"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
January 31, 2010

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.

Responses
hamo 13 years ago

still reading 🙂 and appreciate the complexity of life that you desribe

Yamabuki 13 years ago

Wow, this is great. Self knowledge and working with the life and the cards that God is dealing you.

I like to believe that God challenges us in ways that will call us to do His will.

I should say that although I was raised catholic, I have since traveled spiritual paths that have taken me out of the main stream. I feel that I have done the best when I watch and see where the Spirit wants me to go.

I admire the way you walk your path and feel that while it’s not for me to judge, that you are doing well. It’s good to take a look at our lives periodically, but I have come to feel that what looks like shortcomings and failures in our lives can actually be signals from God asking us to look deeper for new ways of living.

Thank you for sharing your process of growth with us

Yamabuki

Ida Griffiths Zee 13 years ago

I am sorry to hear about your experience in Hong Kong but I think you have been unlucky not to find a caring community. When we have our next meeting, a mixed crowd with different church affiliations or beliefs, I will let you know and you may consider joining us?
Best wishes

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Thanks for your kind thoughts.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Thank you.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Thanks mate.

Toni 13 years ago

Wish I’d read this sooner. I’m struggling to read long blog posts at the moment: probably a mixture of tiredness, eyes not working well and generally feeling dumb. They just become a blur of words that fail to transmit meaning.

This is just my opinion, but it’s very hard for someone to be ‘on the inside’ in church leadership and then lay it all down while maintaining a good attitude and finding satisfaction in it. Nothing is every quite right or ‘good enough’ afterward, and it’s very hard to find a home. Having been part of a denomination where the clergy is fairly ‘set aside’ probably makes things worse.

From the sound of things you may have grown up a fair bit too since the days of wearing black, and that’s never a pleasant experience. 😉

I’d agree with the proximity issue. We need fellowship face to face with people, and while blogging etc is good for exchanging ideas, it really is NO substitute for being in the company of friends. In your situation this might well drive me to a local church, even if it was flakey, just so I could develop relationships. Having said that, our walk into a new fellowship has somewhat mirrored your experience, and 20 months in, I still feel like we barely know most people and certainly still feel dis-satisfied. It’s almost as though there’s a bubble around us, and while we see others getting on well together, being happy in worship and the teaching they receive, we’re not a part of it. They know our names, but as a couple there are only 2 houses we’ve ever been invited into.

I also agree about the arguments. I’ve almost stopped posting theology stuff, simply because there’s no energy for that now, and people can continue to be ‘wrong on the internets’ without my interference. I am aware that part of satan’s schemes is to grind us down until we give up, and there’s been a bit of that for me too. Not that I plan giving up, but there’s a distinct ground-downness right now. This doesn’t seem at all unusual, and a lot of friends have been suffering this in one form or another recently.

May be we should get some tee shirts printed up: “knock your head against a brick wall for jesus”? Guess the irony would be mostly lost though.

Take care, feller. Having family sick and dying can change the way we view the world without us realising it too.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Toni – thanks for your thoughts. Agree with just about everything you said. We should get those T-Shirts made up.

Jay 13 years ago

Fern,
This is Jay from HCFX; it has been a while since i’ve posted on your blog.

Wow, reading this post, i can relate to you whole heartedly. In 1999, my heart was overconsumed to take on the world spiritually speaking. Theologically, i was stupid and naive, but willing.

Ten years later, i have 3 kids. And it’s not just that “i don’t have the time”; but i don’t have the “soul power” of seeking the infectious aroma of christendom in seekers and non-seekers alike. I find myself drained (an understatement) trying to provide for my family physically and spiritually. I find myself saying, “My kids need more than the world outside, sorry world, sorry God”. This sounds terrible.

I am still uprooted inside when it comes to what i’ve learned on being socially aware and the charities i support. This changed from being mostly into what “ministries” i should support. Which in turn led me to believe i was more spiritually aware, what crap.

My views and many other of my Theological ideas have changed from my old ways the more i study and have revelation on who God is in this world. My youthful exhuberance may have disappeared in a way, but my drive towards stability in knowledge has grown more in the last two years of my life. I believe this is because of having a full fledged family to maintain.

No longer can i jump ship so easily in spiritual endeavors. This is where my church life comes into contact with who i’ve become. I cannot allow my kids to think about putting trust in a ‘church’, but rather putting trust in their creator and all of those who follow him-to an extent.
Maybe this is due to getting burned on so many levels (i won’t play church anymore in a ‘church’) within ministry. But i realize that the fam needs stability even though i’m the least stable in the fam sometimes.

I say all this to say that there are many that can relate on losing interest in the entire thing. But i stil hold onto the hope that God is the ultimate truth and reality, no matter the circumstance and my feeling.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Hey Jay,

It has been a while. Thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging words.

For me, having a kid made it impossible to “play church,” as you put it. As a parent I always get it wrong in one sense, but I can’t pretend that something works, when it doesn’t. But, the really telling thing was that my daughter, then not even seven, could tell the game didn’t work. She didn’t feel that Sunday School went everywhere and found it odd that church was so unfriendly and “weird” compared to school and after-school activities.

I don’t think it is just a cultural throwback that makes me still long for opportunities to “reason together” with others. But, pretending and playing is something I don’t have time for either.

John Flynne 13 years ago

Fern,
I found it interesting and sad to read your blog above.It sounds totally self absobed was that your intention? you have a wife daughter yet they do not appear in this journey.Why?
You talk of the church you attended and no-one knew your name but you ommitted to say whether you knew anyone ? Why? Faith requires on to do things not sit back and let it come to you.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

John, thanks for your comment. There is a difference between self-absorbded and written from one particular perspective. In that post I was writing out of my experience only.

Yes, I did get to know people’s names and did try to engage with people, including saying hello and being friendly off church property. I’ve written about that before. I did volunteer, I did try to find ways to be more involved and I did speak and write to the leadership

As for writing about my family’s experience: I’ve decided not to write about them or post anymore pictures of them. I’m uncomfortable with people speaking on behalf of others online. They can choose when and how to reveal themselves in this medium. It’s part of the reason I no longer participate in Facebook.

Matt Stone 12 years ago

So where would you say your faith is at, at this point in your journey? Growing or otherwise? Genuinely interested here. I appreciate that community can be a struggle at times, but I’ve seen too many people drift and fade over time when striking out solo. Encouragement is harder to come by. Hope you’re doing well.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Matt – no question it’s tough. But, the lack of encouragement starts from zero now, rather than from a deficit. Going to church was making me feel worse about being a Christian and generally worse as a person. It was corroding everything – my writing, my music, my relationships and my sense of faith.

Now things are low key, faith has become a quiet thing, but also I feel less apologetic about it, less like I need to explain an justify it when and if it comes up in conversation. I’ve had an extraordinarily productive year, my relationships feel warm and honest and I don’t emerge into Monday mornings feeling drained and cheated.

Of course, this is not something I see as a necessary condition. I could imagine rejoining a church in the future. But, the dynamic has changed and my patience for those who claim it is better to suffer in silence is gone.

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