Mele-Ane Havea on Peter Rollins
Every so often, you hear or read something that speaks such truth it stops you in your tracks. That’s what it was like when I heard philosopher Peter Rollins interviewed on Pete Holmes’ “You Made it Weird” podcast a few years back. He was talking about how our family systems are like haunted houses and that those things-we-all-know-but-couldn’t-possibly-say are the ghosts that haunt us.
Listening to the interview, my brother and I—who that very morning had been discussing one such family ghost—stopped and looked at each other. “No way,” we exclaimed. “We could never talk about that!” At first it seemed impossible, but the more I listened to Peter’s rationale, the more I felt the significance. “We imagine,” Peter said, “that we couldn’t possibly bring those things to light, lest everything breaks. But it’s broken anyway.” Somehow, with his gift for storytelling, depth of thought and lilting Irish accent, Peter made that uncomfortable truth palatable—beautiful even.
In many ways, speaking uncomfortable truths is a hallmark of Peter’s work. Encouraging people to make peace with their ghosts and break down the walls within them and each other, he is constantly reminding us that satisfaction is illusory, life is difficult, and we must accept there is so much we don’t know.
Peter’s background is in academia, having studied philosophy and political theory at Queens University, Belfast. Though still philosophical in nature, he is also greatly influenced by psychology and theology, bringing these perspectives together in an effort to challenge traditional notions of religion and the church. He has written a number of books—including The Divine Magician and Insurrection—and also puts his words into action, building communities such as “ikon” that encourage a kind of backwards evangelism where people get into into the headspace of the “other” to see how the “other” sees them.
I have listened so many times to that podcast with Peter that it was surreal, and a little nerve-wracking, to be sitting with him in person in our offices in Melbourne—not to mention on my birthday. My nerves quickly settled, however, as he started telling stories—some that were simple yet so profound I often had nothing to say in response. I was moved by his humility and willingness to connect, and by the almost hesitant manner in which he shared his insights—indicative, I thought, that the words he speaks are alive in him.