I was sitting in GBK and had, Found Out: Transgressivefaith and sexuality, the new book by Alison Webster on the table, ready to read whilst I was waiting for my burger. The waiter came over, took a look at the cover, and asked if he could have a look. I said of course, he picked it up and said, “oh, I thought it was a yoga book from the picture”. I smiled and said no, but as he continued to read the blurb he asked “what is it then?” I was part way through and replied, “it’s a book about different women’s experiences of life and sexuality and a book which explains even though life gets messy God loves them as they are.” He smiled and said, “I understand”.
In truth this book is far more than how I described it to the waiter and the description I gave does not give justice to what this book is. It’s an exercise in practical theology which takes things forward and gives voice. The opening chapter seeks to give the reader an introduction to this form.
It begins as a history book, where through the use of autobiography she gives voice to the experience of women of Alison’s generation – those now in their 50’s. As somebody just those few years younger I found this useful. I am old enough to have grown up through much of what she was talking about, but too young to have truly “lived” through it. There is a relevance in this because the book comes 20 years after Found Wanting, which looked at the experience of women in the church in what might now be described as a different time.
It then moves on to putting together a collage of participants voices and experiences. Looking at the topics of what Webster calls “resistance” and “reclaiming spirit”. The rich variety of people sharing - some heterosexual, some bi or gay, some black, some white, some Christian, some of other faiths, some cis, some trans, some intersex, some the partners of trans people, some single, some ordained, some lay, some abused, some loved – means that it gives a wider spectrum of books.
The participants are all anonymised yet all their stories are real, raw and powerful.
However, as I say this is not a sociological study seeking to unpack the stories and find the correlations between them and the reasons for those. Rather it is an exercise in practical theology which seeks to look at the overall pattern of what is being said through the lens of theological reflection.
The chapters start with a reflection on a part of the gospel story and then jump to the present having given a tool for the reader to think about how the narrative of the gospels and example of Jesus might relate to what is being spoken about.
Chapter five “Recreating Faith” looks at how a nuanced and slightly queered use of queer theory might enable us to develop a way of looking at faith which can deal with the dissonance and apparent contradiction which is apparent in the real, lived experience of many people.
Finally in “Remaking Love” Webster looks at the way in which we might live out our relationships (both with partners and more widely). In this chapter much of what was being said was not new but it was more concrete and wide-ranging than in other books (such as Robert Song’s Covenantand Calling). The reason for this gets to the root of this book. Whilst others are often looking at these issues from a theoretical point of view, Alison Webster looks at them from the point of view of current, real, lived experience.
She is looking not to “solve the problem” of what to do about the churches engagement with those who don’t fit into the hetero-normative worldview that the institutions are working from. Rather she is looking at how those who don’t fit into that worldview are currently living and engaging with spirituality and what that might teach us as we move into the future.
The book also differs from many of the positive books relating to LGBT+ people and spirituality. The use of the contributors voices is not to focus on victim-hood and injustice in a way which seeks to demand justice through rhetoric which refers back to the contributions. Rather this shows the reality of what is happening and how power, when misused is problematic, but how power can also be and is being reclaimed by those who may appear marginalised in creative and hopeful ways.
Do I recommend this book, of course I do for all the reasons given above.
Oh and finally, must mention the publishers are Darton, Longman and Todd, who are producing a lot of the cutting edge, affordable practical theology at the moment.