Mapping Changes In Thought And Faith
After a busy end to 2009 I’ve only just started to reflect on the decade just passed, from 2000-2009. The public side of my faith underwent a big and obvious transition in those years. Not so much the “theology” bit, as the day to day and week to week reality of “church” life. Connected to […]
After a busy end to 2009 I’ve only just started to reflect on the decade just passed, from 2000-2009. The public side of my faith underwent a big and obvious transition in those years. Not so much the “theology” bit, as the day to day and week to week reality of “church” life. Connected to this was my move away from academia.
In late 1999 my “day-job” was writing and researching in the Centre for Theology and Culture at King’s College London. I was also involved with Bloomsbury Baptist Church in London while working part-time as a Chaplain in King’s. My life was set to a rythmn of research seminars, worship services, film sceenings, library research and cafe conversation – not to mention long afternoons in the college library. I was the archetypal post-modern academic – wearing black, quoting recent cinema and current European philosophy in the same breath and so on.
Cut to late 2009 and I am no longer an academic, haven’t been to church in a long time, have no local faith “community” to speak of and rarely write or blog about theology. While I still watch a lot of films, I’m more likely to talk about their soundtrack than use them in an exposition of post-structuralist thought. In short, I have virtually no connection left to the life I lived in 1999.
So what happened?
Well, perhaps the most ironic thing is that between 1999 and 2009 I had a dramatic rise and fall as a faith-oriented blogger. My first blogs, in 2001-2003 were focussed on spirituality and also on the research I was doing at King’s; hermeneutics, ethics and portrayals of faith in popular films.
Then, from 2004-2007 I blogged quite a bit about theology and globalisation and became tangentially involved in the emerging church “conversation.” Although my blog never attracted a lot of comments, it did at its peak attract quite a bit of traffic (today bloggers seem to boast about much smaller numbers) and kept my email and chat conversations with fellow thinkers alive. I was sent books to review, invited to submit papers for conferences and generally engaged in a global community of thought.
Then I ran out of steam.
I suspect there were a few reasons for that. First, I didn’t live near any of my interlocutors. Blogging allowed me to interact with people from the four corners of the globe. But, that is not the same as face-face exchange. I found that my ideas about faith and culture were not growing. Blogs are like books, reading them will only profit you up to a point, beyond that you need human interaction.
In Delhi and then in Hong Kong, the human element in churches was fraught. In Delhi I had a real crisis, not so much of faith as of vocation. It was one of those rare occasions where I really needed church. Sadly, the help wasn’t there. Here in Hong Kong church “shopping” was a soul-destroying experience, but worse still was attending a church for nearly two years, only to realise that no-one was even interested in learning my name.
Back in 2004-2005 I still harboured the dream of returning to academia, even as I made the move back to being a full-time musician. But, by the time I settled in Hong Kong in 2006 that door was closed for good. With no physical audience for my theological ideas, apart from long distance connections via the blog, I lost momentum.
Supervening upon on all this was a growing disillusionment with church as a concept. I struggled for quite sometime with feelings of being let down – by my home denomination, by fellow academics and friends, by the churches I attended through that decade. Moreover, I was somewhat ashamed by my own failure to cope better with the challenges and changes the decade brought up.
I wouldn’t say I have lost my faith, but I have lost interest in a lot of the debates and conversations that once animated me. This year I will return to writing about faith and globalisation and will be taking some photos in support of that. But, this new body of work will quite different from what I did in the past, with a very different vocabulary and, I anticipate a thoroughly different audience.