Roadsigns and radios

If I said that I’d been on an emotional rollercoaster, I might sound like a contestant on the X Factor.

However, I’ve been through an extremely wide range of emtion since yesterday evening. From the surprise gifts from friends after yesterday’s launch event – including a cake and a waterproof jacket – to taking the first steps from Carr’s Lane Church this morning, to being interviewed by a Radio 4 journalist as I walked, to the odd feelings as I waved goodbye to the friends who had walked with me for the first few miles, it’s been a strange 24 hours.

Perhaps the most suprising thing has been the media interest. I had a sudden rush of media calls yesterday and there was much more coverage today than I’d expected. I’ve done five radio interviews since last night. I’ve had supportive messages and comments, as well as those asking critical but important questions.

As a former press officer, I’m used to handling media interest – but today was different. Not only because of the personal nature of the subject but because the media interest was developing as I was walking through the streets, with only  a mobile phone to make me aware of it . Thankfully, my very efficient friend Hannah Brock was giving remote support, answering emails and monitoring coverage and making sure the BBC corrected their online story which mistakenly described me as “gay” in the headline (although it was great to see the story on the website; I was delighted that it made the “most read” list).

Hannah’s one of several friends and supporters who have truly humbled me with the time and care they have given to helping out. The friends I stayed with last night, and those I’m staying with tonight, have been really hospitable and given me great food (as has my friends’ dog, who jumped up and licked me the moment I entered the house today, looking considerably more lively than I felt after walking 16 miles). It’s been a very busy and confusing day, and possible only because of the people who have helped me through it, practically, spiritually and emotionally.

I’ve been asked if there is a danger of the publicity and support going to my head. It is a danger I’m aware of, and something I’m seeking to guard against. Perhaps the safest guard is the fact that I’m detached from the media interest by spending most of the time of the road. As I neared the end of today’s walk, my more pressing concern was the inconsistency of Warwickshire signposts.

My destination for the day was New Arley, so I was delighted when I reached a sign declaring that I was one and a quarter miles from New Arley. After walking for about ten minutes, I passed another sign, also telling me it was one and a quarter miles to New Arley. I walked about that distance, before the next signpost declared that New Arley was half a mile away. The claim was repeated by another sign about half a mile further on. I was surprised to find that after half a mile, I really did reach New Arley, which by that point felt like discovering the lost city of Atlantis.

I hope the signposts are at least slightly better on the way to Coventry tomorrow.

With the radio and internet coverage, there’s been a rush of comments on this site and I’ve also had lots of emails and Twitter messages. I’m sorry I’ve not had chance to reply to them all yet. While I can get email and Twitter on my phone, it’s difficult to use it at length, which means I’m dependent on internet access provided by people I’m staying with. However, I’m not walking on Sunday, and hope to catch up with the comments and messages then. Thanks very much for your patience.

Some of the messages raise really interesting and valuable questions, which indicate that this pilgrimage is an opportunity for me to learn, and to be challenged as well as to challenge. This is really important. I was delighted with the range of discussion at the launch yesterday, from a question on Christian attitudes to homophobia, to consideration of New Testament passages that appear to condemn same-sex relations, to a question about how long-distance walking affects our attitudes to the built environment.

It’s difficult to get my head around all that has happened since yesterday afternoon, when I walked up to the ticket desk at London Marylebone station and asked for a ticket to Birmingham.

“One-way or return?” asked the ticket-seller.

“One-way please,” I replied, “I’m walking back.”

I’m not sure he believed me.

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20 comments so far

  1. Elisabeth Chambers on

    Astounded to listen to five live today and hear that, according to Symon, anyone who holds the Biblical view that homosexuality is wrong is a homophobe. This makes around half of the New Testament to be written by a ‘homophobe’. Mind you, as modern Christianity often consists of people re-writing the Bible – or all the bits they don’t like – I guess many liberal Christians will be comfortable with this label for the Apostle Paul. How his ministry was given such power through the Holy Spirit is anyone’s guess.

    Where’s the power these days?

    • Symon on

      Thanks for your comment, Elisabeth. I don’t consider myself to be a “liberal Christian” and I certainly don’t dismiss the apostle Paul, whose writings have had a profound effect on my life. Paul repeatedly insisted that Christians are called to live by the Holy Spirit rather than by the law. I think he would be appalled at the idea of people snatching lines of his writing out of context to uphold legalism of the sort that he had rejected.

  2. Jim O'Crowley on

    Blessings on you and on your journey. I am a 70 year old gay man and have just returned from walking the 500 mile Camino from Saint Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostella to the reputed tomb of St James.
    One of the traditions of the Camino is that pilgrims bring with them a stone sigifying something they want shed from their lives and leave it at the Cruz de Ferro – a cross at the highest point of the Camino, almost 5,000 feet high. I didn’t bring a stone but mentally I left there, on that great mound of stones, the burden of a homophobic and imperialistic church and went on my way believing that I am as God created me.

    • Symon on

      Thanks, Jim! That’s a really inspiring story. Leaving your metaphorical stone at the Cruz de Ferro seems to me to be a very powerful gesture.

      And I hope you won’t be offended if I say that I hope I can walk 500 miles when I am 70.

      Shalom!

  3. Katherine O on

    How you can manage to write so eloquently after walking all day, I don’t know. Inspiring stuff, Symon. Bon route for tomorrow. 🙂

    • Symon on

      Thank you! With regard to your point about writing after walking, remember that I’d had a lot of time during the walk to think about what to write!

  4. Miriam Yagud on

    Dear Symon, May the road rise to greet you!
    I am quite bowled over at your honesty, bravery (brazenness?) and willingness to share such a private process. In doing so, you are highlighting how much we each influence the climate of the public sphere through the decisions and choices we make about deeply personal matters. It just goes to show that nothing is really very private after all! This is a very important thing you are doing. Its the end of the college year and I really can’t make time to join you en route. I have no doubt that you are creating an exciting learning opportunity for us all.Thankyou for sharing your voyage of discovery. I hope it continues with good heart.

    • Symon on

      Thanks Miriam. I’m really pleased you think that, and really glad you’ve said it.

  5. Richard Goode on

    I agree with Katherine, it is amazing how you can write so eloquently after what must have been an exhausting day (physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually). I’m glad you made it despite the vagaries of Warwickshire signposts! When things have calmed down a bit, I’d love to chat about homosexuality in the NT (particularly Paul). A couple of years ago I did a workshop on it with some rather keen undergrads which brought up some really interesting stuff – I’d love to hear what your reading of it all is (especially as I know that your critical mind would have mulled it over with tenacity, thoroughness and integrity.

    • Symon on

      Thanks, Richard. I appreciate your comments very much, though I fear you over-rate my critical mind! I would love to discuss sexuality in the New Testament with you. That would be great.

  6. Charlotte Norton on

    @Elisabeth I think there is a difference between believing the Bible and being homophobic. Basically, you can believe whatever you want, but if you then use those beliefs to hurt and persecute a group of people who have done you no wrong, if you use them to make them outcasts in your church, if you make them feel inferior, if you condemn their relationships and families, if you try to tell them they are sick and sinful, if you damage these people because of your belief about what the Bible says (even though this is a matter of interpretation), then you are guilty of homophobia. I speak from very painful personal experience of churches wanting me for a while and then casting me away, or saying they are inclusive of all people and then trying to shame me into leaving my partner. Or telling me they ‘love the sinner hate the sin’ when all around me I could see heterosexual people caught in all kinds of sin that were being largely ignored…or being told I couldn’t be trusted in my ministry (student ministry and music ministry) any more (what did they think? that I would send gay vibes out while I sang? That my tea would turn people gay?!). I am so grateful that there are people like Symon out there who are willing to take responsibility for past actions that have hurt LGBT people…his walk is, no doubt, a walk of repentance for himself, but it is also a walk of healing for thousands of gay Christians who have been hurt by the established Church. I support him 100%.

    • Symon on

      Thanks, Charlotte. I really appreciate your sharing such personal comments and I’m chuffed that you are pleased about my walk.

      I think what you’ve identified is the tendency for churches to hold gay and bisexual people to higher moral standards than straight people. While those churches may technically believe that all sorts of behaviour are sinful, it is often only same-sex relations that they focus on.

  7. Charlotte Norton on

    I could also add, that it is not just ‘liberal’ Christians who re-write and ignore parts of the Bible. I have been told so many times that I should cease being a lesbian because of Leviticus 20 (which doesn’t even refer to women!), meanwhile these Christians are holding me accountable to the law and not obeying it themselves – for example Leviticus also says not to eat pork, not to wear mixed fibres…etc etc. All of which are commandments that they are glibly ignoring while expecting me to obey the one that comes a few pages later…

  8. Hugh Oxford on

    I think it’s great that someone is raising the issue of unfair discrimination against homosexuals, practising or otherwise. We are all sinners after all – that is why Christ died on the cross for us!

    Of course the message must also be one of hope – that chastity is liberating and attainable, that sex belongs between a husband and wife within marriage, and for many people, their homosexuality can be repaired and they can be free.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Symon on

      Thanks for your comment, Hugh. I appreciate your encouragement and I applaud your opposition to hatred. However, I do disagree that a marriage has to be between a husband and wife. As Paul says, for Christians “there is no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3, 28). A loving marriage can involve two people of any gender.

      • Sophie, Surrey on

        Symon, you write:

        “However, I do disagree that a marriage has to be between a husband and wife. As Paul says, for Christians “there is no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3, 28). A loving marriage can involve two people of any gender.”

        This is my understanding too. At the time the Bible was written, the central purpose of marriage was children and, if the parties were wealthy, for considerations of family and property. Many had no choice in their partner. They married to suit their families and many brides were what we today would consider children. Very much the same set up as in the past in England.

        Marriage as we understand it today is the wholehearted, free commitment of two equal adults. Many couples who marry these days don’t plan to have children, and some are not of an age to have a family. The purpose of marriage then is for the companionship and love each has for the other in faithfulness. In this context, gay marriage is entirely appropriate.

        Having been very happily married myself, I would wish that all committed couples could share this sacred bond, whether gay or not.

        I cannot help but raise my eyebrows at those who condemn the promiscuity of the “gay lifestyle” while simultaneously insisting that gay couples must be forbidden from taking marriage vows. What do they want, exactly? Damned both ways, it seems!

        I was born heterosexual – it was a deep instinctual need – as is all sexuality. I cannot imagine how terrible it would be to be just as instinctively homosexual and then be informed that I must avoid all sexual contact, forever. Imposed celibacy as a solution is simply cruel.

        If sexuality does no harm then damming it up can only lead to despair and other ills. Again and again we see scandals in the anti-gay American groups, where a supposedly “cured” leader exposes his poor wife as the front she is. People are often so excited about what the man himself has done – and with whom – that they forget what’s been done to the man’s wife and their children – a fake family set up to fool the world – even sometimes to allow their husband and father to fool himself.

  9. nick wilson young on

    excellent work symon

  10. Lucy on

    Hannah is a legend (I too know this from personal experience!)

    I’m glad to hear that you have set out well, and that you are receiving media attention. Even if people disagree with you, bringing the issue into the spotlight for debate is crucial for the Church(es) to ever be able to move forward.

    • Symon on

      Thanks, Lucy. And you’re right about Hannah!


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