Last week I was involved in a Christian conference in Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast. I’m not generally a fan of these types of gathering but working with some of my friends and colleagues from across the country we were able to do some creative stuff and engage in some fruitful conversations so it was a good few days.
One of the talks I gave explored being gay as a God given identity. I try not to get involved in some of the slanging matches the church can sometimes engage in regarding same sex relationships and wanted simply to offer a positive reflection on my experience of being a gay Christian. People said I was very courageous to offer this talk but, in all honesty, it didn’t feel like I needed much courage to do it. My friend Lou Davis also offered a talk on her and others experiences in the area of fertility/infertility, motherhood and what it means to be a woman today. It was a sacred moment to hear someone speak so honestly and openly.
We were both trying to be as honest about our experiences as possible and one of the things we found through doing this was the power of authentic presence.
By this I mean that once we strip away all the dross we wrap around ourselves: the presentable face, the face that is strong enough to cope and will never admit to being broken, the face that is clever, wise or good; then we enter into a different way of being. There is something so simple here that is difficult to do in practice. The moment we start to strip these masks away our ego objects, sometimes strongly and sometimes more subtly because we have mistaken the wrappings for the person we actually are and removing them feels like we are being diminished. The truth is, however, that as we remove them we move towards freedom. There’s no doubt that this is a painful process but it is ultimately liberating not only for us but for those around us.
As we are honest about who we really are, without artifice, we are offering the gift of authentic presence to those around us. Authentic presence opens up sacred space. As we are genuinely offering ourselves to others so they are enabled to genuinely be themselves. And in that space we meet each other without pretence. I no longer need to be seen to be clever, or successful or unbroken, I’m simply being who I am. This is the reason that it didn’t feel like I needed courage to speak last week. I was, as far as I was able, simply being who I am, for good or ill. And there is no striving there or fear of failure or fear of criticism because all I was seeking to achieve was to offer myself. And transformation comes when we are able to meet people in that authentic space.
If you’re interested in what I said here is a recording of the talk. For those listening from a context outside the church in Britain you’ll have to look past some of the churchy references and asides, I was speaking in a certain context and in other places wouldn’t use some of the allusions I do here but I hope that my meaning is still clear.