Nuggets From Elizabeth Oldfield (III)

This is her talking about holding faith on the one hand firmly, but also lightly. (That may sound like nonsense, please read on)

“I have a very small number of very strong convictions. And everything else is above my pay grade. I’m very open to changing my opinion on it. This is my hunch (about whatever is under discussion), but I’m very open to changing my mind on it.

And in terms of my faith, I think … one of my favourite prayers is from Morning Prayer from the Northumbria Community, and a part of it says “To whom shall we go ? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.”

One amazing benefit of having interviewed in quite a lot of depth people from very different metaphysical positions is – there’s not something better out there that I could exchange this for. I’ve never met anyone who made me think that their understanding of God, or not God, or whatever it is, is more beautiful or compelling than the Christian gospel, and so, even though my faith is multi-coloured and changes and is a wrestle, (as I think it is for anyone who is being intelectually honest), in some ways it is strengthened … because this is good stuff. It goes deep, it is satisfying – emotionally, intellectually, relationally. It’s like the old worship song – ‘nothing compares to the promise I have in you.’ – and I still fundamentally believe that.

Elizabeth Oldfield is director of the thinktank Theos

and has a podcast – The Sacred

Church · community · Following Jesus

Nuggets From Elizabeth Oldfield (II)

Elizabeth Oldfield Part II. About the church and how we deal with those who are different to ourselves.

Some years ago, there was a married couple who had started on their Christian journey quite recently, and church was for them a new experience. They were amazed to be getting to know people in our church who acted without any self interest – just out of love and concern. It seemed that here was the perfect expression of community.

It took a while, but eventually they came to realise that we were fallible human beings, who were sometimes selfish, sometimes awkward or just plain difficult to get along with, but that the church was fundamentally a good place to be. That isn’t everyone’s experience, but Elizabeth Oldfield has a similar take ….

She says this about her experience of church. “After a while I came to realise that the church as an institution has a lot wrong with it; churches in general do not live up to the Christian gospel, or the calling of Jesus in any way, shape or form, but I’m less and less keen on focussing on just that. I feel like the more I spend time with really diverse groups of people who have no experience of church whatsoever, the more I realise what this gift (the church) is – this imperfect, broken, but beautiful gift. I have been in all kinds of (church) communities, and my experience is that they don’t always navigate every kind of difference well, but they do navigate a lot of differences well, and are certainly the local institution which is trying its hardest to navigate difference. There is at least an intention and a desire to notice difference and to model the way that we are supposed to be working with those differences, noticing our failings and modelling the kingdom of God.”

Grace and peace to you, particularly to those of you who have a calling to work for mutual understanding in situations or communities, or families, or organisations etc where there is difference and especially where tension is also present.

Elizabeth Oldfield is director of the thinktank Theos

and has a podcast – The Sacred

community · faith · Following Jesus

Nuggets From Elizabeth Oldfield (I)

I’ve been listening to another Nomad podcast, this time with director of thinktank Theos, Elizabeth Oldfield. The conversation was all about how we engage with those who are not like us. She had three insights that particularly struck me. This post will be part 1.

The first insight was to do with a passage in Luke’s’s Gospel, where Jesus says:
“But I tell everyone who is listening: Love your enemies. Be kind to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who insult you. 29 If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other cheek as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t stop him from taking your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who asks you for something. If someone takes what is yours, don’t insist on getting it back. If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other cheek as well – what’s that all about ?

Elizabeth Oldfield talks about our most common responses to conflict, which are well understood – fight or flight. So if someone hits you, you can respond by hitting back or running away. But there’s often a third option, which is just to hang in there. This means subverting our gut response, which, depending on our personality, history etc, will be to run or hit back. So for example the conflict might not be about fisticuffs, but to do with a difficult conversation where someone has said something that makes us want to verbally ‘hit back’ or alternatively withdraw from the conversation. Jesus is saying – “Stick with it. This might be a conversation worth having, even if it’s tough.”

I can relate to this. In my experience it’s usually when someone says something critical about something I have said or done. My typical responses are to a) back down and say nothing, or b) justify myself and say why I am in the right. Neither option allows for a genuine conversation to take place.

What I have tried to do in that kind of situation is to say – ‘Tell me more’, or ‘Help me to understand why you feel like that.’ Responding in that open way has often led to a greater understanding on my part why the other person has said that – which may actually have more to do with them, or their circumstances than with what I have said or done. It also may (although this is not the main purpose) give me an opportunity to explain my own point of view.

Grace and peace to everyone who is struggling with how to have difficult conversations.

Elizabeth Oldfield is director of the thinktank Theos

and has a podcast – The Sacred