Joe Davis: Stages of Faith: How spirituality changes across a lifetime
Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.
So I’m absolutely delighted this episode to be joined by Joe Davis, to talk about how faith changes over the course of a lifetime, and what we might do about that. So do you want to introduce yourself, Joe? That would be fab.
J: Yeah, I’m Joe Davis, hello everyone, it’s great to be here on Catherine’s podcast, a very exciting place to be. I’m a Baptist minister, but notoriously most known for doing another podcast, called The Mid Faith Crisis, with my dear friend, who we must mention, Nick Page. I’m contractually obliged to mention him every time I speak. So that’s all you need. I do funerals throughout the week. I’ve got some great people around me, like my family. Rachel, and 2 kids, who are grown up.
C: That’s brilliant. Thank you so much. So the reason I asked you if you wouldn’t mind having this conversation is that having listened to the Mid-Faith Crisis podcast, I already knew that stages of faith and what happens to people on their faith journey was something we’d been thinking about for quite a long time. I had been thinking that this would be a good thing to have a conversation about, and then joined in on an online gathering that you were hosting for the Mid-Faith Crisis podcast, during which you made the comment that you’d been thinking about stages of faith for about 10 years. I thought that would make an interesting conversation. Having reflected I know that because you invite quite a lot of contributions from people for the Mid-Faith Crisis podcast, and you read emails and stuff and host gatherings, you have actually – as well as having your own journey – you have had a window into lots and lots of people’s journeys.
J: Definitely, it’s been an enormous privilege.
C: So I wonder if we could start off if you wouldn’t mind talking about stages of faith and how that works.
J: Sure. So years ago, this is me, I’ve never heard of stages of faith, I just thought you grew and grew and acquired more knowledge and got more and more certain, more and more faithful – and probably more and more of an absolute pain in the neck, to be honest with you. I didn’t know there was such a thing as stages of faith. What I have now come to realise is that there is meant to be a time in your faith journey where the whole lot falls apart! And it feels like you are building with new foundations. Again. Why had nobody told me that earlier?? That’s my biggest question about it all!
So James Fowler, a chap called James Fowler, he’s an academic, he’s really the father of stages of faith. If you google stages of faith I imagine his name will probably come up near it. He’s quite academic. It’s not really quite my thing. But basically all the teachers, I now respect and understand, all talk about this very simple idea that the early stages of faith are about order, then comes disorder, then comes reorder. So there’s a simple 3 stage one. I think Brian McClaren in his book says 4 stages, he has simplicity, complexity, perplexity, ending back at harmony. I love that. But whether you have 8 stages of faith, 7, 6, 5, there’s various different ways to skin this cat – that’s not very nice, I suppose. But however you do it, there is this idea that the journey starts and it’s all positive and all great and all fine. All is well. Something happens. The whole lot falls apart. And that would be… typically, people would leave the church. Say, “d’y’know what? I’ve outgrown it. There’s nothing new, I’ve outgrown it. That’s childish.” They’re trying to live their lives with Sunday school faith, and they’ve realised it doesn’t work. Actually, my conviction and many others’ conviction is that tmfc, as we call it, the moment that the faith journey starts to fall apart for you, with all the questions that you have – how can there be a God of love with so much suffering? Why does God answer some prayers and not other prayers? Why did God give this person a parking space and yet allow that child to die? Why doesn’t God heal people? Once you’ve journeyed to, ‘actually, there’s an invitation’, and the invitation is to a much more expansive view, I think, of the Divine, and of yourself, and of life and of other people and a greater and deeper connectedness, not just with your tribe, but actually with all of humanity. So it’s really helpful to understand it. Would it be helpful to talk about 6 stages that I think typify, in case there are people out there who think “I’ve never heard of stages of faith”?
J: Would that be useful?
C: Yeah, I think go for it, that’ll be great.
J: So like I say, many ways to do this, I quite like the categories used by a guy called Chris Urban(?). He says the first stage is the first awakening. I think it resonates with people who do go on Alpha courses and really do just become aware that there’s more going on. That there is a spiritual side to life is undeniable. And that’s when you do need a guide, you need to get yourself on an Alpha course, or you need a friend who can journey through with you. So that’s the first stage. Then the second stage is sort of believing and belonging. That’s where you learn the rules. Who’s in, who’s out. You can often get stuck there. But it’s a really important stage, that’s when you’re chomping on the gas, you love it really, you’re just learning, learning, learning. You have no reason to disbelieve the authority figures that are teaching you at that time, because they’re the people who surely know. Stage 3, and this is often seen as the end of the journey, in most of our churches, is service and leadership. You’ve made it! You’ve learnt the rules, now you’re starting to serve in the mission team, the worship team, you’re a youth leader, whatever. Better still, you’re a missionary, because they’re really high up the hierarchy. Or a minister of the church. You’ve made it. Service, and you are fully purpose driven, that’s it! And you get left there by most churches. I’m not being critical of churches, because I’m not sure they can take you any further than that. But that is the halfway point of the journey. Really, I believe. But the next stage is where it gets messy, and that is the kind of mid faith crisis, if only there was a podcast that could help us(!)
C: Oh no, do you know of any(!)
J: I don’t *both laugh* But I’ve got a friend called Nick Page, who I must mention.
Anyway, that’s very often the wall, it’s a very vulnerable time, for all kinds of reasons. If you don’t have a guide, friends, and someone wise about you, you will lose it, but the invitation – I always think theology and psychology and all of those things should never have been separated, coz the journey to finding your authentic self, who you really are, is the same as the journey to discovering God. You discover that God is not a big, out there, something separate to us, in a galaxy far, far away, but God is, as you were suggesting, the ground of me. God is in all, and God is inside me. Actually, rather than trying to connect with a God who is out there, we have to summon God to be here, we long to be in God’s presence, no, God is constant, and I can connect with God in me. So there’s lots to say about that. There’s at least 236 episodes of a podcast in that one stage.
J: But stage 5 is moving out again, because I think you do push through that. And it requires real humility and it requires honesty and authenticity about yourself and your fragility. And those things like sin that we talked about. We’re so ashamed to talk about it. It’s time to be honest with yourself about your life, and other people’s lives. Let’s start being who we really are with one another. That leads to what some people call serving again. That looks like the early stages, except you’ve got a whole different basis. You’re not doing things out of guilt or because you should please this God, who desperately needs to be appeased. You start doing stuff because you wanna do it. Actually, being a loving, kind, serving person is sort of who you’re created to be and it feels pretty good! It’s not a slog. We were brought up in a tradition talking about carrying your cross and sacrificing and all that sort of stuff, and we always felt terribly guilty if you didn’t do what the pastor asked you to do. So now it’s like you’ve got, I don’t know, living water inside you that just refreshes you.
And then the last stage of any model of stages of faith is this sense of contented abiding in God. I’ve not got to ‘magic God up’, I’ve not got to try to do all these things to please an essentially un-pleasable God who is remote and distant. No, I’m just, I’m in it, this is God all around. I’m in God and God is in me, and God is in everyone. So now I can give respect and teach people of other faiths and no faiths. People who are straight or gay or anything, they’re just beautiful, beautiful people. That’s all there is. There are broken and hurting people, and disruptive and difficult people, make no mistake about that, but nonetheless, wonderful human beings.
So I think that’s a brief run through the journey and I think you’re absolutely right to say, it’s not linear. I think it’s cyclical. I think you go from stage 1 to stage 6 to 3 – you don’t go “123456, oh, I’m there!” Not at all. We’re just constantly rotating around. It always amazes me how – well, if I make it personal, about myself, I am capable of being quite mature and quite ‘on it’ on a good day. And then other days I am like a little child, I’m so IMMature. That’s the same way in the faith. You can say “Oh, I’ve got that”, but you’re immature in so many other ways. Well, I am. That is one of the paradoxes and complexities of being a human being. We’re not mature one day and immature the next, like simultaneously got it together in one area and then really immature in another; sort of ok in one area and just drifting in another. I think a faith journey’s a little bit like that as well.
C: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s right. That’s a really, really helpful model, I think.
J: Yes, it’s good to get your head around.
C: Yes, one of the more comprehensible ones that I’ve come across, so thank you very much for that.
J: So would you like me to give you a bit of the history of it?
Theresa of Avila is the earliest mystic I know of, but I think Nick would talk about early church fathers, much of whom reflect that sort of life. She had this lovely model, this is reflecting now of Jamison’s idea of a chrysalis, this idea of a caterpillar. This is brilliant, because a caterpillar is 2 creatures in it’s lifetime. It’s a caterpillar initially, but then it’s a butterfly, which blows your mind, but anyway. BUT, the metaphor is simply this. You start your life as a caterpillar, your Christian journey. Here’s what it’s like: you love everything, you’re chomping. Like a caterpillar is born onto it’s fire(?), basically eats everything. You love going to church, and you love being part of a home group, you love singing songs, you basically love the whole experience, going chomp-chomp-chomp-chomp-chomp. But interestingly, in the caterpillar’s lifecycle, there comes a moment where it can eat no more. And it goes into this meltdown. I assume the scientists have a better name for it than ‘meltdown’! But you hang by a thread! Onto this thing that has given you so much life. And it all falls apart, but it’s a very necessary part of the journey to be going on. And of course it does emerge from this chrysalis, to become what it’s meant to be. Which is this extraordinary creature that can now fly freely, it’s not confined to one area any more, it can fly freely. So Theresa of Avila got there, she used the illustration for the same thing. That resonates very deeply with me. I think it’s in the bible stories. There’s a story in Acts 10, and is told to basically not do what the bible tells him. So what do you do, do you obey the voice of God, or do you go against scripture? That’s a mind-blowing event. But I think that is also very poignant for the church at the moment, because it’s wrestling with the scripture over issues like same-sex marriage, and all of that sort of stuff.
How do you view scripture? Is a massive thing that you will have to work through in your faith journey. A very simplistic understanding, it always starts with simplicity, “it’s all true, it’s all the word of God, you can believe every word, it’s factual.” And then people start going, “wellll, maybe the world wasn’t created in 7 days, we can take that that’s allegorical”, then you move on and start to question the whole lot. As you rightly should. I think.
C: As you said early on, the fact that nobody expects it really can mess with your head.
J: It’s really difficult, yeah, it does.
C: It strikes me that we’re quite good at expecting people to do the exploring at the beginning. So adults who are coming to faith, the Alpha course is great –
J: Go on an Alpha course!
C: Yes, go on an Alpha course and you can ask any question you like, and we’ll sit there and be very patient with you. The expectation is that you will then end up with your cheat card in your box, with everything neatly organised in it, and then your job is to protect your box and to keep it all neatly organised for the next 40-50 years. And there’s not an expectation that anything will change. So we have the tools, as a Christian community, to enable people to search, but often there’s kind of an unwillingness to deal with that once you’ve got a bit further on.
J: And also, I think what evangelicalism in particular has done, is sort of got rid of questioning. I think our faith has always been made to question. So even on an Alpha course the idea is, “you have questions – but hang on, we have answers!” So I come out of a small church community where we unashamedly don’t have answers. But we embrace the mysteries and the paradoxes involved in life. So I think actually – the questions you have early on, in fact, are different than the questions you have when you’ve wrestled and struggled and life has just hit you. Maybe you’ve lost a child, or you’ve been made redundant, or you’re facing a really serious illness, or there’s been a breakdown of a really significant relationship. Those kinds of things. Life hits you in the face. It’s like, “how does my faith really relate to this? How does what I’m experiencing on a Sunday engage with my life as I’m actually living it?” Often, there can be a bit of a mismatch there.
C: It’s when the thing that’s happening in your life, or the life of somebody you love, disagrees with the way you’ve been told life works.
J: Yes, exactly right!
C: We’re all going to be married for always! And then somebody’s marriage breaks down. We’re all meant to be heterosexual, and then your best friend discovers that they’re not.
C: There’s a whole list of things, depending which faith community you’re starting at.
J: Exactly, and it’s difficult because those places you show off(?) can be very shiny happy places can be very clear, a very clear idea of what the perfect Christian life should look like, and you can end up feeling very guilty that you’re clearly not the ‘perfect Christian’, you’re falling below these standards. You’re not like the perfect person leading the worship or the minister or whoever it happens to be. It can be very lonely and isolating experience. That’s why it’s so important to talk about it, like this.
C: Yes. One of my comments would be on your summary is that actually, not for everybody does it all fall apart at once in one go. So I think sometimes it’s more gradual, and it feels more gradual who you can pray(?) with.
In preparation for this I was thinking back to when were some of the first moments where I had some questioning? And actually I think that happened fairly early on. Because I was part of a fairly rigid, clear-about-everything, evangelical church. I’d come into that as an outsider, so there were things that just didn’t gel with me and that I never quite agreed with. So I was never convinced that barn dances and Cliff Richard could possibly be ‘of the devil’.
J: *laughs* Really?!
C: For taste reasons some people might say it, but theologically… . I could never quite bring myself to wear a hat during –
J: Oh yes, of course, yeah. But why not? The bible says wear a hat! I mean, come on!(!) You’re so liberal, Catherine.
C: I know. Completely, completely. And then there was the realisation that there was a bit of a mismatch between the way that they saw life, and the way that it actually was. It was a comment about alcohol that sort of opened a chink for me. The pastor said that one of the reasons he didn’t drink was that if anybody saw him with half a glass of wine, they would not say “the pastor drinks moderately occasionally”, they would say “the pastor drinks”. And I had also in my head the kind of conversations I would have with my Dad, which included comments like “well, Bill never drank very much, he never had more than about 6 pints”(!)
J: Such a moderate! (!)
C: Yes. I thought, “no, it is the case that people can tell the difference between somebody who drinks loads, and somebody who drinks a bit occasionally.
J: Of course, Jesus was never accused of being a drunkard, was He?! (!)
C: You never know. (!) There were all sorts of explanations about why, and why Jesus actually served very low alcohol wine at Cana, apparently.
J: Is that right?! (!) “He’s such a cheapskate, Jesus, isn’t He? Honestly…”
C: Apparently the best wine they’d ever had.
J: Low alcohol. It’s very much like that today, isn’t it? Gotta love the low alcohol wine.(!)
C: It was Lambrini! (!) *both laugh*
J: Oh dear. We laugh, but we’re crying inside, aren’t we, because we can relate to these stories so much.
C: Yes, so I think that there were moments. I ended up in something called Church Without Walls, having been thrown out of a church. Thrown out of a pentecostal church, for organising an ‘unauthorised’ prayer meeting. As you do.
J: Ohhh! You do not need permission to pray, honestly.
C: I know, ‘terrible’(!)
J: You’re such a rebel! Praying?! Really? Really?
C: Yeah, the irony didn’t stick. But we ended up in a community called Church Without Walls, and there were lots of opportunities there for conversation, and I ended up facilitating that for a while. I think I would describe my journey as — if you imagine faith being a bit like an island. I started off in a small part of a fairly large Christian island, and then realised that there were lots of different ways of doing things and lots of different ways of seeing things, and became quite comfortable with that, and gradually addressed different questions along the way. But then there came a point where the falling apart became bigger, and the questions became bigger, and it almost felt like I wasn’t on this island any more, I was sailing merrily away from it. And that felt very much like I was sailing away from God and faith. There came a point where I realised that far from sailing away from God, God was the sea on which I sailed. But also the companion in the boat.
J: Yes. That’s lovely. And that’s a whole new notion of God, isn’t it?
C: Completely different. One of the interesting things for me was that whilst my view of God was becoming more and more expansive, my life, was actually becoming more reflective of – y’know the testimony stories, the parking-space type?
C: Because I was a single parent with 2 adopted kids, and needed to trust God that there would be enough money, that there would be babysitters when I needed it. I was at a point where, whenever I wanted to do something and I needed to do it, somebody or something would turn up. So I got to the point of rather than saying “I’ll have to look in my diary and see if I could sort something out”, if I thought I could, I would just say yes. And the answer would appear. So there was this big conundrum of God, on the 1 hand, I theologically, I’m not quite sure about this answered prayer thing any more, but actually, practically, God is not only the huge vast ocean I’m sailing, but also the companion in the boat.
J: That’s the paradox I was mentioning earlier, that you just go, “I can’t figure this out. This is just how it is.” Again that’s great, and you start to base your faith a little bit more, I think, on your own experience. Not just what you’re told is right.
C: Part of that dissembling, I think, is taking apart and disconnecting your experience of God, and the way that’s been interpreted for you, by whichever faith group you’ve been part of.
J: D’y’know, I remember, when I was a minister, doing exactly that thing. Having to, someone says something that I don’t understand, so I’m having to explain, really trying to convince myself, not them. So even today, I’m a funeral celebrant. People who have no religious connection, they don’t go to church, they tell me all sorts of mystic experiences. Once upon a time, I would have wanted to challenge it, or filter it through my Christian understanding and the training I had at bible college. Now I go, “well that’s wonderful. You’ve connected with the Divine.” I don’t have any experience with angels, but I know very intelligent, rational people, who have encountered angels. I no longer feel the need to try to explain it or defend it or talk it away, because it’s not part of mine… . I just go “well that’s extraordinary”. That is a paradox. It’s not that I’m totally irrational, I like this phrase, trans-rational. I think trans-rational explains some of the stuff that happens around life, at times.
C: One of the things I do is spiritual direction, and I had a conversation a bit ago with somebody who talked about having a very powerful experience of God when she was quite young. Never having had a church background. Then went to a church, and they explained to her what the experience was. Because they seemed to understand the experience, you can end up thinking that the way that somebody has explained all of this to you must be true. Particularly if you had that experience in the context of that community. So if it wasn’t somewhere else – I think she was on holiday at the time – but if she wasn’t on holiday somewhere or on a trip somewhere but it was actually in the building of the place where you’re part of the community, but then what that means is that your experience you have interpreted through a particular lens. We were trying to come up with an analogy, because she was saying “I need to go back. I am now wondering if I have ended up seeing things in this way because that’s just my cultural default. But that’s how I was told this looked like.” So we were having this conversation, and one of the things that she was doing was saying “I need to go back and see if the interpretation I was given was right”, and I – the picture I had in that conversation is almost like, if you think of the different ways of seeing the world as being different sets of windows, on the sky. And sometimes I think what happens is you walk into a church community, or a Christian community, a faith community of whatever kind, and I’m sure that people who are Muslims or Hindus also have stages of faith.
J: I’m sure they do
C: But it’s like your current view is giving you one shot through a window, onto the sky. What I was encouraging her to do was just to say, “don’t feel that you need to look through somebody else’s window.”
J: That’s lovely
C: “Take the window away, and see what happens if you just look at the sky.
J: That’s really good, I think that’s right. I’m sure people in other faiths do. I think one of the interesting journeys that people of all faiths go through, is a sort of form of universalism. A journey from tribalism, to inclusivity. Inevitably, inevitably. Because the more rationally we think about the concept “hang on, there’s this handful of people who believe a certain amount of things… and they’re the only saved people! Everyone else is a bit, urgh, unsure. But these people with this set of beliefs, they’re the only proper saved people. They’ve got to convert everyone and make sure everyone believes exactly what they believe.” The more ridiculous that actually seems, the longer you think about it. You think, “if there is a God, God’s got to love every human being, right?”
C: Absolutely. The moment that broke that for me, was watching somebody doing a very sincere youtube clip. He was talking about India, saying “there are 500 million people in India and we estimate that, oh, I don’t know, 4% of those are the right kind of Christians, and therefore ‘all of these other people are going to hell’”. And I just thought, “err, no. No. That kind of doesn’t work any more.”
J: No. Religious fundamentalism is pretty ugly, I think it’s fair to say. And pretty arrogant. Narrow-minded. And I’ve just got to make sure I’m not arrogant. Black humility(?), having a different view. I can think “my view is right because I’m really inclusive and that’s the only way.”
C: There’s a –
J: Equally obnoxious with my views, if I’m not careful.
C: I think there’s a quote from Harry Potter comes to mind, there’s a bit where Dumbledore is having a conversation with Harry and says that he thinks you shouldn’t expect the young to understand what it’s like to be old, but the old should be able to understand what it’s like to be young. I’m a bit wary of regarding one stage of faith as superior to another, but there is something about if you’ve been in a particular place and had a particular view, you can understand what it’s like to look at the world from that space.
J: The wise people I know who talk about stages of faith, they always say “you transcend each stage, but you include it, you don’t despise it”. That’s an easy street to thinking you’re superior to someone who’s earlier on the journey, definitely don’t want to go down that way.
C: I was just reflecting as you were talking, remembering the bit which you’ve previously talked about, a bit like the caterpillar, chomping, and just thinking back to being part of a church in my 20s and honestly thinking that I was part of the best church in my city, definitely! Possibly the best church in the UK. And I genuinely had a sense of sadness for people who weren’t part of my church. Enthusiastic tribalism!
J: Yes, yes, yes, I relate to all of that! But let me just say, no you weren’t, because that was my church. That was the best church in the UK.
C: No, no.
J: It is funny, isn’t it?
C: It is. But also, the external pressures to do things, you talked about stage 5 being a bit like stage 3 in some ways, but I think one of the differences is quite often what you do in terms of service and leadership earlier on is very much about what you think you ought to be doing. So what’s the right thing to do? That kind of carrying your cross type stuff. Other random thoughts that come to me is that for people who do end up doing the service and leadership type thing, particularly if that becomes professional, and particularly if you do it within the context of an organisation that has a very clear view of what you should think, and what you should believe, that’s a much much more painful place to be when you begin to ask the questions again. Because the expectation is that you are going to be able to stay put. That the faith that you’ve got is going to remain exactly as it is. Because otherwise you’re kind of going to fall off the end of something. I wonder if we infantilise people by demanding that they maintain a particular posture and set of beliefs and that they never move on from that.
J: We do, yes. It’s difficult when your salary and your housing depends upon doing so. This is very personal to me now. When your theology is morphing and changing, and the perception is that that’s the last thing it should ever do! It should be the same today, tomorrow and forever, because God is the same today, tomorrow and forever, so how can your theology change? Well, no I realise theology is dynamic, of course it’s meant to change. You’ve changed as a human, you’ve grown. Physically, from a child to an adult, once you’re an adult, you change and you grow, you don’t stay the same, you don’t go, the day you’re 21, it’s not like “oh now you understand everything”.
C: One of the best things that happened to me in the course of my journey was that I decided I needed to find myself a spiritual director. Because I was in a situation where I needed a church community who were able to deal with 2 kids who were fairly disruptive. Well, you’ve met my youngest, he was sitting underneath a duvet under the table in the corridor in Leigh Abbey.
J: He was, yeah
C: But trying to find a community that could both hold us as a family, in a way that churches with a fairly sorted-out theology often have very good kids work because they’ve strong-armed people into doing stuff. Anyway. But that’s kind of looking for somewhere that would do that but also a community that would enable me to walk through a faith journey, and it suddenly occurred to me that trying to get all of those things in one box probably wasn’t going to happen.
J: Probably not.
C: Reminded me a little, when I was a student I had a friend who used to go looking for ‘the perfect pair of shoes’ because she hadn’t got much money, so she would always want the pair of shoes which would be elegant for a night out, but also robust enough to march across Sheffield in the rain at the end of it. I thought, there isn’t somewhere that will do that, so I went and found a spiritual director, and I talked a little bit about where I was at and what was happening, and bless her heart, her eyes lit up and she grinned at me and she said, “How exciting! It sounds to me like God is inviting you to grow up!”
J: Brilliant! Telling it like it is, that’s a good spiritual director!
C: Absolutely. But that kind of “this isn’t abnormal, you don’t need sorting out, you are on a journey and this is a very normal journey to be on” was just so freeing and so helpful.
J: It’s interesting how much of my adult life has been spent telling people either “you are normal”, or perhaps more correctly “there is no such thing as normal”. Normal doesn’t exist, not for anyone. There’s only what’s healthy, and I think that’s so important. And there’s faith journeys. And your faith journey may not fit with that model I’ve presented in any way, shape or form whatsoever, and that doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t invalidate it, it doesn’t invalidate the model, but it definitely doesn’t invalidate your journey. You are that unique and special, wonderful, terrified, frightened; welcome to humanity. Welcome to being a human being. Now, can you be a fully alive human being? I think Jesus is as strong at helping us with that as He’s ever been. I think Jesus is quite clued up on stuff. Now I understand, Jesus [incoherent speech] at the start of the journey. And that’s ok.
C: Yeah, absolutely. I also think, you were talking earlier about how we have all different kinds of experiences, and I have known people who, in the course of re-evaluating things, have almost felt the need to deny the things that happened earlier on. In earlier faith stages. And I don’t think you need to do that. I don’t think you need to worry about it. That was a very valid experience.
J: Yes, exactly, it really helped you at the time, it was really good at the time. So be thankful for it, don’t be embarrassed of it. Don’t shame it. It’s a good thing.
C: Going back to my sky analogy, it’s almost like people feel the need, not to take the window away, but to draw a different window. And then decide that the things which happened before which weren’t in their current window, didn’t happen.
J: Yes, exactly!!
C: And I don’t think you need to do that.
J: When I look back on the earlier stages, I used to like it when I knew everything and had all the answers. Now it seems that every day that passes now, I know how little I know! With a few answers, it’s much harder in some ways!
C: I think an interesting question is what you do when you find yourself on a journey where things are beginning to come apart. When you sense that things are shifting. I think the key thing that we’ve said is that although nobody is standard normal, it is a normal part of the journey.
J: Definitely. Absolutely. Absolutely right. I think one of the good things now is there is more help available than there used to be. Thanks to modern technology, there are podcasts, like yours, and even like others, that talk about this hitting the wall in the faith journey. There’s lots of hope the other side. You’re not weird, you’re not strange, you’re not abnormal. It’s a perfectly legitimate part of a Christian journey, of a faith journey. So I think that’s the good news, that there is a bit of help out there. But of course there’s no real substitute for having friends with you. Of having a meal with someone and one saying [stage whisper] “I can’t make sense of any of this at the moment, I don’t know what to do.”
It sounds like you had a really good spiritual director, I’d urge people to do that, I think if you’re blessed with a few friends that you can talk honestly with, that’s a wonderful thing. If you have a season of not going to church for a little while that can straighten things out for a bit and you can always go back with a new understanding. There’s plenty of hope.
C: Yeah, I think taking a break from church for some people is really, really helpful. We had an enforced one.
J: Of course
C: Well various enforced ones.
J: Well, various enforced ones!
C: But I think often that stepping away from the space that you’re at, actually can be enormously freeing, because it can help you to have space to do the thinking that you need to do, and it’s nice, the other side of a bit of a midfaithh crisis. One of the things that really strikes me is that in lots of ways, it doesn’t change. But it’s freer. So I still enjoy spiritual practices I’m just not as angsty about them as I used to be. There is a real reality in my experience, but it’s much freer that it was. I care a lot less about what other people think.
J: Brilliant. Yes, there’s definitely less angst the other side of it, that stage of deconstruction. I hope everyone ends up a bit more relaxed. And I hope that’s a bit more loving, and patient and kind. That’s I think, the journey Jesus is leading us in. Our in-house word for it is Christlikeness, isn’t it? I’d still use that, I think it’s as good as any. A good way to know if you’re getting on in the journey is, are you a bit more patient, and are you a bit more kind? Those are questions I try to ask myself, at least every year.
C: It’s quite a beautiful thing. We’ve nearly finished, but a beautiful thing thing is that you generally end up outside of the system of ‘in and out’. I heard Greg Boyle talking, I was listening back to a podcast he did with Krista Tippett, he’s the guy that does the gang stuff in Los Angeles, Jesuit. But he said, “imagine the circle of compassion, and imagine nobody outside of it.”
J: Yeah, I think that’s amazing. Brilliant, fantastic.
C: There we go. So thank you ever so much, Joe, that’s been great
J: Hey, wow, thank you, listen, thank you for doing a podcast, I’ve really hope and pray that it blesses people and helps them along their journey. I think just hearing your friendly voice voicing these things can be such a help to people, so bless you, mate, and thank you for inviting me on.
C: Thank you ever so much.
Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org You can find a transcript of this podcast at lovedcalledgifted.com and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.
Thank you for listening.