I like going to the hairdressers. I must admit that that was not the opening phrase I had anticipated opening a post for Theology Everywhere with, but I like going to the hairdressers. The time is booked, and I usually anticipate being there for an hour, wash, cut, blow dry, coffee, being pampered, but for me that is not the key thing. The real and lasting enjoyment comes not from a new haircut but from a deep engagement, and conversation with someone who I might not otherwise encounter.
Over the years, talk over the mirror has been about many things, from motherhood and daily life to deep spiritual things, especially when people find out who I am (I was going to write what I do, but I won’t unpack that now, that would probably be the subject for a different post). I have been asked about ghosts and angels, whether I believe in the supernatural, about multi-faith issues, politics, justice, sexuality and so much more. The space is not my space; it is a commercial space where people come and go, a space I must respect and honour, and where I must win the opportunity to engage in conversation. Very often though, I find that those I have met over the years, who have held the power of scissors over my head, are hungry for spiritual engagement and want to talk.
I have found the same in other contexts too, in coffee shops, in placing stalls into town festivals, music festivals, and into Mind Body Spirit Exhibitions, not in order to win people to the church, but to meet with them where they are and to offer a space to talk. Perhaps the best thing about all of this is that each of these encounters has pushed me to think more deeply about the God that I do and don’t believe in, and to encourage those I meet to do the same.
As I reflect upon the Gospels in the light of this, I notice the way that Jesus simply encountered people where they were, how he encouraged them to drive the conversation, to express their needs, voice their doubts and ask questions. His responses were given in parables which again offered those with the desire the opportunity to delve deeper to seek out the meaning, and those stories, simple though they seem, are so nuanced that they still speak to us today.
As a member of a church that is asking deep questions of its future, what challenges me, and what I learn from Jesus’ itinerant ministry, makes me wonder how we might create safe spaces for the type of conversation that I have been describing. How might it look if instead of being curators of Methodism and what it stands for, if we were to become chaplains, meeting people along the way and daring to journey with them. How might it look if we were able to find a way of making the most of our resources, relinquishing buildings and using those that are fit for purpose to their full potential. I know this has been an ongoing debate, and that it has its own problems, pains, and frustrations but we can’t cling on to what is not the answer, and never was. The story of the people of God has always been one of journey/ pilgrimage; even the exilic accounts can and should inform our sense of who we are, and while there are encouragements to settling down (Jeremiah 29: 4-9), they are set in the context of blessing the people that we find ourselves amongst, which may again demand a new thing of us.
Yet none of this is new, these are questions that we have been returning to repeatedly, but so often with the underlying assumption that this is about the survival of Methodism and what it means to be Methodist, and while the theology of the Methodist Church is what has won my heart to Christ and the Christian walk in so many ways, I want to ask what would happen if we were to give ourselves away. To ask not what Methodism is for the present and future age, but to learn from the encounters that we have with those around us. I leave you with the words of Jesus.
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10: 39)