We drink from our own wells

Here’s what I had to say in the pulpit this morning:

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Lifegiver. Amen.

A long time ago now, I took myself off to study theology. I was not a priest or clergy person. I did not even belong to any church. I just had religious questions and for me that was how I tried to answer them.

I enjoyed my studies very much and eventually I started to understand the questions that I had and began to work out which of them might be answered and which were never going to be answered by which were instead pathways into wonder and mystery and delight.

But there were never complete answers. Nothing was ever completely sewn up. Indeed, the number of things I could be absolutely certain of became fewer rather than greater the longer I studied.

One of the things which I remember which my teachers kept putting in front of me was something which can be exemplified by the title of book – which was the central text in what they were trying to teach me. The book was called “We drink from our own wells”. It was part of what they call Liberation Theology. It was written by a theologian in South America. And I just didn’t get it.

The idea was that the Bible needed to be read from the point of view of those who are poor and those who are oppressed. Indeed, the idea was the sin those things which make people poor. Sin is those things which make people downtrodden. Sin is those things which oppress the spirit and those things from which people long to be set free.

And you know? I just didn’t get it.

It seemed to me that you just needed to read the text of the Bible in a neutral voice and its message was universal. It did not seem to me to matter who it was who was reading it. Surely if we just understood the text the way the authors meant us to understand it then wasn’t that enough?

Do we need to drink from our own wells? I wasn’t so sure. It seemed to me that the Christian faith was the well into which we needed to scoop up living water and the world would find all the nourishment it needed.

Liberation theology seemed another world away. Maybe it was what was needed in South America – but what use was it for me? And it tended to be a kind of theology that meddled with political power in a way that I wasn’t so sure of. There was more than a whiff of Marxism about it and anyway, wasn’t it the case that Marxism was being proved wrong? The Berlin wall was tumbling and the Soviet Union was breaking up. There was nothing in Liberation Theology for me.

And yet they kept on setting it as a set text and kept on asking exam questions like – “What would a Liberation Theology look like in modern day Britain? Can there be a Liberation Theology of the West?”

Now. Skip forward a number of years.

Skip forward to the third Sunday in Lent six years ago.

Our liturgical cycle is a three year one. So we only read the story of Jesus and the women at the well every three years.

Six years ago it was about a year before I came here. I was in my former congregation.

I had been a good priest – I had prepared well in advance. I sat in my big rectory with my feet up. The sermon on the woman at the well was all prepared. It was done. Finished. in the bag.

And then the phone went. It was someone in the congregation who called to let me know she was leaving the church. Why I asked, somewhat shocked. Because of the way the church treats my gay friends, she replied. She said she would come in the morning to say goodbye to everyone and then that was it. She was off for good.

On putting the phone down, I found myself somewhat disturbed. I eventually went to bed. Couldn’t sleep much. And ended up getting up in the morning to rewrite the sermon completely. That was the sermon when for the first time I spoke in public about what its like to be a gay priest in an uncomfortable Anglican world.

And I found that by engaging in public with the woman at the well in that sermon that something was set free in me. For I spoke in my own voice about something that mattered for the first time. An immense energy and creativity and freedom came to me as a result of that sermon. I had no idea at the time, but that was the start of a new journey down a new pathway. A pathway which was to lead in the end to my current job, to this place. To this time.

And gradually I realised what I had done in preaching that sermon.

I had drunk from my own well. Not drunk from the knowledge of others. Not drunk from the books of my teachers. Not drunk from the spirituality of the world around me, but drunk deep from my own well.

Archimedes famously said, “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth” He was right – and having a place to stand is won by the fight for the basic rights and dignities of every human on the planet. And once you have a place to stand, you can start to look for living water – drinking deep from your own well.

What does a liberation theology of the west look like? I think I’m starting to find an answer to that exam question I could never answer as a student.

Its not about my story so much as being about your story and your story and your story. And its about the stories of people who are different from me and different from you. Black theologies of struggle, feminist theologies of gender equality, Asian theologies of justice, South American theologies of liberation and indeed Western, Scottish, Glaswegian theologies of change too.

It is about finding a place to stand, a place which allows you to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed, all whose voices are unheard, all whose names (like that of the women at the well) are lost to history, all who need in some way to be set free. And it is about finding ways of drinking from our own wells. Finding the life giving, thirst quenching water of refreshment that God has placed all around about is and indeed is deep within us.

That refreshment is found in spirituality which brings us nourishment for our inner soul. That refreshment is found in working for the world that God believes in, that I believe in and that you believe in too – a world where all are fed, all thirst is quenched, where everyone has a place to stand and where all wrongs are righted. And one of the names of that life giving water is justice. And it tastes so very sweet and good.

I have drunk from my own well.

The well is deep.

And the taste of the water is lovely.



  1. fr dougal says

    Excellent! 1st class – wanna be Bishop of Edinburgh?

  2. except you, I should think.

    • I love what I do. The job of being bishop of anywhere seems to me to be far more grim than most people realise.

  3. fr dougal says

    Yes, I always think the Bishop’s theme song ought to be “naebuddy loves, awbuddy hates me, think Ah’m gauuny eat worms!”

  4. You took a chance that day Kelvin and it paid off for the good. As a gay man brought up in the RC Church, when I was 17 and very confused I thought that my church and God hated me because of my sexuality (obviously not my choice). I was actually told at that age by a priest in Glasgow that I would go to hell if I had sex with my then lover. I’ve seen many suicides over the years because of the fact that some people I knew could not reconcile their religion with their sexuality. Note I said religion not faith. The God I have a relationship with loves me as I am, whether human beings who claim to know better than me what he thinks of me condemn me does’nt bother me. I’ll let God judge not them.

  5. Fine line between drawing from one’s own well and ignoring all the other wells. Quite often I get the feeling that some people believe everything they need, all of the raw materials, are within and I can imagine that too much faith in one’s own well is the cause of much wayward preaching also. I hope that this lesson, which I am sure worked well in your case, would not become a maxim for general teaching and preaching,
    without some safety clauses…. Have I misunderstood?

    • Well, Stew, perhaps you have misunderstood, I’m not sure.

      I wasn’t talking about what is necessary and sufficient for salvation, if that’s what you are worried about.

  6. Great post!
    Stew: Is the very existence of legitimate ” other wells” not, in and of itself, an argument against the dichotomies and simplistic certainties of the One True Well good old bad old days? I read much of the post as tracing the realisation that “neutral” readings are no such thing, and that the wells of teachers and human authorities are no more (or, of course, less) intrinsically real than our wells. The passage beginning ” I had drunk from” suggests someone adding to their knowledge of wells – not exchanging one set of wells for a single well, and therefore choosing a literally less well-informed world view ;-). Although even that would be a significant experience as other people’s experiences with their own wells might not be things they could usefully communicate to others. The blog post IMHO traces an expansion of (not just) knowledge, the opposite of diminuition from a wider to a smaller view. Although maintaining safety around wells is of course important 😉

  7. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mabroccoli/5578370888/in/stream

    When the sermon was over, he dived round the back, hoping to catch you as you left the laptop. I’m delighted that I’m still reaching a feline audience.

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