Tag Archives: People

Mum and Dad

When looking at influences on any aspect of my life, including my faith, it’s not surprising that my parents are pretty significant. My mum goes to church and my dad does not but both of them have had an impact on my faith.


Tractor Girl asked a few posts ago for my reflections on the SCM Liberating Gender Conference. I re-realised during that conference quite how atypical my upbringing was in terms of looking at gender. My parents, my mum in particular, were very big on challenging stereotypical gender stereotypes. I was dressed in pink, given dolls to play with, read children’s books with strong female heroes (‘Rita the Rescuer’ was apparently a favourite) and generally being taught that there was no difference between what boys did and what girls did. This made the SCM conference very strange for me as I realised that, although I recognised the stereotypes people talked about really didn’t ring true for me. Whilst I could grasp the workshop which talked about boys toys being very muscly and full of big guns, that didn’t marry with my own childhood experience where I wasn’t even allowed a playmobil fort!


This I suppose has informed my understanding of God and of humanity. I was brought up to not really see gender roles, and so the idea of a genderless God wasn’t such a stretch. Obviously, I went to school in the ‘real world’ and became gradually more and more aware of gender differences and my parents influence was diluted. But the basic understanding remained – that there is not set difference in what girls and boys do.


Also, with the strong non-violent influence (I was given dolls were because many of the ‘boys toys’ were all too violent), peace and non-violent philosophies and theologies are also second nature to me. I was always taught violence solved nothing and that lesson applies now just as much to how I view global conflict resolution as it did when it was my Mum telling me not to hit my brother.


My mum and I are very similar in lots of ways and I think that’s reflected in our approach to our faiths. Like my grandfather, and like me, she places a lot of emphasis on a stimulating sermon but she also likes her quiet space for contemplation. It’s from her that I first got an appreciation for Taizé worship (even if I only properly got to like it when I left home to go to uni).


Dad describes himself as ‘spiritually blocked’ which I find quite a useful image. He says he just doesn’t get faith; he can engage with some of the ‘theory’ of religion and with the traditions and rituals but doesn’t believe in or understand God. He comes to church at Christmas and Easter and came whenever we were involved in services as children. But he’s coming for the rest of the family and the occasion rather than anything more. I think my Dad is one of the influences that make me sceptical about evangelism. It seems to me that some people just don’t see life in a way that involves God and I have a certain respect for that.

School Friends

Unlike most of my Christian friends, until I came to university I didn’t really have any Christian friends. I had a close group of schools friends who ranged from strident Dawkins-esque atheists to indifferent agnostics. It will not surprise people who know me that I have some fairly opinionated friends. We ‘discussed’ politics, religion and the meaning of life many times. It was during this time that I discovered what I believed, pretty much by deciding what I was not. I was not the Christian ‘straw man’ that they loved to criticise and/or mock. I was also not quite like my friends in how I saw the world. And as quite often happens when you’re a teenager, I started to define my faith by how I differed to other people.

My school friends are all wonderful people I admire each of them in lots of different ways. They are some of the most selfless people I know with very strong senses of justice. These atheist friends embody Christian values. These people who I grew up with shaped my vision of what is important to me, probably more than anything I learnt in church. It’s just that for me, unlike my friends, those values are linked to my faith.


 I wanted to think about the people who have shaped my faith and, with no better way of working out who should come first, I thought I’d start with the most senior, my grandfather, ‘Pa’.


Pa was a Methodist minister, a writer and Connexional Local Preacher’s Secretary in the Methodist Church for many years. Despite the fact that he retired from the Church the year I was born and stopped preaching before I was old enough to appreciate it, these things are important to the impact he had on me.


Firstly, Pa was a scholar – he did his PhD, in the sermons of Wycliffe(!), in his retirement whilst battling against failing eyesight. As my mother put it, for him scholarliness was next to godliness. This was important for me as it meant that right from the beginning of my understanding of God and religion, thinking was encouraged. For him, studying (in a formal academic sense) the bible and the history of the church was not an obstacle to faith, on the contrary it made it more real. He was also pretty theologically and politically radical which grounded me in these traditions before I was old enough to understand them. In fact, this probably goes some way towards explaining my inclination to be more comfortable with thinking about faith and talking about faith in a fairly objective way and less comfortable/familiar with talking about the more spiritual/’touchy-feely’ side of my faith. Conversation about God and religion made reference to “New Testament Greek” more than “personal relationship with Jesus”.


Secondly, I developed an appreciation for ‘good’ preaching. While I might never have heard Pa preach (that I can remember), I definitely heard his comments on other preachers when he came to visit us for the weekend. Being an intellectual snob, he expected intellectual rigor from the preachers who appeared before him on a Sunday morning! While I don’t think I have such high expectations of scholarship in the pulpit, I get a lot of my spiritual nourishment from sermons. They chime with that ‘thinking’ rather than ‘feeling’ understanding of God.


Thirdly, I was brought up to see politics and religion as being intimately linked. Pa was a member of the Christian Socialist Movement, was a firm socialist in the old Labour sense and a pacifist. In the last year or so of his life, at the age of 84 and completely blind, he marched against the invasion of Iraq. This echoed what I’d learnt from talking to him about being a contentious objector in World War Two – that he couldn’t reconcile war with his faith. I, like him, cannot separate my politics and my faith, I don’t know where one ends and the other begins.


Aside from his impact on my faith, I’m very proud of my Grandfather. It’s still a privilege to have people at Methodist churches across the country say “I’ve got one of his books on my shelf” and to read his obituary calling him ‘one of the foremost thinkers of his generation’ in the Methodist Church.