Jonathan Kinsman gives us a few words on the inspiration, motivation and theology behind his new work, witness.
I’ve never quite been able to shirk God.
In the 21st century, it’s increasingly easy to do without. Certainly in this country, there’s no sanction for non-attendance on Sundays and contemporary science can explain most things that people want explaining. I envy the peace of mind the assured atheist must feel knowing that there’s no silent onlooker in their lives. Make no mistake, witness is not a conversion mission – I wouldn’t want to burden anyone like that.
God and I shouldn’t get along, if you’re going to subscribe to right-wing evangelism. I’m several kinds of deviance (trans, bisexual, polyamorous) in one neat flesh-suit and that’s just incompatible with the purity of the divine.
Except that’s not true.
I was raised Church of England by parents that encouraged me to learn and to ask questions. “Ask the Vicar,” was quite a common response to my inquisitiveness. As I got older, I pursued theology, because why take anyone’s word for it when you could read the source? The thing is that fire and brimstone God of anger that demands to be feared just isn’t in it.
The God of the New Testament is one of love – and not just any kind of love, a radical, earth-shaking love. A love that has within it tenderness and mercy for the individual and at the same time a rage at the injustice of society. This duality is encapsulated in the Messiah, someone both human and divine, someone who weeps, who laughs, who dies, who heals, who preaches, who rises, who has disciples and who has friends and family. Something a human mind just can’t reconcile.
You can’t write about God without reducing them to human, so witness isn’t about God, it’s about humanity. It’s about extraordinary people but people nonetheless, just like me, just like us: queers, refugees, sex-workers, the working-classes, the hungry and impoverished, the homeless, the disabled, the disenfranchised, the despised and marginalised.
That’s all there in the text, I haven’t made anything up and everything is theologically sound. Each poem begins with a bible verse to anchor the poem in the scripture. This isn’t about rewriting the New Testament to match contemporary ideas, this is about pointing out what is already there contained with it that is still applicable right now and always will be.
Sometimes when I see my God represented in the media by the Westboro Baptist Church and red-faced, pitchfork wielding mobs I am angry to see the lies their church is built upon. Mostly though, I am sad, to think people live with a God like that hanging over their heads, so undeserving of their worship.
This is my God, as written in one of my favourite hymns.
“For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s minds and the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind but we make his love too narrow by false limits of our own and we magnify his strictness with a zeal he will not own.”