What is your touchstone? What is the motivation that gets you out of bed in the morning? Keeps you going through the hard times? Makes you go the extra mile for someone or something? What deep love or thirst for truth runs like a strong underground stream in your life, bearing you along into the unknown with energy and determination, even when your familiar self struggles with the details and challenges of daily life?
The Equality Academy, the company of which I am one of two co-directors, encourages leaders to interrogate what they truly believe in, thirst for and love – and to ask themselves daily whether the work they do is congruent with that touchstone.
Though I am a consultant and trainer by profession, I am a minister by calling – a One Spirit Interfaith Minister. My touchstone is ‘Many Paths, One Truth’.
Unknowable but irresistable
To me, the ‘One Truth’ is a mystery unknowable by the ordinary mind, but at the same time irresistible – drawing us on with flashes of inspiration, synchronicities and deeply transformative experiences as we each follow our distinctive path toward the love that is our true nature.
I believe that every human being is born with the will to extend that love and, in doing so, know the truth of who we truly are, where we came from, and what our purpose and destiny are. The paths upon which we travel are as varied as all the human lives that have ever been lived.
Some seek through science, religion, philosophy or art. Others hunger for truth, love and justice through political activism; others quest in and through the body or through the mind.
A human birthright
There is a place for every imaginable path in the great history and future of humanity’s search for truth. In the pursuit of our paths all of us are capable of creating and experiencing suffering, but also joy and compassion.
We all deeply want to know who and what we are, and how that connects us to the rest of existence. Our path is our way – however foreign it may seem to others – of trying to Love and to Know. This is our human birthright.
By excluding LGBT people from the orbit of the holy, many religious institutions have sought to deny our right to seek truth and extend love in our way. Though there are notable exceptions, dominant religions have strong conceptions of the body, its ‘correct’ use and relationship to other bodies, and its role in our social identity. These conceptions are often used to exclude us.
My main concern here is not with the social consequences of exclusion – profound and disturbing though these are – but with the spiritual consequences of it. As a minister I am interested in the spiritual wellbeing of those I serve. Don’t be put off by the term ‘spiritual’ – by it, I simply mean a sense of greater meaning, which has the ability to touch our deepest understandings and so make sense of our inner and outer life and give us both purpose and motivation.
As a consultant, my focus is upon fostering the competencies of truly conscious, inclusive and effective leadership, nurturing leaders who are capable of taking themselves and others to the next stage of understanding and skill, whilst aligning with their own deeper values and those of their business or organisation.
The two endeavours – ministry and consultancy – are two sides of the same coin: both spiritual wellbeing and conscious leadership start with accepting one’s human birthright.
The act of exclusion
The oppressive mindsets of many religions and philosophies, and even paths of political activism, can serve to limit the very mental and emotional freedom required to exercise this birthright wholeheartedly. Millions of people have been brought up to believe they are tainted, or even beyond salvation, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Unconscious absorption of such beliefs can result in lack of confidence in our own authority to question and interrogate God, scripture, spirit, church, the universe, philosophy, politics – or any other authority. We can feel a primal unworthiness that we may not be able to articulate.
In our reaction against oppressive religious ideas, we may take a different position, seeing religion as our enemy. We may turn to non-religious or non-spiritual philosophies instead for our ‘salvation’ – by which I mean they provide us with a narrative which enables us to live with ourselves, and give us a source of self-respect and -esteem. We may attack and seek to dismantle oppressive religious ideas. However, in doing so, we need to take care not to assume that everything to do with religion or spirituality is essentially wrong – because in doing so, we simply reverse the act of exclusion.
All paths as valid
Religion – which literally means to ‘re-join’ – and spirituality are far too important to either be left to institutionalised faith or rejected out of hand because of it. They are part of that great area of human experience through which we make sense of who we are, and should themselves be freed from preconceptions. And LGBT people deserve the same right to be free to explore religion and spirituality in our own ways as non-LGBT people, without hindrance.
Sometimes that hindrance comes from the quarters from which one should least expect it. One of the participants in my workshop for ‘faith leaders’ at the LGBT History Month Showcase event in November was trolled by other LGBT people for tweeting about the workshop. How, I ask, does that contribute to the wellbeing of LGBT people?
I see all paths as valid to those who travel them. I don’t make a distinction between theistic and atheistic paths, scientific or artistic paths, sacred or secular ones. I of course prefer some paths to others – we all do. However, I also see the suffering caused by the denial of our right to seek freely, without the judgment and condemnation of others. That suffering applies just as much to LGBT people of faith who are judged and condemned by LGBT people who despise religion, as it does to LGBT people who are rejected by religious institutions and people.
A priceless diamond
What I believe (but of course you are free to differ!) is that the Truth, like a huge priceless diamond, may be One, but each of us tends to glimpse just a cluster of its facets, not the whole thing. Our window on it is distinctive. We can honour and appreciate what others see through their window on truth without having to agree with them, or adopt their perspective for our own.
That is, I contend, what a real education is about: creating a space in which, whatever your gender or sexual orientation, colour, class or impairment, ethnicity, religion, belief or philosophy, you are not simply permitted, but encouraged, to exercise your birthright to ask “What love do I burn with? Who am I? Where have I come from? What is my purpose? Where am I going?” We also have a right to debate with others, get it wrong, get it right and to change as we journey.
This, for me, is living spirituality, and it is what children in every classroom in the country should be offered by way of a fundamental – as opposed to fundamentalist – education, whether of the religious or atheistic kind. But that is another story…