The Bishop of Durham and Footprints Theatre Company are presenting the Gap at Sunderland Minster this week: an interactive lunch hour or evening with theatre, live music, and an open forum to ask Bishop Paul the hard questions about real life. Each day looks at a different topic: food, image, money, life and death, relationships.
This evening saw a fascinating and thought-provoking discussion of image, responding to questions including sexuality and transgender. What follows are my own thoughts, relating to these and other image issues.
We find ourselves living in a time when the old certainties are breaking down. While this causes distress for many people – including those who declare that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket – this is broadly speaking a good thing. Many of the old certainties were over-simplifications, misleading headlines. Where we establish ourselves in our certainties, God shakes them until nothing we have built stands and we are exposed as creature not Creator.
At the same time – and an obvious consequence of such shaking – we live in a time when as a society we are profoundly disoriented and confused about identity, including the entire spectrum of sexuality and of gender. This in itself is broadly speaking a bad thing – and compounded by our refusal to admit to our confusion. But something significant is revealed in it. In times of such confusion, the Good Shepherd goes searching for lost sheep (and Isaiah reminds a shaken people that we are all like lost sheep); good shepherds have compassion for lost sheep; and wicked shepherds look to their own interests. It is not so much that under such conditions ‘people’ are shown to be false of heart – this has already been revealed, with conclusive evidence – but that ‘I’ am shown to be false of heart in how I judge others.
It is precisely in our certainties that we have no need of or interest in God, other than a god made in our image and serving our interests.
It is precisely in our disorientation, our confusion, our daily experiences of death, our wrestling with doubts, that we are searched out and brought home by the God who entered into death with and for us, that new life might be birthed.