Faith in Action: Naomi's Story

Growing up, my first interactions with Christianity were through music. I was a chorister at the Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool and I loved it. I loved being a part of the services and helping to shape the worship. I loved seeing how the church changed with the seasons, how the music took us on a cycle from darkness to light, despair to hope in perpetuity. It was almost as if the church became more than bricks-and-mortar; it was alive.

By the time I was at university, my faith had lapsed quite a bit. I still called myself a Catholic, but this was largely because the campness of high church Anglo-Catholic services seemed comforting to me as a young gay man. Aside from the money I was earning singing for services however, I didn’t really want to engage with the church. I was starting a very confusing journey trying to articulate how I understood my own gender and my own queerness and, ultimately, they felt incompatible with what I understood the Church was asking of me.

Towards the end of my degree, I spoke to a priest and told her how much I was struggling with all of this. In an effort to help, she sent me away with a reading list. The reading list included everything from Julian of Norwich to Marcella Althaus-Reid but also included The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While all of the books pushed my thinking in new directions, I found Bonhoeffer’s writings direct and arresting in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. There are many gems to be found in Bonhoeffer’s writing, but there is one line near the end of the book that I keep coming back to:

To be conformed to the image of Christ is not an ideal to be striven after… we cannot transform ourselves into his image; it is rather the form of Christ which seeks to be formed in us… and to be manifested in us”

Before reading this, I had heard people talking about striving to be Christ-like or asking the question “what would Jesus do?” But here I saw Bonhoeffer taking a different approach. Instead of transforming ourselves to fit into what we think Christ is, Bonhoeffer seems to be asking us to try and find the Christ already within us and manifest it. If Christ could be formed within me it couldn’t possibly be at odds with other aspects of my identity. If anything, they had to be one and the same.

This is where the phrase “Faith in Action” comes alive for me. By being involved in the Church from a young age, I was given an opportunity to form Christ within me. But if being a Christian means to manifest the Christ that is already formed within us, how do we manifest it? As Christians we all have issues that we are passionate about; the important thing is how we turn these issues into action. Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement once wrote that “no one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” We can easily spend our lives focusing on the minutiae of scripture. There comes a point, however, where we have no choice but to stop, hear the liberating words of the gospel and ask ourselves: what work needs to be done? Who needs our help? And how can I manifest Christ within me?