over the last couple of years i’ve written pretty regularly for the Age, which is one of melbourne’s daily newspapers – it started as writing articles for the faith column, turned into some feature articles over christmas and easter, and now involves some opinion pieces in the editorial section. i love writing for the paper. it pushes me as much as working in the prisons does. i love the interaction with readers afterwards – people who email and tell me their story… people who want to disagree, and who will email to start a conversation about that. i had over 100 responses to one recent article – the conversations which ensued derailed my life for a week.
the circumstances by which the opportunity to write came about were quite random, and they don’t matter except to say that i was approached as an individual, not as someone who works with the uniting church. the writing isn’t part of my job, or this project.
The church has had a mixed relationship with the media – most of our interaction is defensive, or, at best, issues based. i’ve had countless conversations with people who want to warn me about how ‘the media’ are not the nice people they seem to be, that i need to be careful, that at heart they’re ‘out to get me’. which is ironic: having foolishly googled my name after that same recent article, the harsh, cruel and unfairly personal reactions were from those on christian forums and on denominational websites.
one thing those forums do get right is that my writing doesn’t express traditional christian doctrine… it’s not bounded by orthodoxy, and i have stated a few times that i’m not convinced by the creeds or some of the other traditional beliefs. and for this reason, we decided this week that my byline in future articles will simply be ‘cheryl lawrie is a melbourne writer’, rather than ‘cheryl lawrie works with an alternative worship project in the uniting church’.
it sounds small, but it took a lot of conversation to come to that point, and it does feel like we lose something in the change. but it will remove the temptation for people to dismiss the uniting church based on disagreements with the thoughts i write.
a few people have asked recently why i don’t see myself as part of the emerging church. It’s for a similar reason. it’s not because of a disagreement with the emerging church, it’s because the emerging church claims very strongly its place within orthodoxy and traditional theology. that’s not where i find my home. i find i have to wriggle and squeeze my theology into a virtually unrecognisable shape in order to fit into the credal statements – even with feminist and liberal critiques and interpretations. they don’t fit the same space as my faith.
i’m not saying this to be controversial. i’m saying it because i want to honour those who read what i write, and then have the courage to email me [a complete stranger] to tell me they too are dipping their feet in the edge of this vast and endless sea, that they’re not sure where it will take them either, and that they’re looking for company as they search for something beyond what they’ve been told is the truth they have to believe.
[At some point the church will, quite fairly, make the call that as this is a project of the uniting church, it really needs to hold to the traditional doctrines and creeds of the church. And i’ll cheerfully hand over the privilege of working within it to another… and keep creating sacred spaces myself, because i don’t do this because i’m paid to. Until that time, the space between now and then stretches out as pure gift…]