I listened to a remarkable programme this evening about twin sisters, raised by a mother who was a life long agnostic/atheist. Yet both children embraced Christian faith naturally and without difficulty. As a young adult, one of them converted to Islam, out of her experience of radical feminism, regarding herself as being freer as a muslim woman, not needing to play all the games that women play to keep up appearances or be attractive to others. This rejection of modern western notions of sexuality seems to be a recurrent theme lately, with Tony Blair's feminist sister-in-law Lauren Booth speaking about her conversion to Islam to the media recently.
This documentary was about the relationship between the sisters, and the mutual challenge of facing their mother's terminal illness from perspectives that were informed by their different faith perspectives. What the audience was not prepared for was the mother saying in one interview that in no way would she consider taking up religion, having done without it all her life, and then in the next interview speaking with utter candour about the profound mystical experience she'd had which made it possible for her to go back on her earlier words and speak about faith in God. Evidently the God of surprises.
She had become reconciled to the Christian faith which she'd presumably been exposed to in her youth and later rejected, and was able to celebrate 'Eidmass' with her family. She hadn't expected to live long enough to see her newest grandchildren, and yet she did, and spoke freely about the grace she had received in all of these things. Needless to say she didn't speak about church, nor, she admitted, had she considered what Islam offered, although she admired the courageous witness to faith of her hijab wearing daughter.
I was also moved by the testimony of the muslim daughter to her experience of islamophobia as one distinguished publicly as a believer by her dress. She wept as she spoke, entirely without anger, without desire to blame and shame. But what she said was indeed an indictment of the ignorance, the prejudice, the lack of respect and unbelief that makes Britain a place no longer to feel proud to be part of, regardless of how hard our leaders try to lead and uphold decent values.
When I look back to my early days of my ministry at the challenge so enthusiastically undertaken of renewing the church in the face of secularity, it's impossible not to admit the sense of failure which I now experience. What did we do wrong? I suppose I shall be pondering over that for the rest of my days on earth.