Edge of the Cliff – Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt by Richard Holloway

Please see
Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Epiphany 4 (year c), February 3, 2013
“Becoming ‘you’ ”

Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt
Richard Holloway

It takes only seven verses for Jesus to go from “gracious” to getting himself nearly hurled off a cliff. From ultimate insider – “Is not this Joseph’s son?” to “all in the synagogue were filled with rage,” Jesus pushes on truths beyond the comfort of the righteous. Jesus, now ultimate outsider, exits stealthily.

Because I read Richard Holloway’s memoir with this week’s Gospel hanging in the air, I could not help comparing this passage with Holloway’s fearless push toward seeking truth within himself and institutional religion. When the church dragged him to the edge of the cliff, I was right with him.

1HollowayHaving fallen in love with God at the age of 14, Holloway served the Anglican/Episcopal church in Accra, the Edinburgh slums, Boston, Oxford, and then back in Scotland. He is a priest, then bishop, then primus. His memoir shows how this ultimate insider becomes ultimate outsider.

Throughout, Holloway offers readers a deep sense of place, and within those places, his own awareness of “a presence at once given and denied.” He loves God through serving others but he becomes more and more awakened to the institution of the church as a benign perpetrator of repression if not engaged in outright harm. He’s onto the arrogance of arguments from tradition and infallibility, from ‘knowing’ the mind of God. He calls the church out on its magical thinking against women and homosexuals, covering up deeper issues to do with dominance and power. He watches with horror the way two Lambeth Conferences unfold. He symbolically throws a (biodegradable) miter into the Thames.

Because of the way we wield God to stress the rightness of our opinions and justify injustice, Holloway suggests in a 1999 book, Godless Morality, that we’re better off taking God out of ethical arguments. This is the point when the church wants to throw him off the cliff. He resigns in 2000. To me, he’s Job after the whirlwind: no longer righteous but loving life for what it is, not what he thinks God thinks it should be.

Throughout my reading I laughed. I gasped. I copied quotes. I ran to Bill a dozen times to read aloud passages delightfully crafted, honest, and beautifully shocking. I feel liberated. I want everyone – in church and out of church – to read it. I’ve never seen so clearly where we are. Or where I am.


2 Responses to “Edge of the Cliff – Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt by Richard Holloway”

  1. Tony Burkart Says:

    In a recent weekend retreat Richard Rhor commented that,”If you use Fowler’s stages of spiritual development as a template, in the institutional church it is difficult to go beyond stage three!”

  2. dblakley Says:

    Thank you for this. I whole heartedly agree and it is great encouragement to know I am not alone in these beliefs/feelings about how the course of the church went badly skewed along the way. Ah, power and its dirty hands.

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