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I am currently on a pilgrimage of repentance for my former homophobia, walking from Birmingham to London between 16 June and 1 July. For more details and updates, please see: http://repenting.wordpress.com/
In the last few days, I have passed several milestones, some perhaps more significant or serious than others. I am over half way, which I’m very pleased about. I managed the day with the furthest distance on Wednesday 22 June 2011, when I walked the 19 miles from Daventry to Banbury. As of yesterday, I have my first blister. And today, I got considerably lost for the first time – and for the second time; on two unrelated occasions I went some distance in the wrong direction. To paraphrase Eric Morecombe, I walked down all the right roads, but not necessarily in the right direction.
I got rather dispirited at times, particularly in the last two hours in the rain as I approached Oxford several hours later than intended this evening. I was sustained in part by prayer which I admit at times did not come easily. I was sustained also by the support of friends on the phone, really encouraging messages on Twitter and the practical help of my friend Sharon Langridge, part of my remote support team, who quickly looked up maps and directions on the internet on the occasions when I got so lost that I went off the edge of my own map. Had I phoned Sharon on one more occasion when I wasn’t sure, rather than trusting my instinct, I would have arrived at my destination about an hour earlier.
The five members of my remote support team have been great. They have divided the days of my walk between them, taking responsibility on the days in question for keeping the website and Facebook page updated and phoning me to check things are OK. Yesterday, Ellen Elliot very kindly spent some considerable time phoning churches and groups in Bicester, after the person who had kindly offered to accommodate me had to pull out at the last moment due to illness. Many thanks to Paul Howes, minister of Bicester Methodist Church, who seemed very relaxed about allowing me to stay in his spare room with almost no notice whatsoever.
This walk has already challenged my perception of far more things than I expected. I wrote on 21 June about the heart-warming hospitality I’ve received, and how it has sometimes taken surprising forms. Another thing that has been radically affected has been my understanding of space and the physical landscape. I didn’t expect this, despite a question about it at the launch event in Birmingham last week (a question which took me by surprise). I have learnt that I much prefer walking along canal towpaths to anywhere else, not only because they’re generally flat but because of the friendliness of other walkers, cyclists and people on boats. I have learnt the hard way how much roadsigns are set up for motorists and not for walkers. And I have noticed slight hills or dips on roads that I have travelled on before, but thought were flat as I sat on the bus.
It’s a reminder of how much our perceptions are shaped by what is normal in our lives – particularly the normality we are brought up with, but also what is normal for a temporary time (travelling by car, bus or train is just not normal to me at the moment). Like many thoughts that I’ve had since I began walking, I’m reflecting on how this relates to our views on sexuality. I am often accused of supporting same-sex relationships simply because this is the dominant view in society. The people saying this usually (but not always) miss the point that for generations, other Christians opposed same-sex relationships because they were reflecting the dominant view of society in their own time.
While it is not possible to operate outside our own context, or to be entirely objective, we have to ask what it means to live by the spirit and teachings of Christ rather than society’s norms. For those of us who support the acceptance of same-sex relationships, that means making sure that we’re not simply reflecting secular liberal values, but going beyond them, to the far more radical, disturbing and liberating ethics that spring from the freedom found in Christ. That’s not an easy thing even to think about, let alone to do. I’ll be reflecting on it further over the coming days.
(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia. For more information on his pilgrimage of repentance, please visit http://www.repenting.wordpress.comTweet