johnny Baker used... I am someone who understands the traditions of the Salvation Army and is conversant with it's expressions... but is happier existing at the edges... in the fringes... as an outlier.
Instead of seeking somewhere new... I accept the imperfection of my lot in the knowledge that only God is perfect and that anything that involves man will be flawed... and will do my bit to show an alternative to those in the core... at the edges... and everywhere inbetween. I believe this is where God has called me to be.
Afterall... today's radical and avant-garde is tomorrow's mainstream.
Thank you to everyone who has journeyed with me in this... especially my folks, my we'ans and my dearest Olly whose patience and hospitality inspires me daily.
I am back.