Confessions of a Christian church-hater

Hello, my name is Rohan. I like Netflix and birds. I also like the internet, provocatively-titled articles and chicken.

I thoroughly enjoy discussing ideas, politics, storytelling and writing and I’ve even come to like those inconsistent rules in English spelling and grammar that used to make me cry in primary school.

There are a lot of things I enjoy in life, but I hate church.

Community offended animated gif

Actual video of my friends when I told them I hated church.

About a month ago I confessed this to some friends while I was visiting the United States. Their mouths where literally agape. How could this be? I’m very open about my faith, and I suppose that’s one of the first things that springs to mind when people think of me.

I thoroughly enjoy theology, community and talking about what Jesus means to me. I like Christians and I ardently believe that churches have an important role to play in society. I work for a church and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about church and churches and how to grow them and encourage them and all the exciting, interesting things about them. I even spent nearly two years living in a Christian community on Iona because I believe communities of faith are a vital part of what it means to follow Jesus.

But none of that changes the fact that sitting through a church service makes me want to pull my fingernails out.

I love learning and listening to people talk, but I can’t listen to a sermon without completely zoning out.

I love to sing and dance, but church worship feels artificial and I can’t stand it.

I don’t know why. In my teens and early 20s I LOVED going to church. It was the highlight of my week. I’d go to church in the morning, spend all day hanging out with church people and then go to church with them again at night. Then we’d have dinner together and chat late into the night. But not anymore. What changed?

Man punching himself in the face

Me, at church.

Maybe I overchurched myself when I was on Iona. While I lived there we had church twice a day every day. By the end of my time there it was all too much and I regularly skipped the morning office, and sometimes evening worship too. That’s probably a contributing factor.

Leaving my old church on the Gold Coast may be another. Having to make new friends and a find new support network in Brisbane was hard, and I might be trying to find an identical thing in what is actually a very different context. I still visit my old church from time to time and in many ways it feels like coming home, but there’s still the feeling that this isn’t where it’s at for me anymore. I’m done.

At the moment when people ask where I go to church, there is a congregation I say I attend. My boyfriend and I started going there a few months ago and we really enjoy spending time with everyone there. But the reality is we might make it once a month if we’re lucky. I’ll take any excuse to avoid a church service.

Before the service starts it’s great, and once it’s over I’m in my element, but during worship I feel stressed and cynical, and then I feel guilty about feeling stressed and cynical.

I should be into this. I love God and love the church, so why do I hate church services? Can I even do my job properly if I don’t like going to church? Do I have the dreaded “It’s all about me” mentality that my pastors always decried and which I always looked down on during my more enthusiastic churchgoing days? I know God loves me, but is he annoyed at me for being so petulant about the whole thing?

You're the devil

“You don’t like going to church?!”

That’s a lot of me-focused thought happening when I’m supposed to be participating in a God-centred worshipping community. I feel guilty about that too.

I know this side of things is my problem. I’d probably just deal with it and go if I truly believed that’s all it is, but there’s also the niggling thought that I am definitely not alone feeling this way. My story is one part of a much larger story.

It’s not a secret that churches in Western countries are struggling to attract and retain people my age. It’s practically a miracle that I’ve been attending church for as long as I have. There’s a lot of talk about how churches can fix this, but the problem is so complex nobody is quite sure what to do about it.

Is it a crisis in theology? (Partly!)
A crisis in style of worship? (Maybe!)
Do we ask too much or too little from our young adults? (Sometimes!)
A neglect of single people and those whose families aren’t “normal”? (YES!)
Is religion in a losing battle with science? (Not really!)
Are Christians sometimes insular and naive? (Kinda!)
Is there a negative demographic shift? (Sort of!)
Do ministers misunderstand the reasons people go to church? (Probably!)
Are churches too paralysed by fear of obliteration to innovate? (A little!)
Too wedded to nostalgia and tradition? (Perhaps!)

Are people too afraid to admit when they don’t like going to church, so they just kind of embarrassedly drift away never to be seen or heard from again?

I think that last one is a pretty safe bet. It doesn’t explain the whole problem, but I think it’s more common than we’d like to admit and I’d like to avoid being part of it, if I can.

I don’t like going to church. Can’t entirely put my finger on why. It’s a problem for me and for God’s family.

I’m open to suggestions on what to do about it.

Ian Thorpe is not dead! He’s gay!

Ian Thorpe in 2012. Photo: Eva Rinaldi

Photo: Eva Rinaldi

Ian Thorpe, the Australian Olympic hero, has come out. In an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson the former swimmer said “I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man. And I don’t want young people to feel the same way that I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.”

It’s unsurprising that a person with that level of celebrity coming out in such a public way has set the media abuzz. Everyone (including me, now) wants to give their two cents. The internet is awash with opinions. Some have been great, but one in particular put a bee in my bonnet, and if you’d indulge me I’d like to talk about it here.

I find Lauren Rosewarne’s piece, Thorpedo and the rewriting of history on ABC’s The Drum, pretty troubling. On Twitter I called it “by far the nastiest thing I’ve read today and that includes [what I read on] Facebook“. I should clarify that I don’t think Lauren is nasty, but the article is deeply problematic in that it perpetuates myths that (I hope) she would actually rather see extinguished.

Lauren asks, “If Ian Thorpe is a role model for coming out, is he not also a role model for lying about sexuality on the journey to the top, and proving that homosexuality is so shameful in our culture?”

Ian’s closeted-ness is the reason this story has whipped up such interest. He’s denied being gay for 15 years, and even denied it in writing. Ian says it himself: it was a lie. It’s okay to acknowledge that he lied—that’s what being in the closet means—but my problem is in the implication that being closeted is somehow a malicious deceit: that he made it to the top by pulling the wool over the nation’s eyes.

“Is he not also a role model of keeping mum until you’ve got nothing left to lose?”

Although supportive of out LGBT people, the article clears room for the idea that being closeted is a stain on your character. Ian could have been braver. He could have been more honest. What were his motivations for lying, really?

The commenters have jumped right into this breach. Ian withheld information about his sexuality, they say, so he is no longer trustworthy. But you don’t stay in the closet to screw other people over, you’re there to protect yourself from a culture hostile to anyone outside the cishet norm. Ian’s closeted life caused him serious emotional damage. Why on earth would he be in the closet voluntarily?

We often lament the dearth of out, gay sportspeople to be role models for the next generation, but when someone does come out they are greeted with suspicion and called a coward.

Honestly, I know what the author is getting at. The source of Ian’s problems lies with the shame our society attaches to homosexuality and there would be no need to come out if that shame didn’t exist.

The problem is the article goes on to reinforce that shame. There’s a bizarre expression of “devastation” from the author about “the sad loss of a gender diversity icon.” The idea is that because Ian “did manhood differently and elegantly and showcased that there were innumerable ways to speak as a man”—yet he was still sexually attracted to women—”he gave hope to all those people whose sex sits uncomfortably with social expectations.”

Sure, but Ian Thorpe is not dead! He’s still here—he just happens to be gay. He still represents an alternative model for manhood regardless of who turns him on. But the author discards Ian’s model of masculinity on the basis of his sexuality saying, “in the Parky revision, the Thorpedo becomes less revolutionary and much more of a stereotype.”

The implication here (intended or not) is that gay men are not “real men”. Only masculinity, (alternative or not) practiced by heterosexual men is valid and praiseworthy. Alternative models of masculinity practiced by gay men are silly stereotypes which can be safely ignored.

But Ian Thorpe continues to do manhood differently and is he is gay. Coming out doesn’t invalidate that! He can still be admired for being soft-spoken and avoiding sexual scandal. Those admirable traits didn’t disappear when he came out. Ian is still a gender diversity icon and young straight men can still emulate him without compromising their masculinity. Gay men are not toxic to straight men.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Lauren, the author, is reading this and rolling her eyes saying “Of course I don’t believe gay men are toxic!” She’s a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne in the School of Social and Political Sciences. She regularly talks sex, gender and feminism in the media. Surely—surely!—it’s a miscommunication. I wouldn’t bother writing this if I thought she was genuinely mean-spirited. But this article casts suspicion on the character of gay men who have been closeted, then dismisses any admirable traits they still possess on the basis of sexuality.

It’s not ok. If we’re going to talk about LGBT people in the media we can do it better than this.

Mean Girls is ten today

Mean Girls movie poster

So fetch

I was going to do a few posts about media that shaped my worldview, but today is the 10 year anniversary of Mean Girls. Yes, today is a Wednesday, and yes, I wore pink today.

I didn’t see Mean Girls until after I was a teenager, which is one of my greatest regrets. Why didn’t I go see it in the cinema? I thought it was a chick flick and didn’t even think to see it, so I can’t really say it had a profound affect on my worldview. I think I bought it on DVD for $4.95 once I found out Tina Fey wrote it. I’d already been watching 30 Rock and needed to know what else she’d done.

Now it’s in my top three movies of all time. Like, once I watched Mean Girls and then I watched it again immediately after but with commentary.

Actual Glen Coco

Did you know this is what Glen Coco looks like? You go, Glen Coco.

Everyone should watch Mean Girls. It’s just so great. It has this rhythm with its punchlines, one about every two seconds—just enough time to laugh. It’s so quotable, and it’s just weird enough to become a cult classic. It’s perfect. The writing is spot on and Tina Fey is outlandishly talented.

I’m not watching Mean Girls tonight because I just watched it a few weeks ago, but you should watch it. It’s been 10 years, and you should watch this movie.

Jesus didn’t die for you

It’s a little late to be blogging about Easter, but I never mentioned it in Holy Week and I won’t get another chance to dwell on it so deliberately for another year at least.

In the current edition of Journey we have an article about experiencing Easter afresh so we remember its true power. One of the things I reflected on over the Easter weekend was the line from Peter Lockheart near the end of that article, “It is good to have that personal notion that Jesus came for ‘me’, but Jesus didn’t come for ‘me’, Jesus came for the cosmos.”

That’s not necessarily a new idea for me, but meditating on that, it occurred to me that thinking about Jesus’ death and resurrection in this way is fundamentally different to how many people live out their Christian faith. At Easterfest I heard a lot of people talk about how, “You might not think you’re good enough, but Jesus died for you and God has a plan for your life.” That’s encouraging in one way, but it really just reenforces the idea that I am the centre of the universe. If anything, that’s the real problem and the real thing I need to be released from.

I’m so thankful that Jesus died for the cosmos. The Spirit is actively at work doing whatever it wills. Whether or not I am a part of that it totally irrelevant, and that’s a relief. I don’t need to save the world—that work is already in progress.

But for whatever reason, I am invited to take part in that work. I am caught up in it as it swirls around the cosmos in which I exist. I’m courted to take part in it, even. I get the feeling that any effort on my part, no matter how small or irrelevant, brings enormous joy to God because he loves me and has enabled me to contribute. It isn’t about me, but I am still able to participate in this story.

Silly old me, so unsuited to so many things, not best at anything, forever having to learn and relearn everything, gets to be part of the many-personed body of Christ and his saving, restoring work. Thank God I’m not an irreplaceable cog in that mechanism, but he saw fit to make use of me anyway.

It’s now too late at night for me to really finish off this blog post how I want, but that’s it. That’s my Easter.

The internet is for cats

I’m not a massive cat person, that is, except for on my Facebook cover photo because the internet is for cats. But yesterday I changed my cover photo to yet another cat and not a single person liked the post.

Cat cover photo

What isn’t to like?

Is the cat not funny enough? Will people think I really, unironically love cats? I have that problem enough when I post silly pictures of cats, like cats in tights, wet cats and cats eating spaghetti. It doesn’t matter how silly the cats are, some people think I just like cats because they are cats!

These cats are not weird enough

Unacceptable.

But no, I only like weird cats. I like them because cats take themselves too seriously, but they are very silly animals. This is the inherent humour in cats.

Trust me I have thought long and hard about this. No other animal quite captures the simultaneous pride and folly of cats. Beautiful cats just don’t do it for me. They just don’t capture the true spirit of cats.

But like I said, I’m not really a cat person in the sense of cat people people. I’m not into cats the same way I’m into chickens, for example. I just think they are kind of weird.

Release your inner cat!

That’s a little better.

I mean that’s what the internet is for, right? Sharing strange, interesting things. What is the point of not-weird cats! Did I make a bad cover photo decision? Was my cat not weird enough?

I think I need to find a new cat for Facebook. I need to find a picture of the quintessential cat. A paragon of feline foolishness! Because that’s what the internet is for. It is for cats.

It might take a little while though, because like I said, I’m not really a cat person. I just think they’re funny. It’s not like I search Google for cats all the time or as if I regularly take selfies with a cat. I don’t want everyone to think I’m obsessed with cats. I’m just doing it because it’s the internet and the internet is for cats.

Bruce is a cat

I’m not really all that into cats.

If anyone finds a good cover photo suggestion I’d really love to see it. Clearly I need all the help I can get.

What is this doing here we were talking about cats.

What is this doing here we were talking about cats.

My charmed, gay life

Tonight I went to Freedom2b, which is a support group for LGBTI people from Christian backgrounds. I don’t always go, but this month we watched The Cure—a documentary about gay and lesbian Christians who went through ex-gay programs.

It feels strange for me to go to f2b sometimes, because I’ve lived a pretty charmed existence as a gay Christian. Watching the movie, it really reinforced the sense I have that I dodged a bullet. I never wound up in an ex-gay program. My parents weren’t openly hostile to gay people while I was questioning my sexuality and took my coming out really well. I even had a primary school teacher who set me up to handle coming out in a Christian environment (although I didn’t realise that’s what was happening at the time).

How did I get away with it? I didn’t do anything to make any of this happen. How could I?

Perhaps it was divine intervention. Perhaps I was just lucky. Either way, my gratitude is so deep I’ll never be able to fully express it.

Also, it’s not over yet. Charmed lives don’t always last.

Lego Movie: Everything is awesome!

I saw the Lego Movie today and it was, as promised, awesome.

A full review seems a bit excessive considering it was released months ago in the rest of the world, but I’ll jot down a few thoughts.

I really loved it. What a script! And the animation! It’s highly self-aware and actually uses the ideas behind Lego itself to drive the story. By the end it gets incredibly meta, which in this case is a good thing.

What I especially loved about it was how very internetty it was. Not only was its editing reminiscent of what you might expect to watch on YouTube (jump cuts, smash cuts, non-sequiturs), the whole premise of the film is about subverting the media you are served and expressing your own creativity. Obviously the film wants you to use Lego to do this, but other media are specifically addressed too: music, video, food.

Don’t accept what the market serves you, express yourself by making your own.

This isn’t just a movie about Lego, it’s about encouraging consumers to become creators—something I’m completely on board with. It’s avidly pro-remix too. The story is about not keeping the different Logo sets apart, but the film itself is a mashup of pop culture references. Marvellous. I’ve never seen a movie with such high production values so keen to put creative power in the hands of the viewer.

If you haven’t seen it, see it. Everything is awesome.

Not your Sunday School’s Noah

Currently, I am sitting on my boyfriend’s couch typing on an iPad. I confess I have never typed on an iPad before. It is weird—a cross between a keyboard and a smartphone—so I apologise for any typos or autocorrect errors that may result.

Also, there will be no BEDA image today, because I don’t have image editing software on this iPad.

Anyway, the thing I want to write about here is the movie Noah—specifically the things that I wish I could publish in the review I’m writing for Journey, but I won’t because I’m too shy and I don’t want the readers to think I’m picking a fight with them.

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle about this movie among Christians. Is the film biblical? Does it take too many liberties with the text? Why does it make me so uncomfortable? Does it represent the story accurately? Does it represent people of faith positively? Please tell me I MUST KNOW before I accidentally give $17 to the devil when I buy my ticket!

That kerfuffle is partly why I like the film so much. It’s making Christians ask some of those tough questions about the Bible. Is it more important to portray the text word-for-word or to capture the spirit of the story? Are those things mutually exclusive? What about those bits we gloss over in Sunday school? Noah getting off his face on wine isn’t a very good example of righteousness, so we usually skip that part, but it’s in there.

The main problem I have with much of the Christian criticism of the movie is that it’s basically selfish. It’s essentially:

1. How does this movie represent ME, as a person of faith?

or

2. Does this movie (made by an atheist, oh dear!) live up to MY standards and the special knowledge I have as a person of faith?

Obviously the movie isn’t about Christians (or Jews or Muslims, to whom this story is also important!), but it does raise questions about how faith is lived out. I actually think Noah is an important movie, partly, because it is made by a person with no faith. Aronofsky explores territory every other makers of biblical films have so far avoided—to their detriment.

That’s not even including the fact that although they are holy to followers of Abrahamic faiths, the biblical stories don’t belong exclusively to Christians, Muslims and Jews. The story of Noah isn’t important only because of the faithful; it has something to say to everyone, regardless of faith, and they are free to engage with it however they like. This movie opens up Noah’s story to anyone who cares to engage, and it vaults over this story’s traditional gatekeepers in the process. It seems to me that these gatekeepers are upset about it.

You don’t need special knowledge to read Noah’s story and be moved by it. You don’t need to accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour to imagine what it was like on the ark, or wonder why in this story God would prescribe such a calamitous event in response to a broken world.

Noah—and Adam and Moses and Samuel and Isaiah and Jesus and John and Paul—are for everybody. They are important to me. Perhaps I could go so far as to say that understanding them is vital to understanding me—but they don’t belong to me.

The Bible is for everyone, and if you can open it up a little wider in a thoughtful and imaginative way, as Aronofsky has done with this film, then I applaud that effort.

Deuteronomy and feminism

Hi! The following is an ask I got on Tumblr a little while ago. Tumblr is losing a lot of its shine for me (I almost never use it anymore) but sometimes I write things there that are probably worthwhile holding on to. This is one of them.

hereunderthe75stars asked: As both a Christian and a feminist I’m finding it really difficult to get through the book of Deuteronomy. Do you have any advice?

Hi, good question. It’s also something that I probably can’t satisfactorily answer in a Tumblr text post. Sorry about that, but I will try my best.

I think we’re all in the same boat when it comes to the Bible. The Bible is an uncomfortable book written a long time ago by a lot of people, many of whom I probably would disagree with and probably wouldn’t like very much if I met them. It’s also, culturally, a completely different world to the one we inhabit now, and a lot of the history and context behind the words has been lost and we’re doing our best to patch it together and understand it.

It’s kind of like the church in this way, you know? I work for a church, and there are lots of people who are part of that organisation who would rather I wasn’t working there because I don’t do things the way they like. There are also a lot of people who love that I work there and would be very sad to see me go.

The reason the Bible is so important is because it’s like a prism that teases out all the different ways we think about life and God. In order to help you remember this, I have put together a handy graphic which will hopefully make things very clear.

The Bible is a prisim

Self explanatory, really.

When I read the Bible, I’m pretty sure I’m looking at it differently to some other people. I’m seeing a different “colour” to what they’re seeing. I’ve seen some of what the Bible is saying and some other people are positioned differently and can see it from angles I can’t. They’re seeing “colours” I can’t. We need to be talking to each other for us to try and get a better idea of what’s going on. This goes for people alive today from other cultures and walks of life, and it also goes for people throughout history. I need to “talk” to them by reading their stuff and doing my best to understand that and empathise with it. Talking about God should draw people together, not drive them apart. I’m a firm believer of that.

Deuteronomy is not a fun book. It is long and has lots of laws, most of which we don’t follow anymore because Christ is the fulfilment of the law and has changed our relationship to the law. Actually, I think I’ve only read it the one time, and I was relieved when it was over. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it! I found it really helped me understand parts of the New Testament, and it’s pretty vital in understanding the context of books like Joshua and 1 & 2 Samuel.

But! Feminist stuff! Deuteronomy won’t ever affirm our modern feminist ideas because it is not a modern feminist book. Instead it was written by people blissfully unaware of their own misogyny, in the same way your great-grandparents were probably blissfully unaware of their classism/racism/homophobia/take your pick. And yet! The author/s of Deuteronomy – misogynists all – were interested in maintaining a just society and pursuing the ways of God. They wrote a whole book about it and made sure it would survive the ages.Their misogyny was wrong, but they got some things right.

This is a great comfort to me, because I am sure I must be blissfully unaware of prejudices I no doubt hold. Perhaps my grandchildren (grandnephews and grandnieces?) will look back on my Google archive and be horrified that I could believe XYZ or phrase something in the way I do. But I do good things too, and I love God and do my best, and I hope that they’ll see that and give me the benefit of the doubt.

One of the central themes of the Bible is grace – unmerited favour – and so I guess as Christians we need to show grace to the people who’ve come before us, and on whose understandings we’ve built to get us this far. It doesn’t excuse those attitudes, but it frees us from judging them and now we can try and understand them and learn from them. Their perspective on life and God is so radically different to ours – there’s a lot they can teach us and I’m grateful to them for writing it. The misogyny will spoil some of that, but not all of it.

I am gay, so this is relevant to my day-to-day life. There are some people I work and worship with who are homophobic, but I have to show them grace and do my best not to let that homophobia colour the way I see their whole perspective on life and God. The homophobia is not acceptable, and I won’t shy away from telling them so or standing up for myself and others. But there’s more to them than their homophobia.

This is an idea that isn’t well-loved on Tumblr right now. Tumblr likes to find something wrong someone has said or done (however large or small) and then humiliate and destroy them with it. Everything they’ve ever said or done is painted with that imperfection until they’re totally written off. It’s highly judgemental in the worst way.

Remember that as Christians we believe that the Old Testament points to Christ. How is Deuteronomy doing this? What story is it telling? How does it fit in with the story being told in the other books surrounding it?

TL;DR

  1. God is infinite and complex and we need to talk to others with different points of view in order to understand God better
  2. Those different points of view will often contain offensive ideas
  3. Deuteronomy contains offensive ideas
  4. Without excusing or mindlessly accepting those ideas, we need to show grace towards those points of view so we can try and understand what that book is saying about God.

Walking to listen

I don’t own a car. Instead of jumping in my own vehicle every morning and driving to work, I walk and catch public transport. It eats up a lot of my day, but the walking is good for me. So is the space I get travelling in splendid isolation surrounded by Brisbane’s other white-collar workers journeying to and from the city. I used to spend this time listening to music, but that soon got stale, so I downloaded some podcasts in the hope that I might learn a few things. I have; I’ve laughed and cried listening to some of these. Yes, I’m that person on the bus. I’m sorry, but I guess I’m not really sorry.


This American Life logoThis American Life
is a staple for anyone who listens to podcasts. A while ago, the week’s theme was Hit the Roadand it featured three stories about road trips of different kinds. It’s an episode that I keep thinking about all these months later. The first story was told by Andrew Forsthoefel, and featured audio he took while walking from Philadelphia to New Orleans, then all the way across to the Pacific Ocean. The whole time he wore a sign that read, “Walking to Listen”. Sometimes people would stop him and talk to him. These conversations make up the bulk of the story.

When he enters the southern United States, Andrew tells of the people who would take him in, feed him and give him a place to sleep that night. Often they would warn him not to go to the next town because “They’re not friendly like us. They’ll shoot you for the shirt off your back. Don’t trust them.” But he would go, and those very people he was warned about would take him in, feed him and let him sleep in their homes.

One conversation in particular got me down deep. I got all misty-eyed sitting by myself on a CityCat:

Andrew Forsthoefel: So what was it like back in the old days?

Woman: Oh god, honey. I’ve done got old and forgetful. And I’ve done forgot I used to know about that stuff. But all I can tell you is it was scary.
I never will forget, we were picking butter beans. And we had picked a bag that was in the garden for a white man. And the wife told us to go bring in some water.
And we got the buckets out of the kitchen and went sailing through the hole to the well. Got the buckets full. And when we got back to the steps, he said, “You niggers, don’t you all come back up those steps. Go and run in the house with that water to the kitchen.” And we said, “Yes, sir.”

Andrew Forsthoefel: Now what do you think about those people who are so mean and hateful? What do you feel about them?

Woman: I feel like they ain’t looking for a great day. I’m looking for a great day, you know, when I see my Jesus face to face. You don’t do evil for evil.
They hate you all. You all love them. And I thought, how could I love somebody tell me, you nigger, don’t you come back up them steps, go round the house?
Now how could I love somebody, Lord? And he said, that’s the rule. That’s the golden rule. Love thy neighbour as thyself. And I got to do what he says. I’ve got to love them.

And I just have so many thoughts about that. This woman has faced more hardship than I ever will, and she has learned to love her enemies. Or maybe she’s still learning, but it sure sounds to me like she’s getting there.

Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you‘ is so commonly heard I’m pretty sure it’s lost its scandalous effect on us, but stories like this bring it back. The people this woman is instructed to love might never have realised what they did to her was wrong, but she loves them anyway. The systems that governed her dictated she be humble her whole life, but she still has to humble herself again and love the people who kept those systems in place. Where is the justice in that!

ParaNorman movie poster

Claymation movies are tear-jerkers, as a rule

At the same time, there’s something so right about it: “You don’t do evil for evil”, and I’m so grateful for it. These stories of grace, forgiveness and redemption never fail to move me—even ParaNorman had me weeping quietly to myself on a plane from London to New York. I think it’s because I’m not actually any different to that white man the woman is learning to love. Just about everything I have in life has been possible for me because of a brutal legacy from which I benefit every day, and I perpetuate oppressive systems that are so entrenched I don’t even realise that’s what I’m doing.

Actively thinking about all of this is hard because it makes me realise I can’t really love my neighbour the same way I love myself, by myself. Even if I have the goodness of heart and unshakable resolve to make it happen, being a good neighbour, loving my enemy and putting other people ahead of myself is not within my power alone.

I can try and love someone who is different from me, I can wish them well and be nice to them, but unless I’m able to identify and challenge those systems that benefit me and oppress them, how possibly can I love them? I’ve heard it said that all the world’s religions boil down to “Don’t be a dick”, but I can be a “good person” without actually living out selflessness in any meaningful way. This isn’t about me lacking the capacity to always do the right thing (although that in itself is a problem), it’s about the fact that although I strive to do what is right, and even as I try to eliminate injustice from the way I live, I cannot even begin to fathom how to repent of it.

It seems hopeless. How can we love each other—really love each other—when the minutiae of our lives makes us incapable of genuine selflessness? I think the answer might lie in walking to listen. I should not give up and stop walking, but my walking needs to be about other people—every step seeking out voices that are rarely heard and really learning from what they have to say. How else will I even know where to begin?