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Introduction: A Story Shared

1,500 Words

This is the Introduction to my series ‘There and Back Again: An (A)Theist’s Tale’. This series tells you my story of losing faith and the slow journey of finding it again but not quite in the same way as before.

This introduction sets the scene for the rest of the series. It looks at why I have chosen to call it 'There and Back Again' and also who I am writing this for. Though the series is not yet completed, you can find each new chapter in this series under the 'There and Back Again: An (A)Theist's Tale' tab at the top of the screen as I publish them.

I hope you enjoy reading.


“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

-Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings

It was June, 2017, and I’d finally lost my feet. Exams were over and my time at university was coming to an end. The good times should’ve been coming, but instead I found myself about to enter one of the scariest and most disorientating periods of my life. I’d lost my Christian faith.

By saying “I’d lost my faith”, I’m not saying I had left my faith in order to sign-up to a different belief-system (although at the time I very much thought I was probably now an atheist). Rather, I had literally lost it. The road which had once been so clearly paved and sturdy had petered out and I couldn’t find where it had gone. I was literally lost. You can only feel lost and disorientated when you feel deep down that there is still a road out there for you to find. However, the conceptual frameworks, ideas, and thought constructs that had proved such consistent signposts along the road of my journey up to that point had become redundant and broken. There’d been many warnings along the way that these signposts weren’t going to take me to the place I wanted to be, but I hadn’t wanted to listen. They’d been helpful for a significant time, but now the road they’d led me on had disappeared and I was left with a sense of betrayal. They’d taken me to a wilderness, and I was lost with no paths leading out.


The Lord of the Rings fans amongst you will notice the title I have chosen for this series bears much resemblance to one written by J.R.R.Tolkien: There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale. As this is the introduction to this series, I thought I’d share why I’ve done this.

What does it mean for something to be sacred? It’s a thought-provoking question and not one I think I’ve thought long and hard enough about to form a suitable answer. However, I think it relates to those things which are wrapped so closely with our identities that they take on a significance far greater than the sum of their parts. A church as a sacred building is not just a collection of well-put-together masonry and artwork, though yes it is just that; similarly, a sacred promise is more than just a sequence of words we speak to someone as to everyone, though it also is just that. That those things held sacred can take on a disappointing, disorientating mundanity is a fact of life. The medieval monks of north-western Europe found this out to their cost when the pagan Vikings came with no respect for the sanctity of their monasteries. Murder and pillaging ensued in the Houses of God by those for whom they were just undefended, isolated and richly decorated halls. Yet, though the sacred can become mundane, for this same reason sanctity can also be found in the ordinary. Perhaps then it is right to say that it sits expectantly in everything, just waiting to be unlocked.

I say all this because in my own silly way, I want to tell this very personal story of a faith lost and then rediscovered with the help of another story, one that is very close and, dare-I-say, sacred to my heart. Ever since I properly encountered Tolkien’s Middle Earth mythology, I have found it awe-inspiring, fascinating and epic. Yes, it can get a bit long-winded at times, but it gives me joy and spurs me to think deeply about what it means to live life well. Close friends of mine may know that one of my life mottos are the words of Gandalf to Frodo at a time when Frodo is tired and discouraged by the journey: “So say all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

The words quoted at the start of this blog are also said to Frodo, though this time by his Uncle Bilbo wishing to impart advice to his nephew from his own unexpected adventure. It was these very words that spoke to me when I felt most lost on the road, swept away in confusion and unsure how I would find my feet ever again. Yes, they are just the platitudes of a fictional creature in a fantasy far removed from my own reality. But to me in my time of distress, they were much more than that.

At those points of greatest challenge and difficulty in life, it can be so important to discover a story you can relate to; in my case, to know that Bilbo understood all about losing your feet. Indeed, it makes me smile to be able to find in this most beloved of stories resemblances and themes which tie in with my own. To have a little chuckle with myself as I think that like Bilbo, I found myself on an unexpected journey that I neither looked for nor wanted. That like Bilbo, I did find the way back after the adventure, but I was no longer the same hobbit who left. And that like Bilbo, the ways I’m no longer the same means I’m probably going to be held with some suspicion and dubiousness by all my fellow hobbits from now on. But that’s ok because I know they still all love and care for me and will all come out when the time is right to celebrate my one-hundred-and-eleventieth birthday.

When we become lost and lose everything that once gave life sense, meaning, and direction, it is a huge comfort to find that there still remains something sacred. Something that is still so precious to our identity that even if we no longer feel we know ourselves, we can realise that we are not wholly lost to ourselves or the world. As I found myself lost to the God I had once known and loved so dearly, who’d have thought that dear, fictional, silly Bilbo, would play a small but nevertheless special part as my own story unfolded. And it’s in gratitude for how this sacred story helped lift me on my own journey to re-discover the Sacred that I title this series.


Although people can feel lost and disorientated in a multitude of contexts, in my case it related to my Christian faith. And in this regard, I have three audiences in mind as I write.

Firstly, there is myself. If I hadn’t already made it clear, this was an unsettling and bewildering time of my life with many themes, surprises and contradictions. It is hard to articulate such a complicated story, and I hope that by organising it and writing it down, I can help myself process all that’s happened.

Secondly, I know I’m not the only one who has lost their feet. To be a Christian in the contemporary West is to choose to be a minority and hold to an identity that is certainly not the default. As with any minority, this breeds doubt and insecurity. How do we justify ourselves to the wider world? Can we justify ourselves? I hope that this series will be an encouragement for those who find themselves here and I hope the more ‘intellectual’ parts of this series will give food for thought as you work out your own journey.

Finally, and actually I think most importantly, I write this for those whose story is “there and somewhere else now” or “there and goodness knows where”—for all my dear former Christian brothers and sisters who never ‘came back’. Now not all former Christians will hold fondness for their old faith, but I know some do because during my time in 'the wilderness', I experienced first-hand the depth of sadness there can be in losing a faith. Sadness because your brain is compelling you down a road your heart does not necessarily want to follow, but also sadness because you feel the road you’re travelling down will take you away from those you love within the faith. There is this fear that you will forever be one who has 'fallen away', lost not just to yourself but also to your Christian family. I remember the anger and hurt I felt due to this fear. All I wanted was to be able to open up about my doubts and then be heard and accepted for where I was while I worked my way out of the wilderness.

Unfortunately, years of dualistic, binary 'lost/saved' terminology in church left me sure that if I opened up, the relationship would take on an implicit otherisation. I would go from being ‘saved’ to ‘lost’ in the minds of my listeners and arguments would surely quickly follow to convince me to come back. I knew that where I was now was not acceptable. I must either be brought back or forever lost. I hope then that particularly where I share about my time ‘on the outside’, I can share a bit of this hurt and sense of loss and so encourage empathy as opposed to otherisation within the church at large.

If this series does indeed speak to you and encourage you, please do return the favour by letting me know and so in turn encourage me. Moreover, if you just want to chat about any of the themes or reflections that come up, do feel free to reach out to me. You can leave a comment below, message me at the Honest Reflections Blog facebook page, email me at, or if you know me personally, feel free to reach me on my personal Facebook account. Thank you!

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